Lewis approves of the IAEA fuel-bank proposal and of international nonproliferation agreements in general. “In some ways, the current situation with Iran represents a healthy, successful example of what a nonproliferation regime can do, because the red flags are up,” he says. “If, given several years before Iran’s capabilities reach fruition, we can’t come up with a workable solution, it strikes me as a much broader policy failure than can be pinned on the nonproliferation regime. It’s not the nonproliferation regime’s fault if the Bush administration can’t figure a way out of this. In fact, you’ll never create a nonproliferation regime that’s idiot proof: they’ll just build a better idiot.” Lewis concludes, “I’m not so worried by the spread of reactors so much as by the spread of enrichment and reprocessing capabilities. I’m particularly concerned about centrifuge enrichment as a proliferation challenge.”
Peterson echoes this concern. But he also stresses the need for more clarity in discussions of what the threats are: “In talking about nuclear energy and proliferation resistance, we commonly confuse quite different things: state proliferation and terrorist theft of nuclear materials. If we have clarity about each category of threat, it’s much clearer where the largest vulnerabilities are and what our strategy is to counter the risks.”
Peterson sees five threat categories, three related to state proliferation and two to subnational actors.
First, there’s the possibility of clandestine diversion of materials from state facilities operated within the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is best prevented, Peterson believes, by more-comprehensive IAEA safeguards on facilities. Second, there’s the possible production of materials in clandestine state facilities, which Iran is currently suspected of. The main preventative tool here, Peterson says, is the export controls system, which monitors exports of dual-use equipment and hopefully sends up red flags. Additionally, major changes in the NPT after the discovery of Iraq’s secret enrichment program in the 1990s now let the IAEA perform inspections anywhere in a country and use information provided by a wide number of sources, including other nations’ intelligence services. Third, there’s the risk that a country could abrogate the NPT–as North Korea did–and overtly misuse facilities and materials; this is best countered by limiting the dispersion of the most sensitive technologies, which are enrichment and reprocessing capabilities, and by effective international action to make it highly unattractive for countries to abrogate the NPT. Fourth, there’s the possibility of terrorist theft of materials for nuclear explosives or for RDDs (Radioactive Dispersal Devices); in this context, Peterson says, attention should be focused both on ensuring that there’s adequate physical protection–particularly for stocks of separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium–and on whether all the links in the chain are secure. For example, Peterson says, “it doesn’t make sense to call for further upgrades for physical security for nuclear materials at U.S. sites when we haven’t yet fixed the security of nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union.” Fifth, there’s the threat of radiological sabotage, which means generating a deliberate release by attacking a nuclear facility. “There, what you want to do is make it so difficult that terrorists give up and go elsewhere,” Peterson says. “With the ESBWR, for instance, you could fly a plane into it and it’ll shut down safely.”