Fact Sheet

Algeria Overview

Algeria Overview

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Background

This page is part of the Algeria Country Profile.

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).

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Glossary

Nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon: A device that releases nuclear energy in an explosive manner as the result of nuclear chain reactions involving fission, or fission and fusion, of atomic nuclei. Such weapons are also sometimes referred to as atomic bombs (a fission-based weapon); or boosted fission weapons (a fission-based weapon deriving a slightly higher yield from a small fusion reaction); or hydrogen bombs/thermonuclear weapons (a weapon deriving a significant portion of its energy from fusion reactions).
Chemical Weapon (CW)
The CW: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons defines a chemical weapon as any of the following: 1) a toxic chemical or its precursors; 2) a munition specifically designed to deliver a toxic chemical; or 3) any equipment specifically designed for use with toxic chemicals or munitions. Toxic chemical agents are gaseous, liquid, or solid chemical substances that use their toxic properties to cause death or severe harm to humans, animals, and/or plants. Chemical weapons include blister, nerve, choking, and blood agents, as well as non-lethal incapacitating agents and riot-control agents. Historically, chemical weapons have been the most widely used and widely proliferated weapon of mass destruction.
Biological weapon (BW)
Biological weapons use microorganisms and natural toxins to produce disease in humans, animals, or plants.  Biological weapons can be derived from: bacteria (anthrax, plague, tularemia); viruses (smallpox, viral hemorrhagic fevers); rickettsia (Q fever and epidemic typhus); biological toxins (botulinum toxin, staphylococcus enterotoxin B); and fungi (San Joaquin Valley fever, mycotoxins). These agents can be deployed as biological weapons when paired with a delivery system, such as a missile or aerosol device.
Deployment
The positioning of military forces – conventional and/or nuclear – in conjunction with military planning.
Ballistic missile
A delivery vehicle powered by a liquid or solid fueled rocket that primarily travels in a ballistic (free-fall) trajectory.  The flight of a ballistic missile includes three phases: 1) boost phase, where the rocket generates thrust to launch the missile into flight; 2) midcourse phase, where the missile coasts in an arc under the influence of gravity; and 3) terminal phase, in which the missile descends towards its target.  Ballistic missiles can be characterized by three key parameters - range, payload, and Circular Error Probable (CEP), or targeting precision.  Ballistic missiles are primarily intended for use against ground targets.
Nonproliferation
Nonproliferation: Measures to prevent the spread of biological, chemical, and/or nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. See entry for Proliferation.
Treaty of Pelindaba
Treaty of Pelindaba: The Treaty on the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone was opened for signature in Cairo in April 1996. The treaty prohibits the research, development, manufacturing, stockpiling, acquisition, testing, possession, control, and stationing of nuclear explosive devices on any member’s territory. The treaty also prohibits the dumping of radioactive waste originating from outside the continent within the region. In addition, the treaty requires parties to apply International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards to all their peaceful nuclear activities. The treaty also provides for the establishment of the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE), which supervises treaty implementation and ensures compliance with its provisions. For additional information, see the ANWFZ.
Ratification
Ratification: The implementation of the formal process established by a country to legally bind its government to a treaty, such as approval by a parliament. In the United States, treaty ratification requires approval by the president after he or she has received the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate. Following ratification, a country submits the requisite legal instrument to the treaty’s depository governments Procedures to ratify a treaty follow its signature.

See entries for Entry into force and Signature.
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)
The NPT: Signed in 1968, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is the most widely adhered-to international security agreement. The “three pillars” of the NPT are nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Article VI of the NPT commits states possessing nuclear weapons to negotiate in good faith toward halting the arms race and the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The Treaty stipulates that non-nuclear-weapon states will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons, and will accept International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on their nuclear activities, while nuclear weapon states commit not to transfer nuclear weapons to other states. All states have a right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and should assist one another in its development. The NPT provides for conferences of member states to review treaty implementation at five-year intervals. Initially of a 25-year duration, the NPT was extended indefinitely in 1995. For additional information, see the NPT.
Non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS)
Non-nuclear weapon state (NNWS): Under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), NNWS are states that had not detonated a nuclear device prior to 1 January 1967, and who agree in joining the NPT to refrain from pursuing nuclear weapons (that is, all state parties to the NPT other than the United States, the Soviet Union/Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China).
Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ)
NWFZ: A geographical area in which nuclear weapons may not legally be built, possessed, transferred, deployed, or tested.
Disarmament
Though there is no agreed-upon legal definition of what disarmament entails within the context of international agreements, a general definition is the process of reducing the quantity and/or capabilities of military weapons and/or military forces.
Research reactor
Research reactor: Small fission reactors designed to produce neutrons for a variety of purposes, including scientific research, training, and medical isotope production. Unlike commercial power reactors, they are not designed to generate power.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
IAEA: Founded in 1957 and based in Vienna, Austria, the IAEA is an autonomous international organization in the United Nations system. The Agency’s mandate is the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, technical assistance in this area, and verification that nuclear materials and technology stay in peaceful use. Article III of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT to accept safeguards administered by the IAEA. The IAEA consists of three principal organs: the General Conference (of member states); the Board of Governors; and the Secretariat. For additional information, see the IAEA.
Safeguards
Safeguards: A system of accounting, containment, surveillance, and inspections aimed at verifying that states are in compliance with their treaty obligations concerning the supply, manufacture, and use of civil nuclear materials. The term frequently refers to the safeguards systems maintained by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in all nuclear facilities in non-nuclear weapon state parties to the NPT. IAEA safeguards aim to detect the diversion of a significant quantity of nuclear material in a timely manner. However, the term can also refer to, for example, a bilateral agreement between a supplier state and an importer state on the use of a certain nuclear technology.

See entries for Full-scope safeguards, information-driven safeguards, Information Circular 66, and Information Circular 153.
Critical
Critical: A state where the number of neutrons in each period of time, or generation, remains constant. When a nuclear reactor is “steady-state,” or operating at normal power levels for extended periods of time, it is in this state.
Uranium
Uranium is a metal with the atomic number 92. See entries for enriched uranium, low enriched uranium, and highly enriched uranium.
Enriched uranium
Enriched uranium: Uranium with an increased concentration of the isotope U-235, relative to natural uranium. Natural uranium contains 0.7 percent U-235, whereas nuclear weapons typically require uranium enriched to very high levels (see the definitions for “highly enriched uranium” and “weapons-grade”). Nuclear power plant fuel typically uses uranium enriched to 3 to 5 percent U-235, material that is not sufficiently enriched to be used for nuclear weapons.
Radioisotope
Radioisotope: An unstable isotope of an element that decays or disintegrates spontaneously, emitting energy (radiation). Approximately 5,000 natural and artificial radioisotopes have been identified. Some radioisotopes, such as Molybdenum-99, are used for medical applications, such as diagnostics. These isotopes are created by the irradiation of targets in research reactors.
Low enriched uranium (LEU)
Low enriched uranium (LEU): Refers to uranium with a concentration of the isotope U-235 that is higher than that found in natural uranium but lower than 20% LEU (usually 3 to 5%). LEU is used as fuel for many nuclear reactor designs.
Reprocessing
Reprocessing: The chemical treatment of spent nuclear fuel to separate the remaining usable plutonium and uranium for re-fabrication into fuel, or alternatively, to extract the plutonium for use in nuclear weapons.
Additional Protocol
The Additional Protocol is a legal document granting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) complementary inspection authority to that provided in underlying safeguards agreements. The principal aim is to enable the IAEA inspectorate to provide assurance about both declared and possible undeclared activities. Under the Protocol, the IAEA is granted expanded rights of access to information and sites, as well as additional authority to use the most advanced technologies during the verification process. See entry for Information Circular 540.
Dual-use item
An item that has both civilian and military applications. For example, many of the precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of chemical weapons have legitimate civilian industrial uses, such as the production of pesticides or ink for ballpoint pens.
Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC)
The BTWC: The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (BTWC) prohibits the development, production, or stockpiling of bacteriological and toxin weapons. Countries must destroy or divert to peaceful purposes all agents, toxins, weapons, equipment, and means of delivery within nine months after the entry into force of the convention. The BTWC was opened for signature on April 10, 1972, and entered into force on March 26, 1975. In 1994, the BTWC member states created the Ad Hoc Group to negotiate a legally binding BTWC Protocol that would help deter violations of the BTWC. The draft protocol outlines a monitoring regime that would require declarations of dual-use activities and facilities, routine visits to declared facilities, and short-notice challenge investigations. For additional information, see the BTWC.
UNSC Resolution 1540
Resolution 1540 was passed by the UN Security Council in April 2004, calling on all states to refrain from supporting, by any means, non-state actors who attempt to acquire, use, or transfer chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or their delivery systems. The resolution also called for a Committee to report on the progress of the resolution, asking states to submit reports on steps taken towards conforming to the resolution. In April 2011, the Security Council voted to extend the mandate of the 1540 Committee for an additional 10 years.
Al-Qaeda or Al-Qa’ida
Al-Qaeda or Al-Qa'ida: A radical Islamist terrorist organization established by Osama bin Laden (now deceased), responsible for a number of attacks in the United States and worldwide, including the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Al-Qa'ida means “the base” in Arabic, and acts as an umbrella organization for a number of terrorist groups around the world. The organization’s current leader is Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Plague
Plague: The disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. There are three forms of plague: bubonic plague, pneumonic plague, and septicemic plague. Bubonic plague refers to infection of the lymph nodes by Y. pestis, causing black sores or “buboes,” pneumonic plague refers to infection of the lungs, and septicemic plague refers to infection of the bloodstream. Although no longer a serious public health hazard in the developed world, the bacterium can spread from person-to-person in aerosolized form, and has been investigated as a biological weapon by Japan and the Soviet Union.
Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) requires each state party to declare and destroy all the chemical weapons (CW) and CW production facilities it possesses, or that are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control, as well as any CW it abandoned on the territory of another state. The CWC was opened for signature on 13 January 1993, and entered into force on 29 April 1997. For additional information, see the CWC.
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)
The OPCW: Based in The Hague, the Netherlands, the OPCW is responsible for implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). All countries ratifying the CWC become state parties to the CWC, and make up the membership of the OPCW. The OPCW meets annually, and in special sessions when necessary. For additional information, see the OPCW.
Cruise missile
An unmanned self-propelled guided vehicle that sustains flight through aerodynamic lift for most of its flight path. There are subsonic and supersonic cruise missiles currently deployed in conventional and nuclear arsenals, while conventional hypersonic cruise missiles are currently in development. These can be launched from the air, submarines, or the ground. Although they carry smaller payloads, travel at slower speeds, and cover lesser ranges than ballistic missiles, cruise missiles can be programmed to travel along customized flight paths and to evade missile defense systems.
Strategic nuclear warhead
Strategic nuclear warhead: A high-yield nuclear warhead placed on a long-range delivery system, such as a land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBMs), a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBMs), or a strategic bomber.
International Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missiles (ICOC)
ICOC: A legally non-binding arrangement that was launched with the objective of preventing and curbing the proliferation of ballistic missile systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. States adhering to the ICOC agree not to assist ballistic missile programs in countries suspected of developing biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, as well as to exhibit "restraint" in the development and testing of their own ballistic missiles. It eventually became the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missiles (HCOC). For additional information, see the 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.

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