Reducing the Threat of Nuclear Theft
Book Chapter, pages 117-144
July 1, 1998
Authors: John P. Holdren, Former Director and Faculty Chair, Science, Technology and Public Policy Program, Matthew Bunn, Associate Professor of Public Policy; Co-Principal Investigator, Project on Managing the Atom
A comprehensive approach to reducing the risk of nuclear theft will require action on many fronts: improving security and accounting for nuclear materials; combating nuclear smuggling; increasing transparency in the management of weapon-usable nuclear materials; halting or minimizing continued production of these materials; and carrying out disposition procedures to reduce the risks from excess fissile materials by making them far more difficult to use in weapons. Although such an approach entails the need for action in all the nuclear weapon states and, to some extent, elsewhere as well, the biggest burdens fall naturally on the United States and on the former Soviet Union -- where by far the largest inventories of nuclear materials are to be found.
We therefore focus primarily, in this paper, on the particular problems of reducing the threat of nuclear theft in the United States and the former Soviet Union, including cooperative approaches linking the capabilities and interests on both sides. In doing so, we draw extensively on three recent studies in which we have both been heavily involved: the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study of plutonium management and disposition; the President''s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology study of cooperative programmes between the United States and the former Soviet Union on nuclear materials, protection, control, and accounting (MPC&A); and the Independent US-Russian Scientific Commission on the Disposition of Excess Weapon Plutonium.1
We begin by surveying the five classes of measures enumerated in our opening sentence, before turning to an additional category unique to the former Soviet Union -- the need to improve the economic conditions of the people responsible for managing nuclear weapons and materials, including, particularly, the diversification and strengthening of the economic base of the nuclear cities.
Improved Security and Accounting
The first priority is to ensure that all nuclear weapons and weapon-usable materials are secure and accounted for -- that is, to establish effective materials, protection, control and accounting. This involves: facility-level security and accounting systems for both weapon-usable materials and nuclear weapons themselves; new, secure storage facilities; consolidation of weapons and materials at a smaller number of locations; high security for transport of weapons and materials (often the most vulnerable point in their life-cycles); effective national-level systems of accounting, control, and regulation; and, ultimately, more stringent international standards.
Nuclear Materials: Facility-Level
Excluding sites for the storage of intact nuclear weapons, there are about 100 separately fenced areas in the former Soviet Union (FSU) -- at about 50 separate sites -- handling kilogramme-quantities of weapon-usable nuclear materials (separated plutonium and highly-enriched uranium (HEU)), and perhaps a couple of dozen such sites in the United States. Approximately a dozen of the former -- all research or training reactors using HEU -- are outside Rus-sia (including facilities in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Georgia, and Uzbekistan).
Direct expenditures for safeguards and security programmes in the US Department of Energy (DOE) complex have been estimated at some $800 million per year, including protection for materials, sites, information, and personnel, as well as the entire classification and security clearance programme; expenditures directly related to security and accounting for weapon-usable nuclear material probably account for well over $200 million of this total. The owners of private facilities handling weapon-usable material (such as research reactors using HEU, or the facility that fabricates HEU naval fuel) pay separately for protection of the material at their facilities. It is widely held that the resulting MPC&A measures in place at the relevant US sites are adequate or close to adequate. Although this conclusion deserves scrutiny -- and might not withstand scrutiny in every instance -- the task of repairing any major deficiencies in MPC&A at the relevant US sites is undoubtedly a much easier one than the task of improving the MPC&A at the sites in the former Soviet Union to approximately the current US standard.
Comparable figures for spending in Russia and the other former Soviet states are not available. The Department of Energy estimated in 1995 that modernizing the MPC&A systems at the separately fenced areas in the FSU might cost roughly $5 million each, on average. Currently, US and former Soviet experts are engaged in at least some level of MPC&A cooperation at well over 40 of the roughly 50 sites in the former Soviet Union where such materials exist. If the Department of Energy estimate turns out to be correct, the one-time cost of continuing this cooperative programme until MPC&A has been modernized at all of the locations in the FSU handling weapon-usable material would be roughly $500 million (excluding the operating costs once modernization is completed). This is, of course, a highly approximate estimate -- between $300 million and $1.5 billion might be a better way to put it -- and there are a number of important caveats.
First, this cost will not be borne by any one country: while the states of the FSU themselves bear the ultimate responsibility for protecting the materials on their territory and must bear a significant part of the cost, their capacity to pay is limited, and it is in the self-interest of the United States and other members of the international community to assist financially.
On the other hand, it is likely that the figure of $5 million per facility will turn out to be an underestimate. A number of these sites include many individual buildings and facilities where MPC&A should be modernized, each of which may involve substantial costs. Nor does the $5 million figure represent, in general, the cost of upgrading to a level of security and accounting comparable to that currently required for nuclear-weapons-complex facilities in the United States. Approaching US standards would cost more. It would also take longer and require a larger cultural shift by nuclear workers. For the near term, it makes more sense to modernize MPC&A rapidly at a large number of sites than to upgrade only a few sites to the highest possible standards.
Modernization of MPC&A in the FSU could not be accomplished over-night, even if budgets far larger than those available today became available. Given the limited number of individuals in the former Soviet Union expert in state-of-the-art safeguards technologies -- and the limited infrastructure for organizing and applying such skills -- the absorptive capacity for cooperation in this area is limited. Nor is modernization of MPC&A technologies a full or complete answer: a new "safeguards culture" is needed as well. If equipment is not used or maintained, if guards wave trusted workers through without having them pass through inspection systems, if scientists and technicians refuse to accept the inconveniences associated with more stringent safeguards, if managers refuse to put up with increases in costs of production, then no amount of technology will adequately reduce the risk of theft. To help build the needed safeguards culture, a continued focus on genuine participation and engagement by users at these sites is critical. This will not be accomplished quickly.
These disclaimers notwithstanding, cooperative MPC&A programmes remain limited by the budgets available. With a redoubled focus on expanding the cadre of trained experts in the former Soviet states available to work on implementation of improved MPC&A, budgets substantially higher than the $137 million proposed for the US contribution to this cooperative effort in fiscal year 1998 could be spent effectively and would allow faster progress towards reducing the risk of nuclear theft.
Because not everything can be accomplished at once, the MPC&A panel of the President''s Committee of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) emphasized the importance of preparing a prioritized MPC&A action plan identifying specific near-term, mid-term, and long-term goals and objectives, and the resources needed to accomplish them. The PCAST panel recommended that the near-term objectives should include: modernizing security and accounting for weapon-usable materials at the largest civilian facilities in open cities in Russia, and at all the former Soviet facilities outside Russia where weapon-usable materials are stored; working with Russia to establish a programme to identify additional high-priority steps to be taken; helping to establish a Russian programme to take accurate inventories of the nuclear material at all the various nuclear sites; establishing a cooperative programme to modernize security and accounting for naval and icebreaker fuel; cooperating with Russia to initiate mass production of state-of-the-art MPC&A equipment; and cooperating with the former Soviet states to establish effective training programmes and regulatory structures in this area.
As part of the effort to accomplish these near-term goals, the PCAST report identified several specific near-term actions that should be undertaken:
- Training and equipping Russian MPC&A assessment and improvement teams. Such teams could provide a rapid and consistent assessment of comparative upgrade needs at Russian sites -- information that could provide a foundation both for Russia''s unilateral modernization programmes and for the ongoing cooperative efforts. The cost of such training and equipment might be around $10 million.
Training and equipping Russian inventory teams. There is a pressing need to carry out measured, physical inventories of the weapon-usable nuclear materials at each site (EURATOM has also targeted measured, physical inventory as a high priority.) Unlike the vulnerability assessments just described, such inventories are a labour-intensive, time-consuming process requiring a significant amount of equipment -- particularly where nuclear materials are handled in bulk forms rather than countable items, and where they are in difficult-to-measure forms, such as when they are mixed with other scrap and waste. The cost of initial training and equipment for a few inventory teams might be a few tens of millions of dollars, but the total cost of taking measured inventories at all the relevant sites will be large enough to be among the factors which suggest that $500 million is likely to be an underestimate of the total MPC&A modernization cost.
A fast-paced programme to improve security for highly-enriched naval and ice-breaker fuel. Preliminary discussions of cooperation in this area are underway, but more remains to be done. The cost of this part of the programme could be in the range of $100 million or more, particularly if it is determined that new buildings or vaults are needed, rather than merely upgrades to existing facilities.
Training additional US and former Soviet personnel to participate in these cooperative programmes, and assigning additional qualified personnel to manage and implement these programmes at the Department of Energy. As a rough estimate, the cost of paying and training these additional participants might amount to some $30 million per year.
Establishing a "quick response" team with the expertise and resources needed to respond rapidly and effectively to opportunities such as Project Sapphire. Project Sapphire was the programme in which the Kazakh and US governments cooperated to airlift over 600 kilogrammes of insecure HEU from Kazakhstan to the United States in November 1994.2 The personnel already participating in the cooperative programmes would have the expertise to be designated as members of such a quick-response team, but additional training and flexible funding sources would be needed to provide the capability for rapid response. At the same time, the United States should cooperate with Russia in activities comparable to those of the US Nuclear Emergencies Search Team (NEST). If the same personnel were used, this would probably cost a few million dollars per year, in addition to providing a funding source that could be drawn on when a specific mission arose.
Establishing a small cadre of full-time US personnel in Moscow to help manage and oversee these programmes, and maintain constant contact with Russian participants. We estimate the cost of this effort at approximately $1 million per year.
These programmes can only succeed if they are based on genuine cooperation and mutual trust and respect. Maximum success requires maximum flexibility -- meaning that Congress should resist the temptation to impose burdensome restrictions on how business can be conducted, such as "buy American" requirements and specified audit and examination procedures. Many of the sites involved are highly sensitive, and there are locations at which American auditors are not likely to be allowed broad access, but where it is nevertheless deeply in the US interest to cooperate with Russia in modernizing MPC&A and reducing proliferation risks. The PCAST panel concluded that the flexible procedures being used in the lab-to-lab programme, for example, were effective in ensuring that the taxpayers'' funds were being appropriately spent.
An important supplement to efforts to upgrade MPC&A at existing facilities where weapon-usable materials are located is the Nunn-Lugar programme to build, at Chelyabinsk-65 (now renamed Ozersk, and also sometimes known as Mayak, the name of the principal production association at the site), a new safe and secure storage facility for plutonium and HEU from dismantled weapons. The new facility would offer greatly improved security and accounting, and the United States would be offered transparency measures in return for its assistance.
Despite the many delays that have plagued this programme, the establishment of a modern facility with a highly effective MPC&A system and some degree of US oversight is important, and this programme should continue -- assuming that MINATOM demonstrates a good-faith commitment to investing its own resources in the project as well. Total costs for the first facility (including both US and Russian inputs) are estimated at $300-$500 million. No definite decision has yet been taken as to whether to build a second $300-$500 million facility at Tomsk.
Nuclear Weapons: Facility-Level
Nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union appear to be held under comparatively high standards of security and accounting. Nevertheless, given the grave consequences that could result if a nuclear weapon were actually stolen, it is important to continue pursuing the recently expanded dialogue between the US Department of Defense and the Russian Ministry of Defence regarding upgrades to security for nuclear weapons.
According to unclassified CIA testimony, Russia has already reduced the number of sites where nuclear weapons are stored from over 600 in 1989 to roughly 100, comparable to the number of sites with non-weaponized weapon-usable material.3 This figure does not include actual deployment sites, such as missile silos.
The Department of Defense is cooperating with Russia to upgrade equipment for securing and accounting for stored nuclear weapons (as well as weapons in transport, described below). The initial emphasis was on improved accounting and tracking equipment, such as computerized warhead-accounting systems. Today, work is underway on improving physical protection systems at individual sites as well. Active nuclear weapon storage sites are particularly sensitive, so flexible procedures are being worked out to ensure that US-provided material is used appropriately, without unduly compromising sensitive information -- perhaps without even requiring US visits to the individual warhead sites. Since these sites already have substantial physical protection systems in place, and the programme does not face the complex material accounting issues that arise at sites that carry out bulk processing of nuclear materials, the programme is expected to be significantly less expensive than the MPC&A programme. Just as in the case of nuclear materials, nuclear weapons are Russia''s responsibility, and it will ultimately have to bear the lion''s share of the cost of protecting them.
As noted above, Russia has already accomplished a drastic reduction in the number of sites where nuclear weapons are stored. The PCAST report recommended that the United States begin discussing with the former Soviet states, and Russia in particular, the need for a similar consolidation in the number of sites with weapon-usable nuclear materials. This includes reducing the number of areas where such materials are handled at individual facilities, and reducing the total number of facilities where such materials are located. Such consolidation could greatly reduce the costs of ensuring adequate safeguards.
With the end of the Cold War, a contraction of the Russian nuclear complex is inevitable and consolidation of nuclear materials should be a key part of that contraction -- as it has been in the United States. The US Department of Energy should prepare a detailed briefing for the Russian side on the US experience, including the very large reductions in safeguards and security costs that have been achieved at some sites through consolidating materials, and the reduction in the number of research reactors using HEU (which has resulted in part from the high cost of meeting MPC&A regulations for such strategic materials). Both in work at individual sites and in discussions of the overall programme, the United States should actively encourage Russia to undertake consolidation.
In particular, there is a wide range of small civilian research facilities using HEU in Russia, many of which no longer have a strong rationale for continuing to use weapon-usable material. Because these facilities have always been regarded as civilian, standards of security traditionally have been low. Iraq''s recent admission that after its invasion of Kuwait it planned to undertake a "crash" atomic bomb programme using HEU from its research reactors highlights the serious risks such facilities can pose. Soviet-designed research reactors using HEU fuel exist not only in many countries of the former Soviet Union, but in Libya and North Korea as well.
Given the crisis of funding for science in the FSU, many of these facilities are likely to be having trouble funding their research, and some may no longer be able to afford research related to HEU. These institutes might be quite happy if someone were to offer to purchase their remaining HEU supplies, rather than having to protect them in place. Such an approach would be simpler and less politically sensitive if carried out on a commercial basis by private companies rather than by the US government; the private companies could blend the material to low-enriched uranium (LEU) for sale on the commercial market. In this case, there would be no substantial cost to the US government.
For those institutes that will continue to do nuclear research with the reactors now running on HEU, it is important to offer opportunities to continue research while converting to proliferation-resistant low-enriched uranium. The United States initiated such a reactor-conversion programme, known as the Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (RERTR) programme, in 1978, and it has been quite successful in converting reactors in the United States and all over the world to the use of proliferation-resistant fuels. A small programme to develop similar fuels for Soviet-designed research reactors is now underway. This programme should be expanded from fuel development to actual conversion of reactors -- including not only those in the former Soviet Union, but even more urgently, those in nations such as North Korea and Libya -- to low-enriched fuels. A few tens of millions of dollars over several years would probably be sufficient for this purpose.
During transport, nuclear weapons and weapon-usable nuclear materials are particularly vulnerable to theft by armed groups. Ensuring effective security during transportation should therefore be a high priority. The US Department of Defense is already providing warhead-transportation equipment that the Russian Ministry of Defence has indicated has made a major difference in improving security of Russian warhead transport. A substantial cooperative programme to improve transport security for weapon-usable nuclear materials is underway as well.
Efforts at individual sites should be coordinated so that they fit together and contribute to the goal of creating national systems providing a generally consistent level of MPC&A for all weapon-usable materials. Improving national-level tracking and accounting systems for nuclear materials, as well as regulatory functions, must be a fundamental priority of any comprehensive programme. While regulations are often taken to have less urgency than securing materials on the ground, only a sound set of regulations requiring effective MPC&A, backed up by enforcement, will provide facility managers with the incentives necessary to lead them to invest in, operate, and maintain MPC&A systems.
In most of the states of the former Soviet Union, where nuclear regulatory agencies exist at all, they are new and are suffering the growing pains of fledgling organizations with large mandates and small staffs. In Russia''s case, the relative authority of the principal nuclear ministries (MINATOM and MOD) and the civilian nuclear oversight agency (GAN) is still evolving; both these ministries are far larger and more powerful than GAN, and unenthusiastic about independent regulation. President Yeltsin, after initially giving GAN authority to regulate safety and security of all nuclear activities, both military and civilian, recently signed a decree removing GAN''s authority to regulate MOD activities. Ultimately, these ministries themselves must have effective internal regulatory programmes, in addition to independent regulation.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and DOE have established promising programmes of regulatory support, including work with GAN in Russia. Several areas of cooperation are underway:
- development of effective regulations and standards;
equipment and training for inspectors and regulators;
establishment of national computerized material accounting systems;
in Russia, MPC&A at non-MINATOM, non-MOD sites (where GAN is serving as the point of contact for facilities controlled by a wide array of different agencies and groups).
Development of a strong regulatory system in this area will take years; funding from the international community, in the range of a few tens of millions of dollars over the period, will be needed.
Tougher International Standards
The need to modernize MPC&A systems is a global issue, not limited to the states of the FSU. Materials in many countries are not protected to standards that meet today''s threats. For these reasons, the NAS report on management and disposition of excess weapons plutonium recommended that new international arrangements should be pursued to improve safeguards and physical security over all forms of plutonium and HEU worldwide.4
The most difficult technical obstacle to producing nuclear weapons is gaining access to the necessary fissile materials -- plutonium or HEU. With such materials in hand, many countries, and even some subnational groups, could produce nuclear weapons. The NAS report, therefore, recommended that, to the extent possible, weapon-usable materials, whether military or civilian, should be guarded and accounted for as though they were nuclear weapons -- a goal the NAS report called the "stored weapons standard" -- and that international standards should be updated to meet this goal.
Current international standards fall far short of this objective. Although an attempt to set international standards for nuclear materials security was made in the 1980 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, that convention was drafted at a time when today''s threats -- from nuclear smuggling to the use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorist groups -- did not yet exist. US approaches have changed radically since then, resulting in more than a doubling of annual spending on safeguards and security. The Convention is vague in its requirements, applies primarily to international transport of materials, and has no provisions for verification or enforcement. Similarly, although the IAEA has published more detailed guidelines for physical protection of nuclear materials, these are purely advisory. Neither the IAEA nor any other organization monitors or compiles accurate, up-to-date information on physical security procedures worldwide. Moreover, no comparable convention setting standards for material control and accounting exists.
International standards should be updated to reflect the "stored weapons standard," and provisions should be made to allow an international body (probably the IAEA) to organize site visits to make recommendations for improvements (as has been done successfully, for example, with nuclear safety). There is a growing international consensus on the need for such steps, reflected in similar recommendations -- including specifically endorsement of the stored weapons standard -- made in 1995 by an international panel organized by the American Nuclear Society, which included high-level representatives from the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Germany, and Japan.5
A major international effort to improve security and accounting for weapon-usable nuclear materials worldwide would be costly, probably adding tens of millions of dollars a year to the costs currently paid for such activities. This cost, however, should be considered an essential part of the cost of operating a facility that uses weapon-usable materials -- just as the costs of pollution prevention and mitigation should be paid by the polluters -- and would represent a small additional burden on the global nuclear power industry.
Stopping Nuclear Smuggling
The most critical part of the effort to reduce the threat of nuclear theft and nuclear smuggling is ensuring that nuclear weapons and weapon-usable nuclear materials are not removed from the sites where they are intended to be. Once such materials are stolen, the difficulty of finding and recovering them before they can be used in weapons rises dramatically. Nevertheless, if MPC&A systems fail and material is stolen, anti-smuggling efforts form an important second line of defence. Some modest efforts to train and equip police, investigators, customs officials, and border guards in the relevant states, to share analyses of seized material, and to coordinate nuclear smuggling intelligence are underway, but these efforts have been halting and piecemeal. Further efforts along these lines are needed. This is a global problem requiring intensive international cooperation.
To date, the principal successes in finding and seizing stolen weapons-usable nuclear materials have been the result of informers and sting operations -- which is to say, they have resulted from the efforts of police, intelligence, and "special services." Some nuclear materials have been seized by border guards and customs agents, but these have been relatively inconsequential in comparison. The lesson is the importance of information, of knowing where to look.
Therefore, increased police and intelligence cooperation across borders -- as is already occurring -- must be a top priority, and energetic efforts should be made to work out ways in which information can be shared without unduly compromising law-enforcement and intelligence sensitivities (such as protection of sources). In particular, information about the sources of smuggled materials (likely to be more available to Russian agencies than to those in other countries) should be linked, to the extent possible, to information on buyers and transit routes (likely to be more available to European countries). For example, the FBI''s office in Moscow should include a cadre of experts on nuclear smuggling, who could cooperate with Russian counterparts. The monetary cost would potentially run to a few million dollars per year.
At the same time, there is room for a substantial increase in the amount of training and equipment provided to police, border guards, and customs agencies in a variety of states, including particularly the FSU, and likely transit states in central Asia and Europe. Already, for example, the FBI is opening an international training centre in Eastern Europe to help states cope with threats from organized crime (including nuclear smuggling), and the United States is organizing international conferences to discuss how to handle the forensic analysis of nuclear smuggling cases. The following are a few examples of additional items a comprehensive approach would include:
- Analysis centres. A small number of certified analysis centres should be established at several key points in Eurasia, where seized materials could be sent. These centres should be equipped to provide sufficiently detailed analyses to make it possible to trace the origin of a particular batch of material. This would not require establishing an international database of nuclear material fingerprints (an immense job, and an approach that the nuclear weapon states, among others, are not likely to agree to).
Nuclear smuggling law enforcement units. Each key country should have at least a small unit of law enforcement officers capable of investigating nuclear smuggling cases. These officers would have the training and equipment to distinguish between, for example, intensely radioactive caesium and weapon-usable plutonium, or between relatively innocuous low-enriched uranium and weapon-usable highly-enriched uranium. Key states could be helped to establish, train, and equip such units relatively rapidly, for a cost in the range of a few millions to a few tens of millions of dollars.
Training and equipping border patrols and customs. The immense volume of traffic that crosses international borders every day, and the vast and sparsely-populated length of the borders between some of the key countries, makes the task of interdicting nuclear materials as they cross international borders extremely difficult -- as evidenced by the massive flows of drugs and other contraband that governments have so far been unable to stop. Nevertheless, US nuclear detection equipment and training provided to border patrols and customs officers in some countries has already paid off in seizures of radioactive materials. Ultimately, border guards and customs agencies in each of the key potential source states and transit states should have sufficient equipment and trained personnel to monitor at the least the main border crossings and international exit/entry points. In some cases, this might mean little more than ensuring that border units had a Geiger counter; in other cases, substantially more sophisticated equipment might be used, such as systems that can detect both nuclear materials and metal containers that might be used to conceal their radiation. New technologies for drive-through portal monitoring might be applied to some key bridges and border crossing points. As one obvious example, there could be a significant deterrent benefit in a programme to scan selected luggage at airports, such as Moscow, for nuclear materials. Because of the very large job that customs agencies and border guards must do, involving many sites, thousands of individuals, thousands of miles of border, spreading such equipment and training broadly could be expensive -- potentially mounting into hundreds of millions of dollars over time.
It will not be possible to accomplish everything that might be done at once. Hence, the intelligence community should examine where the greatest weaknesses and the highest leverage points for improving the response to nuclear smuggling lie.
Weapon Dismantlement and Monitoring
Past arms control agreements have concentrated primarily on limiting the numbers of missiles and launchers. Now the objective is to bring about irreversible nuclear arms reductions and also to reduce the risk of nuclear theft. Consequently, the next generation of agreements must focus on controlling nuclear weapons themselves and the fissile materials needed to make them. The NAS report on the management and disposition of excess plutonium recommended that the United States should work to reach agreement with Russia on a broad, reciprocal regime that would include:
- declarations of stockpiles of nuclear weapons and all fissile materials;
cooperative measures to clarify and confirm those declarations (including physical access to production facilities and production records);
an agreed, monitored halt to the production of fissile materials for weapons; and
agreed, monitored stockpile reductions.
The regime would initially be bilateral and later international. It would monitor warhead dismantlement (using a perimeter-portal monitoring system in addition to monitoring the build-up of weapon components in storage); it would also monitor the commitment of excess fissile materials to non-weapon use or disposal; and there would be some form of monitoring of whatever warhead assembly continues. Such a regime would build confidence in the knowledge each side had of the size and management of the other side''s nuclear stockpiles and the progress of nuclear arms reductions, and the information exchanged and site visits conducted would provide critical additional information to support cooperative MPC&A efforts.
The more such information that can be exchanged, the greater the potential synergistic benefit for MPC&A cooperation. Reciprocal visits to a wide range of plutonium and HEU storage and production sites (as envisaged in the NAS report and in a US proposal tabled in December 1994), could be of great benefit for MPC&A. (There is no substitute, in judging what MPC&A improvements are needed, for actual visits to the relevant sites.) It was for reasons such as these that the Senate required the Administration to begin pursuing such a weapons and fissile materials regime in the Biden Condition to its ratification of the START I treaty.
Such a broad regime could be approached step-by-step, with each step adding to security while posing little risk. The regime the NAS recommended would involve measures applying to each phase of the life cycle of military fissile materials: production and separation of the materials; fabrication of fissile material weapon components; assembly, deployment, retirement, and disassembly of nuclear weapons; and storage and eventual disposition of fissile materials. While such a regime could never be rigorously verified, in the sense of absolutely confirming that a few dozen nuclear weapons or a few tonnes of fissile material had not been hidden away somewhere, these measures would be mutually reinforcing, building confidence that the information exchanged was accurate and that the goals of the regime were being met. With a sufficiently inclusive approach, it would be difficult to falsify the broad range of information exchanged in a consistent way, so as to hide a stockpile large enough to be strategically significant.
The United States and Russia have been discussing measures to meet the objective of "transparency and irreversibility" of nuclear arms reductions, including many of the elements of such a broad regime. A number of key elements are agreed at the level of broad Presidential statements, including the reciprocal data exchange on nuclear weapons and fissile material stockpiles, and mutual inspections of the stored fissile materials resulting from weapon dismantlements, but implementation is so far lacking.
Removing large quantities of fissile material from the stockpiles available for weapons is a key element of such a regime. This can be accomplished, as President Clinton is doing, through political or legal commitments never again to use designated materials in weapons, confirmed by bilateral or international monitoring. (To date, however, the United States has declared only a small amount of the material from actual dismantlements excess to its military needs, keeping most of it for military reserves. The NAS study recommended, by contrast, that a very large fraction of this material be declared excess.)
The NAS study recommended that excess fissile materials committed to non-weapon use or disposal by the United States and Russia should be placed under international safeguards (possibly combined with bilateral monitoring). In the interest of speed, monitoring of storage could initially be a bilateral US-Russian effort, but the IAEA should soon be brought into the process. In the case of plutonium stored as "pits," the NAS report concluded that adequate safeguards could be provided without compromising sensitive weapon-design information by declassifying the mass of plutonium in the pits, and allowing IAEA monitors to assay the sealed containers holding the pits without observing the components'' dimensions. Preparing a site for IAEA safeguards requires that a reasonable material control and accounting system be in place, so there is a potential synergy with MPC&A efforts here, as well.
The NAS report recommended further that this regime be internationalized, so that all states would ultimately declare their holdings of fissile material, and all the declared weapon states would declare their holdings of nuclear weapons. The cost of data exchanges and limited numbers of reciprocal visits to fissile material production and handling sites would be relatively modest. Perimeter-portal monitoring of dismantlement facilities would be somewhat more costly, possibly amounting to a few tens of millions of dollars per year. (A variety of technologies for automated monitoring might reduce substantially the number of inspector-days, and therefore the costs, required to confirm dismantlement figures effectively.)
In addition, the United States should consider how to provide incentives (financial and otherwise) for participation by key Russian parties in such a transparency programme, and how to build it step-by-step. For example, taking a cue from the lab-to-lab MPC&A programme, US laboratories are working with their Russian counterparts to develop and demonstrate technologies and approaches for such transparency on a reciprocal basis -- potentially creating a motivated cadre of Russian experts and advocates in this area, as in MPC&A. In addition, financial assistance could be provided for the actual dismantlement of nuclear weapons. If the United States were to offer a reciprocal regime for verification of warhead dismantlement, for example, while simultaneously offering financial assistance to help pay for the costs of warhead dismantlement itself, once verification of that dismantlement was in place -- as envisaged in the original Nunn-Lugar legislation, but never implemented -- this could provide a significant incentive for Russian officials to do the hard work necessary to overcome decades of Communist secrecy and implement a transparency regime. Russian officials have estimated that it costs roughly $15,000 to dismantle each warhead; if the United States financed half this cost, and the Russians continued to dismantle roughly 2000 warheads per year, the cost would be $15 million per year. If financial assistance allowed Russia to accelerate dismantlement, the resulting increase in cost would be a small price to pay for the large resulting benefit to US security.
Safeguards on excess fissile material also involve significant costs (potentially as high as a few tens of millions per year, counting the costs of hosting inspections, if both the United States and Russia place all their excess material under safeguards). Costs are particularly high when material is in difficult-to-monitor forms, such as scrap and waste. More broadly, to carry out its expanded, post-Gulf War missions, along with the new missions of monitoring excess nuclear material and a global fissile material production cut-off, the IAEA''s safeguards budget will have to be substantially increased. Other steps should be taken as well to strengthen the IAEA''s ability to carry out its responsibilities.
If the world has too much weapon-usable material, it should stop making more. Any comprehensive plan to reduce the risks of theft of these materials would obviously be helped if the world stockpiles of weapon-usable nuclear material were to stop growing. Already, in addition to the hundreds of tonnes of excess fissile material building up as a result of nuclear arms reductions, there are over 150 tonnes of separated, weapon-usable civilian plutonium in storage around the world -- a figure that increases by many tonnes every year, as reprocessing of additional plutonium continues to outpace its use as reactor fuel.
Unfortunately, even the first step in the effort to limit accumulation of these materials -- initiated in a US-Russian agreement signed in 1994 to end production of plutonium for weapons -- has not yet been completed. After extensive debate about how to avoid the problems that would be created by simply shutting down three Russian reactors that produce not only weapon plutonium but also heat and electric power for the surrounding regions, it was finally agreed that the cores of these reactors will be converted to operate with fuels that do not produce weapon plutonium and do not require near-term reprocessing. This will cost tens of millions of dollars, rather than the hundreds of millions, or billions, of dollars required for entirely new plants. The reactors are now expected to be converted by the year 2000.
The second step in this path is a worldwide fissile cut-off convention, banning production of plutonium or HEU for nuclear explosives or outside of international safeguards. Such an agreement would be a considerable non-proliferation achievement -- and would mean placing enrichment and reprocessing plants worldwide, including those in the former Soviet Union, under international safeguards, inevitably requiring a major improvement in MPC&A at some of these facilities. The costs of monitoring such an agreement might increase the IAEA''s annual safeguards budget by $40-$90 million; the costs of initially preparing older reprocessing plants for safeguards would also be significant.
It is also important to limit the build-up of civilian separated plutonium around the world. Reprocessing operations in France, Britain, Russia and Japan continue to proceed far faster than the use of the resulting plutonium as fuel, with no end in sight to the resulting build up of separated plutonium. Utilities are contracting for reprocessing not because they need the plutonium for their planned programmes, but because they need to get their spent fuel out of their cooling ponds. For example, despite having no commercial scale plutonium fuel fabrication capability -- and therefore no near-term need for civilian plutonium -- Russia continues to reprocess at the Mayak plant, adding another tonne or more annually to the roughly 30 tonnes of plutonium in storage there, and is considering construction of a massive new reprocessing plant at Krasnoyarsk-26. MINATOM would like to be able to change Russian law to permit it to offer reprocessing contracts to foreign utilities under which Russia would keep the waste and plutonium separated during reprocessing, meaning that utilities could send their spent fuel to Russia and never have to worry about it again. This could result in a major increase in global reprocessing. For the moment, however, prospects for financing this plant and for such a change in the atomic law in Russia appear slim.
The end of the Cold War and the dismantlement of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons is leaving the United States and Russia with a daunting legacy: hundreds of tonnes of HEU and plutonium that are no longer needed for military purposes and must be securely managed and ultimately transformed into forms that would be more difficult to use for nuclear weapons. As the NAS report warned, the existence of these huge stocks of excess material "constitutes a clear and present danger to national and international security." This is a critical security challenge of the post-Cold War period. In addition to its direct security implications, disposition will involve significant sums of money -- billions of dollars of potential profit in the case of HEU, and hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in required subsidy in the case of plutonium.
A substantial period of storage of this material -- lasting, for some portion of the material, for decades -- will be required for all plausible disposition options. For that period, as noted earlier, it is essential to ensure that this material is stored safely and securely, and with adequate transparency (both bilateral and international) to confirm commitments that it will never be returned to weapons.
Although intermediate storage is an inevitable interim step, it should not be extended longer than necessary. It would be bad for the cause of non-proliferation and arms reduction to maintain these vast stocks of excess material in a readily weapon-usable form over the long term. Whether storage is secure against the risks of breakout and theft depends entirely on the durability of the political arrangements under which storage is conducted. Indeed, one of the key criteria by which disposition options should be judged is the speed with which they can be accomplished, and thus how rapidly they could curtail these risks of storage.
The NAS report recommended that the United States and Russia pursue long-term disposition options that:
- minimize the time during which this material is stored in forms readily usable for nuclear weapons;
preserve material safeguards and security during the disposition process, seeking to maintain the same high standards of security and accounting applied to stored nuclear weapons (the "stored weapons standard" described above);
result in a form from which the plutonium would be as difficult to recover for weapon use as the larger and growing quantity of plutonium in spent fuel -- the "spent fuel standard;" for uranium, an analogous standard, not addressed in the NAS report, is that disposition should result in a form from which the uranium would be as difficult to recover for weapon use as ordinary commercial low-enriched uranium; and
meet high standards of protection for public and worker health and the environment.
For HEU, it is technically straightforward to achieve these goals. Highly-enriched uranium can be blended with other forms of uranium to produce proliferation-resistant LEU, which is a valuable commercial fuel. The United States has agreed to purchase 500 tonnes of excess Russian HEU, blended to LEU, over 20 years; if current prices persist, the value of the deal over that period will be roughly $12 billion. The United States is planning to undertake a similar blending process for most of its own stockpile of excess HEU (currently declared to amount to approximately 175 tonnes of material).
While disposition of HEU is technically straightforward, the details of arranging this material''s entry into the commercial market have proved to be complex. After considerable initial difficulties, LEU blended from Russian HEU is now being delivered and money transferred. The soon-to-be-privatized US Enrichment Corporation and the firm representing Russia''s Ministry of Atomic Energy have recently signed a new contract setting the prices and quantities to be shipped for five years, which is expected to keep the agreement moving along at least for that period of time. After a series of difficult negotiations, transparency measures to ensure that the LEU the United States is purchasing comes from HEU, which in turn comes from weapon stockpiles, and to ensure that the United States uses this material only for peaceful purposes, have been agreed and are being implemented.
There are strong security arguments for increasing the size and pace of the HEU deal. Currently, the deal is for 500 tonnes of material to be purchased over 20 years. Russia has indicated informally that it has substantially more than 500 tonnes of excess HEU, and has sent out feelers concerning possible additional sales in the USA or other countries. Additional purchases would help to reduce the stockpiles of weapon-usable material in Russia, create an additional incentive for weapon dismantlement, and provide much-needed hard-currency -- all at zero or modest net cost to the US taxpayer. Arrangements might be reached, moreover, under which the profits from additional purchases might be used to fund high priority nuclear security objectives, such as upgrading MPC&A or undertaking plutonium disposition (see below). Speeding up the deal would reduce the time during which this material remained in weapon-usable form. Even if the commercial market cannot absorb the material now, or sufficient facilities for blending the material more rapidly to a commercial-quality product cannot be made available, it would be highly desirable to blend the material to an intermediate level below 20 per cent enrichment, so that it was no longer usable in weapons.
Plutonium raises more difficult issues. As nearly all isotopes of plutonium are weapon-usable, plutonium cannot, like HEU, be blended to a proliferation-resistant form. Moreover, given the current worldwide supply of cheap uranium, the use of even "free" plutonium as fuel in reactors is currently uneconomic, so that essentially all plutonium disposition options will require subsidies of hundreds of millions or billions of dollars.6
The NAS study concluded that the two most promising options for plutonium disposition are:
- fabrication into mixed-oxide fuel for use as fuel in existing or modified nuclear reactors; or
vitrification (combining the material with molten glass) in combination with high-level radioactive waste.
Both of these options would result in forms that met the spent fuel standard. The technical panel on reactor-related options that supported the NAS study recommended that both of these options should be pursued in parallel, to ensure that at least one of them would succeed. The panel concluded that each of the most promising options would have a net discounted present cost of between $500 million and $2 billion, for 50 tonnes of excess US plutonium. Costs in Russia are difficult to predict, (particularly as a disposition campaign would not be likely to begin for several years, by which time economic conditions are sure to be markedly different), but are not likely to be dramatically less. It appears very likely that if disposition of Russian plutonium is to be accomplished in the relatively near term, the United States and other members of the international community will have to help to finance it, as an investment in global security.
Following up the NAS study, the DOE undertook a major programme of analyses and experiments to study the advantages and disadvantages of the various options for disposing of excess US weapon plutonium. This effort generated three major reports -- a Technical Summary Report, a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, and a Nonproliferation and Arms Control Impact Assessment -- which were completed in mid- to late-1996 and arrived at conclusions similar to those reached by the NAS reports: that the two most attractive options for disposition of excess weapon plutonium beyond interim storage are MOX, for once-through use in a limited number of currently operating power reactors, and immobilization, by mixing with high-level radioactive wastes in glass logs.
Many of the basic conclusions of the NAS study have been endorsed by other nations as well. At the April 1996 Moscow Nuclear Safety and Security Summit, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin, along with the other leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, agreed that disposition of excess fissile material should be accomplished as quickly as practicable; endorsed the "spent fuel standard;" agreed that use as MOX or vitrification were the two best available approaches for meeting this standard; and agreed that disposition should be carried out with stringent security and accounting measures and international safeguards applied as early in the process as practicable. Further, the assembled leaders endorsed international cooperation to carry out necessary demonstrations and pilot projects, and called for an international experts meeting, held in Paris in October 1996, to lay out next steps in international cooperation.
Russia''s planned programme of research and analysis on plutonium disposition beyond interim storage includes, analysis and tests of weapon-plutonium/MOX use in existing VVER-1000 light-water reactors and the existing BN-600 fast-neutron reactor; plans to construct larger BN-800 fast-neutron reactors (for which, however, sufficient funding is not yet available); and studies of high-temperature gas reactor systems. In addition, Russia has joint studies underway with France and Germany on MOX use in light-water and fast-neutron reactors, and these three countries have jointly proposed the construction of a pilot-scale MOX fabrication plant in Russia, capable of processing 1.5 tonnes of plutonium per year. Russia also has a joint study with Canada on the use of Russian weapon plutonium in CANDU reactors, and a joint study with the US firm General Atomics on the use of high-temperature gas reactors. A joint US-Russian government-to-government cooperative study analysing the technical characteristics of a wide variety of reactor, immobilization, and geologic-disposal options was completed and published in September 1996, and has been followed by joint analyses and tests of specific technologies, including a plan, still in its early stages, for a pilot plant for conversion of plutonium metal to oxide.
In mid-1996 the governments of Russia and the United States agreed to form an Independent US-Russian Scientific Commission on the Disposition of Excess Weapon Plutonium to make recommendations to Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin, through the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, on appropriate next steps. In an Interim Report completed in September 1996,7 this Bilateral Commission recommended that the two most promising disposition options -- the MOX/current-reactors option and the immobilization-with-wastes option -- should both be developed to the point of large-scale operation in both countries. The Commission argued that this "dual track" approach provided the best opportunities for stimulating full cooperation between the two countries, the best possibilities for international financing, and, as a result of these features, and of not putting all the eggs in one basket, the best prospects for making plutonium disposition operational in both countries without excessive delay.
This two-track approach, which as noted above had also been recommended in the report of the Reactor Options Panel of the NAS study, stimulated some adverse comment from a number of US non-governmental organizations, who claimed that US use of the MOX option -- putting weapon plutonium in civilian reactors -- would violate US non-proliferation policy and would encourage proliferation-prone civilian recycle of plutonium in commercial reactors around the world. Proponents of the two-track approach replied that US non-proliferation policy opposes separating plutonium from spent nuclear fuel by reprocessing (whereafter the plutonium could be used in bombs) but does not and should not oppose putting already separated plutonium into fuel (where, after irradiation in a reactor, it cannot be used in bombs unless the fuel is reprocessed). Proponents also argued that limited once-through MOX use for weapon plutonium disposition would be unlikely to stimulate the commercial recycling of plutonium, especially since the latter remains uneconomic in comparison with once-through use of low-enriched uranium fuel. In mid-January 1997, the Clinton Administration announced in a formal Record of Decision that it would proceed with the dual-track approach. It is to be hoped that a similar decision by the Russian government will be forthcoming.
Both countries have some, but not all, of the facilities they would need to undertake plutonium disposition. For the reactor option, existing light-water reactors (LWRs) could, possibly with some modification, handle plutonium fuel in either one-third or 100 per cent of their reactor cores. A number of LWRs in Europe are already running with one-third MOX cores, though neither Russia nor the United States has substantial experience with MOX use in its commercial reactors. The NAS study concluded that building new reactors for plutonium disposition (such as the breeder reactors favoured by many MINATOM officials) is unnecessary, and would involve higher costs and longer delays. A single large LWR operating with uranium-plutonium mixed-oxide fuel containing 6-7 per cent plutonium by weight in 100 per cent of its core could use 50 tonnes of plutonium during its 30-year operational life. Unlike previous Soviet designs, the VVER-1000 LWRs are safe enough to continue to operate for decades to come, and with appropriate attention to modifications that may be necessary, use of plutonium fuel should not reduce their safety. Thus, if Russia decides that 100 tonnes of its weapon plutonium is no longer needed for weapon purposes, and if it proves to be possible to modify the VVER-1000s to use MOX in 100 per cent of their reactor cores, a single site such as Balakovo, where there are four VVER-1000 reactors, could handle the job. If the existing reactors can only use MOX in one-third of their reactor cores, additional modern VVER-1000 plants are operating in Ukraine -- already fuelled by Russia, on contract -- which could provide the necessary reactor capacity if associated political, transport and security issues could be satisfactorily resolved.
Neither Russia nor the United States, however, has an operational commercial-scale facility for fabricating MOX fuel or a facility for converting metallic plutonium weapon components to oxide. Providing such a facility is the long pole in the tent -- in both time and cost -- for beginning a large-scale plutonium disposition campaign using the reactor option. The NAS panel on reactor-related options concluded that in the United States, an existing unfinished MOX facility at Hanford could be made ready by 2001, with a capacity that could allow the last of 50 tonnes of excess plutonium to be loaded into reactors by 2026. The panel concluded that timing in Russia was not likely to be faster. More recent DOE studies have posited a slower, though still aggressive, schedule, on which a domestic US MOX plant would begin production in 2007.
Another option for dealing with the MOX fabrication problem would be to ship the plutonium to Western Europe for fabrication in existing and planned MOX plants there. These MOX facilities, however, have been designed to provide sufficient capacity to handle the plutonium being produced by commercial reprocessing in Europe. As a result, using these plants for weapon plutonium would require either delaying the fabrication of a similarly large stockpile of civilian plutonium, building additional fabrication capacity, or delaying or canceling some planned reprocessing. Nevertheless, this option is worth considering, particularly in the case of Russian plutonium, which would not have to travel far to get to these facilities: at fabrication plants in Western Europe, excellent MPC&A, international safeguards, and political and economic stability would be assured.
Similarly, both the United States and Russia have some but not all of the facilities that would be needed to mix plutonium with glass and high-level wastes. In the United States, a major effort to vitrify high-level wastes from past reprocessing is about to begin at Savannah River, and is planned at Hanford. Plutonium could be added to such waste glasses, but this would require either substantial modifications of existing facilities or the construction of new ones. The NAS panel estimated that vitrification of plutonium could not begin on a substantial scale in the USA until 2005, but could then be completed in less than a decade thereafter. Recent DOE studies similarly estimate a start time of 2006, and roughly a decade of operation. Russia is already vitrifying high-level wastes at Chelyabinsk, using a type of glass somewhat less suited for plutonium disposition. If it decided to do so, Russia could probably undertake vitrification of its plutonium on a similar schedule.
It is critical that disposition of excess HEU and plutonium should be carried out under stringent standards of security and accounting, and international monitoring. Disposition will inevitably involve substantial bulk handling of plutonium and HEU -- which, if stringent procedures are not in place, could increase rather than decrease the risk of theft. Even a single documented case of theft of weapon-usable material from the disposition programme -- a programme designed to reduce proliferation risks -- could have a devastating political impact on the entire fissile material cooperation effort, in addition to the serious security risks that any such theft would pose. In the case of the HEU deal, it is critically important that both the sites where the HEU weapon components will be converted to HEU oxide, and the sites where the material will be blended to HEU, be provided with effective MPC&A systems. The United States and Russia should agree now that whatever disposition options are chosen, a stringent standard of safety, security, and international accountability will be maintained.
The US-Russian Independent Commission, in its interim report, recommended not only that both countries pursue a two-track approach to plutonium disposition, but that the two countries agree on a range of non-proliferation and monitoring provisions as well. In particular, the Commission recommended that the United States and Russia begin negotiations with the aim of ensuring that their warhead dismantlement and materials-disposition programmes proceed in parallel, ultimately reducing to equivalent remaining levels of plutonium and HEU in their two military stockpiles.
Once the excess weapon plutonium has been transformed into forms that are no easier to use in nuclear weapons than plutonium in spent fuel, the weapon plutonium disposition campaign itself can be considered complete. The urgent security problem posed by large stockpiles of excess weapon plutonium will then have been reduced to a part of the broader, longer-term problem of management of spent fuel and other nuclear wastes. The forms resulting from plutonium disposition will be suitable for secure storage for decades, while approaches for their final fate are being prepared. Nevertheless, in the long run, whatever plutonium remains in spent fuel or in immobilized waste forms will need to find final resting places with appropriate levels of protection against intruders, of isolation from the biosphere, and of monitoring to verify that the protection and isolation are being maintained.
This last stage of the management process might involve direct disposal of spent fuel and immobilized waste forms in geologic repositories, or it might involve additional treatment (with or without reprocessing, in advanced reactors or accelerator-driven subcritical reactors, or otherwise) to fission more of the plutonium or to increase the durability of its packaging, before it is emplaced in its final resting place. In this last stage, the residuals from the utilization or other disposition of military plutonium will represent only a small fraction of a larger quantity of similar residuals from civilian nuclear energy activities and from the management of other military radioactive wastes. Extensive studies of the options for ultimate disposal of these similar waste forms are underway in Russia, the USA, and elsewhere; and, while the addition of the residuals from disposition of military plutonium adds a few complications to these studies, there is much less urgency about making the final decisions than there is about the three prior stages of nuclear explosive materials management.
Of course, the ultimate disposition of separated civilian plutonium is also an issue. This plutonium, amounting to over 150 tonnes today, is not much more difficult to use in nuclear explosives than is separated military plutonium and so requires a comparable degree of protection. The United States and Russia should cooperate with each other and with other countries to ensure that stockpiles of separated civilian plutonium and HEU worldwide are publicly declared to enhance transparency, placed under international safeguards, and handled with stringent standards of MPC&A as appropriate to the threat of theft or diversion of this weapon-usable material. How to minimize the total quantities of this material in storage prior to its irradiation in reactor fuel -- or its immobilization with pre-existing radioactive wastes -- is a matter for further study and discussion.
In the long run, the security risks from spent fuel will increase as the fission-product radioactivity decays and as the technical sophistication needed to separate out the plutonium becomes more widespread. It may then be appropriate to protect spent fuel (including the spent fuel from reactor disposition of military plutonium) to a greater degree than has been thought necessary up until now, to accelerate the process of placing it in geologic repositories, or to burn up more of the contained plutonium using advanced reactors or accelerator-driven systems.
If nuclear energy is to make a large contribution to world electricity generation over the long run, it will be necessary either to tap the vast but dilute uranium resources in seawater or to recycle large quantities of bomb-usable plutonium "bred" from uranium-238 (or, equivalently, bomb-usable uranium-233 "bred" from thorium). Recycling plutonium or uranium-233 on such a large scale without creating significant security risks is likely to require MPC&A measures at least as challenging as those being contemplated currently for military plutonium, or to require the use of proliferation-resistant advanced reactor and fuel cycle technologies that are not yet fully developed.
Reform and Diversification of Nuclear Cities
All of the measures described above are essential parts of reducing the risk that nuclear weapons and weapon-usable material fall into the wrong hands. None of these efforts will be successful in the long run, however, absent a still broader agenda of reform, including improving the economic conditions of those responsible for nuclear weapons and materials. Desperate people are ingenious in overcoming obstacles; whatever technologies are deployed, significant proliferation risks will continue to exist if the personnel who must guard and manage nuclear weapons and fissile materials are underemployed, ill-paid, embedded in a culture of growing crime and corruption, and confronted with an uncertain future offering no assurance that they will be able to provide the necessities of life for themselves and their families. These issues can only be addressed as part of a broad effort devoted to economic renewal in the FSU and the establishment of a strengthened legal system able to cope with crime and corruption.
A critical step in that broader effort will be developing new businesses to diversify the economic base of the nuclear cities in the FSU. Economic collapse in these cities would pose a serious threat to the security of the United States, given the large quantities of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials stored there. Moreover, as long as these cities have no new mission, they will continue to lobby energetically for the continuation of their past missions -- production of nuclear weapons and weapon-usable materials. The 1994 episode in which a sit-down strike by unpaid workers at Krasnoyarsk-26 ultimately provoked President Yeltsin to come to the site to promise a new nuclear reactor and completion of a gigantic new plutonium reprocessing facility, is a case in point. Thus, diversifying the economic base of these cities will be a fundamental part of achieving US security objectives over the long term.
This will not be easy. These cities were created for one purpose and one purpose only: the production of nuclear weapons and their essential ingredients. By design, they are remote and isolated, limiting the opportunities for trade. They remain "closed cities," meaning that no one can enter or leave without special permission. In general, they have seen less of the benefits of reform than virtually any other part of Russia. They are, in the words of one US defence conversion expert, economic "basket cases." Thus, efforts to develop new businesses in these cities are certain to be difficult, and are likely to require substantial subsidies.
Some programmes designed to foster such diversification are already underway. The International Science and Technology Centre (ISTC) in Moscow, the similar centre in Kiev, and a variety of lab-to-lab programmes, are already employing thousands of former Soviet weapons scientists in useful civilian work. (Thousands more, however, are still focusing their efforts on weapons of mass destruction, or remain underemployed.) Existing defence conversion programmes have begun contributing to the shift of some facilities from commercial to civilian production. While the programme that is planned to play the principal role in US defence conversion efforts in the future, the government-industry partnership known as the Defense Enterprise Fund (DEF), is targeted specifically to conversion of facilities involved in weapons of mass destruction, it is also targeted to enterprises likely to be profitable after getting a kick-start from outside funding. As a result, few, if any, of the initial 82 enterprises to be funded are in the closed cities. The Industrial Partnering Programme (IPP), which finances (with both government and industry funds) partnerships linking US industry with technologies developed in US and Russian laboratories is promising but has not yet led to the creation of self-sustaining commercial enterprises.
These efforts simply do not match the huge scale of the task. A substantial international effort is needed to identify new projects that could diversify the economic base of these cities. In some cases, nuclear cities are already diversifying, and have considerable potential for developing profitable new enterprises. In other cases, however, major cultural change and substantial subsidies will be required if these cities are to have any economic future independent of production of nuclear weapons.
A useful first step might be to organize business development conferences in each of the major nuclear cities, bringing together local interests with ideas for new businesses, Russian and foreign investors, and international banks and financial institutions. Such conferences could work to identify new enterprises that could be developed strictly through private investment, as well as outlining the scale of the subsidy that might be required for other enterprises to ultimately become self-sustaining. The emphasis should be on partnership with private industry, in order to target funds toward projects that business identifies as having a substantial chance of being a success. Ultimately, the international community may have to provide loans and grants of hundreds of millions or billions of dollars to provide a reliable economic future for these cities. This should be viewed as an investment in security, not simply a subsidy to another nation''s economy. (This could be compared, for example, with the substantial sums in energy improvements in Ukraine which the G-7 appear to be prepared to provide, to enable the shut-down of the Chernobyl reactor.)
The plan outlined above would involve a wide array of major programmes, each with its own complexities and issues, stretching for years into the future. In implementing any such a programme, it will be essential to prioritize the key objectives, coordinate the efforts closely, and seize opportunities for synergies between different parts of the programme.
All of the parts of this programme can and should contribute to each other. Technologies and institutional relationships developed in the course of upgrading MPC&A will also contribute to building transparency. Data exchanges and reciprocal visits carried out under the transparency programme will provide vital information for the effort to upgrade MPC&A. Storage and disposition of excess plutonium and HEU will inevitably be integrally linked. New businesses for the nuclear cities will inevitably include efforts in all these areas, including fissile material disposition, production of MPC&A equipment, and the like.
In particular, the large sums of money involved in the HEU purchase can provide substantial leverage for accomplishing other nuclear security objectives. Looked at in isolation, raising the billion dollars or more that might be required to finance plutonium disposition in Russia might seem extremely difficult. But, as one example, the United States could agree to purchase another 100 tonnes of HEU -- a 20 per cent addition to the 500-tonne deal already underway -- linked to a Russian commitment to spend the resulting income on financing disposition of 50-100 tonnes of plutonium. If considered together, disposition of the plutonium and HEU from dismantled weapons is likely to make a profit overall. Alternatively, such an additional purchase might be linked to a Russian commitment to finance specific steps to upgrade MPC&A.
The control of plutonium and HEU -- the essential ingredients of nuclear weapons -- is one of the most serious and urgent security challenges facing the world in the coming decade. Nothing could be more central to world security than ensuring that nuclear weapons and the materials needed to make them do not fall into the hands of rogue states or terrorist groups.
Meeting this challenge will require a comprehensive programme of action on many fronts. To succeed, this programme will require more energetic leadership and substantially more money -- from the United States, from Russia, and from other countries -- than it has had to date. The programmes outlined above will cost several billion dollars over the next decade or more. Although substantial, particularly in the current atmosphere of budget constraints, these sums are tiny by comparison to the several hundred billion dollars the world now spends annually in the name of "defence."
1 Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC), National Academy of Sciences, Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium, National Academy Press, 1994; Panel on Reactor-Related Options for the Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium, CISAC, Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options, National Academy Press, 1995; President''s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), Cooperative US/Former Soviet Union Programs on Nuclear Materials Protection, Control, and Accounting (Secret), Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President, March 1995 (summarized in unclassified testimony by J. Holdren before the Subcommittee on Europe, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, U.S. Congress, 23 August 1995); and Independent Bilateral Scientific Commission on Plutonium Disposition, Interim Report, President''s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, the White House, and Russian Academy of Sciences, 16 September 1996. The current article draws heavily on a November 1995 paper entitled "Reducing the Threat of Nuclear Theft in the Former Soviet Union: Outline of a Comprehensive Plan" commissioned from J. Holdren by Senator Richard Lugar and published in abbreviated form in the September 1996 issue of Arms Control Today.
We are also indebted to the publications on this subject by Frank von Hippel and his colleagues at the Federation of American Scientists and the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Princeton University; by Thomas Cochran, Chris Paine, and their colleagues at the Natural Resources Defense Council; by William Potter and his colleagues at the Monterrey Institute of International Relations; by Arjun Makhijani and his colleagues at the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research; and the book Avoiding Nuclear Anarchy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996) by Graham Allison and his colleagues at Harvard''s Center for Science and International Affairs.
2 For a detailed account of Project Sapphire, see W.C. Potter, "Project Sapphire: US-Kazakhstani Cooperation for Nonproliferation," in J.M. Shields and W.C. Potter eds., Dismantling the Cold War: US and NIS Perspectives on the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997.
3 Testimony of Gordon Oehler, Director, Nonproliferation Center, Central Intelligence Agency, Senate Armed Services Committee, January 31, 1995, Senate Hearing. 104-35, p. 4.
4 Committee on International Security and Arms Control, National Academy of Sciences Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium, National Academy Press, January 1994.
5 American Nuclear Society, Protection and Management of Plutonium, Special Panel Report, La Grange Park, Il.: American Nuclear Society, August 1995.
6 Panel on Reactor-Related Options, Committee on International Security and Arms Control,National Academy of Sciences, Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options, National Academy Press, July 1995.
7 John P. Holdren (U.S. Co-Chair), Evgeniy P. Velikhov (Russian Co-Chair), John F. Ahearne, Richard L. Garwin, Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky, John Taylor, Alexei Makarov, Fedor Mitenkov, Nikolai Ponomarev-Stepnoi, Fedor Reshetnikov, Dmitri Tsourikov, and Matthew Bunn (Independent Bilateral Scientific Commission on Plutonium Disposition), Interim Report, President''s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, the White House, and Russian Academy of Sciences, 16 September 1996.
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