The International Panel on Fissile Materials presented a proposed version of a long-awaited international treaty to ban the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. The draft treaty designates plutonium, enriched uranium, neptunium and americium as the covered fissile materials. It also defines what it means to produce fissile materials, including separating fissile materials from irradiated nuclear material through reprocessing or any other process; increasing the percentage of uranium 235 and uranium 233 isotopes to 20 percent or more; or increasing the fraction of plutonium by any isotopic separation process.
The International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM) was founded in January 2006 and is an independent group of arms-control and nonproliferation experts from both nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states. The mission of the IPFM is to analyze the technical basis for practical and achievable policy initiatives to secure, consolidate, and reduce stockpiles of highly enriched uranium and plutonium. These fissile materials are the key ingredients in nuclear weapons, and their control is critical to nuclear weapons disarmament, to halting the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to ensuring that terrorists do not acquire nuclear weapons.
The 27-page document (A Fissile Material (Cut-Off) Treaty. A Treaty Banning the Production of Fissile Materials for Nuclear Weapons or Other Nuclear Explosive Devices) , published on May 11, covers the definition, verification, implementation and organization issues associated with such a pact. Negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty was endorsed without a dissenting vote in 1993 by the U.N. General Assembly. Talks at the Conference on Disarmament have stalled over the years largely due to disagreements on verifying the terms of the pact and whether it should ban the use of pre-existing nuclear material stocks for weapons.
U.S. President Barack Obama said last month that establishing a cutoff treaty would be one of the "concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons." "To cut off the building blocks needed for a bomb, the United States will seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile material intended for use in state nuclear weapons," the president said in an April 5 speech in Prague. "If we are serious about stopping the spread of these weapons, then we should put an end to the dedicated production of weapons-grade materials that create them. That's the first step"
"We worked on a draft treaty as a kind of exercise for how could you do it," former Dutch diplomat and arms control negotiator Arend Meerburg said during a panel discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The International Panel on Fissile Materials supports a total halt to production of fissile materials for weapons. This approach would lead to nuclear reprocessing plants and programs being dismantled, rather than "standing idle" and eventually converted to civilian use, he explained.
The draft treaty designates plutonium, enriched uranium, neptunium and americium as the covered fissile materials. The last two materials have not been included in previous nuclear treaties but "should have been added a long time ago," according to Meerburg. The draft treaty states neptunium and americium also could be used for "weapons manufacture and are therefore sometimes referred to as 'alternative nuclear [weapons] materials.'"
The document also defines what it means to produce fissile materials, including separating fissile materials from irradiated nuclear material through reprocessing or any other process; increasing the weighted concentration of uranium 235 and uranium 233 in any mixture of uranium isotopes to a level equivalent to or greater than 20 percent; or increasing the fraction of plutonium by any isotopic separation process.
Verification "challenges" for ensuring a full halt to production of weapon-purposed fissile materials would be found at sites including shuttered nuclear facilities, active uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing plants and military nuclear sites, according to Alexander Glasser, a scholar at Princeton's Program on Science and Global Security. All such sites would require on-site inspections, he said.
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty should be the "benchmark" for verification under a fissile material treaty, Glasser said. The draft treaty says each member state must accept the International Atomic Energy Agency's verification safeguards.
The document proposes the creation of a "Conference of State Parties" to enforce a possible treaty. Meerburg was adamant that the study group wanted to avoid standing up a large organization because they envision verification work being performed by the IAEA. The panel imagined a small secretariat in Vienna handling a bulk of the treaty work, he said.
Perhaps as important as what is contained in the draft treaty is what is left out. For instance, the document shies away from a requirement in place for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which requires ratification by 44 specific nations before entering into force.
Instead, a fissile materials treaty would take effect upon "ratification by  states including at least [four] states with at least one significant quantity of unsafeguarded fissile material as determined by the [International Atomic Energy Agency] director general," the document states.
To demand that 44 particular countries sign on is "not such a good idea for this treaty," Meerburg said. "It would lead to a very long delay. We think it would be more important to have at least a number of nuclear weapons states involved so you can further develop the regime change necessary and put pressure, after some time, on nuclear countries that have not joined immediately." He said that treaty membership by any combination of the five NPT nuclear powers would influence other states that possess nuclear arsenals but "to have it as condition that all eight or nine countries have to be part would mean you are very far away from enforcing this treaty also," according to Meerburg.
When the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was first opened for signature in 1968, organizers did not wait for countries recognized as nuclear weapon states to sign on before the document could be enforced. Developing verification procedures and gaining the momentum "required to have the treaty enforced and not limited by the politics of the most reluctant countries would be a benefit," according to the Panel.
Frank von Hippel, professor public and international affairs at Princeton (U.S.) and co-chairman of the Panel, thinks that while the technical challenges of verification for a possible fissile materials treaty are "significant," they are not as daunting as the political challenges of negotiating such a compact. He said Russia likely would soon consider such a treaty while the United Kingdom and France are "quite interested." He said China was interested at one point. India and Pakistan "are not ready" and would have to be "encouraged to join," and Israel has declared that a fissile materials treaty would not solve the "problem" with Iran's nuclear program.
The report: "A Fissile Material (Cut-Off) Treaty. A Treaty Banning the Production of Fissile Materials for Nuclear Weapons or Other Nuclear Explosive Devices" can be found at http://www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/fmct-ipfm_mar2009draft.pdf
Sources: NTI, Global Security Newswire, 12 May 2009
Contact: International Panel on Fissile Materials, Princeton University, 221 Nassau Street, 2nd Floor, Princeton, NJ 08542, USA