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

V. Treaty Verification Goals and Options

The methods and procedures to verify a treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosives will have to be tailored to the scope of the treaty as defined through negotiations. (For a discussion of options on scope, see section IV.)

However, several key issues, such as inspections of existing nuclear facilities and the detection of clandestine facilities, are likely to be part of any proposed verification regime for a treaty. This section attempts to identify several of those issues that need to be addressed in any treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. As negotiations on the treaty’s scope progresses, additional verification issues will likely arise.

Key Verification Questions to be Resolved in Negotiations

· Will verification be focused on the most sensitive materials and facilities, such as separated plutonium or highly enriched uranium and reprocessing and enrichment facilities? Or will verification cover a wide variety of facilities and activities, such as reactors and spent fuel storage locations? At what point would verification activities be terminated?

· What level of violation will be viewed as significant for the purposes of the treaty?

· Will the verification provisions of the treaty aim at detecting undeclared "production" of fissile material in only enrichment or reprocessing plants?

· What declarations of facilities, activities or quantities of fissile material will be required in the treaty for verification purposes? Will those declarations include pre-existing fissile material stocks?

· Will the verification of the treaty include non-routine or "challenge" inspections?

· What role will national technical means, if allowed, play in verifying the treaty?

· Will non-nuclear weapon states party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty be required to accept verification measures redundant or additional to those already in place?

· Will the IAEA be the verification agency under the treaty? Or will the treaty be verified by another agency?

Materials Subject to Verification. Fissile material which will most likely be included at a minimum are unirradiated plutonium 239, uranium enriched to greater than 20 percent uranium 235, uranium 233, and any unirradiated material containing one or more of the foregoing (see section I for a discussion of isotopes). Other formulations of the scope may also include other materials, such as separated neptunium 237 or americium, or materials defined differently, such as plutonium with less than 80 percent plutonium 238.

The treaty may also include fissile material in irradiated spent fuel or waste. If applied to all irradiated fuel, this option would require that considerably more facilities and activities be verified, although such inspection activities are straightforward.

Facilities Subject to Verification. Once fissile materials covered by the treaty are defined, the facilities requiring verification can be identified. In particular, the concept of "production" (or non-production) under the treaty can be defined. For example, if production means the separation of plutonium or the enrichment of uranium to HEU, uranium enrichment facilities and plutonium reprocessing facilities would be the primary focus of verification. However, if production is defined as including the production of plutonium 239 in a reactor, reactors and spent fuel storage facilities would also need to be verified.

Verification will need to include "downstream facilities," which are those facilities that store, process, or handle fissile material after it has been produced. If production is defined as reprocessing and enrichment facilities, downstream facilities would include storage facilities, conversion plants, and fuel fabrication facilities handling these materials. Verification of fissile material in downstream facilities would continue until verification measures are terminated (see below).

Other types of downstream facilities may be subject to verification while their legitimate products are not. For example, tritium production reactors, which use HEU fuel, may be verified to ensure that newly produced HEU is not diverted, but the tritium product may not be subject to verification (see section I on tritium). Similarly, newly produced fissile material slated for naval reactors would require verification. Verification of uranium enrichment facilities would ensure that no undeclared HEU production was occurring, but the LEU product may not be verified under this treaty.

Implementation and Termination of Verification Measures. Material will become available to verification measures at the point of their introduction into a facility defined by the treaty as a production facility, i.e. separation or reprocessing plant, or uranium enrichment facility. Other actions which may trigger the introduction of verification measures may include transfer of materials to another state, or materials transferred from civil to military stockpiles.

Verification measures would only be removed from material at the point which the treaty defines the material as no longer usable for nuclear explosive purposes or as no longer fitting the definition of fissile material under the treaty. For example, material may be removed from the verification regime when uranium is downblended to less than 20 percent uranium 235, or when plutonium 239 is irradiated in a form, such as MOX fuel, to an irradiation level which is agreed by the treaty states.

Definition of a Violation. Another issue is the determination of how much material produced or diverted would constitute a violation. The smaller the amount, the more expensive the verification effort would likely be. One possibility is to seek to detect diversions of one significant quantity as defined by the IAEA. A significant quantity represents the approximate amount of material it would take to make a nuclear explosive device, taking into account normal process losses. Verification at this level, however, would be very expensive. In addition, some facilities that may be covered under the treaty in the nuclear weapon states are old and were never designed to be safeguarded. At such facilities, the verification system would need to balance costs and detection goals.

It may happen that a varying standard for determining violations is established that is consistent with requirements for universality, nondiscrimination, and cost effectiveness. For example, a suspected diversion of ten kilograms may be much more significant in a non-nuclear weapon state than it would be in a nuclear weapon state, which already possesses tens or hundreds of tonnes of fissile material in its nuclear weapons program.

Declarations or Transparency Measures. A verification regime would include declarations of those types facilities defined by the scope of the treaty as production facilities. In addition, declarations may need to be made for the following types of facilities: facilities which store, handle, or process fissile material after production; hot cells; and isotope separation facilities capable of enriching but not currently used for that purpose. Declarations may also include closed or decommissioned production facilities.

Declarations of pre-existing fissile materials may also be the subject of negotiation if the materials are at declared facilities. Broader declarations of pre-existing stocks of fissile materials at certain facilities not covered by the treaty may also be negotiated.

Types of Inspections.

Routine Inspections. Routine inspections would involve the regular monitoring of declared materials to ensure they are not being diverted, and of declared facilities to ensure that they are not being used for undeclared purposes. Routine inspection procedures will be outlined in the treaty negotiation and will cover such issues as material accountancy, status of decommissioned facilities, and end-user verification where military and civil activities overlap in the nuclear weapon states. Routine inspections may have different requirements at different types of facilities.

Non-routine Inspections. In the event of a discrepancy or conflict or questions and inconsistencies between state declarations and information gathered through routine inspections, there may be a need for non-routine inspections, or "challenge inspections." In addition to the IAEA’s procedures, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) also include provisions for non-routine inspections. Who may call for a challenge inspection, what constitutes evidence warranting an inspection, what exactly can be inspected, and what special procedures are involved would need to be negotiated.

National Technical Means. The treaty could allow for the use of national technical means (NTM), which cover a range of information gathering methods, both open and classified. If allowed under the treaty, information collected through NTM could be used in the non-routine inspection mechanism if sufficient evidence was found of proscribed activities.

NTM has been included in the verification mechanism for the CTBT, which states in article IV.5:


For the purposes of this treaty, no State Party shall be precluded from using information obtained by national technical means of verification in a manner consistent with generally recognized principles if international law, including that of respect for the sovereignty of States.

Transfers of Stocks to Other States. Transfers of fissile materials from pre-existing stockpiles from one state to another may not be prohibited under the treaty. To ensure that transferred materials are not used for proscribed activities, the negotiators may wish to require the exports and imports of material to be reported and to subject the transferred material to verification.

Non-Proscribed Military Activities. States party to the treaty may be allowed to continue to produce fissile material for use as fuel in naval propulsion or tritium production reactors. These fissile materials may require verification, however (see also above on downstream facilities).

Verification Agency. The agreement may require an international agency or some treaty-specific machinery to perform independent verification functions. Because of its extensive experience and expertise, the IAEA is often cited as the most logical choice. A new inspection agency and technical secretariat is another possibility, although the creation of such a body could be expensive and time-consuming. Even if the IAEA is named as the verification agency in the treaty, however, inspections at pre-existing reprocessing and enrichment facilities and non-routine inspections may require an additional arrangement.

Existing Verification Systems

Extensive information and experience exists that is directly relevant to the verification of a treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. This base of knowledge can significantly ease the task of designing a universal, nondiscriminatory, and cost-effective verification regime.


Existing Civil Nuclear Inspection Regimes.

IAEA Safeguards. The International Atomic Energy Agency is the main organization which inspects, or "safeguards," civil nuclear activities and material worldwide. The IAEA currently safeguards nuclear material and activities in NPT non-nuclear weapons states and non-NPT states. It also verifies a limited number of activities in the nuclear weapon states under voluntary offers.

Safeguards are applied in an individual country based on agreements with the IAEA, international treaties such as the NPT, the IAEA Statute, and facility-specific subsidiary arrangements. These legal documents collectively define the rights and privileges of the parties regarding inspection provisions.

The oldest type of safeguards document setting out standardized provisions for inspections is document INFCIRC/66/Rev. 2, which was originally drafted in 1965 and revised in 1967 and 1968. This document outlines safeguards procedures for specified materials, or at individual nuclear reactors, reprocessing plants, and fuel fabrication or conversion facilities submitted to inspections by the non-NPT state. INFCIRC/66-type safeguards are applied only in a few countries today; the most relevant countries are Cuba, India, Israel, and Pakistan.

The NPT necessitated the creation of a second important safeguards document. In becoming parties to the NPT, nations that do not possess nuclear weapons pledge not to acquire, manufacture or receive nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices and accept safeguards on all of their nuclear activities. INFCIRC/153 is the model safeguards agreement used to negotiate provisions of these comprehensive, or "full-scope", safeguards.

As a result of the dramatic inability of the IAEA to detect Iraq’s clandestine nuclear weapons program in the 1970s and 1980s, the IAEA initiated a thorough study of ways to improve nuclear safeguards in states with comprehensive safeguards agreements. The goal of that review was to strengthen the effectiveness and improve the efficiency of the agency’s safeguards system. A new emphasis was placed on verifying the absence of undeclared nuclear activities.

The results and recommendations of that study, known originally as "Programme 93+2", were divided into two parts. Part 1 provisions were modifications of standard safeguards practices which could be implemented under current safeguards agreements. These changes were approved by the Board of Governors in June 1995 and implementation began in January 1996. Part 1 of the "Programme 93 + 2" includes the right of inspectors to request additional information about a facility, to collect environmental samples at a declared nuclear site, to take stronger measures to ensure the confidentiality of inspections, and to install remote video surveillance of facilities.

Part 2 safeguards require the negotiation of an additional protocol to a country’s existing safeguards agreements. In 1997, the IAEA Board of Governors approved the Model Protocol which is now embodied in INFCIRC/540 and provides additional legal authority to the IAEA for inspection activities. INFCIRC/540 safeguards include additional rights of inspectors including the right of entry at undeclared buildings at a declared site, greater access to sites, more detailed declarations, and targeted searches for undeclared activities.

INFCIRC/540 contains several complementary access provisions that greatly increase the agency’s right of access to sites or locations within a country. However, states have the right to manage the IAEA’s access in order to protect proliferation sensitive information or prevent the dissemination of proprietary information. The managed access rights of a state cannot preclude the IAEA from conducting activities necessary to provide credible assurance of the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities at the location in question.

During the early 1990s, intelligence agencies also started providing information to the IAEA. In the cases of Iraq and North Korea, information from intelligence agencies was critical in revealing nuclear activities in these countries or at least uncovering inconsistencies in their declarations to the IAEA. Despite these successful cases, the sharing of intelligence information with international organizations remains limited and is often controversial.

In the nuclear weapon states, materials and facilities are subject to IAEA safeguards through the negotiation of a "voluntary offer safeguards agreement." Because there is no treaty restricting the possession or production of nuclear material in the nuclear weapon states, it is up to each state to decide what material or facilities it will submit to safeguards. The voluntary offer safeguards agreement is negotiated with the IAEA and approved by the Board of Governors. Currently, all nuclear weapons states have voluntary offer safeguard agreements.

Other inspection agencies. The European Atomic Energy Commission (Euratom) Safeguards Directorate is responsible for safeguards in the fifteen member states of the European Union. Euratom applies safeguards to all civil nuclear material in the member states, regardless of a state’s status under the NPT. Military material in Britain and France are not subject to Euratom safeguards.

In addition to Euratom, a bilateral agreement between Brazil and Argentina created the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC) in 1990. Because they decided that it was mutually beneficial to monitor each other’s nuclear activities, Argentina and Brazil created their own regional inspection regime. ABACC is responsible for inspecting all nuclear facilities and implementing the system of accounting that covers all nuclear materials. ABACC performs initial verifications of the material declarations of each country and conducts routine inspections at nuclear facilities. Subsequently, the Quadripartite Agreement was drawn up between Argentina, Brazil, ABACC and the IAEA. With its entry into force in March of 1994, this agreement allows IAEA inspectors to draw independent conclusions. Both Brazil and Argentina are now NPT member-states and have safeguards based on the INFCIRC/153 model.

National Technical Means. Historically, intelligence agencies have had a supporting role in verifying international treaties. They have used national technical means, which cover a range of information gathering methods, both open and classified. Open methods include the analysis of media reporting. Classified methods include national satellite surveillance, defector information, and ground-based communication intercepts. NTM has often been effective in detecting indications of clandestine activities.

Non-routine Inspections. Non-routine, or "challenge," inspections are increasingly included in existing treaties or agreements. The IAEA’s new model protocol reflects this new emphasis on developing inspection procedures to detect undeclared activities while providing for managed access. The CTBT provides for on-site inspections at any site within the territory controlled by a member-state or in territory not controlled by any state. For the CTBT, a "green light" policy was adopted, meaning that a request for an on-site inspection must be approved by the CTBT Executive Council before it can be carried out. While the exact mechanism is not defined, the Executive Council designates the inspectors. The party subject to an on-site inspection has "the right to take measures it deems necessary to protect national security interests and to prevent disclosure of confidential information." The inspectors are obligated to take the least intrusive measures first, and only move to more intrusive measures as they find necessary to clarify concerns.

The CWC allows for challenge inspections, with the burden on the party requesting inspection to define the area to be inspected, the points of entry, and the treaty article the inspected state is suspected of violating. The inspectors are chosen by the Director General of the treaty organization who alone determines the size of the team and its individual members, paying due regard to the geographical makeup of the inspection team and the particular skills needed for a specific inspection. The inspected party "has the right under managed access to take such measures as are necessary to protect national security." These rights include removal of sensitive papers; shrouding of sensitive displays, stores, and equipment; shrouding of pieces of equipment such as computer or electronic systems; logging off computer systems; restricting sample analysis to detecting the presence or absence of chemicals; restricting inspectors to a certain percentage of randomly selected buildings within the access area; and giving only individual inspectors access to certain inspection sites. These rights, however, may not be invoked by the inspected party in order to conceal activities which violate treaty articles.