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U.S. Could Bury Bomb-Sensitive Uranium

Preparations are under way within the U.S. Energy Department for eliminating roughly 3,400 pounds of nuclear weapon-sensitive uranium 233, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

The effort -- projected to cost $473 million -- would involve interring the manufactured uranium in an area for disused low-level radioactive substances at the Nevada National Security Site. The material would remain inside 403 steel casks now holding it at a facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

An abandoned mid-20th century initiative to use the material in atomic armaments and other nuclear systems accomplished what the Times described as the most technically challenging step in preparing a uranium-based weapon: purifying a fissile supply of the substance. Still, preparing the substance for use in weapons would necessitate the use of sophisticated machinery available to only a handful of governments, Energy Department personnel said.

Clinton-era DOE consultant Robert Alvarez, though, said placing the material a short distance under the earth's surface would establish "a bad precedent in terms of international safeguards." The uranium is slated to go between 8 and 10 feet below the floor of 40-foot-deep trenches already in place at the Nevada site.

A report by Alvarez advocates mixing the material with uranium isotopes unable to sustain a fission chain reaction. The Energy Department has said such an effort would result in an needless use of additional funds, but the Times said the potential step's expense was unclear.

 

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