International Politics of Civilian HEU Elimination
International Politics of Civilian HEU Elimination
An increasing number of countries recognize the risks associated with the civilian use, storage, and transfer of highly enriched uranium (HEU). These countries are concerned that non-state actors—and in particular terrorist groups—might gain access to HEU and use it to build and detonate nuclear explosives. Proposals to severely constrain or eliminate civilian use of HEU have come not only from national governments, but also from international organizations. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the organization involved in reactor conversion, HEU fuel repatriation, and the promotion of nuclear security, has also initiated a series of workshops to look at the technical issues involved in HEU conversion. For any of these initiatives to be realized, however, an emerging global consensus must be buttressed by further diplomatic and practical measures.
Proposals to reduce HEU use have been put forward during the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) review process, by the Group of Eight (G8), and during the Nuclear Security Summit process. France, with support from the United States, has been promoting the adoption of HEU guidelines. Other initiatives—including UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1887, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and the Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism—are also relevant to a comprehensive approach to material proliferation risks.
Until the 2009 UN Security Council commitments, only a handful of countries had supported HEU minimization as a policy. These included Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, and the United States. Many countries, however, have been involved in programs to reduce the use of HEU in practice, including the RERTR program to convert research reactors from HEU to LEU (low enriched uranium). Many more countries have joined HEU minimization efforts since the initiation of the Nuclear Security Summit process.
THE NON-PROLIFERATION TREATY PROCESS
One venue for the discussion on the elimination of HEU in the civilian sphere has been the NPT Review Conference (RevCon). At the NPT RevCon in 1995, eight European countries (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden), together with Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, drafted a text to be included in the Conference's final document recommending "that no new civil reactors requiring highly-enriched uranium be constructed" (Cf. Document NPT/CONF.1995/MC.II/WP.8 (21 April 1995)). However, the German delegation fought against such a formulation, as it conflicted with German plans for a new HEU-fueled research reactor, the FRM-II. 
Increasing concerns over possible nuclear terrorism in the intervening decade have made obtaining an agreement on this proposal ever more relevant. The topic was once again broached at the 2005 RevCon. In its opening statement to the 2005 conference, Kyrgyzstan noted that "the Kyrgyz Republic believes this Review Conference should consider means to enhance the security of existing stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium, while consolidating them, reducing their size, and moving toward the elimination of the use of highly-enriched uranium in the civilian nuclear sector." This call was taken up by other countries, with Iceland, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden submitting a working paper entitled "Combating the risk of nuclear terrorism by reducing the civilian use of highly enriched uranium" in an effort to seek an international consensus on this issue.  Norway has been particularly active in this regard, issuing a position paper at the RevCon that called for the Conference to adopt "a moratorium on the production and use of [civilian] highly enriched uranium (HEU), like the moratorium on the production of weapons grade material declared by certain [nuclear weapons states]." "The long-term objective should be the establishment of a total ban," the paper concluded. 
At the 2007 Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2010 RevCon, France called for the adoption of guidelines for the management of civil HEU. The language for these guidelines was modeled on the Guidelines for the Management of Plutonium (contained in INFCIRC/549 of 16 March 1998), and drew on initial suggestions by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS). These guidelines are a set of voluntary measures undertaken by states, covering material control and accounting of HEU, physical protection, security during transportation and international transfers, and HEU management policies.  France subsequently drafted a non-paper on the subject for consideration of the countries involved in the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul. The United States had also been working on language for HEU management guidelines for some time. 
States devoted much less attention to HEU minimization during the 2010 NPT RevCon, partly due to procedural issues and preoccupation with other challenges.  The Conference's Final Document did, however, include language "encouraging states concerned, on a voluntary basis, to further minimize [HEU] in civilian stocks and use, where technically and economically feasible."  Dissatisfied with the lack of practical progress accomplished since the 2010 RevCon, ten states (Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates) also formed the "Friends of the Non-Proliferation Treaty" group. Meeting in Berlin in April 2011, the group has called for a prohibition on a global scale of weapon-usable nuclear material "to curb the risk of future nuclear arms races and reduce the danger of nonstate actors getting such material into their hands." 
THE G8 GLOBAL PARTNERSHIP INITIATIVE
The Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, established at the G8 Kananaskis Summit in 2002, committed the G8 (the seven major industrial countries: France, the United States, Britain, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Canada, also known as the G7, plus Russia), "to prevent terrorists or those that harbor them from acquiring or developing....radiological or nuclear weapons...". To that end the G8 subscribed to a six-point program including, inter alia, "promoting multilateral treaties aimed at preventing the spread of weapons, materials and know how; and accounting for and securing these items so as to ensure against any state or group having access to it."
The G8 action plan issued at the G8 Sea Island Summit in 2004 elaborated a series of actions to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and the acquisition of nuclear materials and technologies by terrorists. This included support for projects "to eliminate over time the use of HEU fuel in research reactors worldwide, secure and remove fresh and spent HEU fuel, control and secure radiation sources, strengthen export control and border security..." and to use the Global Partnership to coordinate efforts to these ends. 
The G8 Gleneagles Statement on Non-Proliferation of June 2005 also makes indirect reference to HEU elimination under the heading of "Nuclear Safety and Security." The statement indicates support for the establishment of the GTRI and welcomes "the progress which has been made so far." The 2005 G8 Global Partnership Annual Report also notes the "cooperation of Russia and the United States to convert research reactors to LEU (low enriched) fuel" and the repatriation of Russian-origin HEU fuel "from a number of countries, most of which are not involved directly in the Global Partnership." 
Statements at subsequent G8 Global Partnership summits are striking for their lack of specificity with respect to HEU. From 2006 to 2008, summit reports simply expressed support for international initiatives, including the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, the IAEA Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources, the IAEA Guidance on the Import and Export of Radioactive Sources, and the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.  The 2009 G8 Summit statement does, however, voice support for President Obama's effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years, which focuses explicitly on reducing civilian HEU. 
At the 2011 summit in Deauville, France, the Global Partnership's mandate was extended beyond the year 2012. The partner nations committed to working on four priority areas, including the security of nuclear and radiological materials, biosecurity, the engagement of scientists, and the implementation of UNSCR 1540—all agreed upon in the declaration of the 2010 summit of the group in Muskoka, Canada. Despite the extension, the final 2011 document offered few specifics regarding funding pledges or implementation timelines. 
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTIONS 1540 AND 1887
The objective of UNSCR 1540 is to prevent individuals and organizations such as terrorist groups from having access to nuclear weapons and other WMD. While not directly addressing the use of HEU in civil nuclear activity, it does mandate that states develop effective measures to account for and secure materials that could contribute to nuclear weapons. These include appropriate effective physical protection measures and appropriate effective border controls and law enforcement efforts to prevent illicit trafficking of weapons and related materials.  On 20 April 2011, the Security Council voted to extend the mandate of the 1540 Committee, which monitors the implementation of these efforts, for an additional 10 years. 
In September 2009, the Security Council further committed to working toward the reduction of nuclear weapons and global nuclear dangers by adopting UNSCR 1887. In addition to calling for nuclear arms reductions, a strengthened NPT, greater support for the IAEA, and more robust export controls, the resolution also encouraged states to share best practices for improving nuclear safety and security standards in order to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism and to secure vulnerable nuclear materials within four years. Crucially, the resolution called on states to "minimize to the greatest extent that is technically and economically feasible the use of highly enriched uranium for civilian purposes, including by working to convert research reactors and radioisotope production processes to the use of low enriched uranium fuels and targets." UNSCR 1887 also reaffirmed the need for full implementation of UNSCR 1540.
INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY
In a statement to the 2005 RevCon, former IAEA Director General Mohamed El-Baradei called on countries "to minimize, and eventually eliminate, the use of high enriched uranium in peaceful nuclear applications."  However, only IAEA member states can empower the organization to promote actions in this sphere. The initial steps toward such a resolution were made by Norway at the IAEA General Conference in September 2005. Both the Norwegian and U.S. delegations called for action in this area in their statements to the General Conference: the United States stated that the governments around the world should adopt the goal to "phase-out the commercial use of highly enriched uranium," while Norway's statement said that:
"Curbing the use of high enriched uranium (HEU) is another measure to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation. We should therefore set ourselves the long-term target of reaching agreement on a prohibition of civilian uses. Concrete steps should be taken now. Member States should commit themselves to convert civilian nuclear installations from HEU to low enriched uranium as soon as technically feasible. The IAEA should support and promote such a conversion process. Norway would encourage the IAEA to organize a seminar on the technical challenges we are confronted with in this regard. It is equally important to implement international initiatives currently underway to secure and eliminate HEU, such as the G8 Global partnership and the Global Threat Reduction Initiative. All Member States should increase the level of transparency for HEU holdings. The IAEA should develop guidelines for the management of highly enriched uranium in the civilian sector along the lines of those for reporting plutonium." 
The Norwegian government and the International Atomic Energy Agency held a symposium on the minimization of HEU in the civilian nuclear sector from 17 to 20 June 2006 in order to examine both technical and policy issues related to HEU reduction. The technical workshop resulted in unprecedented consensus with regards to the technical aspects of conversion, while there was less agreement during the policy discussion at the symposium.  Promoters of HEU minimization point out that the initiative is non-discriminatory, as it applies to all states' civilian programs. Moreover, as weapon states currently use more HEU in the civilian sphere than other states, they would be disproportionately affected by the adoption of such a policy.
In cooperation with the IAEA, the European Nuclear Society holds the annual International Topical Meeting on Research Reactor Fuel Management. The main issue during these conferences continues to be "the development of very high density low-enriched uranium fuel, as well as the conversion of the most demanding high-flux research reactors to use LEU instead of HEU."  The IAEA, for its part, has conducted several meetings. For example, in February 2006 a technical workshop was held to examine the options for expanding the IAEA database on research reactors to include the information needed for a global effort to reduce HEU use, including the possible expansion of the database to include all civilian HEU uses, and not just research reactors. The Agency also continues to assist in minimizing the use of HEU for medical isotope production and in the repatriation of HEU to countries of origin. As IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano stated in his speech at the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit, the IAEA has "helped to repatriate more than one tonne of highly enriched uranium research reactor fuel to the countries which produced it." However, he also stressed that "responsibility for nuclear security rests with each sovereign state." 
NUCLEAR SECURITY SUMMIT
President Obama's "Prague Speech" on 5 April 2009 presented a bold vision for his administration's approach to the role of nuclear weapons in the twenty-first century, including a commitment by Washington to the long-term goal of zero nuclear weapons. Obama also announced an international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world within four years, beginning with "a Global Summit on Nuclear Security that the United States" would host the following year.  From 12 to 13 April 2010, President Obama hosted the leaders of 47 nations at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC. Those present endorsed the goal of securing vulnerable nuclear materials within the four-year timeframe. The Summit Communiqué called for, inter alia, "focused national efforts to improve security and accounting of nuclear materials and strengthen regulations — with a special focus on plutonium and [HEU]" and the "consolidation of stocks of [HEU] and plutonium and reduction in the use of" HEU. The Summit Work Plan called on states to convert "civilian facilities that use highly enriched uranium to non-weapons-usable materials. 
To date, the Summit process has promoted the forceful implementation of commitments by 29 attending states to secure and repatriate their civil HEU stocks. For example, Kazakhstan secured over 10 metric tons of HEU, Chile sent all of its HEU to the United States, and Ukraine repatriated all of its HEU stocks to Russia.
53 heads of state attended the second Nuclear Security Summit. Participants reported on their progress meeting nuclear security goals and pledged to accelerate their HEU reduction efforts. The Summit's Communiqué encouraged "states to take measures to minimize the use of HEU, including through the conversion of reactors from highly enriched to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, where technically and economically feasible, taking into account the need for assured supplies of medical isotopes, and encourage States in a position to do so, by the end of 2013, to announce voluntary specific actions intended to minimize the use of HEU. [It also encouraged] states to promote the use of LEU fuels and targets in commercial applications such as isotope production, and in this regard, welcome[d] relevant international cooperation on high-density LEU fuel to support the conversion of research and test reactors."
At the Summit, European producers committed to reducing their reliance on HEU for medical production, other states pledged to repatriate their HEU stocks, and still others agreed to accelerate cooperation on research and development of the high-density fuels required for the conversion of some research reactors. Notably, Belarus and South Africa did not discuss the reduction of their HEU stocks, and France's advocacy of HEU management guidelines similar to existing plutonium guidelines proved too controversial for adoption. A follow-on summit will be held in the Netherlands in 2014.
THE WAY FORWARD
The initiatives discussed here, when taken together with national programs, provide the key elements that, given strong political leadership, could be used to eliminate much of the HEU in use in the civilian sphere. The tools to reduce the threat of WMD terrorism using HEU already exist. However, continued political commitment, proper coordination, and further technical advances will be required to fully implement these initiatives.
It is important to note that the current proposals for HEU minimization cover only civilian use of the material. There is, however, another initiative aimed at halting the production of fissile material (both HEU and plutonium) for military purposes: a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) or Fissile Material Treaty (FMT). This is a separate initiative that is aimed at achieving a cutoff of the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes—unlike an FMCT, an FMT would also address existing stocks of weapons material.)
Many countries have been involved in the RERTR and other programs to reduce civil use of HEU. Others, such as China, have independently studied options for HEU reduction at domestic reactors. Most countries have taken care to design their new research reactors to use LEU fuels.
However, a sustained international approach is needed to make HEU reduction programs attractive to all states. For example, if one state funds conversion of a medical isotope production reactor while another does not, the latter may have a financial advantage that gives it an incentive to avoid conversion. Yet more problematic, there is no guarantee that if a country converts its reactors to LEU, a neighboring country will not commence a new type of nuclear activity using HEU on its borders. Current research into future reactor designs suggests that if sufficiently high-density fuels are developed, all future research reactors and related facilities should be able to meet scientists' goals without HEU; already most such goals can be met with LEU-fueled facilities.
The inaugural Nuclear Security Summit and its 2012 successor together form an important mechanism for drawing high-level attention to the issue of fissile materials security, facilitating information sharing, and providing an incentive for states to follow through on their commitments. The continuation of such meetings beyond 2012 would help institutionalize these activities, and could also help insulate nuclear security work from budget cuts at a time when many governments are interested in curtailing spending.
The two main civilian uses of HEU that continue to pose challenges for the future are the use of HEU targets for the production of medical isotopes, and the use of HEU for fast reactor fuel research. Other uses that may re-emerge include the use of HEU fuel in space reactors or a new generation of Russian icebreakers. Even in the areas of isotope production and fast reactor fuel research, however, reduction of HEU use is likely. Several countries have begun production of medical isotopes using LEU targets, and South Africa has begun such production on an industrial scale. Since other producers have argued that industrial-scale production is not financially viable, South Africa's experience will be important in this regard. As for fast reactors, neither the European nor the U.S. proposals for advanced fuel cycle technologies require the use of HEU for next-generation reactors.  It does not appear likely that any new reactors will be built using HEU fuel, while fuel research can be conducted using an extremely limited number of critical facilities that use either HEU or plutonium to mock-up the fast reactor fuel.
Fully converting all existing research reactors and removing all fresh and spent HEU fuel currently in civilian use is a costly undertaking that has been underway for nearly three decades. While there has been much important progress in removing this material from civilian use, more needs to be done. Governments around the world should accelerate their efforts to convert reactors and to minimize and eventually eliminate civilian use of HEU. States will need to continue to look beyond their own borders and treat the elimination of civilian HEU as a top diplomatic priority. Countries will have to work together to remove bureaucratic roadblocks, allocate additional funds, and accelerate the reduction of HEU in the civilian sector. This is an expensive, complex task, but the necessary resources and technology for success exist.
 Wolfgang Liebert, "New German Research Reactor Using Highly-Enriched Uranium (HEU) Raises Concern," International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation Briefing Paper No. 6, 1998, www.inesap.org.
 Statement by H.E. Nurbek Jeenbaev, Permanent Representative of the Kyrgyz Republic to the UN at the 2005 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, New York, 3 May 2005, www.un.org.
 Iceland, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden, "Combating the Risk of Nuclear Terrorism by Reducing the Civilian Use of Highly-Enriched Uranium," Working Paper submitted to Main Committee III, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Review Conference — New York, 20 May 2005, www.un.org.
 Norwegian Position Paper, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, 2005 Review Conference, 5 May 2005.
 For a background on HEU Guidelines, see Cristina Chuen, "Developing HEU Guidelines," paper presented at the 2007 RERTR meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, 23-27 September 2007, www.rertr.anl.gov.
 Miles A. Pomper, Cole J. Harvey, and David A. Slungaard, "Toward the Global Norm: Supporting the Minimization of Highly Enriched Uranium in the Civilian Sector," the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, 23 June 2011, www.asaninst.org.
 William Potter, et al., "The 2010 NPT Review Conference: Deconstructing Consensus," the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, 17 June 2010.
 United Nations, "2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Final Document: Volume 1," 2010, www.un.org.
 "10 States Call For More Action on Nonproliferation," Global Security Newswire, 2 May 2011, www.globalsecuritynewswire.org.
 G8 Action Plan on Nonproliferation, Sea Island, 9 June 2004, www.g8.utoronto.ca.
 G8 Global Partnership Annual Report, G8 Senior Group, June 2005, G8 Gleneagles Summit, www.fco.gov.uk, p. 6.
 Government of Canada, "Report on the G8 Global Partnership," 2006, www.canadainternational.gc.ca; Partnership for Global Security, "G8 Summit 2007: Heiligendamm Statement on Non-Proliferation," 2007, www.partnershipforglobalsecurity.org; Government of Canada, "Report of the Nuclear Safety and Security Group," 2008, www.canadainternational.gc.ca.
 Government of Canada, "2009 L'Aquila Summit: Nonproliferation," 2009, www.canadainternational.gc.ca.
 Martin Matishak, "G-8 Nonproliferation Effort Renewed," Global Security Newswire, 31 May 2011, www.globalsecuritynewswire.org.
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 Mohamed El-Baradei Statement, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons 2005 Review Conference, United Nations, New York, 2 May 2005, IAEA, www.iaea.org.
 Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, Statement at the IAEA General Conference, 28 September 2005, www.regjeringen.no.
 "Minimization of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) in the Civilian Sector," International Symposium, Nobel Peace Center, Oslo, 17-20 June 2006, www.nrpa.no/symposium. [See a report on the proceedings "The Oslo Symposium: On The Road To HEU Minimization."]
 Staff Report, "Search for a Fuel Solution: Research Reactor Fuel Management Meeting in Vienna Focuses on Non-Proliferation," International Atomic Energy Agency, 24 March 2009, www.iaea.org; European Nuclear Society, International Topical Meeting on Research Reactor Fuel Management, 2010, www.euronuclear.org.
 Yukiya Amano statement, Nuclear Security Summit, Washington, DC, 13 April 2010, www.iaea.org.
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 Office of the Press Secretary, "Key Facts about the Nuclear Security Summit," White House, 13 April 2010, www.whitehouse.gov.
 Robert Golan-Vilella, Michelle Marchesano, and Sarah Williams, "The 2010 Nuclear Security Summit: A Status Update," April 2011, www.armscontrol.org.
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 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle," September 2010, http://web.mit.edu.
This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright © 2011 by MIIS.
The article is part of a collection examining civilian HEU reduction and elimination efforts. It examines the international political climate surrounding civil HEU reduction and elimination, and remaining challenges.
the Nuclear Threat
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