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Algeria

Overview

Last Updated: April, 2018

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 (four atmospheric tests and 13 underground tests). The long-term health effects of these tests remain a point of contention between France and Algeria. [1]

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. In international fora, Algeria has been a strong advocate for Article VI of the NPT and nuclear disarmament. [2] Algeria signed the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on 20 September 2017. [3]

Algeria possesses a small civil nuclear research program, and currently operates two research reactors under IAEA safeguards and supervised by the Commissariat à l'énergie atomique (Atomic Energy Commission). 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] Reacting to this speculation, Algerian officials announced that the reactor was designed for civilian purposes, such as the creation of medical radioisotopes, and indicated that the reactor’s design would not be suitable for plutonium production. [13] The IAEA first inspected the reactor in January 1992, and a facility-specific safeguards agreement was signed the following month. [14] Algeria concluded a full-scope safeguards agreement with the IAEA in 1995 after it had ratified the NPT. On 16 February 2018, Algeria signed an additional protocol to its comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA. [15]

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. [16]

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. [17] 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.

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. [18] 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] Algerian Delegation, "Statement by Algeria," Second session of NPT Preparatory Committee for 2015 Review Conference, Geneva, 2013.
[3] “Signature/Ratification Status of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, www.icanw.org.
[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, 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, p. 109.
[13] Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East, p. 110.
[14] Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East, p. 110.
[15] Yukiya Amano, “IAEA Director General’s Introductory Statement to the Board of Governors,” IAEA, 5 March 2018, www.iaea.org.
[16] "Step taken by members countries in response to UNSCR 1540," www.interpol.int.
[17] 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.
[18] 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.

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.

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2018.