U.S. Energy Bill Provision Could Ease HEU Export Restrictions

A provision in the Energy Policy Act of 2003, currently being debated within the U.S. Congress, would eliminate U.S. restrictions on the export of weapon-grade uranium to five countries for medical isotope production, the Washington Post reported Saturday (see GSN, April 2).

Currently, the United States can only export weapon-grade uranium to isotope manufacturers who have pledged to eventually use low-enriched uranium, according to the Post. The energy act provision, however, would allow two isotope manufacturers based in Missouri and Canada to indefinitely continue to receive weapon-grade uranium.

The provision was placed into the energy bill at the request of Senator Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) and Representative Richard Burr (R-N.C.) after lobbying by Mallinckrodt Inc., based in St. Louis, and MDS Nordion, based in Canada, congressional aides said. While both Bond and Burr have received campaign donations from supporters of the provision, their aides have said such donations had no effect on their sponsorship, the Post reported.

“Current law may soon force cancer patients to pay much more for, and may even interrupt supply of, nuclear medicines,” said a memorandum circulated by Bond.

The provision has come under fire, however, from a large array of opponents, according to the Post. In a letter to Congress, representatives of eight nuclear policy and arms control groups, two former Nuclear Regulatory Commission commissioners and a member of the Defense Policy Board criticized the provision. 

Experts have warned that, while the export of weapons-grade uranium to Canada poses little proliferation risk, the provision could encourage other countries to continue to use such material in their medical isotope production.

“I’m worried about the terrorist threat everywhere. If we make an exception for Canada, then Russia can make an exception in Vietnam or Germany,” said Jon Wolfsthal, deputy director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Nonproliferation Project (R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, Oct. 4).

October 6, 2003
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A provision in the Energy Policy Act of 2003, currently being debated within the U.S. Congress, would eliminate U.S. restrictions on the export of weapon-grade uranium to five countries for medical isotope production, the Washington Post reported Saturday (see GSN, April 2).

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