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A legally-binding treaty to ban nuclear weapons

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Ray Acheson − Director of Reaching Critical Will, the disarmament programme of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Five years after the adoption of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Action Plan in 2010, compliance with commitments related to nuclear disarmament lags far behind those related to non-proliferation or the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Yet during the same five years, new evidence and international discussions have emphasised the catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons and the unacceptable risks of such use, either by design or accident.

Thus the NPT's full implementation, particularly regarding nuclear disarmament, is as urgent as ever. One of the most effective measures for nuclear disarmament would be the negotiation of a legally-binding instrument prohibiting and establishing a framework for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Not everyone sees it that way.

In fact, ahead of the 2015 Review Conference (scheduled to take place in New York April 27−May 22), the NPT nuclear-armed states and some of their nuclear-dependent allies have argued that any such negotiations would "undermine" the NPT and that the Action Plan is a long-term roadmap that should be "rolled over" for at least another review cycle.

This is an extremely retrogressive approach to what should be an opportunity for meaningful action. Negotiating an instrument to fulfill article VI of the NPT would hardly undermine the Treaty.

On the contrary, it would finally bring the nuclear-armed states into compliance with the legal obligations.

Those countries that possess or rely on nuclear weapons often highlight the importance of the NPT for preventing proliferation and enhancing security.

Yet these same countries, more than any other states parties, do the most to undermine the Treaty by preventing, avoiding, or delaying concrete actions necessary for disarmament.

It is past time that the NPT nuclear-armed states and their nuclear-dependent allies fulfill their responsibilities, commitments, and obligations − or risk undermining the very treaty regime they claim to want to protect.

Their failure to implement their commitments presents dim prospects for the future of the NPT. The apparent expectation that this non-compliance can continue in perpetuity, allowing not only for continued possession but also modernisation and deployment of nuclear weapon systems, is misguided.

The 2015 Review Conference will provide an opportunity for other governments to confront and challenge this behaviour and to demand concerted and immediate action. This is the end of a review cycle; it is time for conclusions to be drawn.

States parties will have to not only undertake a serious assessment of the last five years but will have to determine what actions are necessary to ensure continued survival of the NPT and to achieve all of its goals and objectives, including those on stopping the nuclear arms race, ceasing the manufacture of nuclear weapons, preventing the use of nuclear weapons, and eliminating existing arsenals.

The recent renewed investigation of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons is a good place to look for guidance. The 2010 NPT Review Conference expressed "deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons."

Since then, especially at the series of conferences hosted by Norway, Mexico, and Austria, these consequences have increasingly become a focal point for discussion and proposed action.

Governments are also increasingly raising the issue of humanitarian impacts in traditional forums, with 155 states signing a joint statement at the 2014 session of the UN General Assembly highlighting the unacceptable harm caused by nuclear weapons and calling for action to ensure they are never used again, under any circumstances.

The humanitarian initiative has provided the basis for a new momentum on nuclear disarmament. It has involved new types of actors, such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and a new generation of civil society campaigners.

The discussion around the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons should be fully supported by all states parties to the NPT.

The humanitarian initiative has also resulted in the Austrian Pledge, which commits its government (and any countries that wish to associate themselves with the Pledge) to "fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons."

As of February 2015, 40 states have endorsed the Pledge. These states are committed to change. They believe that existing international law is inadequate for achieving nuclear disarmament and that a process of change that involves stigmatising, prohibiting, and eliminating nuclear weapons is necessary.

This process requires a legally-binding international instrument that clearly prohibits nuclear weapons based on their unacceptable consequences. Such a treaty would put nuclear weapons on the same footing as the other weapons of mass destruction, which are subject to prohibition through specific treaties.

A treaty banning nuclear weapons would build on existing norms and reinforce existing legal instruments, including the NPT, but it would also close loopholes in the current legal regime that enable states to engage in nuclear weapon activities or to otherwise claim perceived benefit from the continued existence of nuclear weapons while purporting to promote their elimination.

NPT states parties need to ask themselves how long we can wait for disarmament. Several initiatives since the 2010 Review Conference have advanced the ongoing international discussion about nuclear weapons.

States and other actors must now be willing to act to achieve disarmament, by developing a legally-binding instrument to prohibit and establish a framework for eliminating nuclear weapons. This year, the year of the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is a good place to start.


For more information and updates during the NPT Review Conference, visit the Reaching Critical Will website:


Readers are encouraged to lobby national governments to support the Austrian Pledge to ban nuclear weapons. More than 50 countries have already endorsed the pledge (see the list at
Information is posted at:

You can sign an online petition urging your national government to support the pledge at


A cricketing ally, but will India play a straight bat on Aussie uranium?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Ian Lowe − Emeritus Professor, School of Science at Griffith University

Behind the flag-waving and cheers surrounding Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to Australia are serious questions about the safety and security implications of Australia's agreement to supply uranium to New Delhi.1

When he inked the uranium deal in India in September, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott praised India's "absolutely impeccable non-proliferation record".2 He refused to answer questions about alleged serious deficiencies in India's civil nuclear sector and was reduced to cliché, declaring that Australia and India trust each other on issues like uranium safeguards because of "the fundamentally ethical principle that every cricketer is supposed to assimilate – play by the rules and accept the umpire's decision".3

Yet despite the assurances of peaceful purposes, this deal has serious nuclear security implications. After all, India has form. It used Canadian peaceful nuclear technology to develop weapons, provoking Pakistan to follow suit. Even if all goes well – and in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster that is a big assumption – Australian sales could potentially free up India's domestic uranium stocks for military use.

Whatever happens, the new deal certainly won't reduce the continuing tension with nuclear rival Pakistan, or promote nuclear non-proliferation.

Checks and balances

India is a nuclear-armed nation that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and as such is not subject to the (admittedly fragile) checks and balances provided by full international nuclear safeguards. It is engaged in an active nuclear weapons program, has an estimated 80-100 nuclear warheads, and explicitly refuses to renounce nuclear testing.

Contrary to Abbott's statement, India is neither playing by the rules nor recognising the authority of the international umpire. Add these facts together and the plan to sell Australian uranium to India is in clear and direct conflict with Australia's international obligations under the South Pacific Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty,4 which says: "States Parties are obliged not to manufacture or otherwise acquire, possess, or have control over any nuclear explosive device anywhere inside or outside the Treaty zone; not to seek or receive any assistance in this; not to take any action to assist or encourage the manufacture or acquisition of any nuclear explosive device by any State; and not to provide sources or special fissionable materials or equipment to any non-nuclear weapon State (NNWS), or any nuclear weapon State (NWS) unless it is subject to safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency."

Prime Minister Modi is intent on expanding India's civil and military nuclear ambitions but there are big question marks around the safety and security arrangements for India's nuclear sector. In 2012 a scathing report by India's then Auditor-General Vinod Rai warned of a "Fukushima or Chernobyl-like disaster if the nuclear safety issue is not addressed".5

The issues identified in this frank assessment from one of India's own senior officials have not been addressed, and there is no guarantee that they ever will be. The safety of India's nuclear reactors remains shaky, because the sector's regulation and governance is deficient. As we have seen with Fukushima and Chernobyl, the cost of errors or accidents can be catastrophic.

Australian uranium's role

Fukushima is a continuing nuclear crisis that has been directly fuelled by Australian uranium, so its lessons are significant. If Japan, the world's third-largest economy and a nation steeped in technological expertise, could not control the atomic genie, it bodes poorly for the application of this technology in other countries. In the aftermath of Fukushima, instead of opening up uranium exports to insecure and conflict-prone regions, we should tread more carefully.

With Australia's renewable energy expertise and resources, we are perfectly placed to turn on the lights in Indian villages while ensuring that the Geiger counter stays off.

The deal has even prompted doubts among pro-nuclear commentators. For two decades until 2010, John Carlson6 was director general of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office7 and charged with overseeing Australian uranium sales. Now he has raised serious concerns, including his worry that Australia may be unable to keep track of what happens to uranium once it's sold to India.8

As Carlson makes clear, without proper reporting Australia has no way of knowing whether India is really meeting its obligations to identify and account for all the material that is subject to the agreement, and to apply Australia's safeguard standards. It is not good enough simply to take India on trust as a fellow cricket-mad nation, or to appeal to an "impeccable" non-proliferation record that it doesn't actually have.

Carlson's assessment is that the planned deal is short-sighted, self-defeating, and compromises Australia's standards. That warning should ring loud alarms in Canberra. The deal has yet to be examined by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.9 The rigour that the committee brings to this issue will be a test of whether radioactive rhetoric or real-world responsibility is in the ascendency in Canberra.

Uranium is not just another mineral. It fuels nuclear reactors and devastating weapons. Whether used for electricity or bombs, it inevitably produces radioactive waste that must be stored for geological timescales.

As home to around a third of the world's uranium supply, Australia's decisions on this issue matter. It is important that those flagging concerns are listened to just as much as those waving flags.



Indian government cautious about nuclear power

India's Power, Coal and Renewable Energy Minister Piyush Goyal said on November 6 that the government remains "cautious" about developing nuclear power. He pointed to waning interest in the US and Europe: "This government would like to be cautious so that we are not saddled with something only under the garb of clean energy or alternate energy; something which the West has discarded and is sought to be brought to India."1

Goyal noted that India's Nuclear Liability Law remains an obstacle to nuclear vendor countries and companies. That law does not fully absolve vendors of liability in the event of an accident. Asked if a breakthrough on the liability dispute was possible ahead of President Obama's January 2015 visit to India, US Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal recently said: "I see there is a lot of hard work ahead and I would not be sanguine about announcing any early breakthrough. What is required right now is not a lot of unrealistic expectations."2

The Hindustan Times reported on November 30 that the Indian government is working on a plan to weaken the liability law. Options include setting up an insurance pool, fixing a limit on reactor components for the purpose of determining liability, and the PM providing a personal assurance that vendors won't be harassed unnecessarily in the event of an accident.5

An article in The Hindu newspaper notes that three factors have put a break on India's reactor-import plans: "the exorbitant price of French- and U.S.-origin reactors, the accident-liability issue, and grass-roots opposition to the planned multi-reactor complexes."3

Meanwhile, The Times of India reports that US investment in nuclear power in India remains far off. In addition to unresolved liability issues, India and the US are yet to complete administrative arrangements concerning safeguards and non-proliferation assurances. The US is reportedly is demanding fresh bilateral safeguards in the nature of non-proliferation assurances, and the two countries have yet to agree on matters regarding the tracking of nuclear fuel through the entire cycle.4


1. 6 Nov 2014, 'Govt cautious about tapping nuclear energy for power generation',
2. 28 Nov 2014, 'U.S. plays hardball with India on nuclear deal',
3. Brahma Chellaney, 19 Nov 2014, 'False promise of nuclear power',
4. Indrani Bagchi, 19 Nov 2014, 'American officials put up hurdles, try to scuttle India-US nuclear deal',
5. 30 Nov 2014, ''Govt plans N-revival, focuses on investor concerns',

Russia to build more reactors in Iran

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor

Russia and Iran have signed a contract to build two VVER power reactors at Bushehr on the Persian Gulf. The two countries also signed a protocol envisaging possible construction of an additional two reactors in Bushehr and another four at an undetermined location. Bushehr is already home to the only power reactor in Iran (and the entire Middle East), a VVER pressurised water reactor which began commercial operation in September 2013.1,2 Iran has identified 16 potential sites for nuclear power plants − 10 on the coastal rim of the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.3 Consideration is also being given to the construction of desalination plants powered by new reactors.1,2

Iran's nuclear plants are vulnerable to earthquakes, as discussed by the Nuclear Threat Initiative: "In 2013, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the southwest region of Iran, where Bushehr is located. Given that much of Iran is in a seismic zone, many expressed concerns over [Bushehr's] safety following the earthquake. For example, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia voiced concerns at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in June 2013. Iran denied allegations concerning the plant's safety "vulnerability." Simultaneously, Iran reported an electric generator malfunction and "long cracks ... in at least one section of the structure." However, Tehran dismissed the suggestion that the malfunction was connected to the earthquake."4

Oil for atoms?

There is no pretence that Iran's nuclear power program is driven by concerns about climate change. Nuclear Energy Insider and the World Nuclear Association state that Iran intends to conserve hydrocarbon reserves for future export.2,5

In February 2014, Iran's ambassador to Russia Mehdi Sanaei said the two countries have been negotiating Iranian supply of a few thousands barrels of oil per day and "Iran could use some of the proceeds [to pay for] the construction by Russia companies of a second unit at the nuclear power plant in Bushehr."6

Neutron Bytes blogger Dan Yurman writes:

"A very real question is how is Iran going to pay for the reactors? The country's economy is on the rocks because of economic sanctions and rapidly dropping oil prices. One possibility is that the Russians are betting the Iranians will offer to pay for the reactors with oil which they will be able to sell on world markets if, and only if, they negotiate a deal with the West on their uranium enrichment program.

"Running the numbers for eight 1000 MW reactors at [US]$5000/kw yields a snapshot value of $5 billion per reactor or $40 billion overall. That kind of money might be helpful to Russia which depends heavily on oil exports to keep its economy afloat. Also, it would pull $40 billion worth of oil out of world markets and put it in Putin's hands perhaps to hold for a future date when market prices have moved north of $100/barrel. At the current price of $75 for barrel oil, $40 billion works out to 533 million barrels of oil. ...

"It still seems plausible then that one motivation for Russia's deal is to prevent Iran's return to world oil markets from depressing the price further. But some experts disagree with this idea. According to the Financial Times, Mark Fitzpatrick, a former US State Department diplomat, says that the whole enterprise is a smoke screen for Iran to justify its uranium enrichment infrastructure. He called it a potential "Putin double cross" of the negotiations being led by the European Union and the U.S."7

The US has expressed concern that trade and barter arrangements between Russia and Iran could breach or undermine US-led sanctions over Iran's nuclear program.8

Ambassador Mehdi Sanaei said: "Our Russian friends, who have stood by us at difficult moments, should have advantages on the Iranian market. But Russian companies must hurry to get into their niche in our market and not hesitate out of fear of Western sanctions."9 Meanwhile, Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, held out the prospect of Western investment in Iran's nuclear power program: "We welcome different countries' cooperation in this regard and it seems that given the tendency that the Western companies have towards cooperation with Iran, we will use their experiences in future."10

Weapons proliferation implications

What are the proliferation implications of Iran's plans for more power reactors? Perhaps not much, for these reasons:

  • Russia's Rosatom will provide nuclear fuel "throughout the entire lifecycle" of the proposed eight new reactors, and spent fuel will be returned to Russia for reprocessing and storage.1,2
  • The reactors will be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.
  • Iran already has several potential sources of fissile material for weapons: its enrichment program, the Bushehr power reactor, and a 5 MW research reactor in Tehran (as well as the partially-built IR-40 research reactor).

That said, the plan for new reactors presents several problems and risks.

Russia supplies the operating Bushehr reactor with enriched fuel − but that hasn't stopped Iran citing its nuclear power program as one justification for its enrichment program.11 Daryl Kimball wrote in Arms Control Today in September: "Iran's light-water reactor at Bushehr ... uses fuel supplied by Russia under a 10-year deal that could be extended past its 2021 end date. Russia is obliged to supply fuel unless Iran chooses not to renew the contract. But Iran's leaders are under heavy political pressure to reduce the country's reliance on foreign energy suppliers and to maintain a uranium-enrichment program that could be expanded if and when the country's nuclear energy needs grow."12

With several countries willing to engage in nuclear trade with India, and China supporting Pakistan's nuclear program, and Russia supplying new reactors to Iran, previous historical norms and agreements against nuclear trade with countries violating non-proliferation norms and commitments are near-dead.

The politicking around Iran's nuclear program is dripping with contradictions and irony − not least the leading role of the five declared nuclear weapons states, none of which take their NPT disarmament commitments seriously, in pressuring Iran to curtail its nuclear program. There are further contradictions regarding Iran's partially-built Arak research reactor. Iran is being pressured to either modify the reactor to reduce its plutonium production rate (which it seems willing to do), or to abandon the reactor altogether.

With its current design, if completed the Arak reactor could produce 5−10 kgs of weapon grade plutonium annually.13 Yet there is no effort to prevent the construction of new power reactors, each of which could produce 150−200 kg of weapon grade plutonium annually.14

French hypocrisy

France has been leading the charge to have the Arak reactor included in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.15 Yet France supplied Israel with a similar 'research' reactor used to produce plutonium for Israel's nuclear weapons.16

Dr David Lowry, former director of the European Proliferation Information Centre, addresses another aspect of French hypocrisy: "Among the several reasons the Vienna talks on Iran's nuclear program have had to be reconvened this month — and now extended into next year — was that France objected to the deal with Iran being closed off earlier because of Tehran's contested plutonium production plant at Arak. Whatever doubts the French have over Arak, they seem to be sanguine about Iran's involvement in uranium enrichment, so much so that they are in industrial partnership with the Iranians in this technology, and have been for four decades since an agreement with the Shah of Iran in 1975. Oddly, this deal never gets reported in the context of the Iran nuclear negotiations. Is there any good reason why not? It ought to be centre-stage in any public diplomacy, but isn't. ... The hypocrisy of France, as a nuclear technology supplier to Iran, ganging up on its customer with the other self-appointed permanent five members of the UN security council, along with Germany, would be funny if it wasn't so serious."17

Following France's obstructive role in negotiations about Iran's nuclear program in November 2013, nuclear physicist Yousaf Butt wrote:

"France's torpedoing of the agreement appears less related to genuine nuclear proliferation concerns than with trying to curry favor with anti-Iranian countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates − who commission and buy expensive French military, satellite and nuclear hardware. ... France's reluctance to sign off on the interim agreement is easier to understand through the prism of its lucrative regional trade agreements with Sunni Arab monarchies opposed to Iran. For example, for the first time since 2007, France penned a military contract with the United Arab Emirates in late July. The billion dollar contract for two spy satellites couldn't have been better timed: French military contracts lost a quarter of their value last year.

"Similarly, just a month after the deal with the UAE, France also signed a billion euro contract with Saudi Arabia − a bitter rival of Iran − to overhaul four frigates and two refueling ships. French business interests in Saudi Arabia are not restricted to just the military, however. Last month, the government-controlled French nuclear power conglomerates Areva and Electricite de France (EDF) hosted about 200 Saudi business and industry representatives at a "Suppliers Day" event held in Jeddah.

"The French ambassador to Saudi Arabia explicitly expressed his hope that the Kingdom would seek French help in implementing its "huge program in the nuclear field." Such long-term infrastructure contracts could be worth roughly 40 billion euros to the French. Similar deals have already been signed with the tiny Gulf nation of Qatar, also an adversary of Iran. Given these − and future − lucrative military and infrastructure contracts, it seems likely that France would seek to curry favor with the Sunni Gulf Arab monarchies by holding up a deal with Iran."18

Technology transfer

It seems that there will be little or no technology transfer of proliferation significance associated with the Russia−Iran reactor agreement. Yet there are mixed messages. A World Nuclear News article describes the agreement as a "turn-key" deal but also quotes Rosatom stating that the parties "intend to ensure the maximum possible participation of enterprises and organizations of the Islamic Republic of Iran in all works related to the construction of new power units on the sites, their operation and decommissioning."1

Rosatom made the mysterious statement that Russia and Iran have "confirmed their intent to cooperate in the field of the nuclear fuel cycle and ecology".1 However fuel cycle technology transfer may be limited to fuel fabrication rather than more sensitive stages such as enrichment and reprocessing. Nuclear Energy Insider reports that a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on November 19 for Iran and Russia to work together on the feasibility of assembling fuel bundles in Iran, which will be "economic" once all eight new reactors are grid-connected.2

Rosatom will also train Iranian specialists in the operation, servicing and engineering support for the new reactors.1,2

If nothing else, Iran will be better placed to build and operate indigenous reactors as a result of the collaboration with Russia.

Proliferation and security

Tied to proliferation issues are security issues such as potential military strikes and cyber-attacks on nuclear plants, and the murder of nuclear scientists and others involved in Iran's nuclear program.

Israel has repeatedly threatened to launch military strikes against Iran's nuclear program.22

In addition to the Stuxnet cyber-attack on Iran's enrichment program, there has been speculation that Bushehr was also targeted and that Stuxnet may have caused problems leading to the removal of fuel from the reactor in early 2011.35

The Bushehr plant (then under construction) sustained damage from numerous Iraqi bombing raids during the 1980−88 war.19,20

In September 2014, Iran arrested a Ukrainian man suspected of sabotaging the Bushehr plant. The suspect pretended to be an expert from Russia, the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri cited authorities as saying. The nature of the alleged sabotage was not disclosed.21

An explosion occurred inside the Arak reactor building in late 2013 according to Israeli sources. According to Israeli website Debkafile, Tehran did its utmost to conceal the blast. Debkafile speculated that the blast resulted from physical sabotage, a viral attack on computers, or the result of inferior steel materials that were unable to withstand intense pressure during testing.23

In March 2014, the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Asghar Zarean, accused "foreigners" of trying unsuccessfully to sabotage the Arak plant.24 Zarean said: "Several cases of industrial sabotage have been neutralized in the past few months before achieving the intended damage, including sabotage at a part of the IR-40 facility at Arak."25

Arak is regarded as particularly vulnerable to attacks in its partially-built state, since attacks could damage or destroy the reactor and associated infrastructure without resulting in widespread radioactive contamination. Israel's former chief of military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, who piloted one of the planes that bombed Iraq's Osirak heavy-water reactor in 1981 before it was due to become operational, said: "Whoever considers attacking an active reactor is willing to invite another Chernobyl, and no one wants to do that."26

In addition to the strike on Osirak in 1981, Israel destroyed a suspected reactor site in Syria in 2007 and has refused to rule out bombing Arak.27

In August 2012, saboteurs blew up power lines supplying Iran's underground uranium enrichment plant near the city of Qom.28

In August 2014, Iran said it had shot down an Israeli drone that was heading for its uranium enrichment site near the town of Natanz.29

At least five people associated with Iran's nuclear program have been murdered since 2007, including the deputy head of Iran's uranium enrichment facility at Natanz (killed by a car bomb in 2012), the head of the country's ballistic missile program, and the head of Iranian cyber warfare (who was shot dead).30−33 In 2012, Iran hanged a man it claimed was a Mossad agent over the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in 2010.34


1. WNN, 11 Nov 2014, 'Russia to build eight more reactors in Iran',
2. K. Steiner-Dicks, 20 Nov 2014, 'ROSATOM main partner in Iran nuclear energy scale-up',
3. Energy Business Review, 17 March 2014,
4. Nuclear Threat Initiative, 'Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP)',
5. WNA Weekly Digest, 14 March 2014.
6. Steve Gutterman, 17 Feb 2014, 'Iran says Russia could build nuclear reactor in exchange for oil',
7. Dan Yurman, 16 Nov 2014, 'Rosatom inks eight reactor deal with Iran',
8. AFP, 9 Sept 2014, 'No barter deal on agenda as Russia, Iran up energy ties',
9. NTI, 18 Feb 2014, 'Envoy: Russia May Construct Reactor in Iran in Swap for Oil',
10. 19 Nov 2014, 'AEOI Spokesman: Iran, West Likely to Cooperate in Building N. Power Plants',
11. 13 April 2014, 'AEOI Chief: Iran Entitled to Enrich Uranium to 90% Grade',
12. Daryl G. Kimball, Sept 2014, 'Bridging the Uranium-Enrichment Gap',
13. Mark Hibbs, 24 Oct 2013, 'The IR-40 and Diplomacy',
14. Jim Green, 2014, 'Can 'reactor grade' plutonium be used in nuclear weapons?', Nuclear Monitor #787,
15. Jonathan Tirone, 11 Nov 2013, 'Iran Signs Nuclear Inspection Accord as Agency Says Work Remains',
16. Friends of the Earth, Australia, 'Case Studies: Civil Nuclear Programs and Weapons Proliferation',
17. David Lowry, 'France's double play in Iran nuclear talks', 26 Nov 2014,
18. Yousaf Butt, 14 Nov 2013, 'Column: Too many cooks in the Iran nuclear kitchen',
19. Robert Tait, 25 Jan 2009, 'Iran Makes First Test-Run of Bushehr Nuclear Reactor,'
20. AP, 18 Nov 1987, 'Iran says nuclear plant hit', The Lewiston Journal,
21. Vasudevan Sridharan, 7 Sept 2014, 'Iran Arrests Ukrainian for 'Sabotaging' Bushehr Nuclear Plant',
22. Associated Press, 25 Nov 2013, 'Israeli leader Netanyahu condemns Iran nuclear deal as a 'historic mistake' and threatens to use military action if needed',
23. Julian Kossoff, 4 Nov 2013, 'Was Iran's Arak Nuclear Reactor Hit by Saboteurs?',
24. Umid Niayesh, 17 March 2014, 'Iran gives details of sabotage at IR-40 nuclear site',
25. Associated Press, 15 March 2014, 'Iran says sabotage prevented at nuclear facility',
26. Julian Kossoff, 4 Nov 2013, 'Was Iran's Arak Nuclear Reactor Hit by Saboteurs?',
27. Simon Sturdee / AFP, 13 Nov 2013, 'Iran's Arak reactor: a second route to a nuclear bomb?',
29. Fredrik Dahl, 12 Sept 2014, 'Iran wants U.N. atomic agency to condemn Israeli drone 'aggression'',
30. Patrick Cockburn, 6 Oct 2013, 'Just who has been killing Iran's nuclear scientists?',
31. 2 March 2014, 'Obama pushes Israel to stop assassinations of Iran nuclear scientists – report',
32. 12 Jan 2012, 'Iran's history of nuclear incidents',
33. William Tobey, 12 January 2012, 'Nuclear scientists as assassination targets',
34. 16 May 2012, 'Iran hangs 'Mossad agent' for scientist killing',
35. BBC, 26 Feb 2011, 'Iran nuclear plans: Bushehr fuel to be unloaded',

The UK's role in nuclear proliferation: then and now

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Dr David Lowry − independent research consultant, former director of the European Proliferation Information Centre.

The veteran Labour politician, Tony Benn, who was responsible for the British nuclear power programme in the late 1960s, was asked by The Times if he had made any political mistakes in his life. He responded: "Yes, nuclear power. I was told, when I was in charge of it, that atomic energy was cheap, safe and peaceful. It isn't." [1]

Since the 1950s there has been widespread sympathy and support – by both political and scientific leaders – for nuclear power. This is despite clear evidence that the spread of civilian nuclear technologies and materials has contributed to nuclear weapons proliferation. This article looks at some examples from Britain's nuclear history, and questions why our government is, once again, ramping up its support for nuclear exports.

Atoms for Peace?

Following the detonation of the two atomic bombs over the Japan in August 1945, many nuclear scientists wanted to put their intellectual expertise to the public good, so horrified were they over the scale of destruction. One of the key focuses was the pursuit of electrical power from nuclear fission.

Just over a year after Britain first tested its own atomic bomb, US President Eisenhower delivered his infamous 'Atoms for Peace' speech to the UN General Assembly in 1953. It proposed the conversion of 'atomic swords' into 'nuclear energy ploughshares'. He stated: "It is not enough to take this weapon out of the hands of the soldiers. It must be put into the hands of those who will know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace." [2]

He proposed the creation of an international atomic energy agency, whose responsibilities would include bringing "abundant electrical energy" to "the power-starved areas of the world." This was the start of a huge promotional drive which led, in 1957, to the creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as a United Nations agency in Vienna.

The UK was at the forefront of the new technology. In 1956, four 'Magnox' reactors at Calder Hall on the Sellafield site – then called Windscale – were opened by the young Queen Elizabeth II. She announced that: "It may well prove to have been among the greatest of our contributions to human welfare that we led the way in demonstrating the peaceful uses of this new source of power." [3]

But the double-edged nature of this technology was all too apparent in this facility: it was designed to produce plutonium for military purposes, as well as generate electrical power. [4]

Early UK nuclear technology in Iraq, Iran and North Korea

As the IAEA was being set up, the UK made one of its first forays into international nuclear trade – with Iraq. The Baghdad Pact Nuclear Centre opened on 31 March 1957 [5]. It was part of the UK's own 'Atoms for Peace' efforts. According to a parliamentary reply by Michael Heseltine in 1992, "Iraq ceased to participate in the activities of the training centre when it was transferred to Tehran following the revolution in Iraq in 1959." [6]

In light of subsequent geo-political history in the region, that was out of the atomic frying pan, into the nuclear fire!

Around this time Britain also sold a single Magnox nuclear plant each to Japan and to Italy. [7]

There is also significant evidence that the British Magnox nuclear plant design – which, after all, was primarily built as a military plutonium production factory – provided the blueprint for the North Korean military plutonium programme based in Yongbyon. Here is what Douglas Hogg, a Conservative minister, admitted in a written parliamentary reply in 1994: "We do not know whether North Korea has drawn on plans of British reactors in the production of its own reactors. North Korea possesses a graphite moderated reactor which, while much smaller, has generic similarities to the reactors operated by British Nuclear Fuels plc. However, design information of these British reactors is not classified and has appeared in technical journals." [8]

The uranium enrichment programmes of both North Korea and Iran also have a UK connection. The blueprints of this type of plant were stolen by Pakistani scientist, A Q Khan, from the URENCO enrichment plant in The Netherlands in the early 1970s. [9] This plant was one-third owned by the UK government. The Pakistan government subsequently sold the technology to Iran, who later exchanged it for North Korean Nodong missiles.

A technical delegation from the A Q Khan Research Labs visited North Korea in the summer of 1996. The secret enrichment plant was said to be based in caves near Kumch'ang-ni, 100 miles north of the capital, Pyonyang, where US satellite photos showed tunnel entrances being built. Hwang Jang-yop, a former aid to President Kim Il-sung (the grandfather of the current North Korean President) who defected in 1997, revealed details to Western intelligence investigators. [10]

So Britain's civilian nuclear export activity has involved provision of direct technical support to both Iraq and Iran, and indirectly to both North Korea and Iran. Given the subsequent nuclear weapons programmes in Iraq and North Korea, and the international concerns about the current nature of Iran's nuclear programme, this is hardly a positive record.

The UK has also been responsible for export of nuclear material from civilian plants specifically intended for weapons manufacture. Keith Barnham and other SGR colleagues demonstrated in a paper published in Nature in 2000 how military grade plutonium, created in the UK's Magnox reactors, was exported to the United States. [11]

The NPT as a vehicle for proliferation

In 1968, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly to try to put the brakes on the further spread of nuclear weapons. The IAEA was explicitly given an enforcement role. But the treaty involved a 'grand bargain': that non-nuclear weapon states should renounce all possession of nuclear weapons in exchange for civilian nuclear assistance. Indeed, the NPT affirms nations' "inalienable right ... to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes." [12] To this end, the treaty included clauses aimed at a major expansion of nuclear trade, including scientific and technological cooperation and sales of nuclear equipment and nuclear materials. The risk that this could lead to further proliferation has been downplayed by the IAEA and nuclear exporting countries ever since.

New UK nuclear exports

In the last few years, Britain's main political parties have demonstrated a deeply disturbing interest in a major expansion of the export of nuclear technology. This is despite claiming to be acutely aware of the dangers of proliferation.

In 2009, Chris Bryant, then a foreign office minister, commented during a parliamentary debate on nuclear proliferation: "It is clearly important that we secure fissile material. One of the greatest dangers to security around the world is the possibility of rogue states or rogue organisations gaining access to fissile material." [13]

Yet, only a few days later, the Labour government published a document which, while claiming to "lay out a credible road map to further disarmament", actually proposed increasing the civilian nuclear trade across the world. [14] The document was aimed at ongoing international non-proliferation negotiations.

In my judgment, whatever its laudable aims on nuclear disarmament, this document was in effect a blueprint for nuclear proliferation, undermining government aims to create a more secure world.

The Coalition government has continued to pursue this nuclear export path. In March this year, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – significantly, not the Department for Energy and Climate Change – published a suite of documents promoting nuclear power development in the UK and abroad, backed with £31 million of new taxpayers' money. [15]

In one of the documents, Long-term Nuclear Energy Strategy, the government committed to international action, including:

  • further increasing its presence and impact in international nuclear forums, "in particular those relating to nuclear R&D";
  • working with "like-minded" EU nations to provide "a positive and informed political environment for the civil use of nuclear power both domestically and globally"; and
  • working with embassies, industry and academia "to better showcase the UK's knowledge, expertise and facilities to the international market." [16]

While extra funding was being provided to promote nuclear technology, including exports, figures released to parliament this year revealed that the Coalition was simultaneously cutting the budget for nuclear non-proliferation. The 2013-14 spending will be reduced to £23.7m – a cut of £3.5m from 2012-13. [17] The budget for the Capital Global Threat Reduction Programme will also fall: from £6.6m to £5.0m. The Coalition's changing priorities are all too clear.

There is the additional problem of what to do with the UK's current plutonium stockpile, created from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. This currently stands at 110,000 kg. [18] While this is classified as 'reactor grade' because of its high content of heavy plutonium isotopes, it is widely acknowledged – including by the Royal Society [19] – that even reactor grade plutonium can be used to fabricate crude but powerful nuclear weapons. Depending on the isotopic content and the weapon design, a single nuclear bomb could be constructed with as little as 5 kg. [20]

The government's currently preferred option for dealing with this stockpile is to convert it into MOX (mixed plutonium-uranium oxide), which could be used to fuel nuclear power stations both in the UK and abroad. [21] But MOX fuel can be chemically separated into its constituent parts, so the proliferation risks of exporting this fuel are again all too real. Furthermore, to fabricate this MOX fuel, upwards of £1 billion, some suggest as much as £5-6 billion, of UK taxpayers' money would be needed for construction of a new manufacturing plant at Sellafield. [22,23]

The two Cabinet ministers responsible for the UK's nuclear export strategy are Business Secretary, Vince Cable and Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey. Ironically, both were elected in 2010 on a Liberal Democrat manifesto that opposed all nuclear power projects.

Nuclear worries

The very real risk is that the UK's promotion of nuclear power – especially the export of nuclear technologies and materials – will lead to more military stand-offs such as those with North Korea and Iran, and will further hasten the day when another mushroom cloud rises above a city with hundreds of thousands lying dead beneath it. The easiest way to minimise the risk of such attacks is stop promoting and distributing the technologies that could be used to undertake them.

Tony Benn regarded his support of nuclear power as a major political mistake – not least because of the problems of proliferation. How long will it be before the current generation of British politicians – and indeed the scientists and engineers advising them – realise they are making the same mistake?

1. The Times (2010). 11 September.
2. Eisenhower D (1953). Atoms for Peace speech.
3. Atom: The Journal of British Nuclear Engineering (1956). vol.1, no.1.
4. Jay K (1956). Calder Hall. Methuen. p.80.5. St. Petersburg Times (1957). Baghdad Nuclear Pact Center is Inaugurated. 1 April. p3.
6. Heseltine M (1992). Written parliamentary reply to Paul Flynn MP. Official Report, 14 December, vol.216, cc23-4W.
8. Hogg D (1994). Written parliamentary reply to Llew Smith MP. Official Report, 25 May.
9. Albright D (2010). Peddling Peril. Free Press, New York. pp.15-28.
10. Levy A, Scott-Clark C (2007). Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Global Weapons Conspiracy. Atlantic Books. p.281.
11. Barnham K, Nelson J, Stevens R (2000). Did civil reactors supply plutonium for weapons? Nature, vol.407, p.833. 19 October.
12. United Nations Office on Disarmament Affairs (1995). Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: Text.
13. Bryant C (2009). Official Report, 9 July, column 1228.
14. Cabinet Office (2009). Road to 2010: Addressing the Nuclear Question in the Twenty First Century.
15. BIS (2013). A Review of the Civil Nuclear R&D Landscape in the UK.
16. BIS (2013). Long-term Nuclear Energy Strategy. p16-17.
17. Hansard (2013). Official Report, 3 June, column 954W.
18. DECC (2013). Management of the UK's plutonium stocks: consultation response.
19. Royal Society (2007). Strategy options for the UK's separated plutonium. Policy document 24/07.
20. Town & Country Planning Association (1978). Planning and Plutonium. Evidence to 1977 Windscale Inquiry. pp.36-38.
21. As [16]
22. Royal Society (2011). Fuel cycle stewardship in a nuclear renaissance.
23. Whitehaven News (2013). Foreign plutonium to stay at Sellafield. 25 April.

Dr David Lowry examines the historical role of Britain's civilian nuclear exports in the weapons programmes of countries like North Korea, and fears that the latest government initiatives will lead to history repeating itself.

Reprinted from Scientists for Global Responsibility, SGR Newsletter no.42, Autumn 2013

Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Successful blockade at nuclear weapon base Buchel. On August 11 a group from IKV Pax Christi joined the blockade of the German military base Büchel that hosts US nuclear weapons. Every gate was blocked by non-violent activists from all over the world. Every gate supported the 'Rhythm Beats Bombs' message with musical performances. Krista van Velzen, nuclear disarmament campaigner at IKV Pax Christi, said: 'We join this 24 hour long blockade to show solidarity with the German peace movement. Just as in the Netherlands, Germany hosts 20 American B61 nuclear weapons at the air base. Although the German government said they wanted to send them back, there are still at Büchel, this is the reason why it is necessary to protest.


Hiroshima's Mayor lashes Japan-India atomic courtship. The mayor of Hiroshima, speaking on the 68th anniversary of the nuclear attack on his city, said Japan is wrong to be entertaining prospects of atomic trade with nuclear-armed India. Tokyo and New Delhi agreed in May to pursue arrangements for peaceful nuclear trade. "Even if the nuclear power agreement the Japanese government is negotiating with India promotes their economic relationship, it is likely to hinder nuclear weapons abolition," Mayor Kazumi Matsui said. He pressed his country to strengthen ties with the governments pursuing nuclear weapons abolition. Matsui spoke to a crowd of about 50,000 near the location of the 1945 blast, which killed around 140,000 people.


Tokyo exhibition shows harassment against anti-nuclear movement. Anti-nuclear activists held an exhibition in Tokyo on August 10−11 to highlight the harassment and threats they faced during a period long before the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Letters and postcards sent to the activists in the 1990s and early 2000s were displayed. One postcard simply says, "You are a tick." Some envelopes contained hair, cigarette butts and dead cockroaches. Other letters were filled with obscenities. In 1995, five organisations and 66 individuals asked the Human Rights Protection Committee of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations to take measures against the harassment. By that time, 4,000 of the letters and postcards had been confirmed around the country. Lawyer Yuichi Kaido, one of the organisers of the exhibition, said: "The battle between those supporting the restart of idled nuclear reactors and those against it will be heating up from now on. The obstruction tactics against the anti-nuclear movement that were seen in the past could occur again."


Japanese Peace Boat. The Japanese Peace Boat is travelling around the world with a global call for nuclear weapons abolition through its 6th Global Voyage for a Nuclear-Free World. Eight Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, accompanied by a Youth Special Communicator for a Nuclear-Free World, are giving testimonies in more than a dozen ports on their way to arrive back in Japan in October. The Peace Boat will be in Mexico on September 21 for the International Day of Peace (Mexico will host the next humanitarian conference on nuclear weapons in February 2014). Updates are posted at and


World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. The 2013 World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs ended successfully on August 9 in Nagasaki with the participation of about 7,000 people including 89 overseas representatives from 20 countries. Conference organisers have historically shied away from debates over nuclear power but that has changed since the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The Declaration of the International Meeting adopted on August 5 in Hiroshima includes the following statement: "The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is still in the midst of the crisis. Bringing the situation under control, decommissioning of all nuclear reactors and a fundamental shift to renewable energy resources are keenly called for. Having noted the dangerous relations between nuclear weapons and nuclear power generation, we call for ending all kind of nuclear damage caused by nuclear fuel cycles, and oppose reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel and accumulation of plutonium, as well as military use of nuclear energy. United in one wish for 'no more nuclear victims,' we will develop our campaign together with the movement to break free of nuclear power."


Offshore wind could meet EU electricity needs. The EU's total electricity usage could be met more than four times over by floating offshore wind farms in the deep waters of the North Sea, according to a new report from the European Wind Energy Association. The report claims that if the right policies are put into place now to spur the development and implementation of next-generation floating turbines, total EU offshore wind capacity could reach 150 gigawatts by the year 2030.

Peace Boat Japan

Quotable quotes − reprocessing, proliferation and reactor-grade plutonium

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

"The three practical skill sets common to both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons research programmes are nuclear physics, radiochemistry and metallurgy. High performance computing and fluid dynamics mathemat-ical modelling skills are also useful from a design standpoint. In particular, the same practical metallurgical and radiochemical expertise needed to fabricate and reprocess nuclear fuel rods can be readily applied to the extraction, purification, alloying and shaping of the plutonium component of a nuclear warhead."
− Ian Jackson, 2009, 'Nuclear energy and proliferation risks: myths and realities in the Persian Gulf', International Affairs, 85:6, pp.1157–1172,

"Under NPT rules, there is nothing illegal about any State having enrichment or reprocessing technology − processes that are basic to the production and recycling of nuclear reactor fuel − even though these operations can also produce the high enriched uranium or separated plutonium that can be used in a nuclear weapon. An increasing number of countries have sought to master these parts of the "nuclear fuel cycle", both for economic reasons and, in some cases, as a good insurance policy for a rainy day − a situation that would enable them to develop at least a crude nuclear weapon in a short span of time, should their security outlook change."
− Then IAEA Director-General Dr Mohamed El Baradei, 25 March 2006,

"Reprocessing provides the strongest link between commercial nuclear power and proliferation."
– US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 'Nuclear proliferation and safeguards', June 1977, p.12.

"As we see it, however, the world is not now safe for a rapid global expansion of nuclear energy. Such an expansion carries with it a high risk of misusing uranium enrichment plants and separated plutonium to create bombs.'"
– Editorial - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 14 January 2010,

"All nuclear fuel cycles involve fuels that contain weapon-usable materials that can be obtained through a relatively straightforward chemical separation process. ... In fact, any group that could make a nuclear explosive with weapon-grade plutonium would be able to make an effective device with reactor-grade plutonium. ... The main alternative to the once-through cycle involves the separation and recycling of the plutonium and uranium in the spent fuel. Not only is separation and recycle more expensive, it increases greatly the opportunities for theft and diversion of plutonium."
− Steve Fetter, Stanford University's Centre for International Security and Cooperation, 1999, 'Climate Change and the Transformation of World Energy Supply',

"At the lowest level of sophistication, a potential proliferating state or subnational group using designs and technologies no more sophisticated than those used in first-generation nuclear weapons could build a nuclear weapon from reactor-grade plutonium that would have an assured, reliable yield of one or a few kilotons (and a probable yield significantly higher than that). ... In short, reactor-grade plutonium is weapons-usable, whether by unsophisticated proliferators or by advanced nuclear weapon states."
− US Department of Energy, 1997, Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation, 'Final Nonproliferation and Arms Control Assessment of Weapons-Usable Fissile Material Storage and Excess Plutonium Disposition Alternatives',

"On the basis of advice provided to it by its Member States and by the Standing Advisory Group on Safeguards Implementation (SAGSI), the Agency considers high burn-up reactor-grade plutonium and in general plutonium of any isotopic composition with the exception of plutonium containing more than 80 percent Pu-238 to be capable of use in a nuclear explosive device. There is no debate on the matter in the Agency's Department of Safeguards."
− Hans Blix, then IAEA Director General, 1 November 1990, Letter to the Nuclear Control Institute, Washington DC. See also Nuclear Fuel, 12 November 1990, 'Blix Says IAEA Does Not Dispute Utility of Reactor-Grade Pu for Weapons'.

"There is clear scientific evidence behind the assertion that nuclear weapons can be made from weapons-grade and reactor-grade plutonium."
− US Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation, US Department of Energy, quoted in Steven Dolley, 28 March 1997, 'Using warhead plutonium as reactor fuel does not make it unusable in nuclear bombs',

NPT PrepCom highlights frustrations over disarmament and Middle East (Ray Acheson)

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Ray Acheson

The second preparatory committee (PrepCom) of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) met in Geneva from 22 April to 3 May 2013.[1] The key issues facing states parties at this meeting included the nuclear weapon possessors' failure to comply with their disarmament obligations; the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons; and the failure to convene a 2012 conference on a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) free zone in the Middle East.

The PrepCom did not resolve any of these issues, nor did it make headway towards ensuring success at the next review conference. A walk-out by the Egyptian delegation in the middle of the PrepCom session, along with the mounting frustration from many non-nuclear weapon states with the failure to achieve nuclear disarmament, have indicated stress on the NPT regime as it approaches the 2015 review conference.

The second PrepCom marks the half-way point in the treaty's review cycle. It is an opportunity for states parties to assess implementation of the treaty and related commitments. It also a chance to start looking ahead to next review conference, to think about what measures will be necessary to advance the treaty's objectives. However, most of the PrepCom consisted of statements making the usual complaints or demands. Reviews of what has been implemented so far were provided more by civil society groups than states parties.[2] Aside from one session devoted to proposals for institutional reform, states did not focus on elaborating next steps to improve a situation that almost everyone agrees is becoming dangerously untenable.

This is unfortunately typical for NPT meetings, because the review cycle is a process that favours the status quo by pitting possible forward momentum against maintaining the "stability" of the regime. This "status quo" is the indefinite retention of nuclear weapons by five countries. China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States, also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (P5), feel that article VI of the treaty allows them to possess those weapons for now as long as they eventually plan to get rid of them. Countries that push for concrete progress in fulfilling the disarmament-related objectives of the treaty are told they are upsetting "strategic balance".

Fortunately, this attitude is seen as increasingly unacceptable to the majority of states parties. Just two months ago in Oslo, Norway, 127 governments, several UN agencies, and many civil society representatives took a close look at what would happen if a nuclear weapon were detonated today.[3] The overwhelming conclusion was that no agency or government would be able to effectively respond to the humanitarian and environmental catastrophe that would be created by the use of nuclear weapons.

In the first few days of the PrepCom, 80 NPT states parties signed a joint statement condemning the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. "It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances," argued the 80 states. "We owe it to future generations to work together to rid our world of the threat posed by nuclear weapons."[4]

The P5 and their nuclear allies largely ignored the joint statement. The P5 countries say that the consequences of nuclear weapons are so well known there is no longer any point in discussing them. Some of the P5 allies, which incorporate nuclear weapons into their security doctrines either through bilateral relations or through NATO, also distanced themselves from the joint statement. Japan refused to sign because it stated that nuclear weapons should not be used under any circumstances.[5] Australia and Sweden refused to sign without commenting about which specific language they objected. Sweden's foreign minister, in an impromptu call to a morning radio show, dismissed the statement as "no big deal" and the 80 co-sponsors as "not really serious states".[6] Some NATO countries, including all of those that host US nuclear weapons on their soil, refused to sign because they saw it as "contradictory" to their NATO obligations. This position is clearly not an official NATO line, given that four NATO countries (Denmark, Iceland, Luxembourg, and Norway) saw fit to sign the joint statement.

The drama over the humanitarian statement is merely indicative of the broader problem with the NPT. There is a growing discord between the P5 and their nuclear allies on the one hand, and everyone else on the other. While most governments are adjusting their strategies and politics to the 21st century, the P5 and their nuclear allies lag behind.

Throughout the PrepCom, many governments voiced disappointment and frustration with the lack of tangible progress on nuclear disarmament. They expressed concern that the P5 do not appear to be implementing the commitments they agreed to in 2010, or their commitment to nuclear disarmament. The most tangible effort the P5 have reported on from their joint meetings since 2010 is the development of a glossary of key nuclear terms.[7] This has created some consternation among states parties that already feel that it has taken far too long for the P5 to engage seriously with their disarmament obligations.

Middle East
Another point of serious contention at the PrepCom was the failure to convene a conference on the establishment of a WMD free zone in the Middle East. This conference was supposed to be convened in 2012 in Finland. However, the US announced the meeting's postponement in December 2012, leading fellow conference co-sponsor Russia as well as the Arab League to denounce this decision. The Arab states made it clear at the PrepCom that they consider this to be a violation of the commitment made at the 2010 NPT review conference and that they expect the conference to be held as soon as possible in 2013.

The facilitator of the conference, Jaakko Laajava of Finland, has proposed holding multilateral consultations on the topic as soon as possible.[8] The Arab League questioned the lack of agenda and framework for these consultations. It said it was ready to participate in such consultations if it was held under UN auspices and with an "appropriate" agenda attached to the invitation.[9] The US, on the other hand, stated that an "agenda simply cannot be dictated from outside the region − it must be consensual among the States who must live with the agenda".[10]

To highlight its frustration with the lack of progress in fulfilling the commitment related to the WMD free zone − a commitment which stems back to the 1995 NPT review conference − the Egyptian delegation walked-out of the PrepCom after the facilitator gave his report. The delegation said it cannot wait forever for the start of this process. More broadly, it expressed frustration with making concessions for agreements that are never implemented − and then still being expected to comply with those concessions.[11]

While Egypt is the first country to walk out of an NPT meeting on this basis, it is certainly not alone in experiencing this frustration. Thus all NPT states parties have the responsibility to address this problem.

Egypt's walk-out, regardless of one's position on the matter, hinted at the potential fragility of the NPT. It made the point that the NPT regime is not so sacred that it can relegate important issues to an indefinite holding pattern. The 2015 review conference will be a crucial moment in the NPT's history. Will the WMD free zone conference have been held by then? Will a process to establish such a zone be underway? Will the P5 really just report on a glossary of definitions, or will they have actually made progress on their obligations made in 2010 and in the treaty itself?


Still Assuring Destruction Forever
Reaching Critical Will, a project of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, has published a new report on nuclear weapon modernisation entitled 'Still Assuring Destruction Forever'. The nuclear weapon states possess approximately 19,500 nuclear weapons and all of them have plans to 'modernise' − upgrade and/or extend the lives of − their weapons. The report includes chapters on the nuclear weapons programs of China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, followed by three thematic chapters addressing international law, divestment, and political will. The report is posted at

Author: Ray Acheson is the Director of Reaching Critical Will, the disarmament program of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). She is editor of the NPT News in Review, produced daily during NPT meetings.

1. for details and documents.
2. Reaching Critical Will's NPT Action Plan Monitoring Report,
3. for details and documents.
5. Yasushi Saito, "Japan refuses to sign international document describing nuclear weapons as inhumane," 25 April 2013,
​6. "Swedish FM attacks signatories of Humanitarian Initiative: 'Not serious states'," International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, 8 May 2013,

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

One year Fukushima: people demand end to nuclear power!
In the weekend of 10-11 March, one year after Fukushima, hundreds of thousands of people took to the street to demonstrate against nuclear power. In Japan, many thousands demanded the abolition of nuclear power; 16,000 in Fukushima, 14,000 in Tokyo and 15,000 in Osaka were the largest demonstrations. In Germany a total of 50,000 people took part in 6 demonstrations; in the UK the largest antinuclear action in over three decades took place near Hinkley Point, where 1,000 people surrounded the nuclear power station and blocked it for 24-hours. In Switzerland 8,000 people demanded the immediate closure of nuclear power plants. In Hong Kong (China), Taipeh (Taiwan), Seoul (South Korea) and many places in North and South America, demonstrations or other actions were held too.

By far the largest demonstration was right in the 'heart of the nuclear beast': in France. Demonstrators in the Rhone valley formed a human chain that stretched for 230 kilometers between Lyon and Avignon. About 60,000 people participated. This is an enormous succes and one of the largest antinuclear demonstrations ever in France. This highlights a shift in public opinion and in a few weeks time presidential elections will be held with one of the two main candidates sceptical about the future importance of nuclear power in France.

The Rhone valley has Europe's highest concentration of nuclear reactors and other nuclear facilities. France's 58 nuclear reactors generate about 75 percent of the country's electricity, making it the world's most nuclear-dependent nation.

Mühleberg: Time to go.
One of the world's oldest nuclear power plants in operation is Mühleberg in the Swiss canton of Bern. A boiling water reactor bought from General Electric and first put into operation in 1972, Mühleberg is aimed at by the Swiss antinuclear movement because of cracks in the vessel around the heart of the reactor. The Würgassen NPP in Germany and Millstone I in the USA were shut down because of the same problem. So when the Swiss Federal Department of Energy gave an unlimited operating license to the Mühlebergs' legal owners (BKW) in 2009, this was seen as a provocation. Neighbors of Mühleberg gathered to attack the decision in court. The city of Geneva, historically antinuclear, as well as other smaller towns gave in all 120,000 fr (100,000 euros) to finance the cost of the appeal. And finally, on March 8, the Federal  Administrative Tribunal released its decision: BKW must shut down Mühleberg by end of June 2013, unless a plan to fix the numerous faults is presented and accepted. Previously, the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Institute released a guarantee stating Mühleberg posed no security threat. The courts' decisions gives a strong blow to this Institute, regularly criticized for its partiality in favor of the nuclear industry. After being at first very surprised by this decision, one can with hindsight acknowledge that the federal court simply took a fresh new look at nuclear safety, new since Fukushima: In Japan too, security authorities told the government that Fukushima Daiichi would resist foreseeable major natural catastrophes...

Five days after the judgment, 8000 demonstrators gathered in front of the old power plant of Muhleberg. BKW has until April 8 to decide whether they will attack the decision in the countries' highest court.

(Update: On March 14, BKW appealed the court ruling on Mühleberg)
Philippe de Rougemont, Sortir du nucléaire Suisse romande, 14 March 2012

DPRK: agreement on suspension of enrichment.
North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) has agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment activities. The DPRK has also agreed to the return of IAEA inspectors to verify and monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment activities at Yongbyon and confirm the disablement of the 5-MW reactor and associated facilities. In return, the US has agreed to meet with the DPRK to finalize administrative details necessary to move forward with the proposed package of 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance "along with the intensive monitoring required for the delivery of such assistance."

This was announced on February 29, after the U.S. delegation returned from Beijing following a third exploratory round of U.S.-DPRK bilateral talks.
Press statement, US Department of State, 29 February 2012.

The mysterious flash near South Africa in 1979.
A new paper written by Leonard Weiss, reviews the history of the September 22, 1979 double flash recorded by the VELA satellite and concludes that the flash was an Israeli nuclear test assisted by South Africa. The paper also relates a personal experience of the author in 1981 while working in the U.S. Senate that reinforces the conclusion. The paper calls for the declassification and release of documents that could remove any lingering uncertainty regarding the event. One of the likely reasons that the U.S. government is withholding the declassification of relevant documents is to assist Israel to maintain its policy of opacity in nuclear affairs, a policy which had its origin in a bargain made with the U.S. during the Nixon presidency, and whose abandonment accompanied by the admission that Israel violated the Limited Test Ban Treaty would create some uncomfortable political fallout for both countries. It is hard to argue that helping Israel in this way contributes to U.S. national security at a time when the U.S. demands openness in the nuclear activities of Iran, North Korea, Syria, and all other countries who may be engaged in clandestine weapon-related nuclear activities.

The Iraq war has shown the harm that can result from the politicization of intelligence in order to support a desired policy outcome whose support by the public would otherwise be problematic. In the case of the VELA event, U.S. administrations on both sides of the political fence have sought to ignore or demote the value of legitimately collected and analysed intelligence information in order to reduce or eliminate pressure to take an action with unpredictable or negative political repercussions. Obfuscating or denigrating hard intelligence data in order to avoid a political problem can be as dangerous to national security and democracy as inventing bogus intelligence in order to smooth the way into a war.

The paper 'Israel’s 1979 Nuclear Test and the U.S. Government’s Attempt to Cover It Up', is available at:

Increasing nonproliferation through nuclear trade

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

The Obama administration, in advanced negotiations on nuclear-cooperation agreements with Jordan and Vietnam, has withdrawn a demand that these countries forgo their rights to produce nuclear fuel, senior U.S. officials said. The policy shift, adopted after an extensive interagency review, drew criticism from some U.S. lawmakers, who charged that it could ease the spread of sensitive nuclear technologies.

A letter from senior US officials signals that the country will continue to seek nuclear trade agreements with conditions on enrichment and reprocessing implemented on a "case-by-case" basis. The letter from deputy energy secretary Daniel Poneman and undersecretary of state for arms control and international security Ellen Tauscher was sent to the administration of President Barack Obama on 10 January. The text of the letter was published by a Global Security Newswire article on 23 January.

The Obama administration in 2009 signed a nuclear-cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates that bound the Arab country not to enrich uranium domestically or reprocess spent plutonium fuel, the two technologies that can be used to produce nuclear weapons.

President Barack Obama cited the U.A.E. agreement as the "gold standard" for future nuclear-cooperation pacts. Washington has used the deal to press Iran over its nuclear program, arguing that Tehran should follow the Emirates and rely on the international market for nuclear fuel.

U.S. officials involved in the policy review said Washington risked losing business for American companies seeking to build nuclear reactors overseas, and could greatly diminish its ability to influence the nonproliferation policies of developing countries. And obviously the Obama administration concluded that most countries wouldn't be willing to follow the U.A.E. model, and that insisting on it would hurt American interests.

The fundamental justification for the decision is that insisting on the standard negatively impacts trade opportunities for U.S. companies, which in turn restricts the country's ability to set non-proliferation conditions: "Nuclear trade carries with it a critical nonproliferation advantage in the form of consent rights, along with other opportunities to influence the nuclear policies of our partners"

But the U.S. is pursuing a range of other tools (Nuclear Suppliers Group and fuel leasing arrangements), to ensure that developing countries seek to purchase nuclear fuel from foreign suppliers rather than developing the technologies needed to produce the fuel themselves.

In addition to negotiations with Jordan and Vietnam, the departments of State and Energy are beginning to renegotiate pacts signed in the 1970s with South Korea and Taiwan that will lapse in the coming years. The agreements, which are legally designated as treaties, require congressional approval.

South Korea is beginning to renegotiate its 1974 nuclear-cooperation agreement with the U.S. South Korean officials argue Seoul needs to use this method to safely dispose of the spent fuel coming from the country's growing nuclear-power industry. The 1974 U.S.-South Korean nuclear cooperation agreement requires U.S. consent if “any irradiated fuel elements containing fuel material received from the United States of America [are to be] altered in form or content.” As a matter of policy, South Korea requests that the United States agree to such activities even if U.S.-origin material is not involved. The cooperation agreement will expire in 2014, however, and South Korea wants to negotiate a new agreement that will give it the same programmatic permission that the United States has given the European Union, Japan, Switzerland, and, with certain conditions, India.

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

U.S. officials fear such a move would undercut efforts to get North Korea to give up its nuclear-weapons program. An agreement with Vietnam that doesn't follow the U.A.E. model could make it harder for the U.S. to get Seoul to accept stringent terms.

U.S. lawmakers are focused on the Jordan negotiation (an agreement is expected at the end of this year), fearing an agreement that allows domestic nuclear-fuel production could have a cascading effect across the Middle East. This is also because the U.A.E.'s pact allows it to renegotiate if another country in the Middle East gains more favorable terms. Saudi Arabia has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. and has echoed Jordan's reservations about giving up its right to enrich uranium, senior Arab diplomats said.

Lawmakers and nonproliferation experts fear more lenient nuclear-cooperation agreements with Jordan and Vietnam could undercut the campaign to contain Iran's nuclear program. "If the U.S. lets Jordan, Vietnam or South Korea make nuclear fuel, you can kiss any attempt to persuade Iran or any other state to forgo fuel making goodbye," said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nuclear Policy Education Center.

Sources: Arms Control Today, Frank von Hippel, March 2010 / Nuclear Policy Education Center, 23 January 2012 / World Nuclear News, 25 January 2012 / Wall Street Journal, 25 January 2012 /


Doomsday clock moves one minute closer to midnight

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

Faced with inadequate progress on nuclear weapons reduction and proliferation, and continuing inaction on climate change, or find safe and sustainable sources of energy - as exemplified by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) announced on January 10 that it has moved the hands of its famous "Doomsday Clock" to five minutes to midnight. The rare bright points the scientists noted were the Arab spring and movement in Russia for greater democracy.

The clock, maintained by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, has been gauging our proximity to global disaster since 1947, using the potent image of a clock counting down the minutes to destruction.

The scientists also noted how Republicans seeking the nomination for presidential candidate, were trying to outdo each other in denying climate science. Their greatest disappointment, however, was the failure of international leaders to rid the world of nuclear weapons, exemplified by what they called "ambiguity about Iran's nuclear power program." Even when Russia and America ratified a new nuclear treaty in 2010, there were still nearly 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world. They warned that the Fukushima meltdown once more exposed the dangers of nuclear power - not just because of technology but because of management failures. After Fukushima, governments also need to think far more carefully about siting nuclear power plants. The stricken plant was too close to the coast and in a seismically active region. "A major question needs to be addressed: "How can complex systems like nuclear power stations be made less susceptible to accidents and errors in judgment," the scientists said in their statement.

On climate change, the scientists warned the global community may be reaching a point of no-return unless there is a push to begin building alternatives to carbon-heavy technologies within the next five years. The Fukushima disaster, the painfully slow pace of the UN's international climate negotiations, and the growing hostility to science punctured the optimism of earlier pronouncements from the Bulletin scientists.

In 2010, the scientists set the clock back from five minutes to six minutes to midnight, amid hopes that the international community was prepared to act on nuclear weapons and climate change. "We all had a sense when we moved the clock in 2010 that we might have a breakthrough," said Kennette Benedict, executive director of the bulletin. "Today there was a real sense that we really need new thinking and we don't have new thinking."

Sources: Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists, press release, 10 January 2012 / Guardian (UK), 10 January 2012
Contact: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1155 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637, USA
Tel: +1 773 382-8057
Mail: kbenedict[at]

The proliferation dangers of centrifuge technology

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Mikael Shirazi and Andreas Persbo

In early April 2011, a nondescript industrial plant 50km west of Tehran, named TABA, came under public scrutiny when it was revealed as being a significant centrifuge manufactur­ing site—apparently unbeknownst to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). As the technology involved has become ever more accessible, centrifuge-driven uranium enrichment has emerged as a significant proliferation risk. It is therefore worthwhile to consider the IAEA’s ability to monitor the construction of these specialized machines.

The ability to monitor the construction of centrifuge-driven uranium enrichment is especially illustrative of the added value of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol to the process of confirming the exclu­sively peaceful nature of countries’ nuclear energy program­s. The Additional Protocol is a powerful legal instru­ment developed in the 1990s to complement member states’ Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements (CSAs). This article considers the proliferation risks involved in centrifuge pro­duction and the merits of the Additional Protocol with respect to two countries, Iran and Brazil, neither of whom implement the updated safeguards techniques, but who both possess the ability and will to manufacture centrifuges.

It is often considered that the most difficult stage in the production of nuclear weapons is acquiring the necessary fissile material: either plutonium or highly enriched ura­nium (HEU). In the past, acquiring these materials usually involved building and running a nuclear reactor (to make plutonium), or a gaseous diffusion plant (for HEU). Both required very substantial industrial capabilities. However, with the spread of gas centrifuge technology in the past three decades, the potential route to HEU has become both significantly less challenging—and less conspicuous.

Like the diffusion method, the gas centrifuge technique separates the two isotopes that make up uranium, concen­trating the crucial U-235 from the very slightly heavier U-238. In nature, uranium consists almost entirely of U-238 (at around 99.3 per cent) and therefore requires processing in order for the weapons-usable U-235 to be separated out. To be useful in ‘light water’ reactors, the raw material must be converted into uranium hexafluoride gas and subse­quently ‘enriched’ in the separation process to consist of 3-5 per cent U-235 particles (known as low enriched uranium, or LEU). Natural uranium can be used in other reactor types after some processing. Nuclear weapons require HEU at about 90 per cent enrichment. Enriching with the centrifuge process involves injecting uranium hexafluoride gas into cylinders rotating tens of thousands of times per minute. The effect of centrifugal force pushes the U-238 closer to the outer wall of the machine, with U-235 particles tending towards the center, which is then siphoned off. Each ma­chine can only perform a very small amount of enrichment. An effective enrichment plant therefore requires large num­bers of centrifuges linked together in so-called ‘cascades’.

The older gaseous diffusion system requires thousands more painstaking steps, which take place in immense facilities using significant amounts of energy, and emitting large amounts of heat. In contrast, centrifuges on average perform the same amount of enrichment in significantly fewer steps, consuming smaller amounts of electricity. Centrifuge fa­cilities therefore tend to be less conspicuous. They are typically much more compact, without the easily identifi­able electrical and cooling systems associated with gaseous diffusion plants, or heat emissions detectable to infrared imaging systems. It may be possible to trace uranium hex­afluoride gas accidentally released from a centrifuge enrich­ment plant, but these emissions are normally very small.

The number of centrifuges required to produce enough fis­sile material for a weapon depends on the design and effi­ciency of the centrifuges themselves—measured in kilograms of ‘separative work units’ per year (kg SWU/yr). This can range from lower than two kg SWU/yr for less advanced models to machines (currently confined to Europe or the United States) operating at 100 kg SWU/yr and above.

Centrifuge production and the Additional Protocol
As a rule of thumb, it requires about 100,000-120,000 kg SWU to produce enough LEU per year for an average sized nuclear reactor. In contrast, it requires only 6,000 kg SWU to produce enough HEU for one weapon a year (known as one ‘significant quantity’, defined by the IAEA as 27.8 kg of 90 per cent enriched uranium).

The potency of gas centrifuge technology in terms of pro­liferation risks is therefore clear: these are machines capable of producing ‘significant quantities’ of fissile material in relatively low numbers and with a small footprint, thus making them a good bet for states wanting to develop nu­clear weapons-usable material without being detected. However, centrifuges are complicated machines, requiring very specialized technical capabilities. One of the major difficulties is that even the slowest centrifuges spin at rates requiring unusually durable materials—ranging from alu­minium alloys for older machines and maraging steel (a particularly strong type of steel) to modern ultra-strong carbon composites. These materials require precision ma­chine tools to shape and strengthen them. The high-speed motors and their variable-frequency power supplies (which adapt the electrical current available from the power grid into an output of much higher frequency) also need to be specifically adapted for use in centrifuges.

Centrifugal safeguards standards
Under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), non-nuclear-weapon states’ obligations on centrifuge manufacturing fall under two IAEA safeguards regimes: those with Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements (CSAs), and those who further implement the strengthened measures of the Additional Protocol to their CSAs.

Though each non-nuclear-weapon state’s CSA is individual, all follow the form and content of a standard text, ‘IN­FCIRC/153’, which obliges a country to provide information on all nuclear material and facilities, and to allow agency inspectors to verify these declarations. The resulting verifi­cation regime focuses largely on nuclear material account­ancy to check the accuracy of declared materials in declared facilities. According to Article 8 of INFCIRC/153, this guarantees the IAEA information on only those facilities ‘relevant to safeguarding such material’. The definition of ‘facility’ is articulated in Article 106 to include reactors, conversion plants, fabrication plants, reprocessing plants, isotope separation plants, separate storage installations, or any location where significant amounts of nuclear material is customarily used. As such there are no requirements re­garding centrifuge production facilities. CSAs were designed in an age when centrifuge enrichment technology was still in its infancy. The underlying assumption was that the production of HEU through conspicuous gaseous diffusion plants would be readily detectable, and that the proliferation risk came instead from the diversion of material from de­clared facilities.

With the discovery of Saddam Hussein’s secret nuclear weapons program in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, it became clear that it was necessary to address pos­sible clandestine uranium enrichment—with centrifuge production being an important component. Partly as a result of this discovery, the Additional Protocol was developed and opened for voluntary signature in 1997. It is a legal instru­ment that provides the IAEA with more information and wider access rights, thereby strengthening its ability to verify that a country is not producing material for nuclear weapon purposes.

The document ‘INFCIRC/540’ describes the standard ob­ligations required under an AP. In contrast with IN­FCIRC/153, this document specifies in Article 2.a.(iv) that the participating state must provide the IAEA with a descrip­tion of the scale of operations involved in centrifuge produc­tion. According to Annex I of INFCIRC/540, centrifuge production is described as the manufacture of centrifuge rotor tubes or the assembly of gas centrifuges. These ac­tivities are further detailed in Annex II, which describes the purpose, general design, and component set of gas centri­fuges. Such constituent parts include: rotor assemblies, rotor tubes, bellows, baffles, top and bottom caps, mag­netic suspension bearings, molecular pumps, motor stators, centrifuge housings, and scoops, among others.

As well as indigenous manufacturing capabilities, the pro­tocol also brings into focus the other way of acquiring centrifuges (or their constituent parts)—import from for­eign trade partners. Article 2.a.(ix) of INFCIRC/540 outlines the state’s responsibility, when requested, to provide infor­mation to the IAEA on the identity, quantity, and location of the intended use of all the materials and equipment listed in Annex II that have been acquired from abroad. The information generated by these requirements enables the IAEA to develop a fuller understanding of a member state’s uranium enrichment program. It thus becomes pos­sible to draw comparisons between centrifuge production rates and centrifuge deployment in declared facilities: for instance, if more centrifuges are manufactured than de­ployed, the IAEA will be able to flag the discrepancy for further investigation.

The CSA and the AP differ not only in terms of the infor­mation flow that they can generate but also in the level of access for inspectors. According to Article 76.a of the model CSA text (INFCIRC/153), the IAEA is guaranteed access only to ‘any location where the initial report or any inspections carried out in connection with it indicate that nuclear material is present.’ There is a provision in Article 73 of INFCIRC/153 for ‘special inspections’, which give the agency the right to visit ‘locations in addition to the access specified’—a vague definition which John Carlson, a mem­ber of VERTIC’s International Verification Consultants Network, interprets as ‘anywhere in the state’ if there are ‘circumstances giving rise to suspicion.’ This could conceiv­ably include certain centrifuge manufacturing plants. His­torically, though, the special inspection tool (which, accord­ing to Article 77, must be obtained in agreement with the inspected state party) has been of little value. It has only been invoked by the IAEA on one previous occasion. This was against North Korea in 1992, and access was then denied. INFCIRC/540 (the model Additional Protocol) makes an important contribution in this area by outlining a system of ‘Complementary Access’ to inspectors. This expands the rights of the Agency to make visits to centrifuge manufac­turing plants according to Article 4.a.(ii), for the purpose of resolving ‘a question relating to the correctness and com­pleteness of the information provided [...] or to resolve an inconsistency relating to that information.’ There is no need to obtain agreement from the party and notification of a visit can be as short as 24 hours.

Though INFCIRC/540 specifies that the IAEA ‘shall not mechanistically or systematically seek to verify’ information provided by the state, its ability to make informed judgments about a proliferation risk is substantially increased, and a state’s corresponding ability to shield important in­formation from it is substantially diminished. With respect to the monitoring of centrifuge production, the salient points of the Additional Protocol are Article 2.a.(iv)’s en­shrined principle of information provision as a matter of routine, and Article 4.a.(ii)’s enshrined principle of Com­plementary Access as of right.

This has important conse­quences, explored below, for states that produce centri­fuges, as is made clear by the examples of Iran and Brazil, both of whom possess the indigenous capacities to manu­facture these machines, but neither of which currently implement the Additional Protocol.

Iran: AP, the option-limiter
The controversy and uncertainties surrounding Iran’s ura­nium enrichment program are well-known and well-documented. The Islamic Republic has signed an AP, but has not yet ratified it. Nevertheless, Iran implemented the protocol on a voluntary basis between 2003 and 2006, but cut off cooperation in retaliation to the IAEA Board of Governors vote to report Iran to the UN Security Council. During this time the Agency learnt a great deal about the Iranian nuclear infrastructure; since then, however, relevant knowledge about centrifuge production capabilities has deteriorated markedly.

It is therefore not difficult to appreciate the interest gener­ated, when, at a press conference in Washington, DC, an Iranian opposition group announced the discovery of the previously-undocumented role of a facility named TABA in producing centrifuge parts for Iran’s controversial uranium enrichment program. TABA apparently manufactures ‘casing, magnets, molecular pumps, composite tubes, bel­lows, and centrifuge bases’ primarily for the current gen­eration of machines—but also for emerging next-generation centrifuges. Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Tehran’s envoy to the IAEA, refuted any allegations of concealment, pointing out that Iran’s safeguards obligations did not necessitate any provision of information about the plant to the IAEA. Rather, they required only the ‘inspection of centrifuge machines.’ This is indeed broadly in line with the require­ments of the CSA as described above, which strictly speak­ing concerns itself only with the nuclear materials flowing within the machines.

The disclosure, however, highlights the proliferation risk resulting from the limited reach of the CSA. TABA is lo­cated in a nondescript industrial park and offers few distin­guishing features. The facility’s generic name—a Farsi ab­breviation of ‘Towlid Abzar Boreshi Iran’, meaning ‘Iran Cutting Tools Company’—also gives little away. This lack of transparency and openness over their centrifuge manu­facturing capabilities offers the Iranian authorities the pos­sibility—should they so choose—of secretly sending cen­trifuges to a undeclared enrichment installation to produce weapons-grade fissile material, whilst appearing to fulfill their safeguards obligations.

Enrichment facilities can be relatively small and largely indistinguishable from other industrial plants, or outright hidden as in the case of Iran’s underground Qom enrichment facility. The Qom plant was uncovered in September 2009 as a result of Western intelligence-gathering operations; its existence was previously a secret. In an atmosphere so fun­damentally degraded by a lack of trust between the princi­pal actors, the possibility that any small and inconspicuous enrichment facility could be discretely producing weapons-usable material is a serious consideration.

It is a possibility that Iran’s 2007 decision to suspend an essential commitment to the IAEA regarding the declaration of new facilities has made concerns over undeclared facilities significantly more acute. The commitment in question is set out in the modified Code 3.1 of Iran’s Subsidiary Ar­rangements, to which it acceded in 2003 and which the CSA specifies cannot be unilaterally modified without the IAEA’s consent. The result of the suspension, which the IAEA re­portedly did not agree to, is that Iran has reverted to an outdated requirement that any new facility need only be declared six months prior to the introduction of nuclear material, rather than as soon as the decision to construct it is taken. The option therefore exists for Iranian authorities to begin construction on sites that can house centrifuge cascades, and even to outfit them with this equipment, without violating any of its safeguards obligations. Of course, if undeclared enrichment begins, this is no longer true. But many of the crucial steps taken to get to this point in op­erating a clandestine HEU-producing program (the undeclared industrial development of centrifuges and their deployment in undeclared enrichment plants) will have been taken with little risk.

The power of the AP is to close off such windows of op­portunity and thereby build confidence among countries. INFCIRC/540 states clearly the IAEA’s right to be supplied with information regarding centrifuge production facilities, and its right to access these facilities. The result is an im­portant reversal of responsibility, away from the IAEA hav­ing to press for data and onto the state itself to provide the information in a routine manner.

Brazil: AP, an option limited
The Brazilian centrifuge program began as a covert project in 1979 at the behest of the military government that dominated Brazilian political life until 1985. A research team, under the direction of the Brazilian navy, developed over the next decade a centrifuge technology in which rotors spin not on the usual metal pin bearings, but on electromag­netic bearings, allowing the rotating and fixed parts in the machine to operate without any point of contact. This is designed to eliminate sources of friction which reduce ef­ficiency and durability, and recent enrichment capacities have been placed at 10 kg SWU/yr. Construction of these machines takes place at the navy’s Aramar Experimental Center, outside São Paulo. Brazil has ambitious plans to attain an enrichment capacity at its main deployment site at Resende, near Rio de Janeiro, of 300,000 kg SWU/yr by 2014, and up to one million kg SWU/yr by 2030.

The military origins of the program, its secrecy before the advent of democratic government, a late accession to the NPT in 1998, and the 2005 admission by a former president that Brazil had previously sought to develop nu­clear weapons to counter competition from Argentina all point to the need for a robust verification regime that instills confidence in the peaceful ambitions of the program as it exists today. Currently, this work is done through the 1991 Quadripartite Safeguards Agreement, which joins together Brazil, Argentina, the IAEA and ABACC (the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials) to mandate the application of nuclear safeguards. Analogous to the CSA, this ad hoc arrangement does not offer the extended measures provided by the AP, as described above, with the exception of some provisions for unan­nounced inspections. Monitoring, performed by both ABACC and the IAEA, focuses on flows of nuclear mate­rial and provides access only to those facilities through which significant amounts of such material passes. It seems likely that another possible route to fissile material may be opened up with the Brazilian navy’s development of nuclear-pow­ered submarines, in which uranium enriched as high as 10 per cent by centrifuges at Aramar will power a reactor out­side the reach of safeguards. Although the US has made efforts to persuade Brazil to give up on these plans, it was not successful, and negotiations with the IAEA to establish appropriate verification measures are ongoing. This is an eventuality that neither the CSA nor AP address directly, and for which entirely new arrangements will need to be developed.

Despite these substantial capabilities and ambitious plans, implementation of the Additional Protocol has been reso­lutely dismissed by Brazil, with the country’s 2008 Na­tional Defense Strategy rejecting it until further progress in disarmament is made by the NPT nuclear weapons coun­tries. Brazilian officials have offered a variety of other rea­sons—revolving primarily around an unwillingness to allow inspectors access to the commercially sensitive electromag­netic bearing technology, and the fact that it is an unneces­sary measure in a country with a solid non-proliferation record which constitutionally prohibits nuclear weapons development (Brazil has also joined the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which establishes a Latin American nuclear-weapon-free zone, and ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which Iran has only signed). Analysts suspect the main reasons for opposition are military in nature, with the navy unwilling to grant extended access rights to the centrifuge manufactur­ing facilities in Aramar that are co-located with non-nucle­ar submarine R&D activities. This is despite the fact that Article 7 of the AP outlines clearly a state’s right to request ‘managed access’ to protect proprietary information, and that the IAEA Department of Safeguards (in charge of the practical application of safeguards) has had regular access to sensitive technologies throughout its history without leaking them.

Many of the same clandestine enrichment options are there­fore as open to Brazil as they are to Iran - without, how­ever, the associated IAEA reports, UN resolutions or Secu­rity Council sanctions. Most observers, such as Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, or Con­doleeza Rice during her term as US Secretary of State, seem not to question Brazil’s commitment against nuclear pro­liferation. Ad hoc measures, such as the Quadripartite Agreement and a future system to monitor enriched ura­nium production for nuclear powered submarines, are deemed to be imperfect but adequate safeguards measures - despite the lack of scrutiny on centrifuge production at Aramar. Crucially though, this type of safeguards develop­ment can only occur in an atmosphere with a certain level of trust; such as that which generally characterizes the IAEA’s relationship with Brazil.

One of the most important benefits of AP implementation is to lessen the impact of the wider political atmosphere. Should relations take a turn for the worse, the principles of information provision as a matter of routine and Comple­mentary Access as of right allow for confident conclusions to be drawn over the use of centrifuge technology regardless of political context. With the IAEA thus somewhat shield­ed by the AP from the vagaries of international tensions over policy and intent, it is able to focus with greater free­dom on states’ technical centrifuge capabilities, allowing for more reliable judgments on proliferation risk to be made. The effectiveness of the IAEA’s verification regime is dimin­ished, however, by the selective and voluntary implementa­tion of AP requirements in ‘suspect states’—much as the theoretically powerful CSA Special Inspection tool is often rendered impotent in practice. Universalization of the Ad­ditional Protocol should therefore be a central goal in strengthening the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Source and contact: Mikael Shirazi and Andreas Persbo, Trust & Verify 133, April-June 2011.
VERTIC (the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre) is an independent, non-profit making charitable organization. Established in 1986, VERTIC supports the development, implementation and verification of international agreements as well as initiatives in related areas. It can be reached: Development House, 56-64 Leonard Street
London EC2A 4LT, United Kingdom.
Tel: +44 20 7065 0880

Proliferation & the 'Nuclear Revival': taking stock, managing concerns

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Justin Alger

The so-called ‘nuclear revival’ is considered by some observ­ers to be the next major challenge for the nuclear non-proliferation regime. It is considered by some to set in motion the rapid diffusion of nuclear technology to states in volatile regions, namely North Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. It is, some argue, likely to cause these states to engage in ‘nuclear hedging’, that is, the deliberate stock­piling of nuclear capacity and expertise to keep open the option of quickly building a nuclear weapon if security conditions take a turn for the worse. Iran’s behavior, in particular, is seen as the potential catalyst for a nuclear ‘tip­ping point’, ‘cascade’ or ‘proliferation epidemic’ in the Middle East. The safeguards system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is already financially strained and is said to be incapable of handling the rapid influx of new nuclear facilities that comes with a nuclear revival. The non-proliferation outlook for this predicted revival has so far been, to say the least, rather pessimistic.

The pessimism of some in the non-proliferation commu­nity is juxtaposed by the extreme optimism of nuclear en­ergy advocates with regard to the extent of nuclear energy’s resurgence. The IAEA, for example, projects in its high-end scenario that nuclear energy generation will increase from its current 372 gigawatts electric (GWe) to 807 GWe by 2030. The World Nuclear Association’s (WNA) high-end scenario predicts 1203 GWe of nuclear generating capacity by the same year. The Massachusetts Institute of Technol­ogy’s (MIT) 2003 study predicted 1,000 GWe of nuclear by 2050, but in 2009 said that this was ‘less likely’ than they initially anticipated.

Historical projections for nuclear power capacity have in­variably been overly optimistic. For example, the IAEA projected that during the 1980s—when more reactors were connected to the grid than any other decade—there would be 14 new countries using nuclear power with a combined low-end predicted capacity of 52 GWe by 1989. As it turns out, the actual capacity of these countries by 1989 was just shy of 9 GWe, nearly 6 GWe of which belonged to South Korea alone, with reactors in only 4 of the 14 countries. However, the ability of the IAEA to make accurate projec­tions is dependent on the predictions of its member states, which are often overly optimistic for political reasons. Past predictions, be they from the IAEA, governments or others have almost always been wrong.

The reality is that ten years into the forecasted ‘nuclear re­vival’ neither the optimistic projections for nuclear energy growth nor the pessimistic predictions for the non-prolif­eration regime’s ability to cope appear to be accurate. Of course, the lack of any significant increase in nuclear en­ergy production means that the predicted burden on the non-proliferation regime has not materialized, but the pes­simism is unfounded regardless. Countries in which new nuclear build is taking place, or is expected to, are gener­ally not considered proliferation threats because they are either existing nuclear weapon states, or already have well established nuclear industries and a demonstrated apathy towards possessing nuclear weapons of their own, like Canada or Japan.

The main proliferation concern -potential new entrants in volatile regions- have shown little rigour in pursuing their nuclear energy ambitions. The Survey of Emerging Nu­clear Energy States (SENES) of the Nuclear Energy Futures (NEF) Project -a partnership between the Centre for In­ternational Governance Innovation (CIGI) and the Cana­dian Centre for Treaty Compliance (CCTC), Carleton University -currently lists 34 states pursuing nuclear en­ergy. Of these, only Iran has actually made significant headway in the past decade to connect a nuclear power reactor to its electrical grid, but it began its ongoing quest to do so under the Shah in the 1970s. All states pursuing nuclear power will face some problems of cost, industrial bottlenecks, personnel constraints and nuclear waste, but aspiring states face unique challenges of their own. Since many of these states are poorer, less developed countries, they often lack the institutional capacity, physical infrastruc­ture and finances to support a large-scale, multi-billion dollar nuclear power plant project.

The risk, or concern, is that these new states will obtain the expertise in nuclear engineering and related disciplines that would allow them to go on to eventually develop nuclear weapons, most notably in the form of highly-trained scien­tists. Though the relationship between nuclear energy and weapons is complex, a nuclear power programme is none­theless a potential stepping stone toward weapons develop­ment, and also a potentially highly effective cover for mask­ing nefarious intent. Many fear that Iran is using its nu­clear power programme for exactly that reason.

Despite these fears, if most aspiring nuclear energy states are not making any real progress towards acquiring nuclear energy then it goes almost without saying that the associ­ated proliferation challenges of a nuclear revival are much less likely to materialize. This means that the burden on the IAEA and its safeguards system may not be as profound as many might expect.

IAEA safeguards
That the predicted revival in nuclear energy has not fully materialized, however, should not be taken as an indication that the IAEA, or its safeguards, are any less important. The humbler scale and pace of nuclear energy expansion still means an increase in the number of nuclear power reactors, increased trade and transport and perhaps more states with sensitive nuclear fuel cycle technologies. As new facilities are built, the IAEA will need to expand on its existing safe­guards capacity.

The post-Gulf War emergence of the Additional Protocol as the highest standard of verification for the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has gone a long way to improving the effectiveness of the safeguards system. It is a step closer to the ‘anytime, anywhere’ verification that was envisaged -but not enshrined- in the IAEA Statute. It is only sensible, then, that the first step in improving the cur­rent state of safeguards is to try to increase the number of states implementing Additional Protocols, which as of September 2010 stood at 102. Regrettably, those states that do not have an Additional Protocol in force include 18 of the states in the SENES project.

Interest by these states in technical cooperation from the IAEA and from nuclear suppliers may be just the opportu­nity needed to convince them that an Additional Protocol is both worthwhile and important. The United Arab Emir­ates (UAE) seems to be setting an example, agreeing to have an Additional Protocol in place as a condition of supply in its nuclear cooperation agreement with the US. However, the Additional Protocol is not likely to become an absolute requirement for nuclear cooperation in the near future. Developing countries and particularly prominent non-aligned countries already feel overburdened by safeguards, and many consider this as an imposition beyond what is already expected of them by the NPT, seeing it as a form of inequality or even as a way of depriving them of technology. (italic added, WISE)

As important as the Additional Protocol is, attempting to make it mandatory may be unproductive. Nuclear suppli­ers may, however, be able to incentivize the adoption of Additional Protocols through measures such as increased cooperation, assistance programmes and training, rather than through the imposition of punitive steps such as technology denial.

IAEA safeguards and nuclear export controls are an impor­tant part of the non-proliferation regime, and are effective in ensuring that states are responsible with their nuclear technology and material. They have proven invaluable in helping deter states that might otherwise consider the pursuit of nuclear weapons. These supply-side measures, though effective non-proliferation measures, are not as important as the reality that most states today simply do not want nuclear weapons. The demand, except in increas­ingly rare instances, is just not there, and the IAEA’s rela­tively recent changes to its safeguards philosophy is perhaps in part a reflection of that.

For states in which the Agency has sufficient confidence that all nuclear activities taking place are intended for purely peaceful purposes, the IAEA’s ‘integrated safeguards’ system streamlines monitoring activities, thereby allowing it to allocate resources more effectively to states with problem­atic nuclear programmes like Iran. It is also shifting towards what it calls information-driven safeguards, a more holistic approach to verification that involves analyzing information beyond traditional accounting methods, including unde­clared activities and intelligence information provided by states. These two initiatives are exactly the right kind of efforts that the IAEA needs to make in order to cope with potential increases in the number of nuclear facilities it is responsible for safeguarding.

The IAEA itself is a veritable bargain for developed states, which primarily view it as a verification body. The Agency’s 2010 budget was US$444m, with an additional target of US$158m in extra-budgetary contributions. To give an ex­ample of the return on investment that states receive for their money, in 2008 the IAEA had 237 safeguards agree­ments in place with 163 states covering 1,131 facilities, and conducted 2,036 on-site inspections.

The problems currently faced by the IAEA, revival or not, revolve primarily around resources, with the IAEA hampered by budgetary constraints imposed on it by many member states. If the number of new nuclear facilities is to increase even at a gradual pace, the IAEA will struggle to cope fi­nancially.

As former IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei cogently put it to the Board of Governors in 2009: ‘I will be cheating world public opinion to be creating the impres­sion that we are doing what we’re supposed to do, when we know we don’t have the money to do it.’ Dr ElBaradei and a 2008 Commission of Eminent Persons both recom­mended a doubling of the budget by 2020 to account for the increasing safeguards burden placed on the Agency as new facilities are built. Such a doubling would probably be wise, and will certainly go a long way to assuage any endur­ing concerns about a possible nuclear revival, if member states can be convinced of its necessity.

Even when the IAEA’s increasingly effective verification system successfully detects cases of non-compliance, inter­national responses to them are not always effective. So far, determining the form that these responses take has been done on a somewhat ad hoc basis and with mixed results ranging from economic sanctions, military strikes and Se­curity Council-mandated decommissioning programmes. Nuclear hedging presents an additional challenge: even if countries are pursuing nuclear power to hedge against re­gional rivals it is difficult to divine true intent because the technologies involved are inherently dual-use. Iran has done well so far to keep much of the world in doubt about its ultimate aim, despite being recently caught hiding a secret enrichment facility near Qom. Thankfully, Iran’s behavior appears to be the exception rather than the norm.

Implications for non-proliferation
It is probably inevitable that at least a few new states will succeed in their ambitions to acquire nuclear power. The report of the CIGI-CCTC NEF Project, The Future of Nuclear Energy to 2030 and Its Implications for Safety, Security and Nonproliferation details the numerous con­straints standing in the way of a substantive nuclear revival. In doing so, it identifies those aspiring states that are most likely to overcome those constraints and succeed in their nuclear ambitions, as Iran is poised to do. Though most aspiring states have so far only taken the easy steps towards acquiring nuclear power, the report identifies several that have the potential to make significant headway by 2030, namely: Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Turkey, the UAE and Vietnam.

The problem with many of the commonly used terms such as ‘tipping point’ or ‘proliferation cascade’ is that they in­evitably falter at the level of the individual state. It is simple enough to imagine strategic scenarios in which a domino effect leads to many new nuclear-armed states, but it is dif­ficult to identify individual states that would actually follow such a course in a world increasingly characterized by eco­nomic and social integration.

Egypt is a prime example. Not only is it one of the aspiring nuclear energy states that has the potential to succeed in its plans, but it is frequently referred to as a ‘usual suspect’ in the proliferation context because of its long and compli­cated nuclear history, including a minor reporting failure in 2004 that was eventually put down to a lack of clarity over what was required of it under its IAEA safeguards agreement. Egypt has a poor relationship with the unde­clared nuclear-armed state of Israel, including violent clashes in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Despite this violence, though, Egypt never devoted resources to the serious pursuit of nuclear weapons to counter the Israeli arsenal, nor did Israel threaten to use its own against Egypt. It would be ahistorical to assume that Egypt, or indeed other Middle Eastern states, would automatically follow suit were Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. If this logic applies to Egypt it also applies to the less conflict-prone states in the Middle East and elsewhere as well.

The proliferation problem that the expansion of nuclear energy to new states poses to the non-proliferation regime is essentially unchanged from what it has always been: de­tecting and dealing with rare cases of NPT non-compliance as they arise. It is not about managing the rapid influx of new nuclear-capable states eager for a nuclear weapons ca­pability. Between the unlikelihood of a significant nuclear revival, increasing recognition of the IAEA’s worth and need for resources, and the genuine apathy that most states feel toward nuclear weapons, in terms of non-proliferation, nuclear energy’s resurgence may not be as alarming as might initially have appeared to be the case.

Justin Alger is a researcher at the Canadian Centre for Treaty Compliance (CCTC) at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. He has worked on nuclear energy research for the past four years as a primary researcher on the Nuclear En­ergy Futures Project and as a part of his graduate studies. He holds a Master’s in International Affairs from Carleton University, and an Honours Bachelor’s in History from McMaster University.
First published in:  Trust & Verify, July-September 2010. VERTIC, Development House, 56–64 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4LT, United Kingdom

About this article
Although this is an interesting article -the reason why we publish it in the first place- we have some remarks with the overall message. The reason that proliferation problems are not as problematic as foreseen ten years ago, is only because of the failure of the nuclear revival, and is no proof for the argument that nuclear power has less proliferation problems than expected.

This article considers problems that come with nuclear power have to be solved without looking at the cause (nuclear power): it is focused at solving the symptoms, not the cause; it sees nuclear power as something inevitable. That is maybe understandable from his point of view (it is 'simply something that exists' and has to be dealt with), but not something the antinuclear power movement will accept.

The last remark we want to make is about the "reality that most states today simply do not want nuclear weapons".  Latent proliferation (having the technical know how, the technology and materials) has always been seen as equally problematic as horizontal (more countries) or vertical (more installations, material & technology in same number of countries) proliferation. Horizontal proliferation is only one political decision away from latent proliferation. And the fact that such decisions haven't been made until now, does not mean much for the future. "No demand for nuclear weapons" can change rapidly and an almost autonomous development can reverse that.

To end; it is clear, and it follows also from this article, that nuclear power and the dangers concerned with it, increases global inequality: some countries are allowed to do things others aren't. And IAEA making use of  "intelligence information provided by states" will rather increase that problem.

(WISE Amsterdam)

Nuclear energy decreases world stability and increases inequality

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

Jordanians are wondering why the United States is opposing efforts from Jordan to establish a uranium enrichment program. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and other international accords "guarantee the right of all nations to develop nuclear energy meant for peaceful purposes", which includes uranium enrichment.

Jordan has huge uranium reserves. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has estimated that the country has uranium deposits of nearly 112,000 tons, ranking 11th on the global chart. It has licensed French energy company Areva to extract 2,000 tons of uranium ore annually from its central and southern deserts. A British-Australian company and a Chinese firm are also exploring other regions for deposits.

Jordan Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Khaled Toukan says the country's nuclear project, including uranium enrichment "is not a choice but a national necessity that will guarantee the nation's future."

A Jordanian view:
But the US is opposing uranium enrichment in Jordan. According to the US proposal, Jordan must exchange its uranium for enriched uranium produced in foreign countries, a move that would impose a burdensome expenditure on Jordan. The US is not just trying to impose this restriction on Jordan. In fact, Washington wants to deprive all Arab states of their national and international right to enrich uranium.

Jordan and the US signed a memorandum of understanding on nuclear cooperation in 2008 that guaranteed Jordan's right to enrich uranium. In the same year, Jordan also entered into talks with two US companies for the construction of its first nuclear power plant, and without consultation with any other Arab country, waived its right to enrichment. Saudi Arabia and Egypt will probably also be forced to accept the same fate. However, the main difference is that those two countries both sit atop vast oil reserves.

Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and has remained one of Washington's main unwavering allies in the Middle East. It is referred to as a NATO partner. All these concessions should allow the country to demand its right to enrich uranium, as enumerated in international agreements.

One Jordanian official says the real US policy is to ban foreign enrichment and nuclear fuel production. According to this policy, nuclear programs from the Nile to the Euphrates would be required to be dependent on nuclear fuel exporting countries. In the Middle East, only Israel is allowed to enjoy access to the complete nuclear fuel cycle, and the US is opposed to any efforts that could break this monopoly.

What was that again on nuclear power and independence?

At the moment, Jordan needs to import 95% of its oil and gas needs. In 2007, the nation of 7 million people spent US$3.2 billion to buy oil. This figure swelled to US$3.9 billion in 2008, which is about 20% of Jordan's gross domestic product. Imagine the possibilities of solar and what that would mean for dependency and the gross domestic product! Because there are (too) many examples that nuclear power does not decrease dependency on oil.

Source:, 14 August 2010


China: US - India deal justification for selling reactors to Pakistan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
The and Carnegie Endowment For International Peace

Contrary to guidelines adopted in 1992 by nuclear equipment supplier states in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), China is poised to export two power reactors to Pakistan. In April, Chinese officials said that export of the reactors to Pakistan would be justified in consideration of political developments in South Asia, including the entry into force of the U.S.–India deal and the Nuclear Suppliers Groups exemption for India. This transaction is about to happen at a time when China's increasingly ambitious nuclear energy program is becoming more autonomous.

Guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), representing 46 Non-Proliferation Treaty states, call on parties to the NPT not to supply nuclear equipment to non-nuclear-weapon states without comprehensive IAEA safeguards, including Pakistan. China joined the NSG in 2004.

The United States and other NSG states may object to the pending transaction but they cannot prevent China from exporting the reactors. Senior officials in NSG states friendly to the United States said in April they expect that President Barack Obama will not openly criticize the Chinese export because Washington, in the context of a bilateral security dialogue with Islamabad, may be sensitive to Pakistan's desire for civilian nuclear cooperation in the wake of the sweeping U.S.-India nuclear deal which entered into force in 2008 after considerable arm-twisting of NSG states by the United States, France, and Russia. The United States may also tolerate China's new nuclear deal with Pakistan because Obama wants China's support for United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran this spring.

After years of bilateral disputes over nonproliferation issues, in 1998 the U.S. Congress allowed a 1985 Sino-U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement to enter into force. After that, U.S. nuclear cooperation with China dramatically increased, culminating in China's 2006 selection of a consortium of companies led by Westinghouse to build four AP1000 power reactors in China. Westinghouse bested bidders from France and Russia in a competition set up by China to determine which of the three would provide the technology blueprint for the future standardized development of China's nuclear power industry.

China chose Westinghouse after it agreed to transfer to China ownership of the technology for the new and untried 1,000-MW reactor. China then awarded contracts to Westinghouse and its partners to build four AP1000s in China. The first two are scheduled to be finished in 2013. Westinghouse scored another coup when in 2008 China selected AP1000 for China's first raft of inland power reactors.

Westinghouse's apparent emergence as first among foreign reactor vendors in China in 2006 was linked to the fortunes of the State Nuclear Power Technology Co. (Snptc). It was set up by China's State Council of Ministers to take charge of technology selection and transfer for China's future nuclear power program, after two decades during which China organized a handful of "boutique" reactor projects in cooperation with Canada, France, Japan, and Russia.

Shortly after China selected Westinghouse to shape its nuclear future, rival Areva made a separate deal with China to build two of its new EPR reactors in Guangdong Province in China's southeast, where French nuclear firms have been engaged since the late 1980s. Unlike Westinghouse, Areva also offered China a suite of fuel cycle technology options, and French officials hoped that a mammoth fuel cycle deal would coax China to continue building the EPR.

In the meantime, the ambitious construction schedule for the U.S.-designed reactors in China has come under heavy pressure. In part out of Chinese concern to keep construction on track, China's nuclear regulator, the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA), will not agree to a proposal, favored by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Westinghouse, to modify the design of the containment structure of the AP1000 to provide improved protection against an air crash. In the United States, NRC, after a design review prompted by post-9/11 concernsabout terrorist threats, asked Westinghouse to change the design of a shield building which is part of the containment and to use stronger materials. Westinghouse then urged China to also follow that advice.

China will not do that, Beijing officials said after consultations with Westinghouse and U.S. regulators. "China will build Revision 15," the AP1000 design version originally approved for construction in both the United States and in China, one official said. "It will not approve Revision 17," which incorporates the changes sought by NRC and Westinghouse, he said.

Changing the AP1000 design now would require construction in China to be halted and delayed. China also does not share NRC's view that a terrorist attack on reactors, using a hijacked passenger aircraft as a weapon, is a realistic enough scenario to warrant modifying the design.

The Westinghouse project has encountered other challenges which, so far, have not caused schedule delays. Last year, a key firm which is part of the technology transfer program, China First Heavy Industries (CFHI), failed to produce forgings to the required quality standard for the AP1000. Project executives said CFHI had difficulty handling the demanding steel material called for in critical components. The schedule was not set back because a Westinghouse partner in Korea, Doosan, had a stock of prototype forgings it had made earlier. The AP1000 has also encountered problems in main coolant pumps, which are of a unique design. Chinese officials said last year that further deployment of the AP1000 would depend on successful demonstration of these pumps, which were a critical feature of the passive cooling system billed as one of the key advantages of this reactor model. According to diplomats there have also been some Chinese bureaucratic delays for certain AP1000 project approvals.

Snptc also wants Westinghouse to increase the power of the reactor to 1,400 MW and then to 1,700 MW, matching the EPR. According to Snptc the 1,400-MW design will be ready for construction by 2013. Many foreign executives are skeptical that schedule will hold up.

Two years ago, China set up a brand new organization to take command of China's energy policy, including nuclear policy, the National Energy Administration (NEA). It is headed by Zhang Guobao, who strongly favors nuclear power development and who is also Vice-Chairman of China's leading planning agency, the National Development and Reform Council (NDRC).

NEA-which is staffed by about 170 experts, including fewer than 20 responsible for nuclear matters--cooperates with NDRC on setting planning targets, but NEA decides which reactors will be built, at what sites, and which state-owned enterprises will get contracts. It, Chinese officials said last month, will favor construction of more CPRs, and will also support China's biggest nuclear SOE, the China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) with a total payroll of over 100,000, in exporting more reactors to Pakistan.

China has long assisted Pakistan's nuclear energy program. In 1991 CNNC contracted with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) to build Chashma-1, a 325 MW power reactor. It was finished and began operating in 2000.

In 2004, China joined the NSG. China then explained to the NSG that a longstanding framework agreement with Pakistan committed China to provide a second reactor, Chashma-2, more research reactors, plus supply of all the fuel in perpetuity for these units. Chashma-2 construction began in 2005. Chashma-2 is scheduled to be finished in 2011. To keep CNNC at work in Pakistan thereafter, CNNC and PAEC negotiated terms for two 650-MW reactors, Chashma-3 and -4.

In 2006 Pakistan urged China to approve the new project but China was not keen to do so. Pakistan diplomats said then China was holding back because it was not clear that the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation deal would be approved by both governments and by the NSG.

After the U.S.-India deal was approved and India's NSG exemption entered into force without any Chinese objections in 2008, China's policy evolved to support demands by Pakistan for compensation, but China did not expressly advocate awarding Pakistan a broad exemption from NSG trade sanctions matching India's.

NSG country representatives said in late April they expect that the Obama administration will accept a limited amount of additional Chinese nuclear commerce with Pakistan as a price for getting Chinese support on UN Security Council sanctions against Iran in weeks ahead. Some suggested that the United States would also enlist China in this regard to persuade Pakistan to drop its opposition to negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, which Pakistan has said it could not accept because the U.S.-India deal had tilted the nuclear balance in South Asia in India's favor.

As long as Pakistan resists outside initiatives which would limit the autonomy of its strategic nuclear program, and because China is believed to be hiding behind Pakistan in avoiding making a firm FMCT commitment in light of China's strategic dilemmas with the United States, it is doubtful whether China would have effective influence on Pakistani decisions to halt fissile material production.

Senior NSG diplomats said this month that they expect that soon after China has completed political and contractual arrangements for the reactor sale to Pakistan, China will inform the NSG of its planned transaction. The matter could then be taken up by the NSG as an agenda item or point of business at a future NSG meeting. So far no NSG meetings are scheduled in 2010 prior to an annual plenary meeting in New Zealand in late June.

The U.S. State Department, in line with its response to a 1998 reactor export from Russia to India, continues to hold that a new reactor export by China to Pakistan would be contrary to both NSG and U.S. policy, but whether the United States would record an objection at the NSG or encourage other NSG states to do so would be up to President Obama following interagency discussions and consultation with foreign governments including Pakistan and China.

Chinese officials said in April that export of the reactors to Pakistan would be justified in consideration of political developments in South Asia, including the entry into force of the U.S.-India deal and the NSG exemption for India.

Source: The and Carnegie Endowment For International Peace


Russia: safety problems surplus weapons-grade DU disposition program

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

On April 12, the Russian environmental group Ecodefense released a major new report focused on the use of plutonium as fuel in Russian nuclear reactors. This is the first independent research done during the last decade that exposes the civil plutonium program and its risks for public health and the environment, and comes as the U.S. and Russia prepare to sign an agreement for each nation to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium removed from nuclear weapons by using it to generate nuclear power.

The Ecodefense report ('Russian Plutonium Program: Nuclear Waste, Accidents, and Senseless Huge Costs') finds that the cornerstone of Russia’s program -the BN-800 breeder reactor- has been under construction for over 25 years, has cost over US$6 billion, and remains far from completion.

In the framework of the Russian-US disarmament agreement, each country will “dispose” of 34 tons of weapon-grade plutonium from dismantled warheads. Presently, the governments are planning to use the plutonium in the form of mixed oxide fuel (MOX) in nuclear reactors. Russian breeder reactors BN-600 (in operation) and BN-800 (under construction) will be used for this plutonium disposition. But breeder reactors may be used for both burning and breeding plutonium, which offers to the Russian nuclear industry the possibility of actually producing more plutonium rather than net destruction of the element. Later, the MOX fuel may also be used in Russian light-water reactors (VVER-1200 design).

Environmental groups in both Russia and the U.S. are opposed to the use of MOX fuel and instead promote safer, cleaner vitrification technology to permanently dispose of plutonium.

The report describes the nuclear facilities that will be used for the plutonium program in Russia: * the Beloyarsk nuclear plant near Ekaterinburg city, * NIIAR (Scientific and research institute of atomic reactors) in Dimitrovgrad city, * GHK nuclear weapon facility near Krasnoyarsk city, and * SHK nuclear facility near Tomsk city. The report also focuses on issues of safety, accidents, nonproliferation and public opinion. A public policy issue raised in the report is the lack of liability coverage for a nuclear accident in Russia. This is particularly troubling given the more than 1,000,000 people living in very close proximity of the proposed MOX factory near Ekaterinburg.

On January 21, 2010, Russian government approved a program of advanced technologies development worth 128 billion rubles (US$4.3 billion or 3.1 billion euro). Most of the funding will go to breeder reactor development.

Fast breeder reactors operating with MOX fuel are being promoted as "advanced  technology" in Russia. But it is a little known fact that the BN-800 has been under construction for over 25 years and its design, which pre-dates the 1986 Chernobyl accident, does not meet modern safety requirements. According to the Russian nuclear industry, this reactor will cost nearly US$4 billion, but independent estimates suggest that US$6 billion already has been spent and construction will be finished not earlier than 2014 and likely later.

In a detailed financial analysis, the report concludes that the plutonium fuel program is only viable because of US and European subsidy for weapons grade plutonium disposition, but given that it may result in a net increase in plutonium stocks, the Russian program will undermine this goal.

The full report in English is available at

Source: Press release 12 April 2010, Ecodefense! and NIRS
Contact: Ecodefense, Vladimir Sliviak: +7 903 2997584
Email: or: Mary Olson at NIRS, +1-828-252-8409