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Nuclear Chief Offers a Nonproliferation Plan: Promise Them Fuel

October 06, 2005|David Holley | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — The most effective way to stop the spread of nuclear weapons is for the international community to guarantee the supply of nuclear fuel to countries that agree not to produce it themselves, the head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency said Wednesday.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, said that approach would undercut the argument of countries such as Iran that acquiring the ability to produce their own nuclear fuel is the only way to shield a civilian energy industry from disruptions in supply.

"Objective, apolitical, nonproliferation criteria" should be used to guarantee the fuel supplies, ElBaradei said in a speech here. "If a country meets these criteria, it would be assured of the supply of fuel. That, I think, would take care, in my view, of at least 80% of the problem."

Under ElBaradei's proposal, signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that do not have nuclear weapons would agree to a moratorium, perhaps for 10 years, on producing nuclear fuel, he said. The countries would not permanently give up the right to produce the fuel, according to the plan, which was discussed last month at the annual IAEA general conference in Vienna.

Countries receiving internationally supplied fuel would not retain possession of spent fuel, which remains radioactive for years.

ElBaradei spoke at a luncheon meeting and subsequent news conference organized by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington-based foundation that works to prevent the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The group was founded by former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and media mogul Ted Turner, who also were at the luncheon and news conference.

Last month, the IAEA board approved a resolution condemning Iran's nuclear activities. It found Iran in noncompliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and required that the country be reported to the U.N. Security Council at an unspecified date -- a step that, if carried out, could lead to sanctions.

The action came after the breakdown in August of negotiations between Iran and three European Union countries over a proposed deal that would give Tehran economic and technological aid in exchange for a moratorium on uranium enrichment activities.

Enrichment is a process used in producing nuclear reactor fuel and in making nuclear weapons, so prevention of the spread of such technology is a growing focus of international anti-proliferation efforts.

ElBaradei said at Wednesday's luncheon that he was optimistic that negotiations between Iran and the Europeans would start again in about a month. Several countries, including Russia, are "heavily engaged in trying to assure that negotiations will be resumed," he said.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative, ElBaradei said at the news conference, "has already committed itself to provide a substantial sum of money to build a fuel bank that we can use as a last-resort supplier in case a country is facing difficulty in acquiring the nuclear reactor technology or the nuclear fuel."

Nunn said in an interview that ElBaradei's proposal to supply countries with fuel, impose a moratorium on production and mandate the return of spent fuel to suppliers covers "the three components that, in my view, are absolutely essential to begin to close this huge loophole in the nonproliferation treaty."

The plan would put 10% of the world's supply of nuclear fuel under the control of the IAEA, Nunn said. "That's the concept. It depends on governments' reaction. Governments have to do the heavy lifting here, but I know the private sector has a real interest."

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