Workshop Context

The workshop discussions took place not only at the physical site of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, but also within the broader context of the agency’s roles of facilitating the safe and peaceful use of nuclear energy, supporting the international nuclear nonproliferation regime, and improving nuclear materials management and security in member states. The fundamental challenge of nuclear nonproliferation is embodied in a basic tension that exists among those responsibilities: the equipment, facilities, materials, and expertise required to build and operate a nuclear power plant may also form the basis of a nuclear weapons program.

The dilemma posed by centrifuge technology is an example of this tension. Centrifuges are used to enrich natural uranium so that it can be used in a civilian nuclear reactor to generate heat and electricity, precisely the peaceful nuclear energy that the IAEA works to promote. Given enough time and a sufficient number of centrifuges of appropriate design, however, the same centrifuge technology can be used to further enrich the uranium, to the point where it is considered highly enriched uranium (HEU).1 Because uranium centrifuges can be used to produce HEU of the grade required for nuclear explosives, centrifuge technology can pose a serious proliferation threat. Similarly, a plant for separating pluto-

1  

Highly enriched uranium is defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency as uranium containing 20 percent or more of the isotope 235U.



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Protection, Control, and Accounting of Nuclear Materials: International Challenges and National Programs - Workshop Summary Workshop Context The workshop discussions took place not only at the physical site of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, but also within the broader context of the agency’s roles of facilitating the safe and peaceful use of nuclear energy, supporting the international nuclear nonproliferation regime, and improving nuclear materials management and security in member states. The fundamental challenge of nuclear nonproliferation is embodied in a basic tension that exists among those responsibilities: the equipment, facilities, materials, and expertise required to build and operate a nuclear power plant may also form the basis of a nuclear weapons program. The dilemma posed by centrifuge technology is an example of this tension. Centrifuges are used to enrich natural uranium so that it can be used in a civilian nuclear reactor to generate heat and electricity, precisely the peaceful nuclear energy that the IAEA works to promote. Given enough time and a sufficient number of centrifuges of appropriate design, however, the same centrifuge technology can be used to further enrich the uranium, to the point where it is considered highly enriched uranium (HEU).1 Because uranium centrifuges can be used to produce HEU of the grade required for nuclear explosives, centrifuge technology can pose a serious proliferation threat. Similarly, a plant for separating pluto- 1   Highly enriched uranium is defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency as uranium containing 20 percent or more of the isotope 235U.

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Protection, Control, and Accounting of Nuclear Materials: International Challenges and National Programs - Workshop Summary nium from other by-products of nuclear power generation may provide plutonium for nuclear reactor fuel, for building nuclear weapons, or both.2 The nuclear nonproliferation regime developed out of international efforts to manage these tensions. The regime, which is built upon the foundation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (also known as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT), comprises an evolving complex of treaties, export control agreements, and other formal and informal arrangements. The NPT, which entered into force in 1970, endeavored to halt and reverse the proliferation of nuclear weapons while ensuring access to nuclear energy for all member states. It attempted to accomplish this by restricting possession of nuclear weapons to states that had tested nuclear weapons prior to 1967. These “nuclear-weapon States” (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States)3 promised to work toward eliminating their nuclear arsenals and to not share nuclear weapons technology with “non-nuclear weapon States.” At the same time, the nuclear-weapon States (NWS) promised to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology with non-nuclear weapon States (NNWS). In exchange, the NNWS, which comprised the balance of the treaty signatories, pledged not to obtain or develop nuclear weapons, and to accept the application of international safeguards to their nuclear programs to verify their compliance with the treaty.4 The International Atomic Energy Agency was established in 1957 to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to ensure as far as possible that any nuclear energy programs with which it was associated were managed safely and used only for peaceful purposes. The activities of the agency are governed by its member states, and the decisions of the member states are implemented by the agency’s secretariat, which is based in Vienna. After the NPT entered into force, the IAEA was assigned the responsibility of applying the safeguards required by 2   The nuclear materials (usually uranium and plutonium) that are used in a nuclear reactor to produce heat through nuclear fission are considered nuclear fuel. Prior to irradiation in the nuclear reactor, the fuel is considered “fresh fuel.” After irradiation, the fuel is considered “spent fuel.” Irradiation of the most common types of nuclear fuel converts some uranium into plutonium. Chapters 7 and 14 of David Bodansky, Nuclear Energy: Principles, Practices, and Prospects (Woodbury, N.Y.: American Institute of Physics, 1996) provide excellent background on the nuclear fuel cycle and its consequences for nuclear proliferation. 3   The United Kingdom, United States, and Russian Federation are the depositary states for the NPT. China and France acceded to the treaty as nuclear-weapon States in 1992. See Joseph Cirincione et al., Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction (Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2002), pp. 25-26. 4   See the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), available at http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Infcircs/Others/infcirc140.pdf as of April 20, 2005. In the context of the international nuclear nonproliferation regime, “safeguards” are measures taken by the IAEA to verify the accuracy and completeness of a state’s claims about the activities and scale of its nuclear complex, including its nuclear material inventories. Domestic safeguards are measures taken by a state to prevent theft or unauthorized use of weapons or weapons usable material.

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Protection, Control, and Accounting of Nuclear Materials: International Challenges and National Programs - Workshop Summary the treaty.5 Since that time, the number of NPT signatories has climbed to 189 and the IAEA has gained considerable experience in verifying member states’ compliance with their safeguards obligations under the treaty. Safeguards agreements between the agency and individual member states provide the legal and functional basis for IAEA verification activities. The intrusiveness of agency verification activities depends on which safeguards standard the state has accepted and enacted. In 1997, the IAEA began urging member states to adopt what is known as the “Additional Protocol” to their existing safeguards agreements. States adopting this protocol agree to provide an enormous volume of information as well as unprecedented levels of site access to agency inspectors. The goal of this approach is to move beyond facility-by-facility assessments to achieve what the IAEA terms “integrated safeguards,” whereby the agency develops a complete picture of a state’s nuclear program on a national basis.6 The agency’s activities may be divided into three categories. The Department of Safeguards verifies compliance with the NPT through inspections, visits, monitoring, and evaluation. The Department of Nuclear Safety and Security provides advice to member states that request assistance in protecting, operating, and managing their nuclear energy facilities, and protecting and accounting for their nuclear materials. Finally, the Department of Technical Cooperation, the Department of Nuclear Energy, and the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications share the responsibilities of facilitating international technical cooperation on nuclear energy and other applications of nuclear science.7 5   David Fischer, “IAEA Vision & Reality,” IAEA Bulletin 45 (December 2003): 12-15. 6   International Atomic Energy Agency, “The Safeguards System of the International Atomic Energy Agency,” undated document (approximately 2002), pp. 1-5, available at http://www.iaea.org/OurWork/SV/Safeguards/safeg_system.pdf, accessed April 20, 2005. 7   Information about the activities of each IAEA department may be found at http://www.iaea.org/OurWork/index.html, accessed April 20, 2005.

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