Ending the Production of Fissile Material for Nuclear Weapons: Section IV

IV. Scope of the Treaty

The scope of the treaty includes basic obligations and definitions of materials or activities covered by the treaty. Any discussion of scope must include what should and should not be included in the treaty. The following lists some of these considerations and describes selected existing proposals for the scope of the treaty. Verification issues are covered in section V.

Basic Obligations and Definitions

Below, key questions about the scope of the treaty are listed.

· Will the treaty focus on a ban on the future production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices and a commitment to use fissile material produced after the treaty enters into force only for non-proscribed purposes?

· What, if any, action should be taken concerning existing stocks of fissile materials?

· Are the clean-up or recycling of existing military fissile material included in the treaty?

· Given scope and verification considerations, are pre-existing facilities that contain fissile materials to be declared under the treaty? Are stocks of existing fissile material to be declared under the treaty? Are stocks declared excess and subject to international verification to be included in the treaty? Will the treaty include a provision on irreversibility that once excess fissile materials are safeguarded, they cannot be subsequently withdrawn for nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices?

· Should a treaty prohibit any form of acquisition or transfer of fissile materials for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices?

Definition of Fissile Material

· What materials are considered to be "fissile materials" for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices? "Weapon-grade" or "weapon-usable"?

· What forms of fissile materials would be included in the treaty, e.g. unirradiated direct-use material only or fissile material contained in spent fuel?

· What materials are not considered to be fissile materials under this treaty, e.g. tritium?

Definition of Production of Fissile Material

· What activities are considered "production of fissile material" under a treaty? Are only reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities considered production facilities under a treaty? Or are other nuclear facilities also included, e.g. nuclear reactors or spent fuel storage sites?

· What activities or facilities "downstream" to any reprocessing or enrichment facilities are also covered by the treaty?

· Are "hot cells" and isotope separation facilities also considered production activities under the treaty, even though they may not separate plutonium or enrich uranium? Are other activities or facilities covered?

Civil Activities

· In states with all nuclear material not subject to IAEA safeguards, is the production of fissile material under international safeguards for electricity production and other civil purposes exempted from the treaty?

· In states with all nuclear material not subject to IAEA safeguards, are existing civil stocks of separated fissile materials to be included or not included in the treaty?

· What about a prohibition on the "production" of "near weapons-grade" material for civil purposes? Commercial reprocessing of plutonium?

Military Activities

· How shall the treaty deal with non-explosive military-use fissile material?

Selected Existing Proposals

Several countries have proposed what the scope of the treaty should be. Summaries of proposals by Australia, Egypt, and the United States are outlined below.

U.S. Proposal. The United States proposal for a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) seeks to establish a codified ban on the further production of "fissile material." Fissile material is defined by the U.S. proposal as plutonium 239, highly enriched uranium (that is, uranium containing more than 20 percent uranium 235), uranium 233, and material containing any of the foregoing. This definition is based on the internationally-accepted standards regarding special fissionable and weapons-usable ("direct-use") materials as reflected in IAEA definitions and practices (see section I). The United States also has discussed the possible inclusion of alternative nuclear materials, particularly neptunium and americium. The proposal seeks to bring all production facilities and all newly produced fissile material under a strict verification and monitoring regime. However, the U.S. proposal stresses that the FMCT will not ban all production and is certainly not a weapons ban.

What’s In? The United States proposes ending the "production" of fissile materials for nuclear explosive purposes. The two pathways that are defined as "production" are reprocessing (the separation of fissile material from fission products in irradiated nuclear material) and enrichment (the process of increasing the isotopic concentration of fissile material).

The United States also proposes that all fissile material reprocessed or enriched after the cutoff date would constitute new "production" and need to be verified. All reprocessing and enrichment facilities should be declared and subject to monitoring regardless of their status, (that is, whether or not they are operating, shut down, decommissioned or converted). All "downstream" facilities that use, process, or store newly produced material should be declared and monitored whenever such material is present. The U.S. proposal also includes a regime for non-routine inspections or inspections of undeclared facilities that will ensure effective verification without compromising national security or commercial secrets. The IAEA would be the inspection agency under the U.S. proposal.

What’s Out? The U.S. proposal states that the treaty will not prohibit the "clean-up" or the recycling of already existing material into weapons because this activity is not considered reprocessing. Furthermore, a treaty should not include a ban on the production of tritium. The United States believes that holding tritium and recycled weapon material under the ban would make it a "weapons ban," not a fissile material cutoff. Even if a state decided to use newly produced fissile material in the process of producing tritium, only that fissile material, not the tritium, would be covered in the treaty.

The United States also proposes that there should not be constraints on the production of fissile material under verification for non-prohibited civil or military purposes. An FMCT should not cover fissile material produced prior to the cutoff date. That is, the United States believes that an FMCT is not a way of addressing existing stocks.

Australian Proposal. The Australian government has proposed a treaty that, similar to the U.S. proposal, seeks to end the future production of fissile material. In addition to ending future production of fissile materials, the Australian proposal mandates that states not "acquire" fissile material for nuclear explosives. The proposal seeks to prevent states from assisting other states in acquiring fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosives.

The Australian proposal holds that only unirradiated, direct-use material should be subject to verification under an FMCT. Such unirradiated material includes: plutonium with an isotopic concentration of plutonium 238 of less than 80 percent; highly enriched uranium containing 20 percent or more of the isotope uranium 235; uranium 233; and any material that contains one or more of the foregoing. This definition excludes low enriched uranium, and also plutonium, HEU, and uranium 233 in irradiated material (e.g. spent fuel or irradiated targets) or active waste.

Furthermore, the Australian proposal defines the production of fissile materials under an FMCT as the separation of plutonium, HEU, or uranium 233 from irradiated fuel; recovery of plutonium, HEU, uranium 233 from active waste; increasing the abundance of isotope uranium 235 in uranium through any isotope separation process; and increasing the abundance of the isotope plutonium 239 in plutonium through any isotope separation process. This definition excludes nuclear production, i.e. the production of plutonium and uranium 233 in nuclear reactors or through the use of any other intense neutron sources. Although LEU would not be subject to the FMCT, all uranium enrichment activities would be subject to verification to provide assurance that there is no undeclared production of HEU.

The Australian proposal also suggests that the FMCT include a complementary proscription of production of material near weapon-grade for any purpose. Otherwise the Australians feel, a loophole that permits states to produce weapon-grade material for civil purposes will create a significant potential for rapid breakout.

Pakistani Proposal. The Pakistani government proposes the establishment of a Fissile Material Treaty that seeks to stop the production of fissile material for weapons purposes as well as address existing stockpiles of fissile material so that they can be "progressively reduced" and eventually eliminated. In other words, a treaty must address "in the same instrument, both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the problem."

Pakistan holds that the Fissile Material Treaty must provide a schedule for the progressive and balanced transfer of existing stockpiles to civilian use and to subjecting these stockpiles to adequate verification. A first- or interim-objective of such a process should be to equalize stockpiles of fissile materials at the lowest possible level. Therefore, a cessation in the production of fissile material must be accompanied by a mandatory program for the elimination of asymmetries of fissile material stockpiles held by various states. Such transfers of fissile material for peaceful purposes should be made first by those states with the largest stockpiles, in the global and regional contexts.

Egyptian Proposal. The Egyptian proposal states that all fissile material that can be used for weapons fall under the scope of a treaty. In addition to all new fissile material for explosives, this proposal also includes verifying and monitoring all existing stocks of fissile material. This proposal holds that "every gram of fissile material ever produced must be accounted for, classified, and placed under strict international supervision." All facilities involved in the production or storage of fissile material must be placed under the established monitoring and verification regime.