December 1, 1997

Amber Jones, 202/586-5806


IAEA Inspects Ohio Plant That Converts Uranium for Civilian Use

Secretary of Energy Federico F. Peña today announced the start of verification activities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on U.S. highly enriched uranium downblending operations. These activities at the Department of Energy's Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Pike County, Ohio, mark a milestone in the Clinton administration's efforts to advance nuclear nonproliferation goals by increasing the ability to verify U.S. operations. The international agency will independently verify the Portsmouth operation to dilute weapons-grade uranium to uranium suitable only for peaceful uses, such as civilian power plants.

"This is the first time the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified the transformation of nuclear material no longer needed for defense use into a form usable by the commercial nuclear industry," Secretary Peña said in an announcement in Washington, D.C. "IAEA monitoring provides confidence to the international community that nuclear reductions are moving forward and will be irreversible. The verification activity here will also provide the knowledge needed to conduct similar activities in other countries."

The announcement today follows through on a commitment Secretary Peña made at the IAEA General Conference in September 1997 in Vienna, Austria.

At the Portsmouth facility, highly enriched uranium in the form of uranium hexafluoride gas, produced for the U.S. military purposes during the Cold War -- and now declared excess to the nation's defense needs -- is diluted into low-enriched uranium to be sold on the commercial market for peaceful uses. The Ohio plant, which also produces low-enriched uranium separately from the downblending operation, is owned by the Department of Energy and operated by the government-owned U.S. Enrichment Corporation.

Four IAEA inspectors are scheduled to begin verification of the downblending process today and continue with random biweekly visits until the August 1998 anticipated completion of the downblending operations at Portsmouth. The inspectors plan to verify that a measured quantity of highly enriched uranium is converted to low-enriched uranium through independent measurements of the material. Several of the Energy Department's national laboratories -- Brookhaven, Pacific Northwest, Oak Ridge, Sandia and Los Alamos -- contributed to developing the technologies required for the verification.

- DOE -