"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
March 2010
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Wednesday, March 3, 2010
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Life at 40: Prospects for the NPT and the 2010 Review Conference

Patricia Lewis

In their 1995 agreement to extend the life of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) indefinitely, the parties to the treaty, including the five countries that the pact designates as nuclear-weapon states, committed themselves to a set of principles and objectives for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. The lack of progress over the past 15 years has led to increasing frustration among many of the non-nuclear-weapon states.

The 2010 NPT Review Conference, which will take place in New York in May, will allow the parties to confront the malaise within the NPT regime, but their concerns cannot be easily remedied by a few speeches and bilateral negotiations. There is no room for complacency in the conference; it will not be an easy place to find agreement.

The NPT is middle-aged and tired. Life could begin again at 40 for the treaty, but that will require a sincere effort combined with a willingness to believe that promises made in 2010 will be better kept than those made in 1995 and 2000. This is true for the implementation of the 1995 Middle East resolution and nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation issues. The five nuclear-weapon states, in particular, need to take good note of this skepticism and work hard to overcome it.

As multilateral arms control treaties go, the NPT, which was signed in 1968 and entered into force in 1970, has been extraordinarily effective. There are 189 states-parties and three states that have remained outside the treaty for its duration—India, Israel and Pakistan—with North Korea, which had joined the treaty in 1985, announcing its withdrawal in 2003.

It was not easy to get so many states on board. China and France, for example, did not join until 1992, and all Arab states had joined only by 1997. South Africa joined in 1991, once it had dismantled its nuclear weapons program; and states such as Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Ukraine all joined in 1993-1994. There have been cases of noncompliance with the treaty, such as Iraq’s program in the late 1980s to 1991, Libya’s embryonic program, and North Korea’s full-fledged capability. Noncompliance with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards has caused serious problems. For example, 22 non-nuclear-weapon states have not yet brought into force a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the agency; eight of them have not even submitted agreements for consideration by the IAEA Board of Governors, and importantly for the review conference, there are continuing and deepening unresolved issues of Iran’s compliance with its safeguards obligations.

The NPT Review Cycle

Since 1970, treaty members have come together every five years to review the implementation of the treaty and chart the course for the next five years or more. Originally the treaty was written to last 25 years, with the option of extending it indefinitely or for an additional fixed period or periods. The 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference decided to extend the treaty indefinitely, but it was not a decision with which all states-parties have been comfortable. The decision to extend the treaty was part of a set of agreements that also included a statement of principles and objectives for nonproliferation and disarmament, mechanisms to strengthen the review process, and a resolution on making the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The 1995 Principles and Objectives document called on states that operate unsafeguarded nuclear facilities—this was particularly addressed to India, Israel, and Pakistan—to join the NPT and called for measures such as the immediate commencement and early conclusion of negotiations on a nondiscriminatory and universally applicable convention banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. Specifically, the nuclear-weapon states committed themselves to determined pursuit of systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally, with the ultimate goal of elimination. Yet, there has been little movement on either these objectives or on the Middle East resolution that requests states in the region to take practical steps toward the establishment of an effectively verifiable WMD-free zone and requests all treaty members to extend their cooperation and exert their utmost efforts to that end.

There was a breakthrough at the 2000 review conference, where the parties adopted a review document that included a 13-step action plan for complete nuclear disarmament. These steps included the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes, with a view to their conclusion within five years; establishing a CD subsidiary body with a mandate to deal with nuclear disarmament; and an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament. The 13 steps also included a commitment to the “early entry into force and full implementation of START II and the conclusion of START III as soon as possible while preserving and strengthening the [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty” and the further reduction of nonstrategic nuclear weapons. The steps also called for measures to reduce the operational status of nuclear weapons systems and for a diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies.

The failure to meet these commitments has weakened the NPT regime. The damage has been compounded by the nuclear weapons tests of India and Pakistan in 1998 and subsequent events, including the announced withdrawal by North Korea in 2003, which have dashed all hope of universalization for the foreseeable future. The problem is complex and deep. The authority and legitimacy of the nuclear-weapon states within the treaty and within the UN Security Council have diminished, partly as a result of slow progress on nuclear disarmament (and the complete lack of progress toward a WMD-free zone in the Middle East), partly because of the 2003 Iraq war and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction despite all pronouncements beforehand, and partly due to the failure to achieve entry into force of the CTBT. At the same time, the bargain with some of the non-nuclear-weapon states with regard to technology transfer and safeguards has started to unravel, and there is a deep dismay at the diminished commitment to strengthening safeguards, particularly to the adoption of an additional protocol to countries’ safeguards agreements with the IAEA.

The 2005 NPT Review Conference was unable even to agree on an agenda. France and the United States wanted no reference to the decisions of 1995 and 2000; Egypt and others insisted on just that. Compromise was very difficult to find, and in the end, the conference was left with only two working weeks to produce a document that, at the best of times, is difficult to achieve in the allocated four weeks. It was too late, and the conference failed to achieve agreement on a review of the 2000-2005 period and a program of work leading up to 2010.

In preparing for the 2010 review conference, the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meetings that took place in 2007 in Vienna, in 2008 in Geneva, and in 2009 in New York were far more constructive. As hoped, the 2009 PrepCom agreed on the agenda for 2010, and so the conference should be able to get down to substantive work from the opening day. The new atmosphere created by a pro-nuclear disarmament policy of the U.S. government and the announcement of the U.S.-Russian strategic arms control negotiations certainly helped promote agreement. Increased and serious attention paid to the resolution on the Middle East, particularly by Russia and the United Kingdom, also helped correct the failure to make progress in the previous 15 years. However, that progress was somewhat negated in September 2009 by UN Security Council Resolution 1887, where there was no specific reference to the 1995 Middle East resolution, save a scant, begrudged reference to the “outcomes of past NPT Review Conferences, including the 1995 and 2000 final documents.”[1] Indeed, the disappointment over Resolution 1887 may well be a factor in the forthcoming review conference as many states are viewing the resolution’s impoverished commitment to nuclear disarmament as evidence that the U.S. approach to the NPT has not truly changed under President Barack Obama, who chaired the Security Council meetings and is thus strongly associated with the resolution.

The CTBT still seems a long way from ever entering into force. Although Vice President Joe Biden’s speech to the National Defense University in February[2] will increase trust in the intention of the U.S. government to make a solid push for ratification, there is deep concern that this U.S. administration will not be able to deliver on its promises and the CTBT may remain off the statute books. It is not that friends, allies, and even enemies do not believe in the good intentions of the current U.S. government; there is a great deal of goodwill in the wider world for Obama’s nuclear disarmament policies. Rather, it is a widespread lack of confidence in the ability of the administration to persuade the U.S. Senate to cast 67 votes in favor of ratification within the next year or so. After all, the 1999 decision not to ratify the CTBT took place when President Bill Clinton was in office, and he was one of the lead instigators of the CTBT in 1994-1996. Analysts believe that it will be no easy achievement to obtain the votes necessary for the START follow-on once that comes before the Senate, and the CTBT is far more difficult.

The CD has been a source of disappointment as well. Its adoption last May of a work program, for the first time since 1998, seemed to signal the potential for progress in that body. Since that historic decision, however, procedural matters have been used to block the commencement of work in 2009, and so the CD in 2010 once again finds itself unable to begin negotiations. Despondency is setting in, and unless there is some breakthrough very soon, the situation in the CD could infect the atmosphere in the NPT. On the other hand, perhaps because the problems in the CD are for the most part caused by Pakistan’s difficulties with the fissile material ban negotiations, the NPT review conference may feel like liberation from that constriction.

Big Issues in 2010

There are four major issues for this year’s review conference: the implementation of the 1995 Middle East resolution, Iran, nuclear disarmament, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy and its safeguards. This article will focus most attention on the Middle East resolution because of its centrality to the success of the 2010 review conference.

The Middle East resolution. Genuine, sustainable progress to fulfill the 1995 resolution on the Middle East WMD-free zone is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success at the 2010 review conference. Work prior to and during the conference needs to put in place a clear, sustainable plan of action to move the issue forward in the next five years.

The 1995 resolution was an integral part of the decision to extend the NPT indefinitely. The resolution was co-sponsored by the three depositary states: Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It calls on all states in the Middle East to “take practical steps in appropriate forums aimed at making progress towards, inter alia, the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems, and to refrain from taking any measures that preclude the achievement of this objective.”[3] It asks all NPT parties, and in particular the nuclear-weapon states, to “extend their cooperation and to exert their utmost efforts” to that end.[4]

The decision in 1995 to extend the NPT indefinitely was not adopted by consensus. The consensus was that “a majority exists among States party to the Treaty for its indefinite extension.”[5] This is very different from a genuine consensus.

Furthermore, immediately following adoption of the extension decision, a number of states said that they had not been in favor of the indefinite extension of the NPT and would have preferred a shorter time period for the extension. These states included many from the Middle East; Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, and Syria referred to the inadequacy of the way Israel’s nuclear capabilities and Middle Eastern security were taken into account. Egypt, however, was constructive and said that “the four decisions adopted today, considered as a package, reflect the interests and priorities of the parties to the NPT.”[6]

Although Middle Eastern countries that are parties to the treaty have made a number of proposals and taken practical steps, there has been no sustained engagement from the other NPT members, including the nuclear-weapon states. Recently there have been renewed efforts by the three depositary states and by key players in the Middle East, particularly Egypt. There is a suspicion from states in the region, however, that this renewed interest is due entirely to a desire for a successful outcome of the review conference and that this desire will not be sustained in the months and years following May 2010.

Egypt,[7] Russia,[8] the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND),[9] and Nabil Fahmy[10] have all recently proposed similar steps that could pave the way forward for progress on the creation of the Middle East WMD-free zone. There is a growing convergence of opinion that the UN secretary-general should use his good offices to host a series of meetings over the next five years to discuss practical steps toward a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East and to explore creative and fresh ways and means to implement the 1995 resolution. Under this proposal, he would appoint a special representative to shepherd these efforts, identifying points of mutual agreement and promoting further dialogue. Identifying possible candidates for the role of special representative will not be easy, but the right person could mean all the difference between moving forward and going nowhere.

The most important aspect of these proposals is that they are for a long-term sustainable set of steps, with reporting mechanisms so that progress can be monitored. Governments and foundations could make significant contributions by providing sustained support for regional expert seminars and research projects on the scope and content of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. National think tanks and academic bodies in the Middle East could be asked to prepare a series of background papers on the elements of a draft treaty for a Middle East WMD-free zone.

Iran. The international community’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear activities undoubtedly will be a major feature of the review conference. The challenge for the conference is finding a balance among maintaining a coherent position on Iran’s activities; not undermining the actions of the IAEA, the UN Security Council, and the states that are attempting to resolve the situation; and not allowing this issue to derail the whole conference and hold all other work and important steps hostage. Such a balancing act may turn out to be impossible, but it was managed in the PrepComs fairly well, particularly in Vienna in 2007, when states impressively rallied against attempts to block the adoption of the agenda. A similar approach certainly needs to be tried in 2010, but in May, the conference participants will not have the luxury of adopting a chairman’s text or tabling a chair’s working paper. The outcome document will have to be something on which all countries can agree. This will not be easy. NPT purists will want the naming and shaming of Iran, but the problem is that Iran is in the room, a party to the NPT. As such, Iran will do everything in its power to prevent being singled out. Of course, states will take the opportunity to raise their concerns about Iran’s program in their statements and working papers. Handling this issue in the drafting of the text for a final document will be the most difficult.

Disarmament. Disarmament and lack of progress toward it will certainly be one of the features of the discussion. The START follow-on will most definitely be welcomed, as will an announcement that new talks on a wider-ranging treaty containing deeper cuts will take place. Concerns over lack of progress in the CD will be raised, but because this is no longer the fault of any of the nuclear-weapon states, blame will not reside in the room. If there are any fresh ideas about negotiating the fissile material ban, now is the time to throw them into the mix. This may be the time for Mexico, Sweden, and others to dust off their earlier proposal to place the negotiations and other items in the CD work program under the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, and carry out the negotiations and deliberations in Geneva, with the clear understanding that the issues would return to the CD should it ever be able to begin work.[11]

Yet, mixed messages will be sent and received on the new Russian nuclear doctrine and the new U.S. Nuclear Posture Review. Even though it is clear to nuance-watchers that both have taken steps in a positive direction and that a reduced reliance on nuclear weapons lies behind each of the documents, for many countries it will be difficult to square the stated claims of being in favor of nuclear disarmament with the continuing dependence on nuclear weapons within the security doctrines of the two countries.

The situation is similar for China, France, and the United Kingdom. The increasing numbers and modernization of China’s nuclear forces belie the pro-disarmament stance of Beijing. Keeping open an option to replace the Trident weapons system in the United Kingdom likewise is difficult to reconcile with a push for nuclear disarmament. France’s modernization program is also of concern, as is the seemingly low enthusiasm in the French government for nuclear disarmament even in the longer term.

Diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in security policies and military doctrines is a major theme for non-nuclear-weapon states, and a commitment to no-first-use policies, such as that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear weapons, would go a long way to reduce the cynicism over professed commitments to nuclear disarmament and would support existing negative security assurances. Another positive step would be for the nuclear-weapon states to strengthen such assurances.

Peaceful uses. The peaceful use of nuclear energy is referred to as an inalienable right within the NPT, and many states feel that the right has been eroded for some, whereas India, a country that has remained outside the treaty, will now benefit from the 2008 Nuclear Suppliers Group decision that gives New Delhi access to the international nuclear market without having to take on the responsibilities that NPT members are obliged to undertake. The Technical Cooperation Program of the IAEA is particularly important for developing countries, and financial support for the program from developed states is an important commitment. The various proposals for multinational approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle and assurance of supply are having a difficult time gaining traction in the developing world. There are persistent fears that the nuclear supplier countries are plotting price-fixing cartels and that they have a long-term aim of infringing on Article 4 rights.

What Success Might Look Like

Although the 2009 NPT PrepCom could not agree on the draft elements paper as proposed by the chair, there was enough consensus on the basic framework of the paper to inspire confidence in the possibility of such a document being agreed.

The draft elements paper included an action plan for the three pillars of the treaty: nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation and safeguards, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. In addition, there were sections on ways and means to strengthen nuclear safety and security, to implement regional nonproliferation and disarmament initiatives and explore future initiatives, and to implement the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East. Three further sections completed the set: one on measures to address the risks and implications of treaty withdrawals; another on initiatives to strengthen the review process, including possible institutional measures; and one on ways and means to promote engagement with civil society in strengthening NPT norms and in promoting disarmament and nonproliferation education.

Various proposals have been put forward for potential action plans for disarmament. Notable among these is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Five-Point Plan that he launched in October 2008[12] and the ICNND’s “A New International Consensus on Action for Nuclear Disarmament.”[13]

Ban proposed (1) negotiations on nuclear disarmament, either on a convention or framework of agreements banning nuclear weapons; (2) negative security assurances; (3) full realization of existing treaties and agreements such as the CTBT, those establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones, and additional protocols; (4) increased transparency on stockpiles and arsenals by the nuclear-weapon states; and (5) work on complementary measures on other weapons of mass destruction, conventional forces, missiles, and space weaponization.[14]

The ICNND proposals include (1) a reaffirmation of the unequivocal undertaking to eliminate nuclear weapons and for non-NPT parties to make a similar undertaking, (2) entry into force of the CTBT and negotiation of the fissile materials ban, (3) deep reductions and no-first-use doctrines by 2025, and (4) the need for de-alert status, negative security assurances, increased transparency, verification and accountability, irreversibility, and steps toward complete disarmament.[15]

The 2009 draft elements paper underwent several revisions[16] and was not adopted, but there are some interesting features that may well be retained for the 2010 review conference.

As a starting point, a reaffirmation and updating of the commitments made to nuclear disarmament in 1995 and 2000 will be a basic requirement for most NPT members. France has particular problems with the 13 practical steps from 2000 and the unequivocal commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons, although what an equivocal commitment might be and how that might be in compliance with the NPT has yet to be explained satisfactorily. Yet, there is no escape from the need to reaffirm the 1995 and 2000 commitments, and any attempt to subvert them will be seen as an attempt to subvert the conference. Special attention will be paid to the CTBT because of the anticipated U.S. Senate ratification debate and to negotiations on a fissile material ban because of the continuing impasse in the CD. Other important aspects of nuclear disarmament will include addressing negative security assurances, reducing the operational status of nuclear forces, reducing and eliminating nonstrategic nuclear weapons, establishing negotiations for a convention that would ban the use and possession of nuclear weapons, and reducing reliance on nuclear weapons in security policies. The U.S. Nuclear Posture Review and the recent Russian nuclear doctrine statements will have a major impact on this aspect of the NPT review.

On nonproliferation and safeguards, strong language will have to be found to underscore the importance of compliance with all articles of the NPT and with the IAEA safeguards obligations. Reaffirmation that IAEA safeguards are a fundamental pillar of the regime and support for the universal adoption of the Model Additional Protocol[17] are vital. Increasing the number of countries with an additional protocol in force is essential for the long-term survival of the NPT, and garnering support for the protocol is well worth striking compromises.

Similarly, the reaffirmation of the inalienable right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with NPT Articles 1, 2, and 3, as the language of Article 4 stipulates, needs to be stressed, along with support for the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Program and bilateral assistance programs. The issue of multinational approaches to the fuel cycle will remain difficult to handle. Nuclear security and safety will also feature in any outcome document; the nuclear security summit scheduled to be held in Washington in April will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the content of the text. The summit will address such issues as securing nuclear materials, strengthening international standards, turning ad hoc measures such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism into international institutions, and increasing efforts to reduce illicit trafficking.[18]

Regional issues, particularly nuclear-weapon-free zones, will be one of the most exciting features of the conference. The entry into force of the Central Asian and the African nuclear-weapon-free zones last year boosted the cause of nonproliferation and disarmament. The nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states should do everything they can do to support those zones. The states outside the zones may not like every detail of these agreements, but these are freely arrived at, showing the commitment of regions and their constituent states to the NPT—not to be sneezed at, given the concerns over the future of NPT. Too often, the nuclear-weapon states act as if they are against such measures. If this review conference could mark a shift in that negative attitude, there could be a positive effect in support for other aspects of the NPT agenda. In particular, as discussed above, support for the implementation of the 1995 Middle East resolution will be a vital component of building confidence in the longevity and long-term relevance of the NPT.

This may be the year that NPT parties finally address the problems of the enhanced review process that was established by the 1995 review and extension conference. The original idea was to establish a substantive process addressing the important aspects of the treaty on a near-annual basis. There is significant frustration with implementation of the process, and over the last decade, a number of states, most notably Canada and Ireland, have proposed a sensible set of ideas for strengthening accountability, including focusing on special topics year by year and instituting a dedicated secretariat for the treaty. In addition, there is the thorny problem of the right to withdraw from the NPT and how to prevent a state from using the technical assistance rights of the treaty to develop a clandestine capability and then withdraw, with all the technical equipment and know-how acquired intact and no penalty to pay.

Finally, the importance of civil society in the implementation of the treaty and the need to invest in training the next generation of experts and educating the public have become increasingly obvious to all concerned. The review conference is a real opportunity to pay serious attention to the development and support of civil society. A world free of nuclear weapons will depend on public support and action. States that support nongovernmental efforts in disarmament research, education, training, and action, for example, in developing new civil society verification methodologies, will be making a significant investment in a more peaceful and secure global future.

A framework with the elements outlined above would cover all the bases required for a successful outcome document, but is that the same thing as a successful outcome?

Perhaps the motto for the 2010 NPT Review Conference should be “respice prospice,” meaning “look to the future and learn from the past.” Success at the review conference will require an understanding of what is needed for the NPT in the next five years and beyond.

First and foremost, the parties need to agree on a way forward. It may be that they can never completely agree on the past, but they do need to agree what should come next. For that, they need an approach that allows parallel tracks for the “respice,” the looking-back elements, and the “prospice,” the looking-forward elements. If states were able to separate out the papers for this process, then lack of agreement on history would not have to wreck future progress. In a sense, this happened in 1995, with the extension decision being separate from the review process, which failed. It also requires groups of people working together to formulate an action plan, based on the elements and framework put forward at the 2009 PrepCom.

An action plan for the forthcoming review period perhaps does not have to be so complicated. Working on the “less is more” principle, it may be better to set in place some practical, achievable short-term goals for nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, peaceful use, and safeguards. There is much to build on. The 1995 Principles and Objectives give clear guidance, and the 2000 conference document shows what can be done when states work across the political divides, such as between the New Agenda Coalition—Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden—and the nuclear-weapon states; commit to a positive outcome; and work toward it together. There is a clear need for a new action program to supersede the 13 practical steps. It should contain both aspirational and practical steps—steps for the long term and the short term. A framework that includes practical steps toward zero nuclear weapons through a nuclear weapons convention[19] would have the greatest chance of success.

The NPT Bargain

Patricia Lewis

Under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), states are classified as either nuclear-weapon states or non-nuclear-weapon states. There are five nuclear-weapon states: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The latter three are the depositaries of the treaty.

The treaty is essentially a bargain among the nuclear-weapon states and the non-nuclear-weapon states, involving the three key elements, or “pillars,” of the treaty.

Article 1 of the NPT prohibits the nuclear-weapon states from transferring nuclear weapons or their control to anyone and from assisting non-nuclear-weapon states in acquiring nuclear weapons. For their part, the non-nuclear-weapon states are prohibited by Article 2 from receiving or seeking nuclear weapons technology or assistance. These paired obligations make up the nonproliferation pillar of the treaty, as they are aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear-weapon states.

The second pillar is the Article 6 undertaking by all the parties “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

The third pillar, based on Article 4, is that all the parties agree to facilitate exchanges of information, technology, and assistance for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and that all states have the right to participate in the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The caveat is that the non-nuclear-weapon states have to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency access to their nuclear facilities to verify that the information, materials, and technology do not cross into military programs.

A recurring theme of the NPT review conferences has been the tension that has resulted from the different emphases that different states have placed on each of the three pillars.




Patricia Lewis is deputy director and scientist-in-residence at the JamesMartinCenter for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Before taking that post in August 2008, she served for 10 years as director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva. She previously was director of the Verification Research and Training Centre in London.


1. UN Security Council, Resolution 1887, S/RES/1887, September 24, 2009, www.un.org/Docs/sc/unsc_resolutions09.htm.

2. Merle David Kellerhals Jr., “Biden Discusses U.S. Nuclear Agenda,” America.gov, www.america.gov/st/peacesec-english/2010/February/20100218161933dmslahrellek4.514712e-02.html. For the full text of the remarks, see Office of the Vice President, The White House, “The Path to Nuclear Security: Implementing the President’s Prague Agenda,” February 18, 2010, www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-vice-president-biden-national-defense-university.

3. “Resolution on the Middle East,” NPT/CONF.1995/32 (Part I), Annex, 1995, www.un.org/disarmament/WMD/Nuclear/1995-NPT/pdf/Resolution_MiddleEast.pdf.

4. Ibid.

5. “1995 NPT Review Conference Package of Decisions,” www.reachingcriticalwill.org/legal/npt/1995dec.html#3 (“Decision 3: Extension of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons”).

6. Rebecca Johnson, “Indefinite Extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty: Risks and Reckonings,” ACRONYM Report, No. 7 (September 1995), www.acronym.org.uk/acrorep/acro7.htm.

7. Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Implementation of the 1995 Resolution and 2000 Outcome on the Middle East: The Final Outcome of the Last Session of the Preparatory Committee: Working Paper Submitted by Egypt,” NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.20, May 4, 2009, www.un.org/disarmament/WMD/Nuclear/NPT2010Prepcom/PrepCom2009/documents.html.

8. Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in New York, “Statement by the Delegation of the Russian Federation at the Third Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: Implementation of a Resolution on the Middle East Adopted by the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference,” n.d., www.reachingcriticalwill.org/legal/npt/prepcom09/statements/8MayME_Russia.pdf.

9. International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND), “Eliminating Nuclear Threats: A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers,” December 15, 2009, www.icnnd.org/reference/reports/ent/index.html.

10. Nabil Fahmy, “Ways Forward to a NWFZ in the Mid East and the 2010 NPT Review Conference,” Center for Nonproliferation Studies, January 2010. Fahmy, formerly Egypt’s ambassador to the United States, is now chair of the center’s Middle East Nonproliferation Project.

11. “Draft Elements of an UNGA60 First Committee Resolution: Initiating Work on Priority Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Issues,” May 10, 2005, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/1com/1com05/docs/draftelementsinitiating.pdf.

12. Ban Ki-moon, “The United Nations and Security in a Nuclear-weapon-free World” (speech, East-West Institute, New York, October 24, 2008), www.un.org/apps/sg/printsgstats.asp?nid=3493 (hereinafter Ban speech).

13. ICNND, “Eliminating Nuclear Threats,” pp. 149-160.

14. Ban speech.

15. ICNND, “Eliminating Nuclear Threats.”

16. For example, see “Draft Recommendations to the Review Conference,” NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/CRP.4/Rev.2., May 15, 2009, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/legal/npt/prepcom09/papers/CRP4Rev2.pdf.

17. Each country negotiates an individual additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, but each additional protocol adheres closely to the 1997 Model Additional Protocol.

18. Kenneth N. Luongo, “Making the Nuclear Security Summit Matter: An Agenda for Action,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2010.

19. See UN General Assembly, “Letter Dated 17 December 2007 From the Permanent Representatives of Costa Rica and Malaysia to the United Nations Addressed to the Secretary-General,” A/62/650, January 18, 2008, annex, www.icanw.org/files/NWC-english.pdf (“Model Nuclear Weapons Convention”).


In their 1995 agreement to extend the life of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) indefinitely, the parties to the treaty, including the five countries that the pact designates as nuclear-weapon states, committed themselves to a set of principles and objectives for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. The lack of progress over the past 15 years has led to increasing frustration among many of the non-nuclear-weapon states.

South Korean Reprocessing: An Unnecessary Threat to the Nonproliferation Regime

Frank N. von Hippel

South Korea is contemplating a decision that could have critical implications for the future of the international nonproliferation regime: whether to reprocess its spent fuel. Driven by a combination of factors—local government resistance to extended spent fuel storage at its nuclear power plants, irritation that the United States has consented to spent fuel reprocessing in Japan but not South Korea, and alarm over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program—much of South Korea’s nuclear establishment wants to do so.

Japan is the only non-nuclear-weapon state today that reprocesses or attempts to do so.[1] Reprocessing makes no sense economically, and contrary to the claims of its advocates, it complicates radioactive waste disposal. Japan’s utilities argue, however, that they have no choice; local governments will not allow extended on-site spent fuel storage, and no state prefecture (Japan’s equivalent of a state) is willing to host an interim storage facility for fear that interim will become permanent.[2]

Given the U.S. inability to site either a geological repository or a central interim spent fuel storage facility, there should be some sympathy in the United States for the plight of the nuclear utilities in South Korea and Japan. Yet, the United States has another option once the spent fuel storage pools at its power reactors become full: dry-cask storage of the older, cooler spent fuel next to the reactors. Japan’s and South Korea’s nuclear utilities claim that they do not have that option because local governments are not allowing them to build on-site dry-cask storage.

Reprocessing creates huge flows and stockpiles of separated plutonium. Japan’s reprocessing plant in full operation will separate enough plutonium to make 1,000 nuclear bombs annually. South Korea’s nuclear establishment proposes not to separate the plutonium completely from other transuranic elements,[3] but the final separation step would be relatively trivial.

Many Chinese and South Korean security analysts are deeply suspicious of Japan’s motives for reprocessing. Some Japanese security analysts acknowledge privately that it provides Japan with a quick nuclear-weapon option, even if Japan does not intend to use that option for the foreseeable future.[4] China, Japan, and North Korea similarly would be deeply suspicious of a decision by South Korea to reprocess.

The United States consented to Japan’s reprocessing program during the Carter administration only after the issue had escalated to the point where Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda was stating publicly that the right to reprocess was “a life or death issue for Japan.”[5] The trauma of the 1973 Arab oil embargo was still a fresh memory, and it is likely that the prime minister had been convinced by Japan’s nuclear energy establishment that a rapid transition to plutonium breeder reactors, which require reprocessing, would free Japan from a similar dependence on imported uranium. Demonstration breeder reactors proved to be costly and unreliable, however, and their commercialization has receded into the future.[6]

Today the rhetoric around reprocessing is escalating in South Korea. Following North Korea’s nuclear test in May 2009, the political opposition demanded that South Korea have “nuclear sovereignty,” i.e., the same rights as Japan.[7]

The 1974 U.S.-South Korean nuclear cooperation agreement requires U.S. consent if “any irradiated fuel elements containing fuel material received from the United States of America [are to be] altered in form or content.”[8] As a matter of policy, South Korea requests that the United States agree to such activities even if U.S.-origin material is not involved.[9] The cooperation agreement will expire in 2014, however, and South Korea wants to negotiate a new agreement that will give it the same programmatic permission that the United States has given the European Union, Japan, Switzerland, and, with certain conditions, India.[10]

South Korea’s government-supported Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) has launched a campaign to try to convince the Obama administration and the U.S. nongovernmental nonproliferation community to agree to this proposal. At the end of January 2010, the U.S. government responded to high-level South Korean lobbying on this issue by agreeing with South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Chun Yung-woo to what he described as “a technological and economical feasibility study by experts on pyro-processing prior to the negotiations on revising” the 1974 nuclear cooperation agreement.[11] Pyroprocessing is the variant of reprocessing that South Korea is pursuing.

If the U.S. government and nonproliferation community accept South Korea’s need to reprocess, however, it will become difficult to resist the same demand from additional countries. South Africa, for example, also has expressed an interest in reprocessing.[12] One of its nuclear officials has described reprocessing as “an element of contemporary power relations.”[13]

Implementation of pyroprocessing in South Korea would be inconsistent with its 1992 joint declaration with North Korea on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Under this agreement, the two countries agreed not to “possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities.”[14] Pyroprocessing advocates in South Korea point out that North Korea has repeatedly broken the 1992 agreement and argue that there is little hope that North Korea will denuclearize any time in the foreseeable future. If South Korea were to launch a pyroprocessing program, however, it would at best further complicate efforts to persuade North Korea to carry through on the commitment it made in 2005 to end its nuclear program.[15] At worst, it could lead to a nuclear arms race between South and North.

Concerns that South Korea’s interest in reprocessing could destabilize the nonproliferation regime should stimulate China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States—the countries that, along with North Korea, are the participants in the six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program—to discuss alternatives to a proliferation of national reprocessing plants. The U.S. government must also resist demands from some congressional Republicans that spent fuel reprocessing be part of any U.S. program to deal with climate change.[16] The fact that the United States has not reprocessed its own spent power-reactor fuel since 1972 has been critical to its ability to persuade non-nuclear-weapon states that they do not need to reprocess either. When Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter reversed the position of previous administrations and decided to forgo reprocessing at home and discourage it abroad, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Taiwan had pilot reprocessing plants.[17] Argentina was building a plant,[18] and France and Germany were contracting to sell reprocessing plants to South Korea and Brazil, respectively.[19] Many of these plans were originally launched out of interest in acquiring at least a nuclear weapons option.

The administration of George W. Bush proposed that the United States could build a reprocessing plant without encouraging the spread of such plants if the United States and other countries that currently reprocess offered reprocessing services to the non-nuclear-weapon states. France, Russia, and the United Kingdom already have tried that, however, and it failed because of the cost and the unwillingness of the reprocessing countries to keep the reprocessing waste.[20]

The proliferation problems that reprocessing creates are a powerful argument against it. That argument is strengthened by the failure of reprocessing to solve the spent fuel problem. The remainder of this article explains why KAERI’s reprocessing proposal, like Japan’s reprocessing program, simply amounts to a costly and dangerous political contrivance to get the spent fuel off the reactor sites. The political problem of ultimate radioactive waste disposal would still remain.

Spent Fuel Storage Problem

South Korea has nuclear power reactors at four sites with a combined generating capacity of about 18 gigawatts-electric (GWe) and more reactors with a total additional 10 GWe under construction.[21] There are plans to build enough generating capacity for an additional 15 GWe by 2030.[22] That would bring total South Korean nuclear generating capacity to 43 GWe, almost equal to Japan’s nuclear generating capacity today.

South Korea’s nuclear utility, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP), has stated that the spent fuel pools at some of its power reactors will be full in 2016.[23] In theory, the older spent fuel in the pools could be shifted to the pools of newer reactors being built on some of the same sites or to dry-cask storage, as is standard practice at U.S. nuclear power plants. In practice, local communities in South Korea are expected to resist both of these on-site storage expansion approaches.[24]

In January 2009, the South Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy established the Korea Radioactive Waste Management Corporation and launched a public consensus process to formulate a national policy on spent fuel management.[25] Six months later, however, the Blue House (South Korea’s equivalent of the U.S. White House) halted the process and then announced that a legal framework was required and that expert opinion would have to be solicited first.[26]

The political issues facing South Korea with regard to interim storage are similar to the ones that Japan has been confronting for about 25 years. Originally, Japanese nuclear utilities embraced reprocessing because they shared the vision promoted in the 1960s by the United States that the future of nuclear power would be plutonium breeder reactors. In the 1980s, therefore, Japanese nuclear utilities began to ship their spent fuel to Europe for reprocessing to obtain separated plutonium for startup cores for breeder reactors. Today, Japan’s nuclear establishment does not expect to commercialize breeder reactors until after 2050.[27] Therefore, it is trying to dispose of almost 50 tons of separated plutonium[28] by recycling it into fuel for the light-water reactors (LWRs) that originally produced it.

Japan’s reprocessing program continues, however, and Japan has even built its own hugely costly reprocessing plant because the facility provides an interim storage destination for both Japan’s spent fuel and the reprocessing waste that is being shipped back from France and the United Kingdom.[29]

Commercial operation of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, which has a design capacity to reprocess 800 tons of spent fuel annually,[30] has been delayed for more than eight years. The plant’s on-site storage capacity for about 3,000 tons of spent fuel is almost full. In any case, the plant does not have the capacity to reprocess spent fuel at the same rate it is discharged from the country’s power reactors. As a result, Japanese utilities are still confronted with the challenge of building additional storage capacity.[31]

KAERI’s Reprocessing Proposal

KAERI, with support from the South Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, urges that the spent fuel from the country’s pressurized water reactors (PWRs) be reprocessed using pyroprocessing technology. That technology electrochemically separates the elements in the fuel after they have been dissolved in molten salt instead of in acid, as is done in standard PUREX reprocessing.[32] The plutonium and other transuranic elements[33] recovered from PWR fuel then would be recycled repeatedly in the fuel of liquid-sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactors until they were completely fissioned except for process losses. The liquid-sodium-cooled reactors would be basically the same plutonium breeder reactors on which the industrialized countries have spent about $100 billion in research and development (R&D) and (mostly failed) demonstration projects,[34] but with their cores reconfigured so that they would be net consumers rather than producers of plutonium.

Opinion within South Korea’s government is supportive of pyroprocessing R&D but divided on actual deployment. KHNP refuses to back KAERI’s proposed approach until it sees credible cost estimates.[35]

KAERI has had a modest R&D program on spent fuel reprocessing ever since the early 1970s, when South Korea briefly pursued nuclear weapons after President Richard Nixon proposed that U.S. allies in Asia take primary responsibility for their own defense.[36] Since 1997, KAERI has been doing R&D related to pyroprocessing. About 10 percent of KAERI’s 1,100 employees work on this effort.[37] This small group of government-funded researchers has had an outsized impact on South Korean spent fuel management policy. Like their counterparts at the Argonne and Idaho national laboratories in the United States, their primary interest is to sustain political support for reprocessing and fast-neutron-reactor R&D. Given public concerns about radioactive waste, key politicians have seized on KAERI’s claim to have a “solution” to the spent fuel problem.

KAERI has not yet carried out any processing of irradiated fuel in its pyroprocessing R&D program but has requested U.S. permission to do so. It has constructed an Advanced Spent Fuel Conditioning Process Facility capable of converting the uranium and transuranic elements in 20-kilogram batches of spent PWR fuel from oxide to metal form. No chemical separation would occur at this stage, but the high temperatures involved would drive off the volatile element cesium-137, which generates most of the gamma radiation field around spent fuel that is more than a decade since discharge.[38] This would make it much easier to separate the plutonium.

Although plutonium recovered from LWR fuel is not of weapons grade, it is weapons usable.[39] A single 1-GWe pressurized-water nuclear power plant discharges about 200 kilograms of plutonium in its spent fuel annually—enough, if separated, for 25 Nagasaki-type nuclear bombs.[40] Vice President Dick Cheney’s 2001 energy task force declared pyroprocessing more “proliferation resistant” than conventional reprocessing.[41] Pyroprocessing was one focus of the Bush administration’s Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative,[42] which included collaborative research on pyroprocessing between KAERI and the Department of Energy’s nuclear energy laboratories. For some time, Bush administration officials who were sympathetic to South Korea’s interest in pyroprocessing even tried to argue that “pyroprocessing is not reprocessing.”[43] KAERI has made similar claims.[44]

The primary basis for the claim that pyroprocessing is proliferation resistant is that, unlike traditional PUREX reprocessing, it does not produce pure plutonium. However, like PUREX, pyroprocessing separates plutonium from the fission products that account for most of the gamma radiation field around spent fuel. As a result, the radiation field around the transuranic mix produced by pyroprocessing would be reduced to about 0.1 percent of that around the spent fuel and to less than 1 percent of the International Atomic Energy Agency's self-protection standard.[45] Therefore, it would be possible to separate plutonium from the mix without the remote operations behind heavy shielding required for recovering plutonium from spent fuel. Given the confusion that was generated during the Bush administration, it is useful that the implications of this fact were recently stated clearly in a report by an Energy Department multilaboratory task force: “The assessment focuses on determining whether three alternative reprocessing technologies—COEX, UREX+, and pyroprocessing—provide nonproliferation advantages relative to the PUREX technology because they do not produce separated plutonium. [We] found only a modest improvement in reducing proliferation risk over existing PUREX technologies and these modest improvements apply primarily for non-state actors.”[46]

Pyroprocessing thus is slightly more proliferation resistant than traditional PUREX reprocessing but much less proliferation resistant than not reprocessing at all.

Major Pyroprocessing Far Off

KHNP currently projects that the spent fuel storage space at its Kori, Wolsong, Ulchin, and Yonggwang sites will be full in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2021, respectively—only six to 11 years hence.[47] KAERI will still be early in its pyroprocessing R&D program at that time. It has proposed completion of:

1. An engineering-scale facility with the capacity to reprocess 10 tons of PWR spent fuel per year by 2016. By that time, South Korean PWRs will be discharging more than 400 tons of spent fuel per year.

2. A prototype facility with the capacity to reprocess 100 tons of spent fuel per year by 2025. By 2030, South Korean PWRs are expected to be discharging about 800 tons of spent fuel per year.[48]

KAERI does not project a date for having an operational pyroprocessing facility capable of dealing with South Korean spent PWR fuel at a rate at which it is being produced, but it proposes building only one 0.6 GWe demonstration fast-neutron reactor before 2050.[49] In order to fission the transuranics discharged annually in the spent fuel of 40 GWe of PWRs—the nuclear generation capacity South Korea is projecting it will have in 2030—it would have to deploy 16-30 GWe of fast-reactor capacity.[50] Thus, before 2050, KAERI’s program would address only a small fraction of KHNP’s spent fuel production. Whatever the long-term solution for South Korean spent fuel, it will need more interim storage.

The Problem of Excess Plutonium

In the meantime, if KAERI’s prototype pyroprocessing facility and fast-neutron reactor were built and operated at full capacity, South Korea would be accumulating about 100 bomb equivalents of excess separated plutonium annually. The demonstration fast-neutron reactor would have a generating capacity of 0.6 GWe[51] and would require an initial fuel-cycle inventory of 2-3 tons of plutonium.[52] After it started, however, even if operated at 90 percent average capacity, it would have a net consumption of only 0.2-0.4 tons of transuranics per year, while the prototype pyroprocessing facility would be separating out about a ton per year.

Even South Korea’s proposed engineering-scale pyroprocessing plant, if operated at full capacity, would separate out about 100 kilograms of plutonium annually, enough for more than 10 Nagasaki-type bombs. Therefore, South Korea’s pyroprocessing R&D program would deliver a nuclear-weapon option quite quickly, as did India’s reprocessing program.[53]

Thus, South Korea would be going down the same track as France, India, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom, where huge stockpiles of excess separated plutonium were produced with reprocessing plants that were originally proposed in the 1970s on the basis of expectations that, by 2000, the world would be building more than 100 GWe of fast-neutron reactor capacity each year.

Pending the construction of a geological repository, South Korea would have to store at its pyroprocessing plant the fission products, the surplus transuranics, and the uranium separated from the spent fuel. It would be far less costly and much less destabilizing both to the nonproliferation regime and the disarmament negotiations with North Korea if interim storage of these materials were in intact fuel, i.e., if South Korea did not have a stockpile of separated weapons-usable material.

In Japan, the extra cost of PUREX reprocessing has been estimated by Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission as $2,400 per kilogram.[54] A U.S. national laboratory comparison has found that the cost of pyroprocessing could be considerably higher than for PUREX reprocessing.[55] By comparison, the cost of centralized interim dry-cask storage for LWR spent fuel is very inexpensive—only about $100 per kilogram.[56]

Disposal Without Reprocessing

KAERI argues that South Korea is not large enough to accommodate the repositories that would be required to hold the quantity of unreprocessed spent fuel projected to be discharged by South Korean PWRs by 2100. Yet, KAERI's claims for reductions in repository size that could be achieved by pyroprocessing[57] are incorrect for South Korea because they are based on analyses that have been done by U.S. pyroprocessing advocates for YuccaMountain. In those analyses, the area of a spent fuel repository is determined by the requirement that the peak temperature in the rock midway between the waste-holding tunnels in a repository not exceed the boiling temperature of water, in order to allow the passage of liquid water downward between the tunnels. This temperature, about 40 meters from the spent fuel casks, would peak about 2,000 years after the emplacement of the spent fuel. During this period, the long-lived transuranics would be the dominant contributors to the accumulated radioactive heat in the rock around the tunnels.

This analysis is irrelevant to the Swedish type of geological repository being considered by KAERI, in which spent fuel would be buried in copper canisters embedded in clay in water-saturated granite.[58] For KAERI’s design, the capacity limit would be determined by the requirement that the clay around the canister not dry out and crack.[59] Therefore, the amount of spent fuel that can be emplaced in a cask is determined by the current heat output of the spent fuel, not its output over millennia.

KAERI’s analyses assume that spent PWR fuel would be emplaced in a repository 40 years after discharge from the reactor. At that time, the transuranics account for slightly less than one-half of the radioactive heat generation from spent fuel.[60] Eliminating them would increase the capacity of a repository approximately by a factor of two. The same result could be accomplished, however, by waiting until the spent fuel is 100 years old before emplacing it in the repository. By then, the 30-year-half-life fission products that dominate the fission-product heat output at 40 years would have largely decayed away.


Because of political constraints imposed by local governments on the amount of spent fuel that can be stored at its reactor sites, South Korea must, by around 2020, either find a way to relax those constraints or find an off-site location to which spent fuel can be shipped. KAERI has proposed spent fuel pyroprocessing and transuranic recycle in fast-neutron reactors as a solution, but it does not propose to deploy more than a demonstration fast-neutron reactor before 2050. Therefore, if South Korea pyroprocesses on a large scale before 2050, the separated weapons-usable transuranic elements and fission-product waste would simply accumulate at the pyroprocessing plant. It would be far less costly simply to store South Korean spent fuel, at least until the country can demonstrate that it can succeed in commercializing large numbers of sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactors where all other countries have failed.

More importantly from an international security perspective, pyroprocessing would make plutonium much more accessible, exacerbating the danger of nuclear weapons proliferation. If reprocessing does not facilitate radioactive waste management and is costly and proliferative, it would be far better for the number of countries that are reprocessing to continue to decline rather than to add a second non-nuclear-weapon state to their number.

South Korea requires more interim spent-fuel storage. Its government should launch public consultations and see whether there are conditions under which one or more local governments would be willing to provide additional interim storage and perhaps a geological repository for its spent fuel.

Aomori Prefecture, which hosts Japan’s reprocessing plant, received 190 billion yen ($1.7 billion) in incentive payments by 2004 before the plant was completed and has been promised 24,000 yen ($216) for every kilogram of spent fuel shipped to the plant.[61] That will total another 760 billion yen ($7 billion) for the projected 32,000 tons of spent fuel that are to be reprocessed during the lifetime of the plant. The total subsidy will be 30 times the $300 million incentive that was part of the package that helped persuade the local governments around South Korea’s Wolsong site to host a 2-square-kilometer underground repository for low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste.[62]

Given the inherently low danger from stored spent fuel that has cooled for about two decades in comparison with that from the fuel in an operating nuclear power plant or freshly discharged fuel in at-reactor spent-fuel cooling pools, it is quite possible that, if the compensation were comparable to what Aomori Prefecture is receiving for hosting the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, a jurisdiction already hosting a nuclear power plant might be willing to host an interim spent fuel storage site as well. The cost would still be small in comparison to the estimated 11 trillion yen ($100 billion) cost of building, operating, and decommissioning the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant.[63] In fact, in Sweden and Finland, local jurisdictions that already host nuclear power plants have volunteered to host deep-underground spent-fuel repositories.

In the meantime, if R&D on fast-neutron reactors is to continue, it should be done on a multinational basis. Because of the high cost, proliferation concerns, and uncertainty whether these reactors will be cost effective, it does not make sense to develop fast-neutron reactors in national programs. The multinational alternative would be to emulate the fusion energy community where the countries with major fusion energy programs have decided to build a single experimental reactor jointly. Indeed, because of the decline in fission R&D funds, 13 countries established the Generation IV International Forum in 2001 to coordinate their R&D on advanced fission reactors. More than half expressed interest in joint work on fast-neutron reactors: China, the European Union, France, Japan, South Korea, and the United States. Russia, whose nuclear establishment also has a major commitment to fast-neutron reactor R&D, joined the Gen IV Forum in 2006.[64]

These countries could use China’s existing small experimental fast-neutron reactor and the BN-800 demonstration reactor being built by Russia for joint R&D. Given the huge surplus of already separated plutonium that some of them already possess, there would be no need to reprocess to acquire the fuel.

Far better would be to restrict the focus of collaborative R&D to reactor types that do not require reprocessing. Collaboration on nuclear energy among China, Japan, and South Korea would be especially useful for trust building and nonproliferation in East Asia.

What is needed especially is multinational cooperation in the sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle that are required by current-generation reactors operating on a once-through fuel cycle, namely uranium enrichment and spent fuel repositories.

Frank N. von Hippel is a professor of public and international affairs at PrincetonUniversity and co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM). During 1993-1994, he was assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He would like to acknowledge Dr. Jungmin Kang’s generosity in providing the Korean citations for this article. This article was prepared with support from the NonproliferationPolicyEducationCenter and the IPFM.


1. In August 2009, the start of full operations of Japan’s new Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, originally scheduled for 2002, was postponed for the seventeenth time by technical problems, until at least the end of 2010. See “Reprocessing Plant Startup Delayed,” Asahi Shimbun, August 31, 2009, www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/TKY200908310136.html.

2. New Nuclear Policy-Planning Council, Japan Atomic Energy Commission, “Interim Report Concerning the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Policy,” November 12, 2004. For an English translation of the key conclusions, see www.cnic.jp/english/topics/policy/chokei/longterminterim.html.

3. Transuranic elements have atomic numbers higher than uranium. They are created in nuclear reactors by neutron capture on uranium followed by radioactive decays in which a neutron is transformed into a proton. Uranium has 92 protons, neptunium has 93, plutonium as 94, americium has 95, and curium 96.

4. Interviews by the author, Seoul, May 2009; Beijing and Tokyo, November 2009.

5. Charles S. Costello III, “Nuclear Nonproliferation: A Hidden but Contentious Issue in U.S.-Japan Relations During the Carter Administration (1977-1981),” Asia-Pacific Perspectives, May 2003, p. 1.

6. International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), “Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status,” February 2010.

7. Lee Jong-Heon, “South Koreans Call for Nuclear Sovereignty,” United Press International, June 15, 2009; Jungmin Kang, “The North Korean Nuclear Test: Seoul Goes on the Defensive,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 12, 2009, www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/features/the-north-korean-nuclear-test-seoul-goes-the-defensive. For a recent skeptical South Korean view, see Kim Young-hie, “The Case Against Reprocessing,” JoongAng Daily, January 23, 2010, http://joongangdaily.joins.com/article/view.asp?aid=2915656.

8. “Agreement for Cooperation Between the Government of the Republic of Korea and the Government of the United States of America Concerning Civil Uses of Atomic Energy,” 1974, art. 8.F.

9. Jungmin Kang and Harold Feiveson, “South Korea’s Shifting and Controversial Interest in Spent Fuel Reprocessing,” Nonproliferation Review, Spring 2001, p. 70.

10. Under most of its agreements, the United States considers requests for such activities one by one. Under the agreements with the European Union, India, Japan, and Switzerland, the United States has provided advance long-term consent for reprocessing. In India’s case, according to the Indian-U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement, this long-term consent does not go into effect until India has built and brought into operation “a new national reprocessing facility dedicated to reprocessing material” under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards and the two countries have agreed on “arrangements and procedures under which reprocessing or other alteration in form or content will take place in this new facility.”

11. Kim So-hyun, “S. Korea, U.S. Agree on Feasibility Study of Pyro-processing,” The Korea Herald, January 29, 2010.

12. Ann MacLachlan, “South African Policy Envisions Domestic Enrichment, Pu Recycle,” NuclearFuel, August 27, 2007, p. 7.

13. South African official, personal communication with the author, May 12, 2009.

14. “Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the KoreanPeninsula,” January 20, 1992, www.nti.org/db/china/engdocs/snkdenuc.htm.

15. “Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks,” September 19, 2005, www.state.gov/p/eap/regional/c15455.htm. The breakdown of that agreement was followed by North Korea’s nuclear tests in October 2006 and May 2009.

16. Glenn Pearston, “Nuclear Reprocessing Amendment Defeated in Close Vote,” Nuclear Safety, May 21, 2009, www.nuclearsafety.org/index.php/component/content/article/15-headlines/63-nuclear-reprocessing-amendment-defeated-in-close-vote.

17. The Eurochemic pilot reprocessing plant in Dessel, Belgium, which operated from 1966 to 1974, was built as a joint facility with 12 other countries from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. See World Nuclear Association, “Nuclear Power in Belgium,” www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf94.html. The WAK (Wiederaufarbeitungsanlage Karlsruhe) pilot reprocessing plant in Karlsruhe, Germany, operated from 1971 to 1991. See Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, “The Karlsruhe Reprocessing Plant Decommissioning Project at a Glance,” www.fzk.de/fzk/idcplg?IdcService=FZK&node=0701&lang=en. Italy’s EUREX reprocessing plant operated from 1970 to 1983. See M. Gili et al., “Direct Dismantling of Reprocessing Plant Cells: The EUREX Plant Experience” (paper presented at the Waste Management 2003 Conference, Tucson, Arizona, February 23-27, 2003). Taiwan built a pilot reprocessing plant in the early 1970s and operated it briefly during 1976 before shuttering it because of U.S. pressure. See John W. Garver, The Sino-American Alliance: Nationalist China and American Cold War Strategy (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1997), pp. 279-280.

18. Argentina launched construction on a reprocessing plant at Ezeiza in 1978 but the plant was not completed. Mitchell Reiss, Bridled Ambition (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1995), p. 47.

19. France agreed to sell South Korea a pilot reprocessing plant in 1975, but U.S. pressure on South Korea resulted in a termination of negotiations in 1976. Jungmin Kang and Harold Feiveson, “South Korea’s Shifting and Controversial Interest in Spent Fuel Reprocessing,” Nonproliferation Review, Spring 2001, p. 70. On the 1975 nuclear contract between Brazil and Germany, see Reiss, Bridled Ambition, p. 49.

20. Frank von Hippel, “Why Reprocessing Persists in Some Countries and Not in Others: The Costs and Benefits of Reprocessing,” April 9, 2009, www.npec-web.org/Essays/vonhippel%20-%20TheCostsandBenefits.pdf.

21. Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Company (KHNP), “Overview,” n.d., www.khnp.co.kr/en/030100.

22. National Energy Committee, Prime Minister’s Office, Republic of Korea, “The 1st National Energy Basic Plan (2008-2030),” August 2008 (in Korean). The plan includes four pressurized water reactors (5.6 GWe) to be brought into operation between 2017 and 2021. See Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy, “The 4th Basic Plan of Long-Term Electricity Supply and Demand (2008-2022),” December 2008.

23. Ki-ChulPark, KHNP, “Status and Prospect of Spent Fuel Management in South Korea,” Nuclear Industry, August 2008, p. 27 (in Korean).

24. Jooho Whang, Kyung Hee University, South Korea, e-mail communication with author, October 21, 2009 (hereinafter Whang e-mail).

25. South Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy, “Establishing Korea Radioactive Waste Management Corporation (KRMC),” December 31, 2008 (in Korean).

26. Whang e-mail. See also “Why Delay the Public Consensus Process of Spent Fuel,” Dong-a Ilbo, August 13, 2009, p. 8 (in Korean).

27. Tatsujiro Suzuki, “Japan’s Plutonium Breeder Reactor and Its Fuel Cycle: Fading Into the Future?” in IPFM, “Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status,” February 2010.

28. Japan’s most recent declaration to the IAEA was 47.4 metric tons as of the end of 2008. IAEA, “Communication Received From Japan Concerning Its Policies Regarding the Management of Plutonium,” INFCIRC/549/Add.1/12, November 9, 2009, www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Infcircs/2009/infcirc549a1-12.pdf. For some reason, the declaration of the amount stored in Europe is only of the contained Pu-239 and Pu-241. I have multiplied the quantity of these fissile isotopes by 1.5 to obtain the total amount of plutonium. Tons, as used in this article, means metric tons.

29. Tadahiro Katsuta and Tatsujiro Suzuki, “Japan’s Spent Fuel and Plutonium Management Challenges,” IPFM Research Report, No. 2 (September 2006), www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/ipfmresearchreport02.pdf .

30. Spent fuel is ordinarily measured by the original tonnage (metric) of uranium that the fresh fuel contained. This weight does not include the weight of the oxygen in the uranium oxide or the fuel’s zirconium alloy cladding.

31. “Japan’s Back-End Dilemma: Running Out of Time,” Uranium Intelligence Weekly, November 23, 2009, p. 4.

32. Sources differ slightly on the exact words that produced the acronym PUREX; a common version is “plutonium-uranium extraction.”

33. Twenty years after discharge, the transuranic mix in LWR spent fuel with a cumulative fission-energy release of 53 megawatt-days per kilogram of uranium (MWt-days/kgU) is plutonium, 82.4 percent; americium, 10.7 percent; neptunium, 6.6 percent; and curium, 0.4 percent. Jungmin Kang and Frank von Hippel, “Limited Proliferation-Resistance Benefits From Recycling Unseparated Transuranics and Lanthanides From Light-Water Reactor Spent Fuel,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 13 (2005), p. 169, table 1.

34. Fifty billion dollars reported by the OECD countries to the International Energy Agency (IEA) as spent between 1974 and 2007; tens of billions of dollars before 1974, when the spending rate was $3 billion per year; at least $12 billion for the Superphénix reactor not included in France’s report to the IEA; an estimated $12 billion spent by Russia; and an unknown amount spent by India. IPFM, “Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status.”

35. Mark Hibbs, “Commercial Pyroprocessing Costs Unknown, U.S., Korean Officials Say,” NuclearFuel, September 7, 2009, p. 3.

36. Jungmin Kang and H.A. Feiveson, “South Korea’s Shifting and Controversial Interest in Spent Fuel Reprocessing,” Nonproliferation Review, Spring 2001, p. 70

37. In fiscal year 2007, the budget of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology for total nuclear energy R&D—virtually all of which went to the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI)—was approximately $170 million ($1 equaled 1,242 Korean won on September 1, 2009), of which approximately $22 million went for research on the nuclear fuel cycle. Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, “Atomic Energy White Paper,” December 2008 (in Korean).

38. Hansoo Lee, “The Korean Strategy in Nuclear Fuel Cycle” (presentation at KAERI, Daejeon, South Korea, May 25, 2009). Gamma rays are high-energy X-rays that are generated by nuclear radioactive decays. They dominate the penetrating radiation dose emitted by spent nuclear fuel.

39. U.S. Department of Energy, “Nonproliferation and Arms Control Assessment of Weapons-Usable Fissile Material Storage and Excess Plutonium Disposition Alternatives,” DOE/NN-0007, 1997, pp. 38–39.

40. The IAEA assumes that eight kilograms of plutonium is sufficient for a first-generation nuclear weapon. IAEA, “IAEA Safeguards Glossary, 2001 Edition,” p. 23.

41. The White House, “Energy Policy: Report of the National Energy Policy Development Group,” May 2001, p. 5-17.

42. U.S. Department of Energy, “Report to Congress on Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative: The Future Path for Advanced Spent Fuel Treatment and Transmutation Research,” 2003.

43. Miles Pomper, “Concerns Raised as South Korea Joins GNEP,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2008.

44. “[I]ts proliferation resistance has been internationally recognized due to the impossibility to recover plutonium.” KAERI, “Pyroprocess Technology,” www.kaeri.re.kr/english/sub/sub04_03.jsp.

45. Kang and von Hippel, “Limited Proliferation-Resistance Benefits From Recycling Unseparated Transuranics and Lanthanides From Light-Water Reactor Spent Fuel,” p. 169.

46. Robert Bari et al., “Proliferation Risk Reduction Study of Alternative Spent Fuel Processing Technologies,” BNL-90264-2009-CP, 2009, abstract. I would like to thank Tom Clements of Friends of the Earth for bringing this report to my attention.

47.Park, “Status and Prospect of Spent Fuel Management in South Korea,” p. 27.

48. KAERI, “Fuel Cycle Process Division, Future Research Plans,” http://ehome.kaeri.re.kr/snsd.

49. KAERI, “Fast Reactor Technology Development Group, R/D Activities,” www.kaeri.re.kr/english/sub/sub01_04_02_01_01.jsp.

50. A PWR with a one-gigawatt electrical generating capacity (1-GWe) discharges about 0.24 tons of transuranics in its spent fuel annually. A 1-GWe fast-neutron reactor with a thermal-to-electric power conversion efficiency of 40 percent would have a thermal power of 2.5 GWt. (A gigawatt is 1 billion watts. GWe indicates that the power is electric; GWt indicates that the power is thermal.) If operated at a capacity factor of 0.9, it would generate about 800 GWt-days of fission heat annually, which would require the fissioning of about 0.8 tons of heavy metals, i.e., transuranics and uranium per year. However, if the transuranics were mixed with uranium, as proposed for safety reasons, some of the uranium would be fissioned directly and some would be converted into transuranics. The net destruction rate of transuranics would therefore be 0.8(1-CR), where CR is the reactor conversion ratio. A National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study quotes a minimum safe conversion rate for a General Electric fast-reactor design of 0.6. NAS, “Nuclear Wastes: Technologies for Separations and Transmutation,” 1996, pp. 205-206. Fast-neutron reactor advocates at Argonne National Laboratory argue that a conversion ratio as low as 0.25 can be achieved safely with added control rods and twice-annual refueling. J. E. Cahalan et al., “Physics and Safety Studies of a Low Conversion Ratio Sodium Cooled Fast Reactor,” Proceedings of the PHYSOR 2004 Conference, April 2004. For a CR in the range of 0.25 to 0.6, the net destruction rate of transuranics would be 0.32, or 0.6 tons per year.

51. KAERI, “Fast Reactor Technology Development Group, R/D Activities.”

52. IAEA, International Fuel Cycle Evaluation, “Fast Breeders: Report of Working Group 5,” 1980, p. 58 (for metal fuel).

53. The plutonium for India’s nuclear weapons was separated using an engineering-scale reprocessing plant at India’s BhabhaAtomicResearchCenter.

54. Japan Atomic Energy Commission, “Interim Report Concerning the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Policy,” November 12, 2004. For an English translation of the key conclusions, see www.cnic.jp/english/topics/policy/chokei/longterminterim.html. Quoted costs assume one yen equals $0.01.

55. D. E. Shropshire et al., “Advanced Fuel Cycle Cost Basis,” INL/EXT-07-12107, 2007, tables F1-4 and F2-3. The largest scale on which pyroprocessing has been conducted thus far is a rate of about 0.4 tons of heavy metal per year in the treatment of 0.7 tons of driver fuel and 2.5 tons of blanket uranium of the Experimental Breeder Reactor II in Idaho. In 2006 the total project cost was estimated at $363 million, or about $15,000 per kilogram. See U.S. Department of Energy, “Preferred Disposition Plan for Sodium-Bonded Spent Nuclear Fuel,” 2006, www.ne.doe.gov/pdfFiles/DisPlanForSodBondedSNFMarch2006.pdf.

56. Boston Consulting Group, “Economic Assessment of Used Nuclear Fuel Management in the United States,” 2006, table 4 (report paid for by Areva). The numbers are for 20-year storage in a 50,000-ton central storage facility, but about 90 percent of the cost is “marginal capital expense,” i.e., the cost of the dry casks.

57. See, e.g., Won Il Ko and Eun-ha Kwon, “Implications of the New National Energy Basic Plan for Nuclear Waste Management in Korea,” Energy Policy, Vol. 37 (2009), p. 3484.

58. S. K. Lee et al., “Concept of a Korean Reference Disposal System for Spent Fuels,” Journal of Nuclear Science and Technology, Vol. 44, No. 12 (2007), p. 1565.

59. Jongyoul Kim et al., “A Comparison of the HLW Underground Repository Cost for the Vertical and Horizontal Emplacement Options in Korea,” Progress in Nuclear Energy, Vol. 49 (2007), p. 79.

60. Roald A. Wigeland et al., “Separations and Transmutation Criteria to Improve Utilization of a Geologic Repository,” Nuclear Technology, Vol. 154 (April 2006), p. 95, fig. 1.

61. Masafumi Takubo, “Wake Up, Stop Dreaming: Reassessing Japan’s Reprocessing Program,” Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 15, No. 1 (2008), p. 71.

62. The incentives provided to the region for accepting the low-level-waste site also included the transfer of the headquarters of KHNP to Gyeongju (population 280,000), the nearest city to Wolsong. See Ji Bum Chung et al., “Competition, Economic Benefits, Trust, and Risk Perception in Siting a Potentially Hazardous Facility,” Landscape and Urban Planning, Vol. 91 (2009), p. 8.

63. The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan made this estimate of the total cost of reprocessing at Rokkasho. Nuke Info Tokyo, No. 98 (November 2003-February 2004), p. 10.

64. See www.gen-4.org.


South Korea is contemplating a decision that could have critical implications for the future of the international nonproliferation regime: whether to reprocess its spent fuel. Driven by a combination of factors—local government resistance to extended spent fuel storage at its nuclear power plants, irritation that the United States has consented to spent fuel reprocessing in Japan but not South Korea, and alarm over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program—much of South Korea’s nuclear establishment wants to do so.


• The January/February 2010 article “OPCW Chiefs Ponder Chemical Arms Deadlines” misstated the date of the decision by the Council of the European Union to approve a voluntary contribution of 2.1 million euros to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The decision was made by EU foreign ministers July 27, and the project became operational Nov. 6. 

• The December 2009 article “German Nuclear Stance Stirs Debate” misstated the date of Germany’s Sept. 27 national election.

U.S.-Taiwan Arms Deal Angers China

Michael Ashby and Jeff Abramson

Despite strong objections from China, the Obama administration on Jan. 29 unveiled an arms deal with Taiwan worth $6.4 billion. The deal, versions of which have been under consideration since 2001, includes 60 UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters, 114 PAC-3 missiles and their accompanying radar systems, two Osprey-class mine-hunting ships, 12 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and an array of advanced communications equipment.

Initially conceived as an $18.2 billion package including eight diesel-electric submarines, 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft, and six Patriot missile batteries, the deal’s path to approval has been complex. Periods of tension between China and Taiwan, Taiwan domestic political wrangling, and Bush administration concerns over the U.S. relationship with China have stalled agreements over the course of the negotiations.

By law, Congress had 30 days to raise objections to the arms sales before the administration could proceed. That period expired Feb. 28 without congressional action.

The arms sale comes at a time of heightened tension between China and the United States over a host of issues, including climate change, trade policy, Google’s threat to leave China, and Iran’s nuclear program.

When asked about the reason for the arms sale, Department of State spokesman P.J. Crowley said Feb. 1, “We’ve taken this action consistent with our one-China policy and [the] Taiwan Relations Act. We think that these defensive arms will contribute to security and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” Under the one-China policy, the United States does not formally recognize or support Taiwan’s independence. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act commits the United States to the defense of Taiwan and authorizes arms sales to aid its defense.

The Chinese response to the announcement of the deal has been sharp. “The U.S. move pose[s] grave danger to China’s core interests and hurt bilateral ties seriously, which will inevitably affect bilateral cooperation on some major regional and international issues,” Ma Zhaoxu, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said during a Feb. 2 press briefing in Beijing. China announced that it is suspending its military ties with the United States and that U.S. companies involved in the sale will face sanctions. “In disregard of the strong opposition of China, relevant U.S. companies insisted on selling arms to Taiwan. China will impose sanctions on those companies,” Ma said.

Alan Romberg, a former staff member on China issues at the National Security Council and now a distinguished fellow at the HenryL.StimsonCenter in Washington, wrote on the group’s Web site that Beijing may be miscalculating its leverage. “No one should sell short the importance of ‘the Taiwan issue’ to [China]. It is fundamental. But understanding that does not define the entirety of the issue or limit the legitimacy of the national interests of other players in maintaining peace and stability in the region.”

Notably absent from the sale are F-16C/D fighter jets and diesel-fueled submarines Taipei has been seeking for years. Taiwan’s state-sponsored Central News Agency quoted Premier Wu Den-Yih as saying, “Buying weapons at a reasonable price for the country’s self-defense is the government’s basic guideline. The purchase of F-16C/D jets and submarines is still under discussion, and Washington is evaluating the sale, but negotiations on the submarines will be difficult because of their very high price.” The administration said that it is still reviewing whether the sale of the F-16s is necessary for Taiwan’s defense. Taiwan currently operates a force of earlier-model F-16 A/B fighter aircraft.

A Jan. 21 Defense Intelligence Agency assessment of Taiwan’s air defenses, which the Washington Times posted on its Web site, says China has recently “increased the quantity and sophistication of its ballistic and cruise missiles and fighter aircraft opposite Taiwan, which has diminished Taiwan’s ability to deny [Chinese] efforts to attain air superiority in a conflict.” The report outlines shortcomings in Taiwan’s air force and its missile defense capabilities.

Responding to the report, Huang Xueping, spokesman for China’s Ministry of National Defense said at a Feb. 25 press briefing, “We are highly concerned about the report because the Taiwan issue is a matter of great significance to China’s core interests.” Xinhua, China’s state news agency, suggested this report might be used to justify the sale of the F-16s Taiwan has been requesting.

The controversy may make international cooperation on a global arms trade treaty more difficult. Argentine ambassador Roberto García Moritán, chair of a UN process to develop such a treaty, said during a Feb. 11 meeting in Vienna that “suddenly the political climate certainly has changed.” He added that the proposed sales “will have certain effects in July” when the United Nations resumes work on the treaty. Last year, countries agreed to a series of meetings leading up to a UN conference on the treaty in 2012. Although China has participated in previous expert and working groups related to the treaty process, it has abstained on past votes moving it forward. (See ACT, November 2009.)

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said China and the United States can continue to cooperate on proliferation challenges in spite of the controversy over the deal. “We envision this relationship as one where we can work together on issues of mutual concern. We’ve worked together on issues of proliferation, particularly around North Korea,” he said during a Feb. 4 press briefing. “I think that the Chinese will continue to work with us on the important next steps that we have to take relating to Iran because it’s not just in our interest or in others’ interest, it’s quite clearly in their interest as well.”



Despite strong objections from China, the Obama administration on Jan. 29 unveiled an arms deal with Taiwan worth $6.4 billion. The deal, versions of which have been under consideration since 2001, includes 60 UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters, 114 PAC-3 missiles and their accompanying radar systems, two Osprey-class mine-hunting ships, 12 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and an array of advanced communications equipment.

Outreach to North Korea Continues

Peter Crail

High-level UN and Chinese envoys met with key North Korean leaders in early February to discuss the prospects for resuming multilateral talks on that country’s nuclear weapons program.

Despite Pyongyang’s willingness to continue discussions on the possibility of returning to negotiations it abandoned last year, it appears to be sending mixed messages to the international community. Those six-party talks involved the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

Although few details of the Chinese outreach to North Korea have been made public, reports from China’s official press have suggested that Pyongyang is receptive to engaging in denuclearization talks. The state-run Xinhua news agency reported Feb. 9 that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told Wang Jiarui, head of the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, that North Korea’s goal is still the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. In a 1992 “denuclearization” pact, North and South Korea agreed to forswear nuclear weapons and the means to develop them. The report quoted Kim as saying that “the sincerity of relevant parties to resume the six-party talks is very important.”

Wang met with Kim Feb. 8 and, on his return to Beijing Feb. 9, was accompanied by Kim Gye Gwan, North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator, for further discussions.

The Chinese reports contrast with the assessment of B. Lynn Pascoe, UN undersecretary-general for political affairs and a former U.S. diplomat, who visited North Korea Feb. 9-12. Describing his discussions during a Feb. 12 press conference in Beijing, Pascoe said that the North Koreans were “certainly not eager to return to the six-party talks,” although they have not ruled out a return.

Pascoe was the most senior UN official to visit the country in six years. The trip included a meeting with Pyongyang’s second-highest ranking official, Kim Yong Nam.

The outreach by China and the United Nations follows North Korean claims that it would be willing to return to talks and pursue denuclearization only after a peace treaty formally concluding the Korean War was agreed and international sanctions were lifted.

In a Jan. 11 Foreign Ministry statement, Pyongyang proposed talks beginning this year on a peace treaty to replace the 1953 Armistice Agreement, which continues to serve as a ceasefire but not a permanent end to the Korean War. “The conclusion of the peace treaty will help terminate the hostile relations between [North Korea and the United States] and positively promote the denuclearization of the KoreanPeninsula at a rapid tempo,” read the statement.

The statement also said that the removal of sanctions was necessary to pave the way for the resumption of talks. Sin Son Ho, North Korea’s permanent representative to the UN, repeated this position Jan. 12, telling reporters, “We will return to the talks if the sanctions are lifted.”

Japan, South Korea, and the United States have maintained, however, that Pyongyang must make progress on denuclearization before peace talks could begin or sanctions could be removed. Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters in Seoul Feb. 3 that until North Korea agrees once again to abide by its commitments in the six-party talks, “the United States will not be prepared either to ease sanctions [or] begin discussions on other issues like the establishment of a peace regime.”

Those talks, which were carried out intermittently between 2003 and 2009, arrived at two sets of agreements. A September 2005 joint statement outlined a broad framework for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, as well as steps toward a peace agreement and normalization of relations between the conflicting parties. That was followed by a February 2007 agreement in which the parties agreed on steps to implement the 2005 accord. Those steps were in the process of being carried out when Pyongyang backed away from the talks in April 2009 following the UN Security Council’s censure of a North Korean rocket launch earlier that month. (See ACT, May 2009.)

A diplomatic source from one of the six parties said in a Jan. 26 e-mail that if North Korea begins discussions on denuclearization again, “other issues can be dealt with at a quite early stage.” The diplomat stressed, however, that North Korea must first demonstrate that it is sincere in dealing with the primary issue of denuclearization before the other parties can exhibit such flexibility.



High-level UN and Chinese envoys met with key North Korean leaders in early February to discuss the prospects for resuming multilateral talks on that country’s nuclear weapons program.

Despite Pyongyang’s willingness to continue discussions on the possibility of returning to negotiations it abandoned last year, it appears to be sending mixed messages to the international community. Those six-party talks involved the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States.

Pakistan Raises New Issues at Stalled CD

Eric Auner

Pakistan has raised a new set of concerns in the Conference on Disarmament (CD), the UN body responsible for negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).

Islamabad’s objections are holding up the CD’s approval of a program of work on an FMCT and other issues.

The stalemate prompted a comment from CD Secretary-General Sergey Ordzhonikidze. Speaking Feb. 11 on behalf of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Ordzhonikidze expressed “great disappointment” with the body’s lack of progress, according to an official meeting summary. He described progress in the CD as “not even zero, it was minus.”

The 65-nation CD had been deadlocked since the conclusion of Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty negotiations in 1996. The CD, which operates through consensus, agreed on a work plan in May 2009. Pakistan did not block the plan, although Zamir Akram, Pakistani ambassador to the CD, said at the time it was “not perfect.” The plan included negotiations on an FMCT, as well as substantive discussions on progress toward nuclear disarmament, the prevention of an arms race in space, and the provision of negative security assurances to states not possessing nuclear weapons. (See ACT, June 2009.) The CD failed to adopt a framework to implement that work plan by the end of 2009, due in part to Pakistani concerns.

In January, Akram temporarily blocked the adoption of an agenda for the year as he suggested expanding the issues that it addresses. In a Jan. 19 statement to a CD plenary meeting, he said the “international arms control architecture is incomplete” without a “global regime on missiles.” He went on to say that “the issues of conventional arms control at regional levels and missiles are now pressing problems for the international community.”

The Indian delegation to the CD responded in a statement later that day, opposing the consideration of regional arms control issues at the CD. But the delegation said the CD could address some aspects of a global missile control regime.

In addition, the Pakistani government recently restated its opposition to an FMCT, citing regional security concerns. “Pakistan’s position [on an FMCT] will be determined by its national security interests and the objectives of strategic stability in South Asia. Selective and discriminatory measures that perpetuate regional instability…cannot be accepted or endorsed,” Pakistan’s National Command Authority said in a press release issued after a Jan. 13 meeting. The authority is the body responsible for formulating all aspects of Pakistani nuclear policy.

One of the issues surrounding the proposed FMCT is whether it should cover existing stockpiles as well as future production.

Akram communicated the country’s position to the CD in a Feb. 18 statement. “The FMCT that has been proposed will only ban future production of fissile material” and will “increase the existing asymmetry in fissile materials stockpiles between Pakistan and [India].” Akram said that India would be able to increase its fissile material stockpiles as a result of the 2008 waiver it received from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). (See ACT, October 2008.)

India does not allow international inspections of all its nuclear facilities. Acceptance of full-scope safeguards, as they are known, is a key requirement under NSG export guidelines. The 2008 decision made an exception for India, allowing New Delhi to import nuclear material, equipment, and technology. Critics of the move have said that India’s access to the international uranium market will allow India to devote more of its limited domestic uranium supply to building up its nuclear arsenal.

“We must ensure that the asymmetry” arising from an Indian stockpile increase “does not erode the credibility of our deterrence,” Akram said.

The NSG, which includes more than 40 countries, proceeded with the waiver “because their greed got the better of their principles or they simply lacked the courage of their convictions,” he said.

Ordzhonikidze responded to the Pakistani ambassador later that day. “[I]t is very hard to imagine that a program of work…will hamper [in] any way the strategic security of any member state,” he said.

Hamid Ali Rao, India’s ambassador to the CD, said Feb. 18 that “[t]he CD is not the forum to address bilateral or regional issues.” He urged the Pakistanis to avoid bringing up “extraneous” issues in the CD.



Pakistan has raised a new set of concerns in the Conference on Disarmament (CD), the UN body responsible for negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT).

Islamabad’s objections are holding up the CD’s approval of a program of work on an FMCT and other issues.

Cluster Convention Set to Enter Into Force

Jeff Abramson

The United Nations received the 30th instrument of ratification for the Convention on Cluster Munitions on Feb. 16, setting the treaty to enter into force Aug. 1.

Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse smaller submunitions over broad areas. They sometimes strike civilians or fail to explode initially, later injuring or killing military forces and noncombatants. International outrage at the use of these weapons by Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 led to the so-called Oslo process and ultimately the treaty, which was opened for signature and ratification in December 2008. (See ACT, December 2008.)

The convention bars the use of nearly all cluster munitions and obligates countries to destroy stockpiles, conduct clearance efforts, and take steps to help victims. It enters into force on the first day of the sixth month after the month in which the 30th instrument of ratification has been deposited.

Burkina Faso and Moldova provided the 29th and 30th ratifications Feb. 16. Montenegro and Denmark deposited their instruments earlier this year.

Although the United States has not supported the treaty, a number of its allies have. Of the 30 ratifying states, 10 are members of NATO. Ten other NATO members have signed but not yet ratified the treaty. Afghanistan and Iraq have also signed the accord, which allows for military cooperation between member and nonmember states, provided that countries bound by the treaty do not “expressly request the use of cluster munitions where the choice of munitions used is within [their] exclusive control.”

Instead of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Washington has preferred to seek agreement on limiting the use of cluster munitions through the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). A group of governmental experts is scheduled to meet April 12-16 and Aug. 30-Sept. 3 to continue work on a possible sixth protocol to the CCW, led by new chairperson Jesus Domingo of the Philippines. Many of the countries that have committed to the new treaty and are also party to the CCW have stressed that any agreement in the CCW must not weaken controls on the weapons, drawing into question the likelihood of reaching consensus within the CCW. (See ACT, December 2009.)

The 30 states that have ratified the new treaty are Albania, Austria, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, the Holy See, Ireland, Japan, Laos, Luxembourg, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Malawi, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Norway, San Marino, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, Uruguay, and Zambia. Another 74 countries have signed the treaty.

In a statement released by his spokesperson Feb. 16, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all states to become party to the treaty. “[T]he Convention’s entry into force just two years after its adoption demonstrates the world’s collective revulsion at the impact of these terrible weapons,” he said.



The United Nations received the 30th instrument of ratification for the Convention on Cluster Munitions on Feb. 16, setting the treaty to enter into force Aug. 1.

Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse smaller submunitions over broad areas. They sometimes strike civilians or fail to explode initially, later injuring or killing military forces and noncombatants. International outrage at the use of these weapons by Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 led to the so-called Oslo process and ultimately the treaty, which was opened for signature and ratification in December 2008.

NNSA Nonproliferation Funding Poised to Rise

Daniel Horner

Funding for nonproliferation work in the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) would rise by about 25 percent under the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2011 request, with a large part of the increase going to efforts in Russia and the United States to turn surplus weapons plutonium into reactor fuel.

Another NNSA effort that would receive a hefty increase is the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which aims to secure vulnerable nuclear and radiological material around the world.

The budget request, released Feb. 1, would raise spending in the NNSA’s Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation category to $2.69 billion. Congress appropriated $2.14 billion for that category in fiscal year 2010. Of that $550 million increase, the Fissile Materials Disposition portion of that category accounts for $329 million, rising from $702 million to just more than $1.0 billion. Spending under the U.S. Surplus Fissile Materials Disposition category would rise from $701 million to $918 million; for Russian materials disposition, it would jump from $1 million to $113 million.

The United States previously had spearheaded a multinational effort to support a program under which Russia would build a plant to fabricate mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel—so called because it is a mix of plutonium and uranium oxides—out of surplus weapons plutonium. The MOX fuel then would have been used in Russian light-water reactors (LWRs). That effort stalled over financial, policy, and legal disputes, and Congress has not been providing new funding.

Meanwhile, Russia and the United States have been negotiating the terms of a different plan. That plan would be based on the use of fast-neutron reactors, which are capable of producing more plutonium than they consume, rather than LWRs. U.S. officials have said that one advantage of shifting to that approach is that, because it conforms more closely to Russia’s domestic energy plans, Moscow would be willing to pursue that route with less outside funding than it demanded for the LWR approach.

In November 2007, the two sides issued a statement saying they had reached agreement on the outlines of a revised plan. (See ACT, December 2007.) A key part of the agreement was that the Russian fast reactors would dispose of the weapons plutonium without creating new stocks of separated weapons-grade plutonium.

To put the plan in place, the two sides needed to negotiate and sign a protocol to amend a 2000 pact known as the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA). That process apparently still is not complete.

According to the Energy Department’s detailed budget justification document, the Russian and U.S. governments “have completed negotiations” on the protocol. The document said the protocol is “expected” to be signed “in early 2010.”

In Feb. 22 interview, a U.S. official said the Bush administration “put some steam” behind the negotiation effort but was not able to complete it. The Obama administration “re-energized” the effort when it took office and “made known at various levels that this was something we wanted to get done,” he said.

In the late fall of last year, the two sides reached a point at which they both said “the substantive issues are now closed,” the official said. He said they are now working on “conforming the language,” that is, making sure that the English and Russian versions say exactly the same thing.

The specific details of the monitoring and inspection arrangements, such as their “frequency and intensity,” will be in a separate document that has not yet been completed, he said.

As part of the new U.S.-Russian plan, the United States is to provide a total of $400 million for the Russian effort. The fiscal year 2011 budget request would provide $100 million of that amount. In a Feb. 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera said, “We expect to request additional funds in future budgets based on the pace of plutonium disposition in Russia.” Both countries are planning to start disposition in 2018, but “either country may begin sooner if it chooses,” he said. According to current estimates, the disposition campaign is expected to take about 30 years in each country, he said.

The U.S. official said the United States expects to spend about $300 million of the $400 million in the development and construction years, in areas such as fuel development before the MOX fuel is loaded into Russian reactors, with the remainder being spread over the “period of confirmed disposition.”

The U.S. plutonium disposition effort is centered on the construction of a MOX fuel fabrication plant at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The 2011 funding request for construction of the plant itself would dip slightly from fiscal year 2010, from $504 million to $476 million, because of “the completion of many long-lead equipment procurements and facility design activities,” according to the budget document. However, funding increases for supporting facilities and activities more than make up for that decline.

Part of the increase comes in the request for the Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility, which was funded in a different part of the NNSA budget in fiscal year 2010. However, the facility, which would disassemble surplus nuclear weapons pits and convert their plutonium metal into an oxide form that can be fabricated into MOX fuel, also would receive a boost in funding from the fiscal year 2010 level.

GTRI Ascending

In another high-profile effort, the budget for the GTRI would rise from $334 million to $559 million.

That effort is at the heart of President Barack Obama’s pledge in his speech last April in Prague to “secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.” However, the administration’s budget request last year showed a decline in GTRI funding. In defending that budget on Capitol Hill, NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino said it did not fully represent Obama’s four-year plan because budget preparation for fiscal year 2010 already was well under way when Obama took office and spelled out his goals to the NNSA. (See ACT, June 2009.)

One GTRI component that would receive a significant boost, from $94.2 million in fiscal year 2010 to $145.2 million in fiscal year 2011, is the effort to return Russian-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel to Russia from non-Russian research reactors. That effort had received $123.1 million in fiscal year 2009.

Removal of international radiological material would be funded at $45.0 million, an increase from the fiscal year 2010 level of $8.3 million and the fiscal year 2009 level of $21.7 million.

The sharpest GTRI increase would be for the effort to remove “gap nuclear material,” so called because it deals with nuclear material not covered by GTRI efforts focusing on Russian- and U.S.-origin nuclear material. Work on removing the gap material would be funded at $108.0 million for fiscal year 2011; it received $9.1 million in fiscal year 2010 and $5.0 million in fiscal year 2009.

In his Feb. 26 e-mail, LaVera said the increase is “to remove additional HEU and plutonium in FY2011 and to prepare for additional shipments” in fiscal year 2012. The increase reflects an approach that “takes work that had been planned in future years and redirects resources to complete it earlier than planned,” he said.

According to the budget document, the GTRI would get a further funding boost in fiscal 2012 and each of the following three years, receiving $600 million, $660 million, $987 million, and $1.1 billion.

CTR Increase

In the Department of Defense, funding for the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program would rise by nearly $100 million, from $424 million in fiscal year 2010 to $523 million.

Much of the increase would go to a new effort called Global Nuclear Lockdown, for which the administration is requesting $74.5 million. According to a Defense Department budget document, the program would support Obama’s four-year Prague commitment in part by establishing regional Centers of Excellence for Nuclear Security in countries to be determined by the CTR program. That part of the effort would receive $30 million. The centers’ purpose would be “to assess equipment and manpower, provide material and security training, and demonstrate enhanced security procedures and processes,” the document says.



Funding for nonproliferation work in the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) would rise by about 25 percent under the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2011 request, with a large part of the increase going to efforts in Russia and the United States to turn surplus weapons plutonium into reactor fuel.

Another NNSA effort that would receive a hefty increase is the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which aims to secure vulnerable nuclear and radiological material around the world.

Obama Budget Highlights Stockpile Work

Daniel Horner and Tom Z. Collina

The Obama administration is requesting $7.0 billion for fiscal year 2011 to maintain the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, a rise of almost 10 percent from the $6.4 billion Congress appropriated for the effort for fiscal year 2010.

Administration officials say the increase is necessary to make up for insufficient funding over the past decade. In a Feb. 18 speech at the NationalDefenseUniversity in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden said that, under the administration’s plan, funding would increase by $5 billion over the next five years.

Biden and other officials have also linked the increase to efforts to secure Senate support for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, on the grounds that the increased funding will help maintain the effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear arsenal without conducting test explosions.

The boost in the fiscal year 2011 request, which was released Feb. 1, covers several categories of activities that are part of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) budget. The NNSA, which is a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy, also manages nuclear nonproliferation and naval reactor programs.

Among the weapons activities, the Directed Stockpile Work category would receive $393 million of the fiscal year 2011 increase, bringing its funding to $1.9 billion. According to Energy Department budget documents, that work includes “maintenance, surveillance, evaluation, refurbishment, reliability assessment, weapon dismantlement and disposal, research, development, and certification activities.”

Much of the increase would go to the Stockpile Systems work category, whose funding would rise from $358 million to $649 million. Programs covered by the increase include those for the W76 warhead, which is used on the Trident D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile; the W78 and W87 warheads, for the Minuteman III ICBM; the W80 warhead, used in cruise missiles; and the B83, an aircraft-delivered gravity bomb.

The largest increase would go to the B61 aircraft-delivered gravity bomb, whose funding would jump from $92.0 million to $317.1 million. Of that amount, $251.6 million, compared to $32.5 million for fiscal year 2010, would be for a “life extension study of the nuclear and non-nuclear components scope, including implementation of enhanced surety, extended service life, and modification consolidation” for the B61 Phase 6.2/6.2A, according to the Energy Department’s detailed budget justification document. The document says that one result of the study will be to “provide options and a path forward”  for Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories to work on developing “detailed designs to extend the life of the nuclear explosive package, which may include an extension of the B61 nuclear primary’s life (reusing the existing B61 nuclear pit), potential implementation of multipoint safety, and reuse or remanufacture of the canned subassembly (CSA) and for a complete life extension of the B61 -3, -4, -7, and -10, if directed by the Nuclear Weapons Council.”

According to the budget document, the NNSA plans continuing increases in the coming years for the B61, to $338 million in fiscal year 2012 and to $394 million, $438 million, and $512 million in subsequent years.

The NNSA also projects a sharply increasing funding profile for the W78, which received $48.3 million in fiscal year 2010. For fiscal year 2011, the request is $85.9 million, which includes $26.0 million for a life extension study. In the following years, the W78 would receive $105 million, $156 million, $347 million, and $345 million.

Work on the W88, a warhead used on the Trident D-5, would be funded at a lower level than in fiscal year 2010. The funding would drop from $51.9 million to $45.7 million, reflecting the “current production and surveillance schedule” for the warhead, the budget document said.

During a Feb. 1 conference call with reporters, NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino said the options being considered for the stockpile do not include the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, an earlier effort to design and develop a new warhead. The Bush administration supported the effort, but Congress canceled it. “RRW is dead; it’s over,” D’Agostino said.

Infrastructure Upgrades

Administration officials also have highlighted planned improvements in the infrastructure of the nuclear weapons complex. The general category covering such work, Readiness in Technical Base and Facilities, would receive $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2011, an increase of only 0.3 percent from fiscal year 2010. But specific construction projects would see sharper increases.

The Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) Project at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee would receive $115 million for design and construction-related work in fiscal year 2011; the project has $94 million for fiscal year 2010. Funding would dip slightly in fiscal year 2012, to $105 million, then rise sharply over the next three years, to $190 million in 2013, $270 million in 2014, and $320 million in 2015, the document says. The UPF would support production and surveillance of highly enriched uranium components.

The budget also contains significant increases for work related to future production of plutonium pits. Funding for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility Replacement (CMRR) at Los Alamos would climb from $97 million to $225 million and would receive about $300 million a year for the next four years, according to the budget document. The CMRR would conduct research and development and provide other analytical support for pit surveillance and production, according to the budget document.

A related effort at Los Alamos, known as plutonium sustainment, would see a funding hike from $142 million in fiscal year 2010 to $190 million in fiscal year 2011. The increase would be focused on restoring the capability of the Plutonium Facility-4 to build up to 10 plutonium pits per year, according to the budget document. Plutonium sustainment, however, is part of Directed Stockpile Work, rather than Readiness in Technical Base and Facilities.

The budget document does not give a specific funding figure for the PF-4. In a Feb. 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera said it is difficult to provide a specific budget number because “work performed there is funded by several programs and significant operating and facilities funding is provided by Readiness in the Technical Base and Facilities.”

During the Feb. 1 conference call, D’Agostino said the NNSA wants to have the capacity to produce 50 to 80 pits per year. LaVera said in his e-mail that if the United States “conducts any weapon refurbishment efforts that require new pits, that rate will be necessary to support the integrated refurbishment schedule of returning, disassembling and rebuilding the weapons.” He emphasized that the fiscal year 2011 budget request “does not reflect a decision to increase pit production in FY 2011.” Rather, he said, the request supports President Barack Obama’s “commitment to ensuring a modern, sustainable nuclear security enterprise that can maintain the safety, security and effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent, especially as we move to a smaller stockpile.”

Dismantlement Funding Declines

One effort that would receive a funding cut in fiscal year 2011 is the work category titled Weapons Dismantlement and Disposition, whose funding would drop from $96.1 million to $58.0 million. The decline “reflects a reduction in weapons and Component/Canned Subassembly (CSA) dismantlements, associated component disposition, and some weapon specific support for the recycling, recovery, and storage of nuclear material that is a by-product of weapons dismantlement,” according to the budget document. The fall-off also “reflects a return to baseline funding after a one-time Congressional increase in FY 2010,” the document said. The effort received $52.7 million in fiscal year 2009.

During the conference call, Brig. Gen. Garrett Harencak, NNSA principal deputy assistant administrator for military application, drew a distinction between the funding level and the number of warheads dismantled. The NNSA is “on track to meet [its] dismantlement commitments,” he said. Citing classification restrictions, D’Agostino and Harencak declined to give figures either for the commitments or the numbers of actual dismantlements. In his e-mail, LaVera said the NNSA remains committed to dismantling all currently retired weapons by 2022.

Part of recent NNSA spending has been on developing new processes and technologies for dismantlement, Harencak said. The NNSA should now be able to “reap the benefits” of that spending by accelerating the pace of dismantlement while saving money.

LaVera said that the Y-12 site has developed new infrared separation techniques that will improve dismantlement operations there. Also, he said, the B53 dismantlement program at the Pantex Plant in Texas “will use new tooling developed by state-of-the-art computer-assisted design models.”

During the conference call, D’Agostino said the B53 is very large and difficult to take apart. “You don’t attack these things with a screwdriver and a crescent wrench,” he said.



The Obama administration is requesting $7.0 billion for fiscal year 2011 to maintain the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, a rise of almost 10 percent from the $6.4 billion Congress appropriated for the effort for fiscal year 2010.

Administration officials say the increase is necessary to make up for insufficient funding over the past decade. In a Feb. 18 speech at the NationalDefenseUniversity in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden said that, under the administration’s plan, funding would increase by $5 billion over the next five years.

U.S. Taps Romania for Missile Defense

Tom Z. Collina

Moving to flesh out its revamped European missile defense plan announced last September, the Obama administration confirmed in February that Romania would host the first deployment of Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) land-based interceptors in 2015 and that Poland would host the next site in 2018. Turkey and Bulgaria may play a role as well, according to administration officials, who are seeking to soothe Russian concerns by inviting Moscow to join U.S.-NATO missile defense plans.

The Obama administration announced last fall its intention to base missile interceptors in Poland and in southeastern Europe, but exact deployment dates and the specific southern country had not been officially named. Speaking at the Nuclear Deterrence Summit near Washington Feb. 17, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher said SM-3 missiles would be deployed in Romania in 2015 and Poland in 2018 and that both sites would get missile upgrades in 2020.

Romanian President Traian Băsescu broke the news about his nation’s involvement Feb. 4 while Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was in Turkey and Tauscher was in Romania, a former Warsaw Pact member that now is part of NATO. Băsescu said that the system would not be directed at Russia but rather “against other threats,” according to The New York Times. Department of State spokesman P.J. Crowley told a press briefing Feb. 4 that “as we have made clear over and over again, this is not a capability that is directed at Russia.”

Gates later told reporters he was talking with the Turkish government about what role it could play within NATO on missile defense. “We have discussed the possibility of erecting two radar systems in Turkey,” Gates said Feb 8. However, Ankara is reportedly worried about appearing to sign a bilateral pact with Washington against Tehran.

The United States may also hold preliminary talks with the Bulgarian government on hosting parts of the system, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said Feb. 12, according to Reuters. But in her Feb. 17 comments, Tauscher said, “We’ve not made an offer to Bulgaria about hosting any element” of U.S. missile defenses.

Russian leaders said they were surprised by the news, and they reacted coolly to it. “We have already asked our partners in Washington...what does this all mean and why after the Romanian surprise there is a Bulgarian surprise now,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, according to Reuters Feb. 15. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton responded in a Washington speech Feb. 22 that Moscow has nothing to fear from NATO. “We need to make Russia a partner in our efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation and in missile defense. We invite Russia to join NATO in developing a missile defense system that can protect all citizens of Europe and of Russia as well,” she said.

Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, questioned how far such cooperation would go. “We would still like to understand whether the U.S. is really going to hold not only its own finger, but also that of its partners, on the button for using missile defense systems. I personally have very strong doubts about that,” he said Feb. 23 in an interview with Interfax.

U.S. missile defense plans for Europe are a long-standing concern for Russian officials, who say they fear the system could be used to intercept Russian long-range missiles aimed at the United States or even used to launch nuclear warheads at Russia. Gates told a press conference last September that the Russians “believed, despite our best efforts to dissuade them, that the ground-based interceptors in Poland could be fitted with nuclear weapons and become an offensive weapon…for which they would have virtually no warning time.” Russia’s new military doctrine, recently approved by President Dmitry Medvedev, identified U.S. missile defense as a major threat to Russian security, saying it “undermines strategic stability.” The document also underscored the continued expansion of NATO and its “assumption of global functions in violation of international law.”

Deployment Plans Set

Last September, the Obama administration shifted gears from Bush administration plans to deploy 10 long-range interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, saying that it would instead deploy shorter-range interceptors against near-term missile threats from Iran and increase interceptor performance over time. (See ACT, October 2009.) According to the administration’s February 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Review and other sources, this “phased adaptive approach” for Europe includes deploying SM-3 Block IA interceptors, which have a top speed of 3 kilometers per second, on Aegis ships in the Mediterranean Sea and a radar in southern Europe next year. Tauscher told journalists Feb. 15 that the United States does not plan to deploy sea-based SM-3 missiles in the Black Sea, a prospect that Russia has opposed.

By 2015, about 20 land-based SM-3 Block IB interceptors, known as “Aegis-Ashore,” would be deployed in Romania with an improved “kill vehicle,” which is carried by the missile and seeks and collides with the target. By 2018 a second land-based site would be added in Poland with larger and faster (4.5 kilometers per second) SM-3 Block IIA missiles, which are in development and would also be deployed in Romania. The fourth phase, in 2020, would deploy at both sites another SM-3 upgrade, Block IIB, with an improved kill vehicle, which, according to the BMD Review, would have “some early-intercept capability against a long-range missile.”

“We are starting the four-phased approach to fielding a capability in Europe against the emerging Iranian threat, initially against the short- and medium-range threat that exists, and hence our initial emphasis will be on southeastern Europe,” David Altwegg, executive director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), told Pentagon reporters Feb. 1.

The initial SM-3 Block IA and IB deployments at sea and in Romania are not likely by themselves to cause Russia serious concern, according to experts, because these interceptors would not be effective against long-range missiles and, as a result, would not likely derail the ongoing START follow-on talks (see page 40). However, the 2018 and 2020 phases of the Obama administration’s plans, during which Block IIA and IIB SM-3 missiles would be deployed at sea and in Romania and Poland, do appear to give Russian leaders reason to worry and could create problems for the current and future U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reductions talks, sources say. Lavrov told Russia Today TV in October that the revised U.S. plans “would not create problems in its first phase, but we would like more details on further stages.”

Reflecting these concerns, Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak told the nuclear deterrence conference Feb. 17 that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty “gave predictability” by limiting U.S. missile defense deployments. But with the Bush administration’s withdrawal from that treaty in 2002, “the environment has changed,” he said. “We are not sure that the story that we are hearing is the story that will develop within the time span of the would-be treaty, 10 years,” he said. To deal with this uncertainty, Russia may attach a unilateral declaration to the START follow-on stating that Moscow would withdraw if “strategic stability” was upset by U.S. missile defense deployments, The Cable reported Feb. 17.

In response to that possibility, Senators Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) sent a letter to national security adviser James Jones Feb. 17 warning that “[e]ven as a unilateral declaration, a provision like this would put pressure on the United States to limit its [missile defense] systems or their deployment because of Russian threats of withdrawal from the treaty.” Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) countered that both sides are free to make unilateral declarations, which are routine and do not justify opposition to the agreement. “They can withdraw unilaterally for any reason, so I don’t know that that’s a good reason to object,” Levin told The Cable Feb. 23, adding, “The United States withdrew unilaterally from the ABM Treaty when we decided it was in our interest, right?”

In their letter, the three senators pledged to work with the administration to fund and deploy the European system, “most especially” the SM-3 Block IIB interceptor.

Funding Request

Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2011 budget request, which was released Feb. 1, asked for about $10 billion for missile defense. That figure, which includes space-based sensors, is $2 billion less than in fiscal year 2009, when the funding was based on the Bush administration’s request, and $700 million more than in fiscal year 2010. More than $4.2 billion would go to the European system, including $1.5 billion for Aegis ballistic missile defense, $319 million for SM-3 Block IIA, $112 million for the Airborne Infrared Sensor, $94 million for 436 Aegis SM-3 Block IA and IB interceptors by 2015, $1.5 billion for three additional AN/TPY-2 radars (14 total), $455 million for BMD sensors, and $281 million for land-based SM-3, according to the MDA.

“We have shifted our emphasis from the ground-based defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles to the regional threat, short- and medium-range missiles, which comprise about 99 percent of the ballistic missile threat extant,” Altwegg said Feb. 1.

The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, which is meant to protect the United States from limited long-range missile attack from North Korea and Iran, would receive $1.3 billion in fiscal 2011, an increase of $317 million. According to the BMD Review, by the end of this year the United States will deploy 30 ground-based interceptors, with 26 at Fort Greely Army Base in Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This system can “counter the projected threats from North Korea and Iran for the foreseeable future,” according to the review. The Bush administration had planned to deploy 44 ground-based interceptors.

Meanwhile, a Jan. 31 flight test of the GMD system failed to intercept its target, which was designed to mimic an Iranian missile attack, according to the MDA. In the $150 million test, both the target missile, fired from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and the interceptor, from Vandenberg, performed normally, the MDA said. “However, the Sea-Based X-band [SBX] radar did not perform as expected,” the agency said on its Web site Feb 1. Later the same day, Altwegg said, “I’m not exonerating the SBX, but I am not saying it was solely an SBX problem.” He said the results of a failure review would not be known for months.

It was the first time the United States had tested its long-range defense against a simulated Iranian attack. Previous drills have imitated a flight path from North Korea, another country locking horns with the international community over its nuclear program.

In a separate test, the Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB) destroyed a boosting ballistic missile for the first time Feb. 11, the MDA announced. Carried by a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, the ALTB shot down a short-range ballistic missile that was launched from a sea-based mobile launch platform off Point Mugu on the central California coast. However, according to the BMD Review, this program has experienced repeated schedule delays and technical problems since its start in 1996; plans for a second plane were canceled, and the existing aircraft has been shifted to a technology demonstration program. (See ACT, July/August 2009.) Last April, Gates said that the Airborne Laser program “has significant affordability and technology problems and the program’s proposed operational role is highly questionable.” The Pentagon has no plans to revive the program after the recent test because it requires the military to “hover a 747 in enemy territory to shoot down a missile” and carries “an extraordinary cost,” Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Feb 18.

The BMD Review said that, in the future, more emphasis would be placed on conducting realistic tests of interceptors and radars. The Bush administration was criticized repeatedly by Democrats and independent scientists for rushing the GMD system into deployment before it was fully tested and for staging tests that were not operationally realistic. In contrast, according to the review, “The [Obama] administration will take a different approach, best characterized as ‘fly before you buy.’”



Moving to flesh out its revamped European missile defense plan announced last September, the Obama administration confirmed in February that Romania would host the first deployment of Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) land-based interceptors in 2015 and that Poland would host the next site in 2018. Turkey and Bulgaria may play a role as well, according to administration officials, who are seeking to soothe Russian concerns by inviting Moscow to join U.S.-NATO missile defense plans.


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