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Among the very important issues that the Bush-Cheney administration
needs to address early on is how to clean up the loose-nuke mess created
by the Clinton-Gore administration. Basically, what Clinton-Gore did
was 1) to put most of our — and, more importantly, the Russian — nuke
materials, nuke technologies and nuke facilities in the U.N.’s
International Atomic Energy Agency basket, and then 2) left that basket
U.S. nukes to IAEA
For Clinton-Gore, it was more important to convince the world that the
United States really intended to disarm, as required by Article VI of
Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), than it was to prevent a loose nuke from being detonated somewhere in the United States. In pursuit of Article VI, the administration unnecessarily subjected a large fraction of our own nuke arsenal and infrastructure to the safeguards and physical protection standards of the
IAEA and the associated IAEA inspections. The purpose of the IAEA inspections is to ensure that the non-nuke signatories to the NPT — which includes Iran, Iraq and North Korea — do not become nuke states. It follows that the five NPT nuke states — the U.S., UK, France, Russia and the People’s Republic of China — are not ordinarily subject to IAEA safeguards and physical protection inspections.
IAEA “safeguards” inspections are done to ensure that peaceful, non-nuke materials and technologies are not put to a nuke purpose. IAEA “physical protection” inspections are done to ensure that folks who aren’t supposed to have nuke materials and nuke technologies don’t beg, borrow or steal nuke materials and/or nuke technologies.
In September 1993, President Clinton announced that — under the terms of the
U.S.-IAEA Safeguards Agreement — substantial U.S. fissile material, much of it to be recovered from dismantled U.S. nukes, as well as nuke facilities deemed excess to our defense needs, would be irreversibly subjected to IAEA safeguards and physical protection standards. The Clinton-Gore administration hoped to demonstrate by this unilateral action the transparency and irreversibility of the Clinton-Gore nuke dismantlement process, as well as commitment to Article VI of the NPT.
Since the U.S. was already a nuke state, the purpose of IAEA inspections would be to ensure that the U.S. never diverted the fissile material recovered from our dismantled nukes to build new nukes and never attempted to restart the facilities we used to make the fissile materials in the first place. In other words, President Clinton declared that the U.S. would never, ever rebuild our nuke arsenal or attempt to repair our nuke infrastructure. Hundreds of tons of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) at the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge and plutonium at Hanford Site and at Rocky Flats Plant were placed under IAEA safeguards. The already shut-down reactors used to produce weapons useable plutonium and our remaining plants capable of producing HEU, as well as other nuke-related facilities, were also placed under IAEA safeguards.
Russian nukes to the IAEA
Then, rather than fully implement Nunn-Lugar, unilaterally providing Russia with assistance to keep their nukes from getting loose, Clinton-Gore got the Russians to follow our IAEA lead. The avowed purpose of the U.S.-IAEA-Russia Trilateral Initiative — launched by Russian Minatom Minister Mikhailov, IAEA Director Gen. Blix and Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary in 1996 — was to fulfill the commitments made by presidents Clinton and Yeltsin concerning IAEA verification of weapon-origin fissile materials and to, once again, “complement their commitments regarding the transparency and irreversibility of nuclear arms reductions.”
Under the Trilateral Agreement, the U.S. and Russia will each — under IAEA supervision — dispose of an additional 34 metric tons of plutonium, obtained from the dismantlement of thousands of nukes.
Since the disposal will take up to 20 years to complete, the Trilateral Agreement means that for the next 20 years the Russian plutonium will be stored and secured by the Russians in Russia and the U.S. Plutonium will be stored and secured by us in the United States in a manner agreeable to all three parties. Most of our plutonium from our dismantled nukes is stacking up at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo and will be stored and protected according to regulations and standards issued and enforced by the IAEA.
Then, when we begin to dispose of our plutonium — Clinton-Gore want us and the Russians to mix it with highly radioactive nuclear waste, calcify it, and bury it in someone’s back yard for the next 10,000 years — every step of that disposal process will be scrutinized by IAEA inspectors. At every step, the IAEA inspectors — some of whom may be Iranians or Iraqis or North Koreans — must be convinced that we have not diverted any of our plutonium. For the next 20 years the IAEA will treat us — and Russia — no different than they now treat Iraq or North Korea.
In separate agreements, Clinton-Gore have agreed 1) to purchase hundreds of tons of Russian HEU being blended down in Russia — the blending process also subject to IAEA safeguards and security inspections — to make nuclear power plant fuel and 2) to help Russia financially and technically dispose of their 34 metric tons of plutonium as mixed-oxide nuclear power plant fuel. The entire MOX-fuel fabrication process will now be subject to IAEA safeguards and security inspections.
IAEA — NPT
Mostly what the IAEA does is to “patrol” the NPT membership perimeter. The United States provides about one quarter of the IAEA annual operating budget and provides, in addition, a large fraction of IAEA technical assistance.
During its routine inspections in 1996, the quantities of nuke materials under IAEA safeguards totaled approximately 54 tons of separated plutonium, 532 tons of plutonium in irradiated nuclear reactor fuels, 21 tons of high-enriched uranium, 49,000 tons of low-enriched uranium, and 1,000 tons of natural and depleted uranium. The agency conducted 2,475 inspections that year, verified the integrity of 27,000 “seals,” reviewed approximately 6,200 surveillance records and analyzed 937 nuclear material samples and 278 environmental samples.
Even when involved in non-routine operations, such as monitoring of the freeze on North Korean graphite-moderated reactors and related facilities, as required by the U.S.-DPRK Agreed Framework, or in carrying out the U.N. Security Council mandates with respect to suspected NPT violations by Iraq, the IAEA is basically “patrolling” the NPT membership perimeter.
About all that the IAEA can do is to report that a nuke may have gotten loose from an NPT member. The IAEA is not really capable of preventing a Russian nuke from getting loose. Only the Russians can prevent that. Under Nunn-Lugar we were willing and able to assist them. Under the Clinton-Gore Trilateral Agreement, it is not obvious how we can.
IAEA — loose nukes
Clinton-Gore has focused on U.S. and Russian nuke disarmament, not on preventing loose nukes. The administration has turned over — under the Trilateral Agreement — the fissile material recovered from the U.S. and Russian nuke crown jewels to the IAEA for periodic inspections, but have failed to either a) fully implement the Nunn-Lugar unilateral loose-nuke prevention programs, or b) to establish an extra-ordinary IAEA loose-nuke prevention program. To demonstrate that the U.S. really and truly means to disarm, Clinton-Gore have essentially left the baby on the IAEA doorstep and walked away. (The U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, Nelson Sievering, died more than three years ago and hasn’t been replaced.)
Clinton-Gore has effectively turned over the U.S. (and by coercion, the Russian) nuke infrastructures to the United Nations disarmament crowd. Not only is our nuke infrastructure now broken, but as a consequence of Clinton-Gore unilateral actions, we are now prohibited from even trying to fix it. The Clinton-Gore commitments to the IAEA are irreversible. Not only could we not build a new nuke from scratch, today, but we would probably be subject to U.N. sanction if, like Iraq, we even tried.
Who’s watching the loose nuke basket?
The bottom line is that Clinton-Gore, now well on their way to unilaterally disarming the U.S., have made the loose-nuke problem far worse than it was by just turning everything over to the IAEA to “inspect” periodically. At best, the IAEA will discover it when enough fissile material to make a nuke gets lost, but the IAEA, left to itself, cannot prevent the nuke from getting loose. Russia is still a political and economic basket case and has neither the stability nor the funds to adequately safeguard and physically protect their excess fissile materials that are now subject to IAEA inspections.
Bush-Cheney, in order to undo as much of the Clinton-Gore damage as possible, needs to get back on top of the loose-nuke problem by fully implementing Nunn-Lugar programs and by shifting our IAEA focus from Clinton-Gore disarmament back to Bush-Cheney loose-nuke prevention.