Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty

A Chronology

compiled by Lauren Barbour

· December 1946: The United Nations (UN) Atomic Energy Commission's first annual report to the Security Council recommends the establishment of an international agency whose duties would include providing for the disposal of fissile material stocks and guaranteeing that the "manufacture and possession" of atomic weapons is prohibited.

· September 1947: The United Nations Atomic Energy Commission recommends a system of mining and processing controls under which all source materials are owned and managed by an international agency. The USSR rejects this proposal on the basis that the geographical surveying and inspection provisions violate national sovereignty.

· December 8, 1953: US President Dwight Eisenhower delivers his "Atoms for Peace" speech. He states that the US would "seek more than the mere reduction or elimination of atomic materials for military purposes" and suggests that governments make "joint contributions from their stockpiles of normal uranium and fissionable materials to an International Atomic Energy Agency".

· May 1955: The Special Assistant to President Eisenhower for Disarmament concludes that elimination of nuclear weapons is an "impractical goal" and that the control of nuclear weapons is contingent upon effective inspections and determining the past production of nuclear material.

· August 1957: US Secretary of State Dulles presents a paper to the subcommittee of the United Nations Disarmament Commission. This paper, representing the views of the US, Canada, the UK and France, proposes that "all future production of fissionable material will be used under international supervision, exclusively for non-weapons purposes," and that "the parties undertake to provide, under international supervision, for equitable transfers, in successive increments, of fissionable material from previous production to non-weapons purposes." The USSR takes the position that prohibiting fissile material production is inconsequential without banning nuclear weapons as well.

· December 1957: Over the USSR's objections the United Nations General Assembly adopts a US drafted resolution encouraging member states to consider a disarmament agreement that includes measures such as "the cessation of the production of fissionable material for weapons purposes". This is the first UN General Assembly resolution that specifically addresses a fissile material cutoff.

· May 1958: The UK, France and the US submit to the USSR a draft agenda for a superpower summit. The first proposed topic of discussion is a fissile material cutoff.

· Early 1960's: A nuclear weapons' test ban replaces a fissile material cutoff as the central US disarmament issue.

· 1964: US President Lyndon Johnson proposes to the Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament both a freeze in the nuclear arms race and a separate fissile material cutoff agreement. The cutoff measures would begin with verified production facility closings. Later in the year the US, USSR and UK all unilaterally cut the production of fissile materials intended for weapons programs. The US announces a plan to reduce plutonium production by 20% and enriched uranium production by 40% over 4 years; President Johnson says that "even in the absence of agreement we must not stockpile arms beyond our needs or seek an excess military power that could be provocative as well as wasteful." The USSR follows with a decision to discontinue the construction of two plutonium production reactors, to slow weapons-grade uranium production and to dedicate more fissile materials to civilian nuclear purposes.

· 1964: US ceases production of HEU for weapons purposes.

· 1965: US submits a working paper on a complete fissile material cutoff to the Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament; this paper contains proposals for non-intrusive verifications and the conversion of 100,000 kg of US and USSR fissile material to peaceful purposes. The USSR rejects this plan because it lacks prohibitions on nuclear weapons production.

· 1966: The US presents three more working papers to the Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament. These papers include proposals for the transfer of materials from dismantled weapons, inspection systems for closed production facilities and permanent reactor shut-downs.

· 1969: US President Richard Nixon lists a fissile material cutoff as an item the US will pursue during the Geneva meetings of the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament. The US intends to accept International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards and verification on facilities affected by a cutoff treaty, replacing the "adversary inspections" found so contentious in previous proposals by the USSR. The US also states that in the context of a cutoff agreement the Nuclear Weapons States would accept the same safeguards as the Non-Nuclear Weapons States do under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). These initiatives are again opposed by the USSR; however, the US gains support among the non-aligned.

· 1969: SALT negotiations begin.

· March 1970: The NPT enters into force.

· May 1978: At the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau outlines a four point "Strategy of Suffocation" aimed at quelling the nuclear arms race. A fissile material cutoff treaty is among its provisions. The conference's final document calls for a "cessation of the production of all types of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery and of the production of fissionable material for weapons purposes."

· Fall 1978: Canada proposes a resolution to the UN General Assembly which asks that the Committee on Disarmament consider "an adequately verified cessation and prohibition of the production of fissionable material for weapons purposes and other nuclear explosive devices." The USSR and other Warsaw Pact nations oppose the resolution because it does not include stopping nuclear weapons production. The US and UK are less enthusiastic about a fissile materials cutoff than in previous years but vote for the resolution.

· 1979: Canada proposes a resolution, similar to the one offered in 1978, urging the Committee on Disarmament to consider a fissile material cutoff and this gains further support in the General Assembly.

· June 15, 1982: In a speech to the Second UN Special Session on Disarmament Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko proposes that a "cessation of production of fissionable materials for manufacturing nuclear weapons" be a part of the initial stages of a disarmament program.

· Early 1980's: The Nuclear Freeze movement generates renewed interest in a fissile material cutoff as an arms control measure. The resulting research aims to determine publicly the size of the military fissile material inventories and the verification requirements of a fissile material cutoff agreement between the US and the USSR.

· April 26, 1986: In the aftermath of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station, the public increasingly views US and USSR plutonium production reactors as posing unacceptable environmental and safety risks. Public support for a plutonium cutoff grows significantly, particularly in the US.

· 1988: The Savannah River production reactors are shut down for safety reasons, effectively ceasing US production of plutonium.

· April 7, 1989: Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev announces that the USSR has decided to cease production of enriched weapon grade uranium; and in addition to the plutonium production reactor closed in 1987, two other production reactors will be shut down.

· July 27, 1989: The US House of Representatives approves the Wyden Amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization for FY 1990 and 1991 (H.R. 2461). This amendment urges the President to negotiate a bilateral ban on the production of plutonium and HEU for weapons purposes with the Soviet Union.

· September 26, 1989: In his address to the United Nations General Assembly Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze supports a "verifiable cessation of the production of fissionable material for weapons purposes."

· 1991: US President George Bush's Middle East Peace initiative calls for states in the region to agree to a ban on the production of nuclear weapons materials.

· January 1992: Russian President Boris Yeltsin reiterates Gorbachev's offer to negotiate with the US on a fissile material cutoff. Regardless of the presence or absence of a cutoff agreement, Russia will cease weapon grade plutonium production by 2000.

· July 13, 1992: President Bush announces a broad nonproliferation initiative which includes an end to the production of "plutonium or highly enriched uranium for nuclear explosive purposes".

· September 27, 1993: US President Bill Clinton proposes the framework for the US nonproliferation efforts, including fissile material controls. The US will:
· "seek to eliminate where possible the accumulation of stockpiles of HEU or plutonium;
· propose a multilateral convention prohibiting the production of HEU or
plutonium for nuclear explosive purposes or outside of international safeguards;
· encourage more restrictive regional arrangements to constrain fissile material production in regions of instability and high proliferation risk;
· submit US fissile material no longer needed for our deterrent to inspection by the IAEA;
· pursue the purchase of HEU from the former Soviet Union and other countries and its conversion to peaceful use as reactor fuel"

· December 16, 1993: The UN General Assembly adopts a resolution (A/RES/48/75L) stating that "a non-discriminatory, multilateral and international and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices would be a significant contribution to nuclear nonproliferation in all its aspects". The resolution also asks the IAEA to "provide assistance for examination of the verification arrangements for such a treaty, as required."

· January 25, 1994: The Conference on Disarmament (CD) decides to appoint a Special Coordinator to seek the views of members on the most appropriate arrangement to negotiate the type of fissile material cutoff treaty requested by the UN General Assembly. Canadian Ambassador Gerald Shannon is appointed as Special Coordinator.

· June 1994: Ambassador Shannon announces that consensus exists among the Conference on Disarmament members that the CD is the appropriate forum for the negotiation of a cutoff treaty.

· January 17-18, 1995: The Canadian government sponsors a workshop in Toronto on the political and technical aspects of a fissile material cutoff, including the basic obligations under the treaty and its scope.

· March 23, 1995: The Conference on Disarmament agrees on a mandate for cutoff negotiations. The mandate, based on the 1993 UN General Assembly resolution, states:

1) The CD decides to establish an ad hoc committee on a ban on the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

2) The CD directs the Ad Hoc Committee to negotiate a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

3) The Ad Hoc Committee will report to the CD on the progress of its work before the conclusion of the 1995 session. (The committee did not meet. As a result, it did not produce a report.)

· April-May 1995: At the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference in New York, the states party to the treaty agree on a program of action in the context of the effective implementation of Article VI, including the "immediate commencement and early conclusion of negotiations" of a fissile material cutoff in accordance with the CD's mandate.

· May 11 and 13, 1998: India conducts underground nuclear tests. Following its initial tests, India announces that it will be "happy to participate" in the FMCT talks. Pakistan calls the talks "irrelevant".

· May 28 and 30, 1998: Pakistan conducts underground nuclear tests.

· July 30, 1998: Pakistan announces that it will support the "immediate commencement of negotiations" on a fissile material cutoff treaty.

· August 1998: The CD agrees to establish an ad hoc committee to negotiate a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices and names Canadian Ambassador Mark Moher chairman of the committee. Israel hesitated to allow the talks to commence, but decided not to block them under pressure from the US.

Compiled from the following sources :

Donnelly, Warren H. and David Cheney, "Proposals for Ending US and Soviet Production of Fissile Materials for Nuclear Weapons," CRS Issue Brief, Congressional Research Service, November 9, 1989. IB89141.
Epstein, William, "A Ban on the Production of Fissionable Materials for Weapons," Scientific American 243 (July 1980): 43-47.
_____, "Nonproliferation and Export Control Fact Sheet," The White House. Office of the Press Secretary, September 27, 1993.
SIPRI Yearbook 1993: 571.
SIPRI Yearbook 1994: 659.
Taylor, John M.,"Restricting Production of Fissionable Material as an Arms Control Measure- An Updated Historical Review," Sandia National Laboratories (May 1986).
von Hippel, Frank, David Albright and Barbara Levi, "Stopping the Production of Fissile Material for Weapons," Scientific American 253 (September 1985): 40.
Wolfsthal, Jon B., "White House Formalizes End to Fissionable Materials Production," Arms Control Today (July/August 1992): 25.