"Uses of Commerical Satellite Imagery in FMCT Verification"
Journal Article, Nonproliferation Review, volume 7, issue 2
Author: Hui Zhang, Senior Research Associate, Project on Managing the Atom
Negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT) may soon be launched at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva after several years' delay caused by debates over its scope and linkage to nuclear disarmament measures. Fissile material, in practice plutonium or HEU, is the fundamental ingredient in all nuclear weapons. It is also the most difficult and expensive part to produce. A global, verified ban on the production of fissile materials for nuclear explosives would be a key building block in a comprehensive strategy to contain and eliminate nuclear weapons.
The principle focus in negotiating the FMCT will be the verification provisions. Verification measures must be seen as efficient and effective, but must also be politically acceptable. The scope of verification will depend on the facilities and activities subject to an FMCT. However, the scope of verification is open to negotiation, and many options have been proposed. The proposed scope ranges from focused verification to wide verification.
Whether the chosen verification system is focused or wide, however, FMCT verification will have to cover the following three classes of facility: declared shutdown production facilities; declared operating fissile material production facilities; and undeclared production facilities.
Appropriate verification measures for each class of facility are described briefly here. In this report, I will focus on the most sensitive facilities: reprocessing and enrichment facilities and also plutonium production reactors. Once the most likely basic verification measures have been outlined, the rest of this report assesses how commercial observation satellites could be used as part of a verification system.
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