Remarks on Safeguards Panel
Let me say at the outset, in response to Zach Davis comment about optimism, that I wouldn't be in the non-proliferation business this long if I weren't, at heart, an optimist. If I was defeatist and cynical, I would have been long out of the business. Seriously, you have to approach this work from the perspective of optimism. You have to approach it from the standpoint that there will yet be a breakthrough that will turn a lot of these dangerous trends around. And, hopefully, it will be a breakthrough other than a catastrophe that seizes the attention of the public and finally makes meaningful change possible.
I'd also like to take a moment to further elaborate on what Zach had to say at the outset about Warren Donnelly. Warren really left a fingerprint on history in the sense that, without the availability of Warren Donnelly, the CRS (Congressional Research Service) senior specialist on non-proliferation back in the early 1970's, it would not have been possible to do all the wonderful things we did in terms of achieving enactment of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act. And, what I especially want to emphasize is how very even-handed he was in his approach. He surely knew where we were coming from, as being highly critical of nuclear export policy at the time. But he was also advising the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, which took a decidedly different view, at the same time. Warren performed a valuable service in helping to frame the debate. We enlisted him to compare a compendium, a factbook, and numerous other documents, not only to educate our committee, but Congress as a whole and, in effect, the public at large. I started out in this field very much like what I used to be---a beat reporter on a newspaper, learning as I went along. And he helped me learn. He was a true scholar. He was even- handed. He played it straight.
Most important, he established a real tradition at CRS in the atomic energy field, which was picked up by Zach. But unfortunately that tradition no longer exists. There is no longer a senior specialist for non-proliferation at the Library of Congress, and that is indicative of the lack of interest on Capitol Hill in doing the kind of careful oversight that is so necessary to protect against the spread of nuclear weapons.
In responding to the presentations just made, I often like to quote people whose words had an impact on me. And, one was a quote brought to my attention initially by NCIs esteemed counsel, Eldon Greenberg, who is in this audience today. He once quoted Adrian Fisher, who was the first general counsel of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and had participated in the negotiation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). And, in testifying on the Hill at one point, Fisher said something like the NPT doesn't obligate us to do anything foolish. There's nothing in the treaty that requires us to go against our supreme national security interests for the sake of adhering to the treaty. And, the treaty can be interpreted in a number of ways to fulfill solemn national security interests.
Larry Scheinman spoke about a couple of bargains implicit in the treaty. He spoke about the bargain of Article IV in return for adherence to the treaty by the non-nuclear-weapon states. Non-weapon states were entitled to full access to peaceful nuclear technology. He spoke about the bargain implicit in Article VI, which was, not an obligation on, but a commitment from, the nuclear-weapon states to pursue disarmament in return for the non-weapon states avoiding nuclear armament.
But there's yet another bargain in the treaty which wasn't discussed earlier, and it's worth mentioning. And, that's the bargain between Articles I and II on the one hand, and Article IV on the other. Or what NCI called, in our analysis, a dynamic tension between those two parts of the treaty. And, what is often lost sight of is that a transfer of nuclear technology authorized by Article IV cannot happen if it's not in conformity with the solemn obligation of all parties under Articles I and II not to do anything to transfer nuclear weapons capability to non-nuclear weapons states.
Eldon Greenberg, in preparation for the 1995 NPT extension conference did, what I thought was a brilliant legal analysis. He basically made the point that if there was no economic necessity justifying the use of plutonium as fuel, then the Treaty, as it presently existed, and without any need to amend it, could be interpreted to say that any production of separated, weapons-usable plutonium would be a violation of Articles I and II. That is, the transfer of any technology, or the continuation of any programs, for the utilization of separated plutonium ran afoul of Article I and II prohibitions.
And, I would argue that you've got to put first things first in discussing the NPT regime. And, the first thing you've got to put first is whether the continued utilization of plutonium and highly enriched uranium makes any sense at all in terms of the future of the nuclear industry and the security of the world.
Bert Wolfe himself has acknowledged at various points, over the 20 or 25 years of our debating such matters, that plutonium is not in the best interest of the nuclear industry because it raises all kinds of controversies, it raises all kinds of dangers, and it is not essential fuel if you don't have the breeder immediately at hand. This is a rough paraphrase, and Bert will have the opportunity in the roundtable discussion to correct me if I'm wrong.
What's lacking in the NPT regime today, what is most lacking, I think, is a sense of rigor. Hal Feiveson, who is also in the roundtable discussion, made an interesting point bearing on this subject, all the way back when he was doing his PH.D. dissertation. That's when I first met Hal, and he spent a lot of time discussing symmetry---the need for symmetry, for symmetrical obligations between the weapons states and the non-weapons states. And, I was always very struck by that.
You need reciprocity and symmetry. And the problem with the way that concept is being applied today is that it's being applied to legitimate something that's very dangerous. The approach today is to find ways to allow plutonium to be used, rather than develop a consensus that plutonium is too dangerous to be used and build a treaty regime to prevent that danger.
So, theres lack of rigor to deal with plutonium for what it is, an atom-bomb material too dangerous to be used in commerce. And theres also a pro-nuclear industry bias that pervades all councils dealing with non-proliferation and that makes dealing with plutonium rigorously all but impossible.
One journalist who covers these matters on a regular basis once put it rather inelegantly, but what he said might be worth mentioning. He said that the problem with the NPT review conferences is that they're run by the nukeheads. It was a very indelicate way to put it, but his point was that basically the nuclear industry and the nuclear bureaucracy run the NPT deliberations. And, therefore, there isn't a prayer for getting anything done differently, particularly with regard to plutonium, than what those two grand institutions are prepared to accept. George Perkovich made an interesting point with regard to India, which was the same point Rudolph Rometsch, the first and only Inspector General of the IAEA, once made to me. Rometsch said the problem in dealing with the nuclear establishment in India is that you are dealing with a state within a state. Now Rometsch became so powerful that, when he left then IAEA, they had to change his title. So he was the agencys one only inspector general. But even he acknowledged severe limitations in dealing with the nuclear establishment of India, and Im suggesting that the same kind of limitations apply when dealing with the combined nuclear establishments at NPT meetings on the subject of plutonium.
Here I want to touch again on something I raised at the opening of this conference. Look at the difference in the way that the international community has dealt with highly enriched uranium compared with the way it has dealt with plutonium. Now, why is it that virtually all highly enriched uranium commerce has ended, at least that originating from the US---which is almost the exclusive source of HEU for research reactors in the western world. Plutonium commerce expands in the face of adverse economics, but HEU commerce is all but gone. The only exception is the kingdom of Bavaria, which insists on building a new research reactor with, of all things, high-density, high-enriched uranium. But, let's consider that an aberration that will be dealt with in due course.
Why is it that nations can agree to get rid of HEU, but they can't agree to get rid of plutonium? You know, one material is about as dangerous as the other. Louis Alvarez made the point that HEU, in some ways, is more dangerous. Because, if you drop one half of it on top of the other half, you can actually get something approaching a nuclear explosion.
The answer to that question is found in the one good thing that came out of INFCEthe International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation of the Carter years---namely, an international consensus that said, Yeah, let's get rid of HEU. We can probably do without it. And, there wasn't a strong industrial bias for keeping it.
So, a way was found, thanks to a rather remarkable team at Argonne National Laboratory, that decided to take the issue on and do the job. And, by the way, it wasn't easy to do the job. Because, there were some protests from within industry. And, there were times, especially during the Reagan years, when the so-called RERTR budget for the reduced-enrichment program was at risk of being zeroed out at the urging of European reactor operators who didnt want to convert to low-enriched fuel.
One of the things I'm particularly proud of, in terms of the role of NCIand here I owe a special debt to Alan Kuperman---is the way we actually helped to keep that program alive by writing op eds and making special appeals to the Hill, and finding some Congressman who was willing to put back the one point two million dollars that somehow the Executive Branch could not afford to keep the reduced-enrichment program alive and HEU out of the hands of terrorists.
So, with determination, the job of getting rid of bomb-grade nuclear fuel can be done. And, frankly, I think one has to lose patience when it comes to plutonium. One has to lose patience with this notion that regime-building is very complex and very sensitive, you know. Sure, it is. But, what would happen if finally Japan decided, as I think someday it will, that plutonium is more trouble than its worth? And that put the British reprocessing and MOX fuel program on the skids. And the French found themselves so isolated that even they were forced to weigh the disadvantages of going it alone. EDF, Electricite de France, is already complaining that it costs at least three to four times more to use MOX fuel than LEU. And, the major industrial states finally said, enough. We're prepared to do with plutonium what we did with HEU.
Well, I think what would happen then is that somehow the non-proliferation regime would respond. The Board of Governors of the IAEA, for once, would be pulling in the right direction, rather than the plutonium direction. And, one thing might actually lead to another. But, you don't have that situation today. You really do not have that today.
Nonetheless, we at NCI proposed in the immediate aftermath of the end of the Cold War, that there was a grand opportunity for dealing with both military and civilian plutonium. The superpowers had to begin getting rid of excess plutonium, but how were they to do it?
Well, we proposed that immobilization become the vehicle, not only for getting rid of the excess warhead plutonium of the superpowers, but also for getting rid of the excess civilian plutonium of the non-nuclear weapon states, and of the weapons states that had large civil plutonium stockpiles.
This approach, of immobilizing plutonium in the highly radioactive waste from which it had been separated, could serve as a magnet for collecting the worlds separated plutonium and getting it out of harms way. And, this approach could also serve as a basis for establishing reciprocity and symmetry between the nuclear-weapon states and the non-nuclear weapon states. The spent fuel standard would apply to both. The material would be put back into a form that could not directly and readily be turned into weapons. It might not be disposed of geologically right away, but at least the two sides, the weapons states and the non-weapon states, could cooperate in isolating atom-bomb material and preparing it for eventual disposal. The plan had the ring of truth, consistent with Articles I, II, IV and VI of the NPT. Nations could work together to remove the overburden of plutonium and make the world safer.
And, what was the response to that proposal? Its a non-starter, we were told. Absolutely a non-starter. Don't even waste your time thinking about it.
With Dan Horners help, we first presented the proposal at Ed Helminskis first annual plutonium disposition meeting in Leesburg, Virginia, in 1994. Dan called it my Leesburg Address. Well, it was an interesting idea, an intellectual conceit. But, before an overflow audience of industry and bureaucracy, it went nowhere.
And, which way did the bureaucracy and industry go? Well, somehow, MINATOM and DOE found common ground. They found common ground by saying, Hey, let's turn our excess plutonium into MOX and run it through light water reactors.
And, NCI protested mightily, as did a number of other public-interest organizations. But, we were out of line, because you've got to do something with the plutonium. And, if the Russians want to do MOX, we were told by the Clinton Administration, then, of course, we have to do MOX. But, the point, in fact, was that DOE and MINATOM both wanted to do MOX. Why? Because this was the way to revitalize the plutonium industry at a time when it was really at risk of going under.
So, my sense of the NPT regime is that it needs rigor. It needs some new life breathed into it. It needs to understand that, as Dick Garwin once so adroitly put it, One nuclear explosion can ruin your whole day. And, not only that. It can bring down the nuclear industry in the blink of an eye.
Dick seemed disagree with that last point this morning. He thought the ultimate consequence for the industry depended on where the nuclear explosion took place. Yet, just imagine if civil plutonium were used in a weapon that destroyed a city. Or, a nuclear power plant was sabotaged. What would that do to the nuclear industry? Not to mention the world.
So, the non-proliferation regime really is not doing its job. K. Subramanyham used to be fond of calling the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, but he was, of course, pointing out that weapon states were building up their arsenals even though the treaty was supposed to prevent all that. Of course, nuclear weapons were also spreading, including to India, even though the treaty was supposed to prevent that, too.
One can go over the history of this. And, I don't want to extend my time or my privileges as one who convened this meeting. But, I'm trying to speak from the heart as well as from the brain. We need to call a spade a spade. What could even an intelligent and enterprising Director General of the IAEA, like Hans Blix, do about plutonium when he first came into office when he had a Board of Governors that was swinging the way it was swinging? That's the real problem.
So, I think one of the tricks is to somehow take this policy away from those who think that plutonium is the greatest thing since sliced bread. And, I think that marketplace forces might yet do the trick. They might do the trick.
Consider Japan. You just wonder, considering the difficulty the Japanese economy is in today, how much more abuse Japan is willing to sustain in order to perpetuate the plutonium industry? We all know how difficult it is to change a decision, once made, in Japan. It's like trying to turn a great ocean liner on a dime. Decisions are made laboriously by consensus. And, once made, they take a long time to change. But, NCIs approach has been to focus on Japan, as I said earlier, because if Japan did change its mind, it would have a profound impact on the European plutonium industry. And, if that happens, who knows, the US government might finally say, since no one is pushing for plutonium anymore, let's do for plutonium what we did for HEU.
Also, look at the difficulties BNFL, British Nuclear Fuels, is in right now. This is a government-owned monopoly that cannot get its act together. Until recently, DOE was hiring BNFL to clean up waste and to do all kinds of wonderful technological things in the United States until we began realizing the kind of difficulties they were causing themselves at Sellafield, not to mention in Japan. BNFL, in effect, sabotaged the plutonium program in Japan when it was discovered that some BNFL workers had deliberately falsified quality-control information on MOX fuel they sent to Japan. This caused an uproar in Japan, and cancellation of all MOX orders with BNFL. So it may be that all these little insults might finally bring down the great, monolithic plutonium industry.
I'm sure Hal Bengelsdorf, who is now sporting a bow tie, of all things, would agree that this would be a wonderful thing, if market forces actually dictated an intelligent decision on plutonium. But it was Amory Lovins who this morning observed that when you have insulated monopolies, where market forces don't apply, what hope is there?
Beyond market forces, I don't know what the dynamic for change is, other than something catastrophic happening that will force everybody to reconsider.
My hope is that, ultimately, common sense will prevail. I hope Richard Rhodes will understand that you can be against plutonium without being against the nuclear industry. Indeed, anti-plutonium might even prove to be pro-nuclear.
That concludes my remarks, and I thank you for your attention.