1 July 2012
From HEU minimization to elimination: Time to change the vocabulary
There are approximately 1,440 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in the world today. Because this material might be stolen by terrorists seeking to build a nuclear weapon, efforts are underway to reduce, secure, and consolidate stocks of HEU. But simply minimizing the use of HEU is no longer sufficient to the risk nuclear terrorism poses. Low-enriched uranium (LEU) has proved acceptable for virtually all civilian applications, and LEU has been substituted for HEU in 63 reactors and facilities to date. There are few remaining technical impediments to the elimination of HEU use in civil and military naval nuclear facilities. The process of HEU elimination must begin with enhanced transparency and stronger international standards for HEU inventory declarations. The international community must also find ways to incentivize conversion from highly enriched to low-enriched uranium and continue to fund research and development for HEU alternatives. Ultimately, however, eliminating HEU use will require that all stakeholders reach a consensus and commit to an irreversible policy in favor of low-enriched uranium.