The Hard Truth About Long Wars
Why the Conflict in Ukraine Won’t End Anytime Soon
Between now and the end of this century there is no realistic hope of meeting world energy needs without a substantial increase in the use of nuclear energy; commercial nuclear reactors are bound to multiply three- or four-fold even over the next 10 to 15 years. Commercial nuclear materials must be safeguarded against diversion or misuse by nations or individuals. At the same time, nuclear reactor designs and associated fuel cycle facilities now in common use present both real and public-perception problems as to their safe operation and the safe storage of the radioactive wastes they generate.
More and more these problems are seen to be global concerns. By far the greatest risk in the expanded use of nuclear energy is that it may contribute to the spread of nuclear weapons. Such nuclear proliferation was the main subject of the Review Conference just concluded in Geneva, five years after the coming into force of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). But the question of nuclear proliferation, vital as it is, is only part of the overall problem. Basically, the question is whether, and if so how, the use of the "peaceful atom" can be expanded to meet the world's energy needs without incurring unacceptable public risks of any sort. Although experts like to draw a technical distinction between "safety" and "safeguards"-and only the latter came in for extensive review at Geneva-in fact the regulation and control of the whole nuclear fuel cycle is often so closely related as to be almost impossible to divide into discrete parts.
Obviously, much of the problem of additional nuclear-weapons countries is political in nature: if a nation is determined, as India was, to demonstrate the ability to build its own nuclear weapons, probably no international framework can prevent it from doing so; the raw materials and the technology exist, to the point where no amount of international policing consistent with present concepts of national sovereignty-let alone the acute sensitivity of many nations today-can prevent nations from developing and exploding "devices" which are for all practical purposes weapons. To deter such decisions remains a matter of "high politics," concerned partly with the damping of regional rivalries, and in considerable part with the actions and attitudes of the superpowers and other nuclear-weapons nations with respect to their own nuclear capabilities.1
But at the level of practical action and day-to-day operation, it is also vital to have as strong a multinational framework as possible for the control of nuclear facilities and materials. Only through such a framework can nations, especially those which want nuclear facilities but not weapons, have confidence that others are playing the game fairly; only through such a framework can both safety and safeguards be steadily improved; and only so, in the long run, can the world hope to achieve a bearable balance between expansion and risk. It is the thesis of this article that the basis for such a framework already exists, in the International Atomic Energy Agency headquartered in Vienna, and that a major task for the next two to three critical years is to expand and solidify the functions and operations of the IAEA. We conclude with the proposal that there be established Regional Nuclear Centers to handle the expanding world need for key nuclear fuel cycle facilities, and that such facilities be placed under the safety and safeguards surveillance of the IAEA.
The IAEA came into being in 1957 as an affiliated agency of the United Nations, with the dual function of promoting the peaceful application of nuclear energy and of trying to avoid the diversion of fissile nuclear materials into weapons production. Although its roots lay in President Eisenhower's "atoms for peace" initiative of December 1953, from the first the organization had the full support of the Soviet Union, as well as the participation of a large number of nations including those with some nuclear capacity and those which looked primarily to receiving nuclear materials and facilities. The first Director-General of the IAEA was an American, former Congressman Sterling Cole. One of the first American representatives to the IAEA, who served for nine years, was Henry deWolf Smyth of Princeton, a former AEC Commissioner and author of the Smyth Report. From the beginning, the staffing and operation of the Agency have been serious, professional, and to a remarkable degree non-political. As the U.N. membership and voting patterns have expanded and changed, the IAEA has gone on little affected (except in size). Today, its members total 106 countries, and the Director-General is a Swedish scientist, Dr. Sigvard Eklund, who has served in that position since 1961.
For its first ten years, the IAEA focused primarily on its principal goal of spreading the peaceful fruits of nuclear technology-radioisotopes for medicine, agriculture and industry, reactors for research and power. According to the ground rules laid down by the cooperating superpowers which made the birth of IAEA possible, the Agency has never been in a position to limit or influence the military programs of the countries already possessing nuclear weapons. IAEA has no disarmament or arms-control function, (although nothing in its Statute would prevent its exercise of such responsibilities if, for example, they grew out of a future SALT negotiation). But safeguards against diversion have always been an aspect of the worldwide security structure to which IAEA was expected to contribute.
Initially this safeguarding role was limited to "source" and "special nuclear material"-i.e., natural uranium and uranium containing various degrees of enrichment in the fissionable isotope U-235-and equipment supplied under IAEA aegis, including the fissile material contributed to worldwide research by the United States during President Eisenhower's administration. Gradually IAEA's status as an official international inspector was extended to other transfers, in which the supplier nation and the receiving nation or group of nations signed authorizing accords with the Agency. The greatest expansion of IAEA's safeguarding duties came with the NPT, which named the Agency specifically to monitor compliance with its provisions.2
Acting under this charter, the IAEA is now authorized to conduct inspection operations in at least 92 countries, with an inspection staff of approximately 70 technical personnel and a budget for this function of about $5 million (out of a total Agency budget of $35 million). It is, to put it bluntly, a shoestring operation at present; let us return in a moment to its technical adequacy and to what would be needed to expand and strengthen safeguard operations.
Even if its own operations have remained on a relatively small scale, the IAEA has been an important catalytic force in the framing and extension of proper standards for safeguarding nuclear operations. In the latter stages of the negotiation of the NPT in the late 1960s, President Johnson made an offer to open U.S. domestic commercial nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection. This offer was reaffirmed last September, on behalf of President Ford, in a speech by Dr. Dixy Lee Ray, then Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and it was understood that it was to take effect as soon as Japan and the EURATOM countries had completed ratification of the NPT. The offer was apparently motivated initially by two considerations: first, to assure other nations that surveillance would not hamper their industrial commercial nuclear development, and secondly, to demonstrate that any presumed interference with internal operations caused by IAEA inspections would not enable nuclear-vendor nations-specifically the United States-to gain a competitive advantage.
Today the conditions of the U.S. offer seem about to be met. In early May, just prior to the convening of the Review Conference, Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, all members of EURATOM, deposited their final ratifications; similar action by Japan seems imminent. Hence, although the American nuclear industry has always been less than enthusiastic with respect to the idea of full-fledged IAEA inspection in this country-so that there may be some foot-dragging-it now seems imperative and wholly desirable that IAEA inspections take place at U.S. commercial installations. In considerable degree this would reduce the validity of the argument that the "haves" are unwilling to accept international inspection for themselves, while insisting on it for others.
Now, of course, the question is whether other nuclear-weapons countries will follow the American lead and accept IAEA inspection-an obligation from which they were exempted in the original NPT. Britain has in the past followed a course parallel to that of the United States, and can be expected to continue to do so. France and China, of course, are not NPT signatories; France, however, has declared that she will conduct herself as if she were, with respect to commercial operations as well as exports, and her civil program is under EURATOM safeguards. The Soviet Union, unfortunately, has a long tradition of resisting any foreign inspection whatever, and has given no sign of change. But even if the U.S. action should not be emulated, it is an important step forward, which will add considerably to the prestige and stature of the IAEA.
The same is true of another major, and little-noted, action of the past year that came through the IAEA but technically not from the Agency. Since a total of 36 member-states of the United Nations have failed to sign the NPT-while another 15 have signed but not ratified-the application of IAEA safeguards has been in continuing danger of being breached or neglected on a wide scale. As a direct result of these considerations there came about last August an informally coordinated initiative by ten nations representing the majority of present nuclear supplier states, including both the Soviet Union and the United States. In virtually identical letters to the Director-General of the IAEA, delivered on August 22, 1974, the ten nations separately undertook to tighten controls on their own individual exports of certain items to any country which is not a party to the NPT. Thereafter, any receiving country will be required to accept IAEA safeguards, promise not to use the material in nuclear explosives (even for peaceful purposes), and provide assurances that the imported items will not be re-exported in a way that could circumvent NPT objectives. Although the move still leaves loopholes (e.g., France has not yet agreed to go along), it is especially important in that its impact goes far beyond the categories of uranium and plutonium alone. The new restrictions apply to a carefully constructed "Trigger List" which includes complete reactors, reactor components, and certain important materials-such as "heavy water" and "nuclear grade graphite"-which are essential to some types of reactors.
With this agreement among most of the major suppliers of nuclear power plants, the IAEA is now in a much stronger position than ever before. While presently primarily directed at the problem of safeguards against diversion by a recipient nation, the expanded IAEA role could potentially embrace-the present writers believe that it should embrace-agreed standards for protective measures against terrorists and for safe operation. Let us now look in turn at each of these areas of present or potential operation.
Any discussion of the problems of safety and safeguards-whether against diversion by nations or diversion by private individuals or groups-requires a short technical preface on the stages of the nuclear fuel cycle. In brief:
1. Most nuclear reactors today use uranium enriched to a maximum of roughly 3.5 percent. While this is well below the percentage required for weapons-grade material, the enrichment process used is of course the same for both, the material being put through the separation process additional times to raise its enrichment level. Thus, enrichment facilities could be a major point of diversion. In practice, up to the present, the cost and power requirements of enrichment facilities have meant that only a few major individual countries have them-chiefly the nuclear-weapons countries exempt from IAEA inspection (unless they follow the U.S. lead mentioned earlier). The major multinational enrichment facilities of EURODIF and EURENCO, which are currently under construction, use different technical processes; however, these facilities will be under IAEA safeguards.
If some new and vastly simplified enrichment technique should be developed, it could be a different story. However, despite recent reports about the application of laser techniques, we do not believe these have been adequately demonstrated for commercial use in the foreseeable future.
2. Once the raw uranium is enriched to the necessary degree for reactor fuel, there is the stage of fuel fabrication, where uranium is formed into pellets and encased in tubing to form fuel assemblies. At this stage the uranium itself remains a perfectly homogeneous mixture of different types of uranium nuclei, which cannot be separated chemically. The mixture works perfectly well in releasing heat gradually within a reactor, but could not be built into a nuclear bomb.
3. During reactor operation itself, the fission process produces highly radioactive by-products in the fuel that would be extremely hazardous to a would-be terrorist or hijacker.
Thus, by the time economic and technical considerations dictate that the assemblies should be replaced by fresh fuel bundles, each ceramic pellet contains a mixture of some remaining Uranium-235, (the bomb-making kind), a considerable amount of unused U-238 (the more common kind), a variety of plutonium isotopes, and a bizarre hodge-podge of other by-products-some of which are intensely radioactive. This "spent" fuel is shipped in heavily shielded casks to storage pools or nuclear reprocessing plants. Short of that point, it is virtually immune to hijacking because of the sheer bulk and weight of the casks (normally 30 to 100 tons) and their own "self-protecting" radioactivity inside the massive shield.
4. Most critical is the stage of reprocessing. The spent fuel contains only reduced amounts of the original U-235, but new and significant amounts of plutonium, which of course is potential bomb material. After the fuel bundles have been dismantled, chopped into pieces, and dissolved in vats, it is not difficult from a chemical standpoint to separate the uranium from the plutonium and both of these from the highly radioactive waste residue; but the entire process must be carried out by remote control within expensive concrete "hot cells." In the case of India, what was done was to take the spent fuel from a Canadian-supplied research reactor (which was not subject to IAEA safeguards) and then to build a small chemical reprocessing plant to extract the plutonium.
However, in practice, very little reprocessing of commercial fuel has actually been carried out to date, at least in the West. Most of the spent fuel produced by commercial reactor operations remains intact in storage pools. Only a small number of fresh fuel bundles have been produced from mixtures of recycled plutonium and uranium-just enough to demonstrate that such fuel can be used satisfactorily in commercial power plants.
There might be a tendency to delay reprocessing indefinitely if it were not of such great potential importance both as to economics and to environmental protection. Starting in the 1980s, recycling of plutonium can reduce the world's need for fuel enrichment capacity by 10-15 percent, cut uranium mining requirements by 20-25 percent, and simplify the disposal of the highly radioactive wastes by compressing them into physically and chemically inert solids. All this is true without considering the advanced reactors specifically called "breeders."
5. Finally, there is the problem of transportation and physical security of containers at each of these stages. As noted, the spent fuel material being moved from the reactor to the reprocessing facility may be dangerous but it is not of weapons grade in the form in which it is transported. In the event that reprocessed fuel including plutonium is used in reactors in the future, however, its transportation would include weapons-grade materials.
This simplified description of the nuclear fuel cycle demonstrates that safeguards can concentrate on strategic points; they do not have to cover every move, since diversion is only physically or chemically possible at a few key stages. Hence, under the present distribution of enrichment facilities, fuel fabrication plants, and commercial reactors, even the small IAEA inspection force can in practice do an effective job. It does this by auditing records, by studying the plans of nuclear facilities, and by periodically examining the sites themselves. The Agency also uses automated remote monitoring devices and places seals on equipment and shipments to ensure that nothing goes into or comes out of them without being detected. IAEA inspectors normally announce their visits in advance, but there are also provisions for unscheduled inspections. Furthermore, when large quantities of plutonium or highly enriched uranium are being processed, the inspectors may actually remain in residence around the clock at the facility. Through a comprehensive "Blue Book"3 laying down the regimen for on-site inspections of various types of facilities, the standards and techniques for inspecting reactor operation have been developed to a high point. For enrichment plants-because of the relative newness of the undertaking-safeguarding methods are less fully developed, and improvements are needed.
Essentially, IAEA offers the ability to detect diversion of bomb material within a relatively short time-and thereby to discourage it from taking place. It is true that any nation could ignore the mild sanctions of the IAEA itself-the worst the Agency can do is expel a member and call its violations to the attention of the U.N. Security Council-but it is equally accurate that any treaty obligation might be evaded. The Agency is a warning system rather than a policeman.
What are the problems for the future? They are not, we believe, primarily technical; with foreseeable improvements, IAEA inspection can remain abreast of the job. Rather, in addition to increased commitment, the real problems are now those of money and manpower.
What will be needed in the years to come for a credible and effective safeguards program? And how can it be funded? The "Blue Book" ground rules were set up several years ago, and some U.S. experts now suggest that greater access (and thus more inspection time) might be needed in the future. However, the maximum times allotted in that document can probably be used as safe averages for projections. Thus, the authors use a rule of thumb that a team of four inspectors-devoting roughly 50 percent of its time to actual on-site inspection-could cover a dozen reactor units each year. In the case of a medium-sized reprocessing plant, however, the same group might have to devote its full time to that single operation. All things considered, further calculations indicate that the safeguard staff of IAEA must rise sharply-but that it need not exceed 500 by 1985. A reasonable budget then, for safeguards alone, might be in the neighborhood of $50 million annually. In terms of percentages, this would represent an extremely rapid growth curve; but in absolute terms of dollars and manpower it is really quite modest.
Dr. Fred C. Iklé, Director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, has been outspoken in urging greater U.S. financial support of the IAEA; and he is confident that Congress will recognize the value of such expenditures. But the funding of an international operation of this sort introduces special complexities. With the basic IAEA budget divided among member-states under the "U.N. Formula"-which now sets the U.S. share at slightly more than one-fourth of the total-there is no precedent for a single country like the United States unilaterally to bring about such a dramatic increase in an international activity, no matter how willing and anxious the Administration and Congress might be.
The dilemma could be resolved in part by making voluntary contributions "in kind," which is the way most IAEA technical aid is handled. This seems a logical way to help the IAEA meet its growing responsibilities in research and development work on safeguards. Ideally, the cost of safeguards should be shared by a multitude of nations. Furthermore, there are dangers in trying to maintain such an important function on the uncertain base of purely voluntary contributions.
Fairness probably requires that there should be some relationship between the amount a nation pays and the extent to which it benefits from the application of nuclear power. Thus, U.S. Representative Mike McCormack has toyed with the idea of what might be called an international "safeguard insurance premium" to be based on the energy capacity of each power reactor and to be paid by the user nation. Using the rough calculations cited above, the inspection cost per reactor might range in 1985 from about $130,000 per year for the largest reactor being built in this country to half that or less for the smaller units now contemplated by a number of countries overseas. If these costs were counted as part of each reactor's operating expense, they would be minor; yearly fuel costs for a large power reactor are commonly measured in tens of millions of dollars.
Financial support alone is not enough, however, to assure the development of a competent inspection corps. Any international bureaucracy is subject to the pressures of political favoritism; and even if this were not the case there might be problems in recruiting an adequately multinational staff of the size and talent envisioned. Here again, the necessity of enhancing IAEA's prestige becomes obvious. The appeal of service for a limited period (perhaps two or three years) in an international "Safewatch Corps" must be transmitted by every reasonable channel to the pertinent academic and industrial communities around the world. Professional advantages of the assignment might be explained, but the service to the cause of peace and order also needs to be stressed.
It appears, then, that with a major multiplication of its present effort the IAEA can provide adequate safeguards against undetected diversion of nuclear materials by nations. If there are to be difficulties, they will arise in connection with the expansion of enrichment and reprocessing facilities; to this theme we shall return.
What, then, of the protection of nuclear materials against diversion by criminals or political terrorists? Here the primary measures being taken today are on a national basis; the IAEA has not yet assumed a direct role, although its so-called "Gray Book" (entitled Recommendations for the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material) gives some technical guidance, and has recently been reviewed and strengthened. In fact, the subject has been approached in a very gingerly way by the United States and other major nations, not merely because some nations consider it a domestic political problem but for the reason that the techniques used in this country and elsewhere to protect commercial nuclear materials closely parallel those used to guard weapons themselves. (These include security checks, multiple electronic barriers, armored vehicles with two-way communication, and self-immobilizing features to prevent hijacking.) At least until recently, it has been argued that to reveal the specifics of these measures to an international organization would increase the risks of some penetration of the U.S. security system.
At present, however, the U.S. position appears to be changing. Addressing the U.N. General Assembly in September 1974, Secretary Kissinger proposed that the IAEA take the responsibility for drafting "an international convention for enhancing physical security against theft or diversion of nuclear material"-to include "specific standards for protecting materials while in use, storage, and transfer." And in the same speech the Secretary said that the United States would make "specific proposals to strengthen safeguards to the other supplier countries." In accordance with this last suggestion, reliable sources now report that Washington may soon propose a conference of representatives from the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, France, Germany and others to discuss specifically international transport of nuclear materials, with the discussion probably extending more generally to minimum standards for physical protection in other respects.
If such a conference is held-as it should be-the problem will be to get an adequately frank international discussion of the measures various countries have developed individually. Here, too, the IAEA may have a role; for example, one way to accomplish the desired results might be for all major supplier nations to supply releasable data to an internationally respected "think tank" such as the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, where scientists with nuclear know-how from both communist and Western countries are already working together in cooperation with IAEA. At any rate, the problem of potential hijacking is now sufficiently serious to warrant a previously rejected frankness on all sides.
As noted earlier, safeguards against unauthorized diversion and the issue of safety of operation present problems that, while conceptually distinct, may contain technical factors that overlap. Nonetheless, it is often important for the purpose of analysis to keep the two concepts separate.
In the field of nuclear safety, much like physical security, the IAEA has never had the firm charter it has enjoyed from the outset in respect to safeguards. Yet as a practical matter of carrying out its job of spreading peaceful nuclear technology, the IAEA has necessarily become engaged in safety matters and has quietly built a record of accomplishment. For example, in 1972, acting on a reported disregard of safety procedures in the operation of a research reactor within its safeguards jurisdiction, the Agency inspected and found deficiencies and thereafter adopted a policy of inspecting each such reactor at least annually. These inspections now use Agency-promulgated minimum safety standards.
Another relevant example is the field of radioactive-material transport. Most shipments of radioactive material have little or nothing to do with the reactor fuel cycle; the great majority consist of items used by medicine, agriculture and industry. It would be absurd to treat a small amount of "tracer" material (which a patient will eventually swallow during diagnosis or treatment) in the same fashion as a cask of spent reactor fuel; the framing of sensible regulations demands that the thousands of different materials be distinguishable. Recently the IAEA produced a system of categorizing radioactive materials which will presumably become universal: the U.S. Department of Transportation, for example, agreed to adopt the system by reference in its regulations. There is still room for differences among nations in the substance of internal transport regulations; and space here does not permit an analysis even of those currently in effect in the United States. (They are remarkably strict and have proved effective.) But now at least-thanks to the IAEA-the various sets of regulations share a common international language. Negotiations to bring them into accord-whether by bilateral or multilateral agreements-have been facilitated enormously; and this is only an early hint of what an organization like the IAEA might accomplish in the future.
The Agency is engaged now in a two-year study of the safety criteria used by different member-nations in regard to the operation of nuclear power plants. Some countries, including Japan, follow the U.S. regulatory lead closely; but others have quite divergent philosophies. In the Soviet Union, for instance, far less importance is attached to the need for the design of the mammoth steel-and-concrete "containment shells" which surround every commercial U.S. power reactor. The attitudes of the French and Germans-both important international suppliers-show similar inconsistencies in approach. It would be too much to expect the IAEA to reconcile the various national regulatory codes into a single set of standards; differences in reactor design would be enough to make that impossible even if national sensibilities were not involved. But the Agency may be able to stimulate discussions (and eventual agreement) on underlying safety criteria. This would undoubtedly offer a greater measure of safety assurance and reliability to all users of nuclear-generated electricity. The international exchange of operating data, including that on problem areas, is already taking place. The discussion of reactor-safety specifics within the forum of the IAEA has been little publicized, but its importance is bound to increase in a world whose citizens will count nuclear power plants in the thousands within one generation.
Today, while there is concern over the assured safety of the transportation and use of nuclear materials, public worry over nuclear safety focuses mainly on the storage of radioactive wastes. Is there an answer to this problem, and can the IAEA usefully contribute to its formulation and implementation?
The radioactive wastes in question have in fact been produced in large quantities by the weapons-production programs of the United States and other nations over nearly 30 years. The problem is by no means a new one related to the now-foreseeable spread of commercial nuclear reactors; for scale only, it may be noted that if the number of reactors increases at the highest rates now predicted in any responsible forecast, it would probably be at least 30 years before they produced as much waste as weapons programs have already produced. But the fact that the problem is not new does not mean that it is not formidable.
Up to now, the United States and other nations have taken different approaches to the problem. In this country, wastes are now stored primarily in solidified or liquefied form at ground level in heavily shielded containers-a technique adequate, it is believed, to contain the waste for hundreds of years. In Germany, however, a form of underground storage is being used, while in Japan consideration is being given to all forms of long-term waste disposal.
What seems clear is that none of the existing methods has yet come to grips with the tremendously long-term character of the problem, since we are dealing with materials some of which will remain radioactive or toxic, or both, for periods running into thousands of years. It is in such terms that disposal in containers whose own survival is not totally assured, not to mention suggested disposal at sea, seems far too risky for the world as a whole.
The National Academy of Sciences in this country has repeatedly recommended that the solution should be solidification of the waste and disposal in tunnels deep in the earth. There are locations in the southwestern part of the United States where there are large beds of salt that are totally dry, self-sealing as to seismic disturbances and sure to outlast the radioactivity of the nuclear wastes. Under the NAS proposal, there would be a "pilot-plant stage" during which the waste casks could be recoverable; after a suitable test period the tunnels could be refilled with salt and permanently sealed-safe disposal for hundreds of millennia.
Such a proposal was, in fact, on the verge of being accepted by the Atomic Energy Commission as far back as 1973. Then Watergate paralysis throughout the upper echelons of government discouraged any action which might "make waves," and no action was taken to begin the project-which had been stymied once before in the spring of 1972 by the premature announcement of a site in Kansas that later proved to be impractical.
Now that the functions of the AEC have been divided between the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA), the whole matter is being restudied. When a decision finally comes, it will probably be essentially the same one that could have been promulgated two years ago; but now the date is likely to be 1976 or later. Meanwhile, the number of licensed commercial nuclear power plants in this country will have doubled-from about 35 at that time to approximately 70-while outside the United States, as has been pointed out, the pace of expansion will be even quicker. Pending a determination of the American position, it is perhaps idle to talk of international standards on this most difficult of all safety questions. The IAEA may, however, have a useful role to play in coordinating the sharing of information on solutions to the problem.
It is time now to move from what has been said about the problems of safeguards and safety, and see if some wider conclusions may not emerge from looking at all the problems together.
We have already noted that for economic reasons a very substantial expansion of reprocessing facilities will be needed in the next ten years in order to provide the necessary fuel for a growing world nuclear market. The need exists for a great many new enrichment plants as well. Yet at the same time we have noted that reprocessing and enrichment are presently, from the standpoint of adequate safeguards, the most critical of all phases of the nuclear fuel cycle-for the simple reason that it is only through reprocessing that plutonium is produced, while only enrichment can produce weapons-grade uranium. Finally, when it comes to the question of the safe storage of radioactive wastes, we have noted that the best solution presently visualized would call for the wastes to be solidified-and thus reduced very greatly in bulk-and committed to suitable deep geologic formations.
To these factors of economics, safeguards, and safety, one should add a dose of politics. If the necessary facilities for reprocessing and enrichment continue to be located in the present nuclear "have" nations-basically those with weapons, as well as developed nations like Japan and West Germany-then the sense of discrimination already acutely felt by the nuclear "have-not" developing nations can only be increased, and with it their urge to have a nuclear weapons capability of their own-if only for the psychological effect. If, as a second possibility, the construction of reprocessing and enrichment facilities is done by individual nations, "have" or "have-not," as each may desire individually, then adequate inspection and regulation becomes more difficult if not almost impossible. A nation with either capability will have to be treated as the equivalent of a potential weapons nation.
There is a third possibility, however. It is one that many in this country and abroad, as well as American and Soviet "international civil servants" at the IAEA, have been studying from the standpoint of economic and technical feasibility. This proposal would be to establish a series of Regional Nuclear Centers around the world. Such sites might contain reprocessing facilities, fuel fabrication plants, and perhaps enrichment and waste handling facilities-in addition to some nuclear power units to generate electricity. The centers would provide service to a number of countries, and could be multinationally financed. They should be limited to countries which are parties to the NPT, and they would, of course, have to be safeguarded by the IAEA, which should also inspect their design and site selections, and be involved in their direct operation.
Reprocessing and enrichment are uneconomical enterprises unless they are tied to a fairly large number of power reactors-perhaps two dozen or more. In the case of many countries which do not now possess nuclear weapons, there is little economic or technical incentive to enrich or to reprocess. Yet several such countries do one or both on a laboratory scale, and others are considering the step, which could be a prelude to weapons-making. The existence and availability of such service facilities in various regions would help remove any lingering temptation to expand national enterprises. This, in turn, would contribute greatly to curbing the perils of diversion and enhancing public support for the "peaceful atom." At the same time, a concerted move to introduce Regional Nuclear Centers at a proper pace would have other advantages. It could eliminate reliance on too narrow a worldwide base for such services in the future and avoid bottlenecks in the international development of the nuclear fuel cycle.
We believe that this proposal makes sense. We have approached it, as it were, from the empirical standpoint: How can the necessary reprocessing be done with adequate safeguards and in a way most consistent with long-term safety? One might equally have come at the problem from a more political perspective: How can the "have-not" nations be made to feel honestly that they are not being discriminated against, but indeed have "a piece of the action"? Either way, the proposal is a sound one-as Professor Mason Willrich noted in congressional testimony in late April (after this article had been drafted), this is not a case where efficiency is at war with other considerations: rather, as he put it, the choice for a future pattern of nuclear power development lies between "economic efficiency and international security or economic nationalism and global insecurity."4
Just how multinational the structure of such Regional Nuclear Centers could be made, as a practical matter, is difficult to judge at this early stage. But it seems essential to us that the IAEA-whose staff has been a major source of the idea-should be engaged from the outset in the kind of creative planning that will be needed if the idea is to come to fruition.
Apart from issues of materials diversion at key points of the fuel cycle, one of the most common sticking points in any discussion of enhanced international safeguards is the issue of "peaceful nuclear explosions" (PNEs). Some nations like India contend that their dedication to peace is a sufficient safeguard in itself. The Soviets argued that their own PNEs are distinct from test explosions of weapons and should be exempt from any limitation on the size of weapons tests.
While nuclear explosive technology is quite distinct from reactor technology, there is virtually no qualitative difference between a PNE and a weapon. The use of an explosive can be monitored, however, and it is on this basis that U.S. and Soviet negotiators are trying to arrange mutual reassurances about future PNEs. Nevertheless, they have not gone far enough to reassure the U.S. Congress and the rest of the world. In the authors' opinion, the time is ripe for both superpowers to allow IAEA observers to witness any future PNEs under the conditions described by the IAEA Director-General's Memorandum more than four years ago.5
That memo applied to PNEs which might be provided to non-weapons countries as part of the technical assistance pledged under the NPT. Formulated by a group of experts including five from the Soviet Union, the document makes clear that observers would not need "physical or instrumental or visual access to the internals of the nuclear explosive or . . . design information pertaining thereto." Part of their job, in fact, would be to make sure that such details were safeguarded. They would, however, be permitted to watch the detonation to make sure that it took place as scheduled, use simple instruments to determine its yield, inspect the site afterwards, and satisfy themselves generally that the explosion was carried out for the declared peaceful purpose and no other.
The question of whether or not the benefits of PNEs outweigh their costs is not germane to the observational agreements suggested here. Whether or not the reality of the perceived benefits of PNEs lives up to the expectations of some is a matter in large part still to be decided. Regardless of that ultimate decision, assurance that PNEs are actually "peaceful" will do much to enhance world security. It must be pointed out, however, that IAEA observation of PNEs is neither a new idea, nor necessarily foolproof. As Dr. Iklé has pointed out, a sophisticated MIRV warhead might quite possibly be tested under the guise of constructing a dam. What is called for here is a meaningful first step, not a complete solution.
In summary, the International Atomic Energy Agency is not without its problems. The Nonproliferation Treaty is far from a perfect treaty. Yet both have been workable and valuable in the past. In order for both to remain so in the future, there is no choice, in our opinion, but to strengthen systematically the stature, capabilities, and responsibilities of the IAEA. The best hope of linking substantial progress at the 1980 NPT Review Conference with arms-limitations agreements among the nuclear-weapons countries lies in the rapid achievement of this objective.
The United States and other nations must accept the realization that they individually cannot contain or assure the peaceful exploitation of nuclear energy. To put it bluntly, if the difficulties that have surrounded the U.S. "offers" to Egypt and Israel in 1974 prove anything, it is that attempts by individual supplier nations to impose safeguards and other conditions on the sharing of nuclear technology on an ad hoc basis will be viewed as discriminatory and thus unacceptable by recipient nations. Nor will attempts to impose such discriminatory agreements prevent the transfer of nuclear technology; nations seeking to take advantage of the peaceful uses of nuclear power will merely go elsewhere. On the other hand, it is naive to suggest that any nuclear-supplier nation will accept the consequences of even a limited moratorium.
It may perhaps in one sense be fortuitous that the energy crisis facing mankind has occurred at this particular time in the evolution of nuclear power. The worldwide movement to nuclear technology focuses direct attention on the economic, technical, safety, and safeguards advantages of establishing a series of Regional Nuclear Centers in various areas of the world. Such centers, which should be multinationally financed, would serve to relieve national incentives to develop individual fuel cycle capabilities by providing service to a number of countries now entering the nuclear market. The IAEA should be involved in the selection of sites for such regional centers and in their design as well as operation.
There is no acceptable alternative: the safe exploitation of nuclear power on an international scale can only be accomplished within the framework of an international agency and universally applicable safeguards-and perhaps eventually safety standards. The proposals made in this article to strengthen the IAEA can do much to enable this U.N. agency to become a central tool, as well as a moral force, in ensuring that this vital imperative becomes reality.
1 See George H. Quester, "Can Proliferation Now Be Stopped?" Foreign Affairs, October 1974.
2 Article III of the NPT specifically requires each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty to accept safeguards as promulgated pursuant to the Statute of the IAEA for ". . . the exclusive purpose of verification of the fulfillment of its obligations assumed under this Treaty with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. . . . The safeguards required by this article shall be applied on all source or special fissionable material in all peaceful nuclear activities within the territory of such State under its jurisdiction, or carried out under its control anywhere." The NPT specifies that safeguards shall be implemented in a manner designed to avoid hampering the economic or technical development or international cooperation in the field of peaceful nuclear activities.
The Treaty also requires that each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty ". . . shall conclude agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency to meet the requirements of this article. . . ."
3 The Structure and Content of Agreements between the Agency and States Required in Connection with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, INFCIRC/153, IAEA, May 1971.
4 Hearings before the U.S. Senate Committee on Government Operations on the Export Reorganization Act of 1975, April 24, 1975, mimeographed text received from the author.
5 "Nuclear Explosions for Peaceful Purposes-International Observation by the Agency," IAEA Board of Governors Document GOV/1433, 13 January 1971.