An Alternative Framework for the Control of Nuclear Materials

Working Papers

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May 1999

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The decade of the 1990s has seen renewed concerns over nuclear proliferation, both horizontal and vertical. While many in the arms control community focus on numbers, it is control that is the most important factor--the detonation of just one nuclear weapon would be an international catastrophe. Rather than concentrating on numbers, the regime defined herein centers on enhancing the safety and security being provided nuclear weapons and weapons-usable fissile materials. The proposal in the paper is called the Nuclear Weapons Control Treaty (NWCT) and referred to as New Court. The emphasis is on control rather than disarmament, protection from unintended or unauthorized use rather than elimination. New Court, once in place, would provide an environment in which the necessary audits and accountability for undertaking dramatic reductions in the numbers of weapons and the quantities of weapons-usable materials could be made with much greater confidence than exists today. However, it will be decades (if ever) before the number of nuclear weapons goes to zero. In the meantime, it is paramount that comprehensive safety and security be established and maintained.

There are currently more than a thousand metric tons of civilian fuel cycle plutonium, mostly in spent fuel rods, but hundreds of tons are already separated and in storage. Any of this plutonium could be fashioned into a nuclear explosive. There are no practical approaches for disposing of plutonium in periods of time less than decades. Much of the architecture and technology from New Court can be applied to the development of international monitored storage facilities (IMSF) for civil nuclear material. The paper outlines the five key requirements an international depository must satisfy: national security for the depositors and the host nation; safety and security of the material; transparency of operations; technology transfer to provide uniform global protection; and precise accurate accountability of the quantities and forms of material deposited. The synergism and conflict among the factors is briefly described. The paper also contains annexes on the current status of some key monitoring technologies and a description of an international "stored weapons standard" for protecting weapons-usable fissile material.

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