Peaceful Nuclear Partnerships
By Dialogo January 01, 2010Latin America takes pride in being one of the world’s largest nuclear-weaponsfree zones. The region, which banned nuclear weapons under the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco, (also known as the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean), is a model member of the international community for a world free of weapons of mass destruction. The multilateral agreement began between Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico more than 40 years ago, and was supported by the U.N. General Assembly and the United States. By 1991 the Caribbean states, with the exception of non-autonomous territories, ratified it. All 33 states in the region to date remain members of the peaceful nuclear disarmament treaty. According to the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean — which establishes provisions and compliance for the consistent enforcement of the Treaty of Tlatelolco — the agreement set the fundamental pillar for nuclear nonproliferation worldwide. Today, 115 countries form part of nuclearweapons- free zones, including the South Pacific region through the Treaty of Rarotonga (1985); Southeast Asia through the Treaty of Bangkok (1995); Africa through the Treaty of Pelindaba (1996); and the five Central Asian states through the Treaty of Semipalatinsk (2006). Transparency and Active Cooperation in the Region Latin America is no exception to the global trend of seeking nuclear energy. Nuclear expansion in the region is mainly driven by a need to find alternatives to the countries’ dependence on fossil fuels and unreliable hydroelectric power in order to satisfy electricity demands. In Mexico, for example, electricity demand is projected to grow 6 percent annually, far above the 2.6 percent global average and roughly at the same rate as India and China, according to the Americas Quarterly policy journal. The country might build as many as eight more reactors by 2025, the journal reported. Argentina also faces high electricity demand with a predicted supply shortfall anticipated for 2010. Most observers expect the gap will increase considerably thereafter. Brazil, Argentina and Mexico have nuclear-power programs. All are parties to most multilateral agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, which helps member states worldwide to promote safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies. Full transparency of their nuclear capability — including nuclear material such as low-level uranium and nuclear facilities — and active security cooperation between treaty-abiding countries could ensure the region remains a nuclear-weapons-free zone, according to Americas Quarterly. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Brazil acquired nuclear technology for a space launch vehicle, and its adherence to nonproliferation guidelines has led to sophisticated space capabilities. The country has uranium enrichment and fuel fabrication capabilities but does not design or produce nuclear power reactors. “In Brazil, the production of nuclear weapons is prohibited,” said Minister of Defense Nelson Jobim in an interview with the newspaper El Nuevo Herald. “The Brazilian constitution bans the use and manufacturing of nuclear weapons; furthermore, it is also prohibited by other Brazilian international agreements.” He added that Brazil is intent on developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, as permitted by international treaties. That includes manufacturing nuclear submarines, which are not equipped with nuclear weapons and are faster than conventional submarines. Brazil’s energy plan calls for four new nuclear power reactors to be built by 2025. Industry officials have reportedly suggested that about 58 more plants would be required to meet Brazil’s nuclear capacity in the next 50 years. Argentina has significant infrastructure to produce heavy water, a coolant and moderator in nuclear reactors. The country has ambitions to build five more nuclear reactors by 2023. Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela are also seeking to diversify into nuclear power. Chile, for example, looks to reduce its dependence on susceptible hydropower stemming from unpredictable rainfall and its reliance on neighbors’ hydropower capabilities — namely, Bolivia and Argentina. The country already has research reactors and has signed an additional protocol to the Treaty of Tlatelolco which underlines its commitment to the regulatory oversight agreements with the IAEA for more transparent inspections. Uruguay, which gets almost all its electricity from hydropower, has considered nuclear power as a future alternative, but national laws banning nuclear energy would need to be overturned. According to Voice of America News, Venezuela is also interested in nuclear power, but the country’s plans are not well-defined. President Hugo Chávez said his mission is to create what he calls a “nuclear village” by seeking a nuclear relationship with Iran, France and Russia. During a Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas convention in October, Chávez said uranium is a strategic mineral capable of peaceful alternative uses. Former Venezuelan Minister of Science and Technology Jesse Chacón confirmed in October 2009 that Russia will support his country by providing technology for uranium enrichment. Chacón ruled out any possibility of using the mineral for military purposes, reported news website Infolatam; he said it will only be used for generating power. The candidates for nuclear development face the daunting task of affording expensive nuclear facilities and intellectual support. A nuclear power reactor costs up to $10 billion and takes at least four to five years to build, Americas Quarterly reported. Nuclear Terrorism and Nuclear Proliferation Security Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the international community has made significant strides in responding to the threat of WMD terrorism. Globalization requires that partner nations work together closely to prevent, detect and disrupt ties that may develop between terrorists and terrorist facilitators. The link between terrorists, organized crime and nuclear smuggling is a monumental challenge to international security. According to the IAEA Illicit Trafficking Database, or ITDB, there is a persistent problem with illicit trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials on the black market. “Nuclear terrorism is a global threat, not local or regional,” said Anita Nilsson, director of the office of nuclear security at the IAEA. Between 1993 and 2007, there were 1,340 cases reported worldwide of various types of illicit trafficking, Nilsson said. In 2008, the ITDB recorded 1,562 incidents of thefts or losses and other related activities involving nuclear materials or radioactive sources during the last 15 years. Known thefts of weapons-usable nuclear material have primarily been committed by opportunists with insider knowledge of the facility in which the material is stored. ITDB’s information shows that about 65 percent of lost or stolen radioactive materials reported go unrecovered. Smuggled radioactive materials such as processed uranium, also known as yellowcake — used for higher-grade nuclear enrichment in reactors to produce plutonium and the manufacturing of WMD — is a key element in clandestine nuclear weapons programs in countries such as Iran and North Korea, which threaten to destabilize their regions. Nuclear weapons experts say if terrorists could get their hands on sufficient fissile material, it would only take a small amount of nuclear technology to make a WMD within a week. According to experts on transnational crime and corruption from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, it is unlikely that an organized criminal group would specialize in stealing and selling WMD. Terrorist groups, however, use criminal groups and illicit networks of independent brokers and front companies to acquire controlled technology to develop and transport WMD. Consequently, routes used for transporting nuclear materials are the same as those being used for trafficking drugs and other contraband. The CSIS also stated that the threat posed by continuing indications that rogue states and terrorist groups are intent on acquiring nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons increases the likelihood of international criminal networks being used to smuggle the material needed for their protection. Tighter Nuclear Security Deters Nuclear Trafficking Latin American and Caribbean countries have generally cooperated with international security organizations, the United States and other Western partner states to learn counterterrorism mechanisms and defensive mobilization of resources to prevent, detect and disrupt ties that may develop between terrorists and smugglers. The ITDB is an essential component for the implementation of the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Plan to assist participating states to deter WMD-related trafficking in their region and establish regional information sharing. Currently, 108 states and several international organizations participate in the ITDB program. As of Sept. 1, 2009, the program has 13 participating Latin American countries. Richard Hoskins, who heads the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Information Management and Coordination Section, explained that the ITDB is an invaluable tool that helps identify patterns and trends in illicit trafficking, as well as potential threats. He also said the ITDB measures security programs’ effectiveness. The latest statistics from the ITDB show that the security of nuclear and other radioactive materials and the detection of nuclear and radiological smuggling activities are improving. Nuclear Security at Risk After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, post- Soviet Russia was left with the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, and related materials and technologies, which were scattered among hundreds of unsecured buildings and bunkers. This created a global nuclear security threat and raised the specter of illicit trafficking of nuclear weapons and related materials worldwide. Since 1993, the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported more than 1,000 cases of illicit trafficking of various types of nuclear materials around the world. In most of the cases, this type of stolen nuclear and radiological material is not recovered. Currently, nuclear weapons storage sites and the world’s 436 nuclear plants are threatened by potential sabotage or armed attack by terrorist groups or organized criminals with the intent to build a WMD. In March 2008, Colombian authorities discovered that the FARC managed to obtain about 30 kilos of depleted uranium. Police said it was the FARC’s bid to branch into international terrorism with dirty bombs. Insider theft of nuclear secrets or material by nuclear scientists, technicians or security personnel also poses a grave threat to worldwide efforts to control and account for nuclear materials. In early 2009, for example, the Argentine media reported that an employee of an oil drilling company in Argentina stole radioactive material, Cesium-137, from an underground bunker, demanding $500,000 in ransom payments. Illicit trafficking, theft and loss of nuclear and other radioactive materials and technology remain a persistent problem. THE DANGER The production of an improvised nuclear device depends on access to nuclear or radiological materials. Access is gained by capitalizing on security weaknesses of nuclear facilities and waste storage sites: • Unsecured structures such as outside security fences, barrier walls and sheds. • Compromised storage and handling areas due to ineffective or nonfunctioning access control systems and monitors. • Ineffective accounting systems for nuclear stockpiles. Either by outright theft or illegal purchase from staff (compromised by inadequate pay, training, or screening), misrouted radiological materials are direct evidence of illicit trafficking. Once stolen, nuclear material is extraordinarily difficult to recover. URANIUM MINING Uranium, a mildly radioactive heavy metal, is mined primarily for use as fuel for nuclear reactors. MILLING Uranium ore is crushed, ground and soaked in water. The water is drained and the sludge is dried into yellowcake, a uranium-oxiderich powder. REFINING Yellowcake is enriched by transforming it into a gas and removing uranium 238 to increase the amount of uranium 235. MILL WASTE Contaminated runoff from milling is often dumped into huge unsecured reservoirs. REACTOR WASTE Spent Fuel Rods: Plutonium is the highly radioactive byproduct generated by irradiating enriched uranium fuel rods. These rods give off 99 percent of all nuclear waste-related radiation. MINE WASTE Waste rock gives off radon, a toxic radioactive gas. REACTOR Enriched uranium fuel is irradiated (burned) to generate heat to create steam. Steam powers the plant’s electric turbines, generating electricity. FUEL FABRICATION The enriched uranium is subjected to further processing to construct the fuel rods for the reactor. Enriched uranium is the primary ingredient for a nuclear bomb. WEAPONIZED THREATS • Improvised Nuclear Device Built from plutonium or highly enriched uranium; an explosion will result in catastrophic loss of life, destruction of infrastructure and radioactive contamination of a very large area. • Dirty Bomb Easy to build, they consist of common explosives, like dynamite, packed with nuclear material. The blast is used to spread the nuclear material. TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS Terrorists may seek to connect with black-market proliferators or transnational criminal networks seeking to profit from the sale of nuclear material or technical knowledge in order to develop their own nuclear capability.