Mohamed I. Shaker
Dædalus, Winter 2010
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Nuclear Technology Review
2009 reported that there were 10 nuclear power plant construction starts
in 2008 in China, Russia, and South Korea.1 It seems
that current expansion, as well as near-term and long-term growth prospects, remains
strong in Asia. In Europe, there is mounting interest in the United Kingdom, Italy,
Bulgaria, Finland, Switzerland, and Slovakia. In the United States, the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved 10 nuclear power uprates totaling, 2,178 megawatts
thermal (MWth). In Canada, two power reactor units are planned for Darlington. In
2007 and 2008, the IAEA introduced a new service providing integrated advice to
countries considering the introduction of nuclear power. During that same period,
the IAEA undertook 10 missions, to Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Nigeria, the Philippines,
Sudan, Thailand, and to members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (three times), to
offer such advice.
The introduction of nuclear power on such a scale – dubbed by some as a nuclear renaissance – may
double in the near future, raising the question of how many elements of the nuclear
fuel cycle a country would be involved in. Does every country need its own nuclear
fuel cycle? Or would it be more economical, with minimal risks of proliferation
and an effective verification system, to include more countries in the radius of
fuel cycle control? I believe those were the reasons that prompted Mohamed ElBaradei,
Director General of the IAEA, to propose the creation of a multinational or regional
nuclear fuel cycle in his 2003 article in The Economist. ElBaradei was
in fact reviving previous interests in the internationalization of the nuclear fuel
cycle. In his article, he identified three areas of vital importance: how to guarantee
the supply of fuel for nuclear-generated electricity; how to set up one or more international
repositories for spent nuclear fuel; and how to bring about multilateral oversight
to sensitive parts of the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle.
Nuclear Technology Review 2009 also reported that a number of Arab countries
are interested in the introduction of nuclear power. A quick tour d’horizon of the
Arab world, from east to west, reveals some facts and developments concerning nuclear
technology and its affiliations in this vast area of the world, which constitutes
10.2 percent of the entire globe.2
Oman is interested in desalination energy options, possibly including nuclear energy.
IAEA Director General ElBaradei visited the country in 2007. Kuwait, the United
Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen had no nuclear infrastructure or regulatory authority
up until recently, other than an Atomic Energy Committee or Department. The UAE,
in anticipation of its investment in nuclear power, has adhered to the Additional
Protocol attached to its safeguards agreement with the IAEA and has indicated its
disinterest in uranium enrichment as well. The law decree (No. 6, 2009) promulgated
by the UAE head of state on October 4, 2009, regulates the peaceful uses of nuclear
energy within the state and adopts the basic elements included in the “Document
on the General Policy of the State of the UAE in Assessing the Possibility of Developing
a Peaceful Nuclear Power Program in the State,” which was issued in April 2008.
Accordingly, the law prohibits the development, establishment, or operation of any
reprocessing or enrichment facilities within the UAE.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has, since 1978, conducted several feasibility studies
on utilizing nuclear power to desalinate seawater. The Saudis are world leaders
in seawater desalination, but all such facilities are powered by petroleum- and
gas-generated electricity. Saudi Arabia’s only known previous involvement in nuclear
applications is limited to experiments to produce radio isotopes using a tandetron
accelerator and a cyclotron. Saudi Arabia, a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT), signed an IAEA safeguards agreement called the Small Quantities Protocol,
which is intended for states with little or no nuclear activity and allows the kingdom
to opt out of regular, intrusive inspections in exchange for a state declaration.
As with Oman, ElBaradei visited Saudi Arabia to discuss the kingdom’s needs. If
Saudi Arabia were to invest in nuclear power, the kingdom may be asked to negotiate
a new, more substantive international safeguards agreement with the IAEA.
In the Levant, Jordan is seriously interested in nuclear power and has signed a
number of nuclear cooperation agreements with potential suppliers. It is also investing
in exploration for uranium and in its extraction from phosphates.
Syria participated in a 2002–2006 IAEA study on the economic competitiveness of
nuclear desalination. The Syrian elemental nuclear program includes a Chinese-supplied
miniature reactor and plans for a larger research reactor to be sourced from Russia.
Syria and Russia have also concluded negotiations on the construction of a nuclear
power reactor coupled with a seawater desalination plant. An Israeli air raid on
Syrian territory in September 2007 was allegedly motivated by the existence of nuclear
equipment and/or material in a Syrian location, a possibility which is still under
thorough investigation by the IAEA.
One of Lebanon’s scientists had, up until recently, been the Director General of
the Arab Atomic Energy Agency since 2001. Dr. Mahmoud Nasserldin is French-educated
with a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Grenoble University. As of 2009, he was succeeded
by a Tunisian scientist, Dr. Abduel Maguied Magoub.
As for Iraq, we need not reiterate here the destruction and dismantlement of its
nuclear apparatus before the war was launched against it in 2003, as a result of
the work done by the two UN Security Council Committees, UNSCOM and UNMOVIC, in
accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 687 of 1991.
Egypt has two research reactors at Inshas, northeast of the Delta. One of the reactors
was acquired from Russia in 1961, and the other, commissioned in 1997, was acquired
from Argentina. Both produce radioisotopes for medical, industrial, and agricultural
use. To operate these reactors, Egypt imports low-enriched uranium (LEU) from which
it produces reactor fuel at its own fuel fabrication plant. Egypt also has medical
facilities, accelerators, and other nuclear-related laboratories, including a hot
Egypt nearly chose to construct its first nuclear power plant 20 years ago, but
failed to do so in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine in 1986.
After Egypt’s ratification of the NPT in 1981, it negotiated a number of cooperation
agreements with leading supplier states to begin the implementation of an ambitious
nuclear power program. The long duration of most of these agreements makes them
still valid. The great number of cooperation agreements should allow Egypt to diversify
its sources in supply and types of equipment. After more than 20 years, Egypt’s
nuclear power project is being relaunched in the context of contributing to the
energy mix in Egypt, for reasons and factors similar to those in other countries.
Egypt’s decision in 1980 to invest in nuclear power came before its great discoveries
of gas, which brought great relief to the energy sector and, more particularly,
to the country’s electricity needs. Gas was responsible for the uplift of Egyptian
industries and other domestic needs – partly why Egypt did not hasten to rekindle
its interest in nuclear power.
Today, Egypt relies mainly on natural gas and oil for electricity generation. In
2005–2006, Egypt consumed 17.3 million tons of oil and 541 billion cubic feet of
natural gas. Only 12 percent of Egypt’s electricity is generated by hydro power.
Wind energy, currently at 230 MW capacity, generates only 1 percent of Egypt’s electric
power. In 2010, wind energy is expected to generate3
percent of Egypt’s total electric power. As for solar energy, Egypt is about to
establish its first solar energy plant of 150 MW.
If Egypt were to invest in a nuclear power plant, with a capacity of 1,000 MW, this
would save 1.78 million tons of oil, or 69.9 billion cubic feet of natural gas,
per year. Over a period of 60 years, which is the average life span of new nuclear
power plants, the savings in oil are expected to reach 106 million tons of oil,
or 4.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. This would save Egypt the equivalent
of 210 million tons of carbon dioxide. It is noteworthy that reserves of oil and
gas are expected to be exhausted in 15 and 34 years, respectively. New discoveries
in both sources of energy could extend the reserves by a few extra years. The average
increase in energy demand for electricity in the last 10 years was 7 percent yearly.
During 2006, the total demand for electric power was 18,160 MW, out of a total electricity-generation
capacity of 21,300 MW. These figures should indicate the type of studies and comparative
analyses that were undertaken to determine whether it is justifiable to add nuclear
power to Egypt’s energy mix. I am confident that similar studies are being carried
out in other Arab countries.
The prospects for reviving the nuclear power program in Egypt are now clear. On
October 29, 2007, Egyptian President Mubarak decided that Egypt would go ahead with
nuclear power. Egypt will have to face up to its future electric energy needs in
light of the short life span of its oil and gas resources, as well as the limitations
on its hydro power (unless in cooperation with African states in the south, riparian
of the River Nile, it can double its hydro power sources). Egypt is in the process
of promulgating laws regulating nuclear power, its safety and its security. A consultant,
from Australia Parthons, has been chosen to assist in all phases of the program,
including the preparation of tenders.
Egypt’s immediate neighbor to the west, Libya, dismantled and turned over its enrichment
equipment to the United States in 2004, and it has signed the Additional Protocol
to its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. It has a 10 MW research reactor at Tajoura
that is being converted to run on LEU (formerly it used highly enriched uranium).
In March 2006, Libya signed an agreement with France to develop civilian nuclear
power. French President Sarkozy and his government, which took power in 2007, have
confirmed that orientation.
In Tunisia, the possibility of using nuclear as an alternative energy source to
counter its limited natural gas resources has been studied since the early 1990s.
At that time, Tunisia conducted a site survey and participated in an IAEA region-wide
feasibility study of the use of nuclear energy for desalination in the North African
states. In 2002, Tunisia undertook a more intensive nuclear desalination feasibility
study with the French Atomic Energy Commission for the Skhira site in the south
of the country. The study concluded that as long as gas prices remain constant,
the nuclear option would not be economical for Tunisia. Yet it also concluded that
in the future the country would experience electricity shortages unless new natural
gas reserves were found. Tunisia has no nuclear infrastructure other than a National
Center for Science and Nuclear Technology and a National Center for Radioprotection.
Tunisia is the host of the Arab Atomic Energy Agency, an Arab scientific organization
and one of the Arab League subsidiary organizations with an independent identity.
The Agency is concerned with peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including development
and technological applications. The main role of the organization is to coordinate
Arab states in peaceful applications of the atom, and to assist in research activities,
manpower development, and technical and scientific information. It seeks to set
up unified regulations for radiological protection and safe handling of radioactive
materials, and to coordinate scientific and technical activities with concerned
regional and international organizations. It supports and protects the patents in
the peaceful uses of atomic energy, encourages Arab scientists in the field of nuclear
sciences and technologies, and assists them in attending relevant Arab conferences.3
Algeria has a Chinese 15 MW heavy-water research reactor at Al Oussera; the reactor
went critical in 1998. Algeria also possesses an Argentinean 1 MW research reactor
that began producing isotopes in 1989, and also has a small fuel fabrication plant
and rich deposits of uranium ore. Algeria is a leading candidate for nuclear power
in the Arab world.
Finally, Morocco had a long-standing interest in nuclear power for seawater desalination.
In the late 1990s, it carried out a feasibility study for a Chinese-built 10 MW
demonstration plant at Tan-Tan, with IAEA technical assistance and financial backing
from the European Union (EU). Later, Morocco studied the economics of coupling nuclear
reactors with desalination systems at Agadir and Laayounne. To provide the infrastructure
to help implement the program, Morocco has a nuclear research center and a radiation
protection authority. In late October 2006, Morocco hosted a 12-country conference
to discuss the necessary steps to implement the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear
Terrorism, which was sponsored in July of the same year by the United States and
Russia at the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. The number of supporters of that
initiative has dramatically increased since the conference.
Apart from sponsoring a number of studies, the Arab Atomic Energy Agency has generally
been dormant, and its impact has not been felt in the Arab world or outside of the
region. However, the 2007 Arab Summit of Riyadh was a turning point and perhaps
a new lease on life for the Agency. At the Summit, the Council of the League of
Arab States decided to undertake joint cooperative activities for the development
of peaceful uses of nuclear energy and related technology in the Arab world, including
a practical program devoted to applications in various fields, especially energy,
water, medicine, agriculture, and industry. The Council requested that the Secretary-General
of the League of Arab States form groups of experts and specialists, with the participation
of the Arab Atomic Energy Agency, to consider ways and means for such cooperation
to take place within an integrated Arab framework.
In Riyadh, attendees adopted a previous resolution inviting Arab countries to use
or expand the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes for all fields of
sustainable development, with due consideration of the diversity of their needs
and of the fact that they were strictly observing provisions of all international
treaties, conventions, and regulations that they have signed. Among the executive
steps to be taken, the Summit provided support to the Arab Atomic Energy Agency,
as the organ for joint Arab action in this field, and called upon Arab countries
that have not yet joined the Agency to do so without delay, for their own benefit
as well as that of joint Arab action in this field. The Summit requested that the
Agency develop an Arab strategy for mastering nuclear sciences and technology for
peaceful purposes by 2020.
The Riyadh Declaration Decisions struck a balance between peaceful nuclear ambitions
for the Arab world and reaffirmation of the importance of clearing all weapons of
mass destruction (WMD) from the region. The decisions moved away from double standards
and selectiveness and warned against launching a dangerous and devastating nuclear
arms race in the area. It was decided at the Summit to suspend the work of the Technical
Committee, established in 1994 at the initiative of Arab countries, on the preparation
of a draft treaty to establish a WMD-free, and especially nuclear-weapon- free,
zone in the Middle East. The committee was suspended so that Arab policies followed
during past decades could be assessed in light of current international conditions.
Over the last 13 years, the Technical Committee of the League of Arab States had
been drafting a treaty to establish a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. The Arab
League found no reason to make the draft text available, as it had not yet been
approved by the League and as other parties outside the framework in which the draft
was negotiated had not been involved or approached. The suspension of the work of
the Arab League Technical Committee reflects frustration on the part of the Arab
states because of the lack of implementation of the Middle East Resolution. The
Resolution came out of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, sponsored by
the three NPT depositary governments (the United Kingdom, the United States, and
Russia), and was put forward in conjunction with efforts to seek consensus on a
decision to extend the NPT indefinitely. It also conferred on the nuclear-weapons
states, as sponsors of the resolution, the responsibility to achieve universal adherence
to the NPT, including by Israel and other states not party to the Treaty, and to
establish the Middle East as a nuclear-weapon-free and WMD-free zone.
The clear message of the Riyadh Summit was that the Arab states would rather develop
their peaceful nuclear activities in a Middle East completely free of WMD and in
conformity with all the relevant international instruments they have adhered to.
There would be no stability or security in the region in the presence of any nuclear-weapons
capability, whether from Israel or from an Iranian potential capability. The Riyadh
spirit prevailed as well at the Doha Summit, held in Qatar in March 2009, and underlined
the importance of Arab cooperation and coordination in the nuclear field.
Will the Riyadh Summit be the basis for ongoing joint Arab action in the field of
peaceful uses of nuclear energy? Will the success of the Summit give a boost to
the Arab Atomic Energy Agency and lead to a regional or an Arab nuclear fuel cycle,
fostering greater coordination and cooperation and, at the same time, ensuring regional
control that could be effectively verified internationally?
Based on the tour d’horizon provided above, it is clear that Arab states would have
the expertise, uranium ore deposits, research reactors, fuel fabrication skills
on a small scale, accelerators, and other nuclear-related laboratories, including
hot cell laboratories, necessary to develop an Arab nuclear fuel cycle. However,
within the present international context and in light of policies imposed by the
Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Arab states, individually or collectively, would
face difficulties in investing in and importing the so-called sensitive technologies:
uranium enrichment and fuel reprocessing technologies. Iraq and Libya had dramatic
experiences with regard to those technologies. The vehement opposition we are currently
witnessing against the Iranian enrichment program is another signal that an Arab
enrichment plant would not be tolerated, regardless of its location, even though
enrichment is not prohibited under the NPT, and a number of nonnuclear-weapons states
that are party to the NPT are investing in enrichment, including Germany, The Netherlands,
Brazil, and more recently, Japan. How can the Arab states get around this dilemma
in such an atmosphere? We must consider the possibilities in light of an IAEA expert
group’s 2005 report on multinational approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle.4
The regionalization of the nuclear fuel cycle raises a number of basic questions.5
Gradual buildup of a nuclear fuel cycle. The internationalization of the
nuclear fuel cycle can only proceed in phases. Success achieved in the first phases
may be an incentive to involve other stages and more actors. The IAEA, including
the expert group mentioned above, tends to focus on the so-called sensitive parts
of the nuclear fuel cycle – namely, uranium enrichment, reprocessing of spent fuel,
and spent fuel disposal and storage. These are definitely important stages in the
nuclear fuel cycle from the point of view of nonproliferation and supply, but other
stages could be of great interest to a number of countries, such as uranium ore
supply, fuel fabrication, and even supply of spare parts to nuclear power plants.
Other stages could also be included in a multilateral arrangement. At any rate,
buildup of a regional nuclear fuel cycle in the Arab region could be expected to
be slow and gradual. Restructuring the Arab Atomic Energy Agency to promote cooperation
and coordination is expected to take a longer time.
The need for a supply mechanism. A supply mechanism is needed to address:
- The possible consequences of interruptions to nuclear fuel supply for political
reasons; the risk of interruptions might dissuade countries from initiating or expanding
nuclear power programs; and
- The vulnerabilities that create incentives for building new national enrichment
and reprocessing capabilities.
A mechanism to assure the supply of nuclear fuel would be envisaged solely as a
backup measure to the operation of the commercial market; states would make use
of the mechanism only when supply was interrupted for political reasons. It would
neither be a substitute for the existing commercial market in nuclear fuels nor
would it deal with disruption of supply due to commercial, technical, or other nonpolitical
reasons. If such a mechanism operated reliably, Arab countries might be relieved
from looking for other alternatives (which I will say more about later). Could a
renewed and bolstered Arab Atomic Energy Agency be entrusted with such a task?
The material to be assured. Existing proposals deal with supply assurance
in different, complementary ways. Some proposals focus on assuring supply of natural
uranium and LEU stocks, and still others focus on assurance of supply of nuclear
fuel itself.6 It has been asserted that there is also
a complementary need for greater transparency in uranium markets, and that assured
access to a broader range of nuclear reactor technology would be important to operators
and countries seeking to reduce the risk of supply interruptions on political grounds.
A number of Arab countries have made small-scale developments in fuel fabrication
technologies (for example, Egypt and Algeria), and they may be more interested in
assuring the supply of enriched uranium.
Modalities of assurance’s mechanism. The possible modalities could include
a virtual reserve of natural uranium and LEU based on binding contractual agreements
for supply of such materials, plus parallel binding commitments/assurances of fuel
fabrication services. A virtual reserve does not involve separate physical storage
of natural uranium or LEU, but instead relies on availability from suppliers that
have agreed to be part of the fuel assurance mechanism.
While an actual (physical) bank of natural uranium or LEU could be established,
it was found impractical, for technical and economic reasons, to have an actual
bank of nuclear fuel assemblies, given the different types of reactor designs and
many variants of nuclear fuel required for them. A virtual reserve of Arab fabricated
fuel would face the same problem, presupposing heavier investment in fuel fabrication
by those Arab countries presently knowledgeable about this technology.
Conditions governing eligibility for benefiting from assurance mechanisms.
Committing to nonproliferation would be considered a qualifying criterion. However,
in accordance with the IAEA statute, an assurance mechanism would be available to
all member states in a nondiscriminatory manner. For any mechanism, whether or not
it involves a role for the IAEA, certain release criteria would need to be defined
and agreed upon, either by the IAEA Board of Governors or a supply consortium. Another
aspect requiring further assessment is how best to ensure that the application of
the release mechanism is demonstrably nonpolitical and based upon objective criteria.
If an Arab nuclear fuel cycle were to be established, it would also have to abide
by IAEA standards of nondiscrimination as well as by nonproliferation criteria.
An important issue here is the acceptability within the Arab world of the Additional
Protocol to be attached to the safeguards agreement between the IAEA and the Arab
states. Some have accepted the Protocol, including Libya and the UAE. Others have
not done so yet, including Egypt. An Arab nuclear fuel cycle should aim for harmony
on this matter.
Possible role(s) for the IAEA. Existing proposals envisage different roles
for the IAEA, and there are still others that can be considered. The suggested roles
range from IAEA administration or ownership of natural uranium or LEU stocks to
administration of virtual stocks and associated parallel fuel fabrication commitments.
The IAEA statute is sufficiently broad to allow the Agency to establish its own
stocks of nuclear fuel purchased from, or donated by, member states for supply to
another member state against charges determined by the IAEA Board; to facilitate
the supply of nuclear fuel from one member state to another; and to facilitate,
inter alia, the provision of enrichment and fuel fabrication services by
one member state to another or to the IAEA. In this respect, a number of legal arrangements
would be required, especially if the IAEA were to establish an actual bank of nuclear
The UN High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, established by former
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, produced the 2004 report A More Secure World:
Our Shared Responsibility,7 in which they
Negotiations be engaged without delay and carried forward to an early conclusion
on an arrangement, based on the existing provisions of Article III and IX of the
IAEA Statute which would enable IAEA to act as a guarantor for the supply of fissile
material to civilian nuclear users. Such an arrangement would need to put the Agency
in a position to meet, through supplies it authorized, demands for nuclear fuel
supply of low enriched uranium and for reprocessing of spent fuel at market rates
and to provide a guarantee of uninterrupted supply of these services, as long as
there was no breach of safeguards or inspection procedures at the facilities in
Privileging the IAEA as a guarantor of supply is due to the fact that the Agency’s
membership is much broader than that of the commercial consortium. Furthermore,
the IAEA’s track record, reputation, credibility, and relevant experience justify
this reaction. However, one must take into consideration that those with permanent
or semi-permanent seats on the Board of Governors are the most advanced countries
in nuclear energy and also are the major supplier countries. They are also parties
to the export control regimes that might not necessarily be favorable toward certain
potential recipient states. In this case, the solution might be to democratize the
export control regimes, especially the NSG. By offering universal admission to the
regimes, suppliers and users could consult about guidelines that would be adopted
for the export of nuclear equipment and material. At present, these guidelines are
usually adopted without consultation with the user states. We must not assume that
seeking consultation would suffice as a remedy; a new democratic setup is badly
The NSG practices and the domination of the IAEA Board by supplier countries may
invite Arab countries to ponder whether their Arab Atomic Energy Agency could play
the role of a guarantor of fuel supply in a regional context. Again, let us reiterate
that the Agency would have to be restructured to play such a role.
The role of the nuclear industry. Consultations with the nuclear industry
would be useful, particularly with the understanding that the nuclear industry would
provide the required goods and services to support a supply assurance mechanism
that does not have negative effects on the diversity and stability of the existing
commercial market in nuclear fuels.
Other related issues. These issues pertain to how an assurance mechanism
can be structured in a manner that would not result in a division – whether real or
perceived – between nuclear fuel and nuclear reactor technology haves and havenots.
Also necessary is a structure that does not undermine existing multilateral, treaty-based
nuclear nonproliferation norms of state sovereignty and rights. In this respect,
it is important to reread Article IV of the NPT, which has encouraged parties to
the Treaty to engage fully in cooperation on peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The
Riyadh declaration and decisions are very much in line with the letter and spirit
of Article IV of the NPT. Arab participants in a regional nuclear cycle would be
equal partners sharing decisions together.
Aside from the basic questions raised by the possibility of a regional nuclear fuel
cycle, there are also questions related specifically to the so-called sensitive
Uranium enrichment. In its 2005 report, the IAEA expert group noted that
suppliers could provide additional supply assurances. Also, an international consortium
of governments could step in to guarantee access to enrichment services, with suppliers
simply being executive agents. This arrangement would be a kind of intergovernmental
There are also variations of the preceding option, including with the IAEA acting
as the anchor of the arrangement. The IAEA would function as a kind of guarantor
of supply to states in good standing, as described earlier. The IAEA might either
hold title to the material supplied or, more likely, act as facilitator, with backup
agreements between the Agency and supplier countries. In effect, the IAEA would
establish a default mechanism only to be activated in instances when a normal supply
contract had been broken down for reasons other than commercial.
As to multilateral nuclear arrangements that would take the form of a joint facility,
the IAEA expert group pointed to the existence of two readymade precedents, the
Anglo-Dutch-German company Urenco and the French company EURODIF. The experience
of Urenco, with its commercial-industrial management on the one hand and the governmental
joint committee on the other, shows that the multinational or international concept
can be made to work successfully. EURODIF has a successful multinational record
as well. By enriching uranium only in France, instead of in three countries, as
is the case with Urenco, EURODIF provides enriched uranium to its co-financing international
partners, thus restricting all proliferation risks, diversion, clandestine parallel
programs, breakout, and the spread of technology. Unlike Urenco, EURODIF is known
to have never been a manufacturer of enrichment equipment.
Is there any possibility of enlarging the two entities to accommodate more partners
in the future and to make them more international than they are today in terms of
financial contributions, management, or decision-making? Admitting Iran as a partner
in EURODIF indicates that there was open-mindedness to the idea of accepting countries
from other continents as partners. Can Arab countries benefit from this precedent,
especially given that their regional nuclear fuel cycle would, in the present international
context, most probably bypass enrichment, as earlier indicated? Bypassing enrichment,
however, should not be construed as giving up the right to that activity, a right
spelled out in the NPT.
There are national facilities for enriching uranium in other parts of the world,
such as Japan and Brazil, and here, too, we can foresee that such national uranium
enrichment facilities could one day be converted to multinational facilities providing
services to regional neighbors and maybe beyond. By taking such steps, we would
further internationalize essential parts of the nuclear fuel cycle. Also, Russian,
German, American, and other offers to make enriched uranium available are of no
Reprocessing of nuclear spent fuel. The IAEA expert group noted that the
present capabilities for reprocessing spent fuel from existing light water reactors
and those currently under construction are sufficient for expected global demands
in plutonium-recycled fuel during the coming two decades. Therefore, the expert
group concluded that the objectives of supply assurances can be fulfilled to a large
extent without new reprocessing facilities involving ownership. Currently, all reprocessing
plants are, in essence, state-owned. An IAEA-broker arrangement could mean IAEA
participation in the supervision of an international consortium for reprocessing
In the view of the IAEA expert group, converting a national facility to international
ownership and management would involve the creation of a new international entity
that would operate as a new competitor in the reprocessing market. An international
entity would have the advantage of bringing together international expertise, but
at the same time, it would include a nonproliferation disadvantage related to dissemination
of know-how and to the return of the separated plutonium. Also, of the existing
reprocessing facilities, all except two facilities (in Japan) are in nuclear weapons
states or in non-NPT states. In cases of conversion to international entities, appropriate
safeguards would have to be introduced if they have not already been applied.
Because an Arab nuclear fuel cycle, in the present international context, is expected
to bypass reprocessing (but without permanently giving up that right), it will have
to rely on existing national facilities or converted international entities. The
Arab countries may find in Japan (a heavy oil importer) a reliable partner.
The IAEA expert group believes that new joint facilities will not be needed for
a long time, mainly because of the sufficient global reprocessing capacity.
Spent fuel disposal and storage. At present, there is no international
mechanism for spent fuel disposal services; all undertakings are strictly national.
The final disposal of spent fuel is thus a candidate for international approaches.
The IAEA is encouraged to continue its effort in that direction.
Storage facilities for spent fuel are either in operation or being built in several
countries. There is not yet an international market for services in this area, except
for the readiness of the Russian Federation to receive Russian-supplied fuel and,
possibly, other spent fuel. The storage of spent fuel is also a candidate for multilateral
approaches, primarily at the regional level. Here, too, the IAEA is encouraged to
continue investigation in that field.
Many political and public-acceptance issues will arise in connection with the import
of nuclear materials to an existing repository. Public acceptance is already of
crucial importance for setting up national repositories; it will be of even greater
importance for multinational repository projects with nuclear waste and spent fuel
coming from several countries.
The issue is of great sensitivity. Egypt had the experience of utterly rejecting
an offer from Austria to send the waste from its aborted single reactor built outside
Vienna. There was uproar in the Egyptian People’s Assembly (Parliament) for even
contemplating such a proposition. In light of that experience, it is highly unlikely
that most Arab countries would host a multinational repository on their soil, unless
they can identify a volunteer that could overcome internal difficulties or that
guarantees public acceptance.
The internationalization of the nuclear fuel cycle is not a myth. As this paper
indicates, internationalization in different forms can take place if political will
exists, under conditions of nonproliferation and smooth cooperation. It can only
be a gradual process in terms of both participants and the different stages of the
nuclear fuel cycle, especially with regard to the so-called sensitive stages of
the cycle: enrichment, reprocessing, and the disposal and storage of spent fuel.
Most of the initiatives and proposals put forward are concerned with the supply
mechanism. None has dwelt on the merits of a multinational or regional nuclear fuel
cycle as suggested by the IAEA Director General. I have tried in this paper to advance
a few ideas about a potential regional nuclear fuel cycle in the Arab region. The
IAEA is well placed to encourage and to be involved in such an international endeavor.
A first step to reduce the influence of the nuclear supplier states and their group
would be to open up the group to the user states, to encourage ongoing dialogue
for the benefit of both categories of states. This dialogue is missing now, and
user states are often confronted with decisions made in their absence and without
taking into consideration their essential needs and concerns. This new partnership
should be institutionalized in a way that would guarantee new voices in the decision-making
or in formulating guidelines for the export of nuclear materials and equipment.
The above situation may even lead to the formation of regional nuclear fuel cycles
that would challenge the dominance of the NSG and would call into question the existence
of the group in its present format. Following the Riyadh Summit, are we going to
witness in the foreseeable future the emergence in the Arab region of an Arab Euratom,
which could be a prelude to an Arab Union following the path that Europe has traveled
As a first step, the Arab Atomic Energy Agency should be strengthened and restructured
to play a pivotal role. The experiences of the Tlatelolco Treaty in Latin America
and the Caribbean and the Argentine-Brazilian Agency for Accounting and Control
of Nu clear Materials (ABAAC) should be instructive.
The most important element is that we must reach a stage where no supplier country
alone can hamper or interrupt, for political reasons, a cooperative venture in the
field of peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Our objective should be to protect the
user states that have lived up to their international commitments and obligations
and to allow them to continue unhindered in their peaceful nuclear activities.
Every individual state participating in an international or regional nuclear fuel
cycle should feel that it has a say in the operation or the running of such an enterprise.
This participatory aspect is just as important as the guarantee of supply.
Finally, and to sum up, regionalization or “Arabization” of the nuclear fuel cycle
would have the following advantages:
- Economies of scale;
- Better guarantees of effective international control by the IAEA;
- Strengthened nonproliferation norms, because each party to the cycle would be checking
on the others; and
- In the long run, better bridges between the developed and the less-developed countries
in nuclear technology, thus maximizing equality among participants as much as possible
and encouraging joint decision-making.
Closer Arab cooperation and coordination in the nuclear field could be the prelude
to a sort of Arab Union. In Europe, the establishment of Euratom and the Steel and
Coal Union led to the Common Market, the European Community, and, finally, the EU.
We have much to learn from the European experience, which is a vivid example of
how it is possible for our dreams to come true.
2006; http://www.iiss.org/index), with additions
and comments by the author, especially with regard to Egypt.