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NRC Won’t Let Soviets Have Their Space Reactor Back

April 19, 1991

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) _ When Soviet officials brought a model of one of their spacecraft reactors to a scientific convention here in January, it was considered an unusual sign of international nuclear cooperation.

When the Soviets agreed to sell a working model of the Topaz 2 reactor to a U.S. research group, that was considered even more extraordinary.

But when the Soviets tried to take their model back home, that was another story. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the Soviets couldn’t have their model back.

The commission says the Soviets had unwittingly exported the model to the United States. To take it back home would be to export it a second time - this time out of the United States, regulators say. Exports of nuclear technology are strictly limited under U.S. law and international treaty.

It doesn’t matter that the display model of the space power plant is designed, built and owned by the Soviets, NRC spokeswoman Sue Gagner told the Albuquerque Journal in a story published today.

″There are no provisions in the Atomic Energy Act for exhibits or things coming in for display. According to our reading of the Atomic Energy Act, this is an export,″ Gagner said.

At the Symposium on Space Nuclear Power Systems in January, a U.S. research consortium announced that it would buy a working Topaz 2 to help develop a similar system in the United States.

The deal was made in conjunction with the federal Strategic Defense Initiative Organization.

Richard Verga, director of key technologies for the Star Wars program, said the new NRC stand has caused ″some embarrassment and consternation.″ His office as well as the State Department and Commerce Department are trying to work out a solution with the NRC to let Topaz go home, he said.

″It’s totally ridiculous. It’s their own equipment,″ said Joe Wetch, president of International Scientific Products, the U.S. company that helped bring Topaz 2 here for display.

Steve Aftergood, a space nuclear power analyst with the private Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C., said NRC officials ″have basically tied themselves up in their own red tape.

″The Soviet bureaucracy is bad enough,″ Aftergood said. ″It’s not clear now that the U.S. bureaucracy is any better.″

Soviet officials could not be reached for comment, the newspaper said.

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