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Kuperman Urges Congress to a Fund Low Enriched Uranium Development Program

Sep 30, 2021 |

Alan Kuperman, Strauss Center Distinguished Scholar and an Associate Professor of Public Affairs at the LBJ School, recently published an op-ed on the Navy’s use of weapons-grade nuclear materials in reactors that power its ships. In it, he argues that the U.S. must take the lead in stemming the flow of these materials in order to avoid a possible “national security nightmare.” Professor Kuperman explains that highly enriched uranium (HEU), which the navy uses to power its submarines and aircraft carriers, could be stolen and repurposed for malicious activities. It also sets the precedent of HEU being an acceptable form of fuel, thereby giving adversaries cover to adopt its use and production, increasing the danger of diversion for nuclear weapons. Another risk is presented by the fact the Navy is running low on HEU and will need to resume production for the first time in decades, undermining progress made globally on U.S. arms control and nonproliferation efforts.

Given these three risks, Kuperman argues that the Navy should develop new reactors to run on low enriched uranium (LEU), which is not suitable for nuclear weapons. He then discusses the historical controversy over this suggestion, noting the Navy’s opposition to the program. That opposition, he notes, is not due to “any insurmountable technical or financial hurdles,” but rather, a now-disproven claim that the cost would be unacceptably high. The real obstacle today is “that the Navy does not view supporting this U.S. nonproliferation policy as its responsibility.” The onus therefore rests on Congress to push the LEU program, particularly given that the Biden administration has not confronted the Navy on this issue. Professor Kuperman concludes by noting that the funding of an LEU development program would enable the Navy to “finally join U.S. efforts to stop the spread of the bomb.” Read the full article here.

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