IAEA, Leading Nations Push for Fuel Assurances

Article excerpt

High-level delegations from 140 countries will meet in Vienna Sept. 19-20 in an attempt to encourage countries to forgo two critical technologies that could lead to nuclear weapons while ensuring that they receive civilian nuclear fuel. The effort comes as several countries with advanced civilian nuclear programs, including the United States, have put forward their own suggestions on the matter.

The meeting, which is to be held at the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) headquarters as part of its annual general conference, is designed to develop a "new framework" that would encourage countries to renounce uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing capabilities. These technologies are used to produce fuel for civilian nuclear reactors but can also be used to make fissile material-highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium-for nuclear weapons.

The dual-use nature of these technologies has become a critical sticking point in the current dispute over Iran's uranium-enrichment program. Iran says it needs to produce its own fuel for its civilian nuclear program in order to hedge against cutoffs in foreign supply, but the United States and its allies have alleged that Iran is developing enrichment facilities to provide material for nuclear weapons.

A June 14 press release from the IAEA said that the objective of the two-day event is to focus on "'assurances of supply and assurances of non-proliferation' and on identifying the next steps for the near-to-mid-term."

The announcement came soon after IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told the IAEA Board of Governors June 12 that the six nations that now provide the bulk of enriched uranium-France, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States-had sent the board a communication entitled "Concept for a Multilateral Mechanism for Reliable Access to Nuclear Fuel."

A European diplomat said that the May 31 communication was intended to open a discussion with potential recipients of nuclear fuel about how a possible series of overlapping fuel-supply assurances might convince potential fuel customers that they do not need to possess enrichment technology themselves. Countries are permitted such technologies under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Gregory L. Schulte, U.S. permanent representative to the IAEA, told Arms Control Today June 7 (see page 23) that the six countries had "put together a basic set of reliable fuel supply [proposals] that would be implemented by the IAEA and that would be available to countries who have chosen not to have enrichment capabilities." Schulte said the states planned to brief the agency's 35-member Board of Governors about their plans at a June 12-16 meeting. …