The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been licensing exports of nuclear materials without the approval of its safety experts who say that existing international safeguards governing the use of nuclear materials are too weak.
Since September, NRC's Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards has not given an unequivocal "concurrence" in NRC's export lecenses because of a classified International Atomic Energy Agency report that IAEA safe guards are faulty.
Safeguards officials at he NRC also say they cannot give approval recommendations to the NRC because their information on IAEA safeguard programs is insufficient.
At an NRC meeting last week, Dr. Clifford V. Smith said his office could not certify the adequacy of safeguards and accounting for material that could be diverted to fabricate weapons. "We can't give that because we don't have the information upon which to base that," said SMITH, who heads the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards.
"I wanted the commission to under stand that my office is not in a position to give a concurrence that IAEA safeguards are adequate," Smith said.
Under current procedures the NRC reviews all nuclear export licenses. While the NRC is directly involved in efforts to check physical security to prevent terrorist activity at nuclear installations aboard receiving U.S. exports, the Vienna-based IAEA, not the NRC, oversees the safeguards. This consists primarily of accounting for nuclear material and providing a timely warning if a country tries to channel peaceful materials to make atomic weapons.
Last year the IAEA prepared a study called the "Special Safeguards Implementation Report" that was critical of its own operations. The 41-page report has not been made public by the Carter administration.
The IAEA report said that organization did not have a sufficient number of inspectors, and that IAEA inspections of five countries found adequate accounting for nuclear materials in only one. The countries were not named.