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Sellafield Reaps the Reward to the Detriment of World Safety

European Nuclear Firms have Defeated Attempts to Reduce Plutonium Stockpiles New Scientist 26 July 1997

"ARROGANCE" by Britain and France is to blame for scuppering attempts by the US to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism, according to the official who led the American negotiating team in secret nuclear safety talks. Senior representatives from nine nuclear countries have now agreed new international guidelines on the storage and transport of plutonium in talks over the past three years. But these guidelines, which will be published in the autumn, are already being criticised as too weak. Peter Agrell, the former British civil servant who chaired the secret talks, says that a proposal to reduce the 140 tonnes of plutonium from nuclear reactors stored around the world was omitted after objections from Britain and directed American policy during the nego- tiations, says that Britain and France objected because of their vested commer- cial interests in plutonium separation. Both countries run nuclear reprocessing plants which extract plutonium from spent nuclear fuel for use in modern fast-breeder or mixed-oxide (MOX) nuclear reactors.

Luongo, who retired in February, describes the attitude of Britain and France during the talks as "very arrogant" and says that the new guidelines 3re "far, far weaker than we had hoped". The US wanted countries to cut stockpiles of plutonium by matching supply more closely with demand. Currently, far more plutonium is separated than is used in fast-breeder or MOX reactors. Luongo warns that the more plutonium that is separated and stockpiled, the harder it is to keep track of it and the easier it becomes for terrorists or rogue nations to divert some for weapons. "This disclosure shows how insensitive the Europeans are to the dangers of plutonium and how spineless the US has become in pressing that issue with them," says Paul Leventhal of the Nuclear Control Institute, a pressure group based in Washington DC.