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Safety

GAO Calls For 7Li Oversight

by Andrea Widener
October 28, 2013 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 91, ISSUE 43

The U.S. government needs to take a more active role in the lithium-7 supply chain to prevent shortages, according to a Government Accountability Office report on the rare isotope (GAO-13-716). A stable supply of 7Li is important because the isotope prevents corrosion in pressurized-water nuclear reactors, which produce 13% of the U.S. electricity supply. Most of the current U.S. supply of 7Li comes from China and Russia. To avoid a shortage, the report recommends starting a domestic reserve, building domestic production capability, and/or reducing current reactors’ reliance on the isotope. It also suggests that the Department of Energy’s isotope program take a stewardship role in ensuring U.S. 7Li supply; currently no single federal agency has that responsibility. DOE, which has already planned to set aside 200 kg of 7Li, has agreed to study the problem to determine the best way to ensure supplies. Previous DOE studies found no need to be concerned about the 7Li supply, but GAO’s analysis suggests DOE’s view of the risks might not be complete.

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