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I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them. -

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
Fissile Material

NNSA Nonproliferation Funding Poised to Rise

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.

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.

 

 

Breakthrough and Breakdown at the Conference on Disarmament: Assessing the Prospects for an FM(C)T

The May 29 adoption of a program of work by the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva marked the first time in 11 years that the 65-member body had taken such action. That step was a cause for celebration as it appeared to open the door to the negotiation of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. (Continue)

Paul Meyer

The May 29 adoption of a program of work by the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva marked the first time in 11 years that the 65-member body had taken such action. That step was a cause for celebration as it appeared to open the door to the negotiation of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

The White House was quick to applaud the development with a statement by President Barack Obama welcoming “today’s important agreement at the Conference on Disarmament to begin negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, which will end production of fissile materials for use in atomic bombs.”[1] Regrettably, the applause now seems premature as events since May 29 suggest that hopes for rapid progress in the CD are unrealistic.

The negotiation of a fissile material (cutoff) treaty (FM(C)T)[2] is a long-standing goal of the international community. For a brief period in the late summer of 1998, the CD began work toward this objective but failed to renew the program in January 1999 due to a dispute over the contents of the CD’s work program. That impasse continued until this spring. In his statement to the plenary June 4, Argentine ambassador and CD President Roberto García Moritán termed the CD’s prolonged failure to adopt a work program a “tragedy for multilateralism.”

The CD’s stalemate reflected two key institutional characteristics of the forum: it makes all its decisions by consensus, and the work program requires annual renewal. In other words, the CD must reach consensus each year on the program.

This article will briefly describe how the program came to be approved, review some of the obstacles placed in the way of starting negotiations, and comment on the apparent motivations behind these obstacles. It will conclude by considering possible future moves to reactivate multilateral work on an FM(C)T.

Reaching Consensus

Two key elements facilitated the CD’s adoption of the program of work, which includes a provision for the negotiation of an FM(C)T.

First, the FM(C)T forms part of a work program that also foresees activity on three other “core” CD issues: nuclear disarmament, the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), and negative security assurances, a term that refers to international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon states that they will not be attacked with nuclear weapons or threatened with such attacks. Each of these items has figured on the agenda of the CD for many years, and each is seen as a priority by various regional groupings and subsets of the CD membership. An essential element of the CD’s success was that the agreed work program as set out in document CD/1864 had something for everyone by incorporating all four of these core issues, not to mention some attention to three, more peripheral agenda items.[3]

Second, CD/1864 utilizes language that refers to a mandate previously adopted by the CD and under which the short-lived negotiations of 1998 took place. Known as the Shannon mandate in honor of the late Ambassador Gerald Shannon of Canada, who crafted it in 1995, it was seen as an enduring decision.[4] In a 2004 reversal of long-standing U.S. policy, however, the Bush administration rejected the mandate’s requirement that the prospective treaty be “internationally and effectively verifiable.” The administration argued that the requirement was impractical and should be discarded.

This breakdown of the traditional consensus around the mandate under which an FM(C)T would be negotiated further complicated the prevailing gridlock at the CD and made the prospect of initiating work on the treaty even more remote. With the advent of the Obama administration, the United States has restored the fractured consensus on the FM(C)T mandate by once again supporting a verifiable treaty.

In addition to the two key elements described above, several smaller but still important factors contributed to the breakthrough at the CD. One of these factors was the generally improved diplomatic atmosphere created by the new Obama administration, as epitomized by the president’s April 5 Prague speech. That speech articulated a far-reaching vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and included specific commitments to an FM(C)T and ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). These commitments are top priorities for multilateral arms control, as set out in the decisions of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) 1995 and 2000 review conferences. Another positive driver at the CD was the widespread belief of NPT member states, in the wake of the failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference, that some major new impetus to multilateral nonproliferation and disarmament efforts was needed to promote a successful result at the rapidly approaching 2010 review conference.

Procedural Hurdles

In the CD, the adoption of a program of work is a necessary but, unfortunately, not a sufficient condition for success. Consensus around a work program can unravel rapidly. Events since May 29 have confirmed earlier suspicions that not all CD member states are unequivocally committed to getting FM(C)T negotiations under way. Efforts over the last two years at the CD to gain agreement on a work program had already prompted China, Iran, and Pakistan in particular to express dissent over the emerging compromise proposal for work.[5] The experience of the CD’s June session, during which García Moritán and, as of the last week of the session, Ambassador Caroline Millar of Australia, his successor as president, attempted to transform the latent accord represented by the work program into an active work schedule, suggests that these three states continue to oppose commencing work on this agenda item. García Moritán carefully constructed a list of chairmen and special coordinators for the various items of the work program and elaborated a schedule for a balanced consideration of these items in the remaining four weeks of the 2009 CD. In the face of objections from China and Pakistan, he failed to seek approval of these draft decisions at the June 26 plenary that marked the end of his presidency. Unfortunately, the CD’s rules of procedure and the stringent application of the consensus rule on all manner of decisions can allow a single member state to wreak havoc with even the most measured proposal for organizing work.

Pakistan has been probably the most vocal CD member in expressing its reservations regarding the proposed work program and the initiation of negotiations on an FM(C)T. At the CD’s June 4 plenary, in the immediate aftermath of the adoption of the work program, Ambassador Zamir Akram of Pakistan said, “We did not stand in the way of consensus on [the draft version of the work program], which has been achieved in good faith that work on all core issues would lead to the initiation of actual negotiations on legally binding instruments for universal and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament, [negative security assurances,] and PAROS. We would like to see progress in tandem on all core issues. Only this can ensure equal security for all states.”[6]

The call for equal treatment of the four core issues of the CD is one that can be expected to be raised again, to the detriment of FM(C)T negotiations. The fact that an FM(C)T is the only one of the four core issues to have been granted an explicit negotiating mandate under CD/1864 provides a basis for the proponents of negotiations on the other core issues to continue to seek equal treatment or parallel progress. That was the position that Iranian Ambassador Ali Reza Moaiyeri expressed in his June 11 statement:

The Conference should vigorously pursue its deliberations with the view to start negotiations on legally binding instruments on the four core issues. In our understanding the substantive work of the CD on all four core issues would be measured by real progress and not merely with focusing on some issues and manifestation of a talk show on the others.[7]

To the extent that states insist on equal treatment of the four issues in the working groups, progress on an FM(C)T could be held hostage to progress on the other three issues.

If reaffirming the need for equal treatment of the four core issues did not constitute a suitably high hurdle for García Moritán’s efforts to operationalize the program of work set out in CD/1864, Akram’s statement of the following week enumerated several additional procedural issues, any one of which, in the context of the CD’s consensus decision-making, could pose a significant pitfall to the president’s efforts to get the CD back to work. The selection of chairmen for the working groups entrusted with each of the issues is one area in which matters can be readily complicated. Adding to the principle of equitable geographic distribution of the chairmanships, Akram suggested that the chairmen “should not be from P-5 [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council], non-NPT states or countries in a military alliance or countries enjoying nuclear protection.”[8] The NPT criterion would exclude Akram’s own country, as well as India, Israel, and North Korea. The other elements of the formula would eliminate most members of the western and eastern European groups of states, which constitute two of the three regional groupings of the CD. The third group is the “Group of 21” Nonaligned Movement states. China, which acts as a group of its own, would be ineligible under Akram’s formula because it is a permanent member of the Security Council.

To complicate matters even more, Akram also stressed the importance of rotation for the chairmanships and suggested that the term of the chairmen be synchronized with the term of the CD presidents. In effect, this would impose on the chairmen the same cumbersome cycle of rotation that is required for the CD presidents. During the CD’s six months of actual working time each year, there are six presidencies, each of them lasting only a few weeks. In recent years, collaboration among the six CD presidents has allowed for common annual presidential platforms, which have been a marked improvement over the disjointed series of presidencies that were the norm in previous years.

To have the working group chairmen rotate out of their posts after a mere four to six weeks would pose major problems of continuity and sustained purpose in these activities. If all the criteria laid out for the chairmanships in Akram’s statement (neutrality, equitable geographic representation, frequent rotation, ambassadorial rank) were adopted, it would be very challenging to identify chairmen for the four working groups, let alone sustain substantive negotiation and discussions during the course of a year.

The Pakistani and Iranian ambassadors also flagged the importance of time allocation in the schedule for work. The working groups on the four core issues should have a “balanced allocation of time,” Akram said.[9] Moaiyeri went even further in stating that “the planning for implementation of the programme of work should carefully consider balanced allotment of time for the working groups and special coordinators.”[10] Devising a schedule of activity that is able to manage such a precise “balance” will be a difficult task. Unfortunately, the history of multilateral conferences on nonproliferation and disarmament is full of examples of protracted squabbles over proposed time allocations.

China has been less prominent in CD interventions on the issue of the program of work, but in its June 26 statement, it quite clearly opposed the president’s operational proposal to get down to work. Drawing on ancient Chinese proverbs (a favorite technique of China’s multilateral diplomats), China’s ambassador, Wang Qun, argued that “this melon is not ripe yet” and that the CD members “need to still exercise a bit of patience.”[11] Enumerating his objections to the president’s proposal, Wang suggested that the mandates of the chairmen and special coordinators, as well as their rotation, had not been discussed and that the length of their tenure was not clear. Furthermore, he took issue with the president’s submittal of two draft decisions (CD/1866, with its list of chairmen and special coordinators, and CD/1867, with the proposed work schedule for the remainder of the CD session) instead of a combined document. He contended that the relationship between these two drafts would require study. Finally, he argued that the duration of the arrangement was not clear even though CD/1867’s purpose was to implement CD/1864, which in turn established the work program for the 2009 session (as clearly stated in its title). Despite the behind-the-scenes consultations undertaken by the president prior to tabling his proposal, Wang argued that delegations required more time to study the draft decisions and to receive instructions from capitals.

In the face of these objections, García Moritán declined to put his proposals to the CD for decision. The gavel came down on his presidency and likely on the prospects for getting the CD back to work this year. There was little that his successor, Millar, could accomplish to advance matters in the one week left prior to the CD’s one-month summer recess. The interventions by Iran and Pakistan at the final July 2 plenary, while affirming optimism and support, only contributed additional complicating factors for the president to take into consideration.

Millar tried to pick up the pieces when the CD resumed August 3 with the introduction of a new combined draft decision (CD/1870 Rev 1) that accommodated the Chinese desire to work with a single document. This simply prolonged the ordeal as Pakistan came up with new objections (ostensibly relating to unspecified problems with the introductory language of the decision) when Millar put the draft decision to the CD plenary on August 10. Ambassador Akio Suda of Japan, picking up on the imagery used by the Chinese Ambassador prior to the summer recess, remarked that the “melon” the CD bought was now beyond ripe and was “rotten”. Millar held a further plenary August 17 where she was forced to state that no consensus existed to adopt the decision, and the Chinese and Iranian representatives made a point of intervening to praise her efforts and urged her to pursue her consultations. This she gamely did until August 20, the last plenary of her presidency, when she was obliged to advise the CD that a consensus on implementing the agreed program of work was still not possible. As she observed in her closing statement: “To those unfamiliar with the arcane workings of this chamber, this is neither understandable nor acceptable. To those within it, it is all too familiar and dispiriting.”[12]

The sentiment expressed by Ambassador Millar was widely shared in the council chamber. As U.S. Ambassador Garold Larson stated:

We, the members of the Conference on Disarmament, agreed to take up that task on May 29, and the global community gave a sigh of relief that the CD was, at long last, back to work. It is, then profoundly disappointing that nearly three months later, we have yet to accomplish the simple, straightforward, procedural task of agreeing on a schedule of work.[13]

Even if by some diplomatic miracle all the elements for operationalizing CD/1864 could have been put into place at the CD this session, there would still be the objection that such arrangements are only valid for a given year and that the whole schema, including the underlying work program, would be up for fresh consideration at the start of the CD’s new year in January. It does not take a diplomatic Machiavelli to see the potential for disruption and delay that the CD procedural rules afford any member state that may be unenthusiastic about the prospect of actually negotiating a binding agreement on fissile material or any other of the CD’s core issues. It is all too easy for CD delegations to let the clock run out on another effort to resume work while engaging in further “study,” “consultations,” and the eternal wait for instructions from capitals. This is a diplomatic version of Waiting for Godot.

Substantive Objections

The pitfalls outlined above represent only the procedural problems that may impede negotiation of an FM(C)T. Major substantive issues also divide the CD members; those issues presumably inform the stalling tactics witnessed at the CD. In particular, the question of whether the treaty should deal with existing stocks of fissile material or prohibit only future production continues to elicit diametrically opposing positions on the part of key CD member states.

By way of illustration, two non-NPT CD members possessing fissile material and nuclear weapons are India and Pakistan. Because both are currently engaged in production of fissile material for nuclear-weapon purposes, the start of negotiations of an FM(C)T raises major security issues for them. In a statement to the CD’s May 29 plenary, Ambassador Hamid Rao of India, while reiterating his country’s support for the goal of an FM(C)T negotiated under the Shannon mandate, specified, “The scope of such a treaty would focus on the future production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”[14] He further warned that “[w]e will not accept obligations not in keeping with or prejudicial to our national security interests or which hinder our strategic programme, our R&D as well as three-stage nuclear programme.”[15]

In contrast, Akram set out a very different stance on stocks and included an indirect critique of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal and the subsequent lifting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) ban on nuclear trade with India:

As regards the Fissile Material Treaty [FMT], the CD membership is fully cognizant that [the issue of] existing and future stocks has assumed greater significance for Pakistan in the light of the nuclear cooperation arrangements in our neighbourhood. These upset the strategic balance in the region. Unless the equilibrium is re-established, the fashioning of an appropriate FMT appears to be a difficult challenge. A treaty which would merely legalize national moratoria of nuclear-weapons-states and freeze the asymmetries will undermine the international community’s vision of a nuclear weapons free world as well as Pakistan’s national security.[16]

The differing strategic assessments that underlie the opposing positions expressed on the issue of whether stocks should be included in an FM(C)T are not limited to India and Pakistan. Some states say a ban on future production would be valuable in itself. Others say that, to have real value, it would have to encompass existing stocks, thus making it a nuclear disarmament as well as a nonproliferation measure. Although some of this debate is more theological than practical in nature, the inclusion of stocks is viewed as curtailing the manufacture of new nuclear weapons or the renewal of existing weapons. A mere production ban would bar new entrants while allowing existing members of the nuclear weapons club to draw on their existing stockpiles of fissile material to fashion additional arms.

Iran is one state calling for the inclusion of stocks. It argues that the FM(C)T “should be a clear and meaningful step for nuclear disarmament and non proliferation in all its aspects…. Past production and existing stocks as well as the future production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices must be covered under the scope of the Treaty.”[17]

Verification is also a significant aspect that would need to be addressed in FM(C)T negotiations. The change of administration in the United States, as noted earlier, has permitted the reaffirmation of the Shannon mandate’s formula of an “internationally and effectively verifiable treaty.” At the same time, the practical meaning of the phrase remains an open issue. Several CD states have made good use of the conference’s fallow years by developing working papers and hosting seminars dedicated to verification. Yet, no single arrangement has emerged as a clear favorite of the CD. It may not prove efficient for negotiators to devote too much time to elaborating verification schemes until the parameters of an FM(C)T are clearer because provisions for verification are closely associated with the scope of the treaty.

Assessing Motivations

As suggested above, the actual significance of the CD’s adoption of a work program for the initiation of negotiations of an FM(C)T remains to be seen. The strategic perceptions that underlie the apparent delaying tactics being employed by China, Iran, and Pakistan to impede the start of talks on an FM(C)T can only be surmised. For Pakistan, it seems that a perception of inferiority with respect to India in terms of fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes motivates the desire to avoid any constraints on production until Pakistan has “caught up.” The reality of this pursuit is debatable, given India’s own capacities and additional potential for displacement from the civilian to the military sectors of its nuclear program under the new NSG-sanctioned external supply arrangements. Once on the nuclear arms race treadmill, it is difficult to get off. An alternative strategy open to Pakistan would be to cap India’s arsenal as well as its own via a verifiable FM(C)T, especially one that would address present stocks as well as future production, as advocated by Pakistan. Notably, India, while as adamant as Pakistan in proclaiming the need for any eventual FM(C)T to be compatible with its national security interests, has not joined Pakistan in efforts to delay the initiation of negotiations. This approach may be based more on a desire to conform with commitments made to the United States in the context of their bilateral nuclear deal than on any deep Indian attachment to the goal of an FM(C)T.

For China, the motivation in letting the FM(C)T melon linger on the vine likely reflects a strategic calculation that Beijing may require a resumption of fissile material production for reinforcing its nuclear deterrent forces in light of possible future moves by the United States (expansion of ballistic missile defenses) or India (increase in its longer-range ballistic missile forces). This perceived need for a strategic “hedge” may explain why China, alone among the recognized nuclear-weapon states, has declined to commit officially to a cessation of fissile material production for nuclear weapons purposes. In this regard, it is noteworthy that China reportedly opposed the inclusion of a reaffirmation by nuclear-weapon states of the existing moratorium on fissile material production in draft recommendations compiled by the chairman at this year’s Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2010 NPT Review Conference.[18]

For Iran, the strategic calculus underlying its CD diplomacy is even more obscure. It may be a function of the priority that Tehran gives to nuclear disarmament among the CD’s four core issues and its concern that an FM(C)T not serve only as a nonproliferation instrument. Iran’s ongoing dispute with the international community over the nature of its nuclear program may be another factor, although an FM(C)T that involved some constraints on military fissile material production and stocks would seem to be in Iran’s regional security interests if applied as well to Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and other states in the region.

Options for Action

For the vast majority of CD members and other non-nuclear-weapon states that would welcome immediate resumption of work on an FM(C)T, the aftermath of the May 29 adoption of a work program does not augur well for the future. As noted above, some states have raised procedural obstacles that have effectively stymied the efforts of CD presidents to operationalize the agreed program for this year. Even if a program is adopted next January, similar steps could be taken to block efforts to get it up and running. Clever follow-up arrangements and strong leadership on the part of future CD presidents may be able to navigate around some of the procedural shoals identified above, but CD rules of procedure and the extreme application of the consensus principle practiced in that body tend to impede if not negate progress.

If this treaty project is to advance in this diplomatic forum in the near term, the friends of an FM(C)T will have to sustain public attention and political pressure on the CD’s participants. Targeted diplomatic démarches on the holdout capitals would be crucial to any strategy to overcome the blockage at the CD. These might entail a mix of incentives to cooperate (e.g., more forthcoming attitudes on the nuclear disarmament and PAROS priorities of the obstructing states) as well as warnings of intensified public criticism of (and private penalty for) their blocking tactics, if continued.

It may also be time to challenge CD member states’ apparently infinite capacity to tolerate stalemate at the conference. If governments are serious about initiating negotiations on an FM(C)T, they must move beyond lamenting the gridlock at the CD and devise alternative diplomatic strategies for achieving this aim. In an earlier article, I suggested a number of alternative options for commencing work on an FM(C)T.[19] All of them remain possibilities for dedicated FM(C)T proponents if the CD continues to come up empty-handed and make a mockery of its mandate.

The suggestion of launching a negotiation under NPT auspices may be particularly appealing with the convening of the review conference next May and in light of the absence from that forum of some of the states that are more problematic from an FM(C)T perspective. The history of arms control suggests that codifying a widely held norm can have a major influence on the behavior of even those states that initially stand aside from the enterprise. The NPT itself is a good example of this effect, not to mention the more recent multilateral accords on anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions.

A key missing ingredient in the FM(C)T file over the last years has been leadership by influential states possessing fissile material. Although the return of the United States to the Shannon mandate, the bold speeches by British leaders at the CD on the imperative of resuming progress on nuclear disarmament, and the French government’s organization of visits by CD delegations to its closed-down military fissile material facilities are all commendable, it would be more useful if one of these nuclear-weapon states had convened a diplomatic conference dedicated to an FM(C)T and considering how best to bring one about. Perhaps it is not too late for Obama to make this a central focus of his UN Security Council summit September 24 or the planned nuclear security conference next March. If for some reason the nuclear-weapon states cannot muster the energy to initiate such action, it surely is not beyond the means of major non-nuclear-weapon states to fill this leadership void. It will be a sad commentary on the efficacy of multilateral diplomacy if this fall witnesses the adoption of another consensus UN General Assembly resolution in favor of an FM(C)T and the utter failure of the same member states to give it any practical effect.


Paul Meyer served as Canada’s ambassador and permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament from 2003 to 2007. He is currently director general of the Security and Intelligence Bureau at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Ottawa. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the department.


ENDNOTES

1. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Statement by the President on Beginning of Negotiations on Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty,” May 29, 2009.

2. I have adopted the abbreviation FM(C)T for this treaty as utilized by the International Panel on Fissile Materials, which in its commendable draft treaty text of March 16, 2009, explains that this name makes explicit the unresolved issue of the treaty’s scope. See www.fissilematerials.org.

3. In addition to setting up Working Groups on the four “core” issues, CD/1864 provided for the appointment of Special Coordinators on the following items: “New types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons; radiological weapons,” “Comprehensive programme of Disarmament,” and “Transparency in armaments.” These items are generally seen as less “ripe” for negotiation and hence carry a lower priority than the four “core” issues for which Working Groups are to be established.

4. The Shannon mandate is contained in CD/1299 of March 24, 1995. For official CD documents and national statements made at plenary meetings and submitted to the Secretariat, see www.unog.ch/disarmament.

5. For a discussion of this period at the CD and its implications for an FM(C)T see Paul Meyer, “Is There Any Fizz Left in the Fissban?” Arms Control Today, December 2007, http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2007_12/Meyer.

6. Zamir Akram, statement to the CD, Geneva, June 4, 2009 (hereinafter Akram June 4 statement).

7. Ali Reza Moaiyeri, statement to the CD, Geneva, June 11, 2009 (hereinafter Moaiyeri statement).

8. Zamir Akram, statement to the CD, Geneva, June 11, 2009.

9. Ibid.

10. Moaiyeri statement.

11. Wang Qun, statement to the CD, Geneva, June 26, 2009, available at www.reachingcriticalwill.org.

12. Caroline Millar, statement to the CD, Geneva, August 20, 2009, available at www.reachingcriticalwill.org.

13. Garold Larson, statement to the CD, Geneva, August 20, 2009, available at www.reachingcriticalwill.org.

14. Hamid Rao, statement to the CD, Geneva, May 29, 2009.

15. Ibid.

16. Akram June 4 statement.

17. Moaiyeri statement.

18. See Rebecca Johnson, “Enhanced Prospects for 2010: An Analysis of the Third PrepCom and the Outlook for the 2010 NPT Review Conference,” Arms Control Today, June 2009, http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2009_6/Johnson.

19. See Meyer, “Is There Any Fizz Left in the Fissban?”

 

CD Breaks Deadlock on Work Plan

The Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD) agreed on a program of work May 29, ending 12 years of deadlock. The 65-member conference, which operates by consensus, agreed to negotiate a verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons, or a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). The CD also agreed to enter into substantive discussions on nuclear disarmament, the prevention of an arms race in outer space, and assurances that non-nuclear-weapon states will not be attacked with nuclear weapons. The CD agreed to establish working groups to consider all four issues. (Continue)

Cole Harvey

The Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD) agreed on a program of work May 29, ending 12 years of deadlock. The 65-member conference, which operates by consensus, agreed to negotiate a verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons, or a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). The CD also agreed to enter into substantive discussions on nuclear disarmament, the prevention of an arms race in outer space, and assurances that non-nuclear-weapon states will not be attacked with nuclear weapons. The CD agreed to establish working groups to consider all four issues.

Dozens of delegations hailed the agreement. The U.S. representative, Garold Larson, said the United States looks forward to "challenging" work after "a decade of stalemate." The Russian delegate, Victor Vasiliev, expressed hope that the agreement "would open up a new chapter for new agreements in international peace and security."

Some delegates, while saying they were pleased that the CD had reached consensus, expressed disappointment that the program of work was not more ambitious. India's representative, Hamid Ali Rao, said that the negotiation of an FMCT would be "a step forward" but faulted the conference for failing to agree to multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament. Similarly, Zamir Akram of Pakistan said the agreement was "not perfect" but joined the consensus in order to end the years of deadlock in the conference.

Idriss Jazairy of Algeria, who held the rotating presidency of the CD during the negotiation of the work program, said that the current international climate was "propitious" for agreement in the CD. He cited a growing chorus of high-level voices for nuclear arms control, including a March speech on disarmament and nonproliferation by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the April 1 joint declaration by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. He also counted an EU action plan on disarmament and China's support for a nuclear-free world among "many encouraging factors to resume the work" of the CD.

Part of GNEP Officially Canceled

The Department of Energy last month announced it had ended a key part of the Bush administration's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) but said it is "considering options" for continuing the effort's international component.

GNEP sought to promote nuclear power in the United States and around the world while developing new types of spent fuel reprocessing plants and fast-neutron reactors. A main focus of GNEP, which was launched in early 2006, was an effort to speed the deployment of a commercial-scale reprocessing plant in the United States. (Continue)

Daniel Horner

The Department of Energy last month announced it had ended a key part of the Bush administration's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) but said it is "considering options" for continuing the effort's international component.

GNEP sought to promote nuclear power in the United States and around the world while developing new types of spent fuel reprocessing plants and fast-neutron reactors. A main focus of GNEP, which was launched in early 2006, was an effort to speed the deployment of a commercial-scale reprocessing plant in the United States.

But in an April 15 statement, the Energy Department said it is "no longer pursuing near-term commercial demonstration projects." Deputy Press Secretary Jen Stutsman issued the statement in response to a question from the magazine Nuclear Engineering International, which posted excerpts from the statement on its Web site.

The fiscal year 2009 omnibus appropriations bill provides $145 million for the Energy Department's Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative, a research and development program that preceded GNEP and then served as its technology development arm. The funding bill specifies that the research effort should be focused on "proliferation resistant fuel cycles and waste reduction strategies." Secretary of Energy Steven Chu also has made clear that he views reprocessing as a subject of long-term research, rather than a near-term domestic option.

GNEP's push for near-term commercial deployment had been one of the most heavily criticized parts of the controversial program on Capitol Hill.

The program's recruitment of international partners-more than 20 countries have signed GNEP's statement of principles-also drew criticism in Congress, but the Energy Department indicated it sees some value in that part of the program or a variation of it. The department "is considering options for advancing the Administration's nonproliferation and energy priorities through its participation in the international activities of GNEP," according to the April 15 statement.

The Obama administration has supported a global expansion of nuclear energy in conjunction with an international "fuel bank," a mechanism to provide assured supplies of fuel so that countries have less reason to pursue domestic programs for uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing. President Barack Obama made that connection in his April 5 speech in Prague, saying that the fuel bank will allow countries to "access peaceful power without increasing the risks of proliferation." He added, "We must harness the power of nuclear energy on behalf of our efforts to combat climate change and to advance opportunity for all people."

Gregory Schulte, U.S. permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, specifically cited the international work under GNEP in remarks to an April 20-22 nuclear conference in Beijing. Schulte, who delivered the remarks on behalf of Chu, said, "We need to take full advantage of these and other exchanges to seek solutions and innovations to bring about the new framework proposed by President Obama."

Meanwhile, some U.S. utilities are exploring the so-called closed fuel cycle, which involves spent fuel reprocessing and fabrication of new fuel from the reprocessed material, in spite of the drop-off in government support for the idea. U.S. industry sources said a group has been in discussions about obtaining plutonium now stored in Europe and having the material fabricated into fuel in Europe for a demonstration program in U.S. reactors.

The plutonium would be made into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, so called because it is a mix of plutonium and uranium oxides. Conventional nuclear fuel-the kind used in all current U.S. reactors-is made from uranium oxide.

Top officials from AREVA, the French nuclear company, confirmed that they are in talks with U.S. utilities about a MOX demonstration program in the United States. AREVA owns and operates facilities covering all parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, including MOX fabrication.

One of the AREVA officials said there are several outstanding issues, including the price. A large part of the cost would be for the transportation of the MOX assemblies from Europe to the United States, he said.

 

 

Complete Cutoff: Designing a Comprehensive Fissile Material Treaty

President Barack Obama has pledged to "lead a global effort to negotiate a verifiable treaty ending the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes." Fissile materials are the chain-reacting fissionable materials that are the essential ingredients in nuclear weapons, in practice, highly enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium. Obama is not the first president to back the negotiation of such a treaty: President Bill Clinton did so after the UN General Assembly in 1993 adopted by consensus a resolution calling for negotiation of a "non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other explosive devices." Even the administration of President George W. Bush tabled a draft treaty at the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD), albeit without international verification.(Continue)

Arend Meerburg and Frank N. von Hippel

President Barack Obama has pledged to "lead a global effort to negotiate a verifiable treaty ending the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes."[1] Fissile materials are the chain-reacting fissionable materials that are the essential ingredients in nuclear weapons, in practice, highly enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium. Obama is not the first president to back the negotiation of such a treaty: President Bill Clinton did so after the UN General Assembly in 1993 adopted by consensus a resolution calling for negotiation of a "non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other explosive devices."[2] Even the administration of President George W. Bush tabled a draft treaty at the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD), albeit without international verification.

Despite the passage of more than a decade since initial negotiations began and sputtered out, negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) have yet to be renewed, stalled largely over disagreements about the negotiating agenda of the CD. For years, many countries have supported a proposal to have a CD work program that included parallel negotiations on an FMCT, nuclear disarmament, a binding agreement by the nuclear-weapon states not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states, and the prevention of an arms race in outer space. The U.S. position, however, has been that negotiations on an FMCT should not be linked to negotiations on other issues.[3] Because the CD operates by consensus, any single country can block agreement on the program of work. Should this logjam be broken and Obama be able to fulfill his pledge and begin talks, disputes about the scope of the treaty and its verification provisions would move to the fore.

Scope

Four of the five nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) nuclear-weapon states (France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) announced in the 1990s that they had ended their production of fissile material for weapons. China has made no official announcement but is generally believed to have stopped producing during the same period. This means that the proposed FMCT primarily would constrain non-NPT states India, Israel, and Pakistan, all of which have nuclear arsenals.

Many non-nuclear-weapon states, joined by Pakistan, argue that an FMCT should go beyond prohibiting the production of new fissile material for weapons. They point out that the existing stocks of fissile materials in some nuclear-weapon states are so large that a cutoff would have no practical effect on restricting the number of nuclear weapons that they could produce.

In fact, only about one-half of the global stockpile of HEU and about one-third of the global stockpile of separated plutonium is in weapons stockpiles. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Russia and the United States declared excess almost one-half the fissile materials in their weapons stocks. Even though more than one-half of the weapons HEU that was declared excess has since been blended down to low-enriched uranium (LEU), the amount that remains to be blended down or used as HEU constitutes about 20 percent of the global stock of HEU. Disposition of the weapons-grade plutonium that Russia and the United States declared excess has not even begun.

Among the nuclear-weapon states, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States fuel their naval reactors with HEU; India plans to do so as well.[4] The United States is the only country thus far to declare a dedicated reserve of HEU for naval fuel, 128 metric tons of weapons-grade material. In the past, the United States has also supplied HEU to fuel British submarines.

France, Russia and the United Kingdom also have accumulated huge stocks of separated civilian plutonium; indeed, one-half of the global stock of separated plutonium is civilian. Surely, many non-nuclear-weapon states argue, an FMCT should capture all these stocks of non-weapon materials as well.

In 1995, Canadian Ambassador Gerald Shannon was tasked with finding a way to accommodate the various views concerning the scope of an FMCT. His report became a CD-backed consensus proposal known as the Shannon Mandate. It called for moving forward with the talks without first deciding the issue of fissile material stocks: "[I]t has been agreed by delegations that the mandate for the establishment of the ad hoc Committee does not preclude any delegation from raising for consideration in the ad Hoc Committee any of the above noted issues [pre-existing stocks and management of fissile material]."[5]

IPFM Draft Treaty

To facilitate negotiations when they are finally launched, the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), of which we are members, decided to produce an alternative to the U.S. draft FMCT. This draft treaty, which may be found on the IPFM Web site,[6] would prohibit using all or nearly all pre-existing stocks of non-weapons fissile materials for nuclear weapons and include verification. Such a broader treaty is necessary because an FMCT that banned the production of new fissile material for weapons but allowed production of new weapons from the massive existing stocks of civilian, excess weapons, and naval fissile material would not effectively cap nuclear arsenals or make reductions irreversible. Because it goes beyond a cutoff of future production, we designate the IPFM draft treaty as a fissile material (cutoff) treaty [FM(C)T].[7]

On the date the treaty entered into force, all fissile material in the civilian sector and any material produced after that date would be subject to safeguards. Some material that had been declared excess for military purposes might not be immediately transferable to the civilian sector because it was still in weapons components. It could be subjected to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring, however, by an approach similar to that of the Trilateral Initiative.

One issue to be addressed early would be the IAEA monitoring of pre-existing stocks of HEU reserved for future naval purposes. This possibility is likely to be resisted fiercely by the British and U.S. nuclear navies. As a result, in the absence of a presidential-level commitment to inclusion, the negotiators may quickly jettison such monitoring. For any HEU newly produced for naval reactors, however, verification arrangements for nondiversion of HEU from naval fuel cycles will have to be developed. The only way to avoid such verification arrangements would be to convert HEU to LEU fuel before the stockpiles of pre-existing HEU are depleted. For Russia and the United States, existing stocks of excess weapons HEU will last for many decades. Other countries, notably India, could face the need to make HEU for naval fuel much earlier.

FMCT Verification

By calling for a verifiable treaty, the Obama administration appears to have rejected the Bush administration's position that an FMCT could not be effectively verified. The draft FMCT that the Bush administration submitted on May 18, 2006-the only draft FMCT that any government has submitted thus far-did not contain any provisions for international verification.[8] It was accompanied with a white paper that put forward the administration's position on the verifiability of an FMCT: "[E]ven with extensive verification mechanisms and provisions-so extensive that they could compromise the core national security interests of key signatories, and so costly that many countries would be hesitant to implement them-we still would not have high confidence in our ability to monitor compliance with an FMCT."[9] The two primary concerns behind this conclusion appear to have been the difficulty of determining without unacceptable intrusiveness that HEU is not being diverted to weapons from the naval-reactor fuel cycle and whether undeclared fissile material production capabilities might be present in nuclear-weapon-related facilities.[10] The discussion of FM(C)T verification that follows therefore begins with these challenges.

Safeguarding Naval HEU

One of the challenges to the verification of a broad FM(C)T would be detecting any significant diversion of HEU in naval fuel cycles to weapons.

Naval reactors are a challenge to the verification of the NPT as well because that treaty allows non-nuclear-weapon states to acquire nuclear-powered ships and submarines and its associated safeguards regime and has a potential loophole that could be exploited vis-à-vis fuel for such military vessels.[11] Brazil is the first non-nuclear-weapon state that is developing a propulsion reactor for a nuclear submarine. Fortunately, it is to be fueled with LEU.

The best solution from many points of view would be for LEU fuel to become the norm.[12] France already has shifted its naval reactors to LEU fuel. In 1994 the U.S. Congress requested a study from the Department of Energy's Office of Naval Propulsion of the costs and benefits of shifting to LEU.[13] More recently, the Senate Armed Services Committee directed "the Office of Naval Reactors to review carefully options for using low-enriched uranium fuel in new or modified reactor plants for surface ships and submarines."[14] The National Academy of Sciences should be commissioned to do an independent cost-benefit analysis.

In the meantime, however, the problem of HEU-fueled naval reactors must be addressed. The IPFM has not solved the problem of safeguarding this HEU but has developed some ideas that could be useful.[15]

To begin, the IAEA should monitor any HEU stockpiles reserved for naval fuel use, and the owner countries should inform the IAEA when they need to withdraw specific amounts for specified propulsion reactors. The IAEA could do a rough check of the reasonableness of these numbers by comparing them with published estimates of the amounts of HEU used in the cores of different types of naval vessels.[16] The IAEA would then verify the amount of HEU being removed from the safeguarded store and shipped to a naval fuel fabrication facility.

The IPFM's effort has been focused primarily on determining whether it would be possible for the IAEA to verify the amount of HEU coming out of the fuel fabrication facility in the form of fuel in a sealed container. In doing so, we have patterned our approach on that of the Trilateral Initiative within which Russia and the United States discussed with the IAEA from 1996 to 2002 how to monitor the fissile material in excess weapons components until they could be converted to unclassified form. The initiative proposed that the IAEA monitor plutonium-containing weapon "pits" by measuring the emissions of neutrons and energies of the gamma rays coming out of their containers and then processing the data through a computer "information barrier" that would indicate to the IAEA only whether a container held more than a threshold quantity (e.g., two kilograms) of weapons-grade plutonium.[17]

For the naval fuel, the question is whether it would be possible for the IAEA to determine the amount of uranium-235 in HEU in a container without determining additional design information about the fuel (e.g., alloying material, cladding, fuel rod or plate thickness). Our current idea is to shoot a beam of neutrons into the canister holding the fuel and to look for events in which many more neutrons are emitted than could be attributed to a single fission. This would be an indicator of chain reactions and therefore a measure of the density of U-235. Work on such an approach has been initiated at Princeton University.[18] A related approach is being pursued at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.[19]

If it is possible to verify the amount of HEU in a fuel container, it will also be necessary to have confidence that the fuel actually is installed in a naval reactor. This is done routinely by the IAEA for light-water power reactors, where the owner installs the fuel in the presence of IAEA inspectors and then the pressure vessel is closed and sealed by the IAEA. There would be sensitivities, however, about having the IAEA present during the fueling of naval ships and submarines.

The challenge would be similar to that which confronted the negotiators of START when they had to negotiate procedures that would allow verification of the declared number of warheads deployed on strategic missiles. We believe that, as the saying goes, "if there is a [political] will, there is a way."

Challenge Inspections

The other major challenge to FM(C)T verification would be the possibility of undeclared production of HEU or plutonium. The same challenge exists under the NPT. Since the discovery of Iraq's undeclared enrichment program in 1991, the IAEA's capabilities to detect undeclared activities have been strengthened in those states that have ratified versions of the 1997 Model Additional Protocol.[20] This protocol requires a country to declare all of its nuclear-related activities, including, for example, centrifuge research and development and manufacture, and allows the IAEA access to check on the declaration's "correctness and completeness." From mid-July 2003 until February 2006, while Iran was complying voluntarily with the protocol, the IAEA successfully used the access that it provided to surface activities that Iran had tried to conceal, such as its enrichment experiments at the Kalaye Electric Company.[21]

For the IAEA to be able to detect clandestine fissile material production under an FM(C)T, the nuclear-weapon states would have to agree to something like the Model Additional Protocol. In fact, the United States already has a version of the Model Additional Protocol with the IAEA.[22] The U.S. additional protocol is identical to the model for non-nuclear-weapon states except that it contains an added clause (Article 1b) that allows the U.S. government to exclude the IAEA in circumstances where the application of the additional protocol "would result in access by the Agency to activities of direct national security significance to the United States or in connection with locations or information associated with such activities."

The United States delayed depositing its instrument of ratification of its additional protocol to the very end of the Bush administration while it worked out in advance how it would handle challenge inspections at every nuclear facility in the United States.[23]

Facilities that could conceivably conceal clandestine fissile material production activities are the Energy Department sites where spent fuel reprocessing and uranium-enrichment research and development are carried out and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)-licensed sites, including those where nuclear fuel is fabricated for naval propulsion reactors. The Energy Department has instructed the managers at all its sites, and the NRC has similarly instructed the owners of the sites it regulates, to prepare managed access plans in case the IAEA requests an on-site inspection.[24] It is very encouraging that even the Bush administration was not inclined to simply invoke the national security exemption at all of its military nuclear sites.

The Department of Defense, however, has demanded a blanket exemption of all its sites from reporting or inspections under the U.S. additional protocol.[25] Hopefully, the Obama administration will reconsider this Pentagon position. Japan and all non-nuclear-weapon states in western Europe have ratified versions of the Model Additional Protocol, which would allow IAEA inspectors to have managed access to their defense facilities.[26] The U.S. defense establishment differs from its counterparts only by virtue of having nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered ships, but neither could credibly conceal clandestine fissile material production activities.

In any case, all defense-related sites already are subject to challenge inspections under the Chemical Weapons Convention by inspectors of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). IAEA inspectors would be looking for different activities than OPCW inspectors, but the elaborate procedures that have been developed for OPCW inspections would provide useful templates for IAEA inspections of sensitive nuclear sites. One OPCW instrument, for example, a gas-chromatograph mass spectrometer, includes a database that allows inspectors to identify 3,000 specified chemical weapons agents, precursors, and degradation products but no other chemicals. The IAEA is examining instrumentation that could similarly identify surface deposits containing uranium and fluorine, an indicator of the presence of uranium hexafluoride, the chemical form of uranium that is used in centrifuge enrichment plants, while not revealing the isotopic makeup of the uranium. Similarly, Geiger counters could be used to detect the presence of highly radioactive fission products, an indicator of reprocessing activities, without providing any information about the isotopic composition of any uranium or plutonium that is present.[27]

Problems With the Focused Approach to Verification

Some diplomats have proposed a "focused approach" to verification for an FMCT that only banned new production of fissile materials.[28] This would involve IAEA monitoring of only enrichment and reprocessing plants initially. For enrichment plants, if they were determined not to be producing HEU, that would be the end of the story. Plutonium newly separated at reprocessing plants and any newly produced HEU would be subject to IAEA safeguards in storage and through processing into fuel until the fuel was irradiated in a reactor.

This focused approach would minimize IAEA inspection costs incurred as a result of an FMCT. It also has attractions for some of the nuclear-weapon states because it would allow them to limit routine entry by IAEA inspectors to facilities into which "new" fissile material had been introduced, i.e., material produced after an FMCT came into force for that country.

The cost savings from the focused approach are often exaggerated, however, because the IAEA inspection effort required to safeguard a reprocessing plant in a non-nuclear-weapon state is about 100 times greater than at a reactor fueled by LEU. In 2007 the IAEA had 924 facilities under safeguards in non-nuclear-weapon states,[29] but two reprocessing plants in Japan account for 20 percent of the global IAEA safeguards budget.[30] A 1996 Brookhaven study found that just safeguarding reprocessing and enrichment plants would account for two-thirds of the cost of safeguarding all nuclear facilities in the nuclear-weapon states, including 364 power reactors and 419 other facilities such as fuel fabrication facilities and research reactors.[31]

The focused approach would be insufficient in any case for the more extensive treaty we envision, which should capture as much fissile material as possible, not only that newly produced.[32] Monitoring existing civilian and weapons excess stocks as well as HEU for naval or other military reactors would require more extensive verification measures.

Of course, the IAEA would have to prioritize, at least while it was building up its capabilities. The highest priority targets should be reprocessing and enrichment plants and facilities with large stocks of fissile materials. Monitoring the fuel cycles of reactors fueled with LEU, i.e., most power reactors and an increasing fraction of research reactors, should be a lower priority.

Two particular challenges for inspectors would be employing safeguards at pre-existing reprocessing plants and detecting undeclared HEU production at enrichment plants that produced this material in the past.

Safeguards at Pre-existing Reprocessing Plants

The size of the flow of plutonium through a large commercial reprocessing plant is so large that, if inspectors solely apply mass measurements, a country might well be able to divert enough plutonium for one nuclear bomb or several without being detected. At Japan's new Rokkasho reprocessing plant, for example, the design throughput is 8,000 kilograms of plutonium per year. With measurement errors on the order of 1 percent, which is 80 kilograms per year, and the "significant quantity" of plutonium required to make a nuclear weapon being eight kilograms or less, the IAEA cannot certify on the basis of measurements alone that a significant quantity has not been diverted. Mass measurements are therefore supplemented with process monitoring to detect anomalous flows and concentrations and with "containment and surveillance" to detect activities that might be associated with diversions. Whether these measures are adequate has been questioned.[33] Furthermore, at pre-existing reprocessing plants, surveillance measures necessarily would be more limited than at a new reprocessing plant, where the IAEA can verify the declared locations of pipes before concrete is poured and install independent measuring instruments in reprocessing cells before high levels of radiation makes them inaccessible.

Shirley Johnson, who oversaw the development, installation, and implementation of IAEA safeguards at Rokkasho, has proposed a design for safeguards at pre-existing reprocessing plants that would require real-time declarations of the operations being performed within the plant and input of these declarations into a detailed computer model of the plant's internal configuration. Inspectors would then compare the predicted flows and concentrations with continuous measurements by automated instrumentation at strategic points and by IAEA inspectors during six to eight random unannounced visits each year. Finally, the plant would be cleaned out annually to check whether, within measurement uncertainties, the amount of separated plutonium oxide that came out of the reprocessing plant matched the amount of plutonium measured in the input accountability tank.

By eliminating the costly resident inspection team and on-site safeguards laboratory that account for a major part of the IAEA costs at Rokkasho, Johnson was able to drive estimated IAEA safeguards costs down to about one-fifth of those at the Rokkasho plant, or about $2 million per year.[34] Safeguarding reprocessing plants and the associated fuel fabrication plants for uranium-plutonium mixed-oxide fuel, however, will be problematic under an FM(C)T just as it is under the NPT.

Detecting Undeclared HEU Production at Enrichment Plants

A sense of the challenge of safeguarding a large pre-existing enrichment plant to ensure that it is not being used to produce HEU is conveyed by the picture from inside the centrifuge hall of one of Russia's huge centrifuge enrichment plants.

Perhaps the most potent tool the IAEA has to check for HEU production is to take swipes of surfaces and then look for microscopic HEU-containing particles in the dust collected. Yet, three out of four of Russia's existing enrichment plants produced HEU in the past. To our knowledge, Russia ended HEU production in these facilities in 1987 or 1988. It therefore would be necessary to look for new HEU particles against a background of pre-1988 particles.

Alexander Glaser has done a review of progress in age-dating small particles of HEU and believes that the state of the art has progressed to the point where it should be possible to distinguish new particles from pre-1988 particles.[35] This approach would not work for the enrichment plants currently producing HEU in India and Pakistan, but those plants are small. Monitoring the flows and enrichment of uranium hexafluoride within their cascades would be feasible.

Conclusion

The work done by the IPFM thus far encourages us to believe that it should be feasible technically for an FMCT to capture under IAEA safeguards pre-existing stocks of fissile material in civilian use, declared excess for military use, and in naval fuel reserves and to verify the treaty about as well as the NPT can be verified in non-nuclear-weapon states. Such a verified treaty would be a vital building block for further nuclear disarmament measures. The political task of persuading states to agree to such constraints and access, however, may be the more difficult challenge (see sidebar).

Key Countries and a Fissile Material (Cutoff) Treaty

If U.S. negotiators should embark on negotiations on a fissile material (cutoff) treaty (FM(C)T), they will have to keep in mind the quite different perspectives of some of the key countries that would have to be involved in the talks.[1] There are also several related steps that they and representatives from other countries could take to make talks more successful.

First and foremost, bringing about a treaty will require China, India, and Pakistan to decide that they have enough nuclear weapons materials. Indeed, some of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) nuclear-weapon states question the point of an FM(C)T if non-NPT states India and Pakistan, which are in the process of accelerating the rate at which they are producing fissile material for weapons, refuse to join. France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have declared that they have ended their production of fissile materials for weapons.

China is believed to have halted its production of fissile material for weapons around 1990 but has not declared a permanent halt because of concerns that U.S. long-range conventional precision-guided missiles and missile defense programs could eventually threaten the deterrence value of China's small ICBM force. If the Obama administration were to reconsider the Bush administration's open-ended and unconditional commitment to strategic missile defense and prompt global strike, that might mitigate China's concerns.

Countries also have differing perspectives on whether a treaty should cover pre-existing materials. For the most part, the nuclear-weapon states want a treaty that simply cuts off further production of fissile material for weapons and does not cover pre-existing stockpiles of fissile materials. The non-nuclear-weapon states, in contrast, want an FM(C)T to serve as a significant step toward the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. They therefore want a cutoff treaty that includes deep cuts in existing weapons stockpiles, at least in those of Russia and the United States, and would prevent the conversion to nuclear weapons of pre-existing stockpiles of civilian and other fissile material declared excess to weapon needs.

Pakistan is in the camp of countries interested in reductions in existing stocks because it fears that a cutoff treaty could lock it into a position of disadvantage relative to India. Whether Pakistan actually has a significantly smaller stockpile than India, however, depends in large part on whether India's separated reactor-grade plutonium is considered civilian or weapon material. India exempted its separated reactor-grade plutonium and the fuel cycle of its plutonium-breeder reactor program from international safeguards under the recently approved U.S.-Indian nuclear agreement. It would mitigate Pakistan's concern if India declared these materials civilian and subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards under an FM(C)T.

With regard to verification, all the nuclear-armed states appear to worry to a greater or lesser degree about the intrusiveness and cost of inspections. That makes the "focused approach" to verification of a minimal treaty a lowest-common-denominator compromise. Under this approach, IAEA inspections would focus initially on enrichment and reprocessing plants and then expand only to follow newly produced highly enriched uranium and plutonium until they were irradiated. Much of the value of an FM(C)T would be lost in such a compromise.

Among the nuclear-weapon states, France and the United Kingdom should be the least nervous about international inspections because all their civilian nuclear facilities are already subject to Euratom inspections. The United States has included all of its civilian nuclear facilities in its "voluntary offer" for IAEA inspections, but the IAEA has not had enough funding to mount inspections at more than a very few U.S. facilities of special interest.[2]

Finally, there is Israel. Its current production rate is not publicly known, and it fears that an FM(C)T would force its nuclear weapons program out of the closet and strengthen pressures on it to disarm. Israel also sees discussion of an FM(C)T as a distraction to the effort to end Iran's uranium-enrichment program.

Given these complexities, negotiations on an FM(C)T could last several years. It would therefore be desirable in the meantime for more countries to join the current voluntary production moratorium and offer their production facilities and major civilian and excess military stocks of fissile materials for voluntary IAEA safeguards.

ENDNOTES

1. See Jean-Marie Collin et al., "Country Perspectives on the Challenges to a Fissile Material (Cutoff) Treaty," International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), 2008.

2. IPFM, "Global Fissile Material Report 2007," pp. 67-81, www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/gfmr07.pdf.

 

 


 

Arend Meerburg retired from the Netherlands Foreign Ministry in 2004 after 34 years spent mostly working on multilateral arms control, including the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. He was involved in the International Fuel Cycle Evaluation, international plutonium storage regime discussions, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group and served as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency expert group on multinational nuclear approaches to sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle. Frank N. von Hippel is a professor of public and international affairs at Princeton University. During 1993-1994, he was assistant director for national security of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Both are members of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, and this article is based on the panel's "Global Fissile Material Report 2008."


ENDNOTES

1. "Arms Control Today 2008 Presidential Q&A: President-elect Barack Obama," Arms Control Today, December 2008, special section.

2. UN General Assembly, Resolution 48/75L, 1993.

3. Reaching Critical Will, "Governmental Positions on the Core Issues at the Conference on Disarmament, Publicly Stated Positions Since 1 January 2003," June 19, 2008, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/cd/positions_matrix.html.

4. We are aware of no definitive public information on the enrichment of the fuel used in China's nuclear-powered submarines.

5. "Report of Ambassador Gerald E. Shannon of Canada on Consultations on the Most Appropriate Arrangement to Negotiate a Treaty Banning the Production of Fissile Material for Nuclear Weapons or Other Nuclear Explosive Devices," CD/1299, March 24, 1995.

6. International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), "Draft Fissile Material (Cut-Off) Treaty," January 23, 2009, www.ipfmlibrary.org/fmct-ipfm_feb2009draft.pdf.

7. We found very valuable in our work a draft treaty developed by Thomas Shea, which is still broader, including commitments on proliferation resistance and materials security.

8. "U.S. Tables Draft FMCT Text at Conference on Disarmament," May 18, 2006, geneva.usmission.gov/Press2006/0518DraftFMCT.html.

9. "United States of America: White Paper on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty - Conference on Disarmament," May 18, 2006, geneva.usmission.gov/Press2006/0518WhitePaper.html.

10. These positions are attributed to "one delegation" in "Report to the President of the Conference on Disarmament on the Informal Meetings During the First Part of the 2008 Session by the Permanent Representative of Japan to the Conference on Disarmament, Ambassador Sumio Tarui, Coordinator on Agenda Items 1 and 2 With a General Focus on the Prohibition of Production of Fissile Material for Nuclear Weapons or Other Nuclear Explosive Devices," CD/1846, August 15, 2008, p. 15 (app. III).

11. Paragraph 14 of INFCIRC/153 (corrected), June 1972, the model safeguards agreement between the IAEA and non-nuclear-weapon states that are parties to the NPT, permits a country to remove nuclear material from safeguards for use "in a non-proscribed military activity," i.e., for fuel in naval propulsion or other military reactors, as long as the state makes clear that "during the period of non-application of safeguards the nuclear material will not be used for the production of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."

12. Ma Chunyan and Frank von Hippel, "Ending the Production of Highly Enriched Uranium for Naval Reactors," Nonproliferation Review, Spring 2001, p. 86.

13. Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion, "Report on Use of Low Enriched Uranium in Naval Nuclear Propulsion," June 1995, www.ipfmlibrary.org/onnp95.pdf.

14. Senate Committee on Armed Services, "National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009," 110th Cong. 2d sess., 2008, S. Rep. 355, p. 515, http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=110_cong_reports&docid=f:sr335.110.pdf.

15. Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, Alexander Glaser, and Frank von Hippel, "HEU in the Naval Fuel Cycle," in IPFM, "Global Fissile Material Report 2008: Scope and Verification of a Fissile Material (Cutoff) Treaty," September 2008, pp. 76-85, www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/gfmr08.pdf.

16. These estimates are based on public information on the shaft horsepower of the ships and the refueling frequency of their reactors, standard assumptions concerning the efficiency of conversion of the thermal energy released by fission into mechanical power and the percentage burn-up of the U-235 in the fuel, and estimates of the average fractional power output of the reactor. See for example, Ole Reistad and Styrkaar Hustveit, "HEU Fuel Cycle Inventories and Progress on Global Minimization," Nonproliferation Review, No. 15 (2008), p. 265.

17. Thomas Shea, "Weapon-Origin Fissile Material: The Trilateral Initiative," in IPFM, "Global Fissile Material Report 2008," pp. 62-75. For excerpts of this material, see "The Trilateral Initiative: A Model for the Future," Arms Control Today, May 2008, p. 17.

18. Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, Alexander Glaser and Frank von Hippel, "A Dedicated Detector for the Verification of Highly Enriched Uranium in Naval Reactors" (paper, Institute of Nuclear Materials Management, Tucson, July 12-16, 2009).

19. The Oak Ridge group has focused on the problem of verifying fissile material in the sealed cores of small transportable power reactors. Brandon Grogan and John Mihalczo, "Simulated Verification of Fuel Element Inventory in a Small Reactor Core Using the Nuclear Materials Identification System (NMIS)" (paper, Institute of Nuclear Materials Management, Tucson, July 12-16, 2009); Brandon Grogan and John Mihalczo, "Simulated Verification of Fuel Enrichment in a Small Reactor Core Using the Nuclear Materials Identification System (NMIS)" (paper, Institute of Nuclear Materials Management, Tucson, July 12-16, 2009).

20. IAEA, "Model Protocol Additional to the Agreement(s) Between State(s) and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Application of Safeguards," INFCIRC/540 (corrected), 1997.

21. IAEA, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report of the Director General to the IAEA Board of Governors," November 10, 2003, annex 1, para. 21.

22. The full name is "Protocol Additional to the Agreement Between the United States of America and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Application of Safeguards in the United States of America." The U.S. Senate approved the protocol on March 31, 2004, as Title II of the Hyde Act.

23. U.S. Department of State, "The President Approves Ratification of the U.S.-IAEA Additional Protocol," December 31, 2008.

24. U.S. Congressional Budget Office, "The Cost of Implementing the Additional Protocol to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons," March 5, 2004, table 1.

25. Ibid.

26. IAEA, "Strengthened Safeguards System: States With Additional Protocols," January 21, 2009, www.iaea.org/OurWork/SV/Safeguards/sg_protocol.html.

27. Frank von Hippel, "Challenge Inspections at Military Nuclear Sites," in IPFM, "Global Fissile Material Report 2008," pp. 86-95.

28. See John Carlson, "Can a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty Be Effectively Verified?" Arms Control Today, January/February 2005, p. 25-29.

29. IAEA, Annual Report 2007, table A5.

30. Shirley Johnson, "Reprocessing Plants," in IPFM, "Global Fissile Material Report 2008," pp. 50-61.

31. David Dougherty et al., "Routine Inspection Effort Required for Verification of a Nuclear Material Production Cutoff Convention," BNL-63744 (1996), table 1.

32. In addition to HEU and plutonium, neptunium-237, americium-241, americium-243, and any other fissionable isotope suitable for the manufacture of nuclear weapons are classified as fissile materials in the IPFM draft treaty.

33. See for example, Marvin M. Miller, "Are IAEA Safeguards on Plutonium Bulk-Handling Facilities Effective?" Nuclear Control Institute, 1990, www.nci.org/k-m/mmsgrds.htm.

34. IPFM, "Global Fissile Material Report 2008," pp. 50-61.

35. Alexander Glaser, "Uranium Enrichment Plants," in "Global Fissile Material Report 2008," pp. 40-49.

 

Five Plus Three: How to Have a Meaningful and Helpful Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty

The Obama administration has stated its intention to conclude a treaty cutting off production of fissile material, highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, for nuclear weapons. So did the administrations of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Although a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) has been a key objective of the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) for many years, that organization seems unable to break out of its now customary paralysis. This experience should encourage the Obama administration, if indeed it wants such a treaty, to look to another forum for realization. More importantly, it may be vital for the new U.S. administration to take a different approach because pursuit of an FMCT as currently contemplated at the CD might well have the ironic and presumably unintended consequence of gravely undermining the nuclear nonproliferation regime. Fortunately, such a new approach may well be available. (Continue)

Christopher A. Ford

The Obama administration has stated its intention to conclude a treaty cutting off production of fissile material, highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, for nuclear weapons. So did the administrations of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Although a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) has been a key objective of the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) for many years, that organization seems unable to break out of its now customary paralysis.[1] This experience should encourage the Obama administration, if indeed it wants such a treaty, to look to another forum for realization. More importantly, it may be vital for the new U.S. administration to take a different approach because pursuit of an FMCT as currently contemplated at the CD might well have the ironic and presumably unintended consequence of gravely undermining the nuclear nonproliferation regime. Fortunately, such a new approach may well be available.

The Current FMCT Impasse

The current impasse at the consensus-based CD began a decade ago. A significant part of the blame for the collapse of initial negotiations on an FMCT should be apportioned to the Nonaligned Movement (NAM)-never a group to pass up a chance to impede something good by insisting on what it thinks would be ideal-for trying to force greater attention on accelerating disarmament. China and Russia are similarly at fault for preventing progress on such talks by trying to link FMCT discussions to commencing negotiations on their disingenuous draft of a treaty banning space weapons. That initial Chinese-Russian linkage of unrelated issues grew into the laundry list of pet arms control projects known as the A-5 proposal containing, amazingly, negotiating mandates for four major treaty efforts (disarmament, negative security assurances, space weapons, and an FMCT), which most CD members now recognize as completely unworkable as a practical matter.

After the collapse of the A-5 proposal under its own weight, the formula advanced in the document L.1, now embodied in document CD/1840, became the current focus of debate at the CD. This approach still supports "discussion" mandates for the other issues but more feasibly proposes a negotiating mandate only for an FMCT. Even progress on this more modest document, however, has so far been impossible. Specifically, China and Pakistan-the former being the only nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) nuclear-weapon state to be increasing its nuclear arsenal rather than reducing, the latter apparently still too concerned about India to be very interested in restraint-have blocked negotiations on a treaty. Perhaps not surprisingly, they have been joined by Iran in their opposition to negotiating an FMCT. So far, none of these three countries is apparently interested in foregoing the option of producing fissile material for nuclear weapons.[2]

Although only Beijing, Islamabad, and Tehran remain as obvious obstacles to the commencement of FMCT negotiations, with Jerusalem and New Delhi remaining more circumspect with regard to their intentions, many hurdles still lie ahead with regard to their conclusion. Among these challenges is the issue of verification. After 1995, the CD's agreed negotiating parameters for an FMCT were defined by the so-called Shannon Mandate, which required pursuit of a treaty that was "non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable."[3] This goal was accepted by the Clinton administration and may yet be supported by the Obama administration.[4] The Bush administration concluded in 2004 that no FMCT, regardless of how costly and intrusive a verification system one postulates, much less an FMCT likely to be agreed on by all parties at the CD, would likely be effectively verifiable. In Washington's view, this should not have presented an obstacle to commencing FMCT negotiations and indeed concluding a normative FMCT, but it did require states to agree to revising the Shannon Mandate's requirement to achieve such verifiability.

The Shannon Mandate required, up front, that any concluded FMCT be both universal and nondiscriminatory-that it not apply different rules to different countries, which was a continuing source of criticism about the NPT-and effectively verifiable. Although the Bush administration was not averse to discussing verifiability during FMCT negotiations and U.S. officials did not require ruling out ever adopting some verification measures, Washington deemed it improper for the mandate to require the achievement of what was arguably unachievable as a precondition for even beginning negotiations. Today, except for China and Pakistan, all parties at the CD apparently stand ready to begin negotiations that all assume will include extensive discussions of and efforts to achieve at least some degree of verifiability.

The issue of verifiability will not go away, therefore, and it is likely that even if negotiations are started on an FMCT, many disputes and problems will arise over whether effective verifiability can be achieved and, if so, whether the cost of doing so is one that all CD negotiators will prove willing to pay.

Technical Issues Associated With Verification

Today, U.S. government verification experts have apparently made enough headway in explaining their position that many CD delegations have conceded privately that effective verification is indeed impossible. This has not dimmed the enthusiasm of many of them for adopting some verification measures and for deeming even partial measures to be "good enough." (In this author's presence, in fact, some have actually advocated pretending that whatever measures end up being adopted in fact amount to effective verification, although no one seems to have been so bold as to say this publicly.) To the extent that effective verification remains an important objective of negotiations, one can expect that the road ahead for an FMCT will remain a rocky one.

The United States has explained its verification arguments on many occasions, in print in the context of NPT review-cycle debates[5] and in person through numerous expert-level and diplomatic briefings and discussions with CD partners. It is beyond the scope of this article to detail all the arguments, but some of the salient points from a technical perspective include the difficulty for the verifier of (1) conducting adequate verification inquiries at facilities associated with nuclear weapons work or other sensitive activities without compromising the host government's national security information, (2) dating the point of first "production" for plutonium that has been reconditioned subsequent to its initial separation, (3) ascertaining the true intention behind fissile material production under a treaty that will not ban all such production but rather only that done for purposes of use in nuclear explosives, and (4) telling anything useful from environmental sampling at nuclear weapons facilities where fissile material has been produced for years and particulate contamination is already ubiquitous. Conceivably, there could be clever ways around these problems, but such solutions apparently have yet to be offered, and effective verification seems as distant a dream as ever.

Policy and Programmatic Issues for Verification

An FMCT's problems, however, are only partly technical. Some of the difficulties are more political in nature. An FMCT would clearly be more verifiable, which is not the same thing necessarily as thinking it effectively so, if all existing stocks of fissile material were to be subject to examination and monitoring under an FMCT verification regime. Because such stocks include material actually used in nuclear weapons by possessor states, kept as raw material within their weapons programs, or held for highly sensitive purposes not related to nuclear explosives, such as fuel for naval nuclear reactors, however, it is very difficult to imagine any FMCT could be concluded by consensus that actually covered all existing stocks in a meaningful way. (One must also guard against having an FMCT verification protocol become a mechanism for proliferating nuclear weapons know-how.)

Much of this problem would go away were it possible to apply different rules to states possessing nuclear weapons than to nonpossessors, as does the NPT, but this would fly in the face of the widespread desire that an FMCT be nondiscriminatory. In other words, within the constraints of the political requirement that uniform rules must apply to all parties, an FMCT could be either comparatively verifiable by virtue of covering all existing stocks or it could be negotiable, but probably not both. (The possessors of nuclear weapons presumably will not all be willing to permit intrusive inspections of their weapons programs for so long as such arsenals remain. This is not a law of nature, of course, and some in the arms control community apparently hold out high hopes that possessors will suddenly decide that it is no longer important to conceal such details from each other and from nonpossessors. My assumption, however, is likely to hold true for a long time.)

Yet, the problems do not stop there. From my discussions with participants in recent FMCT debates, it has become clear that further problems lie ahead for the current CD approach to a fissile material treaty, including the danger that it could undermine the NPT itself. This issue has not so far been the subject of much if any public discussion. Nevertheless, such worries underlie some countries' grave concerns about any effort to achieve FMCT verification within the context of the treaty's still presumptively universal application and likely nondiscriminatory character.

An FMCT verification regime, it is feared, might undermine the NPT regime in three ways.

1. It might tend to legitimate the development of "peaceful" fissile material production capabilities in ways incompatible with the survival of the nonproliferation regime.

2. An FMCT verification system, if pursued on the basis of universality and nondiscrimination, might seem to offer an alternative but weaker standard of verification that would undercut and in practice replace adherence to the 1997 Model Additional Protocol of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), particularly in worrisome states such as Iran.

3. Debates over FMCT verification with regard to existing fissile material stocks and fissile material held for sensitive but nonexplosive purposes, such as fueling naval reactors, would draw unhelpful attention to a long-standing potential loophole within the IAEA-run verification system for Article III safeguards under the NPT. Agreement on an FMCT verification regime could worsen this problem and generalize this loophole by the de facto adoption of a standard that would not merely leave the FMCT unverifiable but would also undercut existing approaches to nuclear safeguards.

Legitimating Ubiquitous Fissile Production

The first concern is more symbolic and purely political and relates to ongoing disputes over the wisdom of permitting, not to say facilitating, the further expansion of fuel cycle capabilities around the world. It has long been understood that fissile material availability is the principal hurdle to be overcome for any country seeking to develop nuclear weapons and the major pacing element for a weapons program. This is why, for instance, U.S. assessments of Iran's reported suspension in 2003 of certain weaponization-related aspects of its nuclear weapons effort in response to international pressure[6] have done so little to allay concerns about Tehran's nuclear weapons ambitions. As Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell put it, Iran seems to have suspended only what is "probably the least significant part of the program."[7] Once fissile material production capability has been obtained, the rest is comparatively easy, quick, and concealable. Iran's uranium-enrichment program has underlined these concerns and spurred the Bush administration to place even greater emphasis on preventing the spread of uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing (for plutonium) to additional countries. By threatening to create a world in which many countries possess a rapid and easy nuclear option, the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technology presents a grave challenge to the nonproliferation regime.

In this context, the advent of an FMCT would not necessarily be an unequivocal good. As it is currently contemplated, an FMCT would not ban the production of all fissile materials. Instead, current debates at the CD revolve around a draft FMCT, offered by the United States, that would prohibit only "produc[ing] fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or us[ing] any fissile material produced thereafter in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."[8]

Some have expressed concern that achievement of an FMCT, by seeming to ensure that fissile material will not thereafter be produced for explosive purposes, would be perceived to guarantee the permissibility and the harmlessness of fissile material production for other purposes by essentially anyone else. After all, the NPT does not speak directly to the issue of fissile material production. Even Article IV, which is often taken, in my view mistakenly, to convey or acknowledge some kind of general enrichment and reprocessing rights, does not directly address the question. The broad assessment of Article IV issues offered by the Bush administration in 2005 therefore remains correct:

Some have asserted that any State Party in demonstrable compliance with the NPT has a specific right to develop the full nuclear fuel cycle, and that efforts to restrict access to the relevant technologies is inconsistent with the NPT. The Treaty is silent on the issue of whether compliant states have the right to develop the full nuclear fuel cycle, but...it does provide for discretion on the part of supplier states regarding the nature of their cooperation with other states.... While compliant State[s] Party should be able to avail themselves of the benefits that the peaceful use of nuclear energy has brought to mankind, the Treaty establishes no right to receive any particular nuclear technology from other States Party-and most especially, no right to receive technologies that pose a significant proliferation risk.[9]

An FMCT, however, might reshape the still-contested terrain of contemporary enrichment and reprocessing debates by more directly addressing the issue of fissile material production. If a formal treaty had been concluded to prohibit fissile material production for explosive purposes, it might seem obvious that there existed a right to produce fissile materials for nonexplosive purposes and all that much less reason to object should any FMCT state party propose to do so. As a consequence, an FMCT could contribute to the proliferation of sensitive capabilities that would result in more countries attaining the option of acquiring nuclear weapons virtually at will. To say the least, it is not obvious that an FMCT that notionally banned fissile material production for weapons purposes but which in fact contributed to the global ubiquity of an enrichment and reprocessing-facilitated nuclear weapons option would be a net benefit for global security.

Undermining the Model Additional Protocol

The second concern relates to the danger that an FMCT verification regime would undermine efforts to achieve broader adherence to and ultimately the universality of the IAEA Model Additional Protocol. The model protocol was drafted in the wake of revelations after the 1991 Persian Gulf War about how close Iraq had come to developing nuclear weapons under the very noses of IAEA inspectors. Those inspectors had relied on monitoring declared nuclear material, facilities, and activities conducted pursuant to traditional comprehensive safeguards agreements reached with the agency. These safeguards, however, were wholly inadequate to the challenge of detecting undeclared activities in any country that might wish secretly to use nuclear technology for illicit purposes. The subsequent protocol expanded the reporting requirements of member states and gave inspectors additional access rights in order to determine the absence of undeclared activities.[10] A critical component of the new protocol was the right of agency inspectors to collect environmental samples.

To date, adherence to additional protocols is still far from universal, having been entered into force by only 89 states. To be sure, the IAEA director-general and its board of governors have made clear that even an additional protocol's new authorities are inadequate to the challenges presented by IAEA verification activities in the face of sophisticated denial and deception activities undertaken by countries such as Iran.[11] Nevertheless, if nuclear safeguards are to provide any sort of meaningful barrier against nuclear weapons development, an additional protocol is widely and correctly regarded as being essential to the survival of the safeguards system.

There is concern, however, that an FMCT verification regime could undermine the prospects for universalizing the Model Additional Protocol by appearing to provide an alternative and most assuredly weaker international nuclear safeguards baseline to which countries might tend to adhere. The protocol is aimed at allowing the IAEA some chance to ferret out undeclared activities in non-nuclear-weapon states; it does not have to worry about applicability to nuclear weapons possessors with a legitimate need to protect nuclear weapons-related national security equities and restrict the dissemination of proliferation-sensitive information.[12]

Moreover, the authorities an additional protocol provides to inspectors are reasonably broad and intrusive and impose no small burden, in political terms and with regard to financial and administrative costs, on countries adhering to it. Given the costs, some countries, especially in the developing world, have resisted agreeing to an additional protocol and resent suggestions that it be made a precondition for the provision of nuclear technology pursuant to Nuclear Suppliers Group rules.[13] (Other countries, most obviously Iran, have less legitimate reasons for resisting and resenting the Model Additional Protocol's focus on trying to detect undeclared nuclear activities, but oppose it they do.) Universalizing the protocol is strongly supported by many supplier states and the IAEA as a measure indispensable to preserving the integrity of the nonproliferation regime, but it remains somewhat controversial.

Because an FMCT, as currently contemplated in the CD, is expected to be universal and nondiscriminatory, its verification mechanisms, as noted above, would of necessity be weaker than those of the Model Additional Protocol. It might be possible to set up a two-tier FMCT verification system that would treat possessors of nuclear weapons differently than all others in the international system, which is done for IAEA safeguards under NPT Article III, including in connection with the Model Additional Protocol; but in practice this would be politically difficult, not to mention incompatible with the idea of nondiscrimination as it is usually employed.[14] More likely, FMCT verification rules would have to be developed on a lowest-common-denominator basis through the consensus-based CD, with the result that inspector access and other authorities established for purposes of FMCT verification would probably end up being a pale reflection of those provided in the Model Additional Protocol.

If an FMCT offered a verification program less burdensome and effective than Model Additional Protocol safeguards, states might find adherence to an FMCT a tempting excuse to decline or repudiate the protocol. The fact that such a country had signed on to FMCT verification provisions also would make it correspondingly more difficult, as a political matter, to pressure that country to agree to the Model Additional Protocol. In a world of finite financial resources and political capital, it might be difficult to maintain two parallel and independent systems of international verification, particularly if the IAEA were itself to be entrusted with most of the work of FMCT verification, as is frequently discussed in CD circles.

Some participants in FMCT debates thus worry that a more lenient FMCT verification system might come to undermine and eventually replace today's emerging, Model Additional Protocol-based system of nuclear safeguards. This outcome would not necessarily take too much time to manifest itself either. The countries about which one should worry the most and whose adherence to the protocol would be most valuable-Iran comes to mind once more-would presumably also be the ones most likely to jump ship quickly in favor of a weaker FMCT verification regime. The replacement of the Model Additional Protocol approach by a less stringent FMCT system would therefore probably undermine nonproliferation efforts and would poorly serve the interests of international peace and security. The Hippocratic oath is perhaps here instructive: "First, do no harm."

Cementing in Place a Safeguards Loophole

A third concern with an FMCT verification system relates to its interaction with a potential loophole in current comprehensive safeguards agreements required by NPT Article III and currently in place for all but 30 NPT states party. The IAEA information circular INFCIRC/153 provides the model for all such agreements presently in force. Paragraph 14 of the first part of INFCIRC/153 provides for the possibility that a country subject to a comprehensive safeguards agreement will "exercise its discretion to use nuclear material which is required to be safeguarded thereunder" for a "non-proscribed military activity."[15] This model agreement thus theoretically allows countries to remove nuclear material from safeguards for purposes of using it for a nonpeaceful purpose that is nonetheless not prohibited by the NPT. This could presumably cover a range of potential uses for nuclear material, provided that these uses do not relate to nuclear explosives, but Paragraph 14 is most obviously applicable to the use of enriched uranium in the nuclear reactors used to power naval vessels.

Provided that this provision is indeed only used in connection with legitimately sensitive activities such as naval nuclear propulsion and only by states already possessing nuclear weapons, it need present no fundamental problem for the IAEA's system for nuclear safeguards verification. The provision is potentially subject to enormous abuse, however, because a rush of NPT non-nuclear-weapon states suddenly declaring or pretending a sudden interest in naval reactor development would result in the removal of nuclear material from safeguards in quantities more than sufficient to conceal nuclear weapons work prohibited by NPT Article II. Abuse of Paragraph 14 could therefore create a vast hole in the safeguards system.

The specific parameters and scope of acceptable uses for Paragraph 14 have not been defined, but its provisions have not emerged as a problem for safeguards verification largely because Paragraph 14 issues have not been the focus of much attention or debate.[16] Efforts to develop a universal and nondiscriminatory FMCT verification protocol could change this. It seems unlikely that countries engaged in sensitive but nonproscribed military activities such as naval nuclear propulsion would all be willing to open such programs to detailed examination by FMCT verifiers. (If these activities were not militarily sensitive, the issue would not arise in the first place.) Consequently, an FMCT verification protocol would probably have to have some kind of verification exemption for such activity, just as it would presumably also contain an exemption for nuclear weapons-related activity in the nuclear-weapon states. (The necessity of creating such exclusions, which would presumably be a precondition for acceptance of the treaty by countries engaged in such work, is another reason why it is so difficult to imagine an FMCT being genuinely verifiable.) In the course of debating and codifying universal and nondiscriminatory rules for FMCT verification, attention would likely be drawn to the issues of verification-exempt sensitive but nonproscribed activities and a set of understandings reached about their scope and nature as things in which any country may engage. Otherwise, an FMCT verification protocol would be discriminatory.

There is, therefore, reason to fear that FMCT verification efforts could damage IAEA nuclear safeguards verification under the NPT, by effectively flagging Paragraph14 as a safeguards loophole and providing the international community with a de facto working definition of its parameters that could gravely undermine the effectiveness of verification work pursuant to comprehensive safeguards by allowing essentially any country to remove nuclear materials from safeguards on the pretense of working on naval nuclear reactors or other such programs. FMCT verification negotiations could become the vehicle through which a provision unproblematically used only by nuclear-weapon states to permit the continuation of legitimate activities metastasizes into an NPT-destructive means by which non-nuclear-weapon states could easily defeat IAEA safeguards verification and conceal prohibited nuclear weapons work.

An Alternative Route to a Meaningful FMCT?

What is one to do if one still hopes for some kind of a ban on the further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons? Must we give up on the idea of an FCMT? The search for a way to surmount or sidestep these many challenges might begin with an admission that a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear explosive purposes would add nothing of significance to the nonproliferation obligations of any NPT state party that does not already lawfully possess nuclear weapons.

After all, NPT non-nuclear-weapon states are already prohibited by NPT Article II from "manufactur[ing] or otherwise acquir[ing] nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices,"[17] a rule that has long been understood to cover not merely the end stage of "manufacturing" a nuclear device but also such prior steps as may have been undertaken in service of this illicit purpose.[18] Producing fissile material for a nuclear weapon unquestionably counts as a violation under this standard. The only reason that an FMCT would be interesting or valuable, therefore, lies in its potential to constrain fissile material production for weapons purposes in the NPT nuclear-weapon states[19] and in countries such as India, Israel, and Pakistan presently outside the NPT but which have demonstrated or are presumed to have nuclear weapons. For these states, an FMCT would be a significant step because it would formally constrain the size of their nuclear weapons programs for the first time.

As the foregoing discussions indicate, however, attempting to craft a universal and nondiscriminatory FMCT verification regime would run into a great many problems in trying to fit one-size-fits-all provisions to the very different situations presented by the presence in the international community of weapons-possessing and non-weapons-possessing countries. What if one were to relax the reflexive requirement enshrined in the Shannon Mandate and retained in the negotiating mandate of CD/1840 that an FMCT be nondiscriminatory and universal?

As suggested earlier, one way to approach an FMCT more seriously from a verification perspective might be to permit it to become discriminatory like the NPT: treating possessors of nuclear weapons differently than nonpossessors. An alternative approach, however, and conceivably both a more efficient and ultimately a better one, might be to jettison the ambition to universality. Because an FMCT would not add meaningfully to the obligations of NPT non-nuclear-weapon states anyway, why bother with all the trouble, uncertainty, and negotiating headaches of developing an FMCT in a consensus-based forum such as the 65-member CD when all one really wants to do is reach eight states (China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States)?[20]

Limiting one's FMCT approach to the "Five Plus Three" countries-the five NPT-recognized nuclear-weapon states plus the three outliers who have not adhered to the NPT-would have an admirable parsimony. It would tailor the legal remedy precisely to the wrong of fissile material production for nuclear explosive purposes in the only countries for which this is not already prohibited by international law. It would do so without having to wrestle with accommodating an additional four or five dozen members of the CD in consensus-bound multiparty negotiations or to sweep into a treaty some 180 NPT non-nuclear-weapon states to whose legal obligations an FMCT would add in no meaningful way, but whose IAEA safeguards obligations might thereby effectively be weakened.

Restricting an FMCT to the Five Plus Three countries might actually help the treaty sidestep some of the formidable verification hurdles it would otherwise face in a world that contains countries as vastly differently situated, in nuclear weapons terms, as the United States and Swaziland. It is not that any fewer accommodations detrimental to verification confidence would be necessary to make an FMCT acceptable to countries engaged in nuclear weapons development and often in sensitive nonproscribed military activities. What would distinguish a Five Plus Three treaty from a universal FMCT is the degree to which the uncertainty created by such exemptions would matter.

Effective verification is not a hard science or a subject well suited to quantification and rigid, bright-line rules. Levels of verification uncertainty unacceptable in one context may be quite tolerable in another. To contrive a simplistic example, the inability of verifiers to rule out a half-dozen nuclear warheads remaining hidden in a country subjected to arms control limits would have dramatically different consequences if the limits in question were at the level of 1,000 warheads or at the abolition level of "zero." A hypothetical six-warhead margin of error might be acceptable in the former case, perhaps amounting to "effective verification," but could be a catastrophic level of uncertainty in the latter. (Retaining a handful of concealed warheads in a disarmed state or acquiring them in any state under an abolition regime would be a strategic coup of great magnitude.) The key in verification analysis is therefore sometimes not the specific error margin per se, but policy judgment calls weighing such factors as the likely impact of a violation on the military balance being regulated by the legal norm,[21] the ease and speed with which other parties could respond to or remedy a violation after its detection, or the degree to which parties have incentives to cheat in the first place.[22]

It might also be the case that confining an FMCT to states already possessing a demonstrated or presumed nuclear weapons capability might at least somewhat lessen the daunting problems presented by verification uncertainty. The likely necessity of having verification exemptions for sensitive nonproscribed activities, for instance, would gravely undermine a universal FMCT by making it vastly more difficult to ascertain whether prohibited activity-nuclear weapons work-was in fact occurring in a non-nuclear-weapon-state. In a regime confined to the eight presently weapons-capable countries, however, it might be slightly less disastrous from a nonproliferation perspective to bow to international pressure to settle for some verification or verification that is "good enough," inasmuch as uncertainty with regard to countries that already have nuclear weapons would not open the door to secret weapons work in non-nuclear-weapon states. At least at nuclear-weapon-state warhead levels not drastically lower than those of today, at any rate, a degree of verification uncertainty in an FMCT for the Five Plus Three states would imperil global security less than it would under a universal and nondiscriminatory FMCT.[23]

Once one escapes from the theological presupposition that an FMCT must be universal and nondiscriminatory, in fact, there may be additional advantages in being willing to employ such flexibility, in pursuit of a meaningful and workable treaty even among the Five Plus Three countries. In other words, one verification size need not necessarily fit all. For example, in the case of Russia and the United States, large quantities of fissile material are already being removed from nuclear weapons-related stockpiles and converted to peaceful uses. For these two states, no verification procedures would really be needed-at least for a long time-in order for the international community to have confidence that they were not producing additional fissile material for use in nuclear weapons: the continuing flow of material out of weapons-related stocks into peaceful applications would itself surely be evidence enough that Moscow and Washington felt no need for more fissile material for weapons. In the case of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, very comprehensive voluntary safeguards agreements are also in place that cover nuclear material in peaceful programs. With respect to India and Pakistan, an arrangement similar to that between Argentina and Brazil might help resolve any concerns that these two countries have with respect to each other. These examples do not resolve all possible concerns, of course, but they illustrate how pragmatic arrangements could perhaps be made that would make an FMCT meaningful without trying to find a single solution that would apply to all parties. Even in the context of a "Five Plus Three" treaty, trying to achieve a general solution could lead to extended and unnecessary negotiations.

Why then should one not pursue an eight-party FMCT? At least two objections might be offered. First, it might be contended that it would be inappropriate for the FMCT issue to be taken away from the CD in Geneva. Second, it might be argued that it would be inappropriate to recognize the "non-NPT Three" (India, Israel, and Pakistan) as having a sort of quasi-nuclear-weapon-state status by engaging specifically with them in FMCT negotiations and not approaching the question on a universal basis.

The first of these concerns may most easily be dismissed. To suggest that an FMCT be made universal so that diplomats at the CD can have something with which to occupy themselves is, to put it charitably, putting the cart before the horse. The CD should pursue specific arms control and disarmament proposals when and where its involvement is necessary or helpful for progress on agreements that serve the interests of international peace and security. If the question at hand is to negotiate a universal agreement, such as the Chemical Weapons Convention, a past CD success story, then the conference is presumably at least as good as any other universal negotiating forum available and no doubt rather better than the unfocused and erratic UN General Assembly or UN First Committee.

As we have seen, however, there is no functional necessity for an FMCT to be universal, but there is good reason to approach such a treaty directly and efficiently by addressing it only to the eight countries whose participation would matter in the slightest. If it is desirable to secure full employment for diplomats in the comforts of Geneva irrespective of their ability to reach agreement in the long-paralyzed CD, there are no doubt other universal proposals that could be discussed with satisfying unproductiveness. If one wishes actually to achieve an FMCT, it might be advisable to take discussion directly to the relevant players in a context that stands a reasonable chance of producing results. That said, it was precisely over such concerns of being attacked for killing the CD that the Bush administration chose not to pursue this most logical of options. U.S. officials did not wish to give ammunition to those who accused the administration of being hostile to multilateral approaches and institutions. It may be that such uncharacteristic squeamishness was a mistake and that a Five Plus Three approach outside the CD represents a better route to an FMCT and to improved global security.

The objection focusing on the danger of recognizing India, Israel, and Pakistan as quasi-nuclear-weapon states is a more creditable one. Conducting FMCT negotiations on a Five Plus Three basis is admittedly at least somewhat like according these three countries some special status on account of their actual or presumed possession of nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, addressing an FMCT to the only countries for which it is needed-namely, the eight countries that are not NPT non-nuclear-weapon states-is not the same thing as recognizing the three NPT nonmembers among them as NPT nuclear-weapon states. Moreover, one need not necessarily enter into Five Plus Three FMCT negotiations on an eight-party basis. Indeed, the best approach may be to build on what we already have. The draft FMCT tabled by the United States in the CD already contains almost all of the features needed for a meaningful treaty, especially if it were limited to the eight states. Leaving aside any debate that might take place over verification measures, which could in any case be handled in an FMCT protocol or in one or more other side agreements rather than in the treaty itself, the only modifications that might be needed to the current U.S. draft would be with respect to the entry into force and duration provisions.

The duration of a Five Plus Three FMCT, as it applies to any state party, should be such that the treaty would cease to apply to a state that joins the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state. This duration provision would thus make clear that an FMCT is not an end point but rather a step toward the global applicability of the NPT and perhaps indeed an eventual end to the existence of nuclear weapons. If additional verification measures are felt necessary beyond the provisions currently in the U.S. text, these could be negotiated separately among the states that felt that such additional measures were needed. For example, the five NPT nuclear-weapon states may wish to reach an agreement as to what should be covered in their voluntary safeguards agreements. As mentioned earlier, India and Pakistan might feel that they needed additional arrangements to address their concerns. This approach would let verification provisions be tailored to the verification needs of each party, if any, without having to work out a one-size-fits-all approach that applies uniformly and coherently to possessors of nuclear weapons as vastly differently situated as the various members of the eight.

I do not mean to suggest that this approach is a panacea. If China and Pakistan continue to wish to preserve for themselves the ability to produce additional fissile material for nuclear weapons, for instance, they will presumably continue to try to block progress on any sort of FMCT in the CD or elsewhere. After all, diplomats' instinctive faith in the power of diplomacy to improve the world should not be allowed to become naivete: where interests fundamentally diverge, fine talk and clever drafting cannot be expected to bridge them. Pursuing a flexible approach outside the CD, however, may offer the best chance there is for an FMCT. If there are indispensable parties who remain unalterably opposed, there will be no treaty. Nevertheless, even then there might be some value in flushing out objectors, forcing them to reject a sensible and accommodating substantive proposal in the open, rather than sheltering behind procedural gamesmanship and thinly rationalized issue linkages in a consensus-based institution such as the CD. There are worse things than clarity.

Conclusion

The CD is today closer to the commencement of negotiations on an FMCT than at any time since the original negotiations collapsed more than a decade ago. Closer does not necessarily mean close, however, and enormous challenges remain to be overcome before any FMCT would likely be able to emerge. Significantly, these challenges include not merely difficulties related to verifiability but also grave and publicly ignored policy and programmatic issues related to the potential impact of FMCT verification on the nuclear safeguards system. An FMCT could dangerously undermine the existing verification system for NPT Article III safeguards and the IAEA Model Additional Protocol.

It might be politically controversial and some would surely allege that it amounted to a vote of no confidence in the CD; however, an approach to the FMCT question that focused only on the five NPT nuclear-weapon states and the three non-NPT outliers may offer the best chance for progress in light of these problems and for an FMCT that, in the end, genuinely contributes to global security. Arguably far more than current CD negotiations, a Five Plus Three approach offers the chance to achieve an FMCT that is realistically negotiable and meaningful. Can anyone genuinely interested in an FMCT afford to ignore this potential solution?


Christopher A. Ford is a senior fellow and director of the Center for Technology and Global Security at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. Ford served as U.S. special representative for nuclear nonproliferation and as a principal deputy assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance, and implementation during the George W. Bush administration.


ENDNOTES

1. For a window on recent debates over the future of the CD, see Stephen G. Rademaker, "The Conference on Disarmament: Time Is Running Out," Arms Control Today, December 2006, pp. 13-15; Paul Meyer, "The Conference on Disarmament: Getting Back to Business," Arms Control Today, December 2006, pp. 16-17; Michael Krepon "The Conference on Disarmament: Means of Rejuvenation," Arms Control Today, December 2006, pp. 18-22.

2. When pressed on the issue of fissile material production, Chinese officials, who seem to hate being seen as an obstacle to arms control progress, even or perhaps especially when they are, sometimes privately claim that China has ceased production. It is not clear whether this is true, although it conceivably could be if Beijing has already produced and stockpiled enough fissile material to support whatever plans it may have for its still expanding arsenal. On the other hand, some Chinese have also privately assured me that they are also not actually expanding their arsenal, which seems to be entirely untrue. At any rate, China has thus far refused to allow itself to be held publicly accountable for the claim.

3. "Report of Ambassador Gerald E. Shannon of Canada on Consultations on the Most Appropriate Arrangement to Negotiate a Treaty Banning the Production of Fissile Material for Nuclear Weapons or Other Nuclear Explosive Devices," CD/1299, March 24, 1995.

4. One former Clinton administration official recently urged the United States to reverse its position on FMCT verification, although he mischaracterized Bush administration policy as per se "oppos[ition to] international monitoring" rather than more accurately describing it as opposing the Shannon Mandate's presupposition of effective verifiability. Robert J. Einhorn, "Controlling Fissile Materials and Ending Nuclear Testing," Paper presented to the "Achieving the Vision of a World Free of Nuclear Weapons" conference, Oslo, February 26-27, 2008, p.3. In fact, U.S. officials at the CD under Bush opposed neither discussion of verification issues nor necessarily even the eventual adoption of some verification measures. They merely felt that effective verification of an FMCT was unachievable and refused to agree to a mandate requiring it. Einhorn believes that in general "some monitoring tasks" under an FMCT are "no more difficult than monitoring compliance with the NPT" and that the IAEA could "do the job effectively." Einhorn's qualifier "some" is suggestive, however; and his account provides no explanation of how other FMCT tasks, such as ascertaining the purpose for which undeclared fissile material had been produced, might be effectively accomplished. See Christopher Ford, "The United States and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty," Paper presented to the "Preparing for 2010: Getting the Process Right" conference, Annecy, France, March 17, 2007, www.state.gov/t/isn/rls/other/81950.htm (noting problem of ascertaining purpose of material production, a challenge that is "qualitatively different from those involved in verifying compliance with IAEA safeguards"). At any rate, citing the continued unwillingness of China, India, and Pakistan to forswear production of fissile material for weapons purposes, Einhorn contended that "entry into force of an FMCT is several years away at a minimum" and apparently worries that an FMCT could "remain[] deadlocked." Einhorn, "Controlling Fissile Materials and Ending Nuclear Testing," pp. 4, 6.

5. See Ford, "United States and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty."

6. See U.S. National Intelligence Council, "Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities," November 2007, pp. 5-6, www.dni.gov/press_releases/20071203_release.pdf.

7. Mark Mazzetti, "Intelligence Chief Cites Qaeda Threat to U.S.," The New York Times, February 6, 2008, www.nytimes.com/2008/02/06/washington/06intel.html?_r=2&n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/People/Z/Zawahri,%20Ayman%20Al-.

8. "U.S. Draft Text for Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty," May 18, 2006, http://geneva.usmission.gov/Press2006/0518DraftFMCT.html.

9. Christopher A. Ford, "NPT Article IV: Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy," remarks to the 2005 NPT Review Conference, May 18, 2005, www.state.gov/t/vci/rls/rm/46604.htm.

10. See Suzanna van Moyland, "The IAEA's Safeguards Program '93+2': Progress and Challenges," Disarmament Diplomacy, No.11 (December 1996).

11. In 2005, after two years of work to detail Iran's covert nuclear program, for instance, the director-general called on Iran to provide cooperation and transparency above and beyond that required by the Model Additional Protocol. IAEA, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," GOV/2005/67, September 2, 2005, para. 50 ("such transparency measures should extend beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol"). See IAEA Board of Governors, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," GOV/2006/14, February 4, 2006, op. para. 1 (deeming it necessary for Iran to "implement transparency measures...which extend beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol"). Another aspect of the agency's authorities is that they require some nexus to nuclear material, meaning that most aspects of nuclear weaponization remain outside the agency's mandate to investigate, absent the cooperation of the suspected violator, even if the agency is in receipt of evidence that such activities are ongoing. See IAEA Board of Governors, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," GOV/2005/67, September 2, 2005, para. 49 (noting that the IAEA's "legal authority to pursue the verification of possible nuclear weapons related activity is limited").

12. Indeed, the Model Additional Protocol was explicitly expected not to be required for the nuclear-weapon states. Had the situation been otherwise, its provisions would of necessity been far less intrusive. Although the United States has adopted the Model Additional Protocol in its entirety, on the important condition that it be able to apply a national security exclusion where needed, the protocols adopted by the other nuclear-weapon states have varying degrees of applicability. In no case do they match the Model Additional Protocol. In effect, this is a concrete example of the argument I suggest about an FMCT. Making the Model Additional Protocol universal and nondiscriminatory would have kept it from being particularly useful in helping prevent nuclear weapons proliferation: it could either include authorities that would help with the detection of undeclared activities in non-nuclear-weapon states or it could apply equally to all. It could not do both.

13. For a discussion of recent NSG discussions, see Miles A. Pomper, "Nuclear Suppliers Make Progress on New Rules," Arms Control Today, December 2008, p. 52.

14. The term "nondiscrimination" is unfortunate. Powerfully evocative of generations of legally sanctioned racial and religious prejudice in countries around the globe, the phrase is usually taken in its diplomatic context to mean that all countries should be treated identically. The NPT, for example, is said to be discriminatory because it has one set of rules for recognized possessors of nuclear weapons and one set for non-nuclear-weapon states. It is a category error, however, to assume that treating different countries differently should always be offensive in the way that is racial discrimination. After all, racial prejudice offends our morals because it treats people as being fundamentally different who are in fact fundamentally alike. By contrast, treating a state that possesses nuclear weapons differently than a nonpossessor for purposes of regulating nuclear technology within a nonproliferation regime is not to commit discrimination but instead to recognize and act on a contextually meaningful difference. To refuse to treat unlike things differently is not being nondiscriminatory, it is being indiscriminate, which in other contexts, at least, is often reckoned crude and foolish. In some circumstances, one-size-fits-all rules are not very wise.

15. IAEA, "The Structure and Content of Agreements Between the Agency and States Required in Connection With the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons," INFCIRC/153 (Corrected), June 1972, para. 14.

16. Brazil, a country that entertained nuclear weapons ambitions in the past, today claims to be pursuing a nuclear submarine program and already conducts uranium enrichment at its Resende facility under conditions partially concealed from IAEA inspectors. One might wonder whether this is something that supporters of the safeguards system really wish to encourage or to afford a patina of legitimacy under paragraph 14.

17. Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, art. II (hereinafter NPT). The treaty opened for signature on July 1, 1968, and entered into force on March 5, 1970.

18. See U.S. Department of State, "Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments," August 2005, pp. 64-65, www.state.gov/documents/organization/52113.pdf.

19. NPT, art. IX(3) ("For the purposes of this Treaty, a nuclear-weapon State is one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967.")

20. This discussion assumes that the right number, in this regard, is indeed eight and not nine. North Korea has promised to abandon its nuclear programs and return to the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state and should be held to this commitment.

21. As articulated by U.S. negotiator Paul Nitze during the negotiations with the Soviet Union on the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty during the 1980s, "effective verification" meant in part that "if the other side moves beyond the limits of the treaty in any militarily significant way, we would be able to detect such violation in time to respond effectively and thereby deny the other side the benefit of the violation." During the negotiations with Russia that led to START, Secretary of State James Baker added the qualification that effective verification must also be able to detect "patterns of marginal violations that do not present immediate risk to U.S. security." David Hafemeister, "The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: Effectively Verifiable," Arms Control Today, October 2008, p. 6-7.

22. A contemporary example of the importance of this last factor can be found in the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT). Despite their general inability to confirm specific Russian warhead levels, U.S. officials found additional verification mechanisms to be unnecessary in part because they assessed that Moscow could not maintain Cold War warhead stocks anyway and wished for its own reasons to reduce Russia's holdings more or less to the very levels contemplated by the treaty. There was felt to be no particular need to worry about significant levels of cheating under the SORT.

23. Ironically, even this qualification would not apply at very low nuclear-weapon-state warhead levels, when it would presumably become impossible to live with the unavoidably significant FMCT verification uncertainties because any production of fissile material for weapons purposes anywhere could represent a grave challenge to the global balance of power. At the point of a disarmament "zero," of course, this problem is the most acute. The more progress is made toward nuclear disarmament, therefore, the more untenable an FMCT verification regime would become. This is an ironic point apparently not recognized by many disarmament advocates.

The context of a U.S.-Soviet (or U.S.-Russian) nuclear balance with large numbers of warheads and delivery systems may have allowed effective verifiability to be more easily achieved in past superpower arms control negotiations than it is becoming in the international community's post-Cold War struggles with issues of nonproliferation and disarmament. Applying the Nitze-Baker "military significance" test in the nuclear weapons proliferation context or, rather more hypothetically, with regard to issues of nuclear disarmament at very small arsenal levels and especially at zero would surely be particularly demanding. As noted above, uncertainty about the possible existence of an extra handful of weapons here or there might perhaps have been acceptable in the context of a Cold War nuclear standoff between parties already possessing many thousands of such devices. The threshold of military significance arrives much more quickly where at issue is the potential arrival of a completely new player in the nuclear weapons business or one country's achievement of breakout from a nuclear weapons abolition regime. There can be very little margin for error in these latter cases, precisely because preventing acquisition of the marginal weapon is the whole point of the exercise. For today's nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament challenges, therefore, one should not be surprised to find decision-makers frequently needing more in order to achieve effective verification than was necessary for Cold War arms control.

 

Arms Experts Correct the Record on Iran Uranium Claims

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Experts at the nonpartisan Arms Control Association (ACA) urged senior U.S. officials and the media to exhibit greater care to accurately state what is known about Iran's nuclear capabilities. The experts highlighted the confusion created over the weekend by inaccurate portrayals of the type of nuclear material Iran has produced which suggested that Tehran was closer to a nuclear weapon than public U.S. intelligence and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports indicate. (Continue)

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For Immediate Release: March 2, 2009
Press Contacts: Greg Thielmann, (202) 463-8270 x103 and Peter Crail, (202) 463-8270 x102

Experts at the nonpartisan Arms Control Association (ACA) urged senior U.S. officials and the media to exhibit greater care to accurately state what is known about Iran's nuclear capabilities. The experts highlighted the confusion created over the weekend by inaccurate portrayals of the type of nuclear material Iran has produced which suggested that Tehran was closer to a nuclear weapon than public U.S. intelligence and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports indicate.

Responding to a question on CNN's "State of the Union" Mar. 1 regarding whether Iran has enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen stated "we think they do, quite frankly, and Iran having a nuclear weapon, I've believed for a long time, is a very, very bad outcome for the region and for the world."

The question was based on a Feb. 19 IAEA report which found that Iran has now stockpiled approximately 1010 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (LEU), an amount which, theoretically, could be enough to make material for a weapon if enriched further. The question confused this stockpile with fissile material, which is either highly-enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium. LEU cannot be used in a nuclear weapon.

"Mullen's answer unfortunately contributed to this confusion and suggested that the United States believes that Iran has already created the material needed for a nuclear weapon, which does not seem to be the case according to published U.S. intelligence assessments," stated Greg Thielmann, senior fellow with ACA. Thielmann directs ACA's new "Realistic Threats and Responses" project.

Mullen's spokesman, Captain John Kirby, later offered a correction to CNN, stating that Mullen was only referring to the LEU identified in the IAEA report.

"The confusion surrounding the question of what material Iran has and whether or not it has enough for a weapon demonstrates the need to be precise when defining what we know about Iran's capabilities, especially considering the impact such assessments may have on public perception," said Peter Crail, a research analyst for ACA.

"Low-enriched uranium is not fissile material and the IAEA did not say that Iran had any of the latter," Crail noted.  "But with headlines running over the past week stating that Iran had enough material for a bomb, one could easily assume there was not much of a difference," he added.

The stockpile of LEU cited in the IAEA report remains under agency safeguards. In order to use this material for a weapon, Iran would need to remove it from agency containment and surveillance and enrich it further to the high levels needed for a weapon. Iran's declared enrichment facility at Natanz is not currently configured to carry out this additional enrichment and doing so would require actions that would be detected by IAEA inspectors. Accordingly, the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessed that Iran would most likely use a clandestine facility to produce HEU if it decided to build a weapon. It is not known whether Iran has such a secret facility at present.

The U.S. intelligence community also continues to assess that Iran is still some time from having enough HEU for a weapon. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said in Senate testimony Feb. 15, "Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame."

"There are a number of reasons for this timeframe, including assumptions about the efficiency Iran has demonstrated in running its centrifuges,"  Thielmann stressed.

When asked Mar. 1 on NBC's "Meet the Press" about the possibility of getting Iran to abandon nuclear weapons, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates offered a measured answer, stating that the Iranians are "not close to a stockpile, they're not close to a weapon at this point and so there is some time," to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

"Gates underscored an important point regarding what we know about Iran's capabilities and what it means for our strategy," Thielmann said. "His remarks imply that there has been no change in the intelligence community's 2007 assessment that Iran halted its covert nuclear weapons program in the Fall of 2003. If Iran is still some time from having sufficient material for a weapon, and indeed, has not made a decision to develop and test a weapon, there is still time for a diplomatic strategy to try to walk Iran away from such a course," argued Thielmann.

"In terms of the bigger picture, what is far more worrisome than Iran's stockpile of LEU under IAEA safeguards is the fact that Tehran is not providing the agency with broader access under the agency's Additional Protocol so that it can better detect any undeclared nuclear activities in the country, including through the monitoring of Iran's centrifuge manufacturing efforts," Crail asserted. "The public focus on the known nuclear material seems to gloss over the more critical risk of Iranian efforts that may occur, or may be occurring in secret," he said.

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EU Pledges Funds for IAEA Fuel Bank

The European Union Dec. 8 pledged 25 million euros (about $33 million) toward the establishment of a nuclear fuel bank under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The EU contribution means that supporters have come close to meeting the initial financial requirements set down by a nongovernmental organization and IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei for establishing the fuel reserve. (Continue)

Miles A. Pomper

The European Union Dec. 8 pledged 25 million euros (about $33 million) toward the establishment of a nuclear fuel bank under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The EU contribution means that supporters have come close to meeting the initial financial requirements set down by a nongovernmental organization and IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei for establishing the fuel reserve.

Interest in such a fuel bank has grown in recent years amid increasing concerns that global tensions over Iran's uranium-enrichment program may be the first in a series of future crises, spurring governments and private organizations from nuclear supplier countries to step forward with new efforts to limit the spread of nuclear fuel-cycle technology. It is not clear if the steps will be enough to dissuade additional countries from undertaking activities that can provide either fuel for nuclear reactors or critical materials for nuclear weapons.

The EU pledge follows on a September 2006 offer from billionaire Warren Buffett in conjunction with the nongovernmental Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). Buffett pledged to provide $50 million to the IAEA to fund "a last-resort fuel reserve for nations that have made the sovereign choice to develop their nuclear energy based on foreign sources of fuel supply services and therefore have no indigenous enrichment facilities." The money would be used to create a stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to be manufactured into nuclear fuel, available for countries whose supplies of nuclear fuel were cut off for purely political reasons.

Buffett's offer was initially contingent on one or more IAEA member states contributing an additional $100 million in funds or an equivalent amount of LEU within two years and on agency member states agreeing on a political framework to manage such a stockpile. At ElBaradei's request, Buffett and the NTI extended the deadline for meeting the conditions until September 2009 after states pledged some but not all of the required $100 million. Other states that have pledged funds include the United States ($50 million), the United Arab Emirates ($10 million), and Norway ($5 million). After the EU pledge, only about $2-3 million is needed to meet Buffett's requirements.

ElBaradei told IAEA board members in March 2008 that he did not plan to approach them to establish the fuel bank or the rules to govern it until sufficient funding had been pledged. Javier Solana, the EU's top foreign policy official, told a Brussels conference Dec. 9 that the EU contribution "will allow the IAEA to finalize the modalities for the bank, so the IAEA board can approve it."

Solana added that "[w]e want the bank to be established very soon. In any case, before the next NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] review conference in spring 2010" and said he was "convinced that the creation of a fuel bank will have a positive impact on the general climate" of that once-every-five-years gathering. The next opportunity the IAEA board would likely have to consider the matter would be at its March 2009 session.

NTI Vice President Laura Holgate said she hoped that the March meeting might direct the IAEA Secretariat and board to finalize the terms and conditions for the fuel bank in time for the board to vote on the matter this June or September. Of particular importance, she said, will be for potential consuming nations to become involved in negotiations, something from which they have shied away until now.

"Consuming nations need to be constructively a part of the conversation," Holgate said.

Solana also noted that the "fuel bank is not exclusive in its character. There are parallel initiatives and ideas that may prove useful to different situations."

Several other fuel cycle initiatives have been floated, with the most advanced being a Russian plan to establish a multinational enrichment center and fuel bank at Angarsk in Siberia. In 2007 the Russian Duma approved enabling legislation that would grant countries the right to participate financially in the facility. In addition, Russia began exploring a means through which a separate LEU stockpile could be set aside under IAEA safeguards for the use of IAEA member states.

Since then, Armenia and Kazakhstan have joined the facility, and Ukraine is on the verge of doing so. Russia's ownership share is slated to drop to 51 percent as other partners are admitted. In order to address concerns regarding the spread of technology, the International Uranium Enrichment Center will be structured in such a way that no enrichment technology or classified knowledge will be accessible to the foreign participants.

In a recent interview with Arms Control Today, Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United States, likened the Angarsk plan to "offering a Mercedes if you know how to shift gears and drive the car, but there will be somebody else, specialists, who will take care of your engine." (See ACT, December 2008.)

In December 2007, the Russian government took the decision to include the Angarsk enrichment center in the list of facilities it is willing to submit to IAEA safeguards. Safeguards are to be applied, in particular, to a 120-ton LEU stockpile that is to be set aside as a fuel bank in the event of a supply disruption for political reasons unrelated to nonproliferation.

Russia wants the IAEA to apply safeguards to the uranium materials at the facility, including feed uranium, enriched uranium, and uranium tails. Russia's atomic energy chief, Sergey Kiriyenko, told the IAEA General Conference in September that he was confident that the facility would "receive before the end of the year all necessary licenses to go into operation." No such agreement has been finalized.

Some analysts say that a final agreement has been held up in part because Moscow wants to ensure that its enrichment technology remains a secret. It is also unclear who will cover the cost of IAEA inspections.

Yet, Russian officials say a final agreement has been held up because of a dispute between the Russian government and the IAEA over which countries should be eligible to receive fuel from the facility. IAEA officials say that all IAEA members should be eligible to draw from the fuel bank.

Russian law, however, requires Moscow to follow Nuclear Suppliers Group criteria that limits such trade to states that have signed the NPT and have full-scope IAEA safeguards, aside from India, which won an exemption from such rules in September.

Similar issues could hinder the NTI effort as well, Russian officials caution, particularly as U.S. law contains similar requirements.

 

NNSA Reports Progress in HEU Removal

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced Oct. 7 that it had completely removed U.S.-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Germany as part of its Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). With this action, the NNSA has so far removed all U.S.-origin HEU from a total of 16 countries. In 2008, material has been removed from Argentina, Portugal, and Romania. (Continue)

Manasi Kakatkar

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced Oct. 7 that it had completely removed U.S.-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Germany as part of its Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). With this action, the NNSA has so far removed all U.S.-origin HEU from a total of 16 countries. In 2008, material has been removed from Argentina, Portugal, and Romania.

HEU can be used to fuel nuclear reactors or serve as the fissile material for nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates that 25 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium is sufficient for a nuclear weapon.

This year the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency of the Department of Energy, has also successfully converted research reactors from using HEU to using low-enriched uranium (LEU) in Argentina, South Africa, and Ukraine and at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Uzbekistan. All told, the NNSA has converted or shut down 62 HEU research reactors in 32 countries, including the United States. By 2018, the NNSA plans to have converted 129 of 209 research reactors to LEU. The remaining 78 reactors, NNSA officials said, cannot be converted as they are used for defense purposes or have a unique design.

The countries that agree to convert HEU reactors to LEU have their fresh and spent HEU and spent LEU shipped to the United States for secure disposition. Under the GTRI, the United States will accept U.S.-origin spent fuel from foreign reactors until 2019.

The U.S.-origin nuclear fuel return program undertaken since the 1990s has successfully removed more than 1,190 kilograms of HEU fuel from 27 countries. Since 2004, it has been a part of the GTRI.

Under the GTRI, the United States and Russia work closely together to remove fresh and spent HEU fuel. In February 2005, the two countries issued a Joint Statement on Nuclear Security noting that although the security of nuclear facilities in their countries meets current requirements, each country would work to safeguard their nuclear materials and facilities better. (See ACT, March 2005.)

Russia started accepting Russian-origin HEU fuel under its Russian Research Reactor Fuel Return program in 2002. It has so far received 764.4 kilograms of HEU fuel from 11 countries, including complete removal from Bulgaria and Latvia. On Oct. 23, NNSA officials announced that Russia had received its largest return shipment of HEU to date: 154.4 kilograms of spent HEU fuel. The HEU, retrieved from Hungary in October 2008, was said by the private Nuclear Threat Initiative to be enough for six nuclear weapons. Russia down-blends all received fuel to levels where the fissile isotope uranium-235 makes up less than 20 percent of the total uranium mix, an insufficient enrichment level for a nuclear explosive device.

Speaking Oct. 6 to an international gathering of experts seeking to reduce HEU use in research and test reactors, IAEA Deputy Director-General Yury Sokolov applauded the GTRI’s achievements. Sokolov also expressed concern that “about 150 civilian and military research reactors are still using HEU, and important quantities of fresh and spent HEU fuel continues to be stored in different countries.” He called for greater global action to eliminate civilian and eventually military use of HEU, for countries to declare their HEU stockpiles, and for states to establish a schedule to down-blend this material into LEU. Sokolov said, “The major obstacles to further minimization and eventual elimination of HEU are political and economic, not technical.”


Hill Pushes Russian Weapons Uranium Elimination

Congress approved legislation Sept. 27 intended to pressure Russia to continue and expand a program that down-blends Russian weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel for U.S. nuclear power plants. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced Sept. 8 that President George W. Bush was withdrawing from congressional consideration a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia. (Continue)

Miles A. Pomper

Congress approved legislation Sept. 27 intended to pressure Russia to continue and expand a program that down-blends Russian weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel for U.S. nuclear power plants. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced Sept. 8 that President George W. Bush was withdrawing from congressional consideration a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia.

The uranium legislation, drafted by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and included as part of a bill temporarily funding government operations until next year, would effectively alter an agreement that U.S. and Russian negotiators signed Feb. 1. That agreement was intended to govern Russia’s ability, particularly after 2013, to export LEU to the United States for use in U.S. nuclear power plants. If enacted, the United States would eventually concede about 20 percent of the U.S. LEU market to Russia, but the legislation would not dictate whether this fuel originated as natural uranium or from weapons. (See ACT, April 2008.)

Since 1993, the United States has restricted imports of Russian LEU to those that came from uranium down-blended from weapons-grade HEU. That Megatons to Megawatts program has down-blended more than 337 tons of HEU and is slated to down-blend another 163 tons before it expires in 2013. But Russia, which would prefer to take the more lucrative path of enriching natural uranium in its underused enrichment facilities, has successfully challenged the U.S. restrictions at the U.S. Court of International Trade, threatening both the current and future accords. In doing so, Russia has followed a precedent set by the European enrichment consortium Eurodif. The Eurodif case was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in September 2007, but the Bush administration has appealed that case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear it in November.

Domenici’s amendment would provide Russia with incentives to down-blend another 300 metric tons of HEU after 2013, enough for more than 10,000 nuclear weapons. According to the International Panel on Fissile Materials, an independent experts group, Russia has well more than 600 metric tons of HEU in its weapons stockpile not subject to the current agreement, compared to about 250 metric tons for the United States.

Domenici’s amendment would limit Russia’s export of enriched natural uranium after 2013 to 17 percent of the U.S. market until it had reached the 300-metric-ton goal. But if Russia continued to down-blend uranium at its current rate, it would grant Russian exporters as much as 25 percent of the U.S. market. The measure also seeks to cut off Russian access to the U.S. market if Russia abandons the February agreement.

The congressional action followed only a few weeks after Rice’s announcement. Her decision was not surprising given the lack of congressional support for the pact in the wake of Russia’s August military confrontation with Georgia and amid concern from many lawmakers about Russia’s nuclear ties to Iran. (See ACT, September 2008.)

“Unfortunately, given the current environment, the time is not right for this agreement,” Rice said in a statement. “We will reevaluate the situation at a later date as we follow developments closely.” Effectively, however, a decision on whether and when to proceed with the agreement will be left to the next president.

The Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), has generally adopted a very tough stand on Russia. The Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), has said that Russia’s decision to recognize the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia “makes it impossible for Congress to enact the civil nuclear agreement.”

In a Sept. 9 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the U.S. action, saying that “[w]e see the decision of President George W. Bush…to pull the agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy as mistaken and politicized.”

Russian officials did, however, leave the door open to future cooperation. “Whatever the decisions at the current time, we consider that it is a promising area for mutual cooperation and Russia and America will definitely cooperate, if not now then in the future,” said First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.

In a related matter, a nuclear cooperation agreement between Russia and Australia is also foundering after the Russian-Georgian conflict. Russia and Australia in September 2007 signed the pact, which could provide Russia with additional uranium for nuclear power programs worth as much as $1 billion per year. (See ACT, October 2007.) Russia has the world’s largest share of uranium-enrichment capacity but far more limited uranium-mining capabilities.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said last year that Russia has “a sufficient” and even “excessive supply of weapons-grade uranium, but plans to build 30 nuclear power stations in the next 15 years and needs…Australian uranium to ensure their operation.” Russian officials have said the agreement could lead to the importation of as much as 4,000 tons of Australian uranium (more than Russia currently produces) each year. Australia has the world’s largest uranium reserves.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told the Australian parliament on Sept. 1 that the future of the agreement would be affected by Russia’s relations with Georgia. “When the government comes to consider ratification of the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement with the Russian Federation, we will take into account not just the merits of the agreement, but events which have occurred in Georgia and ongoing events in Georgia and the state of Australia’s bilateral relationship with the Russian Federation,” Smith said.

Prodding the government, the Australian parliament’s Treaties Committee urged Sept. 18 that uranium sales not move forward until Moscow clearly separates civilian and nuclear facilities and until the International Atomic Energy Agency can carry out inspections in Russia. Such inspections are not required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in nuclear-weapon states such as Russia.

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