Moving Beyond the Cold War: A Modern Approach to U.S. Highly Enriched Uranium

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Keith Rutter
Phone: 202-347-1122
Email: pogo@pogo.org

Moving Beyond the Cold War: A Modern Approach to U.S. Highly Enriched Uranium

WASHINGTON - Today, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is releasing U.S.
Nuclear Weapons Complex: How the Country Can Profit and Become More
Secure by Getting Rid of Its Surplus Weapons-Grade Uranium
, an investigative report which has found that the Obama Administration’s efforts of securing and disposing of bomb-grade material around the world is not being realized here in the U.S.  

A huge opportunity to save the U.S. taxpayers money, generate up to
$23 billion in revenue for the Treasury, and improve security is right
under the government’s nose. The U.S. has nearly 400 metric tons (MT) of
highly enriched uranium (HEU), a fissile material used in nuclear
weapons, that is not necessary for U.S. defense needs, the vast majority
of which has not been declared surplus so that it can be properly
eliminated. This is the equivalent of more than 16,000 nuclear warheads.

“With proper leadership, this would be a win-win scenario: Jobs would
be created during the economic downturn; billions in revenue could be
generated for the U.S. Treasury while security costs could be radically
reduced; and Americans would be less vulnerable to devastating terrorist
attacks,” said POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian. “It is rare to
see a policy reform that has so many up-sides. Congress, the White
House, and the Department of Energy need to seize this opportunity.”

Although not necessary for defense purposes, this vast store of HEU
could be used for nefarious purposes by terrorists. With just enough to
fill a shoebox, terrorists could create what is known as an improvised
nuclear device that has the potential for a blast on par with the
nuclear weapon that devastated Hiroshima, Japan. They could do this
within minutes if they gained access to the material—a distinct
possibility given the chronic and well-documented weaknesses in securing
nuclear materials at numerous U.S. sites. 

Despite this danger, one of the most practical ways of reducing the
risk has fallen by the wayside. The pace of converting surplus,
expensive-to-secure HEU into low enriched uranium (LEU), which is
unusable in weapons, has slowed to a snail’s pace.

As recently as 2004, this process—known as downblending—was occurring
at a rate close to ten times that of the downblending rate planned for
the next four decades. The reason for the slow-down appears to be that
the Department of Energy (DOE) has not made downblending a priority.

The U.S. government has the capacity to ramp up downblending of
surplus HEU to previous levels, and even exceed them. Also, far more HEU
can be declared surplus than has been.

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The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is an independent nonprofit that investigates and exposes corruption and other misconduct in order to achieve a more effective, accountable, open and honest federal government.

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