Courtesy Reuters

Nonproliferation Strategy in a Changing Nuclear Fuel Market

The past two years have brought radical changes in the nonproliferation policies of the Unites States and a massive international study of proliferation issues. Impending commitments to new nuclear power technologies threaten to give many nations quick access to weapons-usable material, and this prospect has thrust the issue of power-cycle technology and materials, and their control, to the center of proliferation concerns. There is a general desire to achieve a proper balance between the possible benefits of new nuclear systems and the attendant proliferation risks. But there is disagreement, here and abroad, about how to strike this balance, and what policies are appropriate for achieving it.

The current focus of discussion of these issues is the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation (INFCE), called for by the United States in 1977. More than 50 countries are participating in this effort, which is due to end in early 1980. In the interim, the U.S. Congress has acted on its own, setting new terms for U.S. participation in nuclear trade. Under the 1978 Nuclear Nonproliferation Act, new and strict conditions are placed on the technology activities of any nation that wants to buy nuclear goods and services from the United States. In effect, the Act is a unilateral step toward revision of the worldwide nonproliferation regime, with the intended source of leverage being the dominant role of the United States in the supply of uranium enrichment services, a vital step in the production of fuel for most reactors.

Serious questions are now emerging, however, as to whether this legislative formulation can fit within a viable and internationally acceptable nonproliferation regime. First, it appears increasingly unlikely that the INFCE deliberations will yield general agreement in support of the Act's tight restrictions on technology. Second, recent changes in world nuclear fuel markets have reduced drastically the control over nuclear fuel supply posited as the basis of U.S. leverage. Third, the Act-especially as seen abroad-does not provide the long-term flexibility and potential for accommodation that will be necessary

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