|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||04/01/96, Volume 2, Number 01|
THE European Commission is set to spark fury among environmental lobby groups - and risk the ire of some member states as well as the Americans - by negotiating with the Russian authorities to buy bomb-grade uranium for use in the EU.
If the deal goes ahead, highly-enriched uranium will leave Russia for the first time, heading for five EU member states.
Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK are considering buying the fuel from Russian stocks for use in their research reactors.
The planned talks come just months after most EU member states, along with the US, supported a draft UN resolution aimed at halting the use of highly-enriched uranium (HEU).
But the resolution was watered down in the face of opposition led by Germany, with the result that last spring's UN non-proliferation conference recommended only that states planning new civilian reactors avoid using HEU.
The Commission, along with government officials and nuclear reactor operators from the five member states interested in buying the fuel, will meet Russian authorities later this month or early in February to negotiate possible HEU purchases.
An official involved in the talks said the Commission had already held meetings with the five governments to discuss their needs and the six parties expected to agree on a common approach to the talks this month. With that in hand, they plan to meet officials from Russia's atomic energy ministry (Minatom) - probably in Moscow - to begin talks on commercial terms, quantities and delivery dates.
Any contracts would be between Minatom and individual reactor operators, but would be counter-signed by the Euratom Supply Agency once it was satisfied with the political conditions attached to the deal.
Despite international attempts to avoid the use of HEU, there are no Union rules governing the building of new reactors and EU officials say they see no reason to stop using the fuel.
The Commission does not need approval from the Council of Ministers to negotiate the uranium purchases, because decisions on peaceful use of nuclear energy are the purview of member states. The Commission would, however, impose conditions on the purchase: that the fuel be used for peaceful purposes, that it be protected during transport and use, that it be subject to international safeguards, and that if it is resold after use, its export be controlled and subject to the same safeguards.
But the environmental group Greenpeace fears that if the uranium purchase goes through, it will encourage Russia to sell to other governments looking for HEU. “It will be a green light for other deals,” said Greenpeace's Shaun Burnie. “Russia and China are already talking. The Commission will be basically endorsing that.”
Greenpeace also fears that Euratom does not adequately safeguard against the fuel being used for other purposes.
But Russia adheres to international guidelines for HEU supply and the Commission counters that combined EU and international agreements make the EU “the most heavily safeguarded area in the world”.
Officials could not confirm the quantities of HEU under discussion, but Greenpeace put the figure at up to 2,000 kilograms - enough to make 100 bombs if it were diverted.
European reactors have traditionally bought their HEU supplies from the US. But Washington has banned its use in research reactors and stopped exporting the bomb-grade metal.
|Subject Categories||Energy, Politics and International Relations|
|Countries / Regions||Russia|