Department of Energy
Washington, DC 20585
June 28, 1999
Mr. Paul L. Leventhal
Nuclear Control Institute
1000 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
Dear Mr. Leventhal:
Your letter dated February 19, 1999, to Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson concerning the supply of highly enriched uranium (HEU) to Canada for the production of medical isotopes has been referred to my office for a response. I appreciate your concerns in this matter and want to assure you that your views have been given full consideration. As you know, the HEU would be used in the MAPLE research reactors by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) to produce molybdenum-99, which is an important isotope used by the U.S. medical industry. The continued and uninterrupted supply of this isotope is critical, as the isotope has a short half-life and cannot be stocked.
With regard to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission export license application XSNM3060, Executive Branch agencies agreed in principle to the temporary continued supply of HEU to Canada for molybdenum-99 production, provided the Schumer Amendment criteria were satisfied. We believe that the requirements of the Schumer Amendment are met for the following reasons:
(1) No low enriched uranium (LEU) target is currently available that can be used by Canada for production of this isotope.
(2) The United States and Canada have exchanged diplomatic notes confirming that all Canadian entities will be required to use LEU targets when they become available.
(3) The Canadian suppliers and reactor operators have initiated a meaningful dialogue with the Department of Energy (DOE) Reduced Enrichment Research and Test Reactor (RERTR) Program to develop an LEU alternative for the production of molybdenum-99.
I take into consideration the views expressed in your letter concerning the cooperation between Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and AECL. Two divisions in DOE are monitoring the situation, the Nuclear Transfer and Supplier Policy Division (NN-43) from the export licensing side and the International Policy and Analysis Division (NN-42) which manages the RERTR Program. I can assure you that progress on the development of an LEU alternative for the new reactors is being made, and the pace of cooperation is expected to accelerate in the near future.
-- 2 --
The scope of a feasibility study has been developed, and legal agreements protecting proprietary information and intellectual property rights are being put into place so that ANL, AECL, and MDS Nordion may exchange technical data. On March 18, 1999, 1 met with representatives of MDS Nordion at the Department of State, and both at that meeting and in a letter dated March 24, 1999, MDS Nordion confirmed its commitment to convert to an LEU target to ensure security of supply for molybdenum-99. Therefore, it is our considered judgment, taking into account the course of action being followed and cooperative activities planned for the future, that cooperation between Canada and the United States on the RERTR Program continues to meet the criteria of the Schumer Amendment for the active development of an LEU target for medical isotope production.
I appreciate your comments and the opportunity to report on the status of our efforts. I hope this has clarified the views of DOE in this important matter. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at (202) 586-2102.
Leonard S. Spector
Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation
What's New HEU Page Home Page