Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
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.
Nov. 9, 2012
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