"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
March 2015
Edition Date: 
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Cover Image: 


The January/February 2015 article “Russia Extends Chemical Arms Timetable” misstated the conclusion of the report by an investigative team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into allegations of weapons use of chlorine in Syria. In its report, the team said it had a “high degree of confidence” that chlorine had been used as a weapon, but it did not assign responsibility for the chlorine use to any party.

March 2015 Books of Note

State Behavior and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime
Jeffrey R. Fields, ed., University of Georgia Press, 2014, 321 pp.

This collection of 10 essays examines the basis for states’ decisions to support or resist global nonproliferation efforts after a decision to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In his introduction, Jeffrey Fields, the book’s editor, notes that states-parties to the NPT are not required to support the many additional measures that have been negotiated to buttress the nonproliferation regime, such as the Model Additional Protocol, which grants the International Atomic Energy Agency expanded rights of access to nuclear information and sites, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The ensuing chapters consider different factors in state nonproliferation behavior, including threat perception, “free riding,” security guarantees, and resource constraints and economic interests. Jeffrey Knopf’s essay addresses the contentious question of whether nonproliferation and disarmament are linked. He concludes that “signs of a commitment to nuclear disarmament” by the nuclear-weapon states “will tend on balance to enhance support for nonproliferation.” In another chapter, Robert Reardon questions the “common assertion” that Russia sometimes takes positions that undermine the nonproliferation regime and Moscow’s own security interests “in a misguided effort to maintain an outsized influence in world affairs and build a network of support among states hostile to the United States.” Reardon argues that Russia’s nonproliferation decisions “are best viewed as rational policy choices based on a complex calculus of competing short- and long-term interests.”—KINGSTON REIF

Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon
Kim Zetter, Crown Publishers, 2014, 433 pp.

Countdown to Zero Day tells the story behind Stuxnet, the virus that carried out the first cyberattack to cause physical damage to a country’s critical infrastructure. Many experts, including the book’s author, journalist Kim Zetter, believe Stuxnet was the first digital weapon used by a state but will not be the last. Stuxnet, which was discovered in June 2010 by a small computer security firm, VirusBlokAda, is believed to have been launched by the United States against Iran’s nuclear program. Zetter takes the reader through the complicated planning, execution, and discovery of the virus that covertly sabotaged and destroyed almost 1,000 centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz uranium-enrichment facility. Zetter organizes the book into chapters that break down each aspect of Stuxnet, from how it was planned to how the virus “unloaded its payload.” This allows the reader to become familiar with the technology, software vulnerabilities, and cyber capabilities that made Stuxnet possible, including the use of an unprecedented number of zero-day vulnerabilities—vulnerabilities in software that are unknown to the companies that created it and can be exploited by hackers to gain access to a computer or network—that Stuxnet effectively exploited to carry out its mission. Zetter explores many issues that Stuxnet highlighted in the ongoing debate over what constitutes acceptable behaviors by countries in cyberspace—for example, whether the use of a virus such as Stuxnet represents an act of war. Another issue she tackles is whether governments should be allowed to exploit zero-day vulnerabilities, even purchasing some from hackers on the “gray market,” in the name of national security or be required to ask software companies to patch them.—TIMOTHY FARNSWORTH

How to Strengthen Nuclear Security in China

By Hui Zhang

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon looks on before a group photo is taken at the nuclear security summit in The Hague on March 25, 2014. (John Thys - Pool/Getty Images)China is a nuclear-weapon state and rising power entering an era of particularly rapid nuclear energy growth and fuel-cycle development. China’s approach to strengthening the security of its nuclear weapons, materials, and facilities is important because of the quantity of materials involved and the role that China plays in facilitating strong global action on nuclear security.

Chinese leaders actively participated in the nuclear security summits in 2010, 2012, and 2014. At the 2012 summit in Seoul, Chinese President Hu Jintao emphasized that “the threat of nuclear terrorism cannot be overlooked” and that confronting nuclear terrorism is a “long and arduous task.”[1] Two years later, Hu’s successor, Xi Jinping, said at the summit in The Hague that China “must follow a sensible, coordinated and balanced approach to nuclear security and put it on the track of sound and sustainable development.”[2]

China’s commitment to nuclear security is now well established.[3] Since the September 11 attacks, China has made significant progress on its nuclear security system, with a focus on switching from the traditional “guns, gates, guards” approach to an effective mix of well-trained personnel with up-to-date techniques and technology. The major areas of progress include a security approach based on a design basis threat (DBT); an application of modern concepts of physical protection, based on systems-engineering approaches to analyzing vulnerabilities and designing defenses to address them; the use of modern physical protection, material control, and material accounting technologies; and requirements for in-depth vulnerability assessments of security systems.[4]

In spite of these advances, there still is room for improvement. China does not have a unified national standard of protection against plausible nuclear security threats and still is bringing the security of its facilities into line with international norms and recommendations.

Converting its top leaders’ political commitments from the nuclear security summits into practical, sustainable reality will require China to assess several aspects of its nuclear sector’s vulnerabilities, including regulatory arrangements, physical infrastructure, and security culture. Beijing should take further steps to install a complete, reliable, and effective security system to ensure that its nuclear weapons, weapons-usable nuclear materials, nuclear facilities, and nuclear transports are effectively protected against the full spectrum of plausible terrorist and criminal threats.

The Design Basis Threat

Before the September 11 attacks, China’s nuclear facilities were designed mainly to withstand natural disasters and accidents. Since those attacks, China has adopted the concept of protecting nuclear facilities against a DBT that might involve both outsider and insider adversaries.[5]

In 2008 the Chinese National Nuclear Safety Administration (CNNSA) issued its Nuclear Facility Physical Protection Guidelines,[6] which are treated in practice as mandatory. These guidelines call on all civilian nuclear facili­ties to apply a security approach based on a DBT. Each operator should develop a site-specific DBT, which is then approved by regulators before it is used in the design of a physical protection system. The guidelines recommend that, in developing a site-specific DBT, operators conduct an evaluation of threats that their nuclear facilities could face. Major elements of the evaluation should include the attributes and characteristics of potential criminals, their motivations and intentions, the scale of their activity and capabilities, and the possible means and tactics they could adopt. Potential adversaries could include outsiders, insiders, or outsiders and insiders working together.

Although the 2008 guidelines require a DBT, they contain no clearly defined standards for how each nuclear facility should design one for its local conditions. Operators typically design their site-specific DBTs on a case-by-case basis, taking into account a number of factors, including the socioeconomic situation in the area surrounding the facility.[7] Based on the general requirements for DBTs in the guidelines, the operators of a nuclear facility study, discuss, and evaluate their proposed DBTs in relation to current threat levels with the China Atomic Energy Authority (CAEA), the CNNSA, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), the local security department, and other relevant organizations. Eventually, the DBT is submitted to the CAEA for approval. The details of the DBT are kept secret from the public.

Chinese experts have analyzed possible sabotage scenarios against China’s nuclear facilities, including scenarios involving nuclear power plants.[8] The experts con­cluded that China’s nuclear power plants would not be able to withstand the impact from commercial airplanes and heavy weapons, including missiles. Moreover, they said, collusion between insiders and outsid­ers would pose a great threat to nuclear facilities. Yet, the 2008 guidelines have not addressed these concerns. As CNNSA Director Li Ganjie noted, the existing DBT for nuclear power plants could have produced designs that are unable to resist attacks from large-scale and well-organized terrorist groups with powerful weapons.[9]

To address these shortcomings, China needs to update and clarify its DBT requirements for all military and civilian nuclear facilities. China should establish a national-level DBT, as exists in the United States and many other coun­tries. Individual facilities are poorly equipped to understand the full spectrum of threats that national authorities and intelligence agencies may have identified, and substantial variation among facilities could leave dangerous weak points that adversaries could exploit. Modest adjustments to the national DBT could be made, with the approval of regulators, to reflect the particular circumstances at individual sites.

China also should review and upgrade the criteria used for designing physi­cal protection for its nuclear facilities. Operators should develop and implement security plans that provide effective protection against a threat that includes the full spectrum of plausible adversaries and tactics. That spectrum would include not only brute-force attacks, but also deception and stealth from insiders and outsiders working together.

Some nuclear experts in China may argue that it is not necessary to have national DBT standards because of the different situations at various nuclear sites. Indeed, it is difficult to determine which threats are the ones against which facilities need to be protected and how much money to spend in doing that. Nevertheless, China should invest in measures to protect against actions that terrorists and criminals have routinely carried out in attacks and thefts elsewhere around the world. Such actions include use of multiple teams, with one team acting as a diversion or preventing response forces from arriving along the road; use of armor-piercing rocket-propelled grenades, which are devastating against guard shacks and guard fighting positions unless the structures are designed with these weapons in mind; use of explosives to destroy walls and security doors; deception attacks, in which the adversaries have official-looking uniforms and documents; use of insiders for purposes such as obtaining information on the security system; and use of unusual vehicles such as helicopters.[10]

China should have at least a minimum DBT standard that includes protection against one modest group of well-armed and well-trained outsiders, a well-placed insider, and outsiders and an insider working together, using a broad range of possible tactics.[11]

Finally, as INFCIRC/225/Revision 5—the most recent version of this document from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—recommends,[12] China should use realistic “force-on-force” exercises to test its nuclear security systems’ ability to detect and defeat intelligent adversaries using asymmetric attacks. Operators currently are required to do in-depth vulnerability assessments and performance tests of individual components of their security systems, but these do not include the realistic force-on-force exercises. No Chinese regulations require such tests, which are vital for identifying the strengths and weaknesses of security procedures.

The newly established National Nuclear Security Technology Center under the CAEA, responsible for the con­struction, management, and operation of China’s Center of Excellence on Nuclear Secu­rity, will conduct such exercises.[13] These exercises, however, will mainly serve to train guard forces and will not probe how well security performs at operating facilities. Tabletop computer simulations and vulnerability assessments alone can reveal only those vulnerabilities imagined by the assessors; in the U.S. experience, force-on-force exercises often reveal problems that were not obvious from these other means. One key factor within the U.S. Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission in improving the security systems of nuclear facilities has been requiring the correction of vulnerabilities revealed during the realistic tests.[14]

China may lack the experience and capabilities to carry out such tests at sites while simultane­ously maintaining safe and secure operation of the nuclear facilities.[15] Nevertheless, the U.S. experi­ence of such tests demonstrates that this can be done, and the United States could share some of that experience with China.

Reducing Internal Risks

All of the real cases of theft of highly enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium documented by the IAEA were perpetrated by insiders or with insider cooperation.[16] A number of known cases of sabotage at nuclear facilities (none intended to spread radiation) were perpetrated by insiders as well. Thus, it is essential to maintain a strong program to protect against the insider threat, perhaps more so as China continues to transform into a market-oriented society and becomes increasingly corrupt. Many experts believe that the more severe the corruption in a country is, the higher the potential for insider theft of materials and the greater the need for rigorous nuclear materials security measures.[17] The risk of an insider threat is perhaps the most difficult risk to address because insiders are those authorized to access areas containing nuclear materials.[18] The documented history of thefts of valuable items from guarded facilities indicates that the involvement of insiders, including guards, is widespread in facilities around the world.

The HEU and separated plutonium in China’s civilian nuclear sector, in particular, could be especially vulnerable to insiders. For example, China’s civilian pilot reprocessing plant at the Jiuquan nuclear complex in Gansu province was not designed for maximum security when construction began in 1995. It shares some facilities with a previous military reprocessing plant that was not designed with an up-to-date material protection, control, and accounting system. Furthermore, the amount of material unaccounted for (MUF) at the plant is higher than is considered acceptable.[19]

The Daya Bay nuclear power plant in Guangdong province, with its double fence around the plant’s protected area, is shown in this January 2013 photo. (Courtesy of  Hui Zhang)Fresh and spent HEU fuel also are present at research reactors, which are located at institutes. Because of funding shortages, these institutes are not as well controlled and guarded as military sites. In addition, some of the older institutes rely on outdated security and control systems.[20] Indeed, some Chinese experts argue against stricter standards on the grounds that they will cost more. Bulk processing facilities in particular—plants that conduct fuel fabrication, spent fuel reprocessing, and uranium enrichment—tend to have limited financial resources, often causing operators to give security a low priority. Beijing reportedly has put in place personnel reliability programs at all its nuclear facilities, but the parameters of these programs are secret.

China should make available general information about these programs as a deterrent to terrorists and a source of reassurance to other governments that China takes nuclear security seriously. Operators of nuclear facilities should be required to take steps to decrease vulnerability to insiders who have an intent to do harm. In particular, in cooperation with relevant government departments, every operator should have an effec­tive program for personnel reliability screening to strengthen access control. For example, security and other personnel with access to vital areas should be subject to periodic drug testing, background checks, and psychological or mental fitness tests, and they should be vetted at specified and random intervals. In the United States, the “root causes” of insider issues are often found to include mental and emotional stresses and financial problems; investigations in China should cover these issues and others specific to China’s culture and situation. The license condi­tions for facility operators should specify that facility staff should report suspicious behavior by their colleagues to a clearly designated authority.

Although personnel reliability programs are important, managers should not assume that they can eliminate the insider threat by themselves. They may miss some insider adversaries, and even trustworthy insiders could be blackmailed or coerced. Regulations should require a range of other measures to protect against insider theft and sabotage. In par­ticular, the regulations should mandate constant surveillance of inner areas and vital areas when they are occupied, using a two-person surveillance system, a technological surveillance system including devices such as closed-circuit television, or preferably both.

Improving MC&A

China established and revised its nuclear materials control and accounting (MC&A) system based on the 1990 “Rules for Implementation of the Regulations on Nuclear Materials Control”[21] and in accordance with international standards. In 2008 the CNNSA issued new guidelines for what it called “the standard format and content of nuclear facilities safety analysis reports on MC&A.”[22]

Under these guidelines, a plant’s MC&A system should include clear definitions for material balance areas and key measurement points, control of measurement quality, physical inventory of materials, a MUF measurement, and a recording and reporting system. The licensee should establish physical inventory procedures for nuclear materials and conduct a complete inventory at least once a year. An inventory of plutonium-239, uranium-233, HEU, and other sensitive materials should be completed at least twice a year. The licensee is required to ensure that its records of nuclear material accounting are clear, accurate, systematic, and complete. Records should be maintained for at least five years. If MUF of more than twice the standard deviation for the measurement is detected, the CAEA should initiate an investigation into the discrepancy.

The most significant challenge to China’s efforts to establish an effective nationwide MC&A system is posed by its bulk processing facilities. Because MC&A for fresh and spent fuel at a nuclear power plant is relatively straightforward for identifiable items such as fuel rods, the MUF at these plants is expected to be exactly zero. Moreover, because fresh fuel is made with low-enriched uranium, it does not pose significant security concerns.

Thus, accounting for the nuclear materials in a country’s reactors is relatively easy.

Accurate material accounting in bulk processing facilities is much more difficult. The operations of China’s pilot reprocessing plant demonstrate the challenge. In December 2010, China conducted a hot test of its pilot reprocessing facility, which has a capacity of 50 metric tons of heavy metal per year (MTHM/year). Although repro­cessing operations stopped after only 10 days, beginning in December 2010, many problems, including a very high measure of MUF, were identified.[23]

China currently has stated plans to build larger reprocessing plants with capacities of 200 MTHM/year and 800 MTHM/year.[24] It would be even more difficult to establish an effective MC&A system at these facilities than at the much smaller pilot facility.[25] Even with an advanced, modern MC&A system, measurement uncertainties at a reprocessing plant are typically in the range of 1 percent of plutonium throughout, amounting to 20 kilograms of plutonium per year at a facility with a throughput of 200 MTHM/year. (Two hundred metric tons of spent fuel contain about two metric tons of plutonium.) Thus, the construction of the planned reprocessing facilities will require a substantial investment in improved MC&A measures. Given the inevitable uncertainties in accounting, it is likely that China will ultimately have to rely primarily on other measures to prevent insider theft.

The govern­ment should make sure the operators have an accounting system that is able to detect the removal of material, localize the removal in time and space, and identify the insiders who had access to the material.

Updating, Enforcement Needed

Since the mid-1980s, China has issued a number of regulations, rules, and technical guidelines regarding the security of nuclear and radioactive materials and nuclear facilities. Currently, the only major regulations on fissile material controls are found in the “Regulations for Control of Nuclear Materials,” issued in 1987.[26] Based on these regulations, China issued “Rules for Implementation of the Regulations on Nuclear Materials Control” in 1990, which are also the only existing rules on the subject.

China should update its 1987 regulations and 1990 rules by issuing rules and regulations that are clearer and more stringent, based on at least the minimum DBT standard described above. Although Beijing has pledged to adopt almost all of the existing international legal frameworks to prevent nuclear terrorism, China needs to effectively incorporate these frameworks into its domestic regulations and rules to strengthen its nuclear security on the ground.

Implementing and enforcing new regulations and rules are more difficult than establishing them. To ensure effective implementation, the government and operators should take several steps. For example, regulatory agencies should be adequately staffed with personnel possessing appropriate expertise.[27] The government should have a regime of clear rewards and strict penalties to ensure compliance with its regulations and with international norms. The enforcement regime should include a review of records of the security performance of the companies being evaluated for contracts involving work with nuclear weapons or materi­als.

In addition, China should have the ability to deploy and coordinate effective responses to threats to nuclear facilities or nuclear materials in transit. Finally, regulators should review implementa­tion practices to confirm that operators can protect against the DBT for a given nuclear facility. Just as with nuclear safety, the focus should be on constantly working to find and fix remaining vulnerabilities and establish more-effective approaches.

Strengthening Security Culture

To make sure that nuclear security systems are actually implemented effectively, the development of a strong security culture, in which the relevant individuals hold a deeply rooted belief that insider and outsider threats are credible, is imperative.[28]

Unfortunately, many Chinese experts continue to doubt that there is a credible threat to Chinese nuclear materials and facilities. Some endorse China’s current commitments to upgrading nuclear security only because they see it as necessary to comply with international requirements. They do not actually see the threat as serious. They argue that nuclear terrorism may be a problem for the United States but that it is not an urgent concern for China.[29]

They believe that the probability of terrorists gaining access to fissile material inside China and using it to make a crude nuclear bomb is very low. The experts argue that the technologies necessary to manufacture, deliver, and detonate such a weapon would be too difficult to obtain.[30]

These experts see the risk of sabotage at a nuclear power plant, which could result in a major release of radioactive material, as plausible but very low. They maintain that groups hostile to the government lack the means to conduct such attacks and that, in any case, China’s current security system should be good enough to stop any attempts.

These experts may well be underestimating the threat. As the number of nuclear power plants in China expands rapidly, the risk of sabotage at a civilian facility grows more plausible.[31]

China’s nuclear experts give more credence to the possibility that terrorists could acquire other radioactive material inside the country and use it to make a “dirty bomb.”[32] They recognize the risks inherent in China’s possession of thousands of radioactive sources, distributed over a wide region, as well as many orphan sources outside any regulatory control.[33]

Although the likelihood that terrorists might set off a dirty bomb is higher than the likelihood that they would detonate a nuclear bomb, the consequences of the latter would be vastly greater. As noted earlier, the possibility of insider theft of nuclear materials cannot be ruled out. Moreover, terrorist attacks by Chinese separatist groups, foreign organizations, or some combination may also one day pose a real threat to China’s nuclear facilities.

The East Turkestan movement, which seeks an independent state in the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang, has long received training, financial assistance, and support from international terrorist groups, including al Qaeda.[34] Drawn from China’s predominantly Muslim Uighur community, the East Turkestan extremists claimed responsibility for more than 200 acts of terrorism between 1990 and 2001,[35] and some subgroups have been involved in the ongoing war in Syria.[36] Over the last several years, members of the East Turkestan movement have carried out more than a dozen attacks, many on government buildings and police stations. These attacks, most of which involved explosives and grenades, resulted in numerous deaths. Furthermore, China’s neighbors in Central Asia and Pakistan have served as safe havens for members of the movement. These countries also are home to a high level of international terrorist activity and are centers of nuclear smuggling and proliferation activities. It is possible that East Turkestan extremists could acquire fissile material or nuclear weapons from their bases in these areas, which they could also use to plan and launch attacks.[37]

China also faces the challenge of complacency among a significant number of senior nuclear experts and within its nuclear industry. These experts believe that China already has strict nuclear security systems that have worked well and have been free of accidents over the past 50 years. Some managers and employees at Chinese nuclear plants do not recognize the importance of advanced and stringent material protection, control, and accounting systems. In some cases, the guards turned off detectors at portals for enrichment facilities to reduce their usage to avoid the need for frequent replacement.[38]

Moreover, growth of the nuclear industry has created a serious shortage of adequately trained guards, security personnel, and other necessary staff. As more employees are hired from non-nuclear fields, the nuclear safety and security culture will be further diluted. In plants where operations have been switched from military to civilian purposes, the operators may still be used to keeping everything secret and will not willingly share problems with outsiders, including inspectors.[39]

Each operator should establish a targeted program to assess and improve its facility’s security culture. In addition, China should conduct regular training programs at its nuclear facilities not only to improve the guards’ and security personnel’s professional skills, but also to inform them about the threats of nuclear and radiological terrorism and to impress on them that nuclear security is important and should be taken seriously. Force-on-force exercises help strengthen security culture for guards and other employees who witness the seriousness with which security risks are addressed and see plausible ways the security system might be over­come. Each staff member should not only scrupulously abide by the existing nuclear security regime, but also actively and continuously find ways to improve it. Effective security comes not only from advanced devices, but, even more importantly, from human choices. Finally, China should continue and further strengthen its cooperation with external organizations, in particular the U.S. Energy Department and the IAEA.

Hui Zhang is a senior research associate at the Project on Managing the Atom at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he leads a research initiative on China’s nuclear policies. Research for this article was supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.


1. Hu Jintao, “Towards Greater Nuclear Security Through Cooperation: Statement at the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit” (March 27, 2012), http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/topics_665678/hjtatnsnss_665720/t920822.shtml.

2. Xi Jinping, Statement at the Nuclear Security Summit, The Hague, March 24, 2014, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjdt_665385/zyjh_665391/t1140583.shtml.

3. For more details, see Hui Zhang and Tuosheng Zhang, “Securing China’s Nuclear Future,” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University, March 2014, http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/securingchinasnuclearfutureenglish.pdf.

4. See ibid.

5. The design basis threat, as defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), encompasses the attributes and characteristics of potential insider or external adversaries or both who might attempt unauthorized removal or sabotage, against which a physical protection system is designed and evaluated. See IAEA, “Nuclear Security Recommendations on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities (INFCIRC/225/Revision 5),” IAEA Nuclear Security Series, No. 13 (January 2011), http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/Pub1481_web.pdf (hereinafter INFCIRC/225/Revision 5).

6. Chinese National Nuclear Safety Administration (CNNA), “Nuclear Facility Physical Protection Guidelines,” 2008. (in Chinese).

7. Chinese nuclear security experts, interviews with author, Beijing, October 2011 and November 2012.

8. Pan Ziqiang et al., eds., Management of Nuclear and Radiological Terrorism Incidents [in Chinese] (Beijing: Science Press, 2005).

9. Li Ganjie, “Nuclear Security: The New Challenges for Security of Nuclear Power Plants” [in Chinese] (presentation at IAEA meeting, 2008), http://www-pub.iaea.org/mtcd/meetings/PDFplus/2008/cn168/Presentations/Session3_Li.pdf.

10. Matthew Bunn and Evgeniy Maslin, “All Stocks of Weapons-Usable Nuclear Materials Worldwide Must Be Protected Against Global Terrorist Threats,” Journal of Nuclear Materials Management, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Winter 2011).

11. Ibid.

12. INFCIRC/225/Revision 5.

13. Chinese nuclear security experts, interviews with author, Beijing, January 2013 and July 2014.

14. Oleg Bukharin, “Physical Protection Performance Testing: Assessing U.S. NRC Experience,” Journal of Nuclear Materials Management, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Summer 2000): 21-27.

15. Chinese nuclear security experts, interviews with author, Beijing, October 2011 and January 2013.

16. Lonnie Moore, “Dealing With the Insider Threat” (presentation at workshop on the safety and security of China’s nuclear facilities, Shenzhen, January 15-18, 2013). See also IAEA, “Preventive and Protective Measures Against Insider Threats,” IAEA Nuclear Security Series, No. 8 (September 2008), http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/pub1359_web.pdf; World Institute for Nuclear Security, “Managing Internal Threats,” 2010; Matthew Bunn and Kathryn M. Glynn, “Preventing Insider Theft: Lessons From the Casino and Pharmaceutical Industries,” Journal of Nuclear Materials Management, Vol. 41, No. 3, (Spring 2013): 4-16.

17. For a suggestion of the linkage between corruption and nuclear security, see Nuclear Threat Initiative, “NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index: Building a Framework for Assurance, Accountability, and Action,” 2nd ed., January 2012, http://ntiindex.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/2014-NTI-Index-Report.pdf.

18. For example, see IAEA, “Preventive and Protective Measures Against Insider Threats”; Bunn and Glynn, “Preventing Insider Theft,” pp. 4-16.

19. If material unaccounted for (MUF) of more than twice the standard deviation for the measurement is detected, an investigation into the discrepancy must be initiated. In China’s pilot reprocessing facility, the MUF is higher than that level. Chinese nuclear experts, interviews with author, Beijing, spring 2013.

20. Pan et al., Management of Nuclear and Radiological Terrorism Incidents.

21. CNNSA, Chinese Ministry of Energy, and the Commission for Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense, “Rules for Implementation of the Regulations on Nuclear Materials Control in the People’s Republic of China” [in Chinese], September 25, 1990, http://www.caea.gov.cn/n16/n1130/77224.html.

22. CNNSA, “The Standard Format and Content of Nuclear Facilities Safety Analysis Report on MC&A,” 2008.

23. Chinese nuclear experts, interviews with author, Beijing, spring 2013.

24. Hui Zhang, “Options for China’s Nuclear Spent Fuel Management” (presentation, Workshop on Strategic Nuclear Issues in East Asia, Beijing, March 6, 2014), http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/optionsforchinas-nuclearspentfuelmasmanagement.pdf.

25. Hui Zhang, “Chinese Reprocessing and Nuclear Security Issues” (Presentation, Institute of Nuclear Materials Management 55th Annual Meeting, Atlanta, July 24, 2014), http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/ChinaReprocessing-INMM2014_hzhang.pdf.

26. State Council of the People’s Republic of China, “Regulations for Control of Nuclear Materials of the People’s Republic of China” [in Chinese], June 1, 1987, http://www.caea.gov.cn/n16/n1130/77219.html.

27. Chinese nuclear security experts, interviews with author, Beijing, March 2014.

28. IAEA, “Nuclear Security Culture,” IAEA Nuclear Security Series, No. 7 (September 2008), http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/Pub1347_web.pdf.

29. Chinese nuclear security experts, interviews with author, Beijing, October 2011 and January 2013.

30. Pan et al., Management of Nuclear and Radiological Terrorism Incidents.

31. Hui Zhang, “Securing China’s Nuclear Power Plants,” Journal of Nuclear Materials Management, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Winter 2014.): 22-32.

32. For example, see Liu Senling, “Status of Research on Nuclear Security Technology in CIAE” (presentation, Harvard-Peking University Workshop on Nuclear Security, Beijing, October 13-14, 2011).

33. Ibid.

34. Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China, “The First Determined Lists of ‘East Turkestan’ Terror Organizations and Terrorists” [in Chinese], December 15, 2003, http://www.mps.gov.cn/n16/n983040/n1988498/1988553.html.

35. “Al-Qaida: Dead or Captured,” NBCNews.com, June 22, 2005, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4686228

36. See “Al-Qaeda Asks East Turkestan Terrorists to Covertly Enter Syrian War” [in Chinese], SINA.com.cn, October 29, 2012, http://news.sina.com.cn/w/2012-10-29/092225461490.shtml.

37. China Foundation for International and Strategy Studies, Combating Nuclear Terrorism: Nonstate Actors’ Nuclear Proliferation and Nuclear Security [in Chinese] (Beijing: Social Science Academic Press, 2012), p. 134.

38. Chinese nuclear regulator, interviews with author, Beijing, October 2012.

39. Chinese nuclear regulator, interviews with author, Beijing, December 2012.

Although China has made significant progress in nuclear security since the September 11 attacks, there is room for improvement.

Securing Irreversible IAEA Safeguards to Close the Next NPT Loophole

March 2015

By Pierre Goldschmidt

Over time, states have endeavored to improve the effectiveness of the international nonproliferation regime. These efforts have included the adoption by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the Model Additional Protocol to comprehensive safeguards agreements, the tightening by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) of export criteria on sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle technology, and the adoption of UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1887.1

The Urenco enrichment plant outside the Dutch town of Almelo is shown in this 2014 photo. (Courtesy of Urenco)One of the main outstanding loopholes that deserve prompt attention is the absence of a requirement for irreversible IAEA safeguards to remain in force should a state leave the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Today, if Iran or any other NPT non-nuclear-weapon state withdraws from the treaty, its comprehensive IAEA safeguards automatically lapse under the terms of that agreement. Under Article X.[1] of the treaty, an NPT party has the right to withdraw, with three months’ notice, “if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of [the NPT], have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.” The model comprehensive safeguards agreement, which NPT non-nuclear-weapon states are required to adopt, contains no reference to safeguards implications after a state’s withdrawal from the NPT.

As a result, a state may withdraw from the NPT and use previously safeguarded nuclear materials and facilities to produce nuclear weapons without violating any international treaty. This scenario is not hypothetical; it occurred after North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in January 2003.

NPT members should therefore strengthen safeguards rules and practices by creating a legal requirement to maintain safeguards even if a state exercises its right to withdraw from the NPT.

Over the past decade, states and organizations have submitted proposals designed to close this significant loophole. For example, Luxembourg submitted a working paper on behalf of the European Union to the 2005 NPT Review Conference recommending that states “[a]ffirm as a matter of principle that all nuclear materials, equipment, technologies and facilities, developed for peaceful purposes, of a State Party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons remain, in case of a withdrawal from the Treaty, restricted to peaceful uses only and as a consequence have to remain subject to safeguards.”[2] Germany and France made similar proposals in 2004.

The UN Security Council attempted to address this issue in 2009, passing Resolution 1887, which urges states to
“[r]equire as a condition of nuclear exports that the recipient State agree that, in the event that it should terminate its IAEA safeguards agreement, safeguards shall continue with respect to any nuclear material and equipment provided prior to such termination, as well as any special nuclear material produced through the use of such material or equipment.”[3] This resolution does not extend to domestically produced nuclear material, equipment, and facilities. Moreover, because it was not adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, it is not legally binding.

None of these proposals have created an effective legal barrier to a state’s utilization of previously safeguarded facilities and materials for military purposes after its withdrawal from the NPT.

Fortunately, there is a simple way to close this major loophole without modifying the NPT, IAEA comprehensive safeguards agreements, or the NSG guidelines. In addition to their comprehensive safeguards agreements, states should ratify facility-specific agreements. These safeguards agreements are sometimes known as INFCIRC/66 agreements, after the IAEA information circular that provides the model language for them. In contrast to comprehensive safeguards agreements, facility-specific agreements do not lapse if the state withdraws from the NPT. Indeed, they can be terminated only if the recipient state returns or transfers to a third state all supplied nuclear material, equipment, and facilities previously subject to safeguards or if those items and materials are “no longer usable for any nuclear activity relevant from the point of view of safeguards or had become practicably irrecoverable.”[4]

This approach does not create a new safeguards standard, as the Model Additional Protocol did in 1997. Instead, it involves the simple adoption of an older type of safeguards. Therefore, it should face fewer political obstacles, would impose a negligible legal and financial burden on the state or the IAEA, and would require only a little extra paperwork at the outset.

For non-nuclear-weapon states, INFCIRC/66 agreements concluded with the IAEA are and would continue to be subsumed under existing comprehensive safeguards agreements. They would become operational only if the latter were terminated.

Irreversible Safeguards

The following proposals suggest ways in which nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states can work toward ensuring that future nuclear transfers are conditioned on the implementation of irreversible safeguards. They can and should be pursued in parallel, as they are mutually reinforcing.

Interpreting NSG guidelines. As a first step toward building sustained momentum for this proposal, states could apply the irreversible safeguards principle only to uranium-enrichment and bulk plutonium handling facilities, including reprocessing plants, rather than all nuclear facilities. The NSG has already taken a step in that direction. Its June 2013 updated export guidelines declare that “suppliers should not authorize the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing facilities, and equipment and technology therefore, [unless] the recipient has concluded an inter-governmental agreement with the supplier including assurances regarding non-explosive use, effective safeguards in perpetuity, and retransfer.”[5]

Discussions with officials from several NSG countries indicate that they intend to implement this NSG export provision by requiring under a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement that the recipient state commit to concluding a facility-specific safeguards agreement in case its comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA is terminated. If this does not occur, the supplier state would have the right to require the return of all material and equipment it had provided. In the meantime, the supplier state would have the right and obligation to safeguard by its own means any material and equipment previously delivered or that resulted from these deliveries.

Yet, it seems unrealistic to expect that a country deciding to leave the NPT and expel IAEA inspectors would agree to enter into a facility-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA, return previously delivered material and equipment to the supplier state, or accept inspectors from the exporting state to conduct verification work that IAEA inspectors are no longer allowed to do. It would be much more effective to require states to conclude a facility-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA before any materials or technology are transferred, rather than as a bilateral and limited fallback obligation after a state has withdrawn from the NPT. NSG members should formally agree to interpret the “safeguards in perpetuity” criterion as requiring the recipient state to have an INFCIRC/66 agreement in force with the IAEA before enrichment- or reprocessing-related equipment, technology, or expertise is transferred.

Nuclear-weapon states leading by example. In addition to pressing for an agreement among NSG states on how to implement “safeguards in perpetuity” on transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technology, nuclear-weapon states should lead by example when it comes to their own facilities. Currently, nuclear-weapon states have a voluntary offer agreement with the IAEA, under which they determine which facilities they will make available for safeguards. The nuclear-weapon states provide the IAEA with a list of these “eligible” facilities. In order to demonstrate commitment to the principle of irreversible safeguards, each nuclear-weapon state should agree to place any enrichment or reprocessing facility on its list under INFCIRC/66 agreements.

Under this proposal, enrichment facilities that are on the list of eligible facilities in nuclear-weapon states would be placed under irreversible IAEA safeguards, with the sole objective of providing the IAEA the right, but not the obligation, to verify that no highly enriched uranium is produced in those facilities. For reprocessing and other bulk-plutonium handling facilities, the IAEA would have the right, but not the obligation, to verify separated plutonium until it is incorporated into mixed-oxide fuel or conditioned for final waste disposal. Such a move by the nuclear-weapon states could have a positive impact on the outcome of the upcoming NPT review conference. It would permit them to demonstrate progress toward fulfilling their pledge, contained in the 2010 NPT Review Conference final document, of wider application of safeguards on peaceful nuclear facilities on their territory.[6]

Furthermore, with negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty stalled, this proposal would provide an alternate means of achieving similar goals and may enable the nuclear-weapon states to point toward concrete progress in this area.

Non-nuclear-weapon states leading by example. Non-nuclear-weapon states that are members of the NSG also should adopt the requirement for irreversible safeguards. In particular, those presently operating enrichment and reprocessing plants should lead by example and place all such facilities, which are already under comprehensive safeguards, under INFCIRC/66 safeguards as well.

By virtue of the current roster of NSG members, if this requirement could be achieved, nearly all non-nuclear-weapon states that are parties to the NPT and presently operate enrichment and reprocessing facilities would have endorsed this new mechanism. The only exception would be Iran; Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands would be covered.

It seems reasonable to expect that once Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands volunteered to place their enrichment and reprocessing facilities under irreversible safeguards agreements, it should be easier to convince Brazil and Argentina to follow suit, especially if the nuclear-weapon states adopted some corresponding measures.

Safeguards in Iran

Many experts deem Iran to be the country most likely to take advantage of the present NPT loophole. The foremost goal of the lengthy and difficult negotiations between Iran and six world powers is to ensure that Iran remains a party to the NPT in full compliance with its IAEA obligations.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency examine fresh fuel at the Dukovany nuclear power plant in the Czech Republic on November 6, 2012. (IAEA)These negotiations notwithstanding, if Iran withdrew from the NPT, one of the most effective legal instruments to delay the possible manufacture of nuclear weapons would be a requirement that it place all its present and future nuclear material and facilities under INFCIRC/66 safeguards. If such safeguards were in place, Tehran would not have the right to freely use for military purposes any of its enrichment facilities or stockpiles of nuclear material that were under IAEA safeguards at the time of its withdrawal. Instead, to manufacture nuclear weapons, it would have to decide between violating a treaty obligation or constructing new fissile material production facilities that would not be subject to safeguards. If Iran chose to use an existing and previously safeguarded facility to produce fissile material for weapons in violation of INFCIRC/66 safeguards, the UN Security Council would have a legal basis for action.

Because Iran has long been in noncompliance with its IAEA safeguards agreement and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa forbidding the production and use of any weapons of mass destruction, Tehran should be persuaded to accept the extension of irreversible safeguards to all existing and future nuclear facilities as a confidence-building measure. This would likely be easier to achieve if all non-nuclear-weapon states presently operating enrichment and reprocessing facilities also agreed to voluntarily place their sensitive fuel-cycle facilities under irreversible safeguards.

Countering Potential Objections

Proposals to close NPT loopholes inevitably encounter objections on any number of grounds, whether legal, political, financial, or bureaucratic. Earlier articulations of this proposal raised two main objections.

Why should a state that has decided to leave the NPT and thereby chosen to be a “rogue state” abide by other legal agreements? Under Article X.1, an NPT state-party has the right to withdraw from the treaty. Such a withdrawal could be entirely legal and, under certain circumstances, be seen as legitimate. A withdrawing state should therefore not be considered a priori a rogue state. On the other hand, withdrawing unilaterally from an irreversible INFCIRC/66 agreement would indisputably constitute violation of an international legal commitment, thereby justifying a report by the IAEA to the UN Security Council for action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

Considering the negative consequences that could be expected to follow from any notification of withdrawal from the NPT, a withdrawing country would likely hesitate to simultaneously breach an INFCIRC/66 agreement. Such a breach would lead to lasting international sanctions, which would provide grounds for intensive unilateral sanctions. Therefore, having such a safeguards agreement in place would constitute a significant disincentive for withdrawing from the NPT. If the withdrawing state wanted to develop nuclear weapons without violating INFCIRC/66 safeguards, it would have to construct new fuel-cycle facilities outside of safeguards. This complicates the task, giving the international community more time to respond.

Why should a state with no intent to leave the NPT sign an INFCIRC/66 agreement, as this makes little political sense? A long-term view is necessary when considering nuclear proliferation risks. In the real world, nothing is guaranteed forever. For instance, it is impossible to guarantee that countries presently operating enrichment and reprocessing facilities will never decide to withdraw from the NPT. Additionally, it would not be illegal for other states to construct enrichment and reprocessing facilities in the future, officially for peaceful purposes only but with the long-term objective of becoming a nuclear threshold state. Iran most likely did this when starting its enrichment program while at war with Iraq in the mid-1980s.

The NSG export criterion for enrichment- and reprocessing-related equipment requiring safeguards in perpetuity was adopted precisely to diminish that risk. To make this criterion effective, it should be interpreted by the NSG as requiring an INFCIRC/66 agreement to be in force prior to the transfer of nuclear material, technology, or expertise.

If some states perceive an international rule as illegitimate because it is considered a double standard or neocolonialist, this diminishes the likelihood that it will be respected. This is why it is necessary for all non-nuclear-weapon states that are members of the NSG and have operational fuel-cycle facilities to implement the irreversible safeguards principle first and lead by example. Moreover, because none of these states are assessed or perceived to have any intention of leaving the NPT and they in fact have strong nonproliferation bona fides, it should not be a political problem for them to place their enrichment and reprocessing plants under INFCIRC/66 agreements. If implemented in the future, these agreements would be subsumed under the states’ comprehensive safeguards agreements, with no operational cost to the state or the IAEA.

Some of these states may already be starting to recognize the importance of irreversible safeguards and the desirability of leading by example. A March 2014 working paper submitted by the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative to the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 NPT Review Conference states that if a country withdraws from the treaty, nuclear material, equipment, and technology that the country has acquired under the treaty’s peaceful use provisions “prior to withdrawal must remain under IAEA safeguards or fall-back safeguards even after withdrawal.”[7] Among the initiative’s 11 members are Germany and the Netherlands, which have enrichment plants on their territory. To demonstrate that they are ready to do what they say, these two European countries should be the first to place their enrichment facilities under INFCIRC/66 safeguards.


Leading by example remains an elusive objective, but it would be wrong to underestimate its usefulness. A lack of such leadership not only prevents advancement beyond the nonproliferation status quo, but also threatens to undermine the status quo. A continuing failure to lead by example will mean that the legitimacy and effectiveness of the NPT regime will erode slowly but surely.

The nuclear-weapon states should make the first move by placing their eligible enrichment and reprocessing facilities under INFCIRC/66 safeguards. That would make a similar step feasible for NSG non-nuclear-weapon states that operate enrichment and reprocessing facilities. Once these key countries have made a commitment to irreversible safeguards, other non-nuclear-weapon states might be more receptive to arguments that they should take this step.

The proposal presented above, which would close one of the most important remaining loopholes of the NPT regime, has yet to gain traction. NPT states-parties should recognize that an answer for achieving irreversible safeguards has existed for decades in the form of INFCIRC/66 agreements.

As Jean Monnet once wrote, “Men accept change only when it is necessary; they see the necessity only when there is a crisis.”8 Hopefully, it will not require another major nuclear proliferation crisis before nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states work together toward a lasting solution to close this major NPT loophole.

Pierre Goldschmidt, a nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is a former deputy director-general and head of the Department of Safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency. An oral summary of this article was presented on November 22, 2014, at the 2014 Moscow Nonproliferation Conference organized by the Center for Energy and Security Studies.


1. UN Security Council Resolution 1540, adopted in April 2004, establishes the obligations under Chapter VII of the UN Charter for all member states to have and enforce appropriate legal and regulatory measures against the proliferation of nuclear and other nonconventional weapons and their means of delivery, in particular to nonstate actors. It closes gaps in nonproliferation treaties and conventions to help prevent terrorists and criminal organizations from obtaining nonconventional weapons. Resolution 1887, adopted unanimously on September 24, 2009, calls on countries to establish measures to reduce nuclear arms. It includes new provisions to deter withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, supports stricter national export controls on sensitive nuclear technologies, and calls on states to conclude safeguards agreements and an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

2. 2005 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Withdrawal From the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; European Union Common Approach: Working Paper Submitted by Luxembourg on Behalf of the European Union,” NPT/CONF.2005/WP.32, May 10, 2005.

3. UN Security Council, S/RES/1887, September 24, 2009.

4. IAEA, “The Agency’s Safeguards System,” INFCIRC/66/Rev.2, September 16, 1968.

5. Nuclear Suppliers Group, “Guidelines for Nuclear Transfers,” June 2013, para. 6(a)(iv), http://www.nuclearsuppliersgroup.org/images/Files/Updated_control_lists/Prague_2013/NSG_Part_1_Rev.12_clean.pdf.

6. 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Final Document, Volume I, Part I,” NPT/Conf.2010/50 (Vol. I), p. 25 (Action 30).

7. Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Exercise of the Right of Withdrawal Contained in Article X,” NPT/CONF.2015/PC.III/WP.13, March 25, 2014.

8. Jean Monnet was a French diplomat who is regarded as one of the founding fathers of the European Union. The quote in the text above is translated from the French: “Les hommes n’acceptent le changement que dans la nécessité; ils ne voient la nécessité que dans la crise.”

In addition to their comprehensive safeguards agreements, states should ratify facility-specific agreements. These agreements do not lapse if the state withdraws from the NPT and therefore would ensure uninterrupted safeguards.

BOOK REVIEW: The Material World of Nuclear Weapons

March 2015

Reviewed by James E. Doyle

Unmaking the Bomb: A Fissile Material Approach to Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation
By Harold A. Feiveson, Alexander Glaser, Zia Mian and Frank N. von Hippel, The MIT Press, 2014, 296 pp.

Enough weapons-usable fissile material for more than 100,000 nuclear weapons exists around the globe today. Yet, the world does not need any of that material to benefit from civilian nuclear energy production.

This incongruity lies at the heart of a new book, Unmaking the Bomb: A Fissile Material Approach to Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation. The book provides a clear warning: It defies the odds to assume that the world can continue to avoid disaster as thousands of nuclear weapons and huge quantities of weapons-usable fissile material, primarily plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU), are produced at many locations around the world. In seeking solutions to this global security dilemma, the authors advocate focusing more sharply on the fissile material.

This is sound advice because the last 20 years or so have seen the emergence of nuclear terrorism as a plausible threat. That danger, which is common to many countries, is even more acute than the threat of nuclear war between states.

Technically adept and moderately well-funded extremist groups or other nonstate actors could build an improvised nuclear weapon if they acquired enough fissile material. The production of fissile material, however, is thankfully beyond the capabilities of such actors. If the world can reduce the chances that these actors could get their hands on fissile material, then it will have greatly reduced the chance of catastrophic nuclear terrorism. Denying this material to such groups is necessary because unlike national governments, they are not deterred from using nuclear weapons by the threat of nuclear retaliation.

The authors of Unmaking the Bomb—Harold A. Feiveson, Alexander Glaser, Zia Mian, and Frank N. von Hippel—are physicists who are members of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University and are organizers and leaders of the International Panel on Fissile Materials. They describe the history, production, national stockpiles, and current military and civilian uses of plutonium and HEU and propose policies aimed at reducing and eventually eliminating these materials worldwide.

The book masterfully breaks down a very technical and politically charged subject so that its most salient facts are accessible and understandable to technical and nontechnical readers alike. It marshals clear, accurate, and broadly supported data, graphs, charts, and photographs that describe and explain the evolution of the fissile material age and the current global status of these materials in military and civilian programs. The thorough referencing to vast print and electronic sources of additional information on the subject makes this volume an efficient and essential tool for those wishing to delve further into this vital subject.

Correspondingly, Unmaking the Bomb is an invaluable tool for historians, educators, military strategists, students of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, and those who advocate the elimination of nuclear weapons. It includes a wealth of useful detail, such as information on the locations, output capacity, and operational status of all known reprocessing and enrichment facilities worldwide.

Another example is its in-depth discussion, in Chapter 8, of the history and technical challenges of achieving an end to the production of fissile material for weapons purposes. The authors describe the need to include alternative fissile materials such as neptunium-237 and americium-241 in such a ban. They identify pre-existing stocks of fissile materials—those declared excess to military needs and those in civilian programs—that should also be captured in a future fissile material treaty.

This book correctly stresses the interrelationship among nuclear disarmament, nuclear proliferation, nuclear energy, and the threat of nuclear terrorism. Fissile material is at the foundation of all these interrelationships and, as the early atomic scientists declared more than 70 years ago, it must be placed under greater and more reliable international control. To this end, the authors make three major recommendations to all states with civil or military nuclear programs.

Radically increase the transparency of nuclear warhead and fissile material stockpiles to allow for verified, deep reductions in these stockpiles as part of the process of nuclear disarmament. Use of these weapons and materials in warfare would have such negative global consequences that no country should be permitted to keep its stocks of such materials secret. Every state that possesses them should accept the obligation to the international community to provide assurance that they are adequately secured until the time comes when they can be eliminated.

Verifiably end all further production of HEU and plutonium for weapons purposes and the use of these materials as fuel for civilian and military reactors. Achievement of a fissile material cutoff treaty has been a goal of the international community for more than 20 years, and it is time to redouble efforts toward this end. The authors of Unmaking the Bomb indicate that only four countries—India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan—are producing fissile material for nuclear weapons. Civilian and military reactors globally can be configured to run on low-enriched uranium, a material that cannot be used to build effective nuclear weapons.

Verifiably eliminate military and civilian fissile material stockpiles as irreversibly as possible. Stocks of HEU can be profitably blended down and used as fuel for civilian light-water power reactors, as was done with 500 metric tons of Russian HEU from dismantled nuclear weapons. Plutonium can be mixed with uranium and used as reactor fuel, but such technology is not yet economically viable and maintains fissile material in the nuclear fuel cycle with attendant proliferation risks. Consequently, the authors oppose use of mixed-oxide fuel and suggest that nonreactor options for the disposal of plutonium merit greater attention than they have received.

Achievement of these three objectives deserves to be on the nuclear security agenda of all citizens, countries, and international organizations concerned with nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. They are long-term strategies for surviving the fissile material age without a global catastrophe. Unmaking the Bomb provides the detailed logic behind these objectives and clearly defines the possible technical and political pathways that exist in order to reach them.

The book does not address an unfortunate reality of the fissile material age, that some states still see the military application of nuclear energy as essential for their security. It is not the intention of the authors to provide an answer to this overarching problem but to bring renewed public interest to this issue and the role that fissile material plays in the problem. They also do not argue that achieving controls on fissile material will be any easier than reaching new agreement to reduce or eliminate nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, Unmaking the Bomb remains a powerful instrument for all who seek a better nuclear future.

James E. Doyle is an independent nuclear security specialist. He was a technical staff member at Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1997 to 2014.

A new book by four Princeton physicists issues a clear warning against the assumption that the world can continue to avoid disaster...

Sanctions Relief Timing Key to Iran Deal

March 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

The sequence of sanctions relief is now the primary obstacle to a nuclear deal with Iran, a European diplomat familiar with the negotiations said last month.

In a Feb. 17 e-mail to Arms Control Today, the official said Iran and the six world powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) that are negotiating with Tehran have not reached a “compromise on the sequence of lifting sanctions.” Iran is pushing for more relief early in a nuclear deal, and the six-country group, known as the P5+1, wants to “phase in relief more gradually” based on Iran’s record of compliance with a final deal, he said.

The UN Security Council, the United States, and the European Union have imposed a number of sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear activities. Iran generally views these sanctions as illegal and maintains that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.

Last November, when Iran and the P5+1 agreed to extend negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal for a second time, sanctions relief and the size and scope of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program were the two main obstacles to reaching a comprehensive deal. (See ACT, December 2014.) At that time, the parties set the end of March as the target date for concluding a political framework agreement.

Progress on Enrichment Limits

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left foreground) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (center) cross a street while taking a walk in Geneva on January 14 during a break in their negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. (U.S. Department of State)According to the European official, the parties made substantial progress defining the size and scope of Iran’s enrichment program during several rounds of meetings in February, including two bilateral meetings between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister and lead negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif at the annual security conference in Munich.

Zarif and Kerry said the meetings were positive, but did not provide details on the progress made during their discussions.

The European official said the progress made during meetings at the Feb. 6-8 conference was “remarkable,” particularly on defining the limits of Iran’s enrichment capacity, but that a deal is “still not a sure thing.” A number of details must be worked out on issues related to the enrichment program, including the duration of the limits, he said.

Currently, it would take Iran two to three months to produce enough material for one weapon, according to Kerry’s congressional testimony last year. U.S. officials have said their goal in the talks is to extend that timeline to at least 12 months.

A nuclear weapon requires about 25 kilograms of uranium enriched to a level at which 90 percent of the material is uranium-235. Additional time is required to weaponize the material.
Iran is currently enriching uranium to reactor-grade levels, at which less than 5 percent of the material is U-235.

To achieve the goal of 12 months, the P5+1 wants to reduce Iran’s enrichment capacity and place limits on other elements of its nuclear program, including the stockpiles of enriched material that Iran maintains and the types of new centrifuges that the country is developing.

Tehran says it needs to increase its enrichment capacity in the future to provide fuel for nuclear power reactors it plans to build. Under a contract that runs through 2021, Russia is supplying the fuel for Iran’s only currently operating power reactor, at Bushehr.

New Extension Not Envisioned

Both sides in the negotiations have cast doubt on the possibility of a third extension if the two sides do not reach an agreement by June 30.

After meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tehran on Feb. 15, Zarif said that the current opportunity to reach a deal “must be seized.” Wang said China was not in favor of another extension.

At a Feb. 9 press conference, U.S. President Barack Obama said that he does not see “further extension being useful if [Iran has] not agreed to the basic formulation and the bottom line that the world requires.”

While in Munich, Zarif also met with Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), on Feb. 7.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Amano said he and Zarif agreed to intensify high-level talks between Iran and the IAEA on the agency’s stalled investigation into Iran’s past nuclear activities that could be related to nuclear weapons.

In November 2013, Iran agreed to cooperate with the agency’s investigation. Since then, Iran has provided the agency with information on the past activities of concern to the agency and access to several sites.

But Iran missed an August 2014 deadline for providing the IAEA with information on two areas of Iran’s nuclear program that have “possible military dimensions,” in the agency’s terminology. Iran also has not yet provided the IAEA with suggestions for new actions to continue moving the IAEA investigation forward. The agency requested that Iran provide it with this information last August. (See ACT, October 2014.)

Amano said it is essential for Iran to follow through on its commitments to the agency. He added that the IAEA investigation will not be an endless process and that, with “reasonable or full cooperation from Iran,” the IAEA can clarify the issue within a “reasonable time frame.”

The sequence of sanctions relief is now the primary obstacle to a nuclear deal with Iran, a European official said last month.

Congress Poised to Move on Iran Bills

March 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Two senators introduced legislation in January that would impose sanctions on Iran if a nuclear agreement is not reached by July 6.

Introduced on Jan. 27, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, authored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), would revoke sanctions waived under the November 2013 interim deal between Iran and six world powers and put in place additional sanctions every 30 days for five months if a deal is not reached.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron (left) and U.S. President Barack Obama hold a press conference at the White House on January 16. Cameron said additional sanctions on Iran would “set back our chances for a diplomatic solution” to concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)President Barack Obama said on Jan. 20 in his State of the Union address that he would veto any congressional sanctions bill passed while negotiations are ongoing. Obama said such sanctions “will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails.”

Under the 2013 interim deal, Iran agreed to limit certain nuclear activities, and the six countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) granted limited sanctions relief and pledged that they would not impose additional sanctions while talks on a final agreement were continuing. (See ACT, December 2013.)

Negotiations on a final deal were extended last July and again in November. As part of the second extension, negotiators set the end of March as a target date for a political framework agreement and June 30 as the date for a complete deal. (See ACT, December 2014.)

As of Feb. 19, the bill had 43 additional co-sponsors—seven Democrats and 36 Republicans.

The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee approved a version of the bill on Jan. 29. Eighteen senators voted to approve the bill, including six Democrats. Four Democrats voted against the measure.

Committee chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said in a Jan. 29 press release after the vote that the bill would be reported to the Senate for consideration. Shelby said it is “clear that further action is necessary to compel Iran to reach an acceptable agreement.”

The additional sanctions contained in the bill would begin entering into force in August. From then through December, new measures would be imposed every 30 days. The additional restrictions would close loopholes in existing sanctions on Iranian exports of petroleum products and impose further sanctions on senior Iranian government officials and additional individuals for involvement in proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, sponsorship of terrorism, and other illicit activities. The legislation would also slap additional sanctions on Iran’s shipbuilding, automotive, construction, engineering, and mining sectors and enhance sanctions on Iran’s oil trade and financial transactions.

If a comprehensive deal is reached, the legislation calls for the president to submit the deal to Congress within five days. It also calls for a 30-day period for congressional review of any agreement before the president can waive or suspend any sanctions.

The Senate appears unlikely to vote on the bill before March 24. In a Jan. 27 letter to Obama, Menendez and nine other Democrats said they oppose moving forward with the legislation until after March 24, in “acknowledgement” of the president’s “concern regarding congressional action” during the talks.

The letter said the March 24 deadline is a “critical test of Iran’s intentions” and that Tehran must address “all parameters of a comprehensive agreement” or the 10 senators would vote for the sanctions bill.

Washington’s negotiating partners have expressed concern about the impact of new sanctions while talks are ongoing. In a joint press conference with Obama at the White House on Jan. 16, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said additional sanctions “would undermine...international unity and set back our chances for a diplomatic solution” with Iran.

Several senators expressed support for additional sanctions if the talks break down. A resolution introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Jan. 26 expressed support for the current diplomatic negotiations with Iran, but said that the Senate is prepared to enact additional sanctions if efforts to reach a deal fail.

The resolution was introduced with nine co-sponsors—eight Democrats and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine).

In a Jan. 26 statement, Murphy said that a diplomatic agreement is the “best way to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.” But the resolution “makes clear that if Iran walks away from the table” or is not negotiating in good faith, the United States will “respond with debilitating new sanctions,” he said.

Feinstein said that enacting new sanctions while talks are in progress would “gravely undermine” efforts to reach an agreement and that the resolution offers “an option to support diplomacy” with Iran.

The resolution also “affirms support” for the reimposition of suspended sanctions if Iran violates the interim deal or any final nuclear agreement.

Senators introduced legislation that would impose additional sanctions on Iran if a nuclear agreement is not reached by July.

Corker Seeks Hill Vote on Any Iran Deal

March 2015

By Jefferson Morley

Senator Bob Corker (R.-Tenn.) questions Obama administration witnesses about negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on July 29, 2014. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)As Iran and six world powers seek to negotiate an agreement to limit Tehran’s nuclear program, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says that Congress should vote on any accord.

The Obama administration has rejected the idea, arguing that Congress will have several important roles to play as the process unfolds but that the arrangement Corker is proposing represents unwarranted and potentially damaging interference.

The administration’s stance has frustrated Corker and others who are pressing for a greater congressional role in the ongoing negotiations.

“I want these negotiations to be successful…but just stiff-arming [Congress]…and saying, ‘No, we really don’t want you to play a role, we want you to just trust us,’ is totally unacceptable from my standpoint,” Corker said to the administration officials testifying on Jan. 21 at a committee hearing on the Iran nuclear negotiations.

At the hearing, one of the officials, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, said the administration would veto legislation applying an arrangement such as Corker’s to any agreement between Iran and the six-country group.

The question of congressional approval likely will only grow in urgency on Capitol Hill after the scheduled March 3 speech of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In their announcement last Nov. 24 that they were extending the talks and the interim agreement they had reached in November 2013, the negotiators said they were aiming to reach a “political framework” of a final agreement within four months. (See ACT, December 2014.)

A bill sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to impose new sanctions on Iran had been the favored vehicle for Senate involvement in the nuclear talks. But when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited Netanyahu, a fierce critic of the talks, to address Congress without consulting with the White House, Menendez and other Senate Democrats agreed to Obama’s request not to introduce the bill until March 24.

With sanctions legislation off the table for now, Corker’s proposal for a straight up-or-down vote on any accord offers a different role for Congress in the negotiations. Corker says a Senate vote would strengthen the U.S. negotiating position and increase the likelihood of an acceptable final deal that would outlast the Obama administration.

“I would just argue that having Congress as a backstop as you enter these final steps…would be somewhat of an anchor to keep us from continuing to move toward Iran’s position,” Corker said at the Jan. 21 hearing.

Corker has proposed adapting the language of Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act, which governs bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements, to any agreement between the six-country group and Iran. The members of that group are China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

That Atomic Energy Act provision requires that nuclear cooperation agreements, which establish a framework for nuclear trade between the United States and other countries, be submitted to Congress for review. If an agreement meets the nonproliferation criteria spelled out in the act, Congress does not need to vote to approve it. Such an agreement can enter into force if Congress does not block or modify it during the 90 days of so-called continuous session following the submittal of the pact.

The requirements of a 123 agreement do not apply to the Iran negotiations, says Larry Hanauer, an analyst at the RAND Corp. who recently wrote a study of how Congress can influence the negotiations. “The only thing we’re providing Iran with is sanctions relief, so the law doesn’t really apply,” Hanauer said in a Feb. 18 interview.

Other analyses, including one by the Arms Control Association, have made the same argument. The association’s analysis also argues that if the 90-day consultation is one feature of the 123 process that Corker incorporates into his legislation, it would greatly complicate the ability of the United States to meet its obligations under the interim agreement and therefore would give Iran grounds to abandon steps it has taken to meet its own obligations under that accord. (The Arms Control Association is the publisher of Arms Control Today.)

Gary Samore, formerly President Barack Obama’s top adviser on arms control and nonproliferation issues and now head of United Against a Nuclear Iran, which opposes a deal with Iran, noted in a Feb. 18 e-mail that the 123 procedure essentially requires a two-thirds majority of each chamber to prevent a nuclear cooperation agreement from coming into force. That is because the president could veto a resolution of disapproval and opponents of the agreement would have to muster a two-thirds majority in the House and the Senate to override the veto. Because the Corker proposal adopts that aspect of the 123 procedure and therefore conceivably would allow the Iran deal to move ahead when only one-third of the members in each chamber supported it, “it’s hard for the Administration to oppose Corker as opposed to any bill that would allow Congress to defeat the agreement by majority vote,” Samore said.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) announced in January they would come forward with legislation providing for congressional review and approval of any Iran nuclear deal. As of Feb. 24, the two senators had not revealed any more about their plans.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says the process for congressional review of nuclear cooperation agreements is a model for handling any agreement with Iran on its nuclear program.

Top Russian Official Backs New START

March 2015

By Kingston Reif

Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the United States, speaks at a conference in Washington sponsored by ExchangeMonitor Publications and Forums on February 18. (Courtesy of ExchangeMonitor Publications & Forums)Russia’s ambassador to the United States reaffirmed his country’s commitment to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) last month amid questions about the value of the agreement from influential voices in both countries.

Speaking on Feb. 18 at a conference in Washington, Sergey Kislyak said, “I don’t foresee developments—I hope I am right—that would force at least Russia to reconsider its commitment” to New START. The treaty constitutes “a very serious undertaking, and we are taking it seriously,” he added.

Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, also spoke at the conference and reiterated the U.S. commitment to the treaty. “It is [in] times like these that arms control proves its worth,” she said, referring to the current tensions between the United States and Russia over Ukraine. “Arms control measures provide stability and predictability even when other things fall into disarray.”

New START, which entered into force in February 2011, limits the United States and Russia to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads; 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and long-range bombers; and 800 deployed and nondeployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and long-range bombers. Each side has until 2018 to meet the treaty caps. The pact also contains transparency and verification provisions, including on-site inspections, to ensure compliance.

Kislyak’s endorsement of New START comes on the heels of a recent warning by a high-ranking Russian Foreign Ministry official that Moscow could rethink its commitment to the agreement in light of allegedly hostile U.S. actions toward Russia.

“I am not ruling out the possibility that Washington could force us to…adjust our policy in this area,” Mikhail Ulyanov, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, told RIA Novosti on Jan. 13.

“It would be quite natural, considering the unfriendly nature of U.S. actions [in regard to Russia],” he added.

The United States has condemned Moscow for annexing Crimea and supporting rebel forces in eastern Ukraine. Washington and many of its NATO allies have imposed sanctions against Russia and strengthened the alliance’s eastern defenses.

Ulyanov was not the first Russian official to suggest New START could be at risk due to tensions in the U.S.-Russian relationship over Ukraine.

Last March, shortly after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, unnamed Russian Defense Ministry officials told RIA Novosti and other Russian media outlets that Moscow was prepared to suspend its permission for the United States to carry out inspections as required under New START because “groundless threats to Russia from the U.S. and NATO regarding its Ukrainian policy are considered by us as an unfriendly gesture and allow us to declare a force majeure.” According to the protocol to New START, the only basis for the cancellation of inspections is “circumstances brought about by force majeure,” an unexpected event that is beyond the control of the inspected party.

Meanwhile, the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation in each of the past four years that would have threatened the U.S. ability to implement the treaty.

The version of the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act that the House passed last year barred spending any money to carry out the reductions required by New START until Russia met a number of conditions, including “respecting the sovereignty of all Ukrainian territory.” But the Democratic-led Senate opposed this language, and the final bill merely requires a report from the Defense Department stating the reasons that continued implementation of New START is in the national security interests of the United States. (See ACT, January/February 2015.)

In a Feb. 19 interview, a Senate Republican staffer said the new Republican-led Senate would prefer not to “relitigate” New START. The staffer said that “curing” Russia’s violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty will likely be a higher Senate Republican priority, along with pressing ahead with U.S. nuclear weapons modernization plans and guarding against potential Obama administration proposals to reduce U.S. nuclear weapons below New START levels without a new treaty.

Russia’s ambassador to the United States reaffirmed his country’s commitment to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty amid questions in both countries about the value of the agreement.

Most U.S.-Russian Nuclear Work Ends

March 2015

By Kingston Reif

Former Senator Sam Nunn (D.-Ga.), left, and Senator Richard Lugar (R.-Ind) attend a symposium in Washington on December 3, 2012, on cooperative threat reduction. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)After months of signals that U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation beyond 2014 was in jeopardy, most work in that area now has ended, according to news reports and Energy Department budget documents. But some limited work will continue in 2015, according to Energy Department officials.

In a meeting last December in Moscow, Russian officials informed their U.S. counterparts that Moscow was ending U.S. cooperation with Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation, and U.S. access to Rosatom facilities, the Boston Globe reported Jan. 19.

Joint work to upgrade the security of eight Rosatom sites containing weapons-usable nuclear material “will not be completed with U.S. funding, due to Russia’s discontinuation of this joint work,” according to the Energy Department’s detailed justification of its budget request for fiscal year 2016. Joint work to sustain previous upgrades also is ending, said the document, which was released Feb. 2.

The document states that U.S. support for efforts to convert reactors in Russia that still use highly enriched uranium (HEU) to use low-enriched uranium will continue but be limited to the six pilot reactors that are part of a 2010 agreement between the Energy Department and Rosatom. “The U.S. role in additional reactor conversion cooperation in Russia is anticipated to be limited to only technical exchanges,” the document said.

The Globe article reported that the United States will also no longer provide money to install radiation detectors at Russian ports, airports, and border crossings to deter and detect nuclear smuggling.

Since the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States have cooperated on an array of nuclear weapons dismantlement, material security, and nonproliferation activities inside Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union. These efforts have been pursued primarily under the auspices of the U.S. Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program and the Energy Department’s nuclear material security programs.

In June 2013, Russia and the United States agreed to a pared-down replacement for the old CTR agreement. The new arrangement allowed the Energy Department to continue nuclear security activities with Rosatom, but terminated activities involving the Russian Ministry of Defense. (See ACT, July/August 2013.) Many of the activities with Rosatom were scheduled to continue through 2018.

In a Jan. 22 statement, Rosatom said that it would “be ready to return to the cooperation when the American side is ready for that, and certainly, strictly on the basis of equality, mutual benefit, and respect.”

In a Feb. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Energy Department spokesman Derrick Robinson said Russia will fund the security work the Energy Department had been planning to carry out.

Despite the end of work with Rosatom, some cooperative activities would continue, including the repatriation of Russian-origin HEU from third countries, security work with a number of non-Rosatom nuclear sites, and bilateral exchanges on topics such as nuclear security culture and transportation security, Robinson said.

Congress voted last December to withhold the Energy Department’s $92.3 million fiscal year 2015 budget request for nuclear material security work in Russia. (See ACT, January/February 2015.) It is not clear from the budget documents how much money, if any, the Energy Department requested for work inside Russia in fiscal year 2016.

In a Jan. 23 Washington Post op-ed, former Sens. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) described Russia’s decision to cut off most aspects of its nuclear security cooperation with the United States as “short-sighted” and “a major setback in the global effort to secure nuclear materials.”

Nunn and Lugar co-sponsored the legislation that established cooperative threat reduction efforts with Russia in the early 1990s.

After months of signals that U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation beyond 2014 was in jeopardy, most work in that area now has stopped.


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