J u l y  1 9 9 7

Part 4

Franklyn Griffiths

George Ignatieff Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies
University College, University of Toronto
15 King's College Circle
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3H7

tel (416) 978-7417 fax (416) 971-2027

. . . back to Table of Contents

3.2. Nuclear Disarmament

Having focused on the Russian side of things in examining the non-proliferation potential of the CANDU MOX initiative, I now turn to the United States in assessing possible benefits and costs for nuclear disarmament. Although less is known about the quantities and qualities of the Russian weapons plutonium that might be transferred to Canada, I assume its characteristics to be similar as between the two countries, although their preferences in disposing of the excess may differ. As before, the primary criterion is the potential of the CANDU MOX initiative to produce physical security benefits, and only secondarily any gains it may yield for the Russian-U.S. nuclear disarmament process. According to the Canadian government, "The initiative is designed to reduce the stockpiles of weapons plutonium, a major threat to world peace and security. Canada's view is that any initiative which might promote nuclear disarmament and reduce the world's inventory of weapons-grade plutonium to an acceptably inaccessible, secure and safe condition, merits consideration."[106]

The questions to be asked here are the following. What is likely to be the origin of the plutonium that might be transferred to Canada in MOX form, and what physical security benefits might be had from its disposition in CANDU reactors? What forms and amounts of plutonium would probably be retained by the United States and the Russian Federation, and with what implications? To what degree might Canada find itself assisting not so much in nuclear disarmament, as in the rationalization of Russian and U.S. nuclear forces in an altered security environment? To what extent might Canada receive not weapons plutonium rendered excess to defence needs by strategic nuclear disarmament treaty or parallel unilateral commitments to disarm, but obsolete and degraded pits, weapons plutonium residues, and process waste generated by the two states in two generations of Cold War? To what degree might CANDU reactor disposition "lock in" the benefits of nuclear disarmament, and to what degree might it add up to nuclear waste disposal? Indeed, when the surrender of Russian and U.S. weapons plutonium is concerned, what is the difference between disarmament and waste disposal?

Taking the United States as our example, we begin by attempting to determine what weapons plutonium is held by the Department of Defense and DOE, what of these holdings might be in excess of defence needs, and what therefore might be committed to Canada. Very quickly it becomes apparent that in proposing the CANDU MOX initiative, Canada has offered to enter something like a shell game with the United States whose intricacy is likely to be exceeded only in arrangements for the disposition of the Russian excess. And if it isn't exactly a shell game, because Canada doesn't get to choose what it takes, it certainly is a numbers game, as seen in Table 2.

U.S. weapons-related plutonium holdings are estimated at 99.5 tonnes.[107] Of this amount, the Department of Defense (DOD) holds 30.5 tonnes in weapons, and DOE holds the remaining 69.0 tonnes in a variety of forms. Of the 69 tonnes under DOE's authority, 27.5 tonnes is in pits, 8.0 tonnes in warheads awaiting dismantlement, 21.6 tonnes in separated weapons-grade and fuel-grade plutonium, and 11.7 tonnes in reactor fuel. Note that the combined inventory of DOD and DOE contain roughly 66 tonnes of stockpiled weapons, separated pits, and warheads scheduled for dismantlement. Some 33 tonnes of "weapons plutonium" under DOE's control consists of weapons-grade, fuel-grade, and reactor-grade plutonium, the differences being a matter of the purity of the material. Weapons-grade plutonium (WGPu) is about 93 percent Pu-239; plutonium containing between 80 and 93 percent Pu-239 is referred to as fuel-grade (FGPu); and Pu-239 concentrations of less than 80 percent are characteristic of reactor-grade plutonium (RGPu). All three grades of plutonium can be employed to make nuclear weapons. The entire U.S. inventory of 99.5 tonnes is estimated to contain 85.1 tonnes of WGPu, 13.2 tonnes of FGPu,

TABLE 2. U.S. Weapons Plutonium: Holdings, Reductions, Retained WPua


99.5 tonnes

This figure can be expressed in several ways:

(1) 85.1 t weapons-grade plutonium (WGPu),
13 t fuel-grade (FGPu), and
1.2 t reactor-grade (RGPu);

(2) 30.5 t held by DOD, and 69.0 t by DOE; and

(3) 66.5 t in stockpiled weapons, separated pits, and warheads slated for dismantlement, all held by DOD and DOE, and 33 t WGPu, FGPu, and RGPu separated from weapons and pits and held by DOE. Of this last 33 t, 11.6 t is in unirradiated WGPu and FGPu, and irradiated WGPu, FGPu, and RGPu in spent fuel.


52.4 tonnes

This figure can also be stated in different ways:

(1) 38.2 t WGPu, and 14.2 t FGPu and RGPu;

(2) 31.6 t WGPu in metals and oxides, 5.7 t separated WGPu and FGPu, 7.3 t separated low-purity Pu, 0.7 t reactor fuel, and 7.3 t irradiated reactor fuel; and

(3) 16.9 t in scrap and residues unsuited to reactor disposition, and 35.5 t suited to reactor disposition consisting of 14.2 t FGPu and RGPu, and 21.3 t other.

Retained WPu

47.1 tonnes

Retained weapons Pu could consist of:

(1) 46.9 t WGPu, down 38.2 t from 85.1 t; nil FGPu, down 13.2 t from 13.2 t; nil RGPu, down 1.2 t from 1.2 t;

(2) 45.2 DOD and DOE stockpiled warheads, warheads slated for dismantlement, and pits, down 21.3 t from 66.5 t; nil DOE FGPu and RGPu, down 14.2 t from 14.2 t; and nil scraps and residues, down 16.9 t from 16.9 t.

    aSource: Cochran, "Progress in U.S./Russian Transparency," cited fully in note 7 in this study. All figures cited here are estimates. Inconsistencies are accounted for largely by rounding out.

and 1.2 tonnes of RGPu. All three grades can however take a variety of forms -- metal, oxide, reactor fuel, irradiated fuel, and residues -- depending on how they have been processed. Total plutonium outside of weapons and pits consists, again, of some 33 tonnes. Of this, 21.6 tonnes is in separated form, and the remainder of 11.6 tonnes is accounted for by unirradiated WGPu and FGPu, and irradiated WGPu, FGPu, and RGPu in spent fuel.

The United States has declared 38.2 tonnes of its 85.1-tonne WGPu inventory to be in excess of defence needs.[108] It has also stated that all 14.2 tonnes of its FGPu and RGPu will not be employed to make nuclear weapons. The total declared U.S. weapons plutonium excess available in principle for CANDU MOX disposition is therefore about 52.4 tonnes. This amount is comprised as follows: 31.6 tonnes WGPu in metals and oxides, 5.7 tonnes separated FGPu and WGPu, 7.3 tonnes separated low-purity plutonium, 0.7 tons reactor fuel, and 7.3 tonnes irradiated reactor fuel. Of the 52.4 tonnes, however, 16.9 is in the form of scraps and residues, which are unsuited to reactor disposition without purification. They will therefore be immobilized. We are down to about 35.5 tonnes and a rough reference figure of 33 tonnes for the amount that could be consigned to Canada if a quantity did not also go to U.S. nuclear utilities. Let us now hold to the figure of 35.5 tonnes. What might enter into 35.5 tonnes of U.S. "weapons plutonium" that would be made into MOX fuel and might be transported to the Bruce nuclear generating station for disposition? Also, what might be retained by the U.S. defence establishment?

Of the 35.5 tonnes available for reactor disposition, 14.2 will be FGPu and RGPu (13.2 and 1.2 tonnes, respectively). Funnily enough, this "weapons plutonium" was actually used in research for peaceful purposes -- among them the testing of breeder-reactor fuel and studies of plutonium criticality or pre-ignition -- at Hanford, the Argonne National Laboratory, and elsewhere.[109] More than one-third of the U.S. plutonium that could come to Canada, and perhaps all of it if some 18 tonnes were sent for disposition in U.S. reactors, would therefore have little or nothing to do with nuclear disarmament. Now we are down to a remainder of 21.3 tonnes. What might be included in a CANDU MOX disposition of 21.3 tonnes of U.S. weapons plutonium? The answer is implied in what the United States would retain.

Taken together, the numbers indicate that of 66 tonnes of weapons plutonium in warheads, warheads scheduled for dismantlement, and separated plutonium held by DOD and DOE, 44.7 tonnes are to be retained and 21.3 handed over for disposition. A weapons plutonium reduction of 52.4 tonnes out of 99.5 is to leave about 66 percent of U.S. warheads and pits untouched. The retained plutonium that is not already weaponized in warheads will almost certainly be material that is isotopically and otherwise suited to U.S. nuclear weapons of recent and latest design. A 33 percent U.S. cut in weapons plutonium will, as it were, clear out the stables and spare the horses. More significant, while START II reductions could take the United States down to 3,500 deployed warheads and START III to 2,000-2,500, the U.S. government will retain up to 2,500 nuclear warheads in an inactive reserve or hedging force, plus an additional 5,000 intact pits to be held by DOE for possible replacement in a force of some 2,500 deployed and 2,500 inactive reserve warheads.[110] These 7,500 reserve warheads and pits will be of advanced design for use on land- and sea-based intercontinental missiles, strategic bombers, and cruise missiles.

The 21.3 tonnes of U.S. weapons plutonium that might come to Canada for disposition under the CANDU MOX initiative would contain excess plutonium that had been accumulated from older warhead types and would no longer be required for replacement purposes. This weapons plutonium will have been rendered excess more by the effects of obsolescence and of an altered strategic environment, than by disarmament agreement. A part of it may have been generated in response to parallel unilateral Russian and U.S. commitments of 1991 on tactical nuclear weapons. But it would owe not a lot to strategic nuclear disarmament treaties which govern nuclear warheads of latest design and whose plutonium will in large measure be retained.

If the Russian Federation's decisions on what to dispose of and what to retain were similar to those of the United States, the plutonium transferred to Canada under the MOX initiative would have been generated primarily by parallel processes of nuclear force rationalization within the two supplier countries. These processes are as yet only partially constrained by bilateral negotiations for nuclear disarmament. Canada would receive degraded plutonium, plutonium formulated for now-elderly warheads, reactor plutonium in unused and in irradiated form, and even plutonium used for peaceful purposes including possibly for peaceful nuclear explosions in the Russian Federation. Plutonium fabricated according to advanced weapons designs would very largely be retained, as would plutonium held in large inactive reserve forces and even larger stockpiles of intact pits.

Compelling physical security benefits that might flow from CANDU MOX disposition are hard to find in these circumstances. Surely, it will be said, relieving Russia and the United States of plutonium that is in excess of defence requirements, even plutonium fabricated for obsolescent weapons, should go some way to making the world a safer place. But it is difficult to see how when both states are determined to maintain substantial deployed and even more substantial reserve forces, and when they contrive to retain disproportionate amounts of high-quality plutonium in dispositions that maximize the surrender of inferior material. Would CANDU MOX disposition under these conditions reduce the destructiveness of nuclear war if it came to pass? Not much. Would it exempt any region of the world that had been living with the threat of nuclear war? The answer is no. Would it reduce the likelihood of nuclear war owing to the accidental release of nuclear weapons, or to the vulnerability of nuclear forces to surprise attack? Again, the answer is no. By making excess weapons plutonium inaccessible to military use, would CANDU MOX disposition physically "lock in" and make irreversible the nuclear arms reductions of the Russian Federation and the United States in recent years? Here the reply is affirmative.

In the "lock-in" potential of Canadian-based reactor disposition we have what appears to be the sole direct physical security benefit of the MOX initiative for nuclear disarmament. But what might the size of it be when the two supplier states are divesting themselves of weapons plutonium that is excess of military needs which remain large, when they arrange to unload quantities of weapons plutonium that are of lessened use? The purpose of making irreversible the reduction of plutonium that Moscow and Washington no longer wish to retain is to prevent them from changing their minds and reclaiming it for weapons purposes. The purpose is largely but not wholly vitiated when both parties are determined to withhold large quantities of quality weapons plutonium from lock-in. The sole direct disarmament-related physical security benefit that could come from the CANDU MOX initiative is therefore not what it should be. It could become more substantial if the determination of the Russian Federation and the United States to maintain large inactive strategic reserves and stockpiles of replacement pits were overcome either before or during a disposition that would begin around 2010. But if Moscow and Washington persisted, implementation of the Canadian initiative would render little tangible benefit in securing the world against the dangers of nuclear war. "Lock-in" would proceed in the knowledge that overmuch was locked out in the first place.

What then of intangible benefits in keeping the process of nuclear disarmament on track? In posing this question, we are once again being forced back from physical security to a consideration of process gains from the Canadian initiative. There are some benefits here, but they are not what we might expect.

Keeping everyone moving in broadly the right direction, even though the immediate results are not what they should be, is of the essence for those who would encourage disarmament. For those subjected to it, the name of the game is to let go of what is not needed and to retain required forces. The process, by its nature, is bound to be unsatisfying to all concerned. At any given moment in the reduction of weapons plutonium, say now or in 2012, Russia and the United States may seem only to be getting rid of waste, assuming of course that disposition takes place. In the long haul, however, the two states will have reduced their forces by acting on an enlarged definition of waste. What transpires is very largely in the eye of the beholder. Hardened suppliers will strive to cut their losses. Hopeful recipients, in this case Canadians, will believe they are making a contribution to disarmament by locking in the suppliers' excess. We should therefore not be too harsh in our judgments when Russian and U.S. conduct makes it difficult to meet seemingly reasonable expectations of improved physical security through CANDU MOX disposition. This is the way it is. Still, from the standpoint of a weapons plutonium recipient, the evolution of the Russian-U.S. strategic relationship and what the two states are prepared to surrender leaves too much to be desired.

Despite summitry, arms agreements, and cooperation in civil affairs, political-military interaction between the Russian Federation and the United States remains decidedly adversarial and will continue to be so, if in diminishing degree. Where weapons plutonium disposition is concerned, both sides are going to be unloading waste while they maintain their guard. In offering its services for reactor disposition, therefore, Canada is bound to accept waste material, whatever the hopes for incremental progress towards disarmament.

The Canadian government has stated that, "The plutonium to be used in making MOX was originally designed to be used in nuclear weapons. It would not be sourced in nuclear waste."[111] This is at best partially true. Some 14 tonnes of a 35-tonne U.S. weapons plutonium disposition will be made up by no-longer-needed material originally used by DOE for peaceful purposes. Under a symmetrical Russian-U.S. CANDU disposition of 30 tonnes in total (Table 1, cell 5), some or all of this material could be transferred to Canada from the United States. If all of it came, Canada's nuclear disarmament contribution, where the United States was concerned, would be to "lock in" waste material previously used for peaceful purposes. Who can say how much analogous stuff will or will not be folded into CANDU MOX fuel made from excess Russian plutonium in Minatom's custody? As to the 21.5-tonne U.S. remainder, even if it were sourced from DOD holdings only, it would constitute waste in the eyes of the supplier. The same will apply, but probably less so, to Russian material originating with MOD, even if the Russian Federation agrees to disproportionate reduction to equal levels of retained weapons plutonium.

The Canadian government also affirms that, "The purpose of using MOX fuel in a CANDU reactor is not to provide a disposal site for American plutonium but to use the energy source (plutonium) in a safe, productive and economic manner."[112] This may be a fair rendition of the intent of a government that would behave responsibly for nuclear disarmament. Certainly it represents a view that has more in common with prevailing Russian than U.S. conceptions of plutonium as a valuable economic resource, marketplace realities notwithstanding. It is also the case that waste is an economic asset for the waste disposer. But from an international military perspective, Canada would be offering itself as a disposal site for excess Russian and U.S. weapons plutonium containing substantial admixtures of non-weapons waste material. There is no way around it. Reactor-based weapons plutonium disposition aims to waste the destructive potential of excess plutonium accumulated in many years of nuclear weapons acquisition, and to dispose of the residue in such a way that it cannot readily be retrieved for military purposes. Whatever the electricity to be generated along the way, implementation of the CANDU MOX initiative would be an exercise in waste disposal or, given the nature of plutonium, waste retention.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with Canada entering the nuclear-waste business by providing lock-in benefits for the nuclear disarmament process, if that is what Canadians are agreed upon. The same could be said for making Canada into an international repository for civil as well as weapons plutonium waste. In practice, Canadians should be clear about what they could be getting themselves into by endorsing a proposal framed as an effective commitment to nuclear disarmament.

3.3. Net Worth

All said and done, the international security worth of the CANDU MOX initiative is not what it might seem to be. Certainly it is not what it should be. The initiative is capable of generating process benefits which, by their nature, are intangible, substantially compromised, and subject to the vagaries of domestic and international politics. If there were no significant direct costs to Canada and to Canadians in the proposal, it could be supported with modifications. But if costs prove substantial and if, as now seems the case, the initiative yields no substantial gains and some losses for physical security, process benefits alone will have to provide sufficient justification for the Canadian government to leave the proposal on the table.

Potential process benefits lie in four areas. These are (1) assistance to the G-7 and Russia in reaching international agreement on disposition, by providing them with minor irradiation and waste retention services or with an out if other options start to fail; (2) support to the enduring process of Russian-U.S. nuclear disarmament by helping to make it irreversible; (3) aid to the perennial international negotiation that constitutes the nuclear non-proliferation regime by helping the pre-eminent nuclear-weapons states to show good faith in their commitment to nuclear disarmament; and (4) prolonged engagement of Minatom in a process of acculturation to Western norms of nuclear responsibility, legality, and business practice. Taken together, the process benefits here could be considerable. In each case, however, there is a down side. With Minatom, it is the risk of direct Canadian association with the activity of a ministry that cuts corners on nuclear non-proliferation in quasi-legal fashion. Potential gains in support of the non-proliferation regime are offset by the initiative's international demonstration effect for commercial use of plutonium in CANDU reactors. Irreversibility benefits to the disarmament process, for their part, are subverted by Russian and U.S. preferences to maintain substantial strategic reserves, irrespective of continuing cuts in deployed forces. As to assisting the G-7 and Russia to an agreement on disposition, the underlying impetus for agreement -- to secure excess weapons plutonium against future use by either the Russian Federation or the United States -- is in itself testimony to the limits of what can be expected from an arrangement for the disposition of excess weapons plutonium. If there is any real Canadian contribution to be made here, it would be more to the smooth workings of the S-8 as an institution, than to international peace and security as such. International security benefits could however arise if the CANDU MOX initiative were to figure in a disproportionate Russian reduction to retained Russian-U.S. weapons plutonium parity, although we now see that a great deal will remain to be done once equal levels of retained weapons plutonium are achieved. All said, we are contemplating an initiative whose contribution to international security on the political plane alone cannot be called compelling.

In terms of making the world demonstrably a safer place while international security processes do their work, the CANDU MOX initiative is ineffectual when it is not counterproductive. Where the nuclear non-proliferation account is concerned, the initiative makes for a net loss of Russian control over its strategic weapons plutonium by requiring its transfer from MOD to Minatom without first ensuring that the latter's custodial capacity is much improved. It is very largely irrelevant to Russia's tactical nuclear weapons inventory which now and for some time to come will constitute the most pointed of Russian-related proliferation threats. The underlying reality here is that the potential for diversion and theft of Russian weapons plutonium represents a problem in nuclear materials control in Russia, not reactor-based disposition in Canada. To the extent that programmes of cooperative threat reduction strengthen the custodial capacity of MOD and Minatom over the next decade and more, the nuclear non-proliferation rationale for the Canadian initiative will evaporate. Otherwise, the MOX initiative would have Canada enter into a protracted and close working relationship, in the name of nuclear non-proliferation, with Minatom, itself a proliferation threat, without prescribing associated measures to assist Minatom in the prime job of nuclear materials accounting and control. Meanwhile, and as distinct from the immobilization alternative, fuel-cycle implications of the CANDU MOX initiative would favour proliferation by requiring Canada to acquiesce in Russia's pursuit of dual-purpose MOX fuel fabrication facilities and, later, reprocessing of spent weapons MOX fuel for civil use if Canada irradiated only part of the Russian excess. To cap it all, commercial demonstration of the use of plutonium in Canadian-based CANDU reactors could do no good and possibly some harm to barriers against proliferation. This it would accomplish by making Canada appear increasingly permissive on plutonium fuel-cycle issues, substantiating permissiveness elsewhere, legitimizing new plutonium fuel applications, and possibly prompting others to follow Canada's lead if circumstance allowed.

As to locking in the benefits of Russian-U.S. nuclear disarmament by making them irreversible, the CANDU MOX initiative is virtually devoid of gains for physical security. Striving to make their country and the world a safer place, Canada would accept and process nuclear waste sloughed off by the Russian Federation and the United States while they held on to what might be termed the "sweet stuff." To be sure, some in both national security establishments may wish to retain portions of the plutonium declared excess to military needs. But ultimately it would be just that: excess, surplus, no-longer-needed, in a word, waste. Both sides would have crafted their dispositions, without reference to Canada, in order to ensure that the percentage of retained warheads and separated pits was greater than the overall percentage of weapons plutonium to be given up (in the U.S. case the ratio will be 66:53). Both sides would release more tonnage from their defence industrial agencies (DOE and Minatom) than from their defence ministries (here the U.S. ratio seems to be 59:41). And whereas the United States would retain a portion for immobilization that was not suited to reactor use, the Russian Federation would presumably purify all but lean scraps and residues for MOX manufacture and shipment to the Bruce nuclear generating station. In short, all manner of nuclear refuse, along with some material coming from dismantled warheads, would be sent to Canada for disposition in the name of irreversibility. Meanwhile, not only would both sides withhold quality plutonium in deployed warheads, but they would also retain warhead and pit reserves in numbers greatly in excess of those allowed for deployment under the START treaties. For the United States, the ratio is 3:1 (7,500 deployed warheads, inactive reserve, and replacement pits versus a ceiling of 2,500 or less under a START III agreement).

Surveying the CANDU MOX initiative as a contribution to nuclear disarmament, we find that it is a sorry piece of work unless we are prepared to leave most everything to the workings of international process. In fact, it is so sorry a piece that we should pause for a reality check. If the net worth of Canadian-based reactor disposition is so slight, why should any of the S-8 be greatly seized by the need for reactor disposition or, for that matter, immobilization of excess weapons plutonium in furthering nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament? What really is going on here? Part of the answer lies in the fact that reactor disposition in Canada is a particularly inept solution to a Russian nuclear materials control problem as it concerns nuclear non-proliferation. In this and other ways, the poverty of the CANDU MOX initiative may not be a good indicator of the physical security and process benefits of disposition as may be anticipated by others. But there is more to the gathering momentum for disposition than a concern with nuclear proliferation and disarmament.

To be sure, in all the S-8 countries there is a greater or lesser commitment to move things forward for disarmament and non-proliferation on the political plane. It is also the case that weapons plutonium disposition is inherently a compromised endeavour in which those seeking to do their best for physical security have to settle for the possible. Further, there is a growing environmental awareness that something must be done about the nuclear waste generated by Russian and U.S. military-industrial activity in the course of the Cold War. Beyond all this, there is a shared need to maintain and improve the institutional health of the G-7 and now the S-8.

This said, in the name of irreversibility and the elimination of Russian nuclear leakage, the United States also seeks to defang the Russian empire while circumstances allow, and is broadly perceived to be acting this way even by sensible Russians.[113] For Russia's part, disposition offers opportunities to make good on a national resource and to further the country's transition to the plutonium fuel cycle. Excess weapons plutonium is viewed in Washington as a threat to be blunted, whereas in Moscow it is an asset to be capitalized upon. Americans prefer to take the excess out of circulation, step by step. Russians would rather keep it circulating. Both will retain plenty of insurance in deployed and reserve nuclear forces. As to Europe, there are international security and commercial imperatives that require a response to growing stockpiles of excess Russian and U.S. weapons plutonium, and to the maintenance of the G-7 and S-8 as institutions. Where Canada is concerned, boy-scoutishness is allied with a desire to profit from U.S. fear and Russian want, and with the high-mindedness of both, in the name of peace. Mixed motives among the S-8 therefore impart momentum to the effort for weapons plutonium disposition, despite its inability to make a major difference for physical security any time soon. Imperfection abounds. The outlook for disposition as an exercise in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation is very troubled. Might Canada nevertheless decline to accept such a large measure of imperfection in its own proposal and attempt to improve its worth?

Let us suppose that S-8 Hybrid disposition failed to work out and the two principals and other G-7 members took Canada up on its offer to provide services. Other alternatives having dropped by the wayside, Canada would find itself in a position to ask and to do more for international security than may now seem feasible. In preparation for something like this, a Canadian government that was determined to press on with the initiative could seek to strengthen it by attaching provisions to a framework agreement for Trilateral Hybrid disposition. Among them might be: (1) a Canadian undertaking to dispose only of an amount required to produce equal levels of retained Russian and U.S. weapons plutonium, whether or not disposition was done in separate stages; (2) a commitment from the principals to negotiate limits on inactive strategic warhead and replacement pit reserves; (3) a commitment from the principals to negotiate tactical nuclear weapons reductions; (4) a further commitment from the principals that the Russian side would meet agreed criteria for nuclear materials control before Canadian-based reactor disposition began; (5) a unilateral Canadian undertaking to provide assistance to Minatom in strengthening its nuclear materials control capacity; (6) a further unilateral Canadian undertaking never to allow plutonium reprocessing, MOX fuel fabrication, or the civil use of plutonium in Canada once weapons disposition were done, nor to permit Canadian firms to participate in any such activity outside of Canada including adaptation of CANDU reactors to MOX use; and (7) a commitment from the principals not to manufacture CANDU MOX fuel for use in other countries possessing CANDU reactors. Presented to Moscow and Washington, a set of provisions such as these would be seen as a presumptuous interference in their strategic nuclear affairs. The CANDU MOX initiative would also become significantly less negotiable than it now is when, aside from breaking even financially, no strings are attached.

Still, in this scenario Moscow and Washington would be turning to Ottawa because Trilateral Hybrid disposition was now their preferred option, or because the others were near to being exhausted. From the perspective of a Canadian government that would press ahead with the initiative, powerful but not overwhelming domestic opposition in Canada to the use of Bruce reactors would further improve its bargaining position vis-a-vis Russia and the United States. Canada could thus be in a position to set a price for its services. It could field a proposal with stronger process benefits in the form of commitments to negotiate. It could strive to reduce the physical security disability of the initiative as it stands.

Beyond this, both in the expectation of increased bargaining leverage and further to offset the inadequacies of the CANDU MOX initiative as a stand-alone contribution to international security, the government of Canada could resolve to become more active on behalf of a nuclear-free world. It would recognize that the initiative could be improved only so far by tinkering with it as an isolated international security venture. Rather, if Canada were to make good on the initiative's promise, it would be done as part of a watershed decision to renew the country's international peace and security effort. Specifically, Canada would offer new leadership for (1) the abolition of nuclear weapons; (2) acceptance of a determination that nuclear weapons are illegitimate in international law; (3) no first use of nuclear weapons; (4) a complete ban on the production of fissionable materials for military purposes; and (5) measures to contain the proliferation of plutonium fuel-cycle technology. The aim here would be to accompany the CANDU MOX initiative with an array of offsetting and supporting measures which credibly confirmed it as a singularity with no implied endorsement of the plutonium fuel cycle, and strengthened Canada's determination to work for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Whether the present Canadian government would take to heart its own disposition proposal, much less the cause of nuclear abolition, is an open question. I am inclined to think not. More likely is a "rock-no-boats" approach which prefers a small but valued role in a disposition arrangement that everyone can live with.

4. Direct Benefits and Costs to Canada

The less the international security benefits attributed to the CANDU MOX initiative, the greater the force of domestic health, safety, environmental, and economic costs to Canadians in any decision to go ahead. At this early stage in the proceedings, it is difficult to specify these costs, much less to determine their magnitude. Nor can we judge how they might be weighed by Canadians whose attitudes are certain to vary nationally, in the province of Ontario, and in the community surrounding the Bruce nuclear generating station (NGS). We can however predict that perceived costs within Canada will be connected with (1) transportation of MOX fuel to the Bruce station, (2) storage of fresh fuel there, (3) reactor use and possibly reactor renewal, (4) spent fuel storage, and (5) permanent nuclear waste disposal -- all of which could extend beyond 2025-2035 in the event of START III and subsequent nuclear disarmament agreements, and to 2040 if Canada accepted a major role (115 tonnes) in a single-stage disposition to retained weapons plutonium parity. Potential benefits and costs of the CANDU MOX initiative to Canadians in Canada can be grouped under three broad headings: safety, finance, and governance.[114]

4.1. Security and Safety

It can and no doubt will be argued that CANDU MOX disposition constitutes a displacement of many of the vulnerabilities of the Russian weapons custodial system from Russia to Canada. Given the risk of nuclear accident that can be attached to Ontario Hydro's poor safety record,[115] it could also be asked whether Canadians would be that much safer irradiating weapons plutonium in Ontario than they would be if the material were left in the Russian custodial system. On both accounts, CANDU MOX proponents are in a position to reply that disposition in Canada can done in a way that effectively safeguards Canadians against seizure, diversion, and accident involving plutonium in MOX form.

To enlarge on the contra side of a public debate on security and safety that is yet to be opened, we may note that nuclear explosive devices can readily be made with plutonium extracted from spent as well as fresh MOX fuel. So also can dissemination weapons designed to release plutonium into the air. Once fresh MOX fuel is present in Canada, the country can expect to become of greater interest to potential nuclear-weapons states and terrorist organizations than is currently the case with use of conventional CANDU fuel. In part, this would be due to the fact that separated weapons-grade plutonium would now for the first time be thought to be present in bulk in Ontario. CANDU fuel bundles are small and portable, not wholly unlike small tactical nuclear weapons. Fresh CANDU MOX bundles would furthermore be moved about regularly in the course of on-line refuelling, as distinct from being heavily secured until the reactor was shut down and refuelling accomplished in one interval of intensified security. Fresh CANDU MOX fuel could therefore become a target for diversion, for example through the substitution of dummy bundles with appropriate serial numbers but containing uranium.[116] This is not a problem that exists today. Dealing with it could require continuous inspection of the Bruce nuclear generating station (NGS) by the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as Canadian security precautions over and above those that already in effect there.

Beyond intensified surveillance over routine operations within the plant, fresh fuel conveyed to and stored at the site would have to be guarded with armed force equal to that employed in securing intact nuclear weapons. As the U.S. Department of Energy put it in stating the U.S. disposition options, "Transportation of all plutonium-bearing materials under this program, including the transportation of prepared MOX fuel to reactors, would be accomplished using the DOT Transport Safeguards Division's "Safe Secure Transports" (SSTs), which affords these materials the same level of transportation safety, security, and safeguards as is used for nuclear weapons."[117] As well, the necessity to deploy and maintain new military force in Ontario would apply to MOX fuel transportation from Russia and the United States. Where the United States was concerned, MOX fuel would be trucked to the Canadian border at Sarnia under armed guard, and then handed over to the custody of Ontario Hydro for the remainder to the trip to the Bruce NGS. This could be done at a rate of one convoy of three trucks every month from the United States for the duration of the enterprise.[118] As to Russian MOX , it would be shipped or flown to a port in Canada yet to be determined, after which it would continue by road in armed convoy to the NGS. Those bent on obtaining fresh or spent MOX fuel by diversion or attack could be expected to emplace agents in the NGS workforce and to develop a supporting infrastructure elsewhere in Ontario. The scenario could be elaborated, but a contra view of the internal security implications of CANDU MOX burnup can be held to the point that the armed force and counter-intelligence measures required to safeguard CANDU disposition could be such as to threaten democratic freedoms and the quality of life in Ontario.

As to irradiated MOX , in common with all spent reactor fuel its radioactivity decreases substantially to make it safer for human handling as time passes. Within as little as ten years, radiation would decline to the point where spent MOX would no longer be fully self-protecting,[119] although it would still persist for thousands of years. The risk of seizure and diversion actually increases with the passage of time, as long as the material is stored above ground. It is also the case that spent MOX fuel, being radiologically and thermally hotter than regular CANDU waste, would have to remain on the surface longer. It, too, would require additional safeguards.

Where accident is concerned, the theory of normal accidents,[120] could be adduced to predict that any technology is liable eventually to express itself in catastrophic breakdown. Sooner or later, it would be suggested, Ontario Hydro and Ontarians will experience a disaster as long as Ontario Hydro remains in the business of nuclear power generation when safe alternative energy sources are available. For example, as distinct from natural uranium, plutonium presents a danger of criticality or spontaneous fission when handled improperly. As well there would be the risk of accident involving the release of plutonium during transport of MOX fuel by road, sea, or air. Might Russian MOX be carried in Russian vessels up the St. Lawrence waterway to Toronto? Might it be flown in on Russian aircraft over a period of 25 years? Whatever the transportation means and route, the potential for accident, combined with the vastly greater toxicity of plutonium as compared to uranium, could substantially raise the health risk to large numbers of Canadians. Similar considerations, it could legitimately be suggested, apply to Bruce NGS employees, to the surrounding community and those along the access routes, and to the long-term risk of imperceptible dosage as well as alerted release of plutonium.

To all of this there are countervailing views which could be summed up as a plea for reason and better knowledge of the facts. Three percent plutonium mixed with depleted uranium in closely guarded containers does not represent a particularly alluring target for seizure or diversion by the agents of a would-be nuclear-weapons state. Nor can fresh or spent MOX fuel be greatly attractive to terrorist organizations: they are able to achieve their purposes more readily with chemical and bacteriological weapons than by attempting first to penetrate the security arrangements that would surround CANDU MOX disposition, and then rendering the material obtained into a bomb or bombs. As for spent MOX fuel, its plutonium content is estimated to be about one percent, whereas spent uranium fuel, generated in Ontario for years, contains 0.3 percent by weight.[121] Accordingly, it can be argued that there would be no qualitative change in the availability of plutonium in spent fuel form in Ontario, or in Canada, under a MOX disposition regime. Risks of attack and diversion would attend the process, but they can be held to tolerable proportions. Further, it would be pointed out that safeguarded plutonium has been circulating for two decades in Europe without effective challenge to safety and security. If MOX can be and has been secured in Europe, why should potential sponsors of an attack or diversionary operation be expected to believe they had superior chances of success in Ontario when full safeguards were in place?

With regard to accident, the pro argument might continue, criticality is not a problem when simple and well understood procedures are there to be followed. Ontario Hydro's safety record should be understood to be among the best despite shortcomings which are inevitably revealed in scrupulous peer reviews customary to the industry, and which are being addressed. Bruce NGS employees, for their part, are fully familiar with safety issues and see no danger in a transition to MOX fuel. Further, it could be argued, the fact of the matter is that they and the surrounding community are by a large majority in favour of the CANDU MOX initiative, as are representatives of communities along the route from Sarnia to the NGS. If those most immediately affected are in support, it could be asked, shouldn't others agree that CANDU MOX reactor burnup presents risks no greater than those encountered and handled with success in the use of uranium fuel in Ontario?

Summed up, the safety case for the initiative would rest on Canadian experience with CANDU technology, on European experience in providing for secure MOX use, and also on the existing body of Canadian laws and regulations in order to ensure MOX utilization against attack, diversion, and accident. If accepted, the effect of the case is all but to deny the existence of internal safety and security costs to Ontarians and Canadians, and to require that the CANDU MOX initiative be judged on its international security benefit.

A Canadian government that would decide whether and if so how to commit actively to the initiative will not find it easy to deny the existence of internal safety costs, or to separate them from a consideration of international security benefits. Security neither begins nor stops at the water's edge. Nor is safety within to be understood in terms of internal affairs alone. In authorizing the import of weapons MOX from the Russian Federation and the United States, the Canadian government and its regulatory agencies would inevitably introduce into Canada some of the internal security and safety threats of those countries to attack, diversion, and accident involving plutonium. Canada does not now face these threats. They would be new and would have to be borne as costs of the initiative. Second, Canada would be accepting new risks of contributing directly to nuclear proliferation or nuclear terrorism in the event its CANDU MOX security regime were breached. These, too, would be new risks and potentially very significant costs which Canada and Canadians do not now carry. Finally, barring an intentional breach, Ontarians in particular would still be required to live with the MOX security regime itself. None of these costs would need to be accepted if conventional CANDU fuel continued to be used at the Bruce NGS, if the Immobilization-Only or even the S-8 Hybrid option were to prevail internationally.

NEXT: MOX Experience, Part 5

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