Introduced by Congress, the White House endorsed a research program that would enable the use of low-enriched uranium (instead of the weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium that is currently used) in naval reactors, the devices used to power submarines and aircraft carriers.
In a statement released on April 1, 2016 amidst the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit, the White House stated: “Consistent with its national security requirements and in recognition of the nonproliferation benefits to minimizing the use of highly enriched uranium globally, the United States values investigations into the viability of using low-enriched uranium in its naval reactors.”
This bold policy reversal comes at a welcome time. Earlier this week in a letter dated March 29, 35 Nobel Laureates from the sciences urged leaders at the Summit to take action on nuclear terrorism. The signees stressed the need for “commissioning technical studies to investigate the transition from highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuels that are most easily used in an improvised nuclear explosive to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuels (that cannot be used directly in weapons) in naval nuclear propulsion.”
The letter, written by Dr. Burton Richter, a Nobel Laureate in physics and the Paul Pigott Professor in the Physical Sciences at Stanford University and Director Emeritus, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, and Dr. Charles Ferguson, President of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), and list of signees is available here.