Canada last month ordered 36 pounds of U.S. highly enriched uranium to help resume medical isotope production at its Chalk River reactor, the Ottawa Citizen reported (see GSN, June 5, 2009).
The request -- made to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission by the state-managed firm overseeing the National Research Universal reactor site -- was made as the Chalk River facility prepared to resume operations this March for the first time since it suspended work last May. If approved, the HEU order is expected to take about one year to fulfill.
One expert criticized the request, arguing that Ottawa has done little to pursue a means of generating medical isotopes that does not rely on bomb-grade uranium. Even so, Canada could make nuclear nonproliferation a top focus of a Group of Eight summit it is set to host this summer (see GSN, Jan. 5).
"When it comes to reducing risks of nuclear terrorism, Canada should practice what it preaches," said Alan Kuperman, head of the nuclear nonproliferation program at the University of Texas at Austin.
Canada continues to hold a quantity of U.S.-origin highly enriched uranium that was not used at the Chalk River reactor prior to the suspension of operations. In addition, the nation still holds nearly 100 pounds of bomb-grade material provided by the United States to operate two Canadian nuclear reactors mothballed in 2008 (see GSN, Sept. 5, 2008).
Canada should "stop requesting more weapons-grade uranium for a reactor that is shut down indefinitely and that already has an unused stockpile of such uranium," and "it should immediately return to the United States the bomb's worth of uranium targets originally intended for the now-canceled MAPLE reactors, which serve no purpose except to attract terrorists," Kuperman said.
Canadian officials counter that there is sufficient security at and around the Chalk River site to prevent terrorists from acquiring material for a potential nuclear weapon , the Citizen reported (Ian MacLeod, Ottawa Citizen, Jan. 5).