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Post date: August 12 2008

King & Cuomo Reveal Unnecessary Lack Of Safeguards On Potentially Deadly Highly Enriched Uranium - Push Ban To Keep Dangerous Materials Out Of Terrorists' Hands

Today Representative Peter King (R-NY), Ranking Member on the House Homeland Security Committee and New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo warned that current restrictions on access to highly enriched uranium (HEU) are too lax and could potentially lead to terrorists acquiring the potentially lethal material. There are seven civilian facilities across the country that continue to use HEU even though safer alternative materials exist.

King and Cuomo today called on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to ban the civilian use of HEU. These restrictions would decrease access to HEU in order to keep it out of terrorists' hands and reduce the risk of a nuclear terrorist attack. King and Cuomo issued a statement to the NRC urging the federal agency to promptly ban civilian use of HEU.

"A nuclear attack on New York would be catastrophic," said Rep. King. "This ban will add another layer of protection to prevent terrorists from obtaining the dangerous materials needed to bring harm to Americans. A ban on HEU is a strong step forward in increasing our national security and preventing a nuclear terrorist attack."

“It’s absurd that the NRC has continued to drag its feet when it comes to banning this highly radioactive material,” said Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. “Plain and simple, banning highly enriched uranium for civilian use will remove another potential lethal weapon from the terrorists’ hands.”

Currently, there are seven civilian facilities across the nation that still utilizes HEU, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). While four of the facilities are already in the process of phasing out the usage of HEU, three facilities have made no commitment to eliminating the use of the potentially dangerous material. These include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Nuclear Research Reactor, the Heavy Water Test Reactor at the National Institute of Standards in Maryland, and the Missouri University Research Reactor. The ban does not apply to military facilities.

King and Cuomo today warned that terrorists could potentially gain access to the material and transport it to New York City, one of the nation’s top terrorist targets. They also noted that all three facilities have the ability to use safer alternatives to HEU.

The petition sent to the NRC by the Natural Resources Defense Council seeks to ban HEU by establishing a date after which HEU can no longer be licensed for civil use, except on a very limited case-by-case basis.

This ban would be a proactive step towards increasing domestic security, as well as send a clear message to international community. The U.S. Department of Energy has international programs to take back HEU that the U.S. sent to countries in past years. A U.S. ban on HEU would set a precedent for other countries to follow and facilitate the returns.

New York State currently has six nuclear power plants and one research reactor, none of which use HEU to produce energy or conduct scientific research. Instead, these reactors use lower enriched uranium which is a much safer alternative. A ban on HEU for civil use will have no effect on the amount of electricity produced through nuclear energy.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan from Illinois also signed on to the letter.