On August 17 the National Nuclear Security Administration announced the return of 6.3 kilograms of U.S.-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) spent fuel from a nuclear research facility in South Africa.
Carried out by the Global Threat Reduction Initiative in conjunction with the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, the removal is yet another key step forward in the effort to eliminate dangerous nuclear materials so that they can never be used to make a nuclear weapon. Such efforts are our first line of defense against the threat of nuclear terrorism.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow highlighted the successful removal on her show last night (see the video above). She rightly referred to the Global Threat Reduction Initiative’s employees as “trained badasses.” Her guest, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), referred to them as “a peaceful Seal Team Six.” Right on! (The Arms Control Association also received a nice hit in the piece.)
A crude nuclear weapon can be made with as little as 25 kilograms of HEU. Since April 2009, the National Nuclear Security Administration has removed nearly 1000 kilograms of HEU. In total, it has removed over 120 bombs worth of HEU.
However, hundreds of kilograms of HEU still remain in countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, and Vietnam – much of it not adequately secured. And even after the August removal, South Africa still possesses hundreds of additional kilograms of HEU left over from its weapons program.
The removal of HEU from South Africa is but one in a long list of success stories authored by the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, and as Maddow noted last night, makes the House of Representatives’ recent reckless cuts to the Global Threat Reduction Initiative almost impossible to understand.
The Senate must restore the cuts to the program when it returns in September, lest future such efforts to secure and eliminate HEU are delayed – or worse – not undertaken, thereby increasing the risk of nuclear terrorism.