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"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement
July 1, 2020
Daniel Horner

IAEA Board Approves Fuel Bank Plan

Daniel Horner

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors agreed Dec. 3 to establish a nuclear fuel bank, endorsing the plan without a dissenting vote from any of the 35 members.

In the vote, which came on the second day of the board’s two-day meeting in Vienna, 28 countries supported the plan and six abstained. Pakistan was absent. The tally marked a shift from the vote a year earlier on another fuel bank proposal, authorizing Russia to set up a fuel reserve at the Angarsk site in Siberia (table 1). On that vote, eight countries voted against the plan and three abstained. (See ACT, January/February 2010.)

The just-endorsed plan would set up a reserve of low-enriched uranium (LEU) under IAEA control. In 2006 the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a private U.S. organization, pledged $50 million for such a reserve on the condition that IAEA member states donate another $100 million and that the board approve the plan. The NTI originally said the plan had to be in place within two years, but since then has agreed to three one-year extensions.

Pledges from the United States, the European Union, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Norway have combined to meet the $100 million goal, with the last pledge, Kuwait’s, coming in March 2009.

According to a background memo that the IAEA Secretariat issued in January 2010, the $150 million should be enough funding for the purchase and delivery of 60 to 80 metric tons of low-enriched uranium (LEU), enriched to a level of less than 5 percent uranium-235. That is roughly the amount of LEU needed for a full core of a typical power reactor, once the LEU is fabricated into reactor fuel.

In the months leading up to the vote, key supporters of the measure had been working on “building as broad a consensus as possible” in favor of it by explaining the motivations and rationale, NTI Vice President for International Programs Corey Hinderstein said in a Dec. 9 interview.

The United States “did a lot of lobbying” and “took some hints” from the Angarsk vote, a European diplomat said in a Dec. 20 interview. Some countries reportedly did not support the Angarsk resolution because of the way in which the issue was raised, with what they saw as insufficient time to consider it.

“Everyone in the U.S. government is very pleased” with the results of the recent vote, a Department of State official said in a Dec. 22 interview.

Russia, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and the EU members of the IAEA board joined the United States in sponsoring the resolution.

India’s Shift

One country whose position changed between the two votes was India, which abstained on the Angarsk vote but supported the NTI proposal. In its statement explaining its vote, India said, “As a country with advanced nuclear technology, India would like to participate as a supplier state in such initiatives.” Such statements generally are not public, but India’s Ministry of External Affairs released the statement Dec. 4.

According to a Nov. 26 IAEA document laying out the plan for the fuel bank, one of the eligibility requirements for recipients is that the state “has brought into force a comprehensive safeguards agreement requiring the application of safeguards to all its peaceful nuclear activities and pursuant to which safeguards are to be applied to the LEU that is supplied through the IAEA LEU bank.”

India, which is not a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), has placed only some of its power reactors and other nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards. Sources said the language in the document was understood to be a clear reference to the so-called full-scope safeguards required under INFCIRC/153, the IAEA document that sets out the safeguards requirements for NPT parties other than the five countries (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) that the treaty designates as nuclear-weapon states. Consequently, India would not be eligible to receive fuel from the bank.

India would not have been expected to be a recipient of fuel from the bank in any case, the State Department official said. The relatively small amount of fuel that the bank would hold would mean that it would not be applicable to India’s needs, he said. The fuel bank proposal is aimed at countries whose programs are “just starting out,” and India’s is “far, far beyond” that, he said.

India’s vote for the proposal indicates “a new level of bilateral cooperation” with the United States on matters relating to peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the State Department official said. The United States has been building nuclear ties with India since 2005, when the two countries’ leaders announced an initiative to ease U.S. and international restrictions on nuclear trade with India.

In the past, issues such as the requirement for full-scope safeguards might have led India to reject the proposal “automatically,” but the vote in favor of the fuel bank suggests that that may no longer be the case, the State Department official said.

South Africa, a key member of the Nonaligned Movement, abstained on the December vote; it had voted against the Angarsk plan. Indian and South African officials did not respond to requests for comment on their countries’ votes.

Another factor, the European diplomat said, was the IAEA board’s shift to a more “favorable composition” since the Angarsk vote, as some of the strong opponents rotated off the board and were replaced by countries that were more amenable to the idea. (See ACT, November 2010.)

Multiple Rationales

The fuel bank is intended to serve as a backup to other fuel-supply mechanisms, most notably the commercial fuel market. As the IAEA memo describes it, the bank is “designed to be used rarely.”

By providing countries with an assured supply of fuel at market prices, the bank is intended to dissuade recipients from pursuing their own uranium-enrichment programs. In a Dec. 3 press release hailing the board’s vote, NTI Co-Chairman Sam Nunn said, “If every country interested in nuclear energy also chooses to pursue uranium enrichment, the risk of proliferation of dangerous nuclear materials and weapons would grow beyond the tipping point. The IAEA fuel bank now gives countries an alternative to that choice and direction.”

In early articulations of fuel bank proposals, some supporters framed them to require recipients to forgo indigenous enrichment programs, an approach that led to objections from many of the potential developing-country recipients. According to numerous accounts, suspicions on that front persist although more recent language has not linked eligibility for fuel bank material to any kind of renunciation. In an effort to address those concerns, the November IAEA document says, “The rights of Member States, including establishing or expanding their own production capacity in the nuclear fuel cycle, shall remain intact and shall not in any way be compromised or diminished by the establishment of international assurance of supply mechanisms.”

The document reinforces that point with two additional sentences: “Thus, having the right to receive LEU from the guaranteed supply mechanism shall not require giving up the right to establish or further develop a national fuel cycle or have any impact on it. The additional options for assurance of supply shall be in addition to the rights that exist at present.”

On the issue of proliferation, the IAEA background memo says that some agency members

observed that concerns related to nuclear proliferation must not in any way restrict the inalienable right of all States to develop all aspects of nuclear science and technology for peaceful purposes, given in particular the relevance of nuclear science and technology for the sustainable socio-economic advance of developing nations, and that there should not be any attempts aimed at discouraging the pursuit of any peaceful nuclear technology on the grounds of its alleged “sensitivity.”

Addressing that point, the memo says that,

[w]ith respect to the comment made by some Member States regarding the “alleged sensitive nature of enrichment and [spent fuel] reprocessing technologies”, which are technologies in the civilian nuclear fuel cycle that could be used to produce material for nuclear weapons, it may be recalled that inter alia these two technologies were identified as “sensitive technological areas” by the Board in the context of the application of safeguards in relation to the granting of technical cooperation by the IAEA.

The State Department official said that the “tenor” of the November document “is a result of the discussions we had.” Although the nonproliferation aspect of the fuel bank was paramount for the United States, “countries that eventually supported it [did so] for different reasons,” with some seeing it as an “insurance policy,” he said.

Hinderstein also said that countries had varying reasons for supporting the proposal. However, she said, the debate over the question of whether fuel cycle technology should be called sensitive showed how discussions at the IAEA on politically charged issues have sometimes “separated themselves from reality.” Although acquisition of enrichment or reprocessing technology does not indicate a “nefarious” purpose, the technology could be misused by a future government in the country that acquires it, she said. Also, the more broadly the technology is disseminated, the greater the chance that, through subsequent legal or illegal exports, it will end up in a country that will misuse it, she said.

With the vote now completed, it is “important to see how this is going to be implemented” and make sure it is “as smooth and efficient as possible,” the European diplomat said. Key steps will be acquiring the LEU for the fuel bank on the commercial market and determining a host country for the bank, he said.

Kazakhstan is the only country that has declared an interest in hosting the bank.

Table 1: Fuel Bank Votes

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors has voted on two proposals to establish a fuel bank of low-enriched uranium. The vote on the first proposal, on Nov. 27, 2009, was to establish a reserve at the Angarsk site in Siberia. The vote on the second proposal, on Dec. 3, 2010, was on a plan by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) to set up a fuel reserve under IAEA control.

 

Country

Angarsk

NTI

Afghanistan

Y

NM

Argentina

N

Abst.

Australia

Y

Y

Azerbaijan

--*

Y

Belgium

NM

Y

Brazil

N

Abst.

Burkina Faso

Y

NM

Cameroon

Y

Y

Canada

Y

Y

Chile

NM

Y

China

Y

Y

Cuba

N

NM

Czech Republic

NM

Y

Denmark

Y

Y

Ecuador

NM

Abst.

Egypt

N

NM

France

Y

Y

Germany

Y

Y

India

Abst.

Y

Italy

NM

Y

Japan

Y

Y

Jordan

NM

Y

Kenya

Abst.

Y

Malaysia

N

NM

Mongolia

Y

Y

Netherlands

Y

Y

New Zealand

Y

NM

Niger

NM

Y

Pakistan

N

--

Peru

Y

Y

Portugal

NM

Y

Romania

Y

NM

Russia

Y

Y

Singapore

NM

Y

South Africa

N

Abst.

South Korea

Y

Y

Spain

Y

NM

Switzerland

Y

NM

Tunisia

NM

Abst.

Turkey

Abst.

NM

Ukraine

Y

Y

United Arab Emirates

NM

Y

United Kingdom

Y

Y

United States

Y

Y

Uruguay

Y

NM

Venezuela

N

Abst.

 

TOTALS

Y             23

N             8

Abst.       3

--              1

Y               28

N               0

Abst.         6

--                1

Key:

Y  Yes

N  No

Abst. Abstain

--  Absent

NM  Not a board member at the time of the vote

*Azerbaijan later said it would have voted in favor of the resolution.

Sources: Media reports, interviews with diplomats

 

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s board endorsed a plan for an IAEA-controlled reserve of low-enriched uranium. The vote was less divided than one a year earlier on a Russian fuel bank proposal.

India Seen Unlikely to Join NSG Soon

Daniel Horner

In spite of a U.S. pledge of support for Indian membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), New Delhi is not likely to enter the group anytime soon, sources said last month.

President Barack Obama made the commitment of support in a Nov. 8 joint statement with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during Obama’s visit to India.

Part of the reason for the long timeline for Indian entry is that the NSG, which now has 46 members, makes decisions by consensus, the sources said. But they also cited the multistage process that would be required before India was eligible, as well as the commitment by the United States and other NSG countries to reach agreement on a long-standing issue—the revision of the group’s export guidelines on transfers of certain nuclear technology—before they took up the question of Indian membership.

India would be the first member of the NSG that is not a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). A key criterion for membership in the group is that the country is a party to and complying with the NPT or a nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaty.

Until two years ago, India was not eligible to receive exports from NSG members because it is a non-NPT state and does not open all its nuclear facilities to international inspections. But in response to a U.S.-led initiative, the group agreed to lift that requirement for India in return for certain nonproliferation “commitments and actions.” (See ACT, October 2008.) The United States created a similar exception from its nuclear export law. U.S. officials emphasized that the decision was only for India.

In a Nov. 29 interview, a Department of State official said the United States does not see the new initiative as a “repeat” of the 2008 decision. Rather than creating a unique exception for India, the initiative signals an effort to begin discussions on “evolving” the membership criteria of the NSG and other export control regimes so that non-NPT countries can become eligible, she said.

Israel and Pakistan also have never been NPT parties and maintain unsafeguarded nuclear programs.

According to the joint statement, the United States “intends to support” Indian membership in those regimes “in a phased manner, and to consult with regime members to encourage the evolution of regime membership criteria, consistent with maintaining the core principles of these regimes, as the Government of India takes steps towards the full adoption of the regimes’ export control requirements to reflect its prospective membership, with both processes moving forward together.”

That would mean that the NSG would have to agree on the revised membership criteria and then determine whether India met those criteria, the State Department official said.

Before the easing of the NSG export restrictions in 2008, India stated its unilateral adherence to the group’s guidelines. The official declined to comment on whether India’s export controls currently meet NSG guidelines, but said that, as an NSG adherent, India is expected to “keep current” with the guidelines as they change.

Critics have said that because India already has made a commitment to meet the NSG’s export standards, which are nonbinding, the new initiative requires nothing from New Delhi in return for the benefits of NSG membership, chiefly, recognition as a responsible nuclear state and the ability to have a say in the group’s decisions.

The official countered that there is a benefit to the nonproliferation regime in having India participate in the discussion and the exchanges of information that take place within the NSG. Membership may give India “more of a stake” in the regime, she said.

One Initiative at a Time

Two officials from NSG member countries said the group is not planning to take up the question of Indian membership until the NSG works out a revision of guidelines on exports relating to uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing. The NSG has been wrestling with that issue since 2004.

In a Nov. 22 interview, a U.S. official said that the U.S. priority in the NSG is “100 percent” on revamping the guidelines on sensitive nuclear exports. The United States is not “contemplating discussion at this time” on Indian membership, he said.

The U.S. government is hoping the NSG will reach consensus on the guidelines revision this year, he said.

The NSG’s Consultative Group met in Vienna Nov. 10-11, but “we are where we were before the meeting” on guidelines for sensitive exports, the official said.

A European diplomat said in a Nov. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today that “the Chair [New Zealand] is working away on this with the countries most concerned, but it appears likely at present that this issue will have to come back to Plenary.” The change in the guidelines would have to take place at a plenary meeting, which the NSG typically holds once a year. The next plenary is scheduled for June in the Dutch town of Noordwijk. Changing the guidelines before then would require a special plenary to be convened.

In late 2008, the NSG produced a “clean text” and appeared to be close to reaching agreement (see ACT, December 2008), but efforts have stalled since then. In recent months, several observers have cited Turkey as the principal obstacle.

The U.S. official said there have been changes made in the text “to accommodate a number of concerns, not just Turkey[’s].”

In October, Gary Samore, the White House arms control coordinator, indicated that the United States would consider dropping the six-year-old effort to revise the guidelines if it did not bear fruit soon. (See ACT, November 2010.) But in the interview, the U.S. official said Samore’s comments were not inconsistent with the ongoing U.S. effort. Samore’s point was that “our patience isn’t going to last forever,” he said.

Cynical Interpretation

Some observers, noting the hurdles to Indian membership and the time frame that would be required, have questioned whether the United States actually intends to pursue the effort vigorously. They suggested that the Obama administration might have made the announcement to give a near-term boost to U.S.-Indian relations.

One House staffer, who called the initiative “terrible” for nonproliferation, said Nov. 16 that he is “hoping it was pure cynicism,” that is, that the administration was promising something that it “know[s] would never happen.”

The State Department official said, “People will believe what they want to believe,” but emphasized, “I certainly see this as doable.”

 

In spite of a U.S. pledge of support for Indian membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), New Delhi is not likely to enter the group anytime soon, sources said last month.

News Briefs

Alleged Arms Dealer Viktor Bout Extradited

Jeff Abramson

After more than two years in Thai custody, Russian alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout was extradited to the United States and appeared Nov. 17 in a Manhattan federal court.

Although believed to have supplied arms to conflict zones around the world, Bout faces charges related only to an alleged 2008 effort to equip the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which the U.S. government has classified as a terrorist organization.

At a Nov. 17 press briefing, U.S. District Attorney Preet Bharara outlined the case against Bout, derived from a Thai-U.S. sting operation in March 2008 in which Bout and associate Andrew Smulian offered to equip U.S. agents pretending to be FARC members with an “arsenal that would be the envy of some small countries,” according to Bharara. (See ACT, April 2008.)

At Bout’s arraignment later that day, he pleaded not guilty; the trial date has not been set.

If convicted on all charges, including conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, use and acquire anti-aircraft missiles, and provide material support to a terrorist organization, Bout would face a minimum sentence of 25 years and maximum of life imprisonment. At the briefing, Bharara revealed that Smulian had already admitted to the allegations and that evidence from conspirators would be part of the case against Bout, who has maintained his innocence since the 2008 arrest.

Russia called the extradition illegal, but U.S. Department of State spokesman P.J. Crowley said Nov. 16 he did not expect the case to upset U.S.-Russian relations.

Russian officials had pressed the Thai government to release Bout while U.S. officials argued for his extradition. When the extradition occurred Nov. 16, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement saying, “There is no doubt that the illegal extradition of Viktor Bout is a consequence of the unprecedented political pressure exerted by the United States on the government and judicial authorities in Thailand.” By Nov. 18, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statements had moderated. Russian news service RIA Novosti quoted him as saying, “We will not act as Bout’s advocates and do not claim that he did not commit any illegal offences. That we do not know, and no one will know, until justice is done…. We want to see justice prevail, nothing more.”


 

Material Secured From Kazakhstani Reactor

Daniel Horner

An international effort led by the United States and Kazakhstan has removed material containing 10 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and three metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium from a fast-breeder reactor in Kazakhstan, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said in a Nov. 18 press release and a follow-up e-mail to Arms Control Today.

The plutonium and HEU are contained in 300 metric tons of spent fuel shipped from the BN-350 reactor on the Caspian Sea to a secure storage facility more than 3,000 kilometers away in eastern Kazakhstan, the NNSA said. The material, transported in 12 shipments over the past year, contains enough plutonium and HEU for 775 nuclear weapons, the NNSA said.

In 1997, Kazakhstan and the United States signed an agreement that established a joint program for the long-term, secure storage of the BN-350 fuel. The reactor stopped weapons material production in the 1980s and was completely shut down in 1999.

The United Kingdom and the International Atomic Energy Agency played key roles in the fuel shipments, which were completed ahead of schedule, the NNSA said.


 

Parties to Cluster Munitions Pact Adopt Plan

Farrah Zughni

The first meeting of states-parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) in Vientiane, Laos, concluded Nov. 12 with the adoption of a 66-point proposal outlining concrete steps for implementing the treaty. The Vientiane declaration and action plan calls on participating states to condemn the use of cluster munitions, accelerate stockpile destruction, and expand support for victims.

In her Nov. 9 address to the Vientiane meeting, UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro described the effort as “an important step towards peace, multilateral co-operation, and humanitarian disarmament.”

To date, 108 countries have signed and 48 have ratified the CCM, which entered into force Aug. 1. At least seven countries that have ratified or signed the pact have destroyed their stockpiles, and an additional 11 have initiated this process since the treaty was opened for signature in 2008.

However, 47 states currently known to have cluster munitions stockpiles, including China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and Russia, have not signed the CCM. The United States, which holds one of the world’s largest stockpiles and continues to allow the export of treaty-banned weapons, is not a party to the treaty and did not attend the Laos meeting.

Lebanon, which on Nov. 5 became the 46th country to ratify the convention, will host the second states-parties meeting, slated for September 2011. Like this year’s host country, Lebanon continues to suffer annual casualties from significant numbers of cluster munitions left on its territory that failed to explode as intended during previous conflicts.


 

Nobel Laureates Call for Nuclear Disarmament

Eric Auner

Declaring that the use of nuclear weapons “must be regarded as a crime against humanity” and that “[t]he threats posed by nuclear weapons did not disappear with the ending of the Cold War,” a group of Nobel Peace Prize winners on Nov. 14 called for elimination of the weapons and for a treaty banning their use.

“Nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented, but they can and must be outlawed, just as chemical and biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions have been declared illegal,” said the group’s statement, which was issued at the end of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Hiroshima.

The declaration “welcome[d]” the signing of the U.S.-Russian New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and called on key countries, including the United States, to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) so that it can enter into force.

Tibor Tóth, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, the organization responsible for overseeing the treaty’s verification as well as “promoting [its] universality,” addressed the summit Nov. 13. The CTBT “can be a rallying point on the road to the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” he said.

Several peace prize winners, including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk, endorsed the statement.

 

GAO Finds Problems in Tritium Production

Daniel Horner

Technical problems have prevented the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) from producing as much tritium as it planned, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released last month.

Although the NNSA currently is meeting the tritium requirements for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, “its ability to do so in the future is in doubt,” said the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.

Tritium is a radioactive gas used to boost the explosive power of nuclear weapons. Because it decays at a rate of 5.5 percent a year, supplies of it have to be replenished periodically from either retired weapons or new production.

According to the GAO, “Although the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile is decreasing, these reductions are unlikely to result in a significant decrease of tritium requirements and will not eliminate the need for a reliable source of new tritium.”

The tritium for the U.S. arsenal is being produced by irradiating special fuel rods, known as Tritium-Producing Burnable Absorber Rods (TPBARs), in Watts Bar-1, a nuclear power reactor owned and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a federal corporation. Tritium is then extracted from the TPBARs in a facility at the Energy Department’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

TPBARs were first irradiated at Watts Bar in 2003.

The technical problem that is the focus of the GAO report is tritium “permeation” from the TPBARs into reactor coolant water at a rate that is higher than expected. The NNSA has noted the problem in budget documents, but in an interview last year, the manager of the NNSA’s Savannah River Site office said the main issue was the potential impact on reactor operation rather than on tritium production. (See ACT, June 2009.)

Because regulations for nuclear power reactors set a ceiling on the amount of tritium that can be released into the coolant, the TVA has limited the number of TPBARs loaded into Watts Bar-1, the GAO said. As the GAO noted, the Energy Department’s agreement with the TVA allows it to use two additional TVA reactors, Sequoyah-1 and -2, for tritium production.

However, as the NNSA put it in a letter to GAO commenting on a draft of the report, “Both TVA and NNSA would experience programmatic and operational benefits from keeping tritium production in one reactor, and will be working to achieve this goal. Nevertheless, NNSA does have this backup plan that can meet mission requirements with existing technologies and assets.”

The GAO said, “While we are encouraged that NNSA and TVA are working together to increase the number of TPBARs being irradiated, continued uncertainty about NNSA’s and TVA’s ability to irradiate additional TPBARs in a single reactor while not exceeding limits on the amount of tritium released into the environment raises doubts about the program’s ability to provide a reliable supply and predictable quantities of tritium over time.”

From the beginning of the program, some tritium permeation had been expected, NNSA spokeswoman Jennifer Wagner said in an Oct. 29 e-mail to Arms Control Today. The higher-than-expected permeation was initially observed in the summer of 2004, she said.

 

Technical problems have prevented the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) from producing as much tritium as it planned, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released last month.

Although the NNSA currently is meeting the tritium requirements for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, “its ability to do so in the future is in doubt,” said the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.

U.S. Official Mulls Ending NSG Rule Revamp

Daniel Horner

If the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) does not agree soon on new guidelines for selling sensitive nuclear technology, there would be a good argument for dropping the effort, a senior Obama administration official said Oct. 18.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Gary Samore, the White House arms control coordinator, said, “I think that if we are not able to reach agreement, my guess is that we should probably decide that this is an effort that was just not going to be successful.”

The NSG’s Consultative Group is scheduled to meet Nov. 10-11 in Vienna. The NSG has been working since 2004 to revise its guidelines on exports relating to uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing. According to the public statement issued at the end of its plenary meeting this June in Christchurch, New Zealand, the group “agreed to continue considering ways to further strengthen guidelines dealing with the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies.”

The current guidelines say that suppliers should “exercise restraint” in making such transfers. As Samore described it, that criterion “was interpreted by everybody as ‘don’t sell it.’” In a February 2004 speech, President George W. Bush said the NSG “should refuse to sell enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technologies to any state that does not already possess full-scale, functioning enrichment and reprocessing plants.”

Other NSG members, led by France, favored an approach based on adopting a list of specific criteria that countries would have to meet to be eligible for such exports. The NSG, which currently has 46 members, has not been able to agree on the criteria although the differences are now “down to a couple of words here and phrases there,” Samore said.

Asked about the time frame for making decision to break off the talks, he said, “If we make progress in this next meeting, then we might want to stay at it a little bit longer.” But if the discussion “really looks like it’s stalemated,” he said, “I’m a big believer in not wasting effort on things that are not going to be successful.” If the countries cannot reach agreement on a new set of detailed criteria, “then I frankly think we should just set the effort aside,” he said.

In late 2008, the NSG produced a “clean text” and appeared to be close to reaching agreement. (See ACT, December 2008.) When it failed to do so, the members of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries agreed at their 2009 summit meeting to adopt the 2008 NSG text as a national policy for a year. The G-8 extended that policy for another year at its meeting this June. All the members of the G-8—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—also belong to the NSG.

In an October 27 interview, a European diplomat said G-8 adoption of the new guidelines “could be a temporary alternative” to the NSG but not a “100 percent alternative” because the G-8’s membership is so much smaller.

China-Pakistan Deal

Another issue that NSG members are likely to discuss at the Vienna meeting, sources said, is the proposed sale of two Chinese reactors to Pakistan for its Chashma site. China provided little information on that issue at the Christchurch meeting. (See ACT, July/August 2010.)

Since that meeting, China has officially confirmed its plan to sell the reactors. At her Sept. 21 press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, “The Chashma Project III & IV mentioned in recent media reports are carried out according to the cooperative agreement in nuclear power signed by China and Pakistan in 2003,” according to a transcript posted on the ministry’s English-language Web site.

She added, “China has already notified the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] of relevant information and asked for its safeguard and supervision.”

NSG guidelines, which are nonbinding, do not allow the export of nuclear goods such as reactors and fuel to countries that do not accept IAEA safeguards on all their nuclear facilities. Pakistan does not have these so-called full-scope safeguards.

When China joined the NSG in 2004, it had already built a power reactor at the Chashma site. It claimed at the time that, under NSG “grandfather” provisions, it was entitled to build a second one, on the grounds that the second project was covered in its existing agreement with Pakistan. (The first reactor is operating; the second is in the final stages of construction.)

According to several accounts, the NSG agreed in 2004 that the second reactor would be allowable under the grandfather provision but that subsequent power reactor sales would not.

In the weeks before the Christchurch meeting, the U.S. government said the sale of reactors beyond Chashma-1 and -2 would be “inconsistent with NSG guidelines and China’s commitments to the NSG.” (See ACT, June 2010.)

The European diplomat said her government “tend[s] to think in a similar direction” but wanted to get more information on the “ins and outs of the deal,” including the Chinese explanation.

Media reports last month quoted Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, as saying the United States had asked Pakistan for more information on the deal.

 

If the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) does not agree soon on new guidelines for selling sensitive nuclear technology, there would be a good argument for dropping the effort, a senior Obama administration official said Oct. 18.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Gary Samore, the White House arms control coordinator, said, “I think that if we are not able to reach agreement, my guess is that we should probably decide that this is an effort that was just not going to be successful.”

 

Countries Aim for Fuel Bank Endorsement

Daniel Horner

A group of countries led by the United States is working to secure support for a proposed nuclear fuel bank, with the goal of having the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors adopt a resolution endorsing the plan at its next meeting, according to statements from governments and other organizations involved in the process.

In interviews in recent weeks, diplomats and others who are following the situation said supporters of the plan are moving now because they believe that additional time will not help their cause.

Addressing the IAEA General Conference in Vienna Sept. 20, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said the United States planned “a common approach” so that the board could approve the plan at its Dec. 2-3 meeting.

The aim of the fuel bank proposal is to dissuade countries from pursuing their own uranium-enrichment programs by providing them with an assured supply of fuel at market prices. The bank, which the IAEA would administer, would serve as a backup to existing commercial mechanisms for countries with good nonproliferation credentials. President Barack Obama has strongly supported the plan, as did President George W. Bush and IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei when they were in office.

Under the plan, the IAEA would own enough low-enriched uranium (LEU) for a full core of a typical power reactor, once the LEU was fabricated into reactor fuel.

In 2006 the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a private U.S. organization, pledged $50 million for such a reserve on the condition that IAEA member states donate another $100 million and that the board approve the plan. The NTI originally said the plan had to be in place within two years, but since then has agreed to three one-year extensions.

Pledges of $50 million from the United States, up to 25 million euros from the European Union, $10 million apiece from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and $5 million from Norway have combined to meet the financial goal, but the board has not endorsed the plan.

In his speech in Vienna, Chu said of the $150 million, “[T]hese resources will be at risk if we do not reach a decision soon.” Several of the sources interviewed cited similar concerns that the governmental pledges, as well as the one from the NTI, might not remain available indefinitely.

In an Oct. 7 interview, Corey Hinderstein, the NTI’s vice president for international programs, declined to say whether the most recent one-year deadline extension would be the last. However, when the NTI receives an extension request from the IAEA, it has to assess the prospects for the fuel bank proposal, she said. If the prospects are seen as unlikely to improve, “then we have to say, ‘What are we waiting for?’” she said.

Improved Chances

A year ago, the IAEA board endorsed a plan for Russia to establish an LEU reserve at the Angarsk site in Siberia. (See ACT, January/February 2010.) The plan garnered support from a sizable majority of the 35-member board, but eight countries (Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Africa, and Venezuela) voted against the plan and three (India, Kenya, and Turkey) abstained. Analysts noted that the dissenters included some of the developing world’s most influential countries.

For most of its history, the IAEA board has made decisions by consensus, although it has varied from that pattern somewhat in recent years.

Since the fuel bank proposal was first raised, members of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) and other developing countries have expressed concerns that participation in the fuel bank arrangement would impede their rights under Article IV of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which gives parties the right to “the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy” and says parties have an “inalienable right” to pursue nuclear energy programs as long as the programs are “in conformity with” the treaty’s nonproliferation restrictions.

Supporters of the fuel bank have repeatedly said the proposal would not infringe on those rights; the board’s Angarsk resolution included language to that effect.

However, Hinderstein said, “some of the no votes on Angarsk were not about the resolution, but about the process.” There was a perception among some of the opponents that the issue was “just put on the table” and that states were told just to say yes or no, she said.

Russia had pressed for a vote, with the support of the United States, sources said.

Countries supporting the resolution are using the time before the December meeting to engage in “real consultations,” Hinderstein said. The supporters have to answer “reasonable questions,” but are not going to be able sway opponents who have deep-seated objections to the basic concept of the fuel bank, she said.

In an Oct. 27 interview, a U.S. official said supporters of the fuel bank will “listen to criticism” and “try to come up with a resolution that will demonstrate we have listened.”

A European diplomat said on Oct. 25 he was not sure the more extensive consultations would really change any countries’ positions but that it was a “fair point” to ask for more time than was available on the Angarsk vote.

Changed Composition

Since the Angarsk vote, the composition of the board has changed, and Hinderstein and others suggested that the new makeup might be more amenable to the fuel bank. The European diplomat said the board transition has resulted in some “more friendly NAM” representation. As an example, he noted the departure of Egypt, which cast one of the eight dissenting votes, and the accession of Jordan.

Another new member of the board is the UAE, which pledged money for the fuel bank.

However, the European diplomat said he did not see the board realignment as a “major driving factor” in the decision to go ahead now. The U.S. official agreed, saying, “The impossibility of consensus is what really drove this.”

The European diplomat also said the notion of consensus is “not completely realistic.” However, he said he expected to see a “large majority” of the board co-sponsor or otherwise support the resolution.

The diplomat and the U.S. official said the resolution was likely to make full-scope safeguards a requirement for recipients of fuel from the bank. Countries that accept full-scope safeguards allow IAEA inspections of all their nuclear facilities.

Amano’s Role

In his brief reference to the fuel bank effort during his Sept. 20 remarks to the General Conference, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said that although there were differences among member states, “there is a convergence of views that the issue needs to be discussed further.” He “encourage[d]” the states “to find suitable ways of dealing with this issue” and said the IAEA Secretariat “stands ready to provide any assistance required.”

In the interviews, the officials and others said the statement reflected the contrast between Amano’s attitude toward the fuel bank and ElBaradei’s. ElBaradei actively supported the plan, but Amano has a more hands-off approach, the sources said.

Amano “does not believe the time is ripe for such an idea” and “seems to be more interested in questions that have to do with the back end” of the nuclear fuel cycle, one source said. According to another source, the secretariat thinks the fuel bank would be a good idea and is willing to provide the necessary technical and legal assistance, but “the member states have to pick up the baton and run with it.”

A third source chose a different metaphor, saying of Amano, “He’s on board, but he’s not driving the train.”

 

A group of countries led by the United States is working to secure support for a proposed nuclear fuel bank, with the goal of having the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors adopt a resolution endorsing the plan at its next meeting, according to statements from governments and other organizations involved in the process.

In interviews in recent weeks, diplomats and others who are following the situation said supporters of the plan are moving now because they believe that additional time will not help their cause.

 

News Briefs

Saudi Arms Deal Sent to Congress

Matt Sugrue 

The Obama administration last month formally notified Congress of a roughly $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. If completed, it would be the largest arms sale in U.S. history.

According to the notification documents, the deal includes 84 F-15SA tactical fighters, 70 Apache Longbow attack helicopters, AIM-120C/7 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles, Hellfire missiles, and radar equipment. Congressional notifications list the “not-to-exceed estimate” of possible deals and are subject to reductions.

Congress has 30 days after notification to review the proposed weapons sale before the sale can move forward. To block it, Congress must pass a joint resolution of disapproval during the review period and then override a likely presidential veto. Congress has never successfully done that.

The Saudi arms sale has received some resistance in the House since news of the deal was leaked in September. In a letter that month to President Barack Obama, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) stated his intention to block any proposed arms deal with Saudi Arabia. (See ACT, October 2010.) He reiterated that point after the administration officially notified Congress of the deal Oct. 20. After the review period, Congress retains the ability to halt the deal at any point during the 15 to 20 years it is expected to take before all transfers are completed.

In an Oct. 20 press conference announcing the notification, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro denied the possibility that the U.S.-Saudi deal would destabilize the Middle East and lead to a regional arms race. Shapiro went on to say that the sale would not endanger Israel’s “qualitative military edge.”


 

HEU Spent Fuel Removed From Poland

Daniel Horner 

More than 450 kilograms of Russian-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) spent fuel has been transported from Poland to Russia in five shipments over 12 months, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced in an Oct. 12 press release.

The effort represents the largest spent fuel shipment campaign in NNSA history, the press release said. Repatriation of Russian-origin fresh and spent HEU fuel is a key of part of the NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative.

The NNSA declined to say what the enrichment level of the spent fuel was, but in an Oct. 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today, NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera said the spent fuel return was the program’s largest ever in terms of the quantity of uranium-235, as well as in terms of “sheer volume.”

Uranium enriched to levels of 20 percent or more of U-235 is considered HEU.

The campaign involved collaboration among the NNSA, Russia, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Poland’s Radioactive Waste Management Plant and Institute of Atomic Energy, the press release said. The material went to Russia’s Mayak facility, where it will be down-blended to low-enriched uranium (LEU), LaVera said.

According to the press release, the spent HEU fuel came from the Ewa and Maria research reactors in Swierk. The Ewa reactor is no longer in use and is in the process of being shut down and disassembled, LaVera said. The Maria reactor is scheduled to be converted in 2012 to run on LEU rather than HEU, he said.

Meanwhile, Ken Baker, the NNSA deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, said Oct. 12 at a conference in Lisbon that the NNSA and Russia’s Rosatom this year will finalize a “legal framework” that will allow the start of studies to “determine the feasibility of converting” six research reactors in Russia from HEU to LEU fuel. According to LaVera, the studies are required to determine what types of fuel research reactors in Russia could use if converted to LEU.

Rosatom has confirmed the shutdown of three HEU-fueled research reactors, with an additional five in the process of being shut down and decommissioned, he said.


 

India Signs Nuclear Liability Convention

Eric Auner 

India on Oct. 27 signed the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC), an international treaty that seeks to establish global guidelines for compensating victims of nuclear accidents.

At a White House press briefing that day previewing President Barack Obama’s Nov. 6-9 visit to India, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns called the signing a “positive step.”

The signing comes two months after India passed a controversial nuclear liability law. (See ACT, October 2010.) The law makes nuclear supplier firms potentially liable for a nuclear accident, whereas under the CSC, liability is channeled exclusively to the nuclear facility operator. U.S. nuclear suppliers have indicated they would be reluctant to do business in India without such restrictions on liability.

Access to the Indian reactor market was one of the potential benefits cited by advocates of U.S. legislation, enacted in 2008, that allowed nuclear trade with India although New Delhi does not meet key requirements of U.S. nonproliferation law

G. Balachandran, writing for the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, an Indian think tank, said the controversial provisions of the liability law did not legally preclude India’s CSC signature. According to Balachandran, Article XVIII(i) of the CSC requires that a state only declare that its national law complies with the CSC, rather than proving that the law is CSC-compliant.

Fourteen states have signed the CSC, and four states, including the United States, have ratified it. It has not yet entered into force.


 

Virus May Be Targeting Iran’s Nuclear Program

Matt Sugrue

Stuxnet, a new computer virus, apparently is affecting Iran’s nuclear program in what may be a new type of cyberattack, according to security experts.

More than 60 percent of the known Stuxnet infections are located in Iran. The virus targets a type of industrial control system built by the German company Siemens. Iran’s Bushehr reactor has a Siemens control system. As a result, many experts assume that whoever designed the virus wanted to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.

During the past several months, the Bushehr plant has experienced a series of delays in its projected startup date. However, Iranian state-run Press TV reported that Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, dismissed suggestions that Stuxnet had anything to do with the delays.

In an October report, software security firm Symantec concludes that Stuxnet reprograms the industrial control systems of power plants “to make them work in a manner the attacker intended.” In a separate report, Symantec says the virus exploits four “zero-day” vulnerabilities in Microsoft software. Zero-day vulnerabilities are holes in a computer program’s security that were unknown to the developer.

 

OPCW Chief Looks to Middle East

Daniel Horner

Countries in the Middle East that are not parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) should “delink” their decisions on joining that treaty from issues relating to other accords, the head of the CWC’s implementing body said Aug. 30.

At a breakfast session with reporters in Washington, Ahmet Üzümcü, the director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said the use of chemical weapons “has become militarily meaningless and morally unacceptable.”

Egypt and Syria have said they will not join the CWC unless Israel becomes a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Egypt and Syria are parties to the NPT; Israel has signed the CWC, but not ratified it. They represent three out of the seven countries that have not joined the CWC; the others are Angola, Myanmar (Burma), North Korea, and Somalia.

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference in May, the parties agreed to a final document that includes a commitment to steps toward establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East. (See ACT, June 2010.) A key step is to hold a conference on the issue in 2012.

“Obviously it would be in the interest of the whole international community to see a WMD-free zone, as has happened in other parts of the world,” Üzümcü said. However, “[i]f for one reason or another it doesn’t happen in the immediate future, what we advocate for the immediate future is at least to achieve a [chemical-weapon-]free zone in this part of the world.”

It is in the interests of the three Middle Eastern nonparties to join the CWC “as early as possible,” said Üzümcü, a Turkish diplomat. He said that, in speaking with representatives of those countries, he would emphasize “incentives provided by the convention itself.” He specifically cited Article X, which deals with “assistance and protection against chemical weapons,” and Article XI, which deals with “economic and technological development,” including international cooperation.

The OPCW is planning to provide “substantive input” to the 2012 conference and will use it and the run-up to it as an opportunity to interact with the countries from the region, he said.

Üzümcü took office in July, succeeding Rogelio Pfirter.

One of Pfirter’s initiatives had been to draw attention to inspections of “other chemical production facilities” (OCPFs), which are inspected at a lower rate than other facilities that are declarable under the treaty but are technically capable of producing chemical weapons agents or precursors. Pfirter proposed that in countries with many OCPFs, the countries’ national authorities would, or could, verify some of the declared OCPFs. (See ACT, January/February 2010.)

Üzümcü said he also considered OCPF inspections to be an important issue. There are about 5,000 OCPFs in the world, and the OPCW currently conducts 125 OCPF inspections per year, he said. It would take years to inspect all of them, but “[m]aybe we don’t need” to do that and could instead “identify the most relevant OPCFs to be inspected,” he said.

Also, he said, the OPCW should be able to convince states that the inspections are in their own interest. “It may create some burden” for the states in which the inspections take place, but “it provides an added value to the overall domestic control mechanisms” of those states. If the states are worried about diversion from the facilities, they should see this type of “verification mechanism” as being in their interest, he said.

Such an inspection “ensures a certain discipline, which in my view is very much in the interest of the receiving state-party,” he said.

Üzümcü was in Washington to meet with Obama administration officials and then travel to the U.S. chemical weapons storage and disposal facility at Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky. According to a Sept. 6 OPCW press release, the administration officials included Gen. James Jones, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser; Rose Gottemoeller, the assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance, and implementation; and Andrew Weber, the assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear and chemical and biological defense programs.

 

Lawmakers Eye Fixes to Law on Nuclear Pacts

Daniel Horner

Key members of Congress from both parties last month expressed support for revising U.S. law on agreements for peaceful nuclear cooperation, citing a number of nuclear pacts that have been recently submitted to Congress or are being negotiated as showing the need for change.

At a Sept. 24 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the ranking member, talked about changes they planned to make or were considering. Ros-Lehtinen said she intended to introduce legislation, although she did not indicate when.

In an interview later that day, a congressional source who is following the issue closely said that “different people [in Congress] are working on different things.” The drafting process is still in the “nascent stages,” and there is no expectation that legislation will move this year, he said. He said he has not heard “any real objections” from congressional offices about pursuing the change. At the same time, no one involved “is under any illusions” that the job will be easy, as the administration is certain to object to any legislation that it sees as restricting its latitude to negotiate with other countries, he said.

A main focus of the hearing was how to use U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements—often called “123 agreements” after the section of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act that requires such pacts with U.S. nuclear trading partners—to control the dissemination of technologies for enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel. Those technologies can be used to produce highly enriched uranium or plutonium for nuclear weapons.

The new 123 agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been characterized as a model for U.S. nuclear cooperation policy. In that agreement, the UAE commits itself to refrain from pursuing enrichment or reprocessing. Pursuing such programs would be grounds for the United States to halt nuclear cooperation with the UAE, an unprecedented provision in U.S. cooperation agreements.

The agreement was originally negotiated by the Bush administration, which signed it just before leaving office in January 2009. (See ACT, March 2009.) After some lawmakers questioned whether the UAE pledge was legally binding, the Obama administration negotiated a new version of the agreement, signing it and submitting it to Congress in May 2009.

Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration hailed the pact as a model for future agreements, particularly in the Middle East. In his statement accompanying the agreement’s submittal to Congress on May 21, 2009, President Barack Obama said the pact “has the potential to serve as a model for other countries in the region that wish to pursue responsible nuclear energy development.”

However, the administration apparently has had difficulty replicating the provisions of the UAE agreement in pacts with other countries.

Jordan and Vietnam

Negotiations on a 123 agreement with Jordan—another cooperation agreement for which negotiations have spanned the Bush and Obama administrations—reportedly have been held up by Jordanian objections to UAE-style provisions on enrichment and reprocessing. The administration apparently is not insisting on such a provision in discussions with Vietnam, which has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU)—a possible precursor of a 123 agreement—with the United States. That MOU reportedly does not contain commitments similar to the ones in the UAE agreement and in MOUs with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

In an Aug. 5 press briefing, Department of State spokesman P.J. Crowley declined to say directly whether a U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement with Vietnam would require that country to forgo uranium enrichment. With regard to the UAE model, he said, “We certainly want to see other countries make that same kind of decision and that same kind of agreement in their own interest as the administration pursues its nonproliferation agenda.” However, he said that “the interests and needs of particular countries will vary from one to the other” and that “if Vietnam chooses, as part of its own self-interest and exercising its right under the [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] to enrichment, that is a decision for them to make. It’s not a decision for the United States to make.”

At a July 27 nuclear industry conference, a U.S. official said of the UAE agreement, “I think that’s the direction we’re going to go in for the Middle East.” In his remarks and a brief interview afterward, he did not say whether the United States was pushing for the same terms with Vietnam.

The Jordan agreement is “very, very close,” but the “pressure is off” because there is not enough time left in the current Congress for the agreement, he said. Under U.S. law, most nuclear cooperation agreements can enter into force without a congressional vote approving them if they lie before Congress for 90 days of so-called continuous session without Congress blocking them. However, if a Congress ends with only part of the 90-day period elapsed, the congressional clock would have to restart after a new Congress takes office.

In his comments at the meeting, the official declined to say whether the Jordan agreement would have a UAE-style provision on enrichment and reprocessing.

Reuters reported Sept. 28 that Jordan expects to sign an agreement by the end of the year. The article quoted Kamal Khdier, the director of planning for the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission, as saying the two sides had reached a compromise that allows Jordan to keep open the option of enrichment. The report could not be confirmed by Arms Control Today’s deadline.

A provision in the U.S.-UAE agreement says that the terms of that pact “shall be no less favorable in scope and effect than those which may be accorded, from time to time, to any other non-nuclear-weapon State in the Middle East.” If another Middle Eastern country does obtain more favorable terms, the UAE can request consultations with the United States “regarding the possibility of amending this Agreement so that the position described above is restored.”

In Sept. 7 remarks at the HenryL.StimsonCenter, Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman emphasized that the Vietnam MOU should not necessarily be compared to the UAE agreement. He said the United States is “certainly not offering to Vietnam any kind of deal in which we—certainly at this stage—get into any kind of pledges about what they should or should not be doing to their own fuel cycle; that would be inappropriate.” He also indicated that the United States would not necessarily be pressing for that kind of restraint later in the negotiations with Vietnam or Jordan.

Asked if the administration had criteria that varied from one region to another for determining when it should press for such restraint, he said, “I think the critical factor is going to be that we’re going to try to make sure that the guiding principle throughout is a reliance on market methods.” He was referring to an effort supported by Obama, President George W. Bush,  and others to set up an international mechanism that would ensure countries would have reliable access to nuclear fuel at a reasonable cost so that the countries have less incentive to pursue indigenous enrichment programs.

Two sources who follow the issue closely said last month that the administration is reviewing its policy on nuclear cooperation agreements. They suggested that the resulting uncertainty over the policy may account for some of the variations in recent administration descriptions of it.

Enforcing Standards

At the Sept. 24 hearing, Berman asked what leverage the United States has if it presses potential nuclear partners to accept conditions matching those in the UAE agreement. Some observers have argued that the United States currently has very little because of its limited ability to insist that non-U.S. suppliers require the same nonproliferation conditions the United States does.

To address that point, Henry Sokolski of the NonproliferationPolicyEducationCenter has said Congress should pass legislation disqualifying foreign nuclear companies doing business in the United States from benefits such as U.S. loan guarantees if the companies and their governments undercut U.S. nonproliferation policy.

In his opening statement at the hearing, Berman said the United States should seek the same commitment it received from the UAE “for every new nuclear cooperation agreement that it negotiates in all regions of the world” and “should also consider making this an additional statutory requirement in the Atomic Energy Act.”

Near the end of the hearing, he said, “The Vietnam story is not over yet.”

Ros-Lehtinen said one element of the bill she is drafting is a requirement that “our potential partners permanently forego the manufacture of nuclear fuel.”

She said “the most urgently needed change” in U.S. nonproliferation law is to require an affirmative vote to approve nuclear cooperation agreements.

Ros-Lehtinen cited the pending U.S.-Russian 123 agreement as an example of the need for that revision. She blasted “the inability of the previous and current administrations to certify that the Russian government, businesses, and individuals were no longer assisting Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and that the Russian government was fully cooperating with the U.S. in our efforts to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” (See ACT, June 2010.)

She called the pact a “political payoff to the Russians, pure and simple” and said it “cannot be defended on its merits.”

Thomas Graham Jr., a former U.S. nonproliferation official who is now chairman of Lightbridge Corporation, testified that the agreement would correct a “historical anomaly” and give the United States an agreement with its “indispensable” nonproliferation partner.

The Obama administration submitted the Russian agreement to Congress in May. When Congress adjourned at the end of September, the agreement still needed another 15 days to reach the required 90-day threshold, according to a congressional source. The length of Congress’ postelection sessions will determine whether it meets that mark or if the administration will have to resubmit the agreement, starting a new congressional clock, after the new Congress takes office in January.

 

Key members of Congress from both parties last month expressed support for revising U.S. law on agreements for peaceful nuclear cooperation, citing a number of nuclear pacts that have been recently submitted to Congress or are being negotiated as showing the need for change.

At a Sept. 24 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the ranking member, talked about changes they planned to make or were considering. Ros-Lehtinen said she intended to introduce legislation, although she did not indicate when.

Prospect of Nuclear Deal With Israel Dismissed

Daniel Horner

The United States has no plans in the foreseeable future for civilian nuclear cooperation with Israel, U.S. officials said in recent weeks.

Media reports, seemingly confirmed by an Israeli cabinet minister, indicated that cooperation was at least being considered.

After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama July 6 in Washington, Israeli and other media reported that the two sides had discussed civilian nuclear cooperation.

In remarks at a July 8 conference in Tel Aviv, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said the United States had made a “declaration of willingness,” which he called a “breakthrough,” Bloomberg reported.

Under U.S. law and the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Israel is not eligible for major nuclear trade because it is not a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and has not placed all its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

The George W. Bush administration successfully pushed for an exception to U.S. law and the NSG guidelines to allow nuclear trade with India. (See ACT, October 2008.) Administration officials repeatedly said India’s case was unique and that Israel and Pakistan, which, like India, have never joined the NPT and have nuclear facilities that are not under safeguards, did not qualify for similar treatment. Since then, however, officials from the two countries have argued that they should receive a comparable deal.

At a July 8 press briefing, Department of State spokesman Mark Toner said, “There’s no agreement between the United States and Israel to pursue a nuclear cooperation agreement. There was no discussion of this issue between the president and prime minister.” Asked the following day if the two leaders had had any discussions related to nuclear energy or nuclear weapons, he said, “Not that I’m aware of.” He responded similarly to a question about a reported secret letter.

In an Aug. 25 interview with Arms Control Today, a U.S. official said that although some Israeli officials have raised the issue of an India-style deal, the United States has been “unambiguous” in rejecting it under the Bush and Obama administrations. He indicated that the policy is unlikely to change any time soon. “From our side, there is no interest in having this conversation,” he said.

The geopolitical situation in the Middle East makes a U.S.-Israeli nuclear deal unrealistic, he said. “It is clear, based on our discussions with other countries in the region, that U.S.-Israeli nuclear cooperation of the sort covered in a 123 agreement would be taken as a sign that we are not serious” about establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East, he said. U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements are often known as “123 agreements” because they are required by Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act.

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference in May, the parties agreed on steps toward establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, including the convening of a conference in 2012. (See ACT, June 2010.)

The Israeli embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment on the status of U.S.-Israeli nuclear cooperation.

At a March conference in Paris, Uzi Landau, Israel’s infrastructure minister, strongly reaffirmed his country’s interest in pursuing a nuclear power program and said the program could be “an area for regional cooperation.” (See ACT, April 2010.)

 

The United States has no plans in the foreseeable future for civilian nuclear cooperation with Israel, U.S. officials said in recent weeks.

Media reports, seemingly confirmed by an Israeli cabinet minister, indicated that cooperation was at least being considered.

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