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"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili,
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Nuclear Suppliers Group

Israel and Multilateral Nuclear Approaches in the Middle East

Thomas Lorenz and Joanna Kidd

As most states in the Middle East have expressed an interest in or are already developing nuclear power, regional cooperation can be an important tool to build nuclear confidence and allay proliferation concerns. This article will investigate how Israel could fit into a nuclear energy development paradigm consisting of regional approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle.

In addition, it will argue that early progress in collaborative efforts can help to create momentum for the envisioned 2012 conference on developing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East.

Countries in the Middle East have cited a range of reasons for their resurgent or new interest in developing nuclear power, including the need to diversify energy sources and to meet increasing electricity demands. There are concerns that the interest is driven at least partly by Iran’s nuclear advances and suspicions that it may have a military dimension. Although nuclear power advancement in the Middle East can be viewed a priori with concern from a proliferation perspective, it could offer an opportunity for a net nonproliferation gain if technological development progresses down the right path of transparency and collaboration. The equation is straightforward. If these budding programs in the Middle East develop as completely separate national programs, mistrust is bound to increase. If they develop more in parallel with each other—with collaboration on such elements as information exchanges, transparency of plans, safety and security issues, and, potentially, fuel cycle activities—there is a real chance that nuclear development can serve instead as a tool to increase trust and confidence, feeding into a wider security-building agenda in the region.

Although nuclear cooperation has been a sensitive topic throughout the atomic era, it is particularly difficult to envision such ventures in the Middle East, with its chronically unstable political-security situation. Recent evidence suggests, however, that crossing the traditional Arab-Israeli divide is possible even in the nuclear area.

Access to Nuclear Technology

Israel is among the countries in the region that have expressed a renewed interest in nuclear energy. National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau used the opportunity of a civilian nuclear power conference in Paris in March to reiterate the country’s interest in developing nuclear power.[1] For the past 40 years, Israel has seen nuclear energy as an integral goal in its energy planning, but it has not yet introduced nuclear power into its energy mix. The Web site of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) says that Israel decided in the 1970s that “an option to produce electricity using nuclear reactors should be prepared and maintained.”[2] The Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) concluded in the 1980s that a site in the northern Negev desert near the town of Shivta would be suitable for a nuclear power plant. In his Paris speech, Landau confirmed that the Shivta site is still being maintained from a scientific and technical infrastructure point of view. The current plan is to have a two-unit nuclear power plant with a generation capacity of 1,200-1,500 megawatts operational by 2020.[3]

Israel considers itself an “energy island” because it is not connected to the grids of any of its neighbors and must import all its energy sources. From these imported sources, Israel produces around 13,000 megawatts of electricity, a figure that is expected to double by 2020. Without an indigenous nuclear power program, Israel will need either to continue relying on energy imports or seek alternative routes to nuclear power, such as regional collaboration. Israel’s energy situation provides an incentive for the country to seek a long-term regional nuclear deal in which it progressively increases the transparency of its nuclear activities in return for integration with neighbors on energy projects, a win-win situation for all countries in the region. Although Israel would not be interested in becoming dependent on any one source of energy imports, it is open to buying electricity generated from, for example, a Jordanian nuclear power plant.[4] Creating grid connections between Israel and neighboring Arab states would be a good peace project and open the door for further technological collaboration in the energy area. The initiation of talks on such grid connections could be plausible in the next couple of years and be a suitable precursor to other energy-related cooperative efforts.

The main constraint on Israel’s nuclear power development has been its exclusion from foreign assistance because it is not a signatory of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Because the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2008 granted India an exemption from the requirement of full-scope safeguards—meaning that all the country’s nuclear facilities would be open to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors—as a condition for trade, Israel has been lobbying for the group to draw up a list of objective trade criteria for non-NPT states. The NSG has been engaging Israel for the past few years, but the group has received Israeli proposals with lukewarm interest. In May 2009, NSG Chairman Viktor Elbling led a delegation to Israel to discuss export controls and Israel’s relationship with the NSG.

Some, including former IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, have argued that India’s NSG exception amounts to a nonproliferation gain because it draws the country into the regime. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine that further erosion of nuclear export controls, by granting Israel similar rights, will benefit nonproliferation. In fact, as the world sees a rising interest in nuclear power, the NSG should play an increasingly important role in anticipation of expanded nuclear trade. Unfortunately, the group has not been able to agree on strengthened guidelines on transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technologies. To regain credibility lost with the India exemption, the NSG must agree on tighter rules related to these technologies and refrain from further exemptions.

Where does this leave Israel as far as partaking in a regional arrangement when it does not have access to nuclear technology? Israel developed its nuclear infrastructure with foreign assistance but prior to the establishment of the NPT and the NSG. It is maintaining its current nuclear activities with limited access to the international nuclear market as controlled by the NSG. An ardent nonproliferation argument would hold that Israel should not even reap the benefit of nuclear energy indirectly, such as by buying nuclear-generated electricity from neighboring states, because of its status as an NPT holdout. Fred McGoldrick, a former U.S. Department of State official, said in March that although an arrangement under which a Jordanian reactor was supplying electricity to Israel “technically” would “probably not violate the NSG guidelines…it would not be faithful to their intent.”[5]

Israel has not breached any nonproliferation commitments because it has not signed the NPT. Most of its nuclear research and development occurred before 1968, when the treaty was opened for signature. Because of its relationship to and dependence on the United States, it could not be transparent about its nuclear activities and thus not be one of the open and accepted nuclear powers of the 1960s. Israel had promised the United States not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East and did not want to defy its protector. The result was a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy between the two allies that kept Israel’s program secret.[6] The question is whether it is a net nonproliferation gain to keep Israel outside cooperative activities or whether encouraging and including Israel in potential regional efforts would be better in order to increase trust and confidence that nuclear activities have a peaceful intent. Israel must be integrated into the nonproliferation regime, and one approach could be the establishment of cooperative nuclear activities in the region. Although some supplier states may be opposed on political grounds to seeing Israel benefit indirectly from nuclear energy, for example in the case of the Jordanian nuclear power plant, it is unlikely that this will prevent nuclear trade and the construction of nuclear plants in states neighboring Israel.

Multilateral Nuclear Approaches[7]

Compared to many other countries in the Middle East, Israel has a clear position on multilateral nuclear approaches. According to one Israeli government source, the country has developed a set of prerequisites that it thinks should govern regional nuclear development.[8]

• States must forgo sensitive fuel-cycle facilities, such as uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing plants. Israel categorizes fuel fabrication plants as sensitive as well.[9] Although limiting enrichment and reprocessing technologies is a powerful nonproliferation measure, it goes to the heart of the problem of nuclear haves versus have-nots and infringement of NPT rights.[10] A more pragmatic approach would be to establish multilaterally owned and operated plants in the region.

• States must have an additional protocol to their IAEA safeguards agreements in place. This presents several problems because Israel itself currently would not live up to this criterion. Another stumbling block regarding additional protocols is that Egypt has said it will not sign one unless Israel joins the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state.[11]

• Nuclear fuel supply to the region should be based on lifetime contracts and follow so-called leasing and take-back arrangements. A just-in-time refueling regime can be a powerful confidence-building measure because it aims to deliver fresh fuel right before a reactor needs refueling and return spent fuel to the supplier country as soon as possible, preferably within a year after the spent fuel has been taken out of the reactor.

• A stable regulatory system is needed in each state embarking on a nuclear program. The United Arab Emirates and possibly Jordan are seen in Israel as being on the right track in this respect.

According to the Israeli source, Israel regards multilateral nuclear approaches as having merit, especially in light of its position that no country in the region should have a closed national nuclear fuel cycle. For Israel, the key questions to address are host-country selection and eligibility criteria for such an arrangement, the source said. Pointing to experiences in Iran and North Korea, where years of sanctions have not resolved proliferation concerns after detection of clandestine facilities, he said Israel is skeptical of the effectiveness of IAEA safeguards enforcement.[12]

Regarding current efforts to create a system of assured nuclear fuel supply, for example through supplier state-sponsored guarantees, and the establishment of international fuel banks to provide low-enriched uranium if supply were disrupted for political reasons, Israeli officials fall in line with the majority viewpoint that these types of assurances, if not part of a comprehensive effort to internationalize the nuclear fuel cycle, amount to creating a solution for a problem that does not exist. In other words, current supply mechanisms based on market forces work and do not need fixing.[13]

According to Israeli officials, current nuclear energy planning includes looking into how the national program could feed into efforts to internationalize the fuel cycle. The IEC and IAEC signed an agreement in March 2010 calling for a survey of long-term nuclear energy strategy, including international aspects, to be conducted by a joint task force consisting of all relevant government offices. Although the focus of international cooperation would be on states with developed fuel cycles, such as some EU countries, Japan, and the United States, one government official said the survey would presumably address potential regional approaches as well.[14]

Signs of Cooperation

In general, Israeli officials say their country is open to regional cooperation, especially with neighbors Egypt and Jordan, with which it has peace agreements. Due to the current regional political situation, however, cooperation among these three countries would be very difficult, even if there were a desire for it. A case in point is the Israeli-Jordanian relationship, which unofficially is quite good, despite a more critical tone publicly.[15] In the nuclear area, cooperation is taking place, but it is low key. Officials from the two countries are mainly discussing Jordan’s planned reactor at Aqaba on the Red Sea near the Israeli-Jordanian border. Although the full extent of the talks is unknown, Israel is providing assistance in terms of site selection, nuclear safety and security issues, and seismic data from its Geophysical Institute.[16]

Israeli news media reported in March on talks between Landau and Jean-Louis Borloo, France’s minister of environment and energy, on joint nuclear projects involving France, Israel, and Jordan.[17] Jordan, however, distanced itself from this public discussion, with Jordan Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Khaled Toukan stating that it is “too early to speak of regional cooperation with Israel before resolving the Palestinian issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict.”[18] The episode nonetheless can be seen as representing a trial balloon and an indication from Israel’s side that it is open to regional nuclear cooperation.

Further evidence of the regional willingness to cooperate in the nuclear field is the Jordan-based SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) project. SESAME is the region’s first major scientific research center and aims to be “an international scientific and technological centre of excellence open to all qualified scientists from the Middle East and elsewhere.”[19] The project centers around a synchrotron radiation source, a gift from Germany. Activities are planned in fields such as molecular environmental science, micro-electromechanical devices, x-ray imaging, materials characterization, and clinical medical applications. Current SESAME members are Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey, and the Palestinian Authority.

When considering regional nuclear cooperation in the Middle East, Israel could offer expertise in a number of areas with its long-standing experience in the field. Indeed, it is already assisting Jordan with siting-related issues at Aqaba, as discussed above. Such assistance can be expanded to other countries, such as Egypt. Information exchanges in areas such as nuclear safety and security would be another good starting point for nuclear confidence building. Israel could offer a great deal in the area of education, in particular because it is currently setting up new nuclear engineering and physics courses to maintain its nuclear knowledge base. The SoreqNuclearResearchCenter has acquired a new particle accelerator to replace its 50-year-old research reactor. The accelerator is a joint project with the Weizmann Institute, the Israel Academy of Science, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Language does not necessarily pose a problem. For example, the Weizmann Institute offers all relevant graduate courses in English with open attendance.

Looking to the Future

What would a multilateral approach to the nuclear fuel cycle in the Middle East look like? Setting aside political constraints for a moment, one could imagine a network of regional nuclear facilities servicing the region with nuclear energy. In a best-case scenario, for a regional approach to the fuel cycle in the Middle East to be credible and acceptable, there should be no enrichment and reprocessing facilities. The first hurdle with this scenario is Iran’s expanding enrichment program, which Tehran is not likely simply to dismantle in the foreseeable future. One solution would be to internationalize Iran’s enrichment facilities, as has been proposed in principle by Iran. In a letter to the UN Security Council in June 2008, Iran’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, proposed, as part of a package for constructive negotiations over the nuclear impasse, consideration of “establishing enrichment and nuclear fuel production consortiums in different parts of the world—including Iran.”[20] Geoffrey Forden and John Thomson of MIT have proposed a detailed and compelling plan for how to internationalize Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz.[21] According to Forden and Thomson, the enrichment technology should be “black-boxed,” which would impede access to sensitive know-how. It also should be multilaterally owned and controlled and placed under stringent safeguards, they said.

Another problem with “outlawing” enrichment technologies in the Middle East or any region is the strong objection from developing countries that see this as another infringement of their NPT rights to nuclear technology. A fairer approach would be to establish a global network of multilaterally owned and operated plants. This was envisioned in a 2005 IAEA Expert Group report on multilateral nuclear approaches, which said that, first, nationally owned plants should preferably be internationalized, followed by the establishment of “in particular regional” multilateral nuclear approaches for new fuel-cycle facilities, including enrichment plants.[22]

Jordan and Turkey are good candidates to host front-end fuel-cycle facilities, such as those for conversion and fuel fabrication, to form a regional fuel-production arrangement. Jordan, with its newfound uranium reserves, could be a main contributor of uranium, and Turkey has expressed interest in the past in hosting a regional fuel production center.[23] In general, nuclear power plants may be more troublesome from administrative, political, and technical points of view. Power plants are large, expensive and politically sensitive projects often subject to substantial delays and cost overruns, which could be difficult to manage between several states. Also, the host of the plant would have the technical advantage of being able to cut electricity supply to its co-owners when it wants to. Nuclear plants are preferably national ventures with assistance from, or even run by, established international vendor consortiums.

For the back end of the fuel cycle, a blanket nonreprocessing rule is preferable. The proliferation concerns associated with spent fuel reprocessing and plutonium extraction far outweigh the potential benefits from a so-called closed fuel-cycle arrangement. Although uranium enrichment (the other proliferation-sensitive process) is needed for fueling most reactors in the world, reprocessing is not necessary for electricity generation. Effective and transparent spent fuel disposition approaches should be established whereby the nuclear material is, for example, vitrified and stored in regional or international nuclear waste stations under multilateral control and monitoring.

The main nonproliferation benefit of the regional approach described above is that multilateral control, ownership, and operation will instill trust that the facilities are not used for nonpeaceful purposes. A breakout scenario in which the host country diverts uranium for a weapons program is much less likely if the facility is managed and staffed by people from several countries. It could also be argued that a multilateral approach means that a region needs fewer facilities than if each country develops the necessary production centers. This is attractive from a safeguards perspective because fewer sites would require IAEA monitoring. In addition, multinational ventures make economic sense due to economies of scale. It would be much less costly for a state to join a regional center than embark on developing a national facility.

On the negative side, as the 2005 IAEA Expert Group report on multilateral nuclear approaches pointed out, an internationally staffed enrichment facility could mean broader access to know-how and thus represent a proliferation risk.[24] However, if the facility is black-boxed, the spread of sensitive information would be restricted to a minimum.

Spillover Effect

If regional cooperative efforts in nuclear energy start to take off within the next few years, they could possibly open the door for more constructive discussions on other security-related issues. One opportunity to test this hypothesis will be the envisioned 2012 conference on developing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

The final document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference calls for all states in the Middle East to participate in a conference in 2012 on a regional WMD-free zone. For the first time, the action formally sets the stage for moving ahead concretely to implement the 1995 NPT Review Conference Resolution on the Middle East. But the road ahead before a conference in 2012 can be realized will be long and bumpy, with the main task being to persuade Israel actually to participate. One significant task will be to navigate through the diplomatic minefield of international proliferation forums, trying to avoid singling Israel out. Another challenge will be carrying out the regional confidence building that is needed for earnest negotiations on a WMD-free zone to take place. The changing nuclear landscape in the Middle East offers an opportunity to do that.

Volumes have been written on the preconditions for the creation of a Middle East WMD-free zone, and the Arab-Israeli conflict clearly lies at the heart of the difficulties in moving forward. Countless attempts have been made to kick-start negotiations on a WMD-free zone, but as a comprehensive UN study concluded in 2004, “The Middle East seems no closer to realizing the aims of a [WMD-free zone] than it was thirty years ago nor is the region any safer.”[25]

The United States will play a key role not only in persuading Israel to participate in talks about a Middle East WMD-free zone, but also in providing a security environment necessary for Israel to consider signing such a treaty. In recent months, media reports citing unnamed Israeli officials have suggested that the United States has provided “unequivocal guarantees…for the State of Israel’s preservation of strategic and deterring abilities,” as one of them put it.[26] Although public statements have not gone that far, at a July 6 joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Barack Obama, referring to discussions at the NPT review conference, said that “the United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.” This statement signals U.S. willingness to work with Israel to meet its security needs in a way that allows it to participate in earnest discussions on a Middle East WMD-free zone. Another area in which the United States, as well as France, can be constructive is encouraging nuclear trade with Israel conditioned on Israel’s signature on and adherence to a treaty establishing a verifiable WMD-free zone in the Middle East and signature on an NPT-like agreement. There is little prospect of Israel signing the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state in the foreseeable future, but Israel could consider signing a separate document as proposed by nonproliferation experts Avner Cohen and Thomas Graham Jr. Cohen and Graham proposed in 2004 that India, Israel, and Pakistan—the three countries that have never signed the NPT—could sign a free-standing protocol allowing them to keep their current programs but inhibiting further development. The agreement would call for cooperation with export controls, ban nuclear testing, and set a timeline phasing out fissile material production.[27]

It seems clear that if collaborative regional efforts in nuclear energy gain momentum within the next few years, a positive climate surrounding nuclear security issues in general will start to emerge. This would not only benefit the general peace process in the region, but also help to create the right setting for the envisioned 2012 conference on developing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

Conclusions

As more and more states in the Middle East are jumping on the nuclear renaissance bandwagon, there is an urgent need to build nuclear confidence in the region. Instead of each state having a go-it-alone policy developing its own nuclear fuel cycle, which is likely to increase mistrust and the risk of proliferation, nuclear transparency and collaboration should be the norm. If the intentions behind these new programs are open and clear from the start, the countries involved are more likely to avoid misperceptions. Furthermore, by collaborating more closely on nuclear energy issues, the states stand to gain in economic and technical terms. With increased nuclear confidence through transparency measures and collaborative projects, the region also can reap many benefits regarding security building. There are signs that nuclear cooperation is possible. Regional projects such as SESAME and Israel’s assistance with nuclear power-plant siting in Jordan are evidence. Education is one area in which Israel could contribute to regional nuclear development; safety and security culture is another.

The next step is to promote collaborative efforts on nuclear energy, through joint training programs, exchanges of information and experience, and even talks on joint fuel-cycle facilities. Nuclear confidence building is integrally linked to the wider security agenda in the Middle East, including the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.


Thomas Lorenz is a senior research fellow at the International Centre for Security Analysis (ICSA) at the Department of War Studies, King’s College in London. Previously, he was a safeguards information analyst with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Joanna Kidd is director of the ICSA. Prior to joining King’s College in 2003, she worked as a defense analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. This article is based on field research conducted by the authors for a project on multilateral nuclear approaches in the Middle East commissioned to the Centre for Science and Security Studies at King’s College by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


ENDNOTES

1. Uzi Landau, Statement to the International Conference on Access to Civil Nuclear Energy, Paris, March 8-9, 2010, p. 70, www.conferenceparis-nucleairecivil.org/uploads/contents/86928/File/36255//transcriptionsconferenceen.pdf (summarized transcription).

2. Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC), “Research and Publications by IAEC Personnel,” www.iaec.gov.il/pages_e/card_report_e.asp.

3. World Nuclear Association, “Emerging Nuclear Energy Countries,” May 25, 2010, www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf102.html.

4. Israeli officials, interviews with authors, Israel, March 2010.

5. Daniel Horner, “Israel States Strong Interest in Nuclear Energy,” Arms Control Today, April 2010.

6. Avner Cohen and Thomas Graham Jr., “An NPT for Non-members,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, May/June 2004, pp. 40-44.

7. This section relies heavily on interviews conducted by the authors in Israel in March with representatives of the IAEC, Ministry of National Infrastructure, Weizmann Institute, Institute for National Security Studies, and NGO Monitor.

8. Israeli energy official, interview with authors, Israel, March 2010 (hereinafter Israeli energy official interview).

9. Israeli official, interview with authors, Israel, March 2010.

10. Article IV of the NPT asserts “the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.”

11. Although this linkage is not an official policy, Egyptian officials in public statements regarding an additional protocol typically make the link in no uncertain terms. See, for example, http://mfoa.africanews.com/site/list_message/9319.

12. Israeli energy official interview.

13. For a discussion on fuel assurances, how developing countries view them, and the past year’s negotiations at the IAEA Board of Governors on creating an international fuel bank, see Thomas Lorenz and Joanna Kidd, “An Uncertain Future for International Fuel Banks,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June 2010, pp. 44-49.

14. Israeli government official, interview with authors, Israel, March 2010.

15. Israeli academics, interviews with authors, Tel Aviv and Istanbul, March 2010.

16. Israeli government officials, interviews with authors, Israel, March 2010.

17. Ehud Zion Waldoks, “Landau to Announce Plans for First Israeli Nuke Power Plant,” Jerusalem Post, March 8, 2010, www.jpost.com/HealthAndSci-Tech/ScienceAndEnvironment/Article.aspx?id=170440.

18. “No Nuclear Cooperation With Israel Before End of Conflict – Officials,” The Jordan Times, March 10, 2010, http://cjpp5.over-blog.com/article-the-jordan-times-com-jordanie-no-nuclear-cooperation-with-israel-before-end-of-conflict---officials-46433756.html.

19. SESAME, “SESAME: Brief Description and Status Report,” www.sesame.org.jo/About/Description.aspx.

20. UN Security Council, “Letter Dated 17 June 2008 From the Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” S/2008/397, June 17, 2008, www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/Iran%20S2008397.pdf.

21. Geoffrey Forden and John Thomson, “Iran as a Pioneer Case for Multilateral Nuclear Arrangements,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, May 2009, http://mit.edu/stgs/pdfs/IPCPublicationMay2009.pdf.

22. IAEA, “Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Expert Group Report to the Director General of the IAEA,” INFCIRC/640, February 22, 2005, p. 15, www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/mna-2005_web.pdf.

23. Mark Hibbs, “Turkey Will Press for Fuel Technology Transfer,” NuclearFuel, February 11, 2008.

24. IAEA, “Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” p. 75.

25. UN Institute for Disarmament Research, “Building a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East,” 2004, www.unidir.org/pdf/ouvrages/pdf-1-92-9045-168-8-en.pdf.

26. Attila Somfalvi, “State Official: Obama Provided Israel With Historic Guarantees,” YnetNews, May 30, 2010, www. ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3896361,00.html.

27. Cohen and Graham, “An NPT for Non-members.”

 

NSG Makes Little Headway at Meeting

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) last month concluded its annual plenary meeting with little apparent progress on two high-profile issues, the potential sale of two reactors from China to Pakistan and the adoption of more-stringent rules for sensitive nuclear exports.

Daniel Horner

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) last month concluded its annual plenary meeting with little apparent progress on two high-profile issues, the potential sale of two reactors from China to Pakistan and the adoption of more-stringent rules for sensitive nuclear exports.

The Chinese-Pakistani deal was not on the formal agenda for the meeting in Christchurch, New Zealand, but sources from participating governments said the matter was discussed.

The group’s June 25 public statement at the end of the meeting does not specifically mention the discussions, but it says that the NSG “took note of briefings on developments concerning non-NSG states. It agreed on the value of ongoing consultation and transparency.”

The planned Chinese sale is an issue for the NSG because the group’s guidelines do not allow the sale of nuclear goods such as reactors and fuel to countries that do not accept International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards on all their nuclear facilities. Pakistan does not have these so-called full-scope safeguards.

When China joined the NSG in 2004, it had already built a power reactor at Pakistan’s Chashma site. It claimed at the time that, under the NSG’s “grandfather” provisions, it was entitled to build a second reactor, on the grounds that the second project was covered in its existing agreement with Pakistan. According to several accounts, the group agreed that the second reactor would be allowable under the grandfather provision but that subsequent power reactor sales would not.

In the weeks before the June 21-25 Christchurch meeting, the U.S. government said the sale of reactors beyond Chashma-1 and -2 would be “inconsistent with NSG guidelines and China’s commitments to the NSG.” (See ACT, June 2010.)

In its public statements, China has responded to questions about the deal in general terms. At a June 24 press conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, “China and Pakistan, following the principle of equality and mutual benefit, have been cooperating on nuclear energy for civilian use. Our cooperation is consistent with the two countries’ respective international obligations, entirely for peaceful purpose[s] and subject to IAEA safeguard[s] and supervision.”

It it not clear what additional information China provided at the Christchurch meeting. According to a European diplomat, the discussion was “not confrontational.”

Clarification Sought

In a June 30 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a U.S. Department of State official said, “We are still waiting for more information from China to clarify China’s intended cooperation with Pakistan, in light of China’s NSG commitments.”

According to the official, “The United States has reiterated concern that the transfer of new reactors at Chasma appears to extend beyond cooperation that was ‘grandfathered’ when China was approved for membership in the NSG. If not covered by the grandfather clause, such cooperation would require a specific exception approved by consensus of the NSG.”

In 2008 the NSG, led by the United States, granted an exemption making India eligible to receive nuclear exports from NSG members. Like Pakistan, India does not have full-scope safeguards.

The NSG, which currently has 46 members, operates by consensus. It is not a formal organization, and its export guidelines are nonbinding. Before the 2008 NSG exemption, Russia made and carried out deals with India for reactors and fuel, justifying them on the basis of interpretations of the NSG guidelines that other members considered overly expansive.

Enrichment and Reprocessing

A long-standing issue for the NSG has been its effort to adopt a more rigorous standard for exports relating to uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing. Since 2004, the group has been discussing a new, so-called criteria-based set of guidelines for enrichment and reprocessing transfers, under which recipients of these proliferation-sensitive exports would have to meet a list of preset requirements. The list drafted by the group includes adherence to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, full-scope safeguards, and an additional protocol, which gives the IAEA enhanced inspection authority. However, the NSG members have not been able to overcome certain states’ objections to the proposal. Current NSG guidelines simply call for members to exercise “restraint” with respect to enrichment and reprocessing exports.

At the end of 2008, the suppliers appeared to be close to an agreement (see ACT, December 2008), but since then they have not been able to reach consensus. According to the Christchurch public statement, “Participating Governments agreed to continue considering ways to further strengthen guidelines dealing with the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies.”

In a June 27 e-mail to Arms Control Today, the European diplomat said that “while progress was made there was no consensus” on the matter. Before the meeting, observers said the main objections were coming from South Africa and Turkey. The diplomat declined to identify the sources of the objections at the meeting but said, “The delegations which have had difficulties in the past continue to have problems.”

Meanwhile, at their June 25-26 meeting in Muskoka, Canada, the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries extended their policy to adopt on a national basis the proposed NSG guidelines on enrichment and reprocessing transfers. The leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States said in their summit communiqué, “We reiterate our commitment as found in paragraph 8 of the L’Aquila Statement on Non-Proliferation.”

Paragraph 8 of the L’Aquila statement, issued at the July 2009 G-8 summit in Italy, said the eight countries would implement as “national policy” for a year the draft NSG guidelines on enrichment and reprocessing and urged the NSG “to accelerate its work and swiftly reach consensus this year to allow for global implementation of a strengthened mechanism on transfers of enrichment and reprocessing facilities, equipment, and technology.”

 

The U.S.-Indian Deal and Its Impact

The decision five years ago by the United States to open up nuclear trade with India overturned decades of U.S. and global nonproliferation policy. Initially, it evoked only muted criticism from the nonproliferation community. Many U.S. and foreign experts hoped that the deal would fall through or that it could be salvaged by pressing India for nonproliferation concessions. Those hopes faded as the details and process of the agreement unfolded. Critics feared that global nonproliferation norms would be undermined by the extension of nuclear trade to India, a state that has tested nuclear weapons and never signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). They also feared that the deal could have the practical result of freeing up domestic uranium that India could use for its weapons program.

Sharon Squassoni

The decision five years ago by the United States to open up nuclear trade with India overturned decades of U.S. and global nonproliferation policy. Initially, it evoked only muted criticism from the nonproliferation community. Many U.S. and foreign experts hoped that the deal would fall through or that it could be salvaged by pressing India for nonproliferation concessions. Those hopes faded as the details and process of the agreement unfolded. Critics feared that global nonproliferation norms would be undermined by the extension of nuclear trade to India, a state that has tested nuclear weapons and never signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). They also feared that the deal could have the practical result of freeing up domestic uranium that India could use for its weapons program.

The Bush administration justified its actions by declaring that India would be brought into the “mainstream” of nonproliferation. Five years later, however, India’s nonproliferation behavior has neither improved nor worsened. Rather than India moving into the mainstream, the mainstream has moved to it. As the “nonproliferation ayatollahs” feared,[1] other states have begun to look at India’s example and ask, “If India, why not us?” India’s brand of exceptionalism matters less to these states than the possibility of exceptionalism, and a few are prepared to make their own case.

Past as Prologue

Thirty years ago, the United States cut off nuclear trade with India after that country tested a nuclear explosive device in 1974. India produced the plutonium for its test using materials and equipment it had obtained from Canada and the United States under a peaceful-use commitment. The United States responded by forming the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to avoid similar such incidents, and the U.S. Congress responded by enacting the 1978 Nuclear Nonproliferation Act (NNPA). The presumption of the NNPA was that piecemeal safeguards were not enough to prevent proliferation; only full-scope safeguards and therefore membership in the NPT could ensure peaceful uses. The NSG’s nonbinding set of guidelines for nuclear exports did not require full-scope safeguards as a condition of supply until much later. The adoption of this requirement in 1992 was hailed as a significant achievement.

At the time the NNPA was passed, the United States had been supplying fuel to India for the U.S.-built Tarapur reactors. Thereafter, the United States quietly facilitated supply by other countries. France provided fuel until the 1992 NSG decision, and China supplied fuel from 1994 until 2004, when it joined the NSG. Russia subsequently offered to provide fuel, but encountered U.S. objections. The first collateral damage of the U.S.-Indian deal came when Russia inked an agreement with India for Tarapur resupply just days before President George W. Bush arrived in New Delhi in 2006.

Anatomy of a Deal

Efforts to create a strategic partnership with India date back to the Clinton presidency although India’s 1998 nuclear tests temporarily halted them. Advocates of closer relations with India argued that expanding the partnership between the two countries was natural because the United States and India had so many common interests. For both sides, however, the nuclear issue got in the way. India, which craved legitimization of its nuclear weapons (“strategic”) program, insisted the United States had to lift restrictions on U.S. nuclear trade. U.S. policy, at least until the Bush administration, was that India had to freeze and roll back its nuclear weapons program.

Indian and U.S. strategic thinkers devised a way to resolve the nuclear proliferation tensions between the two countries: abandon restrictions on U.S. and global nuclear trade while asking for minimal nonproliferation commitments from India. Under the two countries’ July 18, 2005, joint statement, India committed to continuing its nuclear test moratorium, supporting U.S. efforts on a treaty to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, separating its civilian from military programs, and placing a portion of its facilities, but no uranium-enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing facilities and no material, under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

Congress Gets Involved

Because the NNPA was designed to preclude nuclear cooperation with states that were outside the NPT, India clearly did not meet all the requirements of the law and would thus have to be considered an exceptional case. The law allows for the president to make an exception to the nine requirements contained in Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act, but only with a determination that meeting those requirements would be “seriously prejudicial to the achievement of U.S. non-proliferation objectives or otherwise jeopardize the common defense and security.” The Bush administration clearly did not want to take this path, which also would have required Congress to pass a law to approve the agreement. (An agreement that meets all the requirements of the law has the presumption of passage; it can enter into force after 90 days of so-called continuous session unless Congress passes a law against it.)

The Bush administration sought legislation that would have had Congress approve nuclear cooperation with India even before an agreement had been finalized. The House responded by passing the Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act, which the Senate adopted in December 2006. The act created the needed exception for India, but it also sought to clarify several of India’s commitments. In particular, some members of Congress, including then-Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.), were concerned that nuclear cooperation might continue if India tested nuclear weapons again, because of the inclusion of multiple assurances of fuel supply for India and because of New Delhi’s insistence on the right to take “corrective actions” in the event of fuel supply termination.[2] Under U.S. law, a nuclear test explosion by India could be grounds for breaking off nuclear cooperation.

Members of Congress were also concerned that the United States might seek to bypass the NSG and therefore made the U.S. agreement’s entry into force contingent on a decision by the NSG to permit supply. Unfortunately, this approach seemed to galvanize the Bush administration to push for rapid-fire completion of all the necessary steps: India’s safeguards agreement was hastily approved at a special IAEA meeting in August 2008, and the NSG exemption was handled just a few weeks later in two special sessions. According to some participants, the Bush administration exerted unprecedented political pressure at the NSG to clinch the deal, including phone calls from U.S. cabinet members to their foreign counterparts during negotiating sessions. With an NSG approval in hand, the Bush administration returned to Congress and, by October 1, got a winning vote. A key part of the administration’s argument was that it made no sense to hold back U.S. nuclear cooperation with India once the door to global cooperation had been unlocked,[3] and few members of Congress were inclined to disagree.

Fallout From the Deal

Creating an “exceptional” nonparty to the NPT has increased pressure across the nonproliferation regime. States have pushed the boundary between legally binding and voluntary commitments. NSG consensus has suffered dramatically, as China and Russia have exploited the political disarray for their own national benefit. Efforts to restrict enrichment and reprocessing may suffer, as some states insist on their “legal” rights. At the 2010 NPT Review Conference in May, the language in the action plan referring to states’ fuel cycle decisions called on treaty parties to “[r]espect each country’s choices and decisions in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear energy without jeopardizing its policies or international cooperation agreements and arrangements for peaceful uses of nuclear energy and its fuel cycle choices,” a swipe at efforts to get countries to forswear the acquisition of sensitive technology such as uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing.

NSG Consensus

Russia lost no time in restarting nuclear cooperation with India. Days before Bush arrived in New Delhi in 2006 to finalize India’s plan to place some of its facilities under safeguards, Russian officials informed the NSG that they would resupply fuel to India’s Tarapur reactors. At the time, the NSG had not yet considered an exception for India, so the Russian action violated the guidelines. Although it was clear that the Bush administration also would seek an NSG exemption for India, Russia’s action revealed the willingness of some suppliers to exploit potential gaps in the system.

In this context, China’s recent plan to build two more power reactors for Pakistan is not surprising.[4] China has always been a supplier of peaceful and not-so-peaceful nuclear technology to Pakistan. In joining the NSG in 2004, China announced its intention to continue some kinds of cooperation with Pakistan under the NSG’s grandfathering provision. This included lifetime support and fuel supply for the Chashma I and II nuclear power plants, supply of heavy water and operational safety services to the Karachi nuclear power plant, and supply of fuel and operational safety services to the two safeguarded research reactors at PINSTECH.[5] At the time, Chashma I was operating, and Chashma II construction had not yet begun. If China builds these two newest reactors, it will be a blatant violation of NSG guidelines. In April 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted in answers to questions for the record from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “[i]f China did seek to provide additional reactors to Pakistan, it would need NSG accommodation. The NSG operates by consensus, so China would need the support of all other participating governments to proceed. We do not believe that the 45 member states of the Nuclear Suppliers Group would agree to such an accommodation, and we do not support such an initiative with Pakistan.”[6]

Israel, too, has sought to exploit the gaps. Israel, which is not a party to the NPT but is an adherent to NSG guidelines, has been openly discussing initiating a nuclear power program in its country. Israeli officials circulated a nonpaper to the NSG in March 2007 that suggested criteria that would allow both India and Israel to be exempted from full-scope safeguards requirements.[7]

At the same time, the NSG has been struggling with revisions to its guidelines on enrichment- and reprocessing-related exports. As a coda to the India deal, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) extracted a promise from Rice that the administration would move quickly to ensure an NSG decision on those revisions. In the draft language that the NSG has been considering, NPT membership is required for such transfers. India would thus be excluded from receiving such technology. Ironically, although Russia has since decided against such sensitive nuclear technology trade with India, France had already signed an agreement in September 2008 that would allow sensitive nuclear transfers.[8] In the interim, the Group of Eight’s 2004 policy of no new enrichment and reprocessing transfers was watered down in 2008 to allow for transfers if there is no replication of the technology.

Pakistan’s Reaction

From the start, Pakistan lodged objections to the U.S.-Indian deal, while asserting that it deserved the same deal. In March 2006, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement saying that “[t]he agreement represents an important relaxation of the NSG’s existing guidelines, and transfer of civilian nuclear technology from NSG members to non-NPT States. Pakistan has the same claim and expectation for international cooperation under safeguards for nuclear power generation, especially because Pakistan is a fossil fuel deficit country and has a significant and fully safeguarded nuclear power generation programme.” In the wake of the 2004 revelations about the Abdul Qadeer Khan black market nuclear network, however, the Bush administration was adamant about not pursuing a similar deal with Pakistan.

Pakistani officials have argued that the deal would free up India’s domestic uranium for weapons and that Pakistan would need to increase its own capability to produce fissile material. The National Command Authority declared in August 2007 that the agreement “would have implications on strategic stability as it would enable India to produce significant quantities of fissile material and nuclear weapons from un-safeguarded nuclear reactors.”[9]

Although Bush administration officials told Congress they would encourage India and Pakistan to exercise restraint in fissile material production, the deal seems to have accelerated Pakistan’s unsafeguarded uranium- and plutonium-production capability. Pakistan has been expanding its capabilities to produce plutonium in unsafeguarded production reactors (Khushab site) and reprocessing plants (PINSTECH site) and to process uranium (at the Dera Ghazi Khan site).[10] Finally, Pakistan’s perceptions of and concerns about the Indian civil nuclear deal also appear to have further degraded Islamabad’s willingness to engage in key nonproliferation and disarmament talks. Responding to a press question in 2009 about the prospects that Pakistan would follow suit if India joined the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman noted that “[o]bviously new realities have to be considered. I can tell you that at this point in time there is no consideration to sign the CTBT.”[11] Pakistan has also hardened its opposition to the start of fissile material production cutoff talks at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva. For more than a decade, Pakistan has complained that that a cutoff treaty must not lock in disparities in fissile material stocks.[12] The India deal has only underscored that fear.

Fuel Cycle, Cooperation Rights

Regardless of the outcome of NSG decisions on technology transfers, the India deal has affected countries’ expectations about their rights regarding fuel cycle decisions and nuclear cooperation. Although India is meant to be an exception, it is clearly seen as a pathbreaker of sorts. Until the India deal, the United States did not give programmatic consent, as opposed to case-by-case consent, for reprocessing U.S.-origin fuel unless a country already had an advanced nuclear program, including reprocessing and enrichment plants; did not pose a proliferation risk; was not located in regions of proliferation concern; and had excellent nonproliferation credentials. Until India, the United States had approved the reprocessing of U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel only in Japan and EURATOM countries France and the United Kingdom. Additionally, the U.S.-Indian deal has left the door open to enrichment and reprocessing cooperation, subject to certain requirements (the facilities must be multilateral or part of a project to improve proliferation resistance) and approval of an amended agreement. Until now, the United States has only engaged in enrichment cooperation with one state (Australia), and in that case, the technology transfer was to the United States, not the other way around.

With the resurgence of interest in nuclear energy, many states are considering their options and the potential for cooperation with advanced nuclear states. South Korea, for example, is likely to request programmatic consent for reprocessing U.S.-origin spent fuel. Without an India deal, it might have asked for this anyway. With an India deal, it may be more successful. Now, South Korea also is interested in keeping its options open on uranium enrichment. One thing is certain: the India deal has shown states that the path to global acceptance of capabilities is through the United States.

2010 NPT Review Conference

During the 2010 NPT Review Conference, India’s special status was a significant irritant. The 118 members of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) charged that the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal had given an NPT nonparty more benefits than NPT parties. This had two effects: NAM countries sought to restrict benefits to India by including language on the need for full-scope safeguards for nuclear supply, and they sought to widen their own possibilities for supply by including language on fuel cycle rights.

In the case of the first, the NAM argued that the review conference’s final document should reiterate a requirement for comprehensive safeguards for “existing or new” nuclear supply arrangements as well as a requirement to forswear the acquisition of nuclear weapons. U.S. officials could not accept language that would apply to India and argued against inclusion of the word “existing.”[13] The final president’s statement reaffirmed that “new supply arrangements” should require full-scope safeguards and “international legally-binding commitments not to acquire nuclear weapons.” The statement also calls on all parties to give “preferential treatment to the non-nuclear weapons States parties to the Treaty, taking the needs of developing countries, in particular, into account.”

In the case of the second effect, Action 47 of the final document, as noted earlier, urges all states to respect fuel cycle choices without jeopardizing international cooperation agreements.

Conclusion

The U.S.-Indian nuclear deal bestows privileges on India beyond what is normally given to states in good standing with their nonproliferation obligations. To lessen the negative impact of the deal, the global nonproliferation regime needs to return to more equitable approaches to restrictions on technology dissemination. From the supply side, the NSG needs to adopt meaningful restrictions on enrichment and reprocessing transfers that, at a minimum, do not allow any such cooperation with India and, more importantly, strongly limit the further dissemination of such capabilities. Cradle-to-grave fuel supply services could help provide incentives to countries not to acquire sensitive technologies, but they cannot prevent them. Above all, the regime needs to go beyond approaches that perpetuate dividing lines between the haves and the have-nots.

Instead, a single vision for a nuclear energy future that complements nonproliferation and disarmament objectives, rather than defeats them, is needed. Elements could include limitations on all states and legally binding commitments not to build national fissile material production capabilities. Approaches might include multinational fuel-cycle centers or an international nuclear fuel authority, as envisioned in the NNPA. Connecting fuel cycle restrictions to disarmament obligations, such as in a fissile material production cutoff treaty, could be helpful to win broader support.

These are ambitious goals, but small-scale revisions to the nonproliferation regime will not be able to repair the damage that the India deal has caused.


Sharon Squassoni is a senior fellow and director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. From 2002 to 2007, she was a senior specialist for weapons of mass destruction at the Congressional Research Service.


ENDNOTES

1. The term “nonproliferation ayatollah” was coined in the Indian press prior to the U.S.-Indian deal to describe U.S. and Western experts that were critical of India’s nuclear weapons program. It was used extensively during the debates from 2005 to 2008 to disparage nonproliferation experts opposed to the deal. See, for example, Kaushik Kapistalam, “The Reign of the Non-proliferation Ayatollahs,” Bharat Rakshak Monitor,Vol. 6, No. 5 (March-April 2004).

2. In a colloquy with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) on November 16, 2006, Obama sought to clarify that, under the terms of the implementing legislation, “in the event of a future nuclear test by the Government of India, nuclear power reactor fuel and equipment sales, and nuclear technology cooperation would terminate.”

3. The closing line of a letter from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to support the House legislation (H.R. 7081) on October 1, 2008, stated, “You can also help ensure that U.S. industry—just like its international counterparts—is able to engage with India in civil nuclear trade.”

4. See Daniel Horner, “China, Pakistan Set Reactor Deal,” Arms Control Today, June 2010.

5. “Answers to Questions for the Record Submitted to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by Senator Richard Lugar,” in Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation and U.S. Additional Protocol Implementation Act, S. Rpt. 109-288, p. 164.

6. Ibid.

7. David Siegel, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, told The Washington Post in 2007 that “Israel, recognized to be a full-fledged adherent to the NSG guidelines, has urged the NSG to consider adopting a generic, multi-tiered, criteria-based approach towards nuclear technology transfers.” See Glenn Kessler, “Israel Submits Nuclear Trade Plan,” The Washington Post, September 30, 2007.

8. For text of the Indo-French deal, see www.dae.gov.in/sectt/indofrench.pdf.

9. See “Statement by the National Command Authority,” August 2, 2007, http://missions.itu.int/~pakistan/2005_Press_Releases/Disarmament/prnca_2aug07.htm.

10. See Paul Brannan, “Steam Emitted From Second Khushab Reactor Cooling Towers; Pakistan May Be Operating Second Reactor,” ISIS Reports, March 24, 2010; David Albright, Paul Brannan, and Robert Kelley, “Pakistan Expanding Dera Ghazi Khan Nuclear Site: Time for U.S. to Call for Limits,” ISIS Reports, May 19, 2009.

11. See www.mofa.gov.pk/Spokesperson/2009/June/Spokes_18_06_09.htm.

12. See “FMCT Resisted by Brazil, Japan, New Zealand, Pakistan, Group of 21,” Dawn, April 19, 2010.

13. Peter Crail, “NPT Parties Agree on Middle East Meeting,” Arms Control Today, June 2010.

 

Is the NSG Up to the Task?

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was established 35 years ago to reinforce the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) by establishing guidelines for nuclear supply. These voluntary guidelines were designed to prevent the transfer of the most sensitive nuclear technologies and block nuclear commerce with states that do not abide by basic nonproliferation standards. (Continue)

Daryl G. Kimball

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was established 35 years ago to reinforce the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) by establishing guidelines for nuclear supply. These voluntary guidelines were designed to prevent the transfer of the most sensitive nuclear technologies and block nuclear commerce with states that do not abide by basic nonproliferation standards.

Although the NSG has provided an important check on proliferation, in recent years it has failed to agree to tighter restrictions on the transfer of uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing technology. To their great discredit, a few leading NSG states have reversed or ignored NSG guidelines for commercial profit and improved bilateral ties with nuclear trading partners.

In 2001, Russia sold uranium to India and agreed to build two additional reactors for India in violation of NSG guidelines barring nuclear trade with non-NPT countries. In 2008 the NSG agreed on an exemption for nuclear transfers to India over the protestations of the governments of Austria, Ireland, and New Zealand. The exemption, which was initiated by the George W. Bush administration and strongly backed by France, Russia, and the United Kingdom, reversed the long-standing NSG and NPT policies barring nuclear trade with states that have not accepted comprehensive international safeguards.

Now, China is reportedly planning to sell two nuclear power reactors to NPT holdout and serial proliferator Pakistan, which would violate current NSG rules.

The NSG must respond appropriately or risk irrelevance. Responsible NSG governments should actively oppose the Chinese-Pakistani deal as a violation of NSG guidelines, work to mitigate the damage caused by the India exemption, and agree to tougher rules against the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies, which can be used to produce fissile material for weapons.

When China joined the NSG in 2004, it had already built a power reactor at Pakistan’s Chashma site. It claimed at the time that it was entitled to build a second one on the grounds that the second reactor project was covered in its existing agreement with Pakistan. At the time, however, there was no declaration of any intention to build additional nuclear power plants at Chashma.

States at the recent NPT review conference, including China, reaffirmed that “new supply arrangements” for nuclear transfers should require that the recipient accept International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “full-scope safeguards and international legally-binding commitments not to acquire nuclear weapons.”

Nuclear trade with Pakistan or India would give those NPT nonmembers the rights and privileges reserved for NPT members that follow nonproliferation rules. Worse still, nuclear trade with either country would indirectly contribute to their weapons programs by freeing up domestic uranium reserves for the production of enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons purposes.

Recognizing this danger, NPT parties expressed concern about the negative effects of civil nuclear trade with the two countries. The NPT conference’s final document “urges all States parties to ensure that their nuclear-related exports do not directly or indirectly assist the development of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devises.”

In response to the NSG’s 2008 India exemption, Israel and Pakistan, which are still subject to the NSG ban on nuclear trade, have sought similar exemptions—so far unsuccessfully. Also, Pakistan has accelerated its efforts to increase its capacity to produce enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons and has blocked the start of negotiations on a global treaty to ban the production of nuclear material for weapons purposes.

The NSG must hold firm and oppose nuclear trade with Israel, Pakistan, or any country that does not meet commonsense nonproliferation and disarmament standards.

Notwithstanding the 2008 NSG exemption for India, states such as Australia and Japan should resist commercial and political pressures for engaging in nuclear trade with India, at least until New Delhi complies with UN Security Council Resolution 1172, passed in June 1998, which calls on India and Pakistan to stop producing fissile material for weapons, to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and undertake other nuclear risk reduction measures.

Those NSG governments that have decided to sell nuclear material and reactors to India should clarify that if India or any other state breaks its nonproliferation commitments and conducts a nuclear test explosion for any reason, they will immediately terminate nuclear trade with the offending state.

The NSG must address future proliferation risks as well. India and other states in regions of proliferation concern are seeking advanced enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology. In response, the United States and other NSG countries must overcome opposition from South Africa and Turkey and adopt tougher guidelines that would bar the transfer of such technology to those states that have not signed the NPT and do not have in place IAEA comprehensive safeguards and enhanced inspections under an additional protocol.

If the NSG is to remain effective and credible, member states must respect and uphold their own rules, avoid actions that feed the nuclear arms race, and strengthen their guidelines to prevent weapons-related nuclear technology from proliferating in the years ahead.

Op-ed: Time to Act Responsibly on Nukes

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Description: 

Op-ed in The Press by Zia Mian and Daryl Kimball

Body: 

Op-ed in The Press by Zia Mian and Daryl Kimball

"Global efforts to prevent the spread of the world's most deadly weapons depend on universal compliance with rules that constrain the sale of nuclear technology.

Too often, however, powerful states try to make exceptions from these rules, or simply ignore them, as a way to help their allies and to make money for their nuclear industries."

Click here to read the full op-ed.

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

Ensure Compliance with NSG Guidelines and Nonproliferation Standards

Sections:

Description: 

Letter sent to Ambassadors attending the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting in New Zealand, June 2010.

Body: 

June 17, 2010

Dear NSG Ambassador:

In recent weeks, credible reports have surfaced that the Government of China is planning to sell two additional power reactors to Pakistan. We strongly urge that your government raise this issue at the upcoming meetings of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in Christchurch, New Zealand and make clear that such a transfer would violate NSG guidelines.

Under the guidelines of the NSG, countries other than the five NPT-recognized nuclear-weapon states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—are not eligible to receive most nuclear exports from NSG members unless they have IAEA full-scope safeguards in place.

When China joined the NSG in 20004, it had already built a power reactor at Pakistan’s Chashma site. It claimed at the time that it was entitled to build a second one on the grounds that the second reactor project was covered in its existing agreement with Pakistan.

There was no declaration at that time of any intention to build additional nuclear power plants at Chashma. Chinese construction of additional nuclear power plants in Pakistan beyond what was grandfathered in 2004 would be inconsistent with NSG guidelines and China’s commitments to the NSG.

We urge your government to reiterate to the Chinese government that it must not engage in nuclear trade with Pakistan in a way that violates nonproliferation obligations and norms.

The provision of uranium and/or nuclear fuel to Pakistan or India for safeguarded reactors can have the effect of increasing their respective capacity to produce enriched uranium or plutonium for weapons purposes in unsafeguarded facilities. Action 35 of the 2010 NPT Review Conference Final Document:

“… urges all States parties to ensure that their nuclear-related exports do not directly or indirectly assist the development of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devises and that such exports are in full conformity with the objectives and purposes of the Treaty as stipulated, particularly, in articles I, II, and III of the Treaty, as well as the decisions and principles and objectives … adopted in 1995 by the Review and Extension Conference.” The 1995 NPT decisions include making full-scope safeguards a condition of nuclear supply.

All UN members states are also obligated to support UN Security Council Resolution 1172 of June 1998, which calls on Pakistan and India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), stop producing fissile material for weapons, and undertake other nuclear risk reduction measures.

Neither Pakistan nor India has full-scope safeguards in place; neither has halted fissile material production for weapons or signed the CTBT; both nations are currently expanding their respective uranium enrichment capacity.

We urge your government to oppose nuclear trade by any state with Pakistan (or any other state that does not meet basic nonproliferation norms) and to refrain from engaging in nuclear trade with India until such time as it complies with UNSC Resolution 1172.

Sincerely,

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director,
Arms Control Association (Washington, DC, U.S.A.)

Hideyuki Ban, Co-Director,
Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (Tokyo, Japan)

Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor (retired),
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Mass. U.S.A.)

David Culp, Legislative Representative,
Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers) (Washington, D.C. USA)

Dr. Kate Dewes & Commander Robert Green, Royal Navy (Ret'd)
Co-Directors, Disarmament & Security Centre (Christchurch, New Zealand)

Amb. Jayantha Dhanapala,
former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs

Dr David Hutchinson Edgar, Chairperson,
and Mary McCarrick Treasurer, Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Anna Ek. President.
Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society

George Farebrother, Secretary,
World Court Project (United Kingdom)

Trevor Findlay, Director,
Canadian Centre for Treaty Compliance, Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada)

Yasunari Fujimoto, Secretary General,
Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs (Gensuikin)

Irene Gale AM, Treasurer
Australian Peace Committee (Adelaide , Australia)

Pete Haemmerle, Executive Director,
Austrian Fellowship of Reconciliation

Frank von Hippel,
Professor of Public and International Affairs, Program on Science and Global Security,
Princeton University (Princeton, NJ, USA)

Akira Kawasaki, Executive Committee Member,
Peace Boat (Japan)

Hans Lammerant,
Vredesactie (Belgium)

Fred McGoldrick, Consultant, and
Former Director of Nonproliferation and Export Policy,
U.S. Department of State (Boston, Mass., U.S.A.)

Ak Malten, Director,
Pro Peaceful Energy Use (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Michael Mariotte, Executive Director,
Nuclear Information and Resource Service (Takoma Park, MD, U.S.A.)

Haruko Moritaki, Co-Director,
Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition

Masayoshi Naito, Coordinator,
Citizens Network for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (Japan)

Kimiko Ogasawara, Vice Chair,
Peace/Nuclear Issues Committee,
National Christian Council in Japan

Nicola Cufaro Petroni,
General Secretary, Union of Scientists for Disarmament, and
Professor, Interdepartmental Centre for Peace Research of Bari University, Italy

Dr. Willam C. Potter,
Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar Professor of Nonproliferation Studies,
Monterey Institute of International Studies (California, U.S.A.)

Associate Professor Tilman Ruff, Chair,
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons (ICAN)

Barney Richards, President,
Peace Council Aotearoa New Zealand Inc.

Daisuke Sato, Secretary-General,
No Nukes Asia Forum Japan

Sukla Sen,
Committee for Communal Amity (Mumbai, India)

Alice Slater, UN Representative,
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (New York, NY, U.S.A.)

Aileen Mioko Smith, Executive Director,
Green Action (Kyoto, Japan)

Susi Snyder Programme Leader, Nuclear Disarmament,
IKV Pax Christi (The Netherlands)

Henry Sokolski, Executive Director,
Nonproliferation Policy Education Center,
Fmr. Deputy for Nonproliferation Policy in the Department of Defense (Washington, D.C., U.S.A.)

Sharon Squassoni,
Director and Senior Fellow, Proliferation Prevention Program,
Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, D.C. U.S.A.)

Steven Staples, President,
Rideau Institute (Ottawa, Canada)

Terumi Tanaka, Secretary General,
Nihon Hidankyo (Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers)

Takao Takahara,
International Peace Research Institute, Meiji Gakuin University* (Japan)

Masao Tomonaga, Chair,
Nagasaki Citizens' Assembly for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

Hiromichi Umebayashi, Chair,
Policy Council of Japan to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN,
Association of World Citizens (Geneva, Switzerland)

Dr. Leonard Weiss,
Center for International Security and Cooperation,
Stanford University* (Stanford, California, U.S.A.)

Gunnar Westberg,
Member of the Board of Directors,
International Physicians for the Prevention f Nuclear War

Peter Wilk, Executive Director,
Physicians for Social Responsibility (U.S.A.)

Ichiro Yuasa, President,
Peace Depot* (Japan)

*Affiliation listed for identification purposes only.

Subject Resources:

China, Pakistan Set Reactor Deal

China reportedly has reached a deal to sell two nuclear reactors to Pakistan, a country that does not open all its nuclear facilities to international inspections.

Daniel Horner

China reportedly has reached a deal to sell two nuclear reactors to Pakistan, a country that does not open all its nuclear facilities to international inspections.

Under the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which China joined in 2004, countries other than the five recognized nuclear-weapon states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—are not eligible to receive most nuclear exports from NSG members unless they agree to accept such inspections, known as full-scope safeguards.

In an April 28 article, the Financial Times cited an interview with a Pakistani official and a statement on China National Nuclear Corporation’s Web site as confirming the deal, which has been the subject of conflicting information over the past few months. The Times also cited diplomats in China as saying Beijing had approved the deal, but that it had not been sealed.

The NSG, which is currently chaired by Hungary, is scheduled to hold its annual plenary meeting June 21-25 in New Zealand. In a May 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a Hungarian diplomat said that “the Chinese-Pakistani deal on nuclear reactors has not been formally discussed within NSG but we anticipate the issue will be raised” during the New Zealand meeting. The diplomat added, “We hope to learn more about the deal during the plenary after which the Group can formulate a well-informed position on the issue.”

When China joined the NSG, it had already built a power reactor at Pakistan’s Chashma site. It claimed at the time that, under the NSG’s “grandfather” provisions, it was entitled to build a second one, on the grounds that the second project was covered in its existing agreement with Pakistan.

China made “a declaration of existing projects” that covered Chashma-1 and -2, which “were grandfathered as conditions of China’s NSG membership,” a U.S. official said in a recent e-mail to Arms Control Today.  “There was no declaration at that time, and subsequently no NSG approval, of any intention to build additional nuclear power plants at Chasma,” the official said.

“Without an exception granted by the NSG by consensus, Chinese construction of additional nuclear power plants in Pakistan beyond what was grandfathered in 2004 would be inconsistent with NSG guidelines and China’s commitments to the NSG,” the official said.

The U.S. government “has reiterated to the Chinese government that the United States expects Beijing to cooperate with Pakistan in ways consistent with Chinese nonproliferation obligations,” the official said.

In 2008 the NSG, led by the United States, granted an exemption making India, which also does not apply full-scope safeguards, eligible to receive nuclear exports from NSG members.

The NSG is not a formal organization, and its guidelines are not binding.

 

Nuclear Summit Set to Host World Leaders

Almost immediately after signing a strategic arms treaty this month, President Barack Obama will have to focus his attention on another part of his nuclear policy agenda: securing vulnerable nuclear materials around the world.

Obama is preparing to host the leaders of about 40 countries in Washington April 12-13. The signing of New START is set for April 8 in Prague, where Obama delivered a wide-ranging speech on nuclear policy last April.

Daniel Horner

Almost immediately after signing a strategic arms treaty this month, President Barack Obama will have to focus his attention on another part of his nuclear policy agenda: securing vulnerable nuclear materials around the world.

Obama is preparing to host the leaders of about 40 countries in Washington April 12-13. The signing of New START is set for April 8 in Prague, where Obama delivered a wide-ranging speech on nuclear policy last April.

In that speech, Obama announced an “international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years” and “a Global Summit on Nuclear Security that the United States will host within the next year.” (See ACT, May 2009.)

The countries on the invitation list for the security summit include Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam, a U.S. official said March 29.

The list of 45 countries apparently includes some relatively recent additions; earlier reports, confirmed by the administration, had put the number at 43. (See ACT, January/February 2010.)

The U.S. official declined to say whether specific countries would be attending. The United States is “waiting for definitive replies” from some invitees, he said. Because the invitation came from Obama, there is an expectation that countries will send their top officials, he added.

The United States also has invited three international organizations—the European Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the United Nations—he said.

The summit participants are expected to issue a communiqué pledging to bolster efforts to make nuclear materials secure. In a March 22 interview, Roger Howsley, executive director of the World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) in Vienna, said it would be very useful if the communiqué contained language endorsing the sharing of best practices by the nuclear industry and others.

WINS, which was launched in September 2008, aims to help secure nuclear and radioactive materials to make them inaccessible to terrorists. The members range from nuclear industry giants such as the French company Areva to members of guard forces and police that guard nuclear facilities, Howsley said.

In the nuclear industry, cooperation on safety is generally much better than on security, which is seen as being “a good deal more sensitive,” Howsley said. Attitudes toward security have to shift somewhat from “need to know” to “need to share,” he said. He emphasized that he was not referring to specific details on obtaining access to particular facilities, but rather to organizational approaches to issues such as management oversight and corporate governance.

After the nuclear summit, on April 14, there is scheduled to be a session on the nuclear industry’s role in nuclear materials security. The session is being organized by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Washington-based industry association for the nuclear industry.

Questions of Funding

The Obama administration is pursuing the goal of securing nuclear materials in a number of ways. A major element is the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which is overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy. Under the administration’s fiscal year 2011 budget request, funding for the GTRI would rise to $559 million; Congress appropriated $334 million for fiscal year 2010. (See ACT, March 2010.)

Some nongovernmental experts have said funding at the level the administration requested for fiscal year 2011 and the following years would not allow the programs to move at a fast enough pace to meet Obama’s four-year goal. However, congressional appropriators have expressed a different concern, wondering if the Energy Department would be able to manage such large funding increases.

At a March 4 hearing of the House Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee, Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.), who chaired the hearing, said that “[s]ignificant portions” of the funding for the NNSA nonproliferation programs “depend on finalizing agreements with other nations, something that is notoriously difficult to firmly nail down in time.” Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), the panel’s ranking member, also questioned the increase.

In a hearing at the Senate’s counterpart subcommittee six days later, Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), the ranking member, raised similar issues, with Bennett citing “a history of large unobligated balances,” that is, funds that Congress appropriated but the department did not spend in a given fiscal year.

At the March 10 hearing, NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino said that, over the last two years, his agency had “successfully executed large funding increases in several nonproliferation programs” while reducing the percentage of unspent funds.

In the past year, the NNSA has significantly reduced the staff vacancy rate, he said. He also cited the use of contract mechanisms that he said were well suited to GTRI work. “We are looking to commit all of the money for the [fiscal year 2011] work that we’ve requested in the budget, and we believe we can do it,” he said.

In addition to the proposed increase in existing programs, such as the GTRI, the administration’s budget request includes at least one new element for securing nuclear materials and preventing nuclear terrorism. In the section of the request dealing with international programs administered by the Department of State, the administration asks for $3 million to support implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires countries to establish effective national controls to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

 

Israel States Strong Interest in Nuclear Energy

Israel’s infrastructure minister last month strongly reaffirmed his country’s interest in pursuing a nuclear power program and suggested such a program could be “an area for regional cooperation.”

Uzi Landau made the comments March 9 at a conference in Paris.

Daniel Horner

Israel’s infrastructure minister last month strongly reaffirmed his country’s interest in pursuing a nuclear power program and suggested such a program could be “an area for regional cooperation.”

Uzi Landau made the comments March 9 at a conference in Paris.

Observers agree that, to build a reactor on its territory, Israel would need to import at least some key components. Under the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Israel is barred from receiving such imports because it has nuclear facilities that are not safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In his prepared remarks for the Paris meeting, Landau said nuclear power represents “[r]eliable, environmentally clean and high efficiency electricity.” Israel “sees itself as eligible as any other country [for] the peaceful uses of nuclear energy: it has the need, the required scientific and technical infrastructure and know-how and certainly the motivation to engage in such [a] project,” he said.

In 2008 the NSG made an exception to its guidelines for India, lifting a long-standing ban on nuclear exports to a country that conducted nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998 and allows IAEA inspections of only some of its nuclear facilities. That initiative was led by the United States, which made a similar exception to its domestic law.

Bush administration officials said the deal was a unique exception for India and explicitly ruled out similar arrangements for Israel and Pakistan, the other two nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) holdouts. However, a congressional source recalled last month that “the Israelis have not been shy” about “linking themselves” to the India deal by suggesting they should receive similar treatment. The source said he was not aware of any recent Israeli effort to make that case. Other sources in Israel and the United States also said they knew of no such effort.

In a March 22 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a U.S. official indicated that no deal was in the offing. “All nuclear-related technical exchanges between the U.S. and Israel are restricted by U.S. law, which does not permit broad nuclear cooperation with Israel,” she said. She noted that the United States does not have a nuclear cooperation agreement with Israel and said “there is no discussion of negotiating one.”

Real Interest

According to an Israeli source, the country’s “interest in nuclear energy has been and remains real,” and its nonproliferation credentials are “as good as India’s or better.”

In his Paris remarks, Landau said, “Naturally, all nuclear power reactors to be built in Israel will be subject to international safeguards as well as appropriate physical protection measures.” He also said it is “imperative to minimize proliferation risks—especially those associated with the nuclear fuel cycle technologies.”

The Israeli source said he thought Israel would be willing to import fresh fuel for the reactor and send the spent fuel out of the country. This so-called cradle-to-grave approach has been widely supported by nonproliferation advocates and many political leaders as a way to lessen proliferation concerns about countries that are launching nuclear power programs. Such arrangements are designed to give countries an incentive to refrain from pursuing uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing programs.

Israel has an unsafeguarded reactor and reprocessing plant at the Dimona site, where the country is widely believed to have produced the plutonium for its nuclear arsenal.

Recent media reports have said Israel has been in discussions with France and Jordan about a joint reactor project at a site in the latter. One potential advantage of that route is that it might allow Israel to sidestep the NSG ban.

In a March 23 interview, Fred McGoldrick, a former State Department official who handled nuclear trade and nonproliferation issues, said an arrangement under which a Jordanian reactor was supplying electricity to Israel “technically” would “probably not violate the NSG guidelines but it would not be faithful to their intent.” Even though Israel would not have access to nuclear exports from NSG members, it would be getting “the benefits of nuclear energy without making the commitments” that NSG recipients are required to make, he said.

A similar plan was floated in the mid-1980s, and the United States “killed it because it would have been an obvious circumvention of our full-scope safeguards requirements,” he said.

The Israeli source and others said there were several potential obstacles to a joint reactor project built in Jordan. There are “multiple layers of security and politics” that would have to be addressed, the Israeli source said. He said that an overarching question is, “Can you be confident the Jordanians would not only initially commit to but would also be able to keep on supplying Israel energy even if the relationship would become politically sour?” Another issue is that Jordanian trade unions, which support a boycott of Israel, probably would oppose the project, he said.

The Associated Press quoted Khaled Toukan, the head of Jordan’s Atomic Energy Commission, as saying, “It’s too early to talk about any regional cooperation with Israel before a solution is found to the Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts.”

Even though Landau indicated a preference for collaborative projects, Israel would have to “weigh an indigenous option,” the Israeli source said.

In his remarks, Landau recalled that Israel in the 1970s had chosen a site called Shivta in the NegevDesert and prepared some of the preliminary safety and security documentation. “Israel has kept the site and the necessary scientific and technical infrastructure for the safe and reliable operation of the future nuclear power plant,” he said.

Israel is one of about a dozen Middle Eastern countries that have expressed an interest in nuclear energy.

Criteria-Based Approach

The United States was “myopic” in making the U.S. and NSG exemptions specific to India rather than adopting a so-called criteria-based approach that also would have made Israel and Pakistan potentially eligible, the Israeli source said. Nuclear suppliers should establish a principle of “the harder you try, the more you qualify for,” he said. Such an approach would encourage the non-NPT states to come closer to the nuclear mainstream and would help raise the levels of security, safety, and nonproliferation adherence in those countries, he said.

Since the U.S.-Indian deal, Pakistan has repeatedly indicated it would like a similar arrangement. It would be “logical” to hold open the possibility of nuclear trade with Pakistan so as not to alienate Islamabad, the Israeli source said.

 

IAEA Board Approves Russian Fuel Bank Plan

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors has adopted a resolution authorizing Russia to establish a reserve of low-enriched uranium (LEU) as part of an international nonproliferation plan.

In addition to approving the proposed text of an agreement with Russia, the Nov. 27 resolution authorizes the IAEA director-general “to conclude and subsequently implement” agreements with IAEA member states to receive the LEU from the Russian reserve if the countries meet certain basic requirements. According to the resolution, the board does not have to provide “case-by-case” authorization, but the director-general should “keep the Board informed of the progress of individual Agreements” with potential recipient countries. As part of the resolution, the board also approved a “model agreement” with potential recipients of the LEU.

Daniel Horner

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors has adopted a resolution authorizing Russia to establish a reserve of low-enriched uranium (LEU) as part of an international nonproliferation plan.

In addition to approving the proposed text of an agreement with Russia, the Nov. 27 resolution authorizes the IAEA director-general “to conclude and subsequently implement” agreements with IAEA member states to receive the LEU from the Russian reserve if the countries meet certain basic requirements. According to the resolution, the board does not have to provide “case-by-case” authorization, but the director-general should “keep the Board informed of the progress of individual Agreements” with potential recipient countries. As part of the resolution, the board also approved a “model agreement” with potential recipients of the LEU.

The Nov. 27 approval came with eight dissenting votes and three abstentions among the 35-member board, a Vienna-based diplomat said in a Dec. 14 interview. The board traditionally reaches decisions by consensus; the vote tallies are not made public.

The Russian proposal is one of several variants of the concept of an international fuel bank, which aims to give countries an attractive alternative to indigenous uranium-enrichment programs by providing an assured supply of fuel at market prices. The bank would serve as a backup to existing commercial mechanisms for countries with good nonproliferation credentials.

The concept has been strongly supported by Mohamed ElBaradei, who was the IAEA’s director-general until Dec. 1; President Barack Obama; and others. But the concept faced resistance, particularly from some key members of the Nonaligned Movement.

As a result, the Russian proposal and another fuel bank plan, from the private, U.S.-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), did not get a go-ahead from the board when they were considered in June, and efforts to resolve the issue made little progress before the September board meeting. (See ACT, October 2009.)

At the November board meeting, Russia requested a vote on its proposal, the diplomat said. The eight dissenting votes came from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Africa, and Venezuela, he said; India, Kenya, and Turkey abstained. Azerbaijan was absent, but later said it would have voted in favor of the proposal, he added.

The other current members of the board are Afghanistan, Australia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Mongolia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Uruguay.

The countries that did not support the resolution said they were concerned that the arrangement could “erode their Article 4 rights,” the diplomat said. He was referring to Article 4 of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which gives parties the right to “the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy” and says parties have an “inalienable right” to pursue nuclear energy programs as long as the programs are “in conformity with” the treaty’s nonproliferation restrictions.

The board resolution says that those rights “will in no way be affected” by the Russian initiative.

The IAEA-Russian agreement says Russia will “establish a guaranteed physical reserve” of 120 metric tons of LEU in the form of uranium hexafluoride. When fabricated into reactor fuel, that amount of material would provide enough fuel for a typical power reactor to operate for several years.

The agreement names the InternationalUraniumEnrichmentCenter at Angarsk as the “executive authority.” The center is a Russian commercial enrichment venture with investments from other countries. The fuel reserve would be located on the Angarsk site in Siberia, in an area separate from the enrichment plant, the diplomat said.

The material will be under IAEA safeguards, and Russia will assume the costs of the safeguards, the agreement says.

As described by the agreement and the diplomat, a shipment of LEU from Angarsk would go to the port of St. Petersburg, where ownership would transfer to the IAEA. The agency would then immediately transfer ownership of the LEU to the customer country, which would have paid for it in advance, the diplomat said. The IAEA then would pay Russia, he said.

Under the IAEA-Russian agreement, the countries eligible to receive the LEU would be those “with respect to which the IAEA has drawn the conclusion that there has been no diversion of declared nuclear material and concerning which no issues are under consideration by the IAEA Board of Governors relating to the application of IAEA safeguards.” The recipient countries would have to have an agreement with the IAEA opening all their “peaceful nuclear activities” to inspections.

Back-up Fuel Supply System

It is expected that shipments of fuel would take place rarely, if ever, since the arrangement is intended to be a last-resort option if supplies are interrupted for reasons other than violations of the country’s nonproliferation commitments. The IAEA board resolution said that “the establishment of the reserve of LEU and the subsequent implementation of future agreements with Member States will be carried out as a back-up solution only and in such a way that any disturbance of or interference in the functioning of the existing fuel market is avoided.” The board “not[ed] the importance of developing a range of complementary options for additional assurances of supply, and the fact that the good operation of the market already provides assurances of supply.”

Before the IAEA board meeting, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher issued a joint Nov. 23 statement, saying, “For those who seek greater assurance than the market provides, multilateral fuel assurance mechanisms can serve as safety nets in the event of a fuel supply disruption.”

In a Nov. 28 statement, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the initiative helps ensure the supply of nuclear fuel “on a predictable, stable, cost-effective and long-term basis,” which “will facilitate expanding the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” The ministry added that “[t]his initiative aims at strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime and is a concrete contribution of Russia to creating the conditions for successfully holding the 2010 NPT Review Conference.”

The board did not take up the NTI plan, which was aimed at establishing an IAEA-owned reserve of LEU. In 2006, the NTI pledged $50 million for such a reserve on the condition that IAEA member states would donate another $100 million. That goal has been met by pledges from the United States ($49.5 million), the European Union (up to 25 million euros), Kuwait ($10 million), the United Arab Emirates ($10 million), and Norway ($5 million).

However, the diplomat said, reaching the pledge threshold does not mean that the NTI offer automatically is accepted. The board has to make a formal decision to accept the money, and that move could face the same type of opposition that the Russian plan did, he said.

There also needs to be a decision on the host country, the diplomat said. In a document sent to the IAEA in May, Kazakhstan said it “could consider” hosting the facility if a fuel bank were established.

“Perhaps if things go well,” the board could take up the NTI proposal at its June meeting, the diplomat said. The board meets quarterly in Vienna, where the agency has its headquarters.

The NTI declined to comment on the status of its proposal.

 

 

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