United States Seeks Help on Securing Nuclear Material
WASHINGTON The United States will ask countries that possess or have produced bomb-useable nuclear material to join in a new effort to keep it out of the hands of extremists, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said this week.
President Bush has come under fire from Democrats in the U.S. election campaign for not moving quickly enough to secure nuclear materials that could fall into the hands of anti-U.S. extremists.
But Abraham said that since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, "we have significantly increased the work we've been doing."
A Washington-Moscow cooperative venture called the Global Threat Reduction Initiative is already under way to retrieve from various locations around the world and to secure nuclear fuel produced by Russia and the United States.
These efforts will now be expanded to identify, retrieve, and secure bomb-useable nuclear materials located in other countries and produced by other governments besides the United States and Russia, Abraham told a news conference.
He said he was unable to quantify the scope of the problem, except to say it was a "very open-ended mission."
He declined to identify which countries held nuclear stockpiles that were of greatest concern but acknowledged that Iran, which Washington accuses of an active nuclear weapons program, possesses U.S.-origin nuclear fuel. Tehran says its nuclear activities are for peaceful energy purposes.
Abraham said said he would discuss the initiative this weekend at a conference in Vienna that is expected to draw more than 400 participants from 72 countries.
The conference, sponsored by the United States and Russia, "will examine how to address material collection and security in places where a broader international effort is required," he said.
Abraham said he did not expect the conference to identify every site and source of nuclear material, but "we hope to secure a broad array of commitments from other countries to work together on this."
The United States has assumed responsibility for paying for the joint projects with Russia, which are estimated to cost upwards of US$450 million. But Abraham said Washington hoped other countries would help to pay for the new program.
Until now, Washington and Moscow have focused on three components of their initiative. This has included retrieving fresh and spent Russian-origin fuel distributed to research reactors in the Soviet era; retrieving U.S.-origin fuel from research reactors around the world; and working to convert these reactors from using bomb-useable highly enriched uranium to low enriched uranium.
The most recent example of this cooperation occurred on Sept. 9 when the United States airlifted under guard 11 kilograms of enriched uranium fuel, including some highly enriched uranium, from a research reactor in Uzbekistan.