Universal Transparency: A Goal for the U.S. at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit
Global quantitative transparency of nuclear arsenals and fissile materials (universal transparency) is an indispensable complement to arms reduction treaties. It is a necessary element in creating a path to disarmament that can be traveled by all nuclear-weapon states.
For the purposes of this article, that category includes the five countries that have nuclear weapons and are parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—as well as four states that are outside the NPT framework and have or are widely presumed to have nuclear weapons: India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea. The first three have never been part of the NPT.
Universal transparency is important for numerous reasons, but its primary aim should be a meaningful demonstration of a commitment to global security by removing the unnecessary secrecy surrounding nuclear weapons programs while preserving truly necessary secrecy, such as weapons designs. Undoubtedly, for some states, universal transparency will be a difficult pill to swallow, and some concessions will have to be made to take account of their particular geopolitical and threat environments. Also, transparency declarations ultimately will have to be confirmed by verification measures. Nevertheless, transparency should be seen as an essential tool to demonstrate a state’s tangible commitment to the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons and unsecured weapons-usable fissile materials worldwide. By being open about their stockpiles of weapons and materials, states remove the justification for excessive hedging by their nuclear-armed rivals. Similarly, such transparency could help undermine the rationale for maintaining or pursuing a nuclear weapons capability by countries beyond the current nuclear powers, although transparency is very unlikely to be sufficient for that purpose unless it is combined with other substantive measures.
In April 2010, President Barack Obama hosted a nuclear security summit; of the nine states in question, only
• Develop a concrete path and time frame for complete declarations of nuclear arsenals and fissile material stocks by all states possessing nuclear weapons and significant stockpiles of fissile materials.
• Discuss and define acceptable technical and procedural measures that will demonstrate confidence in the accuracy and credibility of state declarations of nuclear arsenals and fissile materials.
• Outline a timeline, agenda, and potential forum for inclusion of the accounting and verification of fissile material in waste within the process of universal transparency.
The 2012 summit has the potential for enormous success if it can accomplish most or all of the above suggestions on the eventual universal transparency of nuclear warheads and fissile materials. In addition, the international community must come forward with tangible support of the numerous commitments that the Obama administration and several
The Importance of Disclosure
In 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was the first politician to disclose the arsenal of a nuclear-weapon state, 300 active nuclear warheads that would be reduced to about 290. In 2010 the United States announced it had 5,113 active and inactive warheads, marking the first time a nuclear-weapon state had specified the total number of warheads in its arsenal. After the
The equally important unilateral declarations of stockpiles of plutonium and HEU that the
The British, French, and
Open-source reporting on the
Discrepancies in inventory already have been a significant issue during the declarations of fissile materials by the United States and the United Kingdom. The sooner a state discloses its fissile material inventory, the less problematic it will be for that government to account accurately for the material and to bring to the fore the question of how residual uncertainties will be handled in the disarmament process. The
Transparency among nuclear-weapon states is essential as a benchmark for disarmament and provides tangible evidence of a commitment to disarmament. The
Transparency and the Non-NPT States
One way to see the critical importance of transparency as a symbol of disarmament in relation to the three non-NPT nuclear-weapon states that were present at the 2010 nuclear security summit is to consider their stance on the NPT. Because the NPT would require them to become parties as non-nuclear-weapon states, they have rejected the treaty and are unlikely to change their position in the foreseeable future. Transparency among the NPT nuclear-weapon states is one step that could foster more trust and bring the non-NPT nuclear-weapon states further into the nonproliferation regime.
In that context, the recent nuclear security summit represented a significant development with regard to the three non-NPT nuclear-weapon states. They were at the summit and approved the communiqué, as did a number of Middle Eastern states. Although observers have noted the relatively weak content of the communiqué, there has been little attention to the historic first that three non-NPT nuclear-weapon states agreed to a near-global consensus document on securing all fissile materials in a very short time. The international community has not seized on the strategic significance of this action in the context of disarmament. The NPT nuclear-weapon states now have a novel diplomatic pathway to begin bringing non-NPT nuclear-weapon states into the transparency process at an early stage of disarmament.
Delineating steps toward fissile material declarations, in the context of the 2012 nuclear summit, would not constrain the non-NPT nuclear-weapon states in the same way that declaring their nuclear arsenals would, but it likely still will be a significant challenge. For example,
Also important is some of the transparency language that appeared in the final document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference. Among several other statements in support of increased nuclear-weapon-state transparency, the most notable is in paragraph 94: “The Conference notes the increased transparency of some nuclear-weapon States with respect to the number of nuclear weapons in their national inventories and encourages all nuclear-weapon States to provide additional transparency in this regard.” Action 16 in the document includes language supporting declarations to the IAEA by nuclear-weapon states of all fissile materials designated excess to military purposes. There are also references in the final document to adhering to the 13 “practical steps” that were agreed at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, with step 9 calling for “increased transparency by the nuclear-weapon States with regard to the[ir] nuclear weapons capabilities.” One other venue where universal transparency will be essential is in the development of an FMCT in the Conference on Disarmament.
Tracking Fissile Materials
Uncertainties in fissile material quantities arising from measurement errors, holdup in production equipment, and discards to waste can be much larger than amounts needed to produce a single nuclear bomb. The problem is well known in the civilian sector. For instance, it took two years to resolve an accounting discrepancy of 70 kilograms of plutonium—enough for several bombs—in Japan’s civilian plutonium-fuel fabrication facility; fortunately it ultimately was discovered that most of it was held up as dust in plant equipment. Similar problems exist in the military sector. Addressing uncertainties on fissile material in waste will become an increasingly important issue, especially during the advanced stages of disarmament of each state’s nuclear arsenal. The inability at least to attempt to account for this material fully will be a concern with regard to any state that has a nuclear breakout capability.
The importance of this issue came to public notice as part of the openness initiative of Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary in the mid-1990s. Compilation of plutonium-production records leading up to the publication of the 1996 Department of Energy report “Plutonium: The First 50 Years” revealed two types of accounts for plutonium in waste. The first set of numbers is in an Energy Department safeguards account, known as the Nuclear Materials Management and Safeguards System (NMMSS); the second set is reported by the waste and environmental management operations of Energy Department sites. The amounts of waste in the two accounts did not match. Even though the data had the appearance of accuracy, reporting each waste number to the nearest 0.01 kilogram, the cumulative discrepancy between the two accounts was multiple orders of magnitude greater than that amount. There was some confusion as to whether they were tracking the same thing. The Energy Department expressed confidence in the plutonium-inventory declaration, saying that even small inventory differences were “always carefully investigated.”
Yet, the mere exercise of compiling the military plutonium inventory did not bear out this confidence. The problem was deemed serious enough that O’Leary formed a working group “to resolve differences from these [materials accounting] methods, and to make recommendations on the appropriateness of making changes to how [the Energy Department] tracks its plutonium inventories.” No public information is available on the outcome of the working group’s investigation, if there was one. It remains unclear which of the two numbers was correct or, indeed, if both were inaccurate and to what degree.
The critical importance of transparency is made eminently clear here. The very exercise of compiling data for public release in the
Fissile material accounting in production processes, including discards to waste, in other states possessing nuclear weapons is unlikely to be better. Whether or not it is, attempting to account for the significant amounts of fissile materials in waste, at least in
Other states possessing nuclear weapons or producing unsafeguarded nuclear materials in much smaller quantities might have an advantage of not having to account for such large legacy or current amounts of fissile material. To ensure that they do not create a legacy issue with these materials as well, such states should attempt to adopt accurate and, when possible, more transparent accounting methods from the start.
Fissile material in waste is a sensitive area of transparency that cannot be ignored. All states involved in the 2012 summit should address it as part of topics covering fissile materials.
Transparency has been an imperative for Obama since he took office. This priority has been demonstrated by his administration’s numerous commitments to nonproliferation and disarmament that involve transparency in some form. In order to meet these commitments, the
Bill Richardson was governor of
1. Universal transparency of nuclear arsenals and fissile materials is a flexible concept in that a state may consider declaring only deployed nuclear warheads or only excess military fissile materials. The recommendation of this article is for consideration of all forms of nuclear warheads, both active and reserve, and all fissile material inventories, including those in waste. Such a definition provides a more thorough and meaningful interpretation of quantitative transparency (transparency with regard to numbers and quantities, rather than characteristics such as whether a weapons system has been upgraded). In this article, the term “universal transparency” refers to the more expansive definition.
2. Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “French Nuclear Forces, 2008,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 64, No. 4 (September/October 2008), pp. 52-54, http://thebulletin.metapress.com/content/k01h5q0wg50353k5/fulltext.pdf.
3. The Department of Defense’s definition of active and inactive is the following: “Active warheads include strategic and nonstrategic weapons maintained in an operational, ready-for-use configuration, warheads that must be ready for possible deployment within a short timeframe, and logistics spares. They have tritium bottles and other Limited Life Components installed. Inactive warheads are maintained at a depot in a non-operational status, and have their tritium bottles removed.” See www.defense.gov/npr/docs/10-05-03_fact_sheet_us_nuclear_transparency__final_w_date.pdf 10/14/2010.
5. Global civilian fissile material stockpiles of about 250 metric tons of plutonium and 70 metric tons of HEU (only 1.3 metric tons of HEU are under voluntary-offer agreements in NPT nuclear-weapon states) are essentially all declared and under IAEA safeguards. In the case of the five NPT nuclear-weapon states, the IAEA arrangements are “voluntary” because these states are not required to have inspections even for civil nuclear materials under the NPT. Civilian fissile materials in
6. International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), “Global Fissile Material Report 2009: Fourth Annual Report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials,” 2009, p. 32. See Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Fact Sheet:
9. Examples of difficult materials-accounting problems include estimating plutonium and HEU in defense radioactive wastes or in various other nonrecoverable forms, such as holdup in pipes and ventilation systems.
11. Article VI states: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
14. Chad T. Olinger et al. “Measurement Approaches to Support Future Arms Control Transparency,” paper submitted to the 39th annual meeting of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management, LA-UR 98-3115, 1998.
15. The first, from the NMMSS, is reported from within the safeguarded areas and maintained as the master account of nuclear materials. The second is related to waste storage and disposal practices and impact assessments. It has not had any particular security status, despite the large amounts of fissile materials involved.
The potential for transparency to provide an opening in tough situations was illustrated in December 2010 during an unofficial visit by a U.S. delegation I led to North Korea at the invitation of Kim Kye Gwan, the former nuclear envoy and now first vice minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The goal of our delegation, which arrived in the midst of high tension and the possibility of war, was to help reduce the tension on the Korean peninsula.
We discussed the nuclear issue in some detail. The North Korean leadership stated that they have enough nuclear weapons and that they want a centrifuge uranium-enrichment plant for energy purposes. Moreover, they said that denuclearization was the last wish of their “Great Leader,” Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994. They said they are ready for dialogue or confrontation and that denuclearization depends on
Establishing a process through which
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