WASHINGTON (CN) – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has denied a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council requesting that the commission set a date for banning the civil use or export of highly enriched uranium.
It is “alarmingly easy” to design and construct a “gun-assembly” improvised nuclear explosive with readily available technology and a relatively small amount of highly enriched material, according to the petition, which is based on a 2008 paper by Dr. Thomas Cochran and Dr. Matthew McKinzie. In their paper, called “Detecting Nuclear Smuggling,” Chochran and McKinzie also pointed to an inability of current radiation monitors to detect highly enriched uranium and casualty counts comparable to the 21-kiliton blast over Nagasaki for a one kiloton surface burst nuclear explosion.
The petition states that every civilian application of highly enriched uranium, such as making isotopes for medical imaging, could be accomplished by low enriched uranium, and that the commission should stop licensing civilian use of the more radioactive material.
The commission found that the petition failed to show that existing NRC licensing, security and export regulations do not provide for reasonable assurance of adequate protection of the public health and safety, and that much of the evidence and arguments put forth in the petition stems from foreign policy considerations which are beyond the authority of the commission to consider when making licensing decisions.