Tag Archives: nuclear nonproliferation treaty

The Japan-India Nuclear Deal, 2015

Smiling Buddha (Pokhran-I) was the assigned code name of India's first successful nuclear bomb test on 18 May 1974. image from wikipedia

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s agreement in principle to supply nuclear power technology to India may run counter to Japan’s stated commitment against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  The deal was reached on Dec. 12, 2015 during a meeting between Abe, who is visiting New Delhi, and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi.  If an actual nuclear power agreement is signed, it would mark the first for Japan with a nation that has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.  The latest move by Japan was met swiftly with criticism in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Japan and India began negotiating a nuclear power agreement in 2010 when the Democratic Party of Japan was still in power. Japan had wanted a provision in any such deal that would allow it to immediately stop any nuclear power cooperation should India resume testing of nuclear weapons, which has been on hold since 1998.  Although a joint declaration and a memorandum regarding a nuclear power agreement were released on Dec. 12, 2015 no provisions were included regarding a suspension of cooperation should India resume nuclear testing.  In the joint declaration, the two leaders confirmed that a nuclear power agreement would be signed after completion of the technological details through further negotiations between the two nations.

Excerpt from Japan’s nuclear power deal in principle with India a first with an NPT non-signer,  ASAHI SHIMBUN, Dec. 13, 2015

 

Natanz, Fordow, Parchin: the Nuclear Capability of Iran

Anti-aircraft guns guarding Natanz Nuclear Facility, Iran. Image from wikipedia

One [of the problems] is the ambiguity about what rights the Iranians will have to continue nuclear research and development. They are working on centrifuges up to 20 times faster than today’s, which they want to start deploying when the agreement’s [the currently negotiated agreement between Iran and United States/Europe]  first ten years are up. The worry is that better centrifuges reduce the size of the clandestine enrichment facilities that Iran would need to build if it were intent on escaping the agreement’s strictures.

That leads to the issue on which everything else will eventually hinge. Iran has a long history of lying about its nuclear programme. It only declared its two enrichment facilities, Natanz and Fordow, after Western intelligence agencies found out about them. A highly intrusive inspection and verification regime is thus essential, and it would have to continue long after other elements of an agreement expire. Inspectors from the IAEA would have to be able to inspect any facility, declared or otherwise, civil or military, on demand…

For a deal to be done in June 2015, Iran will have to consent to an [intrusive] inspection regime. It will also have to answer about a dozen questions already posed by the IAEA about the “possible military dimensions” of its nuclear programme. Yet on March 23, 2015Yukiya Amano, the agency’s director, said that Iran had replied to only one of those questions. Parchin, a military base which the IAEA believes may have been used for testing the high-explosive fuses that are needed to implode, and thus set off, the uranium or plutonium at the core of a bomb, remains out of bounds. Nor has the IAEA been given access to Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the physicist and Revolutionary Guard officer alleged to be at the heart of the weapons development research. The IAEA’s February 19, 2015 report on Iran stated that it “remains concerned about the possible existence…of undisclosed nuclear-related activities…including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

Excerpts from, The Iran Nuclear Talks: Not Yet the Real Deal, Economist, Apr. 4, 2015, at 43

How Israel Nuclear Ambiguity Benefits the United States

isreal nuclear weapons. image from wikipedia

Defense officials are fighting a three-year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act to release a 1987 report supposedly discussing Israel’s nuclear technology.  Grant Smith of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy  filed the request in 2012 and raised the issue in court after he said the request “went nowhere” for several years. He has been a critic of many U.S. policies related to Israel and of what he believes to be the inordinate influence of Israel in the American government.

In a seldom-used legal move known as optional review, Pentagon officials have asked the Israeli government to review the report before they consider releasing it.  Smith said the Defense Department has denied being able to locate the report, claimed it contained sensitive Israeli government information and cited FOIA exemptions, non-disclosure agreements and patents to intellectual property rights in its efforts to block the release of the report.

The unclassified report in question, titled “Critical Technology Issues in Israel and NATO Countries,” has surfaced in media stories and nonprofit research but has never been released to the public, according to court documents filed by Smith.  Smith’s legal complaint mentioned a 1995 publication called the Risk Report, which supposedly cited findings from the Pentagon document without referencing it by name.  The Risk Report claimed “the United States approved the sale of powerful computers that could boost Israel’s well-known but officially secret A-Bomb and missile programs” and identified the report only as “a 1987 Pentagon-sponsored study.”

Smith called the Department of Defense’s decision to seek Israeli approval a “cover-up” in the response he filed with the court Jan. 7.  “There is pressing urgency to release this report in the current context of regional nuclear negotiations which can only have a productive outcome if Americans and other concerned parties are more fully informed of the true state of affairs,” his response said.

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, called the likely existence of Israeli nuclear weapons an “open secret” in the international community….Israel… has never disclosed its alleged arsenal, nor has the U.S. ever formally acknowledged its existence….

Making sure that the Israelis have the ambiguity they need on nuclear issues actually boosts our nonproliferation diplomacy by preventing tensions in the region and backlashes from Israel’s neighbors,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan issued an order Jan. 8, 2015 requiring Defense officials to say whether they planned to invoke a non-disclosure provision that would allow them to keep the report secret at Israel’s request by Feb. 12. If not, Chutkan will begin the process of privately reviewing the report herself.  Defense officials said they expect the Israeli government to complete its review of the report by Jan. 16, 2015

BY SARAH WESTWOOD , Legal battle to publish unclassified DOD report on Israeli nukes nears end, Jan. 8, 2015

Nuclear Materials in Iraq and 2014 Civil War

university of mosul. image from http://www.uomosul.edu.iq/en/

The U.N. atomic agency said on Thursday (July 10, 2014) it believed nuclear material which Iraq said had fallen into the hands of insurgents was “low grade” and did not pose a significant security risk.  Iraq told the United Nations that the material was used for scientific research at a university in the northern town of Mosul and appealed for help to “stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad”.

Iraq’s U.N. envoy this week also said that the government had lost control of a former chemical weapons facility to “armed terrorist groups” and was unable to fulfill its international obligations to destroy toxins kept there.  An al Qaeda offshoot, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, took over swathes of Syria and Iraq before renaming itself Islamic State in June and declaring its leader caliph – a title held by successors of the Prophet Mohammad.

The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “is aware of the notification from Iraq and is in contact to seek further details”, IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said.  “On the basis of the initial information we believe the material involved is low grade and would not present a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk,” she said. “Nevertheless, any loss of regulatory control over nuclear and other radioactive materials is a cause for concern.”

Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a July 8 letter that nearly 40 kg (88 pounds) of uranium compounds were kept at the university.  “Terrorist groups have seized control of nuclear material at the sites that came out of the control of the state,” he said.

However, a U.S. government source said it was not believed to be enriched uranium and therefore would be difficult to use to manufacture into a nuclear weapon. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the reported seizure likely posed no direct threat. But, he said: “The sheer fact that the terrorists … show unmistakeable interest in nuclear and chemical materials is, of course, very alarming”.

Any loss or theft of highly enriched uranium, plutonium or other types of radioactive material is potentially serious as militants could try to use them to make a crude nuclear device or a “dirty bomb”, experts say.  Olli Heinonen, a former IAEA chief inspector, said that if the material came from a university it could be laboratory chemicals or radiation shielding, consisting of natural or depleted uranium.  “You cannot make a nuclear explosive from this amount, but all uranium compounds are poisonous,” Heinonen told Reuters. “This material is also not ‘good’ enough for a dirty bomb.”  In a so-called “dirty bomb”, radioactive material such as might be found in a hospital or factory is combined with conventional explosives that disperse the hazardous radiation.

Citing U.N. investigations dating back ten years or more, Heinonen said there should be no enriched uranium in Mosul. The Vienna-based IAEA helped dismantle Iraq’s clandestine nuclear programme in the 1990s – during Heinonen’s three decades there.  “Iraq should not have any nuclear installation left which uses nuclear material in these quantities,” he said.  Another proliferation expert, Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment think-tank, said: “The Mosul region and several university departments were scoured again and again by U.N. inspectors for a decade after the first Gulf War (1990-1991) and they know what materials were stored there.”  “These included tons of uranium liquid wastes, sources, uranium oxides, and uranium tetrafluoride. Some of these items are still there, but there’s no enriched uranium,” he said.

Excerpts from Fredrik Dahl, UPDATE 4-Seized nuclear material in Iraq “low grade” – UN agency, Reuters, July 10, 2014

The Nuclear Proliferation Potential of Laser Enrichment

The following is being released by Physicians for Social Responsibility:  The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is putting U.S. nuclear non-proliferation policy at risk if it decides not to require a formal nuclear proliferation assessment as part of the licensing process for a uranium laser enrichment facility in Wilmington, N.C.  That’s the message from 19 nuclear non-proliferation experts in a letter sent today asking the NRC to fulfill its statutory responsibility to assess proliferation threats related to the technologies it regulates. The letter is available online at http://www.psr.org/nrcassessment.

Global Laser Enrichment, LLC, a joint venture of General Electric (USA), Hitachi (Japan) and Cameco (Canada), has applied for a license to operate a laser enrichment facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, based on Australian SILEX technology. The NRC licensing review schedule sets September 30, 2012 as the date of license issuance.  One of the authors of the letter, Catherine Thomasson, MD, executive director, Physicians for Social Responsibility, said:“It is a widely shared view that laser enrichment could be an undetectable stepping-stone to a clandestine nuclear weapons program. To strengthen U.S. policy and protect the U.S. and the world from nuclear proliferation, the NRC should systematically and thoroughly assess the proliferation risks of any new uranium enrichment technology BEFORE issuing a license allowing their development.”  Dr. Ira Helfand, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, said: “If the U.S. is going to have moral authority in dealing with proliferation threats in other nations, such as Iran, it must do a better job of taking responsible steps in relation to proliferation threats in our own backyard. In fact, a persuasive case can be made that laser enrichment technology requires even more immediate action, since this is a known danger that can be addressed directly by the NRC under its existing regulatory authority.”

In the letter, the experts note that the NRC has no rules or requirements for a nuclear proliferation assessment as part of this licensing process. The experts are concerned that the Commission is falling short in its duties since a 2008 NRC manual on enrichment technology clearly states that laser enrichment presents “extra proliferation concerns due to the small size and high separation factors.”

Previous letters to the NRC asking for a proliferation assessment, signed by many of today’s signatories, have been rebuffed. NRC is on record stating that the National Environmental Policy Act does not require preparation of a proliferation assessment. However, a March 27, 2012 memorandum from the Congressional Research Service clearly concludes that the NRC has legal authority “to promulgate a regulation” requiring a proliferation assessment as part of the licensing process.  Both the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 and the Atomic Energy Act are cited by the experts as statutory basis of the NRC’s responsibility to assess proliferation risks.

Excerpt, 19 Experts: Nuclear Proliferation Risks Of Laser Enrichment Require Fuller NRC Review, PRNewswire, Sept 5, 2012

Proliferation Risks of Laser Enrichment

Laser Uranium Enrichment

The UAE Goes Forward with its Nuclear Energy Program

EnergySolutions has been awarded a four year contract to design and supply waste management systems for the United Arab Emirates’(UAE) nuclear energy program. The program will see a Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO)-led consortium build four reactors for the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), with the reactors based on the Shin-Kori APR1400 plants, which will serve as the ‘reference plants’ for the UAE’s new build plans.  Under the contract EnergySolutions will supply liquid waste processing equipment, including ion exchange and reverse osmosis systems, which will serve to significantly reduce levels of contamination and waste.

“This contract award follows EnergySolutions’ capture of two similar deals in China and sees the Middle East join the USA and Canada, Europe, and Asia as markets for the company’s sector-leading technologies and expertise in nuclear waste processing solutions”, said Mark Morant, President, Global Commercial Group, EnergySolutions. “We are leading the way in both the clean-up of old reactors and the design of innovative waste systems for new units and we look forward to working with KEPCO & ENEC to make a success of the UAE’s exciting new build program.”

EnergySolutions has over 15 years’ experience designing and delivering liquid waste management systems to Korean customers and other Korean reactor sites where our equipment is operating include Shin-Wolsong 1-2, Shin-Kori 1-2, 3-4, Kori 1-2, 3-4, Youngwang 1-2, 3-4, and Ulchin 1-2, 3-4. The Chinese wins were at the Yangjiang and Haiyang reactor sites.

EnergySolutions Wins Major New Build Contract in the United Arab Emirates, Press Release of Energy Solutions, Feb. 23, 2012

See also Nuclear Race in the Middle East

Gloves off? Nuclear Race in the Middle East

The United States plans talks with Saudi Arabia on civilian nuclear cooperation, people familiar with the plans said, in a step that has already set off fierce criticism on Capitol Hill.   With the United States hoping to head off an arms race in response to Iran’s nuclear program, officials from President Barack Obama’s administration plan to head to Riyadh in the coming week for nuclear talks, the sources said.  A congressional aide, who requested anonymity as the trip has not been publicly announced, said the visit would be a “preliminary” step to “discuss the possibility of moving forward on a nuclear cooperation agreement.”  A senior lawmaker from the rival Republican Party strongly criticized the visit, pointing to concerns about Saudi financing for Islamic extremists.  “I am astonished that the administration is even considering a nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia,” said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  “Saudi Arabia is an unstable country in an unstable region, with senior officials openly proclaiming that the country may pursue a nuclear weapons capability,” she said in a statement Friday.  “Its ties to terrorists and terror financing alone should rule it out as a candidate for US nuclear cooperation,” she said.

Saudi Arabia signed an agreement with the United States in 2008 during a visit by then president George W. Bush that would give the kingdom access to enriched uranium — meaning, unlike Iran, it would not need to master the nuclear fuel cycle.  But the agreement was only tentative, with little known effort since then to put it into practice.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter, with one-fifth of the world’s proven reserves. The kingdom says it wants nuclear power so it does not have to burn lucrative fossil fuels at its power plants. (Nuclearl renaissance) (China-Saudi-Arabia Deal)

But the United States has been worried that Saudi Arabia and other Arab states could develop nuclear weapons if arch-enemy Iran develops an atom bomb. Iran refuses to halt uranium enrichment that it says is for civilian purposes, but which Western nations suspect is meant to develop nuclear weapons.  In 2009, the United States signed a nuclear cooperation deal with the United Arab Emirates, which renounced plans to enrich or reprocess uranium and said it would instead obtain material from international suppliers.

US, Saudi Arabia to discuss nuclear cooperation, Agence France Presse, July 30, 2011

When Sanctions Start to Bite: Iran, North Korea, Syria Nuclear Nonproliferation

On May 23, 2011, pursuant to the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA), the United States imposed sanctions on two Belarusian entities, three Chinese entities and one individual, five Iranian entities and one individual, one North Korean entity, two Syrian entities and one Venezuelan entity.

The sanctioned entities are:

Belarusian entities – Belarusian Optical Mechanical Association and BelTechExport;

Chinese entities and individuals – Mr. Karl Lee, Dalian Sunny Industries, Dalian Zhongbang Chemical Industries Company, and Xian Junyun Electronic

Iranian entities and individuals – Milad Jafari, Defense Industries Organization, Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force, SAD Import-Export Company, and Shahid Bakeri Industries Group (SBIG)

North Korean entity – Tangun Trading

Syrian entities – Industrial Establishment of Defense and Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC)

Venezuelan entity – Venezuela Military Industries Company (CAVIM)

Sanctions were imposed on these entities as provided in the INKSNA because there was credible information indicating that they had transferred to or acquired from Iran, North Korea, or Syria equipment and technology listed on multilateral export control lists (Australia Group, Chemical Weapons Convention, Missile Technology Control Regime, Nuclear Suppliers Group, Wassenaar Arrangement) or otherwise having the potential to make a material contribution to WMD or cruise or ballistic missile systems.

The sanctions apply to the specific entities above and will be in effect for two years. The sanctions do not apply to these entities’ respective countries or governments.

The sanctions consist of the following:

No department or agency of the U.S. Government may procure, or enter into any contract for the procurement of, any goods, services or technology from these entities;

No department or agency of the U.S. Government may provide any assistance to these entities and they shall not be eligible to participate in any assistance program of the U.S. Government;

U.S. Government sales of any item on the U.S. munitions list (USML) to any of these entities are prohibited, and sales of any defense articles, defense services or design and construction services controlled under the Arms Export Control Act are terminated; and

New licenses will be denied and any existing licenses suspended, for transfer to these entities of items controlled under the Export Administration Act of 1979 or Export Administration Regulations.

Iran, North Korea and Syria nonproliferation Act (INKSNA), Fact Sheet, United States Department of State Press Release, May 24, 2011

Hide-and-Seek: Syria, the IAEA and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano warned his agency could issue a judgment of Syria’s alleged nuclear work based on current evidence if Damascus does increase its cooperation with U.N. inspecions.

The warning, confirmed by three Western diplomats with knowledge of Amano’s letter to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem, marked a shift in strategy in the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s bid over more than two years to examine the suspected reactor site and three other areas with possible atomic ties, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Syria has denied multiple IAEA requests for visits to the Dair Alzour site, where a suspected partially constructed nuclear reactor was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike. Inspectors were prohibited from the area after a June 2008 visit turned up traces of anthropogenic natural uranium. Damascus has rejected accusations it had engaged in illicit nuclear activities, though it suspended its cooperation with the U.N. watchdog following the 2008 visit.

The Vienna-based agency could release an assessment of Syria’s nonproliferation treaty compliance as soon as this month, when it is expected to make public a new safeguards report before its 35-nation governing board convenes on March 7. Amano asked Syria’s foreign minister for an answer ahead of the March meeting and said the agency would not accept an 11th-hour reply; to date, Syria’s only reaction has been to request that the deadline be postponed, the three diplomats said.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog has concluded from existing evidence that Syria covertly established a nuclear reactor at Dair Alzour and did not disclose the facility’s existence, according to two diplomats with knowledge of the investigation. The assertion is based largely on architectural similarities between the building that once stood at the site and other facilities known to house nuclear reactors, the first three diplomats said, referring to past safeguards reports by the agency. The Dair Alzour building’s shielding, power and water systems were indicative of a possible nuclear reactor site, the agency indicated in reports between November 2008 and November 2010.

The United States has urged several other governing board member nations to support a potential resolution pressing Syria to permit IAEA monitors, said two of the diplomats, each of whom represent member nations. Such a call can precede further U.N. action, according to the Journal.

Unofficial calls for a governing board resolution were issued when the board last convened in December, one of the three diplomats said. Washington wanted to make clear that Damascus cannot “duck and hide from the IAEA in respect to fulfilling obligations” by stonewalling agency inspection requests, the diplomat said.

IAEA Takes Harder Stand on Syria, Global Security Newswire, Feb. 1, 2011