NRC Reconsiders Secrecy of Nuclear Fuel Exports

05.10.06 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

In response to a request from a public interest group, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) agreed (pdf) to disclose the amounts of highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel sought for export by two foreign countries. But the NRC said it reserved the right to withhold similar information in the future.

The Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) had argued last February that NRC secrecy regarding HEU exports was impeding public deliberation on the subject, and that such deliberation had in the past contributed to a reduction in international traffic in the weapons-grade material.

NRC chairman Nils J. Diaz agreed in part.

“With respect to the two pending applications for export of HEU, the NRC has decided that the total quantity of material requested in the particular export applications may be released,” he wrote to NCI President Paul Leventhal and analyst Alan Kuperman in a letter dated April 26 and disclosed this week (pdf).

Chairman Diaz revealed that Belgium had applied for export of 85.5 kilograms of HEU reactor fuel, and that Canada was seeking 15.5 kilograms of HEU.

Unfortunately, the utility of the new disclosures for public deliberation over nuclear exports was undercut by the fact that Belgium’s application has already been approved. A copy of the May 3 export license, with the amount of fuel to be sent to Belgium still blacked out, is here (pdf).

“This new NRC policy of considering disclosure of requested export amounts upon request is an improvement over the blanket redaction policy,” said NCI’s Alan Kuperman, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

“But it will not restore a meaningful opportunity for public comment unless in each case the public promptly requests and the NRC promptly grants disclosure of the amount of the export license request, well in advance of the commission’s decision on that license request,” he told Secrecy News.

Kuperman praised outgoing NRC chairman Diaz for his constructive response, but he said that “we’ll be appealing for the routine release of these numbers.”