A 1984 photo of a cascade of gas centrifuges used to produce enriched uranium from a U.S. gas centrifuge plant in Piketon, Ohio
U.S. Dept. of Energy
"Recommendations for Limiting Transfers of Enrichment and Reprocessing Technologies"
Author: Fred McGoldrick, Associate, Project on Managing the Atom
This policy brief is based on “Limiting Transfers of Enrichment and Reprocessing Technology: Issues, Constraints, Options,” a report of the Project on Managing the Atom.
- Moderate the rhetoric on limiting enrichment and reprocessing transfers. It makes more sense for the U.S. and others to offer attractive alternatives to new nuclear states than to propose arrangements that seek to deny what countries consider their sovereign rights.
- Strengthen nonproliferation measures within the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The NSG should adopt new guidelines that offer greater specificity in the rules governing transfers of enrichment and reprocessing. Members should also register their commitments to promote access to nuclear energy to those states that are in compliance with their NPT obligations.
- Strengthen international cooperation beyond the NSG to deal with the most serious proliferation risks. Bolstering fuel assurances, offering “cradle to grave” nuclear services to states with modest nuclear programs, encouraging multilateral controls on enrichment and reprocessing, and putting pressure on those who would transfer sensitive nuclear technology to NPT scofflaws—all these steps require that states work together to be effective.
TONE IT DOWN
Moderate the rhetoric on limiting E&R transfers in large international fora and stress the Article IV rights of NPT parties and assistance to developing countries. Given the sharp divisions in the global community on this issue, a broad international consensus that would be universally credible to NPT parties, national parliaments, and private industry is most likely not an achievable goal. The most pragmatic strategy would be to tone down the rhetoric, emphasize the rights of NPT parties to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy as long as they are in compliance with their nonproliferation objectives, and increase assistance to developing countries in building the infrastructure for peaceful nuclear programs that do not necessarily require them to build their own E&R facilities. In other words, it makes more sense to offer attractive incentives and opportunities as an alternative to national enrichment and reprocessing than to propose arrangements that openly seek to deny what countries consider their sovereign rights.
STRENGTHEN RESTRAINTS WITHIN THE NUCLEAR SUPPLIERS GROUP
Concentrate on reaching agreement on the clean text on E&R transfers in the NSG. The NSG has come very close to reaching agreement on the so-called “clean text” language for restraining E&R transfers. Abandoning the effort at this point would represent a major failure. Since there are no transfers of E&R contemplated in the foreseeable future, there is still ample time to try to obtain consensus on the clean text. With sufficient diplomatic effort, this could very well be achievable. The G-8 should continue to adopt the clean text either on an annual or more permanent basis.
If agreement on the current clean text proves impossible, adopt the objective criteria in the clean text. Taking this step would at least rule out E&R transfers to states that are not party to the NPT or that are not adhering to their nonproliferation commitments. This option would retain the existing NSG guidelines on E&R transfers, including the requirements to exercise restraint and to encourage multinational or supplier involvement in transferred E&R facilities.
Adopt new language in the NSG guidelines that would affirm Article IV rights and register commitments to promote international cooperation with states as long as they are in conformity with the obligations of NPT. If the NSG adopts the clean text or only the objective criteria, the group should take steps to mute criticisms of discrimination and denial of NPT rights and to help refute charges that the NSG is a cartel of nuclear haves seeking to deprive have-nots of the full benefits of peaceful nuclear technology. The NSG should therefore adopt, along with strengthened controls on E&R, new formulations in its published guidelines that would affirm the inalienable right of all NPT Parties to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. NSG members should register their commitment to the exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, in particular for developing countries, as long as they are in conformity with the obligations of NPT.
Strengthen NSG efforts on effective implementation of the existing guidelines. These guidelines have worked well to date, and the real problem has been the work of clandestine supply networks by rogue suppliers and countries seeking nuclear weapons. The NSG should commit to greater cooperation in sharing information on the techniques and methods that rogue supplier states and nuclear weapons aspirants employ to obtain exports illegally. This should include a greater willingness to share intelligence information among exporting states, both NSG members and non-NSG members.
STRENGTHEN OTHER NONPROLIFERATION MEASURES
Promote fuel assurances. A strategy of offering improved fuel assurances is likely to have positive but limited benefits in discouraging the spread of enrichment and reprocessing; this approach is likely to appeal only to small states that may be concerned about security of supply. In any event, the U.S. and Russian LEU stockpiles plus the IAEA fuel bank and the UK enrichment bond scheme ought to constitute sufficient fuel supply backup mechanisms without disrupting the global market.
Give serious consideration to placing enrichment and reprocessing facilities under some form of multinational auspices or control. Even if technology holders do not make an effort to make the multinational model a global norm, multinational enrichment ventures of one kind or another seem to have emerged as common practice among technology holders, with AREVA, URENCO, Angarsk, Silex and now USEC all involving some form of multinational participation. At a minimum this trend should be encouraged.
Recognize the limited application of the U.S.-UAE model of discouraging the spread of E&R. The model of nuclear cooperation that the United States has put into place with the United Arab Emirates will face considerable obstacles in winning acceptance by other states both in the region and elsewhere. Moreover, other suppliers are highly unlikely to follow this model. Thus the utility of this approach to preventing the spread of E&R may be limited to a very few countries; the prospects of it serving as a more general model are dim.
Seriously explore the feasibility of cradle-to-grave fuel cycle options, particularly for countries with small nuclear programs. Suppliers will generally face formidable public acceptance obstacles in trying to offer cradle-to-grave fuel cycle services, especially on a broad basis, since they would require some countries accepting spent fuel or nuclear waste from other countries. However, suppliers may find it possible to overcome political opposition if they limit their offers to assume responsibility for managing other countries’ spent fuel to those nations that have small nuclear programs and/or are in regions of political instability or proliferation concern.
Give priority to development and deployment of improved safeguards techniques, including universal adoption of the Additional Protocol as well as physical protection for enrichment and reprocessing plants.
Continue further research, development, and demonstration of more proliferation-resistant fuel cycle technologies. These efforts must be accompanied by strengthened international safeguards, export controls, institutional checks, and other non-technical measures.
Apply the maximum diplomatic pressure to states that seek to transfer sensitive nuclear technology to countries that are in violation of their nonproliferation commitments, are located in unstable regions, or present unacceptable proliferation risks. Diplomatic interventions and interdictions have been the most effective means of stopping the spread of E&R (e.g. the United States with proposed German and French transfers of reprocessing to South Korea, Taiwan, and Pakistan in the 1970s, the U.S. diplomatic initiatives with proposed Russian transfers of enrichment technology to Iran, and the interdiction of Pakistani transfers of sensitive nuclear technology to Libya).
Statements and views expressed in this policy brief are solely those of the authors and do not imply endorsement by Harvard University, Harvard Kennedy School, or the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
For more information about this publication please contact the MTA Project Coordinator at 617-495-4219.
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