Overviews of the International Nuclear Nonproliferation Context

The presentations discussed here offered different perspectives on the overall context in which nuclear nonproliferation efforts take place. In one of the first papers given at the workshop, Charles Curtis of the Nuclear Threat Initiative set the tone by highlighting the gap between the threats of nuclear terrorism and proliferation and the response to those threats. He pointed out that the international community has made important progress in securing nuclear materials, but a significant amount of work remains to be done. Before September 11, 2001, many who recognized that nuclear materials were inadequately secured hoped that no individual or group that might obtain the necessary materials for a nuclear explosive would actually be hateful enough to use such a weapon in an attack on civilians. The events of September 11 shattered that hope. In his view, the failure of the international community to come together and overcome the challenges of controlling nuclear materials in the months after the terrorist attacks of September 2001 was even more alarming than the attacks themselves. The people attending the workshop, Curtis asserted, understood that unsecured weapons and materials anywhere are a threat to everyone, everywhere; and that efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism in the time that had passed since September 2001 had not come close to matching the threat. What is required is cooperative action on a global scale to secure nuclear materials.

Curtis noted that he did not want to deny that progress had been made; it had. A substantial amount of money had been pledged to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) National Security Fund, and the IAEA Board had recently agreed to increase the agency’s safeguards budget. The G8 Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction and



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Protection, Control, and Accounting of Nuclear Materials: International Challenges and National Programs - Workshop Summary Overviews of the International Nuclear Nonproliferation Context The presentations discussed here offered different perspectives on the overall context in which nuclear nonproliferation efforts take place. In one of the first papers given at the workshop, Charles Curtis of the Nuclear Threat Initiative set the tone by highlighting the gap between the threats of nuclear terrorism and proliferation and the response to those threats. He pointed out that the international community has made important progress in securing nuclear materials, but a significant amount of work remains to be done. Before September 11, 2001, many who recognized that nuclear materials were inadequately secured hoped that no individual or group that might obtain the necessary materials for a nuclear explosive would actually be hateful enough to use such a weapon in an attack on civilians. The events of September 11 shattered that hope. In his view, the failure of the international community to come together and overcome the challenges of controlling nuclear materials in the months after the terrorist attacks of September 2001 was even more alarming than the attacks themselves. The people attending the workshop, Curtis asserted, understood that unsecured weapons and materials anywhere are a threat to everyone, everywhere; and that efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism in the time that had passed since September 2001 had not come close to matching the threat. What is required is cooperative action on a global scale to secure nuclear materials. Curtis noted that he did not want to deny that progress had been made; it had. A substantial amount of money had been pledged to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) National Security Fund, and the IAEA Board had recently agreed to increase the agency’s safeguards budget. The G8 Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction and

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Protection, Control, and Accounting of Nuclear Materials: International Challenges and National Programs - Workshop Summary the amendment then under consideration to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials1 also constituted progress.2 Despite these positive developments, however, Curtis argued that it is important to acknowledge several painful truths in order to see the danger clearly. First, given the broad distribution of knowledge and technical expertise related to nuclear materials and weapons, it is possible for a well-funded sub-national group to build a nuclear explosive if they obtain a sufficient quantity of enriched uranium, or possibly plutonium, of the appropriate isotopic composition. Second, plutonium produced in civilian nuclear energy programs and highly enriched uranium at research reactor facilities is at risk.3 Third, physical security for nuclear materials around the world is inadequate. Fourth, existing safeguards that are intended to prevent the diversion of nuclear materials from civilian to military use are inadequate, particularly with regard to fuel cycle facilities. Fifth, three states that are not NPT members—India, Pakistan, and Israel—have nuclear weapons and materials, and these capacities should be safely secured and controlled. Finally, it must be acknowledged that a solution to the problem of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has not been found.4 Curtis argued that the top priority in efforts to counter nuclear terrorism threats should be to secure nuclear weapons and materials at their sources. To help accomplish this goal, the United States and Russia, as well as other states with nuclear energy capabilities, should actively share their expertise and the benefits of their experience—share “best practices”—with each other. In particular, the United States and Russia should organize a joint team of scientific, technical, and military experts to compile a list of best practices that will be shared with any other state that has nuclear weapons or weapon-usable fissile 1   The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) is the only legally binding agreement on physical protection of nuclear material. It requires signatories to ensure adequate physical protection for nuclear material during transport and in other circumstances. For more information, see http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Conventions/cppn.html, accessed June 26, 2005. 2   Rapporteur’s note: the April 2004 adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1540 is another relevant example. The resolution, which is mandatory for all UN Member States, requires that acts involving weapons of mass destruction—including malevolent acts involving nuclear materials and proliferation—be treated as criminal acts by the state in which the acts take place. 3   Research reactors are nuclear reactors whose primary function is to support nuclear, medical, or other research rather than to produce energy. Research reactors tend to have a much smaller thermal output than power reactors, but they sometimes use very highly enriched uranium fuel. Many research reactors and their fresh and spent fuel are located at research institutes and university laboratories where they may not receive the level of security that is afforded other highly enriched uranium. 4   Nonproliferation experts were unsure about the status of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program at the time this workshop was held in September 2003, and remain so today. During the time since the workshop took place, North Korea’s claim that it has a few nuclear weapons has gained more credence but has not been conclusively established.

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Protection, Control, and Accounting of Nuclear Materials: International Challenges and National Programs - Workshop Summary materials. A consensus should be reached among NPT Member States that best practices for nuclear security can be shared without violating Article I of the treaty. Citing the situation in Iran, Curtis pointed to the establishment of international fuel cycle centers as a potential solution.5 These facilities, managed by the IAEA or another international agency, would provide fresh nuclear fuel for commercial energy production to non-nuclear weapon States (NNWS), taking the used or “spent” fuel back after it has been irradiated in a nuclear reactor. By effectively removing control over the full nuclear fuel cycle from NNWS, this approach would reduce proliferation risks and increase the international community’s confidence that the materials were secure. In Curtis’s view, however, the NNWS would be unlikely to support such a plan. As a compromise, Curtis proposed that NNWS wishing to produce commercial nuclear fuel be required to adopt the Additional Protocol and yield “sovereign-like” control over their fuel cycle facilities to the IAEA, treating the facilities as they might treat a foreign embassy on their soil. Curtis concluded his presentation by pointing out that the only hope of preventing a nuclear attack by a sub-national group is if government leaders act with the same urgency and cooperation before the attack as they would in the aftermath of such an attack. Leonard Spector of the Monterey Institute for International Studies provided an overview of the international status of nuclear nonproliferation efforts, using the evolving concept of the term “safeguards” as a lens through which to focus his argument. He began by pointing out that we no longer believe that our protective measures should be confined to enriched uranium and plutonium. Instead, the range of materials covered by protective measures has broadened in response to the threat from radiological dispersal devices.6 Further, the array of possible actions taken in the name of safeguards has grown to include export 5   The nuclear fuel cycle is the several-step process through which nuclear material is used to fuel nuclear reactors. In what is termed the “front end” of the most common nuclear fuel cycles, uranium is mined from the earth, milled, converted to uranium hexafluoride, enriched to an appropriate 235U content, and fabricated into fresh fuel. It is then irradiated in the reactor. In the “back end” of the fuel cycle, the spent fuel is kept in interim storage for a time then either reprocessed to remove the plutonium or moved into permanent storage. See Bodansky, Nuclear Energy, chapter 7 for more information on the nuclear fuel cycle. 6   A radiological dispersal device (RDD) is not a nuclear explosive, i.e. it does not generate a “nuclear yield” via an explosive chain reaction. The successful detonation of a nuclear explosive, even one that is crude by today’s standards, could cause catastrophic destruction and loss of life. An RDD, by contrast, is a weapon that is designed to disperse radioactive material into the environment, and many types of radioactive material might be used. Although RDDs certainly have the capacity to cause damage to public health and local economies, the number of fatalities and the amount of destruction associated with the use of an RDD would be significantly less than would result from the use of a nuclear explosive.

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Protection, Control, and Accounting of Nuclear Materials: International Challenges and National Programs - Workshop Summary controls, customs checks, border security measures, and interdiction of maritime traffic through the Proliferation Security Initiative. Spector noted that efforts to control fissile materials now also include critically important programs to eliminate the materials themselves. Under the HEU Purchase Agreement, for example, the Russian Federation takes excess highly enriched uranium (HEU) from dismantled nuclear warheads and “blends it down” to low enriched uranium (LEU) levels suitable for use as fuel in civilian nuclear energy programs. The United States then purchases the LEU, which is shipped to the United States for processing into fresh fuel for nuclear reactors. This nuclear fuel is used to generate approximately 10 percent of the electricity used in the United States.7 Another example is the joint U.S.-Russian effort to consolidate and eliminate HEU from sites around the former Soviet Union. Spector noted that even as these elimination efforts continue, however, Russia and other countries continue to reprocess their spent fuel to produce plutonium for which there is no valid need, increasing the already-large stockpiles of this dangerous material. Spector offered some suggestions for addressing the risks associated with nuclear materials. He argued that the international community should “put HEU at the front of the queue” by making the consolidation and securing of highly enriched uranium stocks their top priority because HEU is easier to use in a nuclear weapon than plutonium. He suggested that the government of the United States, and other governments, should also plan much more actively for the use of a radiological dispersal device (RDD), because it seems likely that one eventually will be used. Preparations should include a vigorous public education campaign, so that people know what an RDD is, what it is not, and how to respond if one is used. Authorities should also lay plans for mitigating the consequences of an RDD attack, including planning for wide-area decontamination and for the public health response. Returning to the expanding definition of safeguards, Spector suggested that the international community should assume more responsibility for determining who is authorized to have access to nuclear weapons and materials. The definition of “unauthorized persons” is also expanding so that, in certain states, elements of the state’s governing apparatus may in fact be “unauthorized.” In states where the leadership or command structure is weak, for example, elements of a national government may gain access to fissile materials without proper authorization from the relevant authorities. He argued, for example, that it is not always clear that the leader of a particular nuclear-armed country is fully in control of the weapons. In such circumstances, typical approaches to materials protection, control, and accounting (MPC&A) may not provide effective security. In concluding his presentation, Spector proposed that the group consider 7   Further information about the HEU Purchase Agreement may be found at http://www.nti.org/e_research/cnwm/reducing/heudeal.asp, accessed April 20, 2005.

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Protection, Control, and Accounting of Nuclear Materials: International Challenges and National Programs - Workshop Summary putting aside the traditional notion that the maintenance of effective nuclear safeguards is voluntary. He argued that international law could be read to mean that effective safeguards are actually a matter of international obligation, for a number of reasons. First, the NPT requires all NNWS to maintain comprehensive accounting of all relevant nuclear materials. Second, many nuclear facilities, especially those in NNWS, use equipment or materials imported from the nuclear supplier states, most of which require recipients of those items to comply with the physical security standards outlined in the IAEA technical document INFCIRC 225. Third, an argument can be made that the NPT requires all member states to maintain effective accounting and control over relevant nuclear materials, because the NPT prohibits the export of those materials without the application of IAEA safeguards, and states cannot meet that criteria without implementing effective, comprehensive MPC&A measures over both civilian and military programs. Finally, Spector argued that the general principles of customary international law, which require states to manage dangerous activities in a manner that does not cause injury to other nations, may also impose a duty on national governments to effectively protect radioactive materials. Spector acknowledged that such an argument could have broad ramifications, but did not try to explore them in depth. Instead, he asked workshop participants to assist him in thinking through this new approach. Rose Gottemoeller of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace suggested that the mechanisms that have been devised for cooperative threat reduction efforts between the United States and former Soviet states might be useful models for addressing other international challenges. Gottemoeller cautioned that what works in one situation will not work automatically in another, and that none of the existing programs is perfect. Nevertheless, in her view, policy makers and program managers should think of collaborations like the MPC&A program that the U.S. Department of Energy manages in Russia not as one-time, situation-specific solutions, but as tools in an ever-growing toolbox of mechanisms useful for addressing certain types of problems. For example, policy makers might look to U.S. experience with Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine for approaches that might resolve the current crisis with North Korea. Security assurances, energy assistance, and help with the elimination of remaining nuclear materials might go far toward a nuclear-weapon-free solution on the Korean peninsula. In Iraq, “brain drain” programs similar to those established in Russia, such as the International Science and Technology Center and the Nuclear Cities Initiative, might reduce the risk that Iraqi scientists who were no longer needed to support Iraq’s weapons programs might sell their expertise outside Iraq. In Iran, cooperation between Russia and Iran on nuclear reactor technology at Bushehr was not really the cause of concern; it was evidence of large-scale fuel cycle activities that were hitherto unknown to the IAEA. Cooperative approaches similar to the MPC&A program might be helpful in that difficult situation. In closing, Gottemoeller underscored her main point, that cooperative threat reduction procedures and

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Protection, Control, and Accounting of Nuclear Materials: International Challenges and National Programs - Workshop Summary techniques can be used to bring countries posing a nuclear proliferation threat toward the “fold.” Such approaches, however, should not be considered as replacements for the NPT regime, the international safeguards system, or the Additional Protocol. Vladimir Shmelev of the Kurchatov Institute argued that the proliferation landscape has changed dramatically over a relatively short period of time. In his view, the nonproliferation regime must leave its Cold War roots behind and adapt in response to evolving threats from non-state actors, RDDs, and clandestine programs to develop nuclear weapons. The safeguards system was initially designed to address the situation as it was when the nonproliferation regime was first created. This required the development of new technologies, and they were relatively effective, in the Cold War context, in preventing international and domestic proliferation. We are now faced with the need to adapt to our new situation. The challenges of adapting to the new circumstances will take many forms. The adoption of the Additional Protocol, for example, will not only increase the burden upon individual states as they work to comply, but also upon those responsible for processing and managing the enormous volume of new data that will result. Shmelev also argued that scientific resources must be focused on conducting systematic investigations of proliferation threats and assessing methods of addressing those threats. He cited a number of technological hurdles that must be overcome, including developing proliferation-resistant nuclear energy technology, assessing options for internationalizing portions of the nuclear fuel cycle, and improving MPC&A mechanisms and inspection techniques. He also underscored the difficulty of maintaining the necessary balance between nonproliferation goals and honoring NPT commitments to share the benefits of nuclear technology. In short, Shmelev argued, adequate safeguards are a prerequisite for an effective nuclear nonproliferation regime.