added to acamedia cache on April 3, 2006

published by WISE News Communique on February 22, 1991

20 years Non-Proliferation Treaty: 20 years of failure

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) came into force in 1970. At present, 82 countries are party to it. In 41 countries, inspections are carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to make sure that no diversion of nuclear materials for military purposes has taken place.

(347.3474) WISE Amsterdam - The three most important goals of the NPT are:

  1. prevention of further proliferation of nuclear weapons beyond the five Nuclear Weapons States (NWSs) existing in 1979 (these are the USA, USSR, UK, France, and China, although France and China have not yet signed the NPT);
  2. disarmament of the NWSs and a permanent halt to all nuclear tests;
  3. promoting the development of peaceful nuclear energy in all member states, but especially in Non-Nuclear Weapons States (NNWSs) through the transfer and sale of nuclear technology and materials under the condition that they accept safeguarding by the IAEA.

Every five years there is a Review Conference of the NPT in Geneva. Each Review Conference shows an ever widening gap between the NWSs and their allies and Third World countries. This is mainly caused by the failure of the NWSs to disarm, as promised, and to sign a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Other issues addressed at the fourth Review Conference included the nuclear capabilities of Israel, South Africa, and Iraq, the introduction of "full scope safeguards" for all nuclear exports, and the future of the NPT after 1995. In 1995, when the fifth Review Conference is to be held, the party states will decide whether or not to continue the NPT.

Whatever the outcome of the 1995 conference, it is clear that in those 20 years the NPT will not have reached its most important goals:

  1. In 20 years the number of NWSs has at least doubled, to probably 11. New NWSs are Israel, Iraq, Pakistan, South Africa, Argentina, and Brazil.
  2. Neither disarmament nor a CTBT has been reached. Quite the contrary: testing is still going on, and from 1970 there has been a large increase in quantity and quality of nuclear weapons and its delivery systems.

It is important to point out the differences between the three forms of proliferation: vertical, horizontal, and latent.

Vertical proliferation means the growth in number of nuclear weapons and the increase in reach and precision of their delivery systems in the NWSs existing before 1970. The NWSs party to the NPT are obliged to negotiate only on nuclear disarmament. Most of the nuclear proliferation since 1970 has been vertical.

Horizontal proliferation is the growth in the number of countries with nuclear weapons beyond the five NWSs of 1970. The NPT was drafted especially to prevent this form of proliferation. As said above, the number of NWSs has risen from five to 11 in spite of the NPT. This has happened mainly through both legal and illegal activities of the countries themselves party to the NPT. Five of the six new NWSs were and are not party to the NPT. Iraq is the exception, but all NPT parties helped Iraq in becoming an NWS.

Latent proliferation involves the development and spread of socalled peaceful nuclear energy which in fact contains the means and capacity to make nuclear weapons. The most widespread and dangerous parts of the nuclear infrastructure, in this respect, are spent fuel reprocessing plants, uranium enrichment plants, heavy water plants, and tritium and lithium plants. By promoting nuclear energy, which is an important goal of the NPT, the NPT actually encourages this third form of proliferation.

So the alarming and devastating conclusion is that the NPT has aided rather than prevented the proliferation of nuclear weapons. There is no sign that the next five years will change anything except for speeding up proliferation and a growing risk that the NPT will fall apart.

The IAEA has had a double role in the NPT. It started in 1956 as a result of the "Atoms for Peace" campaign of the US. Its only goal was to promote nuclear energy. In 1970 it got the new task of seeing that obligations by the NNWSs to the NPT were not met. Though called "safeguards", this is a very limited form of control. In fact the IAEA has no power to investigate or sanction, and is totally dependent on the cooperation of the governments involved. Visits of IAEA inspectors to nuclear installations are made twice a year at most, if budget restrictions allow. In most years, the IAEA has had to conclude that the inspection goals have not been met. Furthermore, a country can withdraw from the NPT in three months which means it can work on its nuclear infrastructure with the help of other NPT members and then leave the NPT when it is ready.

Another serious matter is the fact that several important basic materials used in making nuclear weapons are not mentioned in the Treaty. These include uranium ore, yellow cake, deuterium, tritium, and lithium. The same is true for the installations with which these materials can be isolated or purified. Control rods can be used to produce tritium and/or plutonium but they, too, are not controlled.

The IAEA's ability to fulfill its task has been weakened by its low safeguards budget -- which has not grown in six years. In those six years, a rapid increase in the number of nuclear installations and materials to be safeguarded has taken place. Thus the chance of unseen diversions of significant quantities of fissile materials has risen from the intended 5% to 40% or more. Further-more, the definition of "significant quantities" (SQ) is completely inadequate. For plutonium, the NPT has fixed an SQ of 8 kg; for enriched uranium an SQ of 25 kg. With modern technology, 1 or 2 kg of plutonium is enough for a nuclear bomb; for highly enriched uranium (HEU), it is 10 kg or less. Missing quantities below the SQ level are not reported, so that diversions below that level might go undiscovered for years.

The three processes most sensitive and prone to proliferation are:

  1. reprocessing of spent fuel, during which plutonium is separated from the irradiated nuclear fuel;
  2. uranium enrichment, during which the concentration of the fissionable uranium isotope U-235 is increased from the natural level of 0.7% to 50-90% or more;
  3. tritium separation, using either lithium or heavy water.

The NPT involves free transfer and sale of nuclear technologies and plants to all new NWS countries which are party to it. In this way many Western and some Third World countries have obtained reprocessing technology. After the first Indian nuclear explosion in 1974, reprocessing was seen as too sensitive a technology for Third World countries and was thus withheld from them, unless they accepted IAEA safeguards. There were some exceptions, such as the sale of reprocessing and enrichment plants to Brazil by West Germany. After 1974 the main exporting countries agreed to limit their sensitive nuclear exports, first secretly, later more openly. This club of countries is called the London Nuclear Suppliers Group (LNSG). The LNSG voluntarily keeps itself to the agreed export limits, but the agreed list has proven time and again to have many shortcomings and is easily gotten around.

In addition, there are numerous examples of illegal and hidden exports of all sorts of nuclear materials and installations (especially by NPT members) to a large number of non-NPT parties such as South Africa, Pakistan, Brazil, Argentine, and India, but also to NPT parties such as Iraq, Iran, Libya, Taiwan, and North Korea. This clearly shows that neither the NPT safeguards nor the volunteered export restrictions stop the NPT and non-NPT parties from buying whatever they want, legal or otherwise. One well known case is the Kahn-affair.

Kahn, a Pakistani who had studied in Holland, and got a job with a firm that worked for the enrichment plant of UCN -- the Dutch partner of Urenco, in which URANIT in Gronau (FRG) and BNFL in Capenhurst (UK) also take part -- in Almelo, Holland. Kahn was sent to UCN for a few weeks by his firm. There he was free to roam around and copy blueprints, lists of parts of centrifuge components, and delivery companies. That was in 1975, just after the Indian nuclear explosion. The Pakistani government badly wanted the nuclear equipment to build a contra-bomb. Kahn sent all his information to Pakistan, ordered 6800 centrifuges from Van Doorne Transmissie and so on. Only after three years and on warnings from the US did the case become known. Kahn returned home to become head of Pakistan's nuclear program.

West Germany, too, has quite a record for aiding proliferation. Though a Non-Nuclear Weapons State, it assisted five countries into becoming NWSs. In at least two cases -- South Africa and Brazil -- the German govern-ment was involved. In the other three cases (Pakistan, Iraq, and Argentina), government involvement has not yet been proven. All five countries developed their own uranium enrichment industries thanks to Germany. Often Swiss Companies, which took subcontracts from German firms, were involved as well.

Another incredible example of German government involvement in nuclear sales consisted of simply changing the wording on a license. Pakistan had ordered a tritium production plant from a German firm. This firm asked for an export license. The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied that the plant was on the list of forbidden exports. But, they said, if the license application was renamed, the license should be granted. The new name they proposed was "water refinery plant", because the installation was meant to clean the cooling water of a nuclear reactor. Only, the water was heavy water and tritium was to be separated out. Nevertheless, the change was made, the license granted, the plant exported, and everything was legal. But the plant remained a tritium production installation.

The last example shows how easy it was for Iraq to get a uranium enrichment plant: the already illfamed German firm H+H Metalform received orders for several machines capable of making centrifuges and the special steel with which to make the centrifuges. They ordered the machines from MAN, the firm that makes such machinery for the URANIT firm. Through Saarstahl, they bought 50 tons of the special steel from a Swiss subcontractor.

Over the past 15 years the US has warned the Germans some hundreds of times about private nuclear deals between German firms and Pakistan, Iraq, and India. The FRG government, however, has always denied the affairs and refused to investigate. Each time, though, the warnings proved to be justified. Very rarely have the parties involved been sentenced or even taken to court.


If the NPT is to function more adequately and to survive past 1995, many radical measures have to be taken: the conclusion of a CTBT before 1995, to prevent the NPT from falling apart into two groups; rapid reduction of 50% of nuclear arsenals before 1995; an absolute dedication to complete nuclear disarmament according to a concrete timetable, in connection to a verdict on all weapons of mass destruction; an immediate stop to production and separation of fissile materials and tritium in all military nuclear installations; realization of the Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in Western and Eastern Europe within five years. These first five points are meant as trust-building measures to the New Nuclear States and the numerous Threshold States.

The following points would make nuclear disarmament possible, if coupled to a comprehensive control on all nuclear installations and materials:

Source and Contact: The above article is from a paper of the same title by Joop Boer. For the full text, including a history of the NPT, contact him at Marwixstraat 31, 9726 CB Groningen, The Netherlands, tel: +31-50-126174.

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