Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
Fissile Material

GAO: Nuclear Security Agenda Needs Details

Robert Golan-Vilella and Daniel Horner

The Obama administration’s nuclear security agenda is short on details concerning its “overall estimated cost, time frame, and scope of planned work,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released Dec. 15. In the report, consisting of a public summary of the classified September version, the GAO also assessed the nuclear security work performed by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and found that its progress was uneven across programs and countries.

The GAO reported that the National Security Council (NSC) has approved a document that serves as a government-wide strategy for achieving President Barack Obama’s goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years. (See ACT, May 2009.) That document lays out the main actions that the U.S. government will take toward this end and defines the role of each agency involved in the effort, according to the GAO. However, the GAO said that “this interagency strategy lacks specific details concerning how the initiative will be implemented.”

According to the GAO, the “NSC does not consider the 4-year time frame for securing nuclear materials worldwide a hard and fast deadline.” NSC officials said they saw it instead as a “forcing function” to drive U.S. nuclear nonproliferation programs and mobilize greater international support on the issue of nuclear security, the report says.

The GAO recommended that the NSC lead and coordinate “the development of a comprehensive plan for implementing” Obama’s four-year initiative. That plan should identify “the specific foreign countries, sites, and facilities where materials have been determined to be poorly secured”; the agencies responsible for addressing each location; potential challenges and the steps needed to overcome them; and the time frames and costs associated with the goal. According to the report, NSC officials provided no written comments on this recommendation but said they believed development of such a plan could take years.

Mixed Progress in NNSA Programs

The report focused in detail on the contributions of the NNSA to the nuclear security initiative. The NNSA “was the only agency to have developed a formal written plan with specific details regarding how it intends to contribute to the 4-year nuclear material security goal,” the GAO said.

The NNSA received the highest marks for its Material Protection, Control, and Accounting (MPC&A) activities in Russia. Through this program, which works to conduct security upgrades at nuclear facilities, the NNSA has improved security at 110 Russian nuclear warhead and material sites, the GAO said. However, the GAO noted that the MPC&A program is due to expire on Jan. 1, 2013, and transfer full responsibility for its activities to Russia. The report argued that the NNSA would be unlikely to meet this deadline and recommended that the NNSA and Congress take steps to prepare for extending the program past 2012.

Other NNSA programs in Russia have achieved more limited success, the GAO said. The Materials Consolidation and Conversion (MCC) program was created in 1999 with the goal of moving highly enriched uranium (HEU) from 50 buildings and five sites by 2010; it “has achieved removal of all HEU from only 1 site and 25 buildings,” the report said.

Likewise, the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which includes an effort to convert or shut down Russian HEU reactors, has made little progress toward that end, the GAO said. According to the report, the GTRI plans to convert or shut down 71 HEU-fueled research reactors and related facilities in Russia by 2020. To date, Russia has shut down three HEU facilities and committed to shutting down five others, the GAO said.

Under an agreement signed Dec. 7, Russia and the United States agreed to conduct feasibility studies on the conversion of six reactors in Russia. According to the GAO report, previous estimates had said the accord would be completed “in early fiscal year 2010,” which began in October 2009.

“NNSA officials told us that any agreement to conduct these studies would not constitute an official Russian decision to convert or undertake activities toward conversion,” the GAO said. In a Dec. 30 e-mail to Arms Control Today, NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera said, “While [the Dec. 7 agreement] does not commit Russia to convert those reactors, we think this is an important step forward and a demonstration of our joint commitment to minimizing the use of HEU wherever possible.”

Beyond Russia

The GAO report cites several notable successes in GTRI efforts to remove weapons-usable material from nearly two dozen countries. Following Ukraine’s commitment at the April 2010 nuclear security summit in Washington to get rid of all of its HEU by 2012, in May the GTRI facilitated the removal of “more than a third of Ukraine’s HEU inventory” to Russia, according to the report.

The report notes the NNSA’s completion of a contract with South Africa for the return of U.S.-origin spent HEU fuel to the United States. According to LaVera, the contract, signed in August 2010, covers 5.8 kilograms of U.S.-origin HEU spent fuel. The material is scheduled to be returned to the United States in the first half of 2011, he said. That will mark the removal of all U.S.-origin HEU spent fuel from South Africa, he said.

Another U.S.-South African effort cited by the GAO concerns the production of the medical isotope molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) from low-enriched uranium (LEU) by the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa). Until now, large-scale producers of the isotope, which is used to detect diseases and study organ structure, have used HEU. However, in a Dec. 6 press release, the NNSA announced the arrival in the United States of the first shipment of LEU-based Mo-99 approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use by U.S. patients. The United States has no Mo-99 production facilities. In the Dec. 30 e-mail, LaVera said Necsa and the NNSA had been working together for years on this issue and that after the April summit, the NNSA provided $25 million to support Necsa’s conversion efforts.

The GAO report also examined nuclear security cooperation with China and India, which the GAO said has been much more limited in its scope and results.


The Obama administration’s nuclear security agenda is short on details concerning its "overall estimated cost, time frame, and scope of planned work," the Government Accountability Office said.


Belarus Agrees to Give Up HEU Stockpile

Robert Golan-Vilella

Belarus has committed to give up its stockpile of highly enriched uranium (HEU) by 2012, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov said Dec. 1 in a joint statement.

Clinton and Martynov made the announcement after meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, on the sidelines of a summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Martynov announced that “Belarus has decided to eliminate all of its stocks” of HEU, the statement said. The United States “intends to provide technical and financial assistance to support the completion of this effort as expeditiously as possible,” it added.

Prior to the agreement, Belarus, Russia, the United States, and the International Atomic Energy Agency conducted two secret operations in which portions of Belarusian HEU were moved into secure facilities in Russia. In these operations, conducted Oct. 22 and Nov. 28, a total of 85 kilograms of HEU were transported, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) spokesman Damien LaVera said in a Dec. 2 e-mail. One shipment of 41 kilograms was slightly irradiated; the other consisted of fresh HEU fuel, LaVera said.

LaVera declined to comment on the amount of HEU remaining in Belarus following the two operations and on the enrichment levels of that material or the HEU sent to Russia. Official and unofficial assessments put the total level of the Belarusian HEU stockpile at roughly 200 kilograms prior to the removals. According to a 2010 estimate by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, more than 40 kilograms were weapons grade.

The two HEU shipments took several years of planning, LaVera said in a Dec. 17 e-mail. Regarding the remainder of the material, “the Belarusian Government approached the U.S. about reaching an agreement a few months ago, which led to the issuance of the joint statement in Astana in December,” he added.

In his April 2009 speech in Prague, President Barack Obama announced an international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material within four years. (See ACT, May 2009.) One year later, he hosted the first-ever nuclear security summit in Washington, where 47 nations met to endorse this goal and detail a series of steps that they would take toward its completion. (See ACT, May 2010.) The next summit is slated to take place in Seoul in 2012. The Clinton-Martynov statement said Belarus intends to get rid of its HEU by the time of that meeting.

Belarus was not invited to participate in the Washington summit. At the time, its president, Alexander Lukashenko, vehemently declared that Belarus would not give up its uranium. Lukashenko boasted that Belarus possessed hundreds of kilograms of HEU and would continue to use it for research purposes, Interfax news agency reported in April.

As a result of Lukashenko’s reversal of this policy, South Korea “has agreed to invite Belarus, contingent upon the completion of its highly enriched uranium removal,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at a Dec. 1 press conference.

With the exception of Russia’s holdings, the stockpiles of fresh HEU in Belarus and Ukraine are the largest in the former Soviet Union, LaVera said. Kazakhstan has some fresh HEU, but its stockpile is much smaller, he added.

At the Washington summit, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych pledged to eliminate his country’s stockpile of HEU by the 2012 summit in Seoul. Ukraine recently took a major step toward meeting that goal. In a Dec. 31 press release, the NNSA announced the shipment to Russia of 50 kilograms of fresh HEU from three facilities in Ukraine: the Kiev Institute for Nuclear Research, the Kharkiv Institute for Physics and Technology, and the Sevastopol National University of Nuclear Industry and Energy.

Obama praised the Ukrainian removal operation, saying in a Dec. 31 statement that it “brings us all one step closer to securing all vulnerable nuclear materials.”

According to the press release, the NNSA also made two shipments of low-enriched uranium into Ukraine to replace the HEU at the Kiev and Kharkiv facilities. The five shipments took place in the second half of December, the NNSA said.

The NNSA provided Ukraine with new safety equipment and agreed to work with Ukraine and Russia to build a state-of-the-art neutron source facility at the Kharkiv Institute, the press release said.


Belarus has pledged to give up its stockpile of highly enriched uranium by 2012, and Ukraine took a major step toward fulfilling a similar commitment made last year.

N. Korea Reveals Uranium-Enrichment Plant

Peter Crail

North Korea unveiled a large uranium-enrichment pilot plant to a visiting team of former U.S. officials and academics Nov. 12, complicating efforts to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and potentially providing the country with another path to nuclear weapons.

During a Nov. 23 briefing, former Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Siegfried Hecker said that North Korean officials had showed him a facility containing about 2,000 gas centrifuges to enrich uranium. North Korean technicians claimed that the centrifuges were operating and producing low-enriched uranium (LEU) for a light-water reactor (LWR) Pyongyang revealed it was constructing earlier in the month, Hecker said.

Uranium enrichment can be used to produce LEU to power nuclear reactors but also to produce highly enriched uranium, which can be used for nuclear weapons.

North Korea has been suspected for many years of pursuing an enrichment capability, but the scale and sophistication of those efforts has been in question. (See ACT, April 2007.) Hecker said that “it was just stunning” to see “hundreds and hundreds” of centrifuges at the plant rather than the “couple of dozen” he was expecting. Pyongyang first publicly admitted to an enrichment program in June of last year, stating in September 2009 that the “experimental phase” of those efforts had been completed.

The decision to show Hecker the facility appears to have been made at the urging of former U.S. special envoy to North Korea Jack Pritchard, who visited the country in early November.

During a Nov. 23 briefing with Hecker at the Korea Economic Institute, Pritchard, who heads the institute, said that he was told about the existence of the enrichment plant during a visit to the Yongbyon complex. Upon Pritchard’s return to Pyongyang, North Korean Foreign Ministry officials expressed surprise that he was told about the facility, he said at the briefing. Pritchard said he told Pyongyang that because the international community would be skeptical of North Korea’s claims that it was pursuing enrichment for nonmilitary purposes, international inspectors, or at least Hecker, should be shown the new plant.

North Korea has invited Hecker to visit its nuclear facilities on several other occasions to provide confirmation of certain nuclear activities.

Hecker estimated that the facility is capable of producing two metric tons of LEU each year. That amount would be appropriate for fueling a reactor of the size North Korea intends to construct or for producing up to 40 kilograms of HEU, which is enough for one to two nuclear weapons.

Although Hecker indicated that he could not confirm that the centrifuges were in operation, he said the North Korean claim that they were operational was “not inconsistent” with what he saw. He also described the facility control room where he was taken as “astonishingly modern,” particularly compared to the other nuclear facilities located at the Yongbyon complex, which used decades-old instrumentation.

The centrifuges are located in a facility that formerly housed the metal fuel rod fabrication facility that North Korea used to fashion fuel for its five-megawatt reactor located at the same complex. When it was in operation, that reactor produced plutonium for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. As part of a 2007 arrangement in which Pyongyang agreed to disable key facilities involved in that program, North Korea shut down its reactor and removed critical equipment from the fuel fabrication plant.

U.S. officials were present to confirm that those facilities remained disabled until April 2009, when North Korea backed out of multilateral talks in response to a UN Security Council rebuke of its rocket launch earlier that month and kicked out inspectors.

Hecker said North Korean technicians told him that they had begun constructing the enrichment plant in the former fuel-fabrication facility that same month.

Hecker, along with former U.S. officials familiar with North Korea’s nuclear program, has expressed surprise at the speed with which Pyongyang was able to install and possibly operate a facility of the scale revealed last month. During the Nov. 23 briefing, Hecker said that the centrifuges originally must have been installed in a plant in another location and moved to Yongbyon. He noted that North Korea could possibly have other enrichment facilities, adding that they would be difficult to detect.

The international community has expressed similar concerns over the difficulty of detecting covert enrichment plants in Iran, which was found to be constructing such a plant in secret last year. (See ACT, October 2009.) Tehran also uses gas centrifuge technology to enrich uranium, claiming that it is doing so to produce LEU for nuclear fuel.

The North Korean and Iranian gas centrifuge programs both received crucial assistance from the nuclear smuggling network run by Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan, including centrifuge designs, components, and complete centrifuges.

In his 2006 memoir, former Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Khan provided North Korea with centrifuges and centrifuge components of the P-1 and the more advanced P-2 variety in 2000.

The centrifuges at the Yongbyon enrichment facility are believed to be based on the P-2 model whereas Iran’s centrifuge program has primarily relied on the P-1 machine. Former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Deputy Director-General for Safeguards Olli Heinonen said Nov. 22 that Iran does not appear to have progressed in its development of its own P-2 centrifuge variant.

The P-2 centrifuge can enrich uranium more than twice as fast as the P-1.

Hecker said he was concerned that North Korea was cooperating with Iran on centrifuge development, but he said that the facility he was shown indicates that North Korea’s enrichment program is more advanced than Iran’s. “I would not go to Iran if I were North Korea,” he said adding, “but it might in the future be the other way around.”

Centrifuge capabilities are generally measured in separative work units (SWU), or the effort needed to separate isotopes in the enrichment process. Iran’s industrial-scale Natanz facility is estimated to average less than 4,000 SWU per year while, according to Hecker, North Korea claims that the Yongbyon enrichment plant has an annual capacity of 8,000 SWU.

Hecker said North Korean technicians told him that their centrifuges were based on designs used by the European enrichment consortium Urenco, from which Khan stole the centrifuge designs during the 1970s, and Japan’s Rokkasho-mura enrichment plant.

The relation to the Rokkasho-mura plant is uncertain.

According to Hecker, North Korea admitted for the first time that it was capable of producing uranium hexafluoride (UF6), the feedstock for uranium enrichment. Although Pyongyang has denied possessing a UF6 plant in the past, suspicions mounted when international inspectors discovered UF6 in Libya that the United States believes originated in North Korea.

Libya also was pursuing an enrichment program with assistance from Khan’s network.

North Korea was known to have the capability to produce uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), the precursor for UF6, during the 1990s, but that facility was abandoned some time prior to 2002 due to corrosion and equipment failure.

Hecker said North Korean officials told him that they developed a less corrosive process that was used for UF4 production, which they used to produce UF6 as well.

Despite concerns that North Korea could have additional enrichment plants in other locations for military purposes, there is some question as to whether Pyongyang has sufficient materials to build such facilities.

“They are limited by the materials and the equipment,” Hecker said, noting that the requirements for construction of a centrifuge enrichment plant include high-strength steel and aluminum, ring magnets, bearings, and vacuum valves. Such materials and equipment fall under international controls over nuclear-related technology.

Going Alone on an LWR

Pyongyang claims that the enrichment facility viewed by Hecker is part of a fuel production process for an LWR it began constructing at the end of July. LWRs require enriched-uranium fuel.

Hecker said that the LWR is relatively small, providing about 25 to 30 megawatts of power. He said North Korean officials told him the reactor will provide power for local communities and that, given their lack of expertise in LWR technology, they would begin with a small-scale reactor.

North Korea declared last year that it would “actively consider” building such a reactor in response to the April 2009 Security Council condemnation of its rocket launch, among other steps to bolster its nuclear activities. Although North Korea is not believed to possess the expertise to construct a full-scale LWR, Hecker said the country’s plan to construct a 25- to 30-megawatt reactor “is credible.”

The LWR revelation comes about a month after satellite imagery revealed new construction at the Yongbyon site where the cooling tower for North Korea’s five-megawatt heavy-water reactor once stood. (See ACT, November 2010.) The cooling tower was demolished in 2008 as part of the multilateral denuclearization agreement and the site now is being used for the LWR.

Although two key facilities associated with North Korea’s now-dormant plutonium-production program are being used for North Korea’s enrichment plant and its LWR, Pyongyang could still reinstate plutonium production if it chose to do so.

Hecker said he did not think the new facilities would not significantly delay the reconstruction of the cooling tower, which would take about six months, and North Korea still has fuel rods for its existing reactor. Many of those fuel rods, however, would need to be machined before being loaded into the reactor, a process also estimated to take about six months.

According to Hecker, North Korea officials said that the five-megawatt reactor remains under repair and is “on standby.”

North Korea cannot produce any additional plutonium for weapons until it machines new fuel rods and constructs a new cooling system for the reactor.

Hecker suggested that North Korea’s fastest route to increasing its nuclear weapons capabilities would be for it to restore its plutonium-production facilities. “They’ve tested twice, they know how to build a plutonium bomb, that’s the way they would go,” he said.

He noted that because more-advanced weapons programs generally use plutonium, states that have developed nuclear weapons have switched from HEU-based to plutonium-based weapons, rather than the other way around.

Hecker and Pritchard said North Korean officials told them during their visits that the construction of the LWR, along with a number of major economic development activities, is slated for completion in 2012, when the country celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder, Kim Il Sung. They both expressed doubt about that time frame.

The construction of an LWR has been a critical issue in negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons efforts.

As part of a 1994 U.S.-North Korean denuclearization agreement, called the Agreed Framework, Washington agreed to facilitate the construction of two 1,000-megawatt LWRs in North Korea in return for a North Korean pledge to freeze and dismantle the facilities associated with its plutonium-based nuclear weapons program.

An international consortium poured concrete for the first reactor in 2002, but the project was suspended a year later following a breakdown of the Agreed Framework at the end of that year. The reactors, originally due to be completed in 2003, were never constructed. Pyongyang often complained about delays in the construction of the reactors.

The LWR issue was raised again in a 2005 agreement involving China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, in which the six parties “agreed to discuss, at an appropriate time, the subject of the provision” of an LWR to North Korea.

Hecker said North Korean officials told him that the possession of an LWR is important for energy production and for symbolic reasons and that Pyongyang maintains that it has a right to pursue nuclear energy.

North Korea still claims it is willing to honor the 2005 denuclearization agreement, a key U.S. condition to restart negotiations. (See ACT, October 2010.) It is unclear how the new enrichment facility would be addressed in any renewed talks.

The September 2005 joint statement commits North Korea to abandoning all nuclear weapons “and existing nuclear programs.” The two Koreas also pledged in that statement to abide by a 1992 joint declaration on denuclearization, which prohibits either country from developing enrichment or reprocessing technologies.

A decision to maintain an enrichment facility, even for peaceful purposes, would appear to be inconsistent with the 1992 declaration.

Pritchard said that, during his visit, North Korean officials talked about “a little bizarre reordering of priorities” with respect to the 2005 agreement, highlighting the U.S. commitment to discuss a formal peace treaty, normalization, and compensation for North Korean commitments, rather than the denuclearization process.

UN Report Details Proliferation

In the midst of revelations regarding North Korean nuclear activities in defiance of UN sanctions, a 75-page UN panel report released Nov. 10 detailed Pyongyang’s efforts to circumvent international controls and import and export prohibited goods.

The report was drafted by a seven-member panel established by UN Security Council Resolution 1874, adopted in response to North Korea’s May 2009 nuclear test. Diplomatic sources said that the release of the report, which was completed in May, has been delayed for several months by China.

The report says that North Korea “has established a highly sophisticated international network for the acquisition, marketing and sale of arms and military equipment,” noting that such exports are a key source of foreign currency for Pyongyang, amounting to about $100 million each year.

It indicates that Pyongyang is involved in nuclear- and ballistic missile-related activities in certain countries, including Iran, Myanmar (Burma), and Syria, and calls on states to prevent such transfers.

The panel concludes, however, that UN sanctions have “significantly constrained” Pyongyang’s illicit arms sales. To get around international sanctions, North Korea employs a “broad range of techniques to mask its financial transactions, including the use of overseas entities, shell companies, informal transfer mechanisms, cash couriers and barter arrangements.”

The report notes that North Korea relies on air cargo to transport high-value and sensitive arms exports. Resolution 1874 includes less-detailed enforcement measures for air cargo than for suspicious overseas freight.


North Korea unveiled a large uranium-enrichment pilot plant to a visiting team of former U.S. officials and academics Nov. 12, complicating efforts to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and potentially providing the country with another path to nuclear weapons.

Verification on the Road to Zero: Issues for Nuclear Warhead Dismantlement

James Fuller

In many respects, the “verification” associated with reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons until now has been for practice. The size of the total arsenals that remained provided a powerful hedge against the imperfections of confidence-building measures. Warheads themselves have been addressed only in the margins; delivery systems have been the preferred treaty-limited items.

It remains to be seen if policymakers of both countries continue to skirt the technical issues necessary to confirm irreversible deep reductions in the numbers of warheads, reductions focused on a vision of “global zero” (worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons) that if co-opted by one party or the other could dangerously affect the balance of power.

Very good progress has been made over the years in identifying and solving the technical problems associated with verifying actual warhead reductions. Policy can change almost overnight, and speculation about verification measures is relatively easy. Establishing acceptable verification measures requires painstaking, protracted effort; it can take years of unilateral and cooperative technical study for weapons experts to demonstrate the efficacy of this or that approach to solve a particular verification problem. In spite of some contentious debates, technical specialists in the United States and elsewhere have reached a stage that is close to a common understanding of the major problems and how many may be solved. It is probably fair to say that there is not a good consensus, at least in the United States, on the most effective and secure path forward to complete this work. Enough has been accomplished technically, however, that a rigorous approach to confirm nuclear warhead dismantlements can be offered.

Future deep reductions in nuclear-weapon-state stockpiles will likely require confirmation of warhead dismantlements in order to maintain deterrence parity and to help assure irreversibility. In this article, verification is defined as the process of confirming an agreed-to treaty declaration or process. This term is different from transparency, which is more appropriately associated with confidence building.[1] For deeper stockpile reductions where balance-of-power issues associated with disparate numbers and types of warheads become a more significant concern, a transparency paradigm will not be adequate. Verification can include cooperative monitoring and inspections, intelligence community assessments based on national technical means, and political judgments based on additional factors. In this context, this article discusses approaches for rigorous on-site cooperative monitoring and inspections of nuclear warheads and warhead components.

A key element of the analysis that follows is to view the problem from a perspective of minimizing the need to divulge state secrets: classified information about warheads and their stewardship. The going-in approach should be to try to minimize the need for arcane technical debates about sharing specific items of sensitive data and other information and to avoid fundamental, perhaps more subjective, and more protracted differences of opinion regarding security issues.

A Body of Work

Experimental efforts and technical studies to help understand the implications of directly monitoring warheads under some hypothetical future treaty regime began in earnest in the United States shortly before the breakup of the Soviet Union, although one study dates back to the 1960s. Additionally, situations under some U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction and test limitation treaties have necessitated devising technical and procedural solutions involving warhead monitoring. These studies and the specific monitoring situations still constitute a valuable body of work today, as policymakers and technical specialists try to devise effective elements of a viable warhead dismantlement verification regime.[2]

Two of the earliest studies pointed to the need, if monitoring warheads themselves, of intrusive on-site inspections.[3] At the end of the Cold War, there seemed to be a belief in some arms control circles that U.S. national technical means were adequate and that government officials therefore were dragging their feet in verifiably reducing stockpiles. This unrealistic belief was dispelled early on by the second of the two studies, known as the Robinson Committee report. Certain severe, fundamental limitations of physics are unavoidable. JASON, a prominent U.S. government advisory group, was consulted as an independent peer reviewer of the Robinson Committee report. It confirmed the basic findings and offered some new monitoring ideas, including the use of one-way cryptographic transforms (simply put, special mathematical functions that cannot be reversed using a cryptographic key to reproduce the original plain text) to make enumerated lists of, thereby having a verifiable count of, deployed nuclear weapons systems.[4] This is an important area for further study. It has never received the attention and rigor it deserves, even though its utility was supported in a much more recent report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC).[5]

Another outcome of the Robinson Committee report was the establishment of a warhead dismantlement verification research and development program in what is now known as the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation in the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Efforts began here in the early 1990s on such issues as the protection of nuclear weapons design information when making authenticatable high-resolution gamma spectrometric measurements, as well as research suggested by nongovernmental organizations to develop nuclear archaeological techniques (the use of measured radioisotope information to assess nuclear processes and records) to verify baseline fissile material production declarations. Additionally, investigations into the possibility of using non-nuclear, inherently nonclassified warhead signature techniques were initiated.[6]

Examples of some key cooperative monitoring precedents set by the United States and Russia directly involving warheads include the Joint Verification Experiment in association with the Threshold Test Ban Treaty (first demonstration of a technological information barrier to protect classified warhead design details); portal perimeter neutron measurements on Russian SS-25 missiles in support of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (first use of radiation detection equipment); Re-entry Vehicle On-Site Inspection (RVOSI) under the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) (random nuclear weapons inspection system accounting and re-entry vehicle observation); and the establishment of confidence about the weapons origin of fissile materials stored in the Mayak Fissile Materials Storage Facility.

U.S. national laboratories also worked on developing very high-security unique identifiers. Although this effort was not focused on warhead issues directly, it was undertaken in response to a need to verify nuclear delivery system numbers declarations under START.

At about the same time as START ratification in 1994, unprecedented nuclear security cooperation between U.S. and Russian technical specialists took place, beginning with joint implementation of nuclear material protection, control, and accounting programs, as well as cooperative research and development on reciprocal inspections. The latter effort resulted in a good common understanding of the concept of attribute measurements associated with warheads and their nuclear components.[7] Both of these programs evolved into broader U.S.-Russian lab-to-lab efforts. U.S.-sponsored cooperative research into warhead monitoring with Russian weapons specialists eventually became part of the more formal government-to-government Warhead Safety and Security Exchange (WSSX) agreement that continued for several years. This work included reciprocal mock inspections of real classified nuclear warhead items using very intrusive radiation detection equipment (RDE) that employed advanced information barrier features.

Around the time of the March 1997 summit of President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Helsinki, where an agreement was reached to begin negotiations that would “include measures relating to the transparency of strategic nuclear warheads…and to promote the irreversibility of deep reductions,”[8] the U.S. Energy Department formed a Dismantlement Study Group to explore the relevant issues. With regard to developing a warhead dismantlement monitoring regime, this group concluded that nine salient activities could be used. The list included not only the obvious items (declarations, radiation signature measurements, warhead chain of custody), but also activities that would be unlikely ever to be approved, such as direct observation.[9] This list of activities was constructed without regard to the level of sensitivity of the information that might be compromised by the conduct of the activity.

In concert with this study, most of which was conducted on a classified basis, a warhead radiation signature measurement campaign was completed at the U.S. Pantex facility using a large number of nuclear warheads to help understand the promise and limitations of radiation signature measurements. After a peer review committee chose the measurement teams that would be invited to participate, based on presentations of their proposed technical approaches, more than 30 complete warheads and warhead nuclear components were examined. From these efforts, the general results of which were briefed to Russian specialists with whom the United States was collaborating under the WSSX program a few years later, U.S. researchers learned that effective discrimination by type of warheads, pits, and secondaries (the thermonuclear stage physically separate from the primary) is possible. In particular, the radiation signatures of different warhead types were clearly distinguishable (five types examined); the signatures of different secondary types were distinguished, but only limited data were available (two types examined); and the signatures of different pit types were easily distinguished except for two very similar all-plutonium pits (seven types examined).

The researchers also learned that individual (serial number) identification of items such as those examined is a very difficult problem due to the very close tolerances employed when constructing warheads of the same type. One team provided evidence that such distinctions may be possible using information on minor isotopes (constituents other than uranium-235 or plutonium-239). Study of a larger population of components will be necessary to determine definitively the utility of minor isotopes.

As part of this effort, U.S. RDE specialists learned that, with limitation, active interrogation using neutron sources of full warheads was feasible and approvable from a safety perspective. Also, based on the efficacy and speed of a system developed by Sandia National Laboratories that incorporated a library of U.S. warhead reference spectra, the power of a gamma-ray template approach to such measurements became obvious.

Fundamental Issues

The practical experience from such work, combined with the analyses in multiple studies, suggests a number of underlying issues that need to be addressed in pursuing rigorous warhead-reduction verification processes.

Defining “nuclear warhead.” A nuclear weapon, in very simple terms, consists of a nuclear warhead plus its delivery system. “Warhead” and “weapon” often are used interchangeably in nuclear arms control and nonproliferation discussions and writings, but to be specific, the focus here is on nuclear warheads, which are taken to be synonymous with “nuclear explosive devices.”

Beyond these distinctions, according to the 2005 CISAC study, “nuclear warhead” has not been defined with much precision in any existing treaties.[10] Nuclear warhead information is often so sensitive that it cannot be discussed either in open forums or, at this time, between specialists from different nuclear-weapon states. In the more extensive work from which this paper is drawn, prepared in the context of “going to zero,” the definition proposed is “any compact configuration containing a significant amount of fissile material.” This is based on the fact that, in a world in which warheads had nearly been eliminated, the discovery of any such object would be cause for concern. Also, this simple definition lends itself quite well to unclassified attribute-type confirmatory measurements if and when nuclear weapons are indeed ever eliminated.

In the context of a world in which hundreds of warheads still exist and in which cheating could seriously affect the balance of power between countries, such a simple definition is probably not adequate. Cooperating governments likely would need to know more about the warheads being eliminated so that there is parity in deterrence during deep drawdown. Arguably, if the provenance of the items declared to be warheads during this period can be confirmed through cooperative and private (national technical means) methods, there is no real need for any nuclear-design-type definition. However, the need for and methods of independent authentication by inspection of an item having inadequate (unconfirmable) provenance are issues that have received very little attention and thus need focused study.

One preliminary idea for this phase would be to define a nuclear warhead as “any compact configuration containing a significant amount of fissile material that is declared to be a nuclear warhead.” Thus, the design of any such item would be protected because this is an unclassified fact about warheads. The design of all other undeclared and therefore suspicious items, with few exceptions, would not be. For additional sensitive nonwarhead items that could not be thoroughly inspected, confirmation that they were not warheads should be possible through attribute measurements. However, the fundamental premise here is that the inspected party would have no important incentive to claim it had more warheads than it actually did. Once declared to be a warhead, the provenance of these items by class would be monitored to the degree possible and they would be contained and surveilled through the whole of the dismantlement and materials disposition process.

Determining baseline inventories. Assuming that items presented as nuclear warheads can be confirmed as such using a very basic definition or one that includes additional differentiating features, accurately and confidently determining the absolute number of nuclear warheads possessed at any given time by any nuclear-weapon state or states suspected of proliferating is arguably the most significant challenge to overcome. Nuclear warheads are relatively small items having signatures that can be shielded from observation. The fissile material to make them is in great abundance already, with more being made all the time as a legitimate by-product of peaceful nuclear energy production, and there is often considerable imprecision in the amount and fate of historical material produced by owner-states. With the construction of viable nuclear explosive devices being truly limited only by the acquisition of fissile material, complete confirmation of the overall number of warheads at the beginning of any reduction regime will likely be extremely difficult.

Ways have been and continue to be studied that could, in a cooperative environment, help reduce the uncertainty of fissile material inventories. Certainly production and retirement records could be made available for thorough inspection and for consistency checks with known operations and declarations. Nuclear archaeology procedures could be used in principle as a more independent check of the records. Devising new nuclear archaeology procedures for elements of the nuclear warhead production cycle other than those already demonstrated for graphite reactor histories would be very helpful in this regard.[11]

Some would argue that because of the supposed impossibility of truly confirming baseline inventories, the whole endeavor of going to zero is quixotic. Accurately verifying the numbers of warheads dismantled certainly can help reduce the margin of error and, when combined with all other technical measures and improved political cooperation, may help make the remaining uncertainties in baseline determinations less of an issue.

Need to develop inspection tools fully. While many types and variations of devices have been demonstrated for use in directly monitoring nuclear warhead dismantlement and a significant body of work exists, very few of these have ever been taken beyond the prototype stage. Very few have ever been subjected to rigorous independent peer review similar to that undertaken for potential START verification technologies or to the extensive vulnerability analyses required. Even fewer have ever been subjected to the certification process by any of the countries that have been working together. Many technical issues have been overcome, but many still remain. Thus, the vast majority of the monitoring devices remain unproven. Until they are proven, there will be a reluctance to base treaties and other formal warhead reduction agreements on them. This will slow progress. However, it is safe to say that specialists in Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are on the same track and the technology problems that need to be overcome are fairly well defined, so much so that it is possible to envision a plausible dismantlement verification process and offer several specific areas for further work.

Protecting state secrets. Addressing the issue of protecting nuclear weapons information is complicated by several factors. The breadth of classified information associated with the nuclear arsenal of any nuclear-weapon state is extremely wide and varies from state to state. Moreover, there are disagreements on how far governments should go in being secretive about nuclear weapons matters.

The protection of nuclear weapons information by individual governments can be both a hindrance and an aid to worldwide elimination. It is a hindrance because it greatly reduces the ability of technical specialists and negotiators to solve verification problems more quickly, but the protection of weapons design information is necessary to minimize the ability of others to develop illicit arsenals. The acknowledged need for such protection is the basis for Article I of nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.[12] If the means to solve the technical issues of warhead dismantlement verification could be found without requiring the compromise of sensitive information, policymakers and security specialists likely would find them more acceptable, and the verification process could move forward with fewer objections.

Studies on technical methods to protect classified information during hypothetical nuclear warhead inspection measurements are well advanced in the United States and Russia, and the remaining problems are well defined. The technology and procedures that must be integrated wholly into any warhead item inspection system for these purposes is most often labeled the information barrier.

Late in 1998, the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy established a joint Information Barrier Working Group (IBWG). The task of this group was to devise optimal approaches to protect classified nuclear weapons design information when utilizing radiation signature monitoring methods. The impetus for the work at that time was the Mayak storage facility, START-type agreements, and the Trilateral Initiative, a multiyear effort ending in 2002 by the United States, Russia, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to develop IAEA monitoring methods for classified forms of nuclear weapons material. The group began its efforts by defining the fundamental functional requirements of an information barrier: The host must be assured that its classified warhead design information is protected from disclosure to the monitoring party, and the monitoring party must be confident that the integrated inspection system measures, processes, and presents the radiation signature-based measurement conclusion in an accurate and reproducible manner.[13]

The IBWG was able to enumerate 10 critical design elements defining information barriers. These included the concept of “host supply,” a term that refers to the last “private,” or secretive, possession of any equipment to be used to measure host country warhead characteristics, most likely during the process of certifying the monitoring equipment. Such equipment would have been jointly and cooperatively developed and manufactured and then jointly secured once put into service. The design criteria also included the necessity to confirm, i.e., authenticate, that no one had tampered with the host-supplied equipment and software and that it had functioned as advertised.

The major unresolved issue associated with information barriers is that of authentication. Authentication in an information-barrier context refers to the process of assurance of the inspectorate that the measurement system works as advertised and does not contain any hidden feature that would allow the inspected party to alter the results surreptitiously during an inspection. This is the specific area that demands considerably more attention if a truly useful radiation-based measurement system is ever to be successfully developed for use on nuclear warheads, their nuclear components, and associated sensitive nuclear materials. It would be a breakthrough for someone to demonstrate a viable, independently peer reviewed warhead measurement system authentication process.

Finally, because of the highly technical issues involved in making accurate and reliable warhead measurements and inspections, heads of state eventually may need to establish national authentication authorities to advise them about the trustworthiness of the associated information as they move to draw down arsenals to very low levels or to eliminate them completely. Additionally, if host weapon-state monitoring equipment certification authorities rule the day and require that any instrumentation used by an inspectorate on host warheads be supplied by the host (must have been in its private possession prior to use) and must remain in the host country once used, then the problem of authentication becomes an even more critical issue.

The Verification Process

Given the state of development of cooperative monitoring technology, the solutions suggested here are intended to be useful by illustrating positive possibilities and listing some of the additional problems that need to be solved. The basis for many of these suggestions is the intensive work performed early after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. However, those efforts waned under the presidencies of George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin. A revitalization of these activities is critical to support deep reduction and going-to-zero monitoring. The need for simplicity in design and function of verification technology cannot be overemphasized. Also, the methods and associated implementation procedures need to be more aggressively reviewed for spoofing vulnerabilities, for example, ways to make measuring equipment provide the wrong answer or furtive ways to counterfeit unique identifiers.

Warhead authentication. Any massive drawdown resulting in deep reductions and potentially leading to a complete elimination of nuclear weapons will take significant time. During this time, knowing when and how many warheads of a particular type are being eliminated will be critical.

Attribute-type measurements have not been shown to be adequate for differentiation among warhead types. This will almost assuredly require the use of detailed signature templates, such as a highly resolved gamma-ray emission energy spectrum measurement, as was successfully demonstrated during the Pantex measurement campaign described above. The problem then quickly reduces to authenticating and securing template reference signatures for use with gamma-ray spectroscopic systems or more sophisticated technologies. (A reference signature is a signature data set taken directly from an item that has been independently authenticated as being what it has been declared to be.) Another requirement for a reference signature is that the data themselves can be authenticated at a later time as having never been altered. Such reference signatures would exist on nonvolatile computer storage media and would be compared with data taken during an inspection at some later time.

To obtain reference radiation signatures for specific types of warheads that are still deployed as part of weapons systems, using the extensive information from an enhanced version of START or New START RVOSI and supplemented by national technical means, the inspectorate would begin by selecting multiple items at random. Inspectors would witness the removal of the warheads from the delivery vehicle(s) and their placement inside individual containers specially designed to help secure and minimize spectral signature deviations. The same type of container would be used to protect all the other items declared to be of the same type and slated for elimination.

The warhead itself should be uniquely identified before being inserted into the container, using a very high security intrinsic tag or applied tag. This container would be sealed with another high-security mechanism such as an active, cryptographically protected electronic seal. Then, using a device such as a gamma-ray spectroscopic measurement system, a radiation signature reference would be acquired, protected by an information barrier, for the particular type of warhead. Each of these initial signatures would be checked for consistency with the others using unclassified statistical fitting algorithms. These containerized items would be set aside for the purpose of reaffirming the reference signature template. They would most certainly have to remain on the soil of the inspected country, but they would be subject to highly secure continuous monitoring by both parties. The reference template itself would be stored on a nonvolatile memory device or devices and include a robust cryptographic tag for repeated authentication. The measurement systems used on a host country’s classified items very likely would need to remain on host soil as well and be secured in a manner very similar to that used for the templates.

Cases involving warhead or component types that already have been removed completely from deployment are a special challenge. When the RVOSI authentication approach breaks down in such cases, the inspecting country would have to judge for itself if it had enough independent information for verification, perhaps through more-extensive confirmatory declarations. If not, there would need to be a determination if the overall verification regime would be weakened by not having any provenance for these particular items. It might be acceptable to record a reference signature template using random selections from a population of these warheads and then simply declare them as a new, perhaps unknown type. This new type could be given an arbitrary class designation and thereafter still completely tracked through dismantlement and final disposition.

Use of a template approach is very difficult if the spectral variations due to manufacturing variations or any other comparison differences could be great enough to yield no-match conditions repeatedly. It might prove impossible for an inspectorate and a host to cooperate to solve legitimate inspection problems without discussing these spectral variations in sufficient detail because it would involve sharing classified information. Further study of template-matching approaches is therefore needed. How are the signature matching limits set? How are no-match conditions rectified with the inspectorate? Many such conditions would be understood by the host knowing the classified spectral data, but could not be shared because they might reveal a warhead design feature.

Warhead counting and continuity of knowledge. For nuclear warheads that are declared excess or that may be kept in a ready reserve at a known location or for unclassified, partially sanitized nuclear objects or raw materials in storage awaiting final disposition, such as those at the Mayak storage facility, maintaining an accurate item inventory is a straightforward process drawing from international safeguards containment and surveillance approaches. So too would be the occasional reauthentication of randomly selected items or raw-material batches to validate the technology and procedures used. To reduce the risk of diversion effectively to zero, it continues to be very important for all parties to understand the vulnerabilities of the unique identification devices and high-security seals used and the surveillance technology employed.

For an airtight inventory that includes warheads that remain part of the deployed deterrent at undeclared locations, the problem is somewhat more difficult. Certainly the delivery system attribution approaches agreed under START and New START are a good place to begin. For these, individual deployed weapons systems at declared locations that have been selected at random by the inspecting party are made available by the inspected party. The items declared to be warheads are observed to validate that the declared numbers are accurate. Such procedures are quite intrusive but accepted in the United States and Russia, which have many years of experience in implementing them. By adding high-security unique identification of warheads during such RVOSI procedures and employing random sampling against a numbered list of items, indicating their type and including an encrypted location, much greater confidence in the initial quantity declaration would result.

During an RVOSI, by comparing the encrypted result of the one-way transform against the inventory list, the presence of specific items on the numbered list would be confirmed and the authenticity of the total count validated. The observed warheads would be tagged using a suitable, very high security method, and the unencrypted identifier would be added to the appropriate item on the list. In the future, when the warhead entered the dismantlement process and the chain of custody was established, the tag would be reread and the identity confirmed. Such lists would need to be updated periodically. The inspectorate might find that certain unique identifiers are associated with newly encrypted locations at which another random RVOSI might occur and the tag might be reconfirmed.

Accounting for undeclared warheads at undeclared locations is basically the same, seemingly intractable problem of confirming baseline inventories. There is no ready good technical solution given the ease with which such items could be hidden. As noted previously, national technical means have been judged unreliable in this situation. Other policy accommodations would have to offset this issue. Such accommodations might be difficult to envision today, but as insight and trust build during deep reductions, the day may come when they are possible, assuming the continued will of all parties to make deep reductions in and even eliminate their stockpiles. Creating a new and robust paradigm of a strong international enforcement against cheating may be the best solution to this problem although the political difficulty in doing so should not be understated.

Verifying Dismantlement

The actual physical dismantlement of a warhead probably would be the least difficult process to verify. In the United States, a warhead is considered fully dismantled once the high explosive has been removed from the fissionable material configuration from which the warhead is constructed.[14] This step is the result of other, earlier steps that also contribute to the dismantlement. The end result for a two-stage thermonuclear warhead is the separation and individual containerization of several items, including two nuclear components—the pit and the canned subassembly. For an implosion-assembly-type warhead, just a pit remains. The items are placed in storage for eventual disposition or reuse.

Arguably, the best approach to monitored dismantlement in any of the nuclear-weapon states is to build or have built by an international organization a special new, above-ground dismantlement facility of a design that is acceptable to the other weapon states and to all involved in monitoring or having a stake in monitoring.

The only warheads located at the special facility would be those destined for monitored dismantlement. It probably would be less intrusive and more conducive to maintaining the continuity of knowledge required to assure irreversibility if the separated nuclear components remained in storage at the special facility until just before their final disposition. In this way, the collateral security concerns with other defense and security operations would be significantly reduced, and the design of the facility could include features that enhance verification instead of impede it. Such a facility, given the level of assurance that is necessary, should have a completely nonsensitive design, except perhaps for the protective security features, that could be shared with all involved, and the site should be permanently staffed and monitored from the beginning of construction. Additional assurance would be provided that no hidden features were included that could be used to spoof the monitoring process. The site should be located away from allowed military or commercial operations and thus designed to maximize the effectiveness of additional monitoring by national technical means.

All items and personnel entering and leaving the site would be subjected to stringent portal perimeter monitoring inspections, consistent at a minimum with the manner in which nuclear weapons and warhead components are secured and protected in the United States today. Items brought to the special facility for dismantlement, having been reauthenticated on-site against a signature template and inventoried using unique identifier technology, would be taken by the host without any inspectors to the actual cell or bay for disassembly. Once the physical disassembly was accomplished, the disassembly cell could be swept by the inspectorate to make sure it was empty. Template measurements employing information barrier technology and procedures would be made on the containers declared to hold the nuclear components, and the containers would be sealed by the inspectorate. Other agreed, more intrusive inspections, including visual examinations, would be made on the non-nuclear weapons components. For any of these non-nuclear components that are “sight-sensitive,” potentially divulging sensitive information just from their unaltered appearance, provisions for their conversion to a nonsensitive form (e.g., shredding or chopping) would be included within the disassembly facility in a manner exactly analogous to current nuclear warhead retirements and dismantlements used today in the United States.


Applying the technical and procedural approaches discussed here, it is reasonable to conclude that confirmation of the dismantlement of declared nuclear warhead stockpiles is quite feasible. There is a very good body of experience and international research from which to draw. Although some technical issues remain, with some additional work they can be solved. There needs to be a robust, parallel, but independent effort of peer review and vulnerability assessment. Cooperation among weapon-state specialists should increase. Further involvement of non-weapon-state stakeholders would be very helpful. This additional work and involvement will hasten the day when the vision of going to zero is clarified.

James Fuller is an affiliate professor at the HenryM.JacksonSchool of International Studies at the University of Washington and a fellow of the American Physical Society. He previously was director of defense nuclear nonproliferation programs at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. This article draws from his chapter in Cultivating Confidence: Verification, Monitoring and Enforcement for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons (2010). He wishes to acknowledge the support of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.


1. James F. Morgan, “Transparency and Verification Options: An Initial Analysis of Approaches for Monitoring Warhead Dismantlement,” in Proceedings of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management 38th Annual Meeting, July 1997.

2. For a more detailed chronology, see Corey Hinderstein, ed., Cultivating Confidence: Verification, Monitoring and Enforcement for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons (Washington, DC: Hoover Institution Press, 2010), pp. 126-132.

3. U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, “Final Report—Field Test 34: Demonstrated Destruction of Nuclear Weapons,” January 1969, www.fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/cloudgap/index.html (declassified March 30, 1999); Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), “A Reprint of the Executive Summary of the October 1991 Report to Congress: Verification of Nuclear Warhead Dismantlement and Special Nuclear Material Control,” PNNL-18034, November 2008, www.pnl.gov/main/publications/external/technical_reports/PNNL-18034.pdf.

4. JASON, “Verification Technology: Unclassified Version,” JSR-89-100A, October 1990, p. 84, www.fas.org/irp/agency/dod/jason/verif.pdf.

5. Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC), Monitoring Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Explosive Materials (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2005), pp. 92-94.

6. Office of Nonproliferation Research and Engineering (ONRE), U.S. Department of Energy, “Technology R&D for Arms Control,” NNSA/NN/ACNT-SP01, Spring 2001; Steve Fetter, “Nuclear Archaeology: Verifying Declarations of Fissile-Material Production,” Science and Global Security, No. 3 (1993), pp. 237-259; T.W. Wood et al., “Feasibility of Isotopic Measurements: Graphite Isotopic Ratio Method,” PNNL-13488, April 2001.

7. In verification, there is an important distinction between measuring warhead attributes and templates. Warhead attributes are parameters openly known to be associated with these items, whose precise values very likely would be classified, but for which numerical limits can be set without revealing sensitive information. Examples include the presence of plutonium-239 and/or uranium-235; the form of the nuclear material (metal rather than oxide); configuration (symmetric configuration rather than rubble); mass of the nuclear material (greater than a certain number of kilograms); isotopics of the fissile material (consistent with that used in a warhead [e.g., a plutonium-240/plutonium-239 mass ratio of less than 0.10]; age of the nuclear material (consistency with the age of the warhead or warhead component provenance); and presence of high explosive. In contrast, a (radiation) template commonly consists of a scan between wide limits of a gamma-radiation energy spectrum. Such a spectrum will be uniquely indicative not only of the nuclear source material present, but also of its form and the configuration in which it resides, including that of any container. A template might be recorded in the time domain both for nuclear singles and multiples and even in some cases from non-nuclear signals such as Fourier-transformed data from acoustic vibrations. Such spectra often form a unique “fingerprint” of a specific object or type of object. Gamma-ray energy spectra are known to be very revealing of sensitive design information, however, and would be considered classified information by any host country. See ONRE, “Technology R&D for Arms Control.”

8. “Joint Statement on Parameters of Future Nuclear Reductions,” 1997, www.nti.org/db/nisprofs/fulltext/treaties/abm/abm_heje.htm (White House text on Helsinki summit of Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin).

9. See Morgan, “Transparency and Verification Options.” In summary, the nine activities included declarations of dismantlement schedules, warheads, and components resulting from the dismantlement process; spot checks of the weapons receipt and storage areas and component storage areas to confirm declarations, including the use of radiation signatures of the weapons and components; remote monitoring of the weapons receipt and storage areas and component storage areas; radiation signature measurements of warheads and components following dismantlement; chain of custody of warheads and components; portal perimeter continuous monitoring to inspect every item that passes in and out of a segregated portion of the dismantlement area; sweeping or sanitizing a disassembly bay or dismantlement cell periodically before and after dismantlement; remote monitoring or direct observation of the dismantlement process; and monitoring of the disposition of the non-nuclear components of the warhead, such as the high explosive and warhead electronics, after dismantlement.

10. See CISAC, Monitoring Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Explosive Materials, p. 89.

11. See Wood et al., “Feasibility of Isotopic Measurements.”

12. Article I states: “Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; and not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices.”

13. Joint Department of Energy-Department of Defense Information Barrier Working Group, “The Functional Requirements and Basis for Information Barriers,” PNNL-13285, May 1999, p. 11, http://authentication.pnl.gov/papers/IB-13285.pdf.

14. See Morgan, “Transparency and Verification Options.”


Time for Leadership on the Fissile Cutoff

Daryl G. Kimball

Ending the production of fissile material—plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU)—for nuclear weapons is a long-sought and still vital nonproliferation objective. Last year, President Barack Obama pledged to “lead a global effort” to negotiate a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), but talks at the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament (CD) remain blocked, as they have been for nearly a dozen years.

The impasse led the UN secretary-general to convene a high-level meeting September 24. Many of the 70-plus states represented, including the United States, singled out Pakistan for abusing the consensus decision-making rule in order to prevent the CD from implementing its work plan.

Calling out Pakistan is an overdue but insufficient step. Stronger, more creative leadership from Washington and other capitals is needed to achieve progress. Indeed, many delegations at the high-level meeting warned that if negotiations on an FMCT do not begin next year, “other options” should be considered. Given Pakistan’s hard-line position on an FMCT and the ability of any one state to block consensus, there is no reason to wait that long.

Although India and Pakistan have more than enough nuclear firepower to deter a nuclear attack, Pakistani leaders consider the proposed FMCT a “clear and present” danger because it would prevent Pakistan from matching India’s fissile stockpile and production potential. Pakistan insists that other nations agree to discuss limits on existing fissile material stocks before talks can begin.

The United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France have all declared a halt to fissile material production for weapons, in part because each possesses sizable reserves of fissile material. China, which is estimated to have 20 metric tons of HEU and 4 metric tons of separated plutonium, is believed to have halted production for weapons purposes. Israel retains a fissile production capability outside of safeguards, but is not believed to be producing more material. North Korea has a small plutonium-production capacity, which it is legally obligated to put under safeguards and shut down.

Rivals India and Pakistan, however, remain in a fissile production “race.” India produces plutonium for weapons at two dedicated reactors and is estimated to have about 700 kilograms of separated plutonium, which is enough for about 140 bombs. It produces new plutonium at a rate of about 30 kilograms per year.

Pakistan has about 2 metric tons of HEU for its nuclear weapons and about 100 kilograms of weapons plutonium, which is enough for about 100 bombs. Pakistan has one plutonium-production reactor, is building two additional military production reactors, and is increasing its reliance on plutonium weapons. Each reactor can produce about 10 kilograms of plutonium per year.

India and Pakistan have roughly equal quantities of separated fissile material, but Pakistan worries that India may extract plutonium from spent fuel generated by its unsafeguarded power reactors, which could provide enough material for several hundred more bombs. Civil nuclear cooperation deals between India and nuclear supplier states also may free up its domestic uranium supplies for additional plutonium production.

Pakistan’s concerns about an FMCT likely will not be alleviated as long as India’s production potential remains greater. France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States should use what leverage they have to encourage India to exercise greater global nonproliferation leadership and restraint. When he visits India in November, Obama should invite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to declare that India will not increase its rate of fissile production and will put additional nonmilitary reactors under safeguards. The United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) could help monitor whether India sticks to such a pledge.

If the CD cannot begin work by the end of its first session next year, the United States should pursue parallel, open-ended talks involving the eight states with fissile production facilities that are not legally required to be under IAEA safeguards, as well as representatives from other key states. The initial focus should be to increase transparency and confidence regarding fissile production and fissile stocks and begin technical work on a targeted system for verifying a production halt.

Even if talks on a verifiable, global FMCT begin in Geneva, they may last many years. To hasten progress, the five original nuclear-weapon states should seek an agreement by all states with facilities not subject to safeguards to voluntarily suspend fissile production and place stocks in excess of military requirements under IAEA inspection.

Such a step would maintain pressure on Pakistan and is consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 1172, which calls upon India and Pakistan to “stop their nuclear weapons development programmes [and] cease any further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.” For Israel, which does not need more fissile material and has an aging reactor at Dimona, the moratorium would make a virtue out of necessity.

None of these options is easy or simple, but too much time has already been wasted at the CD. States that are truly serious about reducing the nuclear threat now must provide the leadership needed to build an effective fissile material control regime.

Ending the production of fissile material—plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU)—for nuclear weapons is a long-sought and still vital nonproliferation objective. Last year, President Barack Obama pledged to “lead a global effort” to negotiate a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), but talks at the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament (CD) remain blocked, as they have been for nearly a dozen years.

Iran-Turkey-Brazil Fuel Deal Has Potential if Iran Provides Follow-Up Steps



Issue Brief - Volume 1, Number 5, May 17, 2010

Iran's agreement to ship 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey as part of a nuclear fuel exchange agreement brokered by Brazil and Turkey is a potentially positive development, but one of limited value without the appropriate follow-through.

The 1,200 kilograms of LEU is enough for one bomb's-worth of highly-enriched uranium if that material were further processed. Removing this LEU from Iran would be beneficial for delaying the time when Iran would have a viable strategic reserve of material that could be used for nuclear weapons, but it would only be a short-term measure which does not address long-lasting concerns regarding Iran's history of secret nuclear activities and its lack of transparency with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The primary purpose of a similar, IAEA-backed, arrangement tentatively agreed to last October was to build trust between the P5+1 group (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran, providing a stepping stone to broader negotiations on a long-term resolution to Iran's nuclear program. The 3-country joint declaration cites Iran's decision to continue to negotiate with the six powers, and the real value of this fuel exchange arrangement will be measured by whether or not Iran is willing to do so constructively.  

Other Questions Remain
A number of details must also be addressed for this agreement to have a nonproliferation value, including clarifying the circumstances in which Iran could require the return of the LEU back to its territory.  In particular, the joint statement does not address Iran's ongoing work to produce 20 percent-enriched uranium. Tehran claimed earlier this year that it would further enrich some of its LEU stockpile to this higher level to provide fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor. However, since the fuel swap arrangement would result in Iran receiving the necessary reactor fuel from abroad, there would no longer be any reason for it to continue this additional enrichment or keep the 20 percent uranium it has already produced, which is closer to weapons-grade levels. The IAEA and the countries involved in the October negotiations (France, Russia, and the United States) should insist that Iran cease this work as part of any fuel deal.

The Fuel Swap and UN Sanctions
The preliminary fuel exchange agreement will undoubtedly impact the ongoing UN Security Council discussions on a fourth round of sanctions on Iran. Council members, including Brazil and Turkey, should keep in mind that the sanctions discussions were not taking place because Iran did not agree to a fuel exchange deal last October. Rather, sanctions were being considered to respond to Iran's failure to cooperate with the IAEA on a number of levels, including the construction of the Qom enrichment facility in secret, and for failing to comply with UN demands to suspend enrichment.

Since Iran has not resolved those concerns, and since today's joint declaration  makes no mention of Iran's willingness to improve its transparency and cooperation with the IAEA, there is no reason to abandon the UN sanctions discussion. It is worrisome, in fact, that the joint statement appears to re-interpret a critical linkage in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) between a non-nuclear-weapon state's right to peaceful nuclear energy with its obligation to adhere to IAEA safeguards by claiming that Iran has such a right merely "without discrimination." Should Iran work to resolve some of these concerns with the IAEA, in compliance with its NPT obligations, then there would be no need to pursue additional sanctions.

Moreover, the fact that Iran abandoned its own long-held stipulations regarding the fuel swap at the time that a P5 consensus on additional sanctions had been emerging demonstrates that such international pressure and the threat of sanctions itself can have an impact. Russia and China in particular should keep this in mind as it suggests that their willingness to consider placing such pressure on Iran can help to temper Tehran's hard-line stance.  

The United States and its partners should welcome any prospects for postponing the time when Iran would have a viable strategic reserve of material that could be used for nuclear weapons, and that have the potential to lead to constructive negotiations to resolve the nuclear issue. Whether the latest fuel swap agreement brokered by Brazil and Turkey accomplishes those goals, however, depends on the appropriate follow-up by Iran. - PETER CRAIL


Volume 1, Number 5

Iran's agreement to ship 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey as part of an nuclear fuel exchange agreement brokered by Brazil and Turkey is a potentially positive development, but one of limited value without the appropriate follow-through.


Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

World Leaders Vow to Boost Nuclear Security

Volha Charnysh and Daniel Horner

Four dozen world leaders meeting in Washington last month agreed on general principles and individual steps for improving the security of nuclear materials around the world and for preventing nuclear terrorism.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference at the close of the April 12-13 summit, President Barack Obama, who convened the event, said the participating nations “seized” the opportunity “to make concrete commitments and take tangible steps to secure nuclear materials.”

At a separate press conference, White House Coordinator for WMD Counterterrorism and Arms Control Gary Samore said one of the summit’s most important outcomes was eliminating doubts on whether the threat of nuclear terrorism “is really serious.” Another key result, he said, was the “consensus” that “the solution to the threat is actually pretty simple” because “[p]hysical protection is something that governments know how to do, something that private companies know how to do, if they invest the resources.”

Forty-seven national delegations—38 of them represented at the level of head of state or head of government—attended the event, as did the European Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the United Nations. The participants agreed on a communiqué, which included an endorsement of Obama’s goal to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials in four years, first announced in April 2009 in Prague, and a work plan. Although no binding commitments were made, in their national statements many states described specific steps they will take to advance nuclear security.

According to the U.S. national statement, Washington’s “first priority is to ensure that nuclear materials and facilities in the United States are secure.” The United States said it plans to invite the IAEA to review the security at its National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Center for Neutron Research, whose reactor is to be converted from highly enriched uranium (HEU) to a new low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel once the fuel has been tested and approved. In addition, the United States is working to develop and deploy new neutron detection technologies and has started an international effort to develop a “framework for cooperation between governments investigating the illicit use of nuclear materials,” the statement says. The document expresses U.S. readiness to commit up to another $10 billion to the Group of Eight’s Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction as well as to complete ratification procedures for the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). The amendment strengthens the provisions of the 1980 CPPNM by making protection of nuclear facilities and material in peaceful domestic use, storage, and transport legally binding for states-parties. The original provisions apply only to material during international transport.

Twenty-nine countries announced what Samore called “house gifts,” or measures they have taken or plan to take to strengthen nuclear security.

President Dmitry Medvedev announced the shutdown of Russia’s last weapons-grade plutonium-production reactor, ADE-2. The shutdown marks the end of a long-running effort, which Russia pursued with U.S. assistance. (See ACT, March 2003.)

Also, Russia and the United States signed a protocol revising their stalled 10-year-old agreement on disposition of surplus weapons plutonium (see page 43).

Differing Emphases

At his press conference, Obama said the participants agreed “on the urgency and seriousness of the threat” and reached a “shared understanding of the risk.” The U.S. national statement starts by stressing “the risk of nuclear terrorism as the most immediate and extreme threat to global security.” However, Russia’s April 13 memorandum, posted on the Kremlin’s Web site, mentions the risk of nuclear terrorism only in the sixth paragraph. The memorandum begins by describing the nuclear industry as “one of the strategic directions of development.” Although it acknowledges that the industry requires “a high level of physical nuclear security,” it also says that “reliable physical protection is being provided for all nuclear materials and related facilities” on Russian territory and that there are no “vulnerable nuclear materials and facilities with the level of physical security that would cause any concerns” in Russia.

Ukraine agreed to eliminate its stockpile of about 90 kilograms of HEU by 2012 with U.S. technical and financial assistance. At his press conference, Obama said, “For about 10 years, we had been encouraging Ukraine to either ship out its highly enriched uranium or transform it to…lower-enriched uranium. And in part because of this conference, Ukraine took that step.”

Although he won praise at the summit for making the commitment, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was criticized for his decision by the opposition at home. Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko said in an April 16 statement on her Web site that his decision to give up HEU “is not in Ukraine’s national security interests and negatively affects its research potential in fields such as nuclear energy, medical technology, chemistry and others.” The opposition plans to submit a draft law to the parliament banning HEU removal, she said.

Canada promised to return to the United States “a large amount” of spent HEU fuel from its medical isotope production reactor. Canada also agreed to fund HEU removals from Mexico and Vietnam, host and fund a World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) best practices workshop in Ottawa, and provide $100 million in new bilateral security cooperation with Russia, according to a White House summary of the national commitments made at the summit.

Canada, Mexico, and the United States agreed to convert a Mexican research reactor from HEU fuel to LEU fuel, according to an April 13 trilateral announcement. Kazakhstan reaffirmed a commitment to convert a HEU research reactor and eliminate remaining HEU, and Chile gave up its entire 18-kilogram stockpile of HEU.

The Chilean material left the country March 4 on two ships to the United States and arrived several weeks later, an official from the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said in an April 30 interview.

The NNSA, a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy, administers the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). One focus of the GTRI is to secure HEU and plutonium from research reactors supplied by Russia and the United States and repatriate that material.

Recently, the GTRI has also begun to cover “gap material”—HEU and plutonium from countries other than Russia and the United States. The Chilean HEU was the first material to receive authorization to be returned to the United States under that effort, the NNSA official said. Funds for the removal of the gap material from Chile and five other countries were requested and approved for fiscal year 2010.

The Chilean HEU consisted of two batches, 13.9 kilograms of British-supplied material enriched to 45 percent uranium-235 and 4.6 kilograms of French-origin material enriched to 90 percent uranium-235, the NNSA official said.

Sarkozy Proposes Tribunal

France promised to ratify the 2005 amendment to the CPPNM and invite an International Physical Protection Advisory Service security review from the IAEA. “We support the IAEA and its director-general …and are going to go further in our cooperation with the agency,” President Nicolas Sarkozy said at an April 13 press conference.

Sarkozy proposed establishing an international tribunal to deal with states supplying nuclear materials to nonstate actors. He later said this could be accomplished “either by amending the statute of the International Criminal Court to broaden its powers or by establishing an ad hoc court to bridge the gap in international law.” Sarkozy said Obama asked the sherpas—the aides who do the preparatory work, including the drafting of statements, before a summit—to work with the UN secretary-general on this initiative. Samore, at the postsummit press conference, said the idea prompted “a very lively discussion,” after which “the leaders agreed that this is one of the things the experts will be discussing” in the meetings prior to the next summit, which South Korea agreed to host in 2012.

Speaking at an April 14 event at the Hudson Institute in Washington, Andrew Semmel, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation who attended the summit as an IAEA consultant, said a number of countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, and Russia, supported Sarkozy’s suggestion.

Argentina and Pakistan announced new steps to strengthen port security and prevent nuclear smuggling. China, India, Italy, Japan, and other states agreed to create new centers to promote nuclear security technologies and training.

Some countries pledged new resources to help the IAEA meet its responsibilities and agreed to hold regional or national conferences or meetings in support of nuclear security. The communiqué reaffirmed the “essential role” of the IAEA “in the international nuclear security framework and will work to ensure that it continues to have the appropriate structure, resources and expertise needed to carry out its mandated nuclear security activities.”

Many states, including Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, and the United Kingdom, promised to contribute to the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund. The IAEA summit commitment was to complete the final review of its nuclear physical security guidance document.

Focused Efforts

Implementing the communiqué by following the specific steps outlined in the work plan will lead to “focused national efforts to improve security and accounting of nuclear materials and strengthen regulations at the national level,” said Laura Holgate, senior director for WMD terrorism and threat reduction, speaking at the same April 13 news briefing as Samore.

In the work plan, states agree to advance nuclear security with measures that include ratification and implementation of international treaties; support for UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all states to put in place a wide variety of “appropriate effective” national controls over nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and related materials and the means to deliver them; conversion of civilian facilities from HEU to non-weapons-useable materials; research on new nuclear fuels, detection methods, and forensic technologies; development of corporate and institutional cultures that prioritize nuclear security; education and training; and joint exercises among law enforcement and customs officials to enhance nuclear detection opportunities.

According to the communiqué, states “[r]ecognize that highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium require special precautions and agree to promote measures to secure, account for, and consolidate these materials, as appropriate.” They endorsed “strong nuclear security practices that will not infringe upon the rights of States to develop and utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” Although emphasizing “the role of the nuclear industry, including the private sector, in nuclear security,” the work plan “recogniz[es] that national governments are responsible for standard setting within each State.”

In response to a question about the numerous qualifying phrases in the communiqué, such as “where appropriate” and “where feasible,” Samore said that “the structure of nuclear security is fundamentally a sovereign responsibility of nation states.” He said it is not possible to get an international agreement to give the IAEA the same kind of authority in nuclear security that it has in nuclear safeguards.

The communiqué recognized “that measures contributing to nuclear material security have value in relation to the security of radioactive substances,” but the issue of radiological security was not on the summit’s agenda. Speaking at the same press conference as Samore and Holgate, Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said the gathering focused on “the highest-consequence threat,” a nuclear explosion, which would result from a device made from plutonium or HEU “as opposed to a dirty bomb.”

At the Hudson Institute briefing, Semmel said several countries brought up the issue of radiological threats in the course of the meeting even though it was not on the formal agenda.

Industry Role

In the communiqué, the meeting participants said they “[r]ecognize the continuing role of nuclear industry, including the private sector, in nuclear security and will work with industry to ensure the necessary priority of physical protection, material accountancy, and security culture.”

Nuclear industry leaders met in a separate session April 14. That meeting, organized by the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), drew more than 200 industry officials, NEI said in an April 15 press release.

In the release, NEI President and Chief Executive Officer Marvin Fertel praised Obama for being “able to elevate the issue of securing nuclear materials that are not secure now to such a high level.” Participants in the industry meeting agreed to form an executive task force to “look at how the industry can align with the goals of the communiqué and work plan,” the NEI release said. The industry leaders also agreed to improve the sharing of “lessons learned in securing materials” and to “strengthen engagement between industry and government,” NEI said.

A delegation of industry officials also met with Vice President Joe Biden April 14. After the meeting, Biden’s office released a statement saying that he “made clear that since roughly half of the world’s nuclear materials are in the hands of industry, public-private cooperation is essential to preventing the spread of nuclear materials to terrorists.” He “challenged the nuclear industry to prepare a set of best practices” by the 2012 summit.

A likely candidate to work with industry to meet that challenge is the Vienna-based WINS, the institute’s executive director, Roger Howsley, said in an April 20 interview. “Unless WINS takes a lead [role], I don’t know who is going to do it on behalf of the worldwide nuclear industry,” he said. That is not because of a “lack of will,” but because WINS was created “to fill a gap” and is already preparing a series of best-practice security guides, which should be completed by the end of 2011, he said. Those guides then will be turned into accredited training materials, he said.

Howsley noted that the Canadian, Japanese, and U.S. national statements at the summit specifically cited WINS.

Next Steps

As follow-up to the summit and preparation for the one in South Korea, there is likely to be an experts meeting “by the end of the year” in Buenos Aires, Samore said. He said he “would expect to have two or three more before the summit in Korea.”

In an April 22 interview, another White House official said it would be up to Seoul to determine the structure and attendance list for the 2012 summit.

Samore said at the briefing that “my prediction is that we are likely to have even more concrete results in 2012. We’ll be able to do better than we did this time because I think we’ve set a pattern; countries will want to come to the next meeting with even bigger and better house gifts.”


Four dozen world leaders meeting in Washington last month agreed on general principles and individual steps for improving the security of nuclear materials around the world and for preventing nuclear terrorism.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference at the close of the April 12-13 summit, President Barack Obama, who convened the event, said the participating nations “seized” the opportunity “to make concrete commitments and take tangible steps to secure nuclear materials.”

Playing the Nuclear Game: Pakistan and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty

Zia Mian and A.H. Nayyar

Since May 2009, Pakistan, largely alone, has blocked the start of international talks on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) at the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva.[1] The treaty would ban the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes; fissile materials, namely plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU), are the key ingredients in nuclear weapons. Pakistan has prevented these negotiations despite having accepted last year a CD program of work that included an FMCT.

Pakistan’s ambassador at the CD, Zamir Akram, has indicated that his government may not easily be moved, saying, “We are not in a position to accept the beginning of negotiations on a cut-off treaty in the foreseeable future.”[2]

At the core of the concerns held by Pakistan’s national security managers is a long-running search for strategic parity with India. The most powerful of these managers are from the army, which also runs the nuclear weapons complex. They argue that Pakistan has fallen behind India in producing fissile materials and insist that this fissile material gap be addressed as part of any talks.

Yet, a larger set of issues is at play. These include Pakistan’s concerns about the long-term consequences of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal and the emerging strategic relationship between the two countries; the desire of military planners in Pakistan to move from larger, heavier nuclear weapons based on HEU to lighter, more compact plutonium-based weapons; the interest of nuclear production complex managers in Pakistan in realizing their investment over the past decade in a large expansion of fissile material production facilities and of the nuclear establishment more broadly in expanding its domestic economic and political clout; and, finally, a reluctance in Washington and other key capitals to press Pakistan on an FMCT because of the importance the United States attaches to Pakistan’s support for the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

The Evolution of Pakistan’s Position

Pakistan has historically taken an ambivalent position toward a possible FMCT. It supported the December 1993 UN General Assembly resolution calling for negotiations on a “non-discriminatory multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”[3] Having agreed to talk, Pakistan delayed the start of a negotiating process at the CD by debating the scope of the proposed treaty, insisting that the mandate for negotiating the treaty include constraints on existing stockpiles of fissile materials. The compromise agreed in the March 1995 Shannon mandate for talks at the CD on an FMCT was to finesse the issue by noting that the mandate did not preclude any state from raising the problem of existing stockpiles as part of the negotiations.

Work on an FMCT, however, did not start. In May 1995, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) was extended indefinitely and without conditions, raising concerns that the nuclear-weapon states might never uphold their obligation to eliminate their nuclear weapons. The following year, the CD pushed through the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, despite objections by India, sending the treaty to the General Assembly for approval and opening it for signature. India and Pakistan refused to sign.

In May 1998, India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons. Within weeks, the UN Security Council responded to the tests by unanimously passing Resolution 1172, which called on India and Pakistan:

immediately to stop their nuclear weapon development programmes, to refrain from weaponization or from the deployment of nuclear weapons, to cease development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons and any further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, to confirm their policies not to export equipment, materials or technology that could contribute to weapons of mass destruction or missiles capable of delivering them and to undertake appropriate commitments in that regard.[4]

India and Pakistan ignored the resolution, but under pressure from the United States, Pakistan acquiesced to the fissile material talks.[5] Pakistan agreed to negotiate on the basis of the existing Shannon mandate, but made clear that it intended to “raise its concerns about and seek a solution to the problem of unequal stockpiles.”[6] Munir Akram, Pakistan’s CD ambassador, spelled out his country’s concerns in detail, saying, “We believe that a wide disparity in fissile material stockpiles of India and Pakistan could erode the stability of nuclear deterrence.”[7] In a later statement, he explained that Pakistan assumed “India will transform its large fissile material stocks into nuclear weapons” and thus Pakistan needed to “take into account both India’s nuclear weapons and fissile material stockpiles.” Pakistan “cannot therefore agree to freeze inequality,” he said.[8] To make clear its position, Pakistan’s ambassador objected even to the term FMCT, arguing that “my delegation does not agree to the Treaty being described as a Fissile Material ‘Cut-off’ Treaty, implying only a halt in future production. We cannot endorse the loose abbreviation—FMCT—in any formal description of the Treaty which is to be negotiated by the CD.”[9] He proposed instead the label “fissile material treaty,” or FMT, and a number of other countries and independent analysts adopted this usage.

A CD committee was set up to begin talks on an FMCT in late 1998, but made little progress and could not be re-established in 1999. For the following decade, the CD struggled to agree on a program of work. The United States under the Bush administration shifted priorities to its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and was ideologically opposed to multilateral arms control. At the CD, it insisted talks be confined to an FMCT, but without verification provisions, and rejected demands for discussions on other long-standing issues, such as nuclear disarmament, measures to prevent an arms race in outer space, and security assurances for non-nuclear-weapon states. Other states, unwilling to concede control of the CD agenda to the United States, tied talks on an FMCT to these other topics.

In the absence of CD negotiations, and taking advantage of the frustration among many non-nuclear-weapon states at Bush administration policies on nuclear weapons and nonproliferation and disarmament, Pakistan laid out an expansive vision for an FMCT. In 2006, Masood Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to the CD, argued that “[a] cut-off in the manufacturing of fissile material must be accompanied by a mandatory programme for the elimination of asymmetries in the possession of fissile material stockpiles by various states. Such transfer of fissile material to safeguards should be made first by states with huge stockpiles, both in the global and regional context.”[10] He explained what this meant: “A fissile material treaty must provide a schedule for a progressive transfer of existing stockpiles to civilian use and placing these stockpiles under safeguards so that the unsafeguarded stocks are equalized at the lowest level possible.”[11]

In May 2009, for the first time in 10 years, with Pakistan’s assent the CD adopted a program of work organized around four working groups, one of which was tasked with negotiating an FMCT on the basis of the Shannon mandate. The other groups were to manage discussions on nuclear disarmament, preventing an arms race in outer space, and security assurances. In addition, three special coordinators were to be appointed to elicit the views of states on other issues.

Nevertheless, agreement on a program of work was not sufficient to allow FMCT negotiations to begin. Pakistan demanded agreement on procedural issues, including that “[t]he allocation of time for the four Working Groups should be balanced so that the progress on each issue is ensured” and that “[t]he appointment of Chairs of the Working Groups should respect the principle of equal geographical representation.”[12] The ensuing dispute over how any talks would be managed, with China, Egypt, and Iran joining Pakistan in expressing concerns, prevented progress. The CD also failed to agree that the 2009 program of work would carry over into 2010.

Pakistan continued to obstruct the start of work at the CD in early 2010. In February, Zamir Akram explained that his country had agreed to the program of work in 2009 in the hope that some of Pakistan’s concerns would be addressed with the start of the Obama administration. Pakistan now believed that this would not be the case, he said.[13] Citing a January decision by Pakistan’s National Command Authority (NCA), which is responsible for its nuclear weapons, he said that Pakistan’s position at the CD on an FMCT would be based on “its national security interests and the objectives of strategic stability in South Asia.”[14]

Pakistan rejected the CD plan of work proposed in early March. A number of countries associated with the CD Group of 21, including Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, North Korea, Sri Lanka, and Syria, have joined Pakistan in arguing for a more “balanced” program of work, highlighting in particular the need for talks on nuclear disarmament.[15] China also did not endorse the CD plan of work. Some states may simply be remaining silent about their opposition to the treaty and taking advantage of Pakistan’s refusal to permit talks on an FMCT. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Bill Clinton in 1999, “We will never sign the treaty, and do not delude yourselves—no pressure will help. We will not sign the treaty because we will not commit suicide.”[16] For its part, Pakistan is playing a waiting game, arguing that the time is not yet “ripe” for an FMCT.[17]

The Fissile Material Gap

Pakistan’s position clearly is determined by concern about parity with India. On October 26, 1998, Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz was quoted as saying, “Nuclear scientists have advised the government that there was no harm in signing the CTBT and FMCT at this stage as we had enough enriched nuclear material to maintain the power equilibrium in the region.”[18] This would seem to suggest that a decade ago policymakers in Pakistan believed that its fissile material stockpiles were sufficient to meet perceived needs. Similarly, in 2006, Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Jahangir Karamat, a former army chief, seemed to indicate that Pakistan might consider a bilateral moratorium with India, suggesting that “if bilaterally, the U.S. can facilitate a moratorium on fissile material production or on testing: we are very happy to be part of that.”[19]

It has been estimated that as of 2009, Pakistan had accumulated a stock of about two metric tons of HEU for its nuclear weapons (enough for about 80 weapons, assuming 25 kilograms per warhead).[20] Pakistan also has about 100 kilograms of weapons plutonium, enough for about 20 warheads (assuming five kilograms per warhead) from its reactor at Khushab.[21] Altogether, Pakistan may have fissile material sufficient for perhaps 100 simple weapons. Advanced weapon designs, including those that use both uranium and plutonium in composite warheads, would allow it to produce significantly more weapons from its HEU. Pakistan also has about 1.2 metric tons of reactor-grade plutonium in the spent fuel from its two nuclear power reactors, but this material is under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

Pakistan is expanding its fissile material production capacity and increasing its reliance on plutonium weapons. Two additional production reactors are under construction at Khushab.[22] Each of these new reactors could produce about 10 kilograms of plutonium a year, if they are the same size as the existing reactor at the site. Satellite imagery from late 2006 shows that Pakistan has also been working on one new reprocessing plant at its New Labs site near Islamabad and another at Chashma, presumably to reprocess the spent fuel from the new production reactors.[23] Pakistan is expanding its uranium processing operations to fuel these reactors.[24] It is estimated that, by 2020, Pakistan could have accumulated approximately 450 kilograms of plutonium from the Khushab reactors, enough for 90 weapons, and more than 2,500 kilograms of HEU, sufficient for perhaps 100 simple fission weapons.[25]

India is producing plutonium for weapons in two dedicated production reactors. It is estimated that India may have accumulated about 700 kilograms of plutonium by 2009, sufficient for about 140 weapons, and is producing more at the rate of about 30 kilograms per year.[26] India produces HEU, but this material is believed to be for its nuclear-powered submarine fleet and not for weapons. This would suggest that India and Pakistan today have roughly similar holdings of weapons material.

A large disparity in stocks of the kind emphasized by Pakistan emerges if India’s unsafeguarded power-reactor plutonium is included in the accounting. India may have separated almost seven metric tons of power-reactor plutonium by 2009.[27] Assuming that perhaps 10 kilograms of such reactor-grade plutonium may be sufficient for a weapon, this would amount to perhaps 700 weapons. There are reports that at least one Indian nuclear weapon test in 1998 used plutonium that was less than weapons grade.[28]

India claims its stockpile of reactor-grade plutonium is intended for fueling fast breeder reactors, the first of which (the 500-megawatt Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor) is expected to be completed in 2011.[29] This fast breeder reactor will consume reactor-grade plutonium as fuel, but will produce weapons-grade plutonium in the blankets that surround the reactor core. If it operates with a reasonable capacity factor, the reactor would be able to produce 90-140 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium per year, sufficient for almost 20-30 weapons per year.[30] It is estimated that India may have 1,000-1,500 kilograms of weapons plutonium by 2020.[31] India would not be the first country to use a breeder reactor for military purposes; France used its Phénix breeder reactor to produce plutonium for weapons.[32] The experience of many other breeder reactors around the world, however, suggests that operating a breeder reactor at such efficiency may not be easy because breeder reactors have proven susceptible to frequent breakdowns and need long repair times.[33]

Pakistan has explicitly raised the issue of reactor-grade plutonium stocks, with its CD ambassador in February 2010 expressing a concern that an FMCT might not “include other bomb making materials such as reactor grade Plutonium, U233, Neptunium or Americium.”[34]

Pakistan is also concerned about the implications of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal. Signed into law by President George W. Bush in October 2008, it lifts 30-year-old restrictions on the sale of nuclear material, equipment, and technology to India. The United States and India convinced the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which has more than 40 members, to exempt India from similar international controls. Responding to the U.S.-Indian deal, Pakistan’s NCA declared in August 2007 that the agreement “would have implications on strategic stability as it would enable India to produce significant quantities of fissile material and nuclear weapons from un-safeguarded nuclear reactors.”[35]

As part of the deal, India is now free to import uranium for its civil program, easing constraints on uranium availability and enabling India to use more of its domestic uranium for its nuclear weapons program. It is estimated that this would enable India to produce up to 200 kilograms a year of weapons-grade plutonium in its unsafeguarded heavy-water power reactors, enough for 40 weapons per year, provided that it can overcome the associated practical problems of increased rates of spent fuel reprocessing and faster refueling.[36]

India has committed that it will declare eight of its indigenously built power reactors as civilian and open them for IAEA safeguarding by 2014 in a phased manner. It is estimated that these eight reactors could produce four metric tons of unsafeguarded plutonium by then.[37] India will keep eight power reactors outside safeguards, which together could produce about 1,250 kilograms of plutonium per year, not all of which India can currently separate.[38] All this plutonium is presumably intended for fueling breeder reactors, but could produce a large number of simple nuclear weapons. The deal allows India to continue to keep outside safeguards its stockpiles of accumulated power reactor spent fuel and separated power reactor plutonium. Furthermore, India can choose whether any future reactors it builds will be declared as military or civilian.

The Big Picture

The generals who command Pakistan’s army, dominate national security, and control nuclear policy and the nuclear weapon complex through the Strategic Plans Division, even when there is an elected civilian government, see a troubling future. Their military mind-sets, vested interests, and old habits lead them to find many reasons to continue to seek strategic parity with India and to produce more fissile material to support a larger nuclear arsenal.

One argument Pakistan has raised for building up fissile material stocks is the prospect of a large Indian arsenal. Zamir Akram claimed in February 2010 that India was aiming for an arsenal of 400 weapons. This arsenal would rely on a triad of platforms, the third leg of which is coming into view. In 2009, India launched its first nuclear-powered submarine.[39] It plans a fleet of three to five, each armed with 12 ballistic missiles.[40] There have been suggestions by former Pakistani officials that the country develop its own nuclear submarine and, in the meantime, lease a nuclear submarine from a friendly power, i.e., China; deploy nuclear-armed cruise missiles on its diesel submarines; and continue fissile material production for the “foreseeable future.”[41] Another justification being offered for a larger fissile material stockpile is India’s pursuit of ballistic missile defenses. (China has raised the same point with regard to U.S. strategic missile defenses.) In 2004 the military officer who serves as director of arms control and disarmament affairs at the Strategic Plans Division argued that India’s missile defense program is likely to “trigger an arms race” and that Pakistan could build more missiles and more warheads, requiring more fissile material; develop decoys and multiple warhead missiles; and move to an alert deployment posture.[42] In 2009, India carried out its third test of a missile interceptor.[43]

More broadly, India’s economy and military spending are now so large and growing so rapidly that Pakistan cannot expect to keep up. In January, India’s Defense Ministry announced plans to spend more than $10 billion this coming year on acquiring new weapons.[44] This was made possible by a 34 percent increase in India’s military budget for 2009-2010, to more than $35 billion; in Pakistan, it went up 15 percent, to just more than $4 billion. Pakistan has been able to buy major new weapons systems because of the large amounts of U.S. military and economic aid that have flowed since the September 11 attacks in return for Islamabad’s support for the U.S. war against al Qaeda and the Taliban, but President Barack Obama has announced that he intends to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2011. U.S. military aid to Pakistan will not continue at current levels indefinitely, and aid likely will be increasingly for civilian purposes and more carefully audited. Even if China steps up its assistance, Pakistan’s generals believe they cannot keep up with India in a conventional arms race. They may want more nuclear weapons as a counter, while insisting on conventional weapons controls as a condition for progress on an FMCT.

To compound these concerns, Pakistan’s generals see an emerging U.S.-Indian strategic relationship. The U.S.-Indian nuclear deal forms part of a broader January 2004 agreement between the United States and India on “Next Steps in Strategic Partnership,” through which the United States committed to help India with its civilian space program, high-technology trade, missile defense, and civilian nuclear activities. The Obama administration seems as committed as its predecessor to pursuing this relationship with a view to maintaining U.S. primacy and containing China.

A High Price

Former senior officials in Pakistan have argued that, in exchange for talks on an FMCT, Pakistan should receive a nuclear deal like the one given to India, with a lifting of international restrictions by the NSG.[45] Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani claimed in February that “[t]alks between Pakistan and the US for cooperation on atomic programmes are under way and we want the US to have an agreement with us like the one it had with India on civil nuclear technology.”[46] After the U.S.-Indian deal was announced in 2005, U.S. officials repeatedly said the Indian situation was unique and the United States would not extend the same terms to Israel or Pakistan, the other NPT holdouts.[47] However, some U.S. analysts have been urging such a nuclear deal as a way to buy greater cooperation from Pakistan in the war against the Taliban and as a way to assure Pakistan of an enduring U.S. commitment.[48] For their part, U.S. Department of State officials have been cautious in answering questions about the possibility of a nuclear deal with Pakistan. Asked directly in February 2010 if the Obama administration was considering a nuclear deal with Pakistan, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley replied “I’m – I don’t know.”[49] At a March 24 press conference with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi after what was dubbed a U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked if the United States would discuss a nuclear deal with Pakistan. She indicated that the U.S. might consider it eventually, arguing “We have a broad agenda with many complicated issues like the one you referred to… this dialogue that we’re engaged in is helping us build the kind of partnership that can make progress over time on the most complicated of issues.”[50]

A lifting of the current international restrictions on the sale of nuclear reactors and fuel to Pakistan would further strain the nonproliferation regime, already seriously weakened by the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal. With Israel having sought a lifting of NSG restrictions to allow it to import nuclear reactors and fuel, there is a serious danger that the NPT will be rendered largely pointless. Pardoning all three states that chose to remain outside the NPT and develop nuclear weapons would make a mockery of the idea that the treaty offers a platform for moving to nuclear disarmament. Furthermore, by ending the distinction between NPT parties and nonparties with regard to their access to international nuclear trade and technology assistance, it could make countries question the value of being a party to the treaty.

A nuclear deal for Pakistan would carry other costs. It would allow the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) to become a much more powerful economic, political, and technological force in Pakistan. PAEC today is responsible for everything from uranium mining to building and operating plutonium-production reactors and reprocessing plants for the nuclear weapons program. It also operates two small power reactors: a 125-megawatt plant bought from Canada in the 1960s and a 300-megawatt plant purchased from China in the 1990s. A second 300-megawatt Chinese reactor is under construction. Pakistan’s plans call for a very large increase in nuclear power capacity, to 2,800 megawatts, by 2020, reaching 8,800 megawatts by 2030.[51] PAEC would become a key gatekeeper for managing the import and operation of the many large and very costly power reactors required to meet these energy targets. A large nuclear energy sector would offer Pakistan a means to mobilize and direct additional financial resources, technologies, material, and manpower to the weapons program. Moreover, Pakistan’s current electricity shortage could be addressed much more quickly and more economically by adding natural gas-fueled power plants, which take much less time to construct and require much less capital than comparable nuclear power plants.

The managers of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons production complex, the military’s Strategic Plans Division, have little incentive to begin talks on an FMCT and even less interest in reaching early agreement or acceding to an eventual treaty. As noted earlier, the complex is in the midst of a very large expansion. In May 2009, The Washington Post reported that the first of the two new production reactors under construction at Khushab may be ready to come online in 2010.[52] An official visit to the Khushab site by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and senior military and nuclear weapons officials in late February may have marked the completion of work on the reactor.[53] The prime minister congratulated Khushab engineers for completing important projects and announced one month’s bonus pay. Work on the third Khushab reactor seems to have started in 2005-2006 and may be completed in a few years. If FMCT talks begin and seem to go well, there may be international pressure for a production moratorium, which would involve suspending production at existing sites and halting work on new facilities. The large investment made in the new reactors and reprocessing plants would be seen to have been wasted. The Khushab reactors, which do not produce electricity, and the associated reprocessing plants would have little if any value for Pakistan’s civilian nuclear energy program.

Finally, Pakistan sees itself able to block progress on an FMCT at the CD because it has seen little sign that the United States or other states care about an FMCT or even about nuclear weapons in South Asia beyond wanting to be reassured about the security of Pakistan’s weapons. Ambassadors at the CD urge Pakistan to allow talks to start, and foreign ministries may send démarches to Islamabad, but Pakistan sees this as diplomacy as usual and not indicative of an international priority requiring Pakistan to undertake a serious policy review or adjust its position.

The view from Islamabad is that the stream of high-level officials arriving there comes to talk about the Taliban and al Qaeda, Afghanistan, and the tribal areas. The key U.S. interlocutors have been Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has made 14 visits to Pakistan; Gen. David Petraeus, head of Central Command; and Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is notable that even during Clinton’s recent visit to Pakistan, nuclear weapons issues did not feature on the public agenda except for the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and materials. Even Abdul Qadeer Khan seems to have been forgotten. For now, the United States sees the war against the Taliban as more important than the nuclear arms race in South Asia, just as the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan was more important in the 1980s than stopping Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.


When it comes to an FMCT, Pakistan’s security managers, predominantly the army, have been pursuing business as usual, which for the past five decades has meant trying to maintain strategic parity with India. Blocking talks on an FMCT enables them to continue to build up their fissile material stockpile and to highlight to the international community their concerns about a fissile material gap with India and the consequences of India’s current military buildup, especially India’s search for missile defenses, and the consequences of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal. Holding up an FMCT also allows Pakistan’s nuclear establishment to keep open the prospect of a nuclear deal of its own, which, if granted, would give it dramatically greater power and influence in the energy sector and civilian economy and the means to channel additional resources to the weapons program.

At the CD, Zamir Akram has claimed Pakistan has adopted a principled position on an FMCT based on vital national interests and declared that “we are ready to stand in splendid isolation if we have to.”[54] So far, this has been possible because it has carried little consequence. The international community, led by the United States, has chosen to focus its relationship with Pakistan on fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda. To get started on an FMCT, the United States and other major states, including non-nuclear-weapon states, will need to put it much higher on the agenda. A useful first step might be for Obama and leaders from other countries that want to see an FMCT to put in a call to Islamabad.

Although Pakistan is the most insistent in wanting stocks to be addressed in an FMCT, it is not alone. Along with the Group of 21, countries such as Brazil, Japan, and New Zealand have raised this issue so that an FMCT can serve both nonproliferation and disarmament. These states and others wishing to begin work on an FMCT should assure Pakistan that they will work together with Islamabad in insisting that the treaty cover fissile material stockpiles in an effective way. This assurance could be strengthened at the forthcoming 2010 NPT Review Conference by states deciding to reaffirm the commitment made at the 2000 NPT Review Conference to the need for “[a]rrangements by all nuclear-weapon States to place, as soon as practicable, fissile material designated by each of them as no longer required for military purposes under IAEA or other relevant international verification and arrangements for the disposition of such material for peaceful purposes, to ensure that such material remains permanently outside of military programmes.”[55] One possible way for dealing with such stocks is offered by the draft FMCT developed by the International Panel on Fissile Materials.[56]

It is important for talks on an FMCT to start soon and not be dragged out indefinitely. Among the states still producing fissile material for weapons, Pakistan in particular may seek to delay agreement as a way to add to its fissile material stockpiles. States interested in achieving an FMCT should commit at the CD and as part of the 2010 NPT Review Conference to implement the 2000 review conference decision to begin talks on an FMCT and complete them within five years. To create and sustain real momentum for such negotiations and reach quickly a treaty that Pakistan and other potential holdout states will join, however, the nuclear-weapon states will need to put nuclear disarmament on the agenda. The NPT review conference offers an opportunity to do this.

Zia Mian directs the Project on Peace and Security in South Asia at PrincetonUniversity’s Program on Science and Global Security (PSGS). He is a member of the core staff of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM). A.H. Nayyar is a visiting researcher with PSGS and a member of the IPFM from Pakistan.


This article is based on a chapter on Pakistan in Banning the Production of Fissile Materials for Nuclear Weapons: Country Perspectives on the Challenges to a Fissile Material (Cutoff) Treaty, published in October 2008 and available at www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/gfmr08cv.pdf.

1. Jonathan Lynn, “Pakistan Blocks Agenda at U.N. Disarmament Conference,” Reuters, January 19, 2010, www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60I26U20100119.

2. Stephanie Nebehay, “Pakistan Rules Out Fissile Talks for Now–Diplomats,” Reuters, January 22, 2010, www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LDE60K2D9.htm.

3. UN General Assembly, Resolution 48/75L, December 16, 1993, www.un.org/documents/resga.htm.

4. UN Security Council, Resolution 1172, June 6, 1998, www.un.org/Docs/sc/unsc_resolutions.html.

5. “Ambassador Munir Akram’s Statement in the Conference on Disarmament on CTBT, FMCT Issues,” July 30, 1998, www.fas.org/nuke/control/fmct/docs/980730-cd-pak.htm.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. “‘Fissile Material Treaty,’ Statement From Munir Akram, Ambassador of Pakistan,” August 11, 1998, www.acronym.org.uk/fissban/pak.htm.

9. Ibid.

10. Pakistan Permanent Mission to the United Nations, “Statement by Ambassador Masood Khan, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative at the Conference on Disarmament: General Debate: ‘Fissile Material Treaty,’” Geneva, May 16, 2006, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/cd/speeches06/statements%2016%20may/16MayPakistan.pdf.

11. Ibid.

12. “Statement by Ambassador Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN: Adoption of CD’s Programme of Work,” May 29, 2009, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/cd/speeches09/2session/29may_pakistan.html.

13. Pakistan Permanent Mission to the United Nations, “Statement by Ambassador Zamir Akram, Permanent Representative of Pakistan at the Conference on Disarmament (CD),” Geneva, February 18, 2010, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/cd/2010/statements/part1/18Feb_Pakistan.pdf (hereinafter Akram February 2010 statement).

14. Ibid.

15. Beatrice Fihn and Ray Acheson, “The CD Debates the Draft Programme of Work,” March 22, 2010, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/cd/2010/reports.html. The Group of 21 at the CD includes Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Peru, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tunisia, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.

16. Avner Cohen and Marvin Miller, “Israel,” in Banning the Production of Fissile Materials for Nuclear Weapons: Country Perspectives on the Challenges to a Fissile Material (Cutoff) Treaty, International Panel on Fissile Materials, September 2008, www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/gfmr08cv.pdf.

17. Reaching Critical Will, “Conference on Disarmament: Unofficial Transcript,” Geneva, March 11, 2010, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/cd/2010/statements/part1/11March_Pakistan.html (statement by Zamir Akram to the Conference on Disarmament).

18. “Pakistan Moves Closer to Sign Nuclear Treaty,” The Nation, October 26, 1998.

19. “Pakistan Totally Committed to Non-proliferation, Restraint Regime,” Associated Press of Pakistan, April 9, 2006.

20. International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), “Global Fissile Material Report 2009: A Path to Nuclear Disarmament,” October 2009, p.21, www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/gfmr09.pdf.

21. IPFM, “Global Fissile Material Report 2009,”p. 16.

22. Joby Warrick, “Pakistan Expanding Nuclear Program,” The Washington Post, July 24, 2006; “U.S. Disputes Report on New Pakistan Reactor,” The New York Times, August 3, 2006. Pictures of the third reactor were released in June 2007. David Albright and Paul Brannan, “Pakistan Appears to be Building a Third Plutonium Production Reactor at Khushab Nuclear Site,” Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), June 21, 2007.

23. David Albright and Paul Brannan, “Chashma Nuclear Site in Pakistan With Possible Reprocessing Plant,” ISIS, January 18, 2007; David Albright and Paul Brannan, “Pakistan Expanding Plutonium Separation Facility Near Rawalpindi,” ISIS, May 19, 2009.

24. David Albright, Paul Brannan, and Robert Kelley, “Pakistan Expanding Dera Ghazi Khan Nuclear Site: Time for U.S. to Call for Limits,” ISIS, May 19, 2009.

25. Pakistan could potentially accumulate 2,500-6,000 kilograms of HEU by 2020. This range reflects the considerable uncertainty about the evolution of the number and separative work capacity of Pakistan’s centrifuges, as well as the limits on Pakistan’s supply of domestic uranium to feed its enrichment plants and reactors. See Zia Mian, A.H. Nayyar, and R. Rajaraman, “Exploring Uranium Resource Constraints on Fissile Material Production in Pakistan,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 17, No. 2 (2009), pp. 77-108.

26. IPFM, “Global Fissile Material Report 2009,” p. 16.

27. This assumes the power reactor spent fuel has had time to cool for three years and that India’s reprocessing plants operate with a capacity factor of 50 percent.

28. George Perkovich claims “knowledgeable Indian sources confirmed” use of non-weapons-grade plutonium in one of the 1998 nuclear tests. George Perkovich, India’s Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), pp. 428-430. Similarly, Raj Chengappa claims “one of the devices...used reactor grade or dirty plutonium.” Raj Chengappa, Weapons of Peace: The Secret Story of India’s Quest to Be a Nuclear Power (New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2000), pp. 414-418.

29. “Main Vessel of PFBR Installed, Reactor to Go Live in Sept 2011,” Times of India, December 7, 2009.

30. Alexander Glaser and M.V. Ramana, “Weapon-Grade Plutonium Production Potential in the Indian Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor,” Science & Global Security, Vol. 15, No.2, (2007), pp. 85-106. The amount of plutonium produced will depend on whether both the radial and axial blanket of the reactor, which contain weapon plutonium, will be reprocessed separately from the spent fuel in the reactor core.

31. R. Rajaraman, “Estimates of India’s Fissile Material Stocks,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2008), pp. 74-87.

32. Mycle Schneider, “Fast Breeder Reactors in France,” in Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status, February 2010, www.fissilematerials.org/blog/rr08.pdf.

33. Thomas B. Cochran et al., Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status, February 2010, www.fissilematerials.org/blog/rr08.pdf.

34. Akram February 2010 statement.

35. “Press Release by Inter-Services Public Relations, No. 318/2007,” August 1, 2007.

36. Zia Mian et al., “Fissile Materials in South Asia: The Implications of the US-India Nuclear Deal,” September 2006, www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/rr01.pdf.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid.

39. “India Launches Nuclear Submarine,” BBC, July 26, 2009.

40. Sandeep Unnithan, “The Secret Undersea Weapon,” India Today, January 28, 2008.

41. Tariq Osman Hyder, “Strategic Stability in South Asia,” The News, August 1, 2009.

42. Khalid Banuri, “Missile Defences in South Asia: The Next Challenge,” South Asian Survey, Vol. 11, No. 2 (2004), pp. 193-203.

43. “India Tests Interceptor Missile,” Agence France-Presse, March 6, 2009.

44. “Armed Forces Modernization on Track: Defense Ministry,” The Hindu, January 1, 2010. www.hindu.com/2010/01/01/stories/2010010153331800.htm.

45. Asif Ezdi, “US Nuclear Duplicity,” The News, January 25, 2010, http://thenews.jang.com.pk/print1.asp?id=220571.

46. Zulqernain Tahir, “Talks Under Way for N-deal With US: Haqqani,” Dawn, February 15, 2010, www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/national/12-talks-under-way-for-ndeal-with-us-haqqani-520--bi-01.

47. See, for example, R. Nicholas Burns and Robert G. Joseph, “The U.S. and India: An Emerging Entente,” Remarks as Prepared for the House International Relations Committee, September 8, 2005, www.nti.org/e_research/official_docs/dos/dos090805.pdf.

48. Stephen P. Cohen, “Addressing the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Relationship,” June 12, 2008 (testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs federal financial management subcommittee); C. Christine Fair, “Pakistan Needs Its Own Nuclear Deal,” Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2010.

49. Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, “Daily Press Briefing,” Washington, D.C., February 18, 2010, www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2010/02/136915.htm.

50. Hillary Rodham Clinton, “Remarks With Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi After Their Meeting,” Washington, March 24, 2010, www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/03/138996.htm.

51. Zia Mian and A.H. Nayyar, “Pakistan and the Energy Challenge,” in International Perspectives on Energy Policy and the Role of Nuclear Power, ed. Lutz Mez, Mycle Schneider, and Steve Thomas (Brentwood, UK: Multi-Science Publishing, 2009), pp. 515-531.

52. R. Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick, “Nuclear Aims by Pakistan, India Prompt U.S. Concern,” The Washington Post, May 28, 2009.

53. Zia Mian, “Pakistan May Have Completed New Plutonium Production Reactor, Khushab-II,” IPFM Web log, February 28, 2010, www.fissilematerials.org/blog/2010/02/pakistan_may_have_complet.html. Satellite imagery from December 2009 has shown steam from the cooling towers at Khushab-2. Paul Brannan, “Steam Emitted From Second Khushab Reactor Cooling Towers; Pakistan May Be Operating Second Reactor,” ISIS, March 24, 2010.

54. Akram February 2010 statement.

55. “2000 NPT Review Conference Final Document,” www.armscontrol.org/act/2000_06/docjun.asp.

56. IPFM, “A Fissile Material (Cut-Off) Treaty: A Treaty Banning the Production of Fissile Materials for Nuclear Weapons or Other Nuclear Explosive Devices,” September 2, 2009, www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/fmct-ipfm-sep2009.pdf.



Since May 2009, Pakistan, largely alone, has blocked the start of international talks on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) at the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva.[1] The treaty would ban the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes; fissile materials, namely plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU), are the key ingredients in nuclear weapons. Pakistan has prevented these negotiations despite having accepted last year a CD program of work that included an FMCT.

Pakistan Raises New Issues at Stalled CD

Eric Auner

Pakistan has raised a new set of concerns in the Conference on Disarmament (CD), the UN body responsible for negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).

Islamabad’s objections are holding up the CD’s approval of a program of work on an FMCT and other issues.

The stalemate prompted a comment from CD Secretary-General Sergey Ordzhonikidze. Speaking Feb. 11 on behalf of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Ordzhonikidze expressed “great disappointment” with the body’s lack of progress, according to an official meeting summary. He described progress in the CD as “not even zero, it was minus.”

The 65-nation CD had been deadlocked since the conclusion of Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty negotiations in 1996. The CD, which operates through consensus, agreed on a work plan in May 2009. Pakistan did not block the plan, although Zamir Akram, Pakistani ambassador to the CD, said at the time it was “not perfect.” The plan included negotiations on an FMCT, as well as substantive discussions on progress toward nuclear disarmament, the prevention of an arms race in space, and the provision of negative security assurances to states not possessing nuclear weapons. (See ACT, June 2009.) The CD failed to adopt a framework to implement that work plan by the end of 2009, due in part to Pakistani concerns.

In January, Akram temporarily blocked the adoption of an agenda for the year as he suggested expanding the issues that it addresses. In a Jan. 19 statement to a CD plenary meeting, he said the “international arms control architecture is incomplete” without a “global regime on missiles.” He went on to say that “the issues of conventional arms control at regional levels and missiles are now pressing problems for the international community.”

The Indian delegation to the CD responded in a statement later that day, opposing the consideration of regional arms control issues at the CD. But the delegation said the CD could address some aspects of a global missile control regime.

In addition, the Pakistani government recently restated its opposition to an FMCT, citing regional security concerns. “Pakistan’s position [on an FMCT] will be determined by its national security interests and the objectives of strategic stability in South Asia. Selective and discriminatory measures that perpetuate regional instability…cannot be accepted or endorsed,” Pakistan’s National Command Authority said in a press release issued after a Jan. 13 meeting. The authority is the body responsible for formulating all aspects of Pakistani nuclear policy.

One of the issues surrounding the proposed FMCT is whether it should cover existing stockpiles as well as future production.

Akram communicated the country’s position to the CD in a Feb. 18 statement. “The FMCT that has been proposed will only ban future production of fissile material” and will “increase the existing asymmetry in fissile materials stockpiles between Pakistan and [India].” Akram said that India would be able to increase its fissile material stockpiles as a result of the 2008 waiver it received from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). (See ACT, October 2008.)

India does not allow international inspections of all its nuclear facilities. Acceptance of full-scope safeguards, as they are known, is a key requirement under NSG export guidelines. The 2008 decision made an exception for India, allowing New Delhi to import nuclear material, equipment, and technology. Critics of the move have said that India’s access to the international uranium market will allow India to devote more of its limited domestic uranium supply to building up its nuclear arsenal.

“We must ensure that the asymmetry” arising from an Indian stockpile increase “does not erode the credibility of our deterrence,” Akram said.

The NSG, which includes more than 40 countries, proceeded with the waiver “because their greed got the better of their principles or they simply lacked the courage of their convictions,” he said.

Ordzhonikidze responded to the Pakistani ambassador later that day. “[I]t is very hard to imagine that a program of work…will hamper [in] any way the strategic security of any member state,” he said.

Hamid Ali Rao, India’s ambassador to the CD, said Feb. 18 that “[t]he CD is not the forum to address bilateral or regional issues.” He urged the Pakistanis to avoid bringing up “extraneous” issues in the CD.



Pakistan has raised a new set of concerns in the Conference on Disarmament (CD), the UN body responsible for negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).

Islamabad’s objections are holding up the CD’s approval of a program of work on an FMCT and other issues.

NNSA Nonproliferation Funding Poised to Rise

Daniel Horner

Funding for nonproliferation work in the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) would rise by about 25 percent under the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2011 request, with a large part of the increase going to efforts in Russia and the United States to turn surplus weapons plutonium into reactor fuel.

Another NNSA effort that would receive a hefty increase is the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which aims to secure vulnerable nuclear and radiological material around the world.

The budget request, released Feb. 1, would raise spending in the NNSA’s Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation category to $2.69 billion. Congress appropriated $2.14 billion for that category in fiscal year 2010. Of that $550 million increase, the Fissile Materials Disposition portion of that category accounts for $329 million, rising from $702 million to just more than $1.0 billion. Spending under the U.S. Surplus Fissile Materials Disposition category would rise from $701 million to $918 million; for Russian materials disposition, it would jump from $1 million to $113 million.

The United States previously had spearheaded a multinational effort to support a program under which Russia would build a plant to fabricate mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel—so called because it is a mix of plutonium and uranium oxides—out of surplus weapons plutonium. The MOX fuel then would have been used in Russian light-water reactors (LWRs). That effort stalled over financial, policy, and legal disputes, and Congress has not been providing new funding.

Meanwhile, Russia and the United States have been negotiating the terms of a different plan. That plan would be based on the use of fast-neutron reactors, which are capable of producing more plutonium than they consume, rather than LWRs. U.S. officials have said that one advantage of shifting to that approach is that, because it conforms more closely to Russia’s domestic energy plans, Moscow would be willing to pursue that route with less outside funding than it demanded for the LWR approach.

In November 2007, the two sides issued a statement saying they had reached agreement on the outlines of a revised plan. (See ACT, December 2007.) A key part of the agreement was that the Russian fast reactors would dispose of the weapons plutonium without creating new stocks of separated weapons-grade plutonium.

To put the plan in place, the two sides needed to negotiate and sign a protocol to amend a 2000 pact known as the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA). That process apparently still is not complete.

According to the Energy Department’s detailed budget justification document, the Russian and U.S. governments “have completed negotiations” on the protocol. The document said the protocol is “expected” to be signed “in early 2010.”

In Feb. 22 interview, a U.S. official said the Bush administration “put some steam” behind the negotiation effort but was not able to complete it. The Obama administration “re-energized” the effort when it took office and “made known at various levels that this was something we wanted to get done,” he said.

In the late fall of last year, the two sides reached a point at which they both said “the substantive issues are now closed,” the official said. He said they are now working on “conforming the language,” that is, making sure that the English and Russian versions say exactly the same thing.

The specific details of the monitoring and inspection arrangements, such as their “frequency and intensity,” will be in a separate document that has not yet been completed, he said.

As part of the new U.S.-Russian plan, the United States is to provide a total of $400 million for the Russian effort. The fiscal year 2011 budget request would provide $100 million of that amount. In a Feb. 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera said, “We expect to request additional funds in future budgets based on the pace of plutonium disposition in Russia.” Both countries are planning to start disposition in 2018, but “either country may begin sooner if it chooses,” he said. According to current estimates, the disposition campaign is expected to take about 30 years in each country, he said.

The U.S. official said the United States expects to spend about $300 million of the $400 million in the development and construction years, in areas such as fuel development before the MOX fuel is loaded into Russian reactors, with the remainder being spread over the “period of confirmed disposition.”

The U.S. plutonium disposition effort is centered on the construction of a MOX fuel fabrication plant at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The 2011 funding request for construction of the plant itself would dip slightly from fiscal year 2010, from $504 million to $476 million, because of “the completion of many long-lead equipment procurements and facility design activities,” according to the budget document. However, funding increases for supporting facilities and activities more than make up for that decline.

Part of the increase comes in the request for the Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility, which was funded in a different part of the NNSA budget in fiscal year 2010. However, the facility, which would disassemble surplus nuclear weapons pits and convert their plutonium metal into an oxide form that can be fabricated into MOX fuel, also would receive a boost in funding from the fiscal year 2010 level.

GTRI Ascending

In another high-profile effort, the budget for the GTRI would rise from $334 million to $559 million.

That effort is at the heart of President Barack Obama’s pledge in his speech last April in Prague to “secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.” However, the administration’s budget request last year showed a decline in GTRI funding. In defending that budget on Capitol Hill, NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino said it did not fully represent Obama’s four-year plan because budget preparation for fiscal year 2010 already was well under way when Obama took office and spelled out his goals to the NNSA. (See ACT, June 2009.)

One GTRI component that would receive a significant boost, from $94.2 million in fiscal year 2010 to $145.2 million in fiscal year 2011, is the effort to return Russian-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel to Russia from non-Russian research reactors. That effort had received $123.1 million in fiscal year 2009.

Removal of international radiological material would be funded at $45.0 million, an increase from the fiscal year 2010 level of $8.3 million and the fiscal year 2009 level of $21.7 million.

The sharpest GTRI increase would be for the effort to remove “gap nuclear material,” so called because it deals with nuclear material not covered by GTRI efforts focusing on Russian- and U.S.-origin nuclear material. Work on removing the gap material would be funded at $108.0 million for fiscal year 2011; it received $9.1 million in fiscal year 2010 and $5.0 million in fiscal year 2009.

In his Feb. 26 e-mail, LaVera said the increase is “to remove additional HEU and plutonium in FY2011 and to prepare for additional shipments” in fiscal year 2012. The increase reflects an approach that “takes work that had been planned in future years and redirects resources to complete it earlier than planned,” he said.

According to the budget document, the GTRI would get a further funding boost in fiscal 2012 and each of the following three years, receiving $600 million, $660 million, $987 million, and $1.1 billion.

CTR Increase

In the Department of Defense, funding for the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program would rise by nearly $100 million, from $424 million in fiscal year 2010 to $523 million.

Much of the increase would go to a new effort called Global Nuclear Lockdown, for which the administration is requesting $74.5 million. According to a Defense Department budget document, the program would support Obama’s four-year Prague commitment in part by establishing regional Centers of Excellence for Nuclear Security in countries to be determined by the CTR program. That part of the effort would receive $30 million. The centers’ purpose would be “to assess equipment and manpower, provide material and security training, and demonstrate enhanced security procedures and processes,” the document says.



Funding for nonproliferation work in the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) would rise by about 25 percent under the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2011 request, with a large part of the increase going to efforts in Russia and the United States to turn surplus weapons plutonium into reactor fuel.

Another NNSA effort that would receive a hefty increase is the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which aims to secure vulnerable nuclear and radiological material around the world.


Subscribe to RSS - Fissile Material