The cabinet was wrong to issue an export licence to send 1,000 tonnes of depleted uranium to Russia, environment minister Melanie Schultz told parliament on Wednesday.
The application was made by state-owned nuclear processing company Urenco which wanted to resume exports of natural uranium to Russia. In total, three export licences were issued to the company in 2015, Schultz said in answer to questions from the Liberal democratic party D66.
A mistake in the description of the type of uranium involved was ‘not noticed and wrongly copied’, Schultz said. ‘I regret the mistake that was made.’
Depleted uranium is produced as a by-product of enriching uranium for use in nuclear reactors. It is used in aircraft, as a radiation shield and to make armour plating and armour-piercing missiles.
Depleted uranium can also be changed into plutonium and Russia has the facilities to do this, MP Sjoerd Sjoerdsma said.
Sjoerdsma said he is astonished the same mistake was made three times. ‘Licences are being issued for something which you need to be extremely careful about,’ he said.
Given the difficult relationship with Russia following the downing of flight MH17, Sjoerdsma said it may be wise to halt all uranium exports, whatever the type.
Schultz said the uranium was aimed at civilian uses and the export did not break EU sanctions. In addition, she said she expected the Russian authorities would abide by international rules.
The mistake was spotted during the appeal period and the licences have since been amended so that only ‘natural’ uranium can be exported, the minister said.
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