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Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office

Annual Report 1999-2000

The Proposed Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT)

The proposal for an FMCT is one of the most important items on the multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation agenda. FMCT would cap fissile material available for weapons, as it would prohibit production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. Production of fissile material for civil purposes, and for non-explosive military purposes such as naval propulsion, would be permitted, but only under verification to ensure the fissile material is not diverted to weapons.

Australia accords a high priority to the commencement of FMCT negotiations, and it is disappointing that little progress has been made, even though the US, Russia, UK and France have ceased production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, and it is understood that China has also done so. It is essential to extend this freeze to India, Israel and Pakistan. The delay is due to the failure of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to reach agreement on its program of workof which FMCT would be a major element. The Final Declaration of the 2000 NPT Review Conference urged the CD to agree to the immediate commencement of negotiations on an FMCT with a view to conclusion within 5 years.

Effective and cost-efficient verification, to provide credible assurance that all participants are honouring their treaty commitments, will be fundamental to the establishment and successful implementation of the FMCT regime. In preparation for the negotiations, ASNO has carried out a considerable amount of work in the development of verification concepts appropriate for the FMCT, an area where we are recognised as being at the forefront of international thinking. Some of the key points of this work are outlined below.

Verification principles

The negotiating mandate agreed by the CD for the FMCT is for a non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices. Thus there is the need to develop an appropriate multilateral verification mechanism.

In considering what form this might take, of course it is not necessary to start with a clean slate. There is already a highly developed verification regime for nuclear material, namely, IAEA safeguards. In the case of non-nuclear-weapon States (NNWS) Party to the NPT, the comprehensive safeguards that apply to them already fully meet FMCT objectives. In principle therefore the FMCT should not involve any additional commitments from States that have in place both an NPT safeguards agreement and the Additional Protocol for strengthened safeguards.

However, in the case of the nuclear-weapon States (NWS) and the non-NPT States (essentially India, Israel and Pakistan), it is apparent that comprehensive NPT safeguards are not an appropriate model for verification under the FMCT:

  • truly comprehensive safeguards covering all nuclear material cannot apply in the NWS while those States have nuclear weapons and therefore will retain, outside verification, nuclear material existing when the FMCT enters into force;
  • the cost of verification on the comprehensive model in the NWS and the other States concerned would be prohibitive;
  • another major factor will be the concern of those States to protect national securityand proliferation-sensitive information relating to their past nuclear weapons programs and to their ongoing stockpile stewardship activities.

Taking these and related considerations into account, ASNO has proposed a focused approach, involving the monitoring of enrichment and reprocessing activities, coupled with verification of separated plutonium, U-233 and HEU (high enriched uranium) produced after the FMCTs entry-into-force (EIF). The focussed approach is described in greater detail in ASNOs 1998-99 Annual Report and in our publications listed at page 108.

Verification of declared nuclear material and activities

Separation of plutonium, HEU or U-233 from irradiated material, and production of HEU for non-explosive purposes, would not be proscribed by the FMCT. However, monitoring would have to be applied to all enrichment and reprocessing activities to ensure there is no undeclared production of separated fissile material after EIF.

On-site verification is an essential part of IAEA safeguards and also CWC verification, which both involve routine inspections of declared activities. It is clear that the FMCT will require a similar mechanism. FMCT Parties would be required to declare fissile material production facilities, and fissile material produced after EIF, and routine verification would apply to provide assurance that this fissile material is not produced for nuclear weapons use.

Measures against possible undeclared activities

Here, there are two broad forms of verification activity: ongoing activities aimed at evaluating the completeness and correctness of States' declarations; and on-site inspections based on suspicion of a breach of treaty commitments.

As discussed elsewhere in this Report, the IAEA is involved in both forms of verification activity. The possibility of special inspections initiated by the IAEA to resolve suspicions about particular locations is a long-standing feature of safeguards agreements. Now the safeguards system is undergoing substantial development, with the objective of establishing credible assurance of the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities. A whole suite of new measures is being established, including more effective information collection and analysis, andthrough the Additional Protocolwide-ranging complementary access within a State to apply verification measures such as environmental sampling.

By contrast, the routine CWC verification system does not extend beyond declared sites. To deal with suspected undeclared activities, the CWC provides for a challenge inspection mechanism, under which a challenge inspection may be initiated by a State Party, rather than by the verification agency.

The CWC approach reflects practical realities, such as the scale of the worlds chemical industries. For the FMCT, ASNO suggests it would be preferable to follow the IAEA model here, and provide for the verification agency to carry out measures aimed at detection of possible undeclared production of fissile material after EIFalong the lines already accepted under the Additional Protocol. Some of these ongoing measures could include:

  • analysis of satellite imagery that could reveal some characteristic structures of a production plant and trigger verification measures such as location-specific environmental sampling;
  • wide-area environmental sampling, e.g. measures aimed at capturing characteristic gaseous effluents and particulates that may be deposited at significant distances from the facility; and
  • acquisition and analysis of open source information, supported by information provided to the verification agency by States.

Just as under the Additional Protocol, the verification agency would have the right to request access to locations, or to the vicinity of locations, to resolve questions and inconsistencies arising from the information available to the agency. Managed access provisions would be essential, probably elaborated in greater detail under the FMCT than in the Additional Protocol.

In addition, the FMCT will require a mechanism for right of entry to a specific location if there are serious grounds for suspicion of a breach of treaty commitments. While the special inspection mechanism would be an appropriate model, it is possible that FMCT Parties may wish to have a verification mechanism that they can initiate directly, rather than relying on the verification agency to do so. Thus the FMCT may incorporate a challenge mechanism, perhaps in addition to the special inspection (agency-initiated) mechanism.


In sum, there is the need to develop for the FMCT a new verification regime, drawing not only on experience from IAEA safeguards, but also looking at procedures and mechanisms from other verification regimes, particularly the CWC. Specific aspects that may be useful include managed access and possibly challenge inspections. In view of the substantial amount of work done in developing verification concepts, it is to be hoped that when the FMCT negotiations do get under way they can progress very quickly.

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