Remarks at NCI Conference on Nuclear Power and Nuclear Proliferation
Lawrence Scheinman, Monterey Institute of International Studies
Washington, D.C. April 9, 2001
The single most important roadblock to nuclear weapons is access to fissile material. Weapons grade material is the preferred but not the only source of material for nuclear weapons. While less efficient and perhaps more problematic, power reactor fuel can be used to fabricate a nuclear explosive device i.e. in the case of plutonium-based weapons or explosive devices all plutonium except that containing 80% of the 238 isotope is usable and all sources of PU must be regarded as a risk factor in proliferation.
Technical or institutional means or, more appropriately, a combination of the two can be drawn upon to deal with this challenge. Another, more radical alternative would be to foreswear using nuclear technology as a source of energy for social purposes. I discount that as a viable option because of the breadth and depth of commitment that already exists in a number of countries to peaceful nuclear energy production; the continued uncertainties surrounding energy security, especially in countries substantially dependent on external sources of supply; and growing concerns about the environmental impact of burning carbon-based fuels, especially coal, and continued interest in the role that nuclear based electricity (among other alternatives) can play in addressing that problem. This does not discount the formidable problems surrounding nuclear energy including in addition to proliferation, environmental integrity, safety, and waste manage-ment.
Technical approaches to reconciling peaceful uses of nuclear technology with the risk of proliferation have already been considered by a number of speakers during the course of the day and in this session the role of civilian power in Indian acquisition and Iranian aspiration have been discussed. I have been asked to give attention to the international non-proliferation regime and whether it does or can provide an effective barrier against misuse of civilian fissile materials for weapons. In doing so I take it as a given that neither institutional nor technical strategies alone are sufficient to deal with the proliferation risk associated with nuclear technology and that both together offer considerably more promise than either does alone. But even as a tandem to be successful they need more assistance in the form of an unwavering political commitment of governments to prevent proliferation and to address it where it occurs; prioritization of non-proliferation on the political-security agendas of governments of leading states in the international system; leadership on their part in efforts to strengthen the non-proliferation regime; and determined collective response in cases of non-compliance leaving no doubt in the minds of any state leader contemplating proliferation that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council will stand together as one in dealing with such incidents.
However, that being said I also would condition my remarks on the conviction that there are no panaceas for unequivocally foreclosing the potential risk of proliferation. Even if we were to eliminate nuclear energy as a means of producing electricity, that would not end the risk. States have in the past, and may well in the future pursue acquisition of nuclear weapons without having a peaceful nuclear power program in place to provide some of the ingredients of a nuclear weapon program or to mask the existence of a clandestine program. Eliminating nuclear technology as a resource for energy production does not eliminate the problem of proliferation. Nor does the prospect of global nuclear disarmament and the immobilization and disposition (one way or another) of all attendant fissile materials likely prerequisites for consigning nuclear proliferation to the dust bin of history appear close to our doorstep. Furthermore, unlike the situation that prevailed from the dawn of the nuclear age through the beginning of the last decade, we now confront an even more pernicious problem namely the prospect that what has been called the residue of the Cold War -- technology, expertise and special nuclear materials -- may end up in the wrong hands, as a consequence of insufficient material protection, control and accounting in the former Soviet Union and the temptation for illicit trafficking of such materials and expertise particularly in the face of economic deterioration. The Clinton-Putin summit agreement in June, 2000 for disposition of 68 metric tons of weapon grade plutonium deemed no longer required for defense purposes subject to verification arrangements to be concluded with the IAEA are a step in the direction of gaining control over this risk, but there is still a long way to go.
Institutional approaches relate primarily to the nuclear non-proliferation regime including not only the baseline NPT but also the regional nuclear weapon free zone treaties along with an array of export control, verification, security assurance and related national legislative and admin-istrative implementing measures. Regimes are themselves institutional arrangements intended to bring about collective outcomes in international society through the establishment of norms, rules and procedures which regulate and constrain behavior in a given area of activity. Zack Davis has already provided an overview of the non-proliferation regime and there is no need to go into detail here other than to single out the fact that participation in the treaty-based nuclear non-proliferation regime entails commitments with respect to behavior in the nuclear arena, including for non-nuclear weapon state parties the commitment not to receive , manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, nor to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of same; and to submit all nuclear material in all peaceful nuclear activities to a comprehensive safeguards system to verify compliance with the undertaking not to divert any nuclear material from peaceful nuclear activity to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
Views on the relevance of regimes to state behavior and their effectiveness in channeling or governing behavior vary. Hard-core realists contend that they are epiphenomena, embedded in a larger order of sovereign states whose structure, rules and procedures predominate all else - e.g. deterrence is a stronger explanation for state behavior than regime rules. Liberal institutionalists do not argue the irrelevance of the sovereign state but do contend that contractually or consensually created regimes can and do provide frameworks within which states -big and small, strong and weak- experience benefits, and learn to refine or sometimes redefine national interests and to do so in a manner consistent with the rules and principles of the regime.
We do not need to enter this esoteric debate in order to take a position on the relevance of regimes. To put it directly, it seems to me that experience shows that regimes do in fact matter: **they erect legal barriers against the further spread of nuclear weapons; **they embody the norm of nonproliferation and make more difficult and raise the stakes of political decisions to acquire nuclear weapons; **they serve as confidence building measures that help to reinforce national security; **they provide a framework within which export control, verification and collective response measures can be formulated and implemented. While not alone sufficient to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons they are a necessary element in the effort to achieve that result. Delegitimization, devaluation, (which involve changes in strategic doctrine and not just reductions in numbers of weapons) progress in numerical reductions, reliable positive and negative security guarantees, and an effective cooperative or collective security system in which any non-aggressor state could have confidence are all additional factors that are relevant to regime credibility.
The revelations regarding Iraqs extensive clandestine nuclear weapons program that emerged during inspections in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War underscored shortcomings in the IAEA safeguards system in particular the need to strengthen its capacity to detect undeclared activity. Shortly afterward the IAEA Board of Governors took a number of steps deemed to be within the legal authority conferred by existing full scope safeguards agreements including requiring: ** additional information from states regarding facilities that have or will contain nuclear material subject to safeguards, **the expanded use of unannounced routine inspections, **the collecting of environmental samples at sites where inspectors already have access, and **confirming the Agencys right to carry out special inspections anywhere in a state that had accepted comprehensive safeguards if this were necessary to confirm that all nuclear material that should be under safeguards had been reported to the IAEA. As well it **confirmed the right of the Agency to receive national intelligence reports that could facilitate carrying out of its mission, and **called upon all states to provide more comprehensive reporting on exports, imports, and production of nuclear material beyond that required by existing safeguards agreements.
In 1997 the IAEA Board of Governors endorsed an Additional Protocol to existing safeguards agreements that addressed further critical requirements for a more effective safeguards system including:
**information about, and inspector access to all aspects of a states
nuclear fuel cycle from mines to waste storage;
**information and access vis-a-vis all buildings on a nuclear site;
**information about and access to all fuel cycle related research and development;
**information about manufacturing and export of sensitive nuclear-related technologies; and
**the ability of the inspectorate to collect environmental samples beyond
declared locations when deemed necessary by the IAEA.
Collectively these and the earlier safeguards measures which clarified and reinforced existing authority, together with the baseline safeguards system, offers a very comprehensive picture of a states resources, activities and capabilities. It is short of the perfection that might exist if direct verification of all aspects of a state declaration could be achieved, (cost a factor here) but it does provide the basis for having sufficient information and access to understand, dissect and draw inferences regarding the whole of a states nuclear program and activity and thereby plan an effective verification strategy for the state. The prospect that another Iraqi surprise would not occur is not/not a foregone conclusion but it substantially raises the bar that a state subject to comprehensive safeguards would have to scale to successfully carry out a clandestine nuclear program.
Several issues lie ahead, however, in particular **the number and the importance of states signing the additional protocol and even more, bringing it into force; and, **financing of the safeguards system. It would and could be a pyrrhic victory to have a strengthened safeguards system that lacks sufficient resources to be implemented as intended. Yet that is the situation that faces the IAEA today. In his statement before the Board of Governors last month, Director General El-Baradei warned of the risk that safeguards might experience a failure given the disparity between its obligations and its resources. The Agency has labored under a policy of zero real growth since the mid-1980s but the number of states and facilities and locations has more than doubled and the amount of nuclear material to be safeguarded has increased correspond-ingly. For example, the number of significant quantities of nuclear material to be safeguarded has doubled in the past six years alone. As much as the safeguards system needed strengthening so also does the attitude of states relying upon it to break out of zero real growth.
If the safeguards experience in relation to Iraq exposed limitations and weaknesses of the system, and highlighted the cultural and implementation attributes needing correction, it also had the very positive effect of bringing about a strengthened safeguards system. And in so doing it offers some additive insight into dealing with the continuing challenge to non-proliferation posed by fissile nuclear material. If fissile material cannot be wished away it must be dealt with as it is and we need to think in terms of how we can minimize the presence of separated PU or HEU in-cluding pursuit of technical options that eliminate separation of plutonium from spent fuel, control it effectively where it is in separated form, progressively reduce it, and pace any further reprocessing of civilian spent fuel to match the de facto requirements for insertion into reactors so that stockpiles do not build up, and find ways to secure plutonium in spent fuel pending ultimate disposition.
This implies or suggests looking to ways to build out from the existing regime structures and to explore fashioning institutional arrangements that can accommodate these concerns. Looking ahead causes us to look back - in particular to revisiting concepts for dealing with plutonium and spent fuel two decades ago in the wake of the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation, INFCE that it was hoped by its proponents, the Carter Administration, would demonstrate that the once through fuel cycle was the optimal choice for capturing the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy while substantially reducing the risk of proliferation. While not winning that case, INFCE did recommend exploring international cooperation in both plutonium (IPS) and long term spent fuel storage (ISFS)leading to studies of these options, but no conclusion were reached and the efforts subsided in the early 1980s.
The issue of alternative means by which to address stockpiles of both military and civilian separated plutonium has however re-emerged on the agenda of the IAEA and other venues and includes exploration of accords for for reporting on stocks, transfers and storage. Non-nuclear weapon states with substantial stocks of separated plutonium, in particular Japan, have over time become increasingly sensitive to how this is perceived by others and whether institutional arrangements might be crafted that would serve to enhance security and ameliorate concerns about the presence of these stocks. This would seem to open the door of opportunity to revisit such ideas as multilateral or international plutonium and spent fuel storage and to bring into existence incremental institutions that would complement and fortify the non-proliferation regime.
The nonproliferation regime is not static; it is a dynamic system amenable to growth and innovation. Together with.continued efforts to evaluate the current fuel cycle and to identify economically and technically acceptable ways to have access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and energy production without incurring the proliferation risks attendant to the current fuel cycle choices, i.e. systems that foreclose separation of weapons usable materials, innovations along these lines may help provide a firmer grasp on the challenges posed by the presence of fissile material while other efforts are made to find a means of avoiding accessibility of such materials in the first instance. Still another concept that has been delayed in negotiation is that of a fissile material cut off treaty that would foreclose any further production of fissile material for weapons or explosive purposes. It is likely that this is a necessary building block to get beyond new production to deal with preexisting stockpiles resulting from military or civilian production The 1995 NPT Extension Conference singled out the FMCT as the next step to be taken following completion of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty but negotiation of such a treaty has been blocked in the Conference on Disarmament due to Chinese efforts to link any progress on cut-off to negotiating a treaty to prevent an arms race in outer space a condition inspired by U.S. plans to pursue national missile defense..
It can and will be argued that even with such a fuel cycle one still runs the risk of clandestine facilities being built to siphon off spent fuel and get at the contained PU but here the quality of the strengthened safeguards system comes into play because it provides a more dependable verification capability, the knowledge of who and where to target in the event of non-participation.
Another factor that will matter is a third dimension of the lessons came out of Iraqi experience: As then Director General Blix asserted shortly after the revelations of the clandestine activity, not only access to information and access to sites were necessary if the agency were to be able to provide a high degree of assurance that clandestine activities could be discovered, but also assurance that access to the Security Council is available for backing and support that may be necessary to perform the inspection. That assurance was given when, in 1992, John Major, speaking on behalf of the Council asserted not only that proliferation of any kind constituted a threat to international peace and security, which raises the prospect of opening Chapter VII of the UN Charter allowing for a range of responsive measures including resort to force, but that the Council would take appropriate measures in the case of any violations notified to them by the IAEA. The one case that was noted was North Korea which ended up for resolution in the United States court. In that sense the Security Council has yet to deliver on its commitments. If and when it does stand unified and resolute on standing up to proliferation or to violations of treaty undertakings in the nuclear field, the uncertainties surrounding nuclear power and fissile material will diminish and the presence of the atom will become that much less threatening, and its use for benign social and economic purposes more manageable.
While determined collective response to the threat of proliferation is critically important, there is a need to move forward on other fronts as well with a focus on developing and strengthening institutions that help to avert proliferation threats in the first instance. That entails measures to meet the incentives to proliferate as well as to curtail or foreclose opportunities to do so, but for our purposes we will limit ourselves to the latter. The tendency toward system inertia in the absence of a sense of impending crisis underscores the need to call forth three elements identified earlier as essential to management of the atom: Political commitment, prioritization in national policy and leadership in the international arena. These elements should be harnessed to an agenda consisting of at least the following three things. First, to fully implement the Additional Protocol to States Safeguards Agreements thereby increasing the opportunity for the IAEA to effectively carry out comprehensive safeguards in all of the non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT, and to the extent that the voluntary offers of nuclear weapon states so provide, to apply strengthened safeguards there as well. Second, to negotiate a fissile material cutoff treaty to obligatorily end the production of fissile materials for military or explosive purposes and to bring all fissile materials under verification. The United Nations General Assembly adopted a consensus resolution supporting a cutoff treaty in 1993 and the NPT Review and Extension Conference in 1995 decision on Principles and Objectives identified fissile cutoff as a priority goal for 'immediate commencement and early conclusion.' The negotiating forum for an FMCT, the Conference on Disarmament needs to end the stalemate that has precluded implementation of this consensus objective for the past four years. Third, given the presence of separated plutonium in a number of locations around the world, and the uncertainty and suspicion that this generates, it would be appropriate now to revisit earlier concepts of plutonium storage under terms and conditions that would diminish if not eliminate concerns of the international community in the presence of such weapons-usable material. Progress along these lines would close important gaps in the current nonproliferation system and serve as additive building blocks that contribute to reconciling efforts to enable nuclear power to play a constructive role in meeting global energy needs without at the same time increasing the risk of proliferation. Fully achieving that objective will, as already stated, require the full effort of all states to move toward security in a nuclear weapon free world.