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Rowny: Safe Uranium Enrichment Should Be a U.S. Priority

Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons has been a staple of U.S. policy since World War II. Unless Congress approves the requests made by Chu and the president, the U.S. stands to lose its leadership in nuclear development and cede its leverage in the fight for nonproliferation. Specifically, USEC Inc., the sole U.S. uranium enricher, might be forced to shutter the Ohio project where it is developing our next generation of enrichment technology.

As the world moves toward low-emission energy sources, nuclear power will inevitably increase in popularity. The U.S. this year finally approved the construction of a new nuclear power plant after decades of inactivity. More plants will soon be built here and elsewhere. The disaster in Japan after last year’s earthquake and tsunami is only a setback to nuclear development, not its death knell.

Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget justification has it right. The $150 million will help the U.S. “maintain global leadership in the effort to minimize the excessive spread of enrichment technology” and provide “the U.S. an unencumbered source of enriched uranium, critical in the near-term for the national security tritium production mission.”

This is a small price to pay for such insurance; the allocation would cover research and development expenses. But that will be enough to continue developing a modern, commercially viable domestic enrichment program. Happily, the Department of Energy is working closely with Congress to provide the funds needed both this year and next year.

A few radical environmentalists and scattered others who doubt the value of government interventions have threatened to undercut the vital national security interests that are at stake here.

But lawmakers of both parties have begun to line up behind the appropriation. Many more should do the same.

Retired Lt. Gen. Edward Rowny was chief negotiator with the rank of ambassador in the START arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union and served as an arms control adviser and negotiator for five presidents.

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