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How the US spread bomb-grade uranium fuel worldwide

Discussion in 'Pakistan Strategic Forces' started by Neo, Jan 30, 2007.

  1. Neo


    New Recruit

    Nov 1, 2005
    +0 / 3,934 / -0
    Tuesday, January 30, 2007

    How the US spread bomb-grade uranium fuel worldwide

    Daily Times Monitor

    LAHORE: The United States is partly responsible for the risk of nuclear bomb-making material falling into the hands of terrorists, because of a US Cold War programme that distributed highly enriched uranium around the world, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.

    In the first of a series of articles, Sam Roe of the Tribune details how US allies were given highly enriched uranium for nuclear power plants under the Atoms for Peace programme, and how subsequent US efforts to retrieve the material failed.

    “That uranium was intended solely to be used as fuel in civilian research reactors,” Roe writes. “But it is potent enough to make nuclear bombs and can be found everywhere from Romania, now a crossroads for nuclear smuggling, to an Iranian research reactor at the centre of that nation’s controversial nuclear programme.”

    Unveiled by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, the Atoms for Peace programme promised to share some US nuclear technology with foreign nations that vowed to forgo atomic weapons.

    “The Soviets started sharing nuclear technology, too, and a Cold War chess match ensued ... US reactors went to Iran, Pakistan and Colombia; Soviet reactors to Libya, Bulgaria and North Korea,” Roe says.

    Some three dozen nations obtained highly enriched uranium from the US.

    America didn’t give away its most potent fuel - not at first. The Eisenhower administration decided to supply foreign nations with only low-enriched uranium, which would be far less useful to bombmakers. But in the early 1960s, when reactor operators complained about the fuel’s effectiveness, the US government started providing highly enriched uranium instead.

    “That was **** - to send the easiest material in the world from which to make nuclear bombs to civilian facilities all over the world,” said Matthew Bunn, a nuclear fuel expert and science adviser to the Clinton White House.

    Then in 1974, India set off its first nuclear weapon, and America scrambled to get the bomb fuel back.

    This effort was led by scientist Armando Travelli out of the Argonne National Laboratory. “When Travelli embarked on his quest in 1978, he thought it could be accomplished with relative ease, taking maybe five years. He was wrong,” says the Tribune.

    But President Jimmy Carter faced a diplomatic quandary: He couldn’t just demand the fuel back, because other nations legally owned it. Instead, the US set out to invent a variety of replacement fuels that could adequately power the reactors but be useless for bombs. Then the US could offer these replacement fuels to foreign nations in exchange for the highly enriched uranium.

    Travelli’s first mission was to Taiwan, which US officials suspected of secretly developing nuclear weapons. There, in the countryside, sat a research reactor where, Travelli would tell his colleagues: “There is no research going on in there. That’s just a machine for churning out plutonium for a nuclear weapon.”

    For two years, in 1979 and 1980, Travelli travelled back and forth to Taiwan, poring over schematics of the reactor and calculating how best to change its fuel.

    Not long after, the Taiwanese, weary of the scrutiny, decided to shut the reactor.

    The US saw its plan going smoothly: Argonne would develop new fuels, America would offer them to other nations, and the foreigners would quickly trade in their enriched uranium.

    Though some nations agreed to the plan, most fiercely opposed it. They feared such a swap would slow their reactors, interrupt research and result in costly safety reviews.

    But the greatest obstacles to retrieving bomb fuel were of America’s own making.

    When Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in 1980, the retrieval effort fell out of favour. With memories of India’s test fading and terrorism still viewed as a foreign problem, the Energy Department in 1981 proposed shutting down Travelli’s mission, according to government records.

    As Travelli wrestled with his own government, he became involved with a reactor in Romania, a facility beset by problems since America provided it in the 1970s to dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

    Travelli invited Romanian physicists to America to study whether the bomb fuel used in their facility could be replaced by something safer. After months of work, the Romanian scientists concluded that it could. But higher-ups in Romania weren’t convinced, especially because the US refused to pay for the new fuel.

    Romania was operating its reactor less and less in order to conserve its highly enriched uranium. A standoff ensued, and several years passed with no progress.

    During this long delay, Romania used the American-supplied reactor to help separate plutonium, a serious violation of international rules governing the development of nuclear weapons.

    Travelli and US officials would not learn of the Romanian action until after the Berlin Wall came down and Ceausescu was executed by his own people. In 1992, seven years after the nuclear infraction, the new Romanian government voluntarily reported the case to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

    But even after Romania’s admission, the American government did not invest more in its effort to retrieve bomb-grade fuel worldwide.

    By 1993, Travelli had helped retrieve bomb fuel from 19 reactors - about a quarter of all US-supplied facilities - and invented safer fuels that could be used in several dozen more. But in further cost-cutting moves, the Energy Department had eliminated his research budget. With few champions in Congress or the federal bureaucracy, Travelli’s programme became an orphan, bounced from agency to agency. But just when it appeared Travelli’s quest would die, the State Department in the mid-1990s became increasingly alarmed at reports of thieves stealing small amounts of highly enriched uranium in Russia and other former Soviet republics.

    Travelli proposed expanding his efforts to include the tons of highly enriched uranium the Soviets had distributed over the last three decades. The State Department had a similar idea. In 1993 Travelli began a series of visits to Moscow. He proposed that the US and Russia invent a single fuel that could replace bomb material in every reactor in the world.

    No longer would they have to fear rogue states, friends becoming enemies, unchecked reactors or nuclear terrorists. All the world’s bombmaking fuel could be removed from civilian use, and the Atoms for Peace debacle would be over.

    After considering it, the Russians agreed to try. Even the reluctant US Energy Department was willing to help pay for the effort. Finally, Travelli felt success might be at hand.

  2. A.Rahman


    Feb 12, 2006
    +0 / 466 / -0
    They cry NTP when it involves their self-interest