published by WISE News Communique on February 12, 1996
(446.4427) WISE-Amsterdam - The FRM II is a research reactor that the TU Munich, with the support of both the Bavarian and the federal German governments, plans to build in Garching. The FRM II will be using HEU in order to get a very high stream of neutrons. The reactor was specifically designed for HEU use (see WISE NC 441.4353 and 426.4228).
The plan to use HEU at FRM II, however, has drawn criticism from the US government which has been trying to decrease the use of HEU worldwide and thereby also to reduce the danger of its proliferation. After conducting a study, scientists of the US Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) declared last year that it was possible to use low enriched uranium (LEU) instead of HEU at FRM II.
Scientists and government representatives of Germany and the US held a meeting last January 18 to discuss the FRM II project. Days before the meeting, there were signs that the TU Munich would seek a compromise: to change the design of the FRM II to use only 70% HEU instead of the originally planned 93%. But during the meeting, representatives of the TU stated that they were not willing to change their plans and that the FRM II would definitively use 93% HEU.
The US delegation was very much displeased with this. A representative of the US foreign ministry accused the Germans of endangering the international efforts to end the civil use of HEU. Warning the Germans not to use HEU, she announced that there would be no scientific cooperation between the FRM II and any US laboratory if the TU Munich built the FRM II in accordance with the HEU concept.
Because the US had for a long time underscored that it did not want to supply FRM II with HEU, the TU Munich searched for another supplier. Last October, it announced that it had managed to arrange the procurement of 400 kg HEU via the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) Supply Agency. The likely source of this HEU is Russia, but this has not been confirmed officially.
Some US Congress members are now demanding that the new treaty between the US and Euratom (see WISE NC 443.4382) should only be ratified by the US Congress if Germany and the Euratom give up their plans to get HEU from Russia. Negotiations for this Euratom-US agreement on peaceful cooperation in nuclear research, energy and safety, which began in 1992, had been very difficult. If ratified by the US Congress, the treaty should take effect early this year.
Some members of the German parliament now fear that the FRM II dispute may create problems in overall US-German cooperation. The Green Party in the German parliament has accused the government of not heeding parliament decisions with its continued support for FRM II. The parliament had voted unanimously in June 1993 not to use HEU in research facilities whenever it was technically possible. Citing the ANL study showing that the use of LEU is possible, the Greens have called on the government to withdraw its support for the project. The government supports the FRM II project with DM 400 million (US$250 million).
During the Non-Proliferation Treaty conference in May last year, the German government blocked a recommendation that HEU not be used in research facilities, claiming that this put constraints on technology development. Now, for insisting on using HEU at Garching, the government risks trouble with the US.