The United States could only account for 1,160 out of 17,500 kilograms of Highly-Enriched Uranium (HEU) — weapon-usable nuclear material — exported to 27 countries in response to a 1992 congressional mandate, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last week.
“The world today is dramatically different than when most U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements were negotiated,” the report said. “Many new threats have emerged, and nuclear proliferation risks have increased significantly.”
In another disquieting revelation, the GAO pointed out that in the 55 visits from 1994 through 2010, U.S. teams found that countries who received nuclear components met international security guidelines only about 50 percent of the time.
“The agencies have not systematically visited countries believed to be holding the highest proliferation risk quantities of U.S. nuclear material, or systematically revisited facilities not meeting international physical security guidelines in a timely manner,” the GAO report warned.
The U.S agencies responsible for monitoring the proliferation and negotiating the export of nuclear materials, the Department of Energy, Department of State and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, do not have a systematic process for evaluating the physical security of U.S. nuclear material overseas. In some cases, the agencies have relied on reported thefts of U.S. nuclear material to assess the security at foreign facilities.
The report recommended that the Department of Energy, Department of State and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission work to gain greater access to critical facilities where weapon-usable U.S. nuclear material is stored and keep inventories of the transfer, enrichment, reprocessing and storage of the nuclear materials.
“Without an accurate inventory of U.S. nuclear materials — in particular, weapon-usable HEU and separated plutonium — the United States does not have sufficient assurances regarding the location of materials,” the report said.
The U.S agencies rejected the recommendations, claiming that keeping a comprehensive inventory would be costly, impractical and unwarranted, and that that International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards are sufficient to account for U.S. nuclear material overseas.
They also claimed countries would demand greater access to U.S. nuclear facilities if the U.S. sought greater access to foreign facilities, which could have national security implications.
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