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Algeria flagAlgeria

Overview Last updated: August, 2014

Algeria does not possess nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, and is not suspected of pursuing such capabilities. Additionally, the country does not deploy strategic delivery vehicles such as ballistic missiles.

Algiers is a party to all relevant nonproliferation treaties and organizations, including the Treaty of Pelindaba (also known as the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone Treaty). Between 1960 and 1966, France carried out seventeen nuclear weapons tests in the Algerian desert (4 atmospheric tests and 13 underground tests). The long-term health effects of these tests remain a point of contention between France and Algeria. [1] Recently, Algeria has taken modest steps toward the development of a civilian nuclear power program.

Nuclear

Algeria does not have nuclear weapons, and ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon state in 1995. Soon thereafter, Algeria was among the first countries to sign the Treaty of Pelindaba, which established the African continent as a nuclear-weapon-free zone. Algeria possesses a small civil nuclear research program, and currently operates two research reactors under the supervision of the Commissariat à l'énergie atomique (Atomic Energy Commission). Both reactors are under IAEA safeguards. Algeria also operates several small regional nuclear research centers. Algiers is currently looking into the feasibility of exploiting its indigenous uranium deposits, which are estimated to be around 26,000 tonnes and located in the Southern Sahara desert. [2] Algiers is a strong advocate for Article VI of the NPT. The Algerian delegation supports complete and total disarmament and is disappointed by the lack of progress and standstill of the Conference on Disarmament. [3]

The Argentinian company INVAP began constructing Algeria’s first research reactor—called Nur—in 1987, and it reached criticality in 1989. [4] The reactor is located in the Draria nuclear complex, about 20km east of Algiers. [5] The 1MWt pool-type light water reactor uses uranium fuel enriched up to 20% U-235, supplied by Argentina. Algeria uses this facility for the laboratory-scale production of radioisotopes, research in neutron physics, and the training of reactor-operating personnel. [6] The Draria complex also houses a pilot fuel fabrication plant. [7]

Following the signing of a nuclear cooperation agreement with China in 1983, construction of Algeria’s second research reactor began in 1988. [8] The 15MWt heavy water-moderated Es-Salam reactor, located at Ain Oussera 140 km south of Algiers in the Sahara desert, is fueled with 3% enriched LEU and first reached criticality in 1992. [9] As with the Nur reactor, Algeria uses this reactor for the production of radioisotopes, research in neutron physics, and the training of reactor-operating personnel. [10] The Ain Oussera site also houses various other nuclear-related facilities, including an isotope production plant, hot-cell laboratories, and waste-storage tanks. [11]

In 1991, the secretive construction of the Es-Salam reactor spurred substantial concerns among U.S. intelligence analysts and policymakers about the site’s purpose and the possibility of an Algerian nuclear weapons program (Algeria did not ratify the NPT until 1995). Specifically, some analysts argued that the unusually large cooling towers at the site were too big for the reactor’s declared power output, and that a large unfinished building nearby might be a fuel reprocessing facility. [12] Also, the deployment of Russian-made SA-5 air defense batteries at the site cast doubt on its civilian purpose. [13] In April 1991, public scrutiny of Algeria’s nuclear activities increased substantially when an article in the Washington Times bluntly accused China of helping Algiers to obtain nuclear weapons. [14] In reaction, Algerian officials announced that the reactor was designed for civilian purposes such as the creation of medical radioisotopes. Additionally, officials indicated that the reactor’s design would not be suitable for plutonium production. [15] The IAEA first inspected the reactor in January 1992, and a facility-specific safeguards agreement was signed the following month. [16] Algeria concluded a full-scope safeguards agreement with the IAEA in 1995 after it had ratified the NPT.

Algeria also operates a facility, the Nuclear Fuel Fabrication Plant, to produce fuel plates and rods for its research reactors.

Currently, Algeria seeks to develop its nuclear energy sector with the help of experienced foreign partners. The country signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia (January 2007); the United States (June 2007); France (June 2008); Argentina (November 2008); and South Africa (May 2010). [17] In a 2012 presentation to the IAEA, Algeria announced its plans to have its first nuclear power plant in operation by 2022 and a second by 2030. [18] In May 2013, however, Algeria's minister of energy and mines pushed the deadline back to 2025. In a report given to the IAEA, Algeria announced plans to start construction of the first plant in 2017 and to commission it in 2027, expecting to rely more on nuclear energy after 2030. [19] Algeria's minister of energy also announced in 2013 the establishment of the Nuclear Engineering Institute to train personnel for Algeria's planned nuclear sector. [20] Algeria has also added Master's programs in security to nuclear engineering programs, and is committed to nuclear security workshops, which it has implemented in cooperation with the IAEA, the European Union and Interpol. [21] Algeria has explored prospects for uranium mining in the southern Tamanrasset province without result. [22]

Biological

Algeria is not believed to possess a biological weapons program, and the country possesses a very limited dual-use biotechnology sector. Algeria joined the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) on 22 July 2001, and subsequently modified its domestic legislation to comply with BTWC rules. Guided by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, the Algerian government is working to ensure its biological laboratories have adequate physical protection. [23]

Although Algeria does not have a biological warfare program, there has been unsubstantiated speculation by media outlets that Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb may have attempted to develop biological weapons on Algerian territory. Attributing the information to unidentified U.S. intelligence sources, several newspapers reported in January 2009 that approximately 40 Al-Qaeda operatives had died at a base in the mountains of Tizi Ouzou province in eastern Algeria after experimenting with the plague-causing bacterium Yersinia pestis. [24] No further information is available to confirm or refute these allegations in the open source literature.

Chemical

Algeria is not believed to possess a chemical weapons program. Algeria ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on 8 August 1995, and is an active Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) member. In June 2007, Algeria hosted a workshop on the CWC to encourage African countries to join the treaty. [25]

Missile

Algeria is not known to possess either ballistic or cruise missiles, and there is no evidence to suggest that the country is pursuing strategic weapon systems. [26] Algiers imports the majority of its modern weapons systems from Russia, with most such systems serving defensive rather than offensive purposes. In 2006 Moscow and Algiers signed a $7.5 billion arms contract for the delivery of a variety of weapons systems, including fighter jets, anti-tank missiles, and air defense systems. [27] One of the most sophisticated systems included in the deal was the S-300 air defense system. Russia reportedly delivered the first of eight S-300 batteries to Algeria in 2008, with four of the batteries inducted into service by 2012. [28] Algeria originally sought to buy more S-300s, however, in 2011, Russia stopped producing the S-300 air defense system. [29] Algerian newspapers have speculated that Algiers will attempt to procure the S-400 and Tor air defense systems from Russia instead of further pursuing the S-300. [30] Algeria is not a member of the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC).

Sources:
[1] Lamine Chikhi, "French Nuclear Test in Algeria Leave Toxic Legacy," Reuters, 4 March 2010.
[2] "Uranium in Africa," World Nuclear Association, www.world-nuclear.org.
[3] Algerian Delegation, "Statement by Algeria," Second session of NPT Preparatory Committee for 2015 Review Conference, Geneva, 2013.
[4] "NUR, General Information," IAEA Research Reactor Database, www.iaea.org.
[5] Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), p. 107.
[6] "NUR, Utilization," IAEA Research Reactor Database, November 2011, www.iaea.org.
[7] Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), p. 107.
[8] "ES-Salam, General Information," IAEA Research Reactor Database, November 2011, www.iaea.org.
[9] Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), p. 107.
[10] "ES-Salam, Utilization," IAEA Research Reactor Database, www.iaea.org.
[11] Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), p. 108.
[12] Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), p. 109.
[13] Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), p. 109.
[14] Bill Gertz, "China Helps Algeria Develop Nuclear Weapons," The Washington Times, 11 April 1991.
[15] Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), p. 110.
[16] Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), p. 110.
[17] "U.S. and Algeria sign nuclear cooperation pact," The New York Times, 10 June 2007, www.nytimes.com; "France signs Algeria nuclear deal," BBC News, 21 June 2008, www.bbc.co.uk; "Algeria, Argentina Sign Nuclear Deal," 17 November 2008, www.echoroukonline.com; "SA signs nuclear agreement with Algeria," TimesLIVE, 26 May 2010, www.timeslive.co.za.
[18] "Introduction of Nuclear Power Plants in Algeria," Presentation of the development of the NP Program by the Algerian delegation to the IAEA, 24-27 January 2012, iaea.org; "Algeria Planning to Build Country's First Nuclear Power Plant by 2020," Le Soir d'Algerie, 17 November 2008, in Open Source Document GMP20081118280001.
[19] Meftah, B. "Algeria Nuclear Power Program and Related I&C Activities," Commissariat à l’énergie atomique (COMENA), presented at Technical I&C Meeting of IAEA, May 21, 2013, www.iaea.org
[20] "Algeria plans to open 1st nuclear plant by 2025," Xinhua, 20 May 2013, news.xinhuanet.com; Summer Said, "Algeria plans to build first nuclear plant by 2025," Zawya, 20 May 2013, zawya.com.
[21] "Algeria – National Progress Report," National Security Summit 2014, The Hague: March 2014.
[22] "Emerging Nuclear Energy Countries," World Nuclear Association, www.world-nuclear.org.
[23] "Step taken by members countries in response to UNSCR 1540", www.interpol.int.
[24] Eli Lake, "Al Qaeda Bungles Arms Experiment," The Washington Times, 19 January 2009, www.washingtontimes.com; "Al-Qaeda Cell Killed by the Black Death may have been Developing Biological Weapons when it was Infected, it has been Reported," The Telegraph, 20 January 2009, www.Telegraph.co.uk.
[25] "OPCW Director-General Opens CWC Workshop in Algeria," Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 26 June 2007, www.opcw.org.
[26] In 1975, Algeria received some unguided Frog-7 battlefield rockets from the Soviet Union. However, with a maximum range of 70 km the Frog-7 can hardly be classified as a ballistic missile.
[27] "Algeria in Russian Weapons Deal," BBC News, 11 March 2006, www.bbc.com.
[28] "Algeria Receives First S-300 Air Defence System from Russia," Jane’s Defence Weekly, 14 October 2010, www.janes.com; "Satellite Imagery Uncovers New S-300 Sites in Algeria," Defense-Update, 11 March 2012, defense-update.com.
[29] "Russia: S-300 Shipment to Algeria to Proceed," Stratfor, 22 February 2011, www.stratfor.com; "Russia stops producing famous s-300 anti-missile systems," RT, August 2011, http://rt.com.
[30] "Le général de corps d'Armée Ahmed Gaïd Salah reçu par le ministre russe de la Défense" (Army general Ahmed Gaid Salah is hosted by Russia's defense minister) Le Temps d'Algérie Daily Newspaper, October 2013; "Algérie: achat massif d'armes chez les Russes" (Algeria: buying large from Russians), Quid, October 2013, www.quid.ma.

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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.

Get the Facts on Algeria

  • France carried out seventeen nuclear tests in the Algerian desert between 1960 and 1966.
  • Algiers plans to have its first civilian nuclear power plant in operation by 2020.
  • Joined the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in 2001.