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Yardsticks for Curbing Nuclear Proliferation, Advancing Arms Control

IAEA Director General ElBaradei and Joseph Cirincione, Director for Non-Proliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, take audience questions at the 2005 Carnegie nuclear conference. (Credit: Carnegie Endowment)

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei today proposed four "yardsticks" against which to gauge performance in the world´s efforts to curb nuclear proliferation and advance arms control. The yardsticks pertain to four aspects of tracking and assessing progress - effectiveness of nuclear verification; control of sensitive nuclear technology; protection of nuclear material; and compliance with commitments not to proliferate.

Dr. ElBaradei was the opening keynote speaker at the 2005 Carnegie Conference on Non-Proliferation in Washington, DC, described as an annual nuclear "reality check". The two-day conference is attended by leading experts on issues of nuclear proliferation and weapons of mass destruction.

"A world free from nuclear weapons is the only option we can and must pursue," Dr. ElBaradei emphasized. "Our effectiveness in curbing proliferation will depend on our success in creating the necessary environment to achieve that goal."

Nuclear Verification

Dr. ElBaradei said that the first yardstick must be a measure of support for the IAEA´s nuclear verification responsibilities.

  • He noted that the central purpose of verification is to build confidence. The IAEA´s experience has shown that, in cases where proliferation concerns have created a confidence deficit, even provisions of the additional protocol (which grants Agency inspectors supplementary authority) may not be adequate. In such cases, additional "transparency measures" may be required.
  • In an effort to "stay ahead of the game" in nuclear verification, he said the IAEA is exploring innovative technologies for detecting undeclared nuclear facilities and activities. He called for the establishment of a mechanism under which States systematically share information with the IAEA on the export of sensitive nuclear material and technology.

Control of Sensitive Nuclear Technology

The second yardstick, he said, is our ability to control sensitive nuclear technology. He reiterated the need to explore options for better control over proliferation-sensitive operations - namely, uranium enrichment and plutonium separation. He said this could occur in a series of four steps:

  • Provide assurance of supply of reactor technology and nuclear fuel;
  • Accept a time-limited moratorium (of perhaps 5-10 years) on new uranium enrichment and plutonium separation facilities - at the very least for countries that do not currently have such technologies;
  • Establish a framework for multilateral management and control of the "back end" of the fuel cycle (i.e. spent fuel reprocessing and waste disposal); and
  • Create a similar framework for multilateral management and control of the "front end" of the fuel cycle (i.e. enrichment and fuel production).

Protection of Nuclear Material

Dr. ElBaradei said a third yardstick would measure performance in securing and protecting nuclear material. Multiple international and regional initiatives are helping countries to improve the physical protection of such material. Good progress is being made, but much work remains to be done, he said.

With strong support from the IAEA, Russia and the US, many countries are taking steps to convert their research reactors from highly-enriched uranium (HEU) to low-enriched uranium (LEU) and to return the HEU to the country of origin. Seven such transfers of fresh fuel back to Russia have been made since 2002, and we are continuing to work on arrangements for the repatriation of spent research reactor fuel of Russian origin. In Kazakhstan, a project supported by the Nuclear Threat Initiative is nearly completed, which involves down-blending almost 3000 kilograms of HEU and placing it in safe storage.

Compliance with Commitments

The fourth yardstick relates to performance in complying with non-proliferation and arms-control commitments. For compliance to be effective, it must be backed by credible mechanisms to deal with cases of non-compliance, said Dr. ElBaradei. The potential for being referred to the UN Security Council has clearly acted as an inducement for compliance in some cases; however, he recalled that the referral of North Korea to the Council, in 1992 and again in 2003, resulted in little to no action. To be effective, the UN Security Council must be ready at all times to engage, in order to cope with emerging threats to international peace and security.

At the same time, he said, confidence in nuclear disarmament commitments would be measurably enhanced if nuclear-weapon States were to take action towards reducing the strategic role currently given to nuclear weapons. A good beginning would be to move away from the Cold War status of maintaining these weapons on hair-trigger alert. He noted that to date, we have not even begun to consider an approach that could replace nuclear deterrence.

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Last update: 27 July 2017