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8/03/2004

Trust, Don't Verify on Non-Proliferation

I. FMCT Last week the US unilaterally opposed verification provisions in a Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty [FMCT] that would prohibit the production of new highly enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium. The Clinton administration championed the FMCT, but the Bush administration took a more ambuguous position, arguing that the verification provisions were too onerous.

The State Department later released a statement saying that an internal review had concluded that an inspection regime "would have been so extensive that it could compromise key signatories' core national security interests and so costly that many countries will be hesitant to accept it."

Furthermore, "even with extensive verification measures, we will not have high confidence in our ability to monitor compliance with an FMCT." Bush administration officials would not elaborate on the statement or on the U.S. position, except to say they would send a delegation to Geneva to better explain the position to the conference. But the conference goes on recess in early September, leaving virtually no time to begin formal negotiations on the treaty before the end of the current presidential term. Since the disarmament conference can adopt a treaty only by consensus, the American position makes it highly unlikely that a verification system will be included in a future agreement. [Washington Post]
The Washington Times reporting was prudenized, entitled U.S. Seeks Treaty to Ban Fissile Material, when in fact it had basically just scuttled the treaty.
Arms-control specialists reacted negatively, saying the change in U.S. position will dramatically weaken any treaty and make it harder to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists. The announcement, they said, also virtually kills a 10-year international effort to lure countries such as Pakistan, India and Israel into accepting some oversight of their nuclear production programs.[Washington Post]
The verification procedures are the core of the FMCT:
An FMCT will help control the proliferation of fissile materials from which nuclear weapons or nuclear explosives can be fabricated by strengthening the international safeguards and verification system for fissile materials and extending it to cover the eight declared and de facto nuclear-weapon powers. This should lead to increased physical protection, material accountancy and transparency and reduce the risk of fissile materials being illegally diverted for illicit purposes. In particular, states possessing nuclear weapons could be encouraged, or required, to submit excess fissile material not currently used for military purposes for verification under an FMCT.
The Oxford Research Group has an on-line handbook discussing the importance of the FMCT.

It's fairly clear that this particular U.S. position is designed to protect Israeli strategic ambiguity. Nonetheless, it is a clear case of the administration refusing to take action to increase the security of the American people for ideological reasons. The Bush administration has opposed verification rules in anti-proliferation treaties unrelated to Israel. More details here, here, and here. John Kerry has been a legislative champion of increased verification. The AP article from above insinuates that Bush adopted his bizarre position on the FMCT in response to Kerry's advocacy.

II. HEU Reactor Conversion In a related note, the GAO released a report on problems with administration efforts to convert HEU, weapons grade, research reactors to LEU.
According to Argonne’s analysis, conversion to LEU fuel is technically feasible for 35 of the 66 research reactors in DOE’s reactor conversion program that still use HEU fuel, but most do not have plans to convert. In the United States, 8 research reactors, including 6 university reactors, could convert to LEU fuel, but DOE has not provided the necessary funding (estimated by DOE at about $5 million to $10 million per reactor). In addition, a university research reactor that converted to LEU in 2000 is still storing HEU fuel because DOE has not removed it. DOE officials said they have not made the conversion of the 6 university research reactors a priority because the reactors use only a small amount of HEU fuel. Officials at NRC, which regulates most of the U.S. research reactors included in DOE’s reactor conversion program, said that they consider the conversion of the university reactors a security enhancement and one of their priorities and that the delay is purely a matter of funding. Operators of the 6 reactors said they would convert to LEU fuel when DOE provides the funding. DOE’s reactor conversion program cooperates closely with operators of foreign research reactors and promotes conversion from HEU to LEU. Ultimately, however, it is the owners of the foreign reactors that make the decision to convert to LEU. Of the 20 foreign research reactors that use U.S.-origin HEU fuel, 14 do not have plans to convert to LEU because they generally have a sufficient supply of HEU and either do not want to incur the additional cost of conversion or do not have the necessary funding. Finally, since DOE’s reactor conversion program initiated cooperation with Russia in 1993, no research reactors that use HEU fuel supplied by Russia have converted. Only 1 of 7 Russian-supplied research reactors that could use LEU fuel is scheduled to convert. DOE officials said that 5 other Russian-supplied reactors are also likely to convert to LEU fuels that are currently available or are expected to become available within the next year. [GAO-04-807, July 30 2004 at p.4]
$10 million per reactor to reduce the global supply of HEU and significantly tighten trade? Funding is the main obstacle?
Some of the foreign research reactors would like to convert but do not have the necessary funding. For example, the operator of a research reactor in Jamaica told us that converting to LEU would improve the reactor performance but that purchasing LEU fuel for the reactor would cost $1.5 million, which is more than the reactor operator can afford. Therefore, the reactor operator is planning to continue using its current supply of HEU, which will last possibly 20 years. Similarly, according to Argonne officials, the reactor operator in Mexico would be willing to convert to LEU but does not have the necessary funding. While funding may not be an issue for other foreign reactors, many of them are designed to operate on a small amount of fuel meant to last for the life of the reactor. Converting to LEU would require the disposal of the fuel that the reactor operator had already purchased and is still usable. According to Argonne officials, operators of certain reactors in France, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom do not have plans to convert because the reactors have lifetime cores that do not need to be replaced. [Id. at p. 17]
Simple policy changes?
However, U.S. policies in support of the reactor conversion program do not influence foreign reactors using so little HEU that they can operate for many years without replacing their fuel or disposing of spent fuel. While Argonne provides technical assistance for conversion, current DOE policy precludes purchasing new LEU fuel for foreign reactors that use U.S.-origin HEU fuel. Under this policy, purchasing new LEU fuel—which, according to a DOE project engineer, is the main cost of conversion—is the responsibility of the reactor operator. According to a DOE official, DOE has paid for new LEU fuel only once, in Romania, in exchange for the return of Russian-origin HEU fuel to Russia. DOE spent $4 million to purchase LEU fuel for the Romanian reactor, which is still only partially converted and requires more LEU fuel before conversion is complete. DOE officials said that current DOE policy allows purchasing LEU fuel for research reactors that use Russian-origin HEU fuel in exchange for returning the HEU to Russia. However, DOE does not have a similar policy for research reactors that use U.S.-origin HEU fuel. DOE officials said they are considering revising this policy to allow purchasing LEU fuel for U.S.-supplied research reactors. [Id. at p. 18]
There are serious scientific obstacles to the conversion of some reactors, due to different fuel performances. But reading the report, it is clear that costs are the main obstacle for most of the reactors involved. Why aren't we taking simple steps to secure the nation?

The July/August Arms Control Today reported on Spencer Abraham's DOE plans for converting HEU reactors. In May, Abraham announced the creation of the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, a $450 million initiative to convert research reactors. The Kerry campaign noted that this was "a woefully disproportionate approach." "Even as stated, the scale and the effort and the speed at which things are proposed to be done ... is still woefully disproportionate to the challenge that he [Abraham] rightly states." [Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, AP, 5/26/04]
Matthew Bunn, a nuclear expert at Harvard University, said for the proposal to truly have a global impact it must have the backing of President Bush and sweep away bureaucratic rules.

"The key is being flexible enough to offer the kind of incentives to convince states and sites to give up this material," he told AP. [AP]
Will Bush provide this leadership? Will he be believed if he tries? John Kerry has an excellent position paper on reducing the vulnerability of nuclear materials. Arms Control Today also had a solid write-up of Kerry's advocacy.

III. John Bolton.Senators Domenici and Lugar, both Republicans, have been highly critical of Undersec. of State for Arms Control John Bolton's poor handling of the efforts to safeguard Russian plutonium. Bolton has wasted years negotiating over liability for accidents, not surprising considering:
Bolton has called the United Nations ineffective and been generally dismissive of multilateralism. He has also called for full diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and spoken out against the “illusionary protections of unenforceable treaties,” referring to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

At Bolton’s March 29 confirmation hearing, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) stated that the “inflammatory rhetoric” Bolton had displayed gave him “pause over [Bolton’s] capacity for handling the job.” Biden said, “I have always voted against nominees who oppose the avowed purpose of the position to which they have been nominated.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) agreed, saying the nominee’s views on arms control issues were “inconsistent with the best interests of the United States.”

However, Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), then chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, effusively praised Bolton as the “most qualified man for the job” and as “the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon.”

 

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