Login/Logout

*
*  

"ACA's journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent."

– Hans Blix
Former IAEA Director-General
March 2008
Edition Date: 
Saturday, March 1, 2008
Cover Image: 

GAO Report Chides Energy Department Program

Daniel Arnaudo

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last December offers stinging criticism of the Department of Energy’s management of its Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (IPP). The criticism and the fact that some of these facilities are sources of technology and expertise for Russia’s construction of an Iranian nuclear power plant at Bushehr has led some lawmakers to question whether the program indirectly provides aid to Iran’s nuclear program.

The IPP is supposed to provide former weapons scientists in the former Soviet Union with funding and engage them in collaborative projects with U.S. laboratories to convert their expertise into nonmilitary employment. Contrary to those goals, the GAO report notes that more than half of the scientists employed in the program did not have experience with weapons of mass destruction or were too young to have worked on Soviet-era programs. The GAO also questions whether there was proper accounting for 2,790 private sector jobs that the program claims to have created, saying that it could not verify their existence in 48 of the 50 projects the Energy Department is maintaining. The department relies too much on “good faith” reporting, according to the report, and lacks proper procedures to ensure against fraud.

At a Feb. 7 hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman defended the IPP and stated that the programs “are not enhancing...the Iranian nuclear program.” Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the committee chairman, questioned him on whether U.S. funds could be transferred to projects involving Bushehr if the Energy Department did not have close oversight over their expenditure, but Bodman noted that the programs were “pay for performance in nature” and that scientists would not be paid without delivering a product.

When Dingell pressed him further on whether the funds went to an institute’s overhead or toward particular contracts, Bodman admitted he did not know. He promised to look into the matter further by forwarding the committee’s questions to Bill Ostendorff, the principal deputy administrator at the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

At the same hearing, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) questioned whether the work of the IPP violated an amendment he and former Rep. Chris Cox (R-Calif.) had made to the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The legislation prohibits the direct or indirect transfer of nuclear technology or assistance to countries that sponsor terrorism. Bodman replied that he did not know but was directing Ostendorff to fully examine IPP’s legality.

The GAO report notes that there was also no comprehensive exit strategy and no benchmarks for institutes to “graduate” from the program once U.S. nonproliferation goals have been achieved. It also describes how the Energy Department was expanding the IPP to help scientists in Iraq and Libya without explicit congressional authorization to work outside the former Soviet Union. It found that, in certain cases, this shift in emphasis was hurting the programs for which it was originally designed. Finally, it calls on the department to improve and streamline its review processes for paying former Soviet weapons scientists and to implement long-delayed programs so that the $30 million in unspent funds already allocated to the program could be expended.

In February, the Bush administration requested $24 million for the IPP in fiscal year 2009 after Congress appropriated it $31 million for the current fiscal year. Now lawmakers await answers on the program from the Energy Department. The report recommends that the department conduct a comprehensive reassessment to guide Congress in determining whether it should continue funding the IPP in its current form. If lawmakers decide to do so, the GAO further advises that the United States should share more of the costs with Russia, which is now less in need of assistance due to a stronger economy and more likely to become an equal partner for similar projects in future.

 

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last December offers stinging criticism of the Department of Energy’s management of its Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (IPP). The criticism and the fact that some of these facilities are sources of technology and expertise for Russia’s construction of an Iranian nuclear power plant at Bushehr has led some lawmakers to question whether the program indirectly provides aid to Iran’s nuclear program. (Continue)

White House Aims to Expedite Arms Exports

Jeff Abramson

On Jan. 22, President George W. Bush issued a directive designed to expedite export licensing of defense equipment, services, and technical data. The directive may ease criticism from industry and Congress that the U.S. export controls system is unnecessarily time consuming, but few specific details about the directive are available.

The full text of the National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) is not publicly available, but an overview of the directive exists as a one-page fact sheet from the Department of State. It outlines a number of measures to expedite license applications for items on the U.S. Munitions List. According to U.S. law, direct commercial sales of items on that list, whether to foreign governments or companies, must be approved by the U.S. government. This is done through the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC).

At a meeting Feb. 26, Acting Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security John Rood estimated that direct commercial sale licenses for defense articles and defense services for permanent export could be valued as high as $96 billion and that 85,000 licenses could be processed in fiscal year 2008, which ends Sept. 30, 2008.

Lawmakers have raised concerns that sales were being unnecessarily delayed. During a July 2007 hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, Chairman Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) commented that “[l]ast year, the backlog of unprocessed licenses at DTTC reached 10,000, a number unheard of in prior years.” Sherman singled out a shortage of manpower as one cause. “One aspect of the problem is clear, there is simply not enough personnel to handle the problem,” he said.

A November 2007 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report concurred with Sherman’s assessment by identifying “human capital challenges.” It noted that, between October 2002 and September 2006, the number of case officers remained relatively constant (35) but the number of cases processed rose by 20 percent and median processing time doubled.

The directive appears designed to address some of these concerns by mandating the commitment of additional funding to expedite license processing. At the February meeting, Rood underscored the pending creation of a self-financing mechanism for the DDTC that could provide as much as 75 percent of the funding for the directorate. At the same meeting, Frank Ruggiero, deputy assistant secretary for defense trade and regional security, stated that achieving the directive’s goals would “most certainly require additional hires.” Exact details about these changes are not yet available, but Rood expects to submit a financial and personnel resources plan to the Office of Management and Budget by March 22.

The directive appears to address other suggestions from the GAO, a congressional watchdog agency. The GAO had faulted the DDTC’s electronic filing and processing system, D-Trade, saying that it had not significantly improved processing times and that it lacked tools to aid officers. The recent presidential directive states that the “electronic licensing system,” presumably including D-Trade, will be upgraded so that all agencies can access the same data. A plan for electronic interoperability is due by July 22, according to Rood.

The State Department also accepted the GAO’s recommendation to conduct systematic assessments to “identify and address inefficiences and challenges in the arms export process.” Rood said that data is now reviewed weekly and key metrics are improving “substantially.” He reported that the number of cases kept open more than 60 days is reduced to 20, down from 400, and the total number of open cases currently stands at 3,400, down from 7,500 in April 2007 as noted by the GAO.

The presidential directive also calls for a number of procedural changes. It says that guidelines would be issued that require a decision on license applications within 60 days, barring some exceptions. It mentions that a multiagency working group will be established to address enforcement investigations.

It also indicates that an interagency dispute mechanism will be created to resolve jurisdictional issues between the Departments of State and Commerce. That mechanism is to be established by March 1 and will be chaired by Ruggiero, according to Rood.

The Commerce Department maintains the Commerce Control List, which governs exports of goods, technology, and information that have both military and civilian uses. At times, there are disputes as to whether an item should be considered a defense item and controlled by the State Department or a dual-use good controlled by the Commerce Department. These jurisdictional questions can delay license processing.

In a separate NSPD issued Jan. 22, the president dealt with dual-use goods. The publicly available two-page fact sheet of that directive calls for a greater differentiation among foreign end-users. It was hailed by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) which, in partnership with the Coalition for Security and Competitiveness, sent 19 recommendations for export reform to the president in 2007. According to a side-by-side comparison released by NAM, the president’s directive could support at least 16 of the recommendations, including license exceptions for the transfer of controlled items within companies and favorable treatment for foreign end-users with strong compliance programs.

To date, however, the full directives have not been released and many of the implementation details are still pending, making it difficult to determine exactly what they include and whether they will be sufficiently strong to protect against possible diversion of defense items and technology. Similar concerns have been raised in relation to separate defense trade cooperation treaties with Australia and the United Kingdom that the Bush administration submitted to the Senate last year. Those treaties would create licensing exemptions for a community of preapproved defense firms. (See ACT, September and October 2007.)

On Feb. 14, U.S. and British officials signed an implementing agreement and made it publicly available. A number of key lists, however, remain unpublished, including approved operations, programs, and projects as well as those defense articles that would be exempt from the treaty.

The Senate was not expected to act on the treaties until the implementing agreements were shared. On Feb. 21, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee aide told Arms Control Today that the committee needs to study the arrangement with the United Kingdom and is still waiting for implementation details of the proposed treaty with Australia. The committee has yet to express any views on the subject.

On Jan. 22, President George W. Bush issued a directive designed to expedite export licensing of defense equipment, services, and technical data. The directive may ease criticism from industry and Congress that the U.S. export controls system is unnecessarily time consuming, but few specific details about the directive are available. (Continue)

Bush Issues Directive on Additional Protocol

Peter Crail

President George W. Bush issued an executive order Feb. 4 that called for relevant U.S. departments and agencies to take steps to implement an additional protocol to the U.S. safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The United States signed its additional protocol in 1998 but has yet to complete the process allowing its entry into force.

The 1997 Model Additional Protocol enhances the scope of IAEA safeguards to improve the IAEA’s ability to detect undeclared nuclear activities. The United States, as a nuclear-weapon state under the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, is not required to adopt IAEA safeguards, but does so as a voluntary confidence-building measure.

The Feb. 4 executive order requires that the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, Justice, and State; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; and other appropriate agencies “issue, amend, or revise, and enforce such regulations, orders, directives, instructions, or procedures as are necessary” to implement the U.S. additional protocol.

In February 2004, Bush called on the Senate to ratify an additional protocol while calling on other countries to do the same. The Senate complied the following month by issuing its consent to ratification. As part of the ratifying legislation, the Senate required the president to certify that appropriate procedures to manage inspectors’ access to facilities are in place due to concerns that inspections may compromise information of “direct national security significance.” During their ratification consideration, some senators wanted to place additional restrictions on the inspection process, but these were rejected out of fear they would cause other countries to place similar restrictions.

The Senate passed the implementing legislation needed to direct U.S. agencies to carry out such procedures about two years later, in November 2006. The executive order fulfilled one of the requirements of this legislation, which called on the president to designate the agencies responsible for implementing the legislation and the protocol.

A former State Department official told Arms Control Today Feb. 15 that, in the interagency process of drafting the regulations for carrying out this legislation, the terms of implementation “grew more and more restrictive,” primarily at the urging of the Defense Department and the National Security Council. The former official explained that these restrictions related to the level and scope of access for inspections, as well as the personnel involved in the decision-making process regarding implementation.

The former official said that the primary concern on the part of the Defense Department related to the potential risk that the inspection process may compromise sensitive national security information. As a nuclear-weapon state, all U.S. defense-related facilities are exempt from safeguards. However, a number of military-related facilities are co-located with civilian facilities. These dual-use facilities were at the core the Defense Department’s concerns and desired restrictions.

The Commerce Department also expressed concerns regarding the cost of the implementation process in light of continual delays and uncertainty that the protocol would ever be concluded. The former State Department official explained that the Commerce Department was reluctant to spend scarce funds on vulnerability assessments and managed-access measures at a time that it was not yet clear that these activities would be needed.

Resolving the terms of these managed-access procedures continues to delay U.S. ratification of its additional protocol. Nonetheless, Washington has sought the widespread adoption of the Model Additional Protocol as an important nonproliferation goal. Susan Burke, then-acting assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee January 2004 that “a key nonproliferation goal of the United States has been to increase non-nuclear-weapon state adherence to the [Model] Additional Protocol.” She added, “Entry into force of the U.S.-IAEA additional protocol would provide a powerful tool in furthering this goal.”

Washington has placed particular emphasis on the need for Iran to implement its additional protocol in order to provide greater transparency regarding its nuclear activities.

 

Bush Calls for More GNEP, MOX Facility Funds

Miles A. Pomper

President George W. Bush’s fiscal 2009 budget request, unveiled Feb. 4, calls for a significant increase in funding for two controversial administration nuclear efforts: the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) and a new mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel facility at Savannah River, South Carolina. The administration made the request despite the fact that Congress significantly cut funds for both programs last year and key lawmakers continue to express skepticism about the initiatives.

Administration officials have claimed that GNEP, which seeks to develop new nuclear technologies and new international nuclear fuel arrangements, will reduce nuclear waste and decrease the risk that anticipated growth in the use of nuclear energy worldwide could spur nuclear weapons proliferation. Critics assert that the administration’s course would exacerbate the proliferation risks posed by the spread of reprocessing technology, be prohibitively expensive, and fail to ease waste disposal challenges significantly without any certainty that the claimed technologies will ever be developed. Many of these concerns have been echoed by U.S. lawmakers, but the administration has continued to sign up international partners: Senegal joined Feb. 1 and the United Kingdom joined Feb. 26, becoming the 20th and 21st members.

GNEP calls for research on new reprocessing technologies that administration officials say will not yield pure separated plutonium but rather a mixture that includes plutonium and is less applicable to making bombs. GNEP further calls for construction of new advanced burner reactors to make use of the reprocessed fuel. These “fast reactors” would burn plutonium as well as other elements in the spent fuel, rather than the uranium used to fuel today’s power reactors. The administration also claims that using such facilities will reduce the volume of spent nuclear fuel currently stored at nuclear reactors so that the United States will not have to build another permanent repository.

The proposal has drawn criticism in part because facilities that reprocess spent fuel for plutonium-based fuels might also be used to harvest plutonium for nuclear bombs. By establishing such facilities, critics say, the United States might be encouraging other countries to do so as well, perhaps leading to nuclear weapons proliferation. Because of such concerns, the United States had shied away from spent fuel reprocessing for nearly three decades until GNEP was launched in 2006. He also requested $20 million for the development of smaller-scale reactors aimed at developing countries with “smaller and less developed power grids.”

Bush requested $302 million for the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (AFCI), the technology arm of GNEP, for fiscal year 2009, which begins Oct. 1.

In response, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, called GNEP “ill-conceived” and said the proposed budget “raises serious concerns.”

Last year, Bush had requested $395 million for AFCI. But lawmakers cut that request by more than half, allocating only $179 million for the current fiscal year. Congress also chose to limit the program to research, blocking any expenditures for constructing commercial facilities or technology demonstration projects. Congress reached that decision after a National Research Council report concluded that the Department of Energy should return to a “less aggressive research program.” (See ACT, January/February 2008 and December 2007. )

Nonetheless, in Feb. 5 remarks at a nuclear energy industry forum, Assistant Secretary of Energy Dennis Spurgeon gave little indication that the administration had abandoned its plans to move forward quickly with demonstration projects or commercial facilities.

Citing four industry studies commissioned by the Energy Department in September 2007, Spurgeon said that “there are sound economic cases for deployment of near-term recycling [reprocessing] technology, but changes in current waste strategies are needed.”

Spurgeon also suggested that the studies backed a proposal he mooted before Congress in November 2007. That proposal would sidestep annual budget battles with Congress by allowing GNEP to dip into a pool of money that has accumulated from a fee Congress has imposed on nuclear power plant operators to pay for disposing of spent fuel. Last year, Spurgeon said that the U.S. government had accumulated close to $20 billion from this fee, which has yet to be spent because of continued political wrangling over a planned permanent repository for nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Waste is currently piling up at nuclear power plants.

In a briefing to Congress explaining the Energy Department’s nuclear energy budget request, Spurgeon suggested the operation of a “new government entity,” a nonprofit corporation that would be responsible for selling recycled fuels and uranium to utilities as well as collecting waste fees. He also indicated that the current $1 per megawatt-hour waste fee on nuclear power might be increased to sustain this new entity.

Spurgeon told the nuclear industry forum that “[a]lthough these actions require significant changes to legislation and regulations, addressing the waste issue is paramount to a successful nuclear renaissance.”

Spurgeon said that Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman planned to move ahead later this year with a decision on a “technology path forward” for GNEP. He said the industry studies propose different technological approaches to reprocessing. Some favor COEX, a process that extracts and precipitates uranium and plutonium (and possibly neptunium) together so that plutonium is never separated on its own. Other industry studies favor a pyroprocessing technology similar to that being studied by South Korea. Critics have said that neither technology would provide sufficient protection against conversion into nuclear weapons. (See ACT, January/February 2008. )

The scale and expense of the proposed reprocessing facilities and fast reactors vary substantially, Spurgeon said. He added that the studies proposed initial operation of the reprocessing facilities to begin between 2018 and 2028 and that prototype fast reactors would be deployed between 2018 and 2025.

Bush also called for spending $487 million for the new Savannah River facility and related efforts. The new facility will mix weapons-grade plutonium with depleted uranium to make new MOX fuel for nuclear reactors. Last year, the administration requested nearly $432 million for the facility and related costs, but lawmakers only appropriated a total of $279 million.

The administration’s budget request also includes $119 million toward efforts to disassemble plutonium pits from weapons so the material can be mixed into MOX fuel. This total includes spending $27 million toward final design efforts for a pit conversion and disassembly facility at Savannah River, $40 million to start construction of a related facility to solidify liquid wastes from that effort, and $52 million (up from $13 million in current spending) to operate a demonstration pit conversion and disassembly facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Under a 2000 agreement, the United States and Russia each agreed to dispose of 34 metric tons of such plutonium but have not yet disposed of any. The Bush administration had pushed construction of the Savannah River facility as its means of meeting that goal, but ground was broken there only a few months ago. Funding for the project has trickled out for years as some lawmakers, particularly in the House of Representatives, have said other strategies should be employed because of the project’s costs, safety concerns, potential proliferation risks, and the failure of Russia to move forward on its end of the deal. (See ACT, April 2007 .)

Lawmakers last year also made clear that a recent administration effort to restructure the 2000 U.S.-Russian agreement in a fashion more to Russia’s liking had done little to ease their belief that Russia was not upholding its end of the bargain. (See ACT, January/February 2008 and December 2007 .) They redirected all of the $208 million in funds that Congress had previously set aside to meet a $400 million U.S. pledge to help Russia meet its commitment under the deal. The administration only asked for $1 million for the Russian effort in its recent budget request.

Bush Requests Less for Threat Reduction Program

Daniel Arnaudo

After Congress bumped up the budgets for a number of nonproliferation programs for countries in the former Soviet Union in its 2008 appropriations bills, the Bush administration has requested less money in a number of cases for fiscal year 2009.

The reduced requests reflect in part a continuing trend of winding down nonproliferation programs in the former Soviet Union, while in some cases expanding their scope to new countries. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who authored legislation with then-Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) establishing the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program in the early 1990s, recently suggested that Congress should augment this shift by granting the executive branch greater flexibility to allocate money quickly to address short-term needs, such as the planned dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear facilities.

Department of Defense

The president’s budget request includes $414 million for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s nonproliferation programs in the former Soviet Union for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. This figure was less than the $426 million Congress appropriated for the current fiscal year, but still higher than Bush’s $348 million request of last year.

The funding requests for several other programs within the agency are down from current spending, including the Strategic Offensive Arms Elimination program, which decommissions or eliminates Russian missile stockpiles, silos, and other related equipment. The president’s budget proposes $80 million, down from $91 million appropriated by Congress for the current fiscal year.

The request for nuclear weapons storage security was down to $24 million from $45.5 million appropriated for fiscal year 2008, reflecting the completion of an automated inventory control management system and a Far East training center. The efforts created a computerized accounting system for nuclear weapons elimination and trained security staff for weapons of mass destruction facilities in eastern Russia. The administration’s request for nuclear weapons transportation security rose from $38 million appropriated last year to $41 million, reflecting increases for nuclear weapons transportation and railcar maintenance and procurement.

The president’s budget request does not propose funding the Chemical Weapons Destruction Program. A chemical weapons destruction facility at Shchuch’ye in Russia would be the beneficiary, but it has been plagued by contractor and construction difficulties, which caused the administration to remove funding for the project from its fiscal year 2007 and 2008 budget requests. Last year, Congress allocated $1 million to the program as a placeholder, but thus far the problems have not been resolved, and millions would be required to complete the project. (See ACT, May 2007.)

Responding to earlier proposals from Lugar, the administration upped its budget request for the Biological Threat Reduction Program to $184 million, which would be a $26 million increase to last year’s appropriation.

Department of Energy

The Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) also requested less for nonproliferation work worldwide than the current fiscal year’s appropriation. Even after Congress approved increases for the current fiscal year to give the international nuclear materials protection and cooperation account $624 million, the NNSA’s request for fiscal year 2009 was only $430 million.

Most of the additional funding that Congress approved for the current fiscal year is going to the Second Line of Defense (SLD) initiative, which increases security at borders and at “megaports” through new radiological screening equipment, training, and technical support at key transit points. The NNSA requested $212 million for the initiative in its fiscal year 2009 request after Congress appropriated $267 million for the effort for the current fiscal year.

The NNSA requested $32 million for security upgrades to the Rosatom (Russian Atomic Energy Agency) Weapons Complex at seven closed Russian cities. The request for the cities, which are responsible for nuclear weapons and materials storage, represents a significant decrease from the $79 million appropriated for the current fiscal year. The NNSA noted that selective upgrades agreed to by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in Bratislava, Slovakia, in 2005 were continuing. (See ACT, March 2005.)

Work to upgrade security for Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF) and in its 12th Main Directorate, the military organization with responsibility for nuclear munitions, is also winding down with $53 million requested, after Congress appropriated $121 million for the current fiscal year. The NNSA plans to complete upgrades to all nine 12th Main Directorate nuclear warhead sites and provide sustainability upgrades for 25 SRF sites.

The account request for global security engagement and cooperation, to improve safeguards, strengthen export controls, and support former Soviet scientific communities, was $47 million, $4 million less than this year’s appropriation. The request included $24 million for the Global Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, which funds the program that supports former Soviet weapons scientists and was recently the subject of a critical Government Accountability Office report that claims the program needs better oversight (see page 37).

The request for the treaties and agreements line item calls for the only increase in the nonproliferation and international security section, $15 million to help support the Next Generation Safeguards Initiative, which would fund roughly a dozen studies on preventing nuclear terrorism and supporting international safeguards. The research would aid programs such as the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership and the Proliferation Security Initiative and also provide technical and policy support for the denuclearization of North Korea.

The funding request for the elimination of weapons-grade plutonium production is $141 million, $39 million less than the current fiscal year appropriation. This program aims to replace two nuclear reactors in Seversk, Siberia, with a fossil fuel plant.

The funding has been cut because the reactors, which produce weapons-grade plutonium, are supposed to be shut down in December 2008. A Feb. 1 NNSA press release said that Rosatom head Sergey Kiriyenko had informed Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman that work on the two plutonium reactors is ahead of schedule and that they are expected to cease operation early. Last December, Russia reported that it had started up a boiler and steam turbine generator at the partially completed fossil fuel plant. This has allowed the reactors to operate under an alternating mode, enabling one reactor to shut down while the other is running and thus generating only half as much plutonium.

The funding request for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which eliminates or protects nuclear and radiological material, was $220 million, increased from $193 million appropriated in the current fiscal year. Of that amount, $116 million, increased from $68 million appropriated in the current fiscal year, would go toward the repatriation of nuclear and radiological material to Russia and the United States from the rest of the world. A separate $54 million request for the protection of this material in the United States and the former Soviet Union represents a decrease of $47 million over the same period.

Department of State

Funding requested for nonproliferation, anti-terrorism, demining, and related programs rose to $499 million from $483 million for the current fiscal year, with slightly higher numbers for nonproliferation-related programs. The Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund (NDF) program would receive $40 million, up from $33 million appropriated, and Global Threat Reduction would receive an increase from $57 million to $64 million.

In a Jan. 30 speech at a conference organized by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Lugar suggested that Congress should grant the executive branch greater authority to provide nonproliferation aid to countries that are normally banned from receiving most U.S. assistance because of legal restrictions, such as sanctions. Currently, only the NDF program has such “notwithstanding authority,” but Lugar said this authority should be extended to other threat reduction programs.

Lugar cited the case of North Korea as a particularly likely example of a situation in which, absent a legislative fix, sanctions might block the opportunity for achieving important nonproliferation goals. The United States has imposed a range of sanctions against North Korea, such as those in the 1994 Glenn Amendment, that would prevent nonproliferation-related assistance activities being carried out in the country. (See ACT, January/February 2008.)

“Granting Nunn-Lugar ‘notwithstanding’ authority would not mean that Congress would be unable to adjust or restrict the program,” Lugar said. “But it would ensure that Nunn-Lugar would have the ability to respond rapidly to new nonproliferation opportunities. We should not allow bureaucratic inertia to impede potentially historic transformations in North Korea or elsewhere.”

After Congress bumped up the budgets for a number of nonproliferation programs for countries in the former Soviet Union in its 2008 appropriations bills, the Bush administration has requested less money in a number of cases for fiscal year 2009. (Continue)

Missile Defense Budget Boosts Requested

Wade Boese

Heading into its final year in office, the Bush administration is asking Congress to give a spending boost to anti-missile systems, particularly a controversial project to extend systems to Europe. Although missile defenses have been a constant funding favorite of the administration, a recent Pentagon report found capabilities remain limited.

All told, the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2009 baseline budget request of $515.4 billion contains approximately $12.7 billion for anti-missile programs, a $1.9 billion increase above the previous request. Fiscal year 2009 begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30, 2009.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) accounts for the greatest share of the funding, with requests totaling some $8.89 billion. It is also slated for an additional $445 million in military construction and Base Realignment and Closure spending. Congress granted the agency $8.7 billion last year, which is approximately $185 million less than the amount originally sought by the administration.

Major slices of the proposed missile defense funding are slated for programs directed by the Army and the Air Force. The Army is seeking nearly $986 million for developing and procuring the Patriot and related systems. More than half that total will go toward buying 108 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors, which are designed to counter short- and medium-range missiles near the end of their flights. The Patriot anti-missile system is the only one that is battle-tested, and the results were mixed. (See ACT, November 2003. )

The Air Force is asking for $2.3 billion to advance its Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) satellite constellation for pinpointing ballistic missile launches worldwide. Nearly $1.8 billion of that total is to go toward procuring the first two of four geosynchronous satellites in time for the proposed fall 2009 launch window. A satellite in geosynchronous orbit matches the Earth’s rotation speed.

MDA Programs

SBIRS is supposed to help cue the raft of anti-missile systems under development by the MDA. Major programs are the long-range Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), the Airborne Laser (ABL), and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI). The systems are in various stages of development and have different capabilities and missions, although some overlap.

Since its 2002 establishment, the MDA has overseen the deployment of two dozen total GMD interceptors in Alaska and California and 21 Aegis Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors to counter short- to intermediate-range missiles. Ten ships have been converted to fire the SM-3s. The first THAAD fire unit, designed to defend against short- to intermediate-range missiles as they descend toward their targets, is slated for fielding in 2009. THAAD scored three hits in three intercept trials last year, maintaining its perfect record since going through a redesign in the late 1990s.

Intended to destroy missiles during the first few minutes after their launch, the ABL is a modified Boeing 747 armed with a powerful chemical laser, and the KEI is a fast-accelerating interceptor. Both programs are at earlier stages in their development and face crucial tests in fiscal year 2009 that could determine their fate. The ABL is supposed to be tested against a target in flight for the first time that year, while the KEI is scheduled for its inaugural flight.

The MDA envisions that by 2013 the United States will have deployed 54 total GMD interceptors, 147 SM-3 interceptors, and four THAAD fire units with 96 total interceptors. Future procurement plans for ABL and KEI systems have yet to be made.

Congress in recent years has urged the MDA to focus attention and resources on the systems ready for more immediate deployment rather than programs that are more futuristic and technically riskier, such as the KEI. In the latest budget request, the agency apportions almost half its proposed spending to the more established programs: $2.3 billion for the GMD project, just more than $1 billion for Aegis, and $811 million for THAAD.

Still, the agency trimmed its THAAD request by $47 million from last year while bumping up the KEI request by $159 million, to $386 million. The deployment of the third and fourth THAAD fire units also were postponed a year each, until fiscal years 2013 and 2014.

Those actions seemingly contradict congressional wishes as well as those of Lieutenant General Kevin Campbell, the head of the Army Space and Missile Defense Command. Last April, Campbell testified to the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee that moving ahead with THAAD deployments was “vitally important” while suggesting that the KEI and ABL programs were less urgent, describing them as a “hedge against future threats.” In another hearing that same month, Campbell also reported on a study by his command that recommended doubling proposed purchases of THAAD and Aegis interceptors. The MDA, which is charged with developing systems but not operating them in the field like the Army Space and Missile Defense Command, did not change the production plans for either system.

Meanwhile, the MDA ratcheted up its funding request for multiple kill vehicles, a more novel concept. The agency wants to develop smaller, generic kill vehicles, the component that maneuvers into a collision with an incoming threat, so a single interceptor can carry several at once to engage multiple targets. The latest budget request of $354 million for the program is approximately $83 million higher than that previously requested. But Congress last year cut nearly $63 million from the program to signal its displeasure with the MDA for unilaterally planning to mount multiple kill vehicles on a longer-range version of the SM-3 without consulting Japan, which is co-developing the modified interceptor.

Although Congress has repeatedly denied MDA requests for money to explore space-based anti-missile system options, the agency has resurrected that bid this year. It is seeking $10 million to start creating a space-based test bed. Projected costs for the test bed rise annually to $123 million by fiscal year 2013.

The agency, however, seems to be a little more sensitive to congressional complaints about the status of its testing and target programs. In a report on last year’s defense authorization bill, lawmakers expressed “disappointment” that the MDA “has failed to ensure an adequate testing program.” The MDA’s current request for testing and target activities is $79 million higher than last year’s request of $586 million.

The European Option

The MDA is seeking its biggest budget boost to deploy 10 strategic ground-based interceptors in Poland and an associated missile tracking radar in the Czech Republic to defend against what the Bush administration says is a growing Iranian missile threat. The agency more than doubled its request of $310 million last year to approximately $719 million in the Feb. 4 budget submission.

Last November, Congress denied $85 million to begin system construction this year because no hosting agreements had been reached with the Czech Republic and Poland. But Reuters Feb. 21 quoted John Rood, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, telling reporters in Budapest that “very significant progress” had been made in recent talks with the two potential host governments. Rood was visiting the Hungarian capital to meet with Russian officials to try and soften their opposition to the proposed system.

A few weeks earlier, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski visited Washington and said that a Polish-U.S. agreement had been reached in principle, but he cautioned, “[W]e are not at the end of the road…we are in the middle of the road.” Warsaw has made clear that it wants Washington to help bolster Polish military capabilities, particularly air defenses, as part of any hosting arrangement.

Russia’s hostility to the U.S. project is a key factor behind Polish demands for additional U.S. assistance and weapons systems. Moscow, which perceives the proposed system as directed against Russia, has threatened to target the potential interceptor and radar bases.

Washington has engaged in talks with Moscow to allay its concerns but to no avail. Speaking Feb. 8 to Russian legislators, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of being disingenuous. “It is with sorrow in my heart that I am forced to say that our partners have been using these discussions as information and diplomatic cover for carrying out their own plans,” Putin said. Russian officials warn that deployment of the systems will trigger a new arms race.

U.S. officials have been dismissive of the Russian fears and threats. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Feb. 1 argued, “There is no way that a few interceptors in Poland and radars in the Czech Republic can degrade the thousands of nuclear warheads that the Russians have, and there is no intent to do so.” Pending congressional approval, Rice and other administration officials insist the United States will go ahead with its plan once agreements are reached with the Czech and Polish governments.

The MDA budget request is prepared for that eventuality and contains $238 million for starting construction on the interceptor base, according to Rick Lehner, a spokesperson for the agency. Speaking Feb. 13 with Arms Control Today, Lehner also noted that the MDA plans to conduct the inaugural flight test of the interceptor model planned for the base in 2009, a year earlier than previously scheduled. The proposed interceptor is a modified version of the type fielded by the United States in Alaska and California.

But Do Missile Defenses Work?

After the United States used a modified SM-3 interceptor to destroy a crippled U.S. satellite on Feb. 20 (see page 50 ), reporters the next day quizzed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about whether that event proved missile defense can work. In addition to citing past successful tests of the various systems, Gates contended that the fact that lawmakers in recent years have approved billions of dollars to support missile defense “is testimony to the fact that I think the issue of whether it will work is behind us.”

An annual report released a month earlier by the Pentagon’s independent weapons-testing assessor, the Office of Operational Test and Evaluation, offered a less sanguine appraisal. The report described U.S. capabilities against shorter-range missiles as improving but rated capabilities against longer-range missiles as “very basic.”

Many of the report’s criticisms focused on the GMD system, which the testing office stated was “the least mature missile defense capability against its strategic threat set.” Although assessing that the system presents a “limited capability against a simple foreign threat,” the report stated that flight testing of the system “is not sufficient to provide a high level of statistical confidence in its limited capabilities.” The report also characterized past testing as “relatively unchallenging” and “representative of an unsophisticated threat.” The system has scored seven hits in 12 attempts against targets since 1999.

The MDA has announced plans to raise the degree of difficulty in its future GMD tests by reintroducing countermeasures, such as decoys, alongside mock warhead targets. (See ACT, November 2007. ) An attacker could employ countermeasures to try and confuse or circumvent anti-missile systems. Lehner said two GMD intercept tests are scheduled this year.

The testing office gave higher marks to the Aegis and THAAD systems. The recent report assessed Aegis as including a “good degree of operational realism in its flight test program” and concluded that THAAD “will provide a significant increase in capability against short- to intermediate-range threats.”

The MDA contends that it has answered affirmatively the basic question about whether missile defense can work. In its Feb. 5 budget overview, however, the agency acknowledges that “the technical challenges that remain today lie in predicting the location of the enemy missiles, differentiating the missiles from countermeasures, communicating this information rapidly and accurately to the defensive system, and destroying multiple enemy missiles launched within seconds and minutes of each other.”

 

Heading into its final year in office, the Bush administration is asking Congress to give a spending boost to anti-missile systems, particularly a controversial project to extend systems to Europe. Although missile defenses have been a constant funding favorite of the administration, a recent Pentagon report found capabilities remain limited. (Continue)

Bush Budget Revives Cut Warhead

Wade Boese

Lawmakers last year dealt what many thought was a knockout blow to research into a new type of nuclear warhead, but the Bush administration is seeking to raise the program off of the canvas with renewed funding in its fiscal year 2009 budget request.

Submitted Feb. 4 to Congress, the Bush administration’s request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) totals almost $9.1 billion, including $6.6 billion for maintaining the nuclear weapons complex and the U.S. stockpile of some estimated 5,000 nuclear warheads. (See ACT, January/February 2008. ) The NNSA is the semi-autonomous entity of the Department of Energy that produces, maintains, and dismantles nuclear warheads. The latest budget request would fund the NNSA for the year beginning Oct. 1.

As part of its weapons activities request, which is about $100 million higher than last year’s bid, the NNSA is seeking $40 million in connection with the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. Lawmakers last year refused to fund the NNSA request of nearly $89 million for the program, contending that the United States first needed to conduct a long-term review of its nuclear weapons policies before embarking on a project to develop new types of warheads. (See ACT, January/February 2008. )

Initiated in 2004, the RRW program entails research into a new type of warhead that supposedly would be easier and safer to build and maintain and less susceptible to unauthorized or accidental detonation than existing warheads. NNSA officials claim that it should be possible to manufacture and certify a RRW design as valid without having to conduct a proof test. The United States is currently abiding by a 1992 nuclear test moratorium.

But last year, an independent panel of scientists, JASON, questioned in a study whether the RRW design could be certified without a test and stated that there needed to be more investigation into what might cause the design to fail. JASON further recommended more evaluation of proposed surety mechanisms to reduce the likelihood of unauthorized use. (See ACT, November 2007. )

As part of its latest budget request, the NNSA is seeking $10 million to follow up on the JASON study’s concerns by maturing the RRW design. In addition, the agency is requesting $20 million to establish an “accredited warhead certification plan without nuclear testing.” The NNSA is supposed to report on its findings in a May report to Congress. Another $10 million is being sought to explore surety options for warheads, including possible RRW designs.

Despite the congressional defeat of the RRW program funding last year and the scientific questions surrounding it, Thomas D’Agostino, the head of the NNSA, continues to herald the initiative as essential for his agency’s efforts to transform the nuclear weapons enterprise. The NNSA plan is to create a revamped complex that can produce weapons on an as-needed basis rather than maintaining thousands of warheads in storage for possible emergencies. The agency describes this approach as an “industrial hedge against geopolitical or technical problems.” The RRW concept fits into this vision because it is supposed to be a simplified warhead that is easier to manufacture.

The NNSA also makes the case for the RRW program on the grounds that current practices to preserve and extend the lifetimes of existing weapons may be unsustainable and might diminish confidence in the performance of those warheads over time by introducing gradual changes that may stray from the original design. D’Agostino argued in a Jan. 31 speech, “[W]hile today’s stockpile remains safe, secure, and reliable, the weapons laboratories, the Department of Defense, and I are concerned about our future ability to maintain the stockpile without nuclear testing.” He added that maintaining and certifying the past “finely tuned designs…is becoming increasingly difficult absent nuclear testing and involves increasing risk.”

Key lawmakers last year rebuked the administration as “irresponsible” for suggesting that not going ahead with the RRW program could require a return to nuclear testing to validate existing warheads. In an Aug. 1, 2007, letter to the administration, Reps. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) and David Hobson (R-Ohio), the chairman and ranking member of the appropriations subcommittee that takes the lead on nuclear weapons funding, noted that Congress had received no evidence indicating that renewed testing might be necessary to verify existing warhead capabilities. (See ACT, September 2007. )

Although the NNSA is raising questions about the long-term practicality of its life extension programs for existing warheads, it is continuing to ask Congress to fund those efforts. The latest budget request includes $211 million for extending the lives of B61 gravity bombs and W76 warheads for submarine-launched ballistic missiles. An additional $338 million is being sought for maintaining those two types of warheads, as well as six others.

The agency also is seeking almost $199 million to ramp up pit production capabilities for existing warheads. The pit is the core trigger element of nuclear warheads, and Congress repeatedly defeated Bush administration plans to establish a new plant for their production. Under this new plan, the administration will seek to increase the minimal pit production capacity of Technical Area-55 of the Los Alamos National Laboratory to between 50 and 80 pits annually.

On the other end of the spectrum, the NNSA is seeking $64.7 million to dismantle retired warheads, approximately $12 million more than last year’s request. Although actual figures are secret, the agency last year claimed an accelerated rate of dismantlement and contends it aims to continue increasing the dismantlement throughput. The agency’s last projected timeline for finishing all planned warhead dismantlements is 2023.

The agency also is seeking $77.4 million to start shrinking the size of the nuclear weapons complex by eliminating excess buildings. Part of the NNSA vision for a revamped nuclear weapons complex is to consolidate nuclear materials, people, and missions in fewer facilities within its existing group of sites to help reduce security costs.

 

Lawmakers last year dealt what many thought was a knockout blow to research into a new type of nuclear warhead, but the Bush administration is seeking to raise the program off of the canvas with renewed funding in its fiscal year 2009 budget request. (Continue)

Senate Still Examining Pre-War Iraq Intel

Peter Crail

Five years after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S.-led coalition forces, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has yet to conclude its investigations into the pre-war intelligence that was cited by the Bush administration as the basis for the decision to take military action against Iraq.

The committee has conducted the investigation in two phases. The first phase, concluded in 2004, centered on a faulty October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) regarding Iraq’s nonconventional weapons programs. (See ACT, September 2004. )

The second phase of the examination has faced repeated delays since it was announced in February 2004. Nonetheless, this phase has examined a variety of issues, including the intelligence community’s use of information provided by the Iraqi National Congress. (See ACT, December 2006. ) Two issues remain outstanding, and congressional sources told Arms Control Today Jan. 30 that the committee hopes to vote on reports regarding them before the summer recess. It is unclear if this can be accomplished.

One of the remaining issues relates to whether pre-war public statements on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and links to terrorism by administration officials were substantiated by intelligence information. As part of this investigation, the committee has asked the administration to share all Presidential Daily Briefs on Iraq during the investigation’s time frame. The administration has refused to honor this request.

The second remaining issue involves the intelligence-related activities conducted by two Pentagon offices: the Office of Special Plans and the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group. Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld established the Office of Special Plans, which was tasked with examining raw intelligence related to Iraq’s WMD programs, within the office of Douglas Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy. Feith created the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group after the September 2001 attacks to examine links between terrorist organizations and host countries.

In February 2007, the Pentagon inspector general issued a report stating that Feith’s office produced “alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al Qaeda relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community.” The report further stated that, although these activities were not illegal or unauthorized, they were “inappropriate.” Congressional sources told Arms Control Today Feb. 15 that former committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) used the Pentagon investigation as an excuse to delay the committee’s investigation into Feith’s offices.

Five years after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S.-led coalition forces, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has yet to conclude its investigations into the pre-war intelligence that was cited by the Bush administration as the basis for the decision to take military action against Iraq. (Continue)

New UN Sanctions on Iran Proposed

Peter Crail

France and the United Kingdom Feb. 21 formally introduced a new draft sanctions resolution on Iran’s nuclear program to the UN Security Council. The draft lays the basis for a third UN sanctions measure against Iran. Tehran has refused to comply with Security Council demands to suspend its enrichment-related work and the construction of its heavy water reactor.

The draft resolution is based largely on a set of sanctions that Germany and the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) agreed to on Jan. 22. In February, the six countries shared a draft sanctions package with the nonpermanent members of the Security Council for commentary.

John Sawers, the United Kingdom’s permanent representative to the United Nations, told reporters Feb. 21, “The text that we’ve circulated today reflects some of the comments we’ve had back from delegations.”

Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, indicated that Moscow would be willing to back the measure. He told reporters Feb. 27, “If Iran in the next few days does not stop the enrichment activities…then yes, Russia…has taken upon itself certain commitments…to support the resolution that has been drafted in the past month.”

Several nonpermanent members of the Security Council had pushed for delaying consideration of an additional sanctions resolution until after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its February report on Iran. Ricardo Alberto Arias, Panama’s permanent representative to the UN, told reporters Feb. 14, “We have to wait for the report of the IAEA because it’s a factor to have to consider in this.” The agency issued the report Feb. 22 (see page 25).

Since the release of the IAEA report, however, Libya has indicated that it would not likely agree to the currently proposed sanctions. Giadalla Ettalhi, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, told reporters Feb. 25 that “there should be some changes” in the draft resolution and that his country “cannot be supportive of further sanctions.”

Responding to questions regarding the concerns expressed by other council members about the sanctions measures, Department of State deputy spokesperson Tom Casey told reporters Feb. 26, “Nobody seems to think that we can’t address their concerns and overcome the differences.”

The sanctions included in the current draft are already weaker than what the United States originally sought. China and Russia voiced opposition to more stringent measures prior to the initial agreement on a sanctions package in January. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Feb. 13 that the sanctions are “not as strong as the United States would have liked, but they have the effect of reminding Iran that it is isolated from the international community.”

The draft resolution reinforces the current set of sanctions targeted against personnel and entities involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and applies additional efforts aimed at curtailing Iran’s access to nuclear equipment and technology. It also expands the list of 50 individuals and entities subject to travel restrictions and assets freezes under the two previous resolutions, as well as the list of dual-use items prohibited for transfer to Iran. (See ACT, April 2007. )

One of the key additional efforts in the draft resolution is a call for states to inspect cargoes carried by the firms Iran Air Cargo and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line if there are reasonable grounds to believe that they may contain prohibited items. South Africa has reportedly expressed opposition to this provision of the draft resolution.

GAO Report Questions U.S. Sanctions Impact

As the United States and its allies continue to seek multilateral sanctions on Iran through the UN, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released in January calls into the question the effectiveness of a variety of U.S. sanctions measures.

At the request of Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), the GAO examined the full range of U.S. sanctions on Iran, including the comprehensive trade and investment restrictions imposed in the 1980s, sanctions on foreign entities engaging in proliferation or terrorism-related activities with Iran, and more recent targeted financial restrictions against Iranian entities involved in proliferation or terrorism-related activities.

The report concludes that the extent of the impact of sanctions on Iran “is difficult to determine” and recommends that the National Security Council and other key agencies carry out periodic assessments of these sanctions. It notes, however, that “Iran’s global trade ties and leading role in energy production make it difficult for the United States to isolate Iran.”

The report recommends periodic assessments of U.S. sanctions. It noted that although U.S. officials have stated that U.S. sanctions have specific impacts on Iran, “agencies have not assessed the overall impact of sanctions.” Administration officials told the GAO that sanctions are just one factor influencing Iran’s behavior and it is not possible to determine the impact various sanctions have on policymaking in Tehran.

A staffer for Shays told Arms Control Today Feb. 13 that the report was requested in order to get an idea of “what was working and what was not.” In response to the report, Shays introduced legislation Jan. 18 that requires relevant U.S. agencies to carry out an annual assessment of sanctions on Iran.

The Department of the Treasury informed the GAO that it does carry out assessments of financial sanctions. In a Dec. 6, 2007, response to the draft report, Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, claimed that, as a result of eliciting the support of private financial institutions, “foreign-based branches and subsidiaries of Iran’s state-owned banks are increasingly isolated, threatening their viability.”

For the last several years, the Treasury Department has engaged in a concerted effort to convince other states and foreign financial institutions to apply financial pressure on countries such as Iran. Levey told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee in April 2006 that senior Treasury Department officials have met with their counterparts “in a number of countries in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East to urge them to ensure that U.S.-designated proliferators are not able to do business in their countries.”

Treasury officials admit, however, that Iran has employed ways to circumvent U.S. financial restrictions on its financial institutions. In a Feb. 8 speech, Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt stated that such circumvention has “allowed actions by Iranian banks to remain undetected as they move funds through the international financial system to pay for the regime’s illicit activities.”

Iranian officials have boasted of their own efforts to evade sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies. Tahmasb Mazaheri, governor of Iran’s central bank, told a London audience Feb. 7, “The central bank assists Iranian private and state-owned banks to do their commitments regardless of the pressure on them.”

IAEA: Iran Work Plan Progress Incomplete

Peter Crail

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei issued a report Feb. 22 on Iran’s nuclear program indicating that the agency has made considerable progress in clarifying some of Iran’s past nuclear activities, but has not been able to resolve all allegations of a previous nuclear-weapons program. These allegations primarily surround a claim by Western intelligence agencies that they possess a laptop and other documentation that once belonged to an Iranian nuclear technician and that contained studies relevant to a nuclear weapons program.

Iran claims that these allegations are fabrications and argues that it is not obligated to address them any further. Meanwhile, the United States and others have recently authorized the IAEA to confront Iran with additional documentation regarding the studies.

The report also notes that Iran has increased its transparency with the agency in the last few months, although the IAEA qualifies this cooperation, stating that it was not provided “in a consistent and complete manner.” Moreover, Iran has not complied with UN Security Council demands to suspend sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities and some council members have stated that failure to meet that requirement will lead to additional sanctions.

Questions Still Outstanding

The agency’s report focuses largely on the progress made under an August 2007 work plan intended to resolve a number of “outstanding questions” surrounding Iran’s past nuclear activities. (See ACT, September 2007. ) Iran resolved some of these questions with the agency prior to the November 2007 report, and IAEA spokesperson Melissa Fleming stated Jan. 13 that Iran agreed in January to complete the work plan within four weeks.

Prior to the February report, the remaining issues were related to Iranian experiments with polonium-210, activities at a uranium mine, uranium contamination at a technical university, procurement efforts for centrifuge components, a document detailing the fashioning of uranium metal, and “alleged studies” on a nuclear-weapons program. Of these issues, the report indicated that only the alleged studies issue remains outstanding. However, the IAEA states that its “overall assessment” still requires an understanding regarding the role of the uranium metal document and the procurement activities of military-related organizations.

The alleged weaponization studies entail a number of efforts that the IAEA characterized as “a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program.” These activities included work on the conversion of uranium dioxide into uranium tetrafluoride, high-explosives testing similar to that of a nuclear-weapon trigger, and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle that might be capable of accommodating a nuclear warhead. Uranium tetraflouride is the precursor to uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock used in centrifuges to enrich uranium to low levels for nuclear power reactors or high levels for nuclear weapons. The IAEA also sought information regarding procurement efforts and individuals related to these studies.

A senior IAEA official indicated Feb. 22 that, although the agency received the documentation regarding the studies in August 2005, it was unable to substantially address the alleged studies with Iran until recently. Moreover, the United States and other countries that provided the IAEA with documentation on the alleged studies did not authorize the agency to confront Iran directly with the original documentation until Feb. 15.

According to the report, Iran has provided written responses to some of the agency’s questions on these alleged studies but has not provided access to individuals associated with them. In its responses, Tehran declared that the allegations related to uranium tetraflouride conversion, high-explosives testing, and a nuclear-weapon-related re-entry vehicle were “baseless and fabricated.” The agency is still in the process of clarifying a number of procurement activities related to the studies, as well as a suspected project on laser uranium enrichment.

In responding to a question from Arms Control Today, a senior agency official admitted Feb. 22 that the time needed to resolve the remaining work plan issues “depends on the Iranians” and the types of responses they provide. The official noted that the agency is trying to understand what Tehran means when it says the allegations are baseless but that it has not made any conclusions as to whether the allegations are fabrications or if Iran’s explanations are plausible.

Iranian officials have argued that Iran has no further obligations to answer questions related to the studies. During a Feb. 22 interview, Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, Iranian envoy to the IAEA, stated that Iran agreed in the negotiation of the work plan to “touch upon” the alleged studies issue “not as an outstanding issue, but as a good gesture.” Now that Tehran has provided its response to the allegations in writing, he added that “officially therefore that issue of alleged studies is over.”

A senior IAEA official stressed Feb. 22 that the agency has a mandate to clarify the alleged studies from the UN Security Council resolutions.

Iran Develops Faster Centrifuge

Meanwhile, Iran has been able to accomplish some technical advances with its uranium-enrichment program, which it claims is solely for peaceful purposes. Iran has developed a more advanced centrifuge adapted from the P-2 centrifuge design received from the nuclear smuggling network led by Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. This improved design, called the IR-2, is capable of enriching uranium about twice as fast as the P-1 centrifuge, which Iran currently has installed at its commercial facility at Natanz. Due to difficulties with the maraging steel bellows of the P-2 centrifuge, Iran adjusted the design to avoid the need to construct the bellows while maintaining the faster enrichment rate. (See ACT, November 2007. )

Iran has installed a single IR-2 centrifuge as well as a cascade of 10 IR-2 machines at its pilot enrichment plant at Natanz. In January, Iran began feeding uranium hexafluoride into the single IR-2 machine under IAEA monitoring.

Iran has worked on developing and testing this more advanced centrifuge, but it has not increased its current enrichment capacity since the last IAEA report in November 2007. It maintains a single module of about 3,000 centrifuges at its Natanz commercial enrichment facility. According to the report, Iran is preparing other areas of the facility for the installation of additional centrifuges.

Iran also continues to operate its centrifuges at far below their stated capacity. (See ACT, December 2007. ) According to the report, since February 2007, Iran has fed 1,670 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride into the centrifuges at its commercial facility and has produced a total of 75 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.8 percent of the uranium 235-isotope. That output is less than half the amount that would be produced by efficient operation of P-1 centrifuges.

 

Iran-IAEA Work Plan Issues and Conclusions

The IAEA has held discussions with Iran to resolve a number of outstanding questions regarding the country’s past nuclear activities as part of a work plan agreed to in August 2007.  The agency detailed its progress in a Feb. 22 report.

 


Issue

Iran’s Explanation

IAEA Conclusion

Gchine Mine

 

The IAEA sought to clarify the circumstances surrounding the uranium mining and milling operations at Gchine, including the lack of declared operations between 1993 and 2000, to determine whether Iran used the mine as an independent source of uranium.

Iran explains that the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran always oversaw operations at Gchine and, between 1993 and 1998, preparations for ore processing took place at the Tehran Nuclear Research Center.

The IAEA concluded that this newly provided information is consistent with its findings and the documentation and no longer considers the issue outstanding.

Polonium-210 Experiments

During the 1980s, Iran conducted experiments with polonium-210, which has application in nuclear weapons designs as well as civilian purposes.

Iran maintains that the experiments were conducted by university scientists for civil applications and were not part of broader research and development.

The IAEA declared that the explanations Iran provided were consistent with its findings and no longer considers the issue outstanding.

 

Uranium Contamination

The IAEA detected the presence of highly enriched uranium contamination on equipment at a technical university in Tehran, suggesting that this equipment may have been used in an undeclared enrichment facility.

Iran explained that the equipment was contaminated when used in proximity to centrifuge equipment that was contaminated in Pakistan prior to transfer.

The IAEA concluded that Iran’s explanations and documentation “were not inconsistent with the data currently available to the agency” and no longer considers the issue outstanding.

Procurement Efforts

A former head of the Physics Research Center (PHRC) at Lavisan-Shian procured or sought a range of dual-use equipment that was consistent with a uranium-conversion and -enrichment program. The Lavisan-Shian site is associated with the Iranian Ministry of Defense, and beginning in late 2003, Iran razed the site, raising suspicions that it was covering up undeclared nuclear activities.

Iran asserts that none of the equipment that the former PHRC head obtained or sought was intended for use in a conversion or enrichment program. Tehran provided documentation regarding the non-nuclear use of some of the equipment and indicated that other equipment was not delivered.

 

The IAEA determined that the explanations provided by Iran and the responses of the former head of the PHRC “were not inconsistent with the stated use of the equipment.” It no longer considers the issue outstanding.

 

Uranium Metal Document

Iran obtained a document that describes the procedures for reducing uranium hexafluoride into uranium metal and machining enriched-uranium metal into hemispheres. This process may be used to make the fissile core for nuclear weapons.

Iran maintains that it received the document at the initiative of the A.Q. Khan network.

 

The IAEA is seeking to clarify with Pakistan the circumstances surrounding the provision of the document.

 

Alleged Studies

Western intelligence agencies accuse Iran of engaging in studies regarding the conversion of uranium dioxide into uranium tetrafluoride, high-explosives testing similar to that of a nuclear-weapon trigger, and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle that might be capable of accommodating a nuclear warhead. Iranian officials also carried out procurement activities and projects that could be related to these studies.

Iran claims that the allegations regarding these studies are “baseless and fabricated” and denies the existence or role of some of the personnel named in the documentation. Iran also provided a response indicating that some of the procurement efforts were not related to the studies.

 

The IAEA awaits further responses regarding the procurement activities and projects that could be associated with the studies and intends to share additional documentation regarding the studies with Iran.

 


Pages

Subscribe to RSS - March 2008