"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."
– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
Press Releases

U.S., Russia to Retrieve Reactor Fuel

Christine Kucia

U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham and Russian atomic energy minister Alexander Rumyantsev issued a joint statement Nov. 7 pledging to cooperate in retrieving Soviet- and Russian-supplied weapons-grade nuclear fuel from 20 research reactors in 17 countries.

According to Abraham, the agreement “reaffirms our common objective of reducing, and to the extent possible, ultimately eliminating the use of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) in civil nuclear activity.” U.S. and Russian authorities working with the International Atomic Energy Agency will return weapons-usable HEU from foreign research reactors to Russia. The initiative will also provide assistance to reactor operators to convert their facilities so they can be fueled with proliferation-resistant low-enriched uranium.

This bilateral program builds upon previous efforts to retrieve nuclear fuel from insecure sites. Authorities retrieved 48 kg of fuel from a reactor in Serbia in August 2002 and removed 14 kg of weapons-grade uranium from a defunct Romanian research reactor in September 2003. (See ACT, October 2003.)
A government-to-government agreement outlining the specific reactors and the timeline for action will be signed in late November or early December, Rumyantsev said Nov. 7.





U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham and Russian atomic energy minister Alexander Rumyantsev...

WMD Security Draws U.S. Government Attention

Christine Kucia

The Bush administration recently launched several programs to deal with securing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) worldwide, particularly radiological materials that could be combined with conventional explosives to form so-called dirty bombs.

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Nov. 3 formed a Nuclear Radiological Threat Reduction Task Force to control radiological materials by identifying and securing high-risk materials—especially abandoned sources—both in the United States and overseas, and identifying vulnerable research reactors worldwide needing further assistance securing their fresh and spent nuclear fuel. The task force will consolidate the Energy Department’s efforts in the United States and abroad.

According to NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks, the effort “shows Secretary [of Energy Spencer] Abraham’s commitment to meeting the threat posed by nuclear and radiological terrorism on a global basis.” Edward McGinnis, head of the task force, told Arms Control Today Nov. 18 that the program will address the “full spectrum” of threat reduction by not only providing security for radiological materials “but also [by] working [with governments] to develop a regulatory infrastructure, and an effective one.” The new program will work closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the State Department.

The Energy Department task force is, in part, an attempt to address concerns raised in an August 2003 General Accounting Office (GAO) report on the security of radiological sources in the United States. According to the GAO, the United States has approximately 2 million sealed radioactive sources that may be used in medicine, construction, or other industries. More than 1,300 incidents of missing sources in the past five years showed inconsistencies in U.S. licensing and material control practices. Further, an April 2003 GAO report found that storage facilities for sensitive material are insufficient and that the Office of Environmental Management does not place a high priority on its domestic material recovery responsibilities. The Energy Department transferred this work to the task force. McGinnis noted that the task force’s consolidation of the department’s programs “does address very well that particular recommendation by the GAO that we ensure that importance is given organizationally” to securing dangerous materials in the United States.

Meanwhile, the Department of State has created a program to fill the gaps in international control of nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological materials. The Dangerous Materials Initiative was first mentioned by John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, in an Oct. 30 speech in London. Bolton told Arms Control Today Nov. 4 that the program “is intended to supplement a lot of the activity that we’ve had in export controls [and] border controls.” The initiative will focus on identifying needs that may not already be addressed by existing programs and helping countries develop near-term pilot projects that could lead to the establishment of long-term, sustainable systems of materials control. This new program aims to complement efforts already being carried out by the Energy Department and international agencies, according to the State Department.

Additionally, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is ramping up its efforts to prevent illegal WMD acquisition. The bureau formed a new WMD section to raise the profile of the threat domestically and to allocate additional resources to identify possible threats, prepare its response to potential attacks, and prosecute offenders. The new section will not be responsible for material control, which is already supervised by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Energy Department.




The Bush administration recently launched several programs to deal with securing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) worldwide, particularly...

Russian Withdrawal from Moldova, Georgia Lags

Wade Boese

More than a dozen years after the Soviet Union’s demise, Moscow continues to wrestle with the need to abandon some of the outposts of its formerly far-flung empire.

Russia pledged in November 1999 that it would completely withdraw its armed forces from Moldova by the end of 2002 and would work out a schedule in 2000 for closing down its military bases in Georgia. Russia has so far failed to do either, and the two small former Soviet republics are increasingly anxious about the Kremlin’s intentions.

The 55-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which includes Russia, Moldova, and Georgia as well as the United States, announced last December that it looked “forward to early full implementation” of the Russian commitments. At that time, Moscow pledged to finish withdrawing from Moldova within the coming year.

European and Russian officials have acknowledged in the past several weeks that Russia will not meet that goal.

Russia has withdrawn 46 trainloads of weapons and ammunition from Moldova to date, but there is about an equal amount awaiting shipment back to Russia, according to OSCE estimates. OSCE spokesman Claus Neukirch projected Nov. 7 that it would take Russia five uninterrupted months to remove just the remaining ammunition. Yet, Russia’s withdrawal from Moldova has been fitful. Over a four-month period beginning this June, Russia managed only to ship out one trainload of arms.

Even when Russia finishes removing the approximately 26,000 tons of stockpiled ammunition, however, Russian troops and military hardware would remain on Moldovan territory. For example, Moscow has yet to withdraw an estimated 36 armored combat vehicles that it painted with red crosses and declared as ambulances.

The Kremlin faults armed separatists in the Transdniestria region of Moldova for slowing its withdrawal. The separatists have refused to allow equipment for destroying excess ammunition to be transferred into the region and have blocked trains loaded with weapons from departing. As compensation for Russia’s withdrawal, the separatists are demanding that a $100 million gas debt they owe Moscow be forgiven. This issue remains unsettled.

Russia has also failed to come to terms with Georgia over the length of time Russian forces will stay in that country. Georgia is demanding that Russia vacate the Georgian bases it occupies within three years, while Moscow wants to be able to withdraw over an 11-year period. The Kremlin contends that speeding up the withdrawal would require an additional $200 million.

The status of Russia’s withdrawal from both Moldova and Georgia is expected to be discussed at a Dec. 1-2 OSCE foreign ministers meeting in Maastricht, Netherlands.

Russia’s lagging withdrawal efforts are delaying entry into force of an adapted version of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, which limits the amount of heavy weaponry that can be deployed by its 30 states-parties. (See ACT, November 1999.) Led by the United States, the 19 members of NATO have repeatedly linked their ratification of the updated treaty with Russia fulfilling the commitments it made to OSCE member states at a 1999 ministerial meeting in Istanbul.






More than a dozen years after the Soviet Union’s demise, Moscow continues to wrestle with the need to abandon some of the outposts of its formerly far-flung empire.

Intelligence Agencies Clarify North Korea's Nuclear Capabilities

Paul Kerr

As U.S. diplomats move closer to restarting talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, intelligence analyses recently made public shed new light on Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities and political stability. In unclassified responses provided to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence earlier this year and made public by the Federation of American Scientists Oct. 31, intelligence officials say North Korea has attained a nuclear weapons capability without conducting a nuclear test. They also portray the Kim Jong Il regime as more stable than some Bush administration officials have indicated.

The CIA response, dated Aug. 18, said that “North Korea has produced one or two simple fission-type nuclear weapons and has validated the designs without conducting yield-producing nuclear tests.” Noting “press reports” that North Korea has conducted tests with conventional high explosives, the report added that such tests allow the North Koreans to verify their weapons designs. “There is no information to suggest that North Korea has conducted a successful nuclear test to date,” the CIA stated.

The CIA also observed that “conducting a nuclear test would be one option” for North Korea “to further escalate tensions and heighten regional fears in a bid to press Washington to negotiate” on Pyongyang’s terms. The report, however, added that North Korea “appears to view ambiguity regarding its nuclear capabilities as providing a tactical advantage,” noting that a nuclear weapons test could produce “an international backlash and further isolation.”

On the question of a suspected North Korean nuclear arsenal, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) response, dated June 30, stated that “North Korea has produced one, possibly two nuclear weapons.” Although a 2001 National Intelligence Estimate says the intelligence community reached the same conclusion in the mid-1990s, the intelligence community’s assessment of this question has at times varied. For example, a January 2003 CIA report to Congress stated that “North Korea probably has produced enough plutonium for at least one, and possibly two, nuclear weapons.”

North Korea has said it possesses nuclear weapons and has issued apparent threats to test them. (See ACT, November 2003.) Pyongyang’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Ri Yong Ho, told Reuters Nov. 7 that his country possesses a workable nuclear device.

Two intelligence agencies also addressed the question of North Korea’s stability. The Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research stated in its April 30 response that it does not “perceive [North Korea’s] collapse as imminent.” Similarly, the DIA asserted that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s “hold on power appears secure” and that the regime showed no indications of collapse from a declining economy.

Such assessments stand in contrast to Bush administration officials who have expressed the belief that economic pressure will induce Pyongyang to comply with administration demands that it dismantle its nuclear programs. For example, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz argued in May that North Korea “is teetering on the edge of economic collapse” and that this weakness “is a major point of leverage” for the United States and its allies.






As U.S. diplomats move closer to restarting talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, intelligence analyses recently made public shed new light on...

Congress Approves Syria Sanctions Bill

Karen Yourish

Congress has sent a bill to the White House that requires President George W. Bush to sanction Syria unless the country immediately halts development of ballistic missiles, stops producing biological and chemical weapons, ends its alleged support for terrorism, and withdraws from Lebanon. However, the bill provides the White House with broad authority to waive the penalties in the interest of national security. In acceding to the Senate’s version of the legislation Nov. 20, the House endorsed a more flexible measure that is supported by the Bush administration.

Representative Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the author of the original House bill, said after the 408-8 vote that the bill is “a fair approach to dealing with the threat that Syria poses to the stability of the Middle East and to American interests around the world.” Recognizing the watered-down nature of the measure, however, he urged the president to “strictly enforce this important legislation.”

The Bush administration was initially reluctant to impose sanctions on Syria, fearing it would make Mideast peace efforts more difficult. Administration officials changed their tune after warning Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, without success, that there would be consequences if Syria failed to stop its support for terrorism. (See ACT, November 2003.)

Ever the more cautious chamber, Senate leaders stressed the flexibility inherent in the measure. “The bill, as amended, adds to the tools available to the president to move Syria toward a more responsible course,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said on the floor prior to the Senate’s 89-4 vote on Nov. 11. He said the bill “provides the president with the ability to calibrate U.S. sanctions against Syria in response to positive Syrian behavior when such adjustment is in the national security interest of the United States.”




Congress has sent a bill to the White House that requires President George W. Bush to sanction Syria unless the country immediately halts development...

World Leaders Rethinking Key NPT Provision

Christine Kucia

Stung by the apparent strides of North Korea and Iran toward developing nuclear weapons, U.S. and international policymakers are rethinking Article IV of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In recent speeches, key officials have proposed changing the provision, which facilitates procurement of nuclear technology and material by non-nuclear weapon-states for peaceful applications if they agree not to build nuclear weapons. The changes would help prevent countries seeking nuclear weapons from gaining access to the materials needed to build a bomb.

“Recent events have made it clear that the nonproliferation regime is under growing stress,” Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the UN General Assembly Nov. 3. Reiterating an idea he expressed in an October interview with Arms Control Today, ElBaradei suggested that nonproliferation security structures needed to be overhauled. (See ACT, November 2003.) In his UN speech, ElBaradei recommended “limiting the processing of weapon[s]-usable material…in civilian nuclear programs—as well as the production of new material through reprocessing and enrichment—by agreeing to restrict these operations exclusively to facilities under multinational control.” He said controlling the availability of fissile material worldwide is crucial to allowing nuclear power development to proceed while guarding against the spread of nuclear weapons know-how.

ElBaradei’s annual report to the United Nations cites Iran’s breach of its safeguards agreements in developing its nuclear power fuel-cycle. He also expressed hope that North Korea would rejoin the nuclear nonproliferation regime. North Korea announced its withdrawal as a state-party to the NPT after announcing the existence of a uranium-enrichment program and restarting its suspended plutonium program. (See ACT, January/February 2003.) In response, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, which includes representatives of the United States, Japan, South Korea, and the European Union, told North Korea Nov. 21 that it would suspend its nuclear power assistance program, citing Pyongyang’s nonproliferation violations.

Russian atomic energy minister Alexander Rumyantsev and U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham offered similar perspectives of a fragile nonproliferation framework during their presentations to a meeting of the UN First Committee, which focuses on disarmament matters. Rumyantsev emphasized the security of nuclear and radiological materials worldwide. Russia, the United States, and the IAEA have been actively engaged in the retrieval of Soviet- and Russian-supplied highly enriched uranium from research reactors around the world in order to stem the proliferation threat posed by vulnerable stores of the weapons-usable material. Rumyantsev built upon a proposal offered by ElBaradei, suggesting “construction in the long term under IAEA auspices of several large international [spent nuclear fuel] handling centers.” Russia previously has suggested that it could host such centers, but no action has been taken to date.

Abraham called the NPT and IAEA “properly the center of the nuclear nonproliferation regime” but stressed that world leaders must “think about how to ensure that the essential ‘bargain’ between nuclear and non-nuclear states—a bargain central to advancing the underlying principles of Atoms for Peace—can be sustained into the future.”






Stung by the apparent strides of North Korea and Iran toward developing nuclear weapons, U.S. and international policymakers are rethinking Article IV of the 1968...

Iran Slapped for Clandestine Nuclear Activities

Paul Kerr

Closing a chapter in its months-long investigation of Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors adopted a resolution Nov. 26 condemning Iran’s pursuit of clandestine nuclear activities in violation of its IAEA safeguards agreement. The resolution follows a Nov. 10 report detailing Iran’s actions.

The resolution was finalized after a prolonged debate over the appropriate wording that would be used to condemn Tehran’s behavior. A Department of State official told Arms Control Today Nov. 21 that the United States, along with such countries as Australia and Canada, judged a draft resolution composed by several European countries as too weak in its criticism of Iran. Washington initially wanted the resolution to find Iran in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement, which would have required the board to refer the matter to the UN Security Council. But the U.S. official said that several countries, including Germany, had assured Iran that the issue would be handled solely by the IAEA.

As a result, the United States worked with other board members to craft alternate language to convey that Iran violated its safeguards agreement. The resolution notes with “concern” that Iran has demonstrated a “pattern of concealment resulting in breaches of safeguards obligations.” Furthermore, it includes a “trigger mechanism”—a key U.S. demand—that requires the board to meet immediately to consider all options at its disposal if “any further serious Iranian failures come to light.” Such actions could include referring the matter to the Security Council.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei presented a report that accuses Iran of repeatedly violating its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, but stops short of concluding that these activities constitute evidence of a nuclear weapons program. Safeguards agreements are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to ensure that member states do not divert civilian nuclear programs to military purposes.

ElBaradei told the board Nov. 20 that the IAEA needs additional time before it can conclude that “Iran’s program has been fully declared and is exclusively for peaceful purposes.”

U.S. officials contended that the agency’s report did not go far enough, arguing that its account of Iran’s nuclear activities confirmed Washington’s longheld suspicions that Tehran has a nuclear weapons program. U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Kenneth Brill stated Nov. 21 in Vienna that the report “makes unequivocally clear that Iran chose…to violate its safeguards obligations in full knowledge that its actions and omissions were violations.”

The report also notes that Iran is currently implementing IAEA-requested measures designed to resolve concerns about its nuclear program, and thereby showing “active cooperation and openness.” Specifically, Iran has cooperated with the agency’s investigation and suspended its uranium enrichment activities discovered earlier this year. Those actions follow an October agreement reached between Iran and three European government. That, in turn, came on the heels of a September IAEA resolution that set an Oct. 31 deadline for Iran to cooperate with the agency. Although uranium enrichment is permitted as long as it is operating under IAEA safeguards, the resolution also called on Iran to suspend its enrichment activities as a confidence-building measure. (See ACT, November 2003.)

Additionally, Iran agreed in October to conclude an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. The Board of Governors has now “accepted Iran’s proposal,” according to a Nov. 21 agency press statement. An additional protocol allows the IAEA to conduct more rigorous inspections in order to check for clandestine nuclear programs. The State Department official said that during the Nov. 20 meeting Iran implied it might not conclude the protocol if it disagreed with the resolution’s content, but later relented.

The Nov. 26 IAEA resolution “re-emphasises the importance of Iran…acting as if the Protocol were in force” until the Iranian parliament approves the protocol.

Still, a November CIA report to Congress expressed concern that more intrusive inspections will not contain Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, contending that “there is a serious risk that Iran could use its enrichment technology in covert activities” even with intrusive IAEA


The Report

The following excerpt is from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report, Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran, released Nov. 10.

1. The recent disclosures by Iran about its nuclear programme clearly show that, in the past, Iran had concealed many aspects of its nuclear activities, with resultant breaches of its obligation to comply with the provisions of the Safeguards Agreement. Iran’s policy of concealment continued until last month, with co-operation being limited and reactive, and information being slow in coming, changing and contradictory. While most of the breaches identified to date have involved limited quantities of nuclear material, they have dealt with the most sensitive aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment and reprocessing. And although the materials would require further processing before being suitable for weapons purposes, the number of failures by Iran to report in a timely manner the material, facilities and activities in question as it is obliged to do pursuant to its Safeguards Agreement has given rise to serious concerns.

2. Following the Board’s adoption of resolution GOV/2003/69, the Government of Iran informed the Director General that it had now adopted a policy of full disclosure and had decided to provide the Agency with a full picture of all of its nuclear activities. Since that time, Iran has shown active co-operation and openness. This is evidenced, in particular, by Iran’s granting to the Agency unrestricted access to all locations the Agency requested to visit; by the provision of information and clarifications in relation to the origin of imported equipment and components; and by making individuals available for interviews. This is a welcome development.

3. The Agency will now undertake all the steps necessary to confirm that the information provided by Iran on its past and present nuclear activities is correct and complete. To date, there is no evidence that the previously undeclared nuclear material and activities referred to above were related to a nuclear weapons programme. However, given Iran’s past pattern of concealment, it will take some time before the Agency is able to conclude that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes. To that end, the Agency must have a particularly robust verification system in place. An Additional Protocol, coupled with a policy of full transparency and openness on the part of Iran, is indispensable for such a system.

4. In that context, Iran has been requested to continue its policy of active co-operation by answering all of the Agency’s questions, and by providing the Agency with access to all locations, information and individuals deemed necessary by the Agency. One issue requiring investigation as a matter of urgency is the source of [highly enriched uranium] and [low-enriched uranium] contamination. The Agency intends to pursue the matter with a number of countries, whose full co-operation is essential to the resolution of this issue.

5. The recent announcement of Iran’s intention to conclude an Additional Protocol, and to act in accordance with the provisions of the Protocol pending its entry into force, is a positive development. The draft Additional Protocol is now being submitted to the Board for its consideration.

6. Iran’s decision to suspend its uranium-enrichment-related and reprocessing activities is also welcome.1 The Agency intends to verify, in the context of the Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol, the implementation by Iran of this decision.

7. The Director General will inform the Board of additional developments for its further consideration at the March 2004 meeting of the Board, or earlier, as appropriate

1. It should be noted that Iran introduced UF6 into the first centrifuge at PFEP on 25 June 2003, and, on 19 August 2003, began testing a small ten-machine cascade. On 31 October 2003, Agency inspectors observed that no UF6 gas was being fed into the centrifuges, although construction and installation work at the site was continuing.

The Resolution
Below is an excerpt from the IAEA’s Nov. 26 resolution

The Board of Governors:

1. Welcomes Iran’s offer of active cooperation and openness and its positive response to the demands of the Board in the resolution adopted by Governors on 12 September 2003 (GOV/2003/69) and underlines that, in proceeding, the Board considers it essential that the declarations that have now been made by Iran amount to the correct, complete and final picture of Iran’s past and present nuclear programme, to be verified by the Agency;

2. Strongly deplores Iran’s past failures and breaches of its obligation to comply with the provisions of its Safeguards Agreement, as reported by the Director General; and urges Iran to adhere strictly to its obligations under its Safeguards Agreement in both letter and spirit;

3. Notes the statement by the Director General that Iran has taken the specific actions deemed essential and urgent and requested of it in paragraph 4 of the Resolution adopted by the Board on 12 September 2003 (GOV/2003/69);

4. Requests the Director General to take all steps necessary to confirm that the information provided by Iran on its past and present nuclear activities is correct and complete as well as to resolve such issues as remain outstanding;

5. Endorses the view of the Director General that, to achieve this, the Agency must have a particularly robust verification system in place: an Additional Protocol, coupled with a policy of full transparency and openness on the part of Iran, is indispensable;

6. Reiterates that the urgent, full and close co-operation with the Agency of all third countries is essential in the clarification of outstanding questions concerning Iran’s nuclear programme;

7. Calls on Iran to undertake and complete the taking of all necessary corrective measures on an urgent basis, to sustain full cooperation with the Agency in implementing Iran’s commitment to full disclosure and unrestricted access, and thus to provide the transparency and openness that are indispensable for the Agency to complete the considerable work necessary to provide and maintain the assurances required by Member States;

8. Decides that, should any further serious Iranian failures come to light, the Board of Governors would meet immediately to consider, in the light of the circumstances and of advice from the Director General, all options at its disposal, in accordance with the IAEA Statute and Iran’s Safeguards Agreement;

9. Notes with satisfaction the decision of Iran to conclude an Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement, and re-emphasises the importance of Iran moving swiftly to ratification and also of Iran acting as if the Protocol were in force in the interim, including by making all declarations required within the required timeframe;

10. Welcomes Iran’s decision voluntarily to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and requests Iran to adhere to it, in a complete and verifiable manner; and also endorses the Director General’s acceptance of Iran’s invitation to verify implementation of that decision and report thereon;

11. Requests the Director General to submit a comprehensive report on the implementation of this resolution by mid- February 2004, for consideration by the March Board of Governors, or to report earlier if appropriate; and

12. Decides to remain seized of the matter.




Closing a chapter in its months-long investigation of Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)...

The IAEA's Report on Iran: An Analysis

Paul Kerr

On Nov. 10, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report charging Iran with violating its obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In particular, the IAEA said that Tehran had been conducting experiments with imported nuclear material without informing the agency. The report also revealed that Iran had carried out a variety of clandestine nuclear activities for more than two decades. In doing so, it had deceived the agency on numerous occasions by concealing facilities and providing the IAEA with incomplete and false information. A discussion of the IAEA’s revelations follows.

Uranium Enrichment

Gas-Centrifuge Enrichment

Iran’s gas-centrifuge uranium-enrichment program dates back to 1985 and currently consists of a small pilot facility at Natanz and a larger commercial facility under construction at the same location. Uranium-enrichment facilities can produce fissile material for nuclear weapons, as well as fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors.

Iran had previously claimed its gas-centrifuge program was completely indigenous and had not been used to test nuclear material, but both of these claims were proven false by the IAEA.

The IAEA first visited the Natanz facility in February. Its advanced state of operation led the agency to suspect that Iran had tested the centrifuges with nuclear material without first notifying the agency—a violation of its safeguards agreement. (See ACT, November 2003.) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei reported that IAEA environmental sampling showed that particles of both low-enriched and highly enriched uranium (LEU and HEU) had been present during that time at the Natanz facility, suggesting possible confirmation of the inspectors’ suspicions. Although LEU is used in civilian power plants, HEU can be used to build nuclear weapons. The presence of this material could be evidence that Iran produced weapons-grade uranium at Natanz and has nuclear material that it has not yet declared to the IAEA—each a violation of its safeguards agreement. At the time, however, Iran blamed the material’s presence on contaminated, imported components and continues to do so.

Meanwhile, Iran introduced nuclear material into the Natanz facility’s centrifuges under IAEA safeguards in June, although the IAEA Board of Governors had issued a statement earlier that month encouraging Iran not to do so. Tehran accelerated its tests in August but, in an October deal with European foreign ministers, agreed to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities. At the time, Iran did not say when the suspension would take effect, but the new IAEA report says Iran told the IAEA that it would suspend its enrichment activities effective Nov. 10. (See ACT, November 2003.)

Iran also admitted Oct. 21 to using small amounts of uranium hexafluoride to test centrifuges at the Kalaye Electric Company in Tehran between 1999 and 2002, according to the report. Centrifuges spin uranium hexafluoride gas in cylinders to increase the concentration of the relevant isotopes. Iran had previously acknowledged producing centrifuge components there but denied conducting any tests with nuclear material. Iran dismantled “the test facility at the end of 2002,” according to the report.

Activities at the Kalaye facility have been contentious because Iran had hindered IAEA investigations there and prevented agency inspectors from conducting environmental sampling until August. These samples also detected HEU and LEU particles, a finding Iran also attributes to contaminated components. Tehran maintains it only enriched uranium at Kalaye to a degree that is not suitable for weapons.

Iran continued to obstruct the IAEA’s investigation of the Kalaye facility until recently, according to the report. Tehran initially told agency inspectors that the centrifuges had been destroyed but later admitted to their existence and allowed the IAEA to inspect them Oct. 30-31. The components had been stored elsewhere in Iran, but it is unclear how the agency became aware of this fact.

In the Nov. 24 issue of Time magazine, ElBaradei said that five European and Asian countries supplied Iran with the components and that the agency will discuss the matter with those governments.

In a further misstep, Iran tested the centrifuges with uranium hexafluoride imported in 1991. A June agency report pointed out that Iran not only violated its safeguards agreement by failing to report the imported material but also could not account for some of the material, raising suspicions that Iran had conducted illicit enrichment experiments. At the time, Iran said the material had leaked from its containers.

Laser Enrichment

According to the report, Iran told the IAEA Oct. 21 that it had been pursuing a laser-based uranium-enrichment program since 1991. An August IAEA report stated that Iran had previously acknowledged a research and development program involving lasers, but not an enrichment program.

IAEA inspectors visited a site called Lashkar Ab’ad in August. Although they did not find any activities related to uranium enrichment being conducted there, the agency asked Iran to confirm that there had not been any past “activities related to uranium laser enrichment” at any location in the country and to allow environmental sampling at that location. Iran allowed inspectors to conduct sampling on Oct. 6 and told the IAEA Oct. 21 that it conducted laser-enrichment experiments with undeclared imported uranium metal at a site in Tehran until October 2002.

Iran later told the IAEA during an Oct. 27-Nov. 1 visit that it had established “a pilot plant for laser enrichment” at Lashkar Ab’ad in 2000 and conducted enrichment experiments there between October 2002 and January 2003. Iran dismantled the equipment in May and presented it to IAEA inspectors on Oct. 28, according to the report.

Other Concerns




The IAEA found that Iran separated a “small amount” of plutonium from spent fuel produced in a research reactor in Tehran—an action Iran was obligated to report to the IAEA. Reprocessing activities have caused concern because Iran has nearly completed a light-water reactor (LWR) at Bushehr and has announced plans to build a heavy-water reactor, each of which produce plutonium. LWRs are considered more proliferation resistant. Such reprocessing can also produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Uranium Conversion

Iran announced in March that it had completed a facility located near Isfahan for converting uranium oxide into uranium hexafluoride. Iran first told the IAEA that it had completed the facility without having tested it with nuclear material but later admitted to conducting uranium-conversion experiments in the early 1990s. (See ACT, September 2003.) Iran was required to disclose these experiments to the IAEA.

According to the November report, Iran told the IAEA Oct. 9 that it conducted previously undisclosed uranium-conversion experiments with multiple phases of the conversion process between 1981 and 1993. Iran also admitted that it was planning to produce uranium metal for use in its laser-enrichment program. In June, a Department of State official noted that Iran would most likely use uranium metal in nuclear warheads.

The report also states that Iran failed to provide design information about the facilities where the concealed nuclear activities took place, as is required by its safeguards agreement.



On Nov. 10, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report charging Iran with violating its obligations under...

Orbital Wins Competition for Initial Missile Defense Deployment Booster by Default

Wade Boese

Two recent accidents at a California missile propellant facility have delayed production and testing of a Lockheed Martin Corporation booster being considered for inclusion in the Bush administration’s proposed defense system against long-range ballistic missiles. As a result, the Pentagon announced Nov. 7 that it would rely on a second model, developed by Orbital Sciences Corporation, to power the system’s first 10 missile interceptors.

The booster is one of two key components for the ground-based interceptors in the missile defense system, slated for deployment next fall. The other is the exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV). The booster lifts the EKV into space, where it is supposed to home in on and collide with an enemy warhead.

Six of the Orbital Sciences boosters are now set for deployment in Alaska, and four will be based in California. The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) conducted its first successful flight test of the Orbital Sciences booster Aug. 16. Orbital Sciences conducted a test of a pared-down version last February. Neither test involved an EKV or a target warhead.

Lockheed’s effort was put on hold by two explosions at a Pratt & Whitney plant preparing the solid fuel for its boosters. The accidents, which occurred Aug. 7 and Sept. 12, killed one employee, destroyed one of the containers in which the propellant is mixed, and resulted in the mixing operation being suspended for a major safety evaluation.

Without its specific propellant, the Lockheed booster cannot fly. Although Pratt & Whitney is set to resume production of the propellant in April 2004, this will not occur in time for Lockheed to meet the Pentagon’s current initial deployment schedule.

However, Lockheed does possess a couple of completed booster motors, and MDA has scheduled a flight test of the Lockheed booster for the first half of December. The test, which will not involve an EKV or a target, has been postponed several times.

Lockheed’s booster could be the primary model for a second round of 10 interceptors planned for deployment during 2005. MDA spokesman Rick Lehner said Nov. 17 that MDA will look to “stay with two boosters for a long time.”

The Pentagon’s effort to develop a booster for its ground-based interceptor has been significantly troubled. Early plans called for a prototype booster first to be involved in an intercept test in early 2001. That has yet to happen.

In lieu of a prototype booster, the Pentagon has used a slower, surrogate booster in all eight of its strategic missile defense intercept tests. Two of the system’s three test failures could be traced to the surrogate booster, prompting MDA to suspend intercept testing after a December 2002 failure until at least one of the two prototypes was available. Two intercept tests, using the Orbital Sciences booster, are tentatively scheduled for next year.






Two recent accidents at a California missile propellant facility have delayed production and testing of a Lockheed Martin Corporation booster being considered...

GAO Calls for Review of Missile Defense Satellite Program

Wade Boese

The General Accounting Office (GAO) recently recommended that the Pentagon review a missile defense satellite system because of lingering problems that could result in major program cost and schedule overruns. The Air Force just restructured the program last year following a critical review of the system.

Initiated in 1996, the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS)-high program has been “burdened by immature technologies, unclear requirements, unstable funding, underestimated software complexity, and other problems,” GAO stated in an Oct. 31 report on the program.

SBIRS-high is intended to replace the Pentagon’s current constellation of Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites. The DSP satellites have been operating for more than 30 years and provide information on worldwide missile launches, among other tasks. The new system is also intended to gather intelligence and provide timely battlefield information to U.S. troops.

Yet, SBIRS-high is far from proving it can handle these missions. GAO noted that testing earlier this year revealed that the first infrared sensor to be deployed as part of the system demonstrated “several deficiencies” in the sensor’s ability to “maintain earth coverage” and to track missiles.

As such problems have emerged, the SBIRS-high price tag has more than doubled. Originally projected to cost $1.8 billion to research and develop, the system is currently budgeted at $4.4 billion.

The system’s development troubles have led to significant delays. The Pentagon initially planned to begin fielding SBIRS-high components between 1999 and 2004, but the first delivery of sensors for two of the system’s satellites has slipped from February 2002 to at least December 2003, while the launch of the first of four other satellites making up the system has been pushed back from 2004 to 2006.

Frustrated by the system’s lack of progress, the Pentagon ordered a review that led to the Air Force restructuring the program in August 2002. Although there have been improvements in oversight of the program, GAO concluded that there are continuing schedule and cost risks that merit the program being reviewed again—an assessment the Pentagon shares.

In May, GAO reported that a complementary satellite system to SBIRS-high, the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (formerly SBIRS-low), was also beset with problems. (See ACT, June 2003.) As originally conceived, SBIRS-high was to provide the early warning of a hostile missile launch, while SBIRS-low was to provide more detailed tracking information on the target cluster to help a missile interceptor distinguish between an enemy warhead and any potential decoys that might be accompanying it. The overhauled and renamed SBIRS-low program is still supposed to help track a missile during its entire flight, but the requirement that it must discriminate between warheads and decoys has been postponed for now, according to the May GAO report.






The General Accounting Office (GAO) recently recommended that the Pentagon review a missile defense satellite system because of lingering problems that could result in major program cost and schedule overruns.


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