Nonproliferation: Biden Administration Pushes the Additional Protocol

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The recent bilateral agreement between the US and South Korea commits both countries to supplying nuclear power plants (NPPs) only to countries that have the Additional Protocol (AP) in place, and is one of the first signs from the administration of US President Joe Biden that universalizing a stronger international approach to safeguards will be a key nonproliferation goal. The May 21 deal will likely have the most immediate impact in Riyadh, where the government of Saudi Arabia is still pursuing the option of a no-strings-attached nuclear power program, including freedom to pursue uranium enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) capabilities. Vendors in both countries responded to a 2017 Saudi "request for information" on supplying large power reactors, and if Riyadh rules them out because of the AP requirement then it will be left with vendors from China, France and Russia. The US-South Korea agreement commits the two sides to cooperate in overseas markets via "coordination in the supply chain," and to "adopt a common policy on nonproliferation to require recipient countries" to have an AP in place with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "as a condition of supply" of NPPs, according to a press statement from South Korea's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (NIW May28'21). The AP is a measure intended to strengthen bilateral comprehensive safeguards agreements between the IAEA and member countries by enhancing the ability of IAEA inspectors to detect undeclared nuclear material and activities. This new bilateral deal represents an innovative push toward potential universalization of the AP, and in a way revisits a failed effort from 2004-10 to make a ratified AP a condition for countries to receive ENR technology from the members of the obscure but powerful Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) (NIW Jun.28'10; NIW Nov.9'09). "More action from the NSG was something I personally -- and the nonproliferation community more widely -- had hoped would happen: something that would tie nonproliferation to nuclear commerce," Ali Ahmad, a research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Project on Managing the Atom and International Security Program, told Energy Intelligence. "Clearly this didn't happen across the NSG. But it's a great start when you have two main suppliers here taking that initiative." A New Tactic Towards Universalization? Universalizing the AP has long been a key nonproliferation goal of the US government, and the agreement with Seoul is the first indication that the Biden administration takes it seriously. The State Department's annual report on global compliance with arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament agreements, released Apr. 15, reiterated long-standing language that the US "supports universal adoption of the AP by States Party to the NPT and believes that AP adherence is essential to ensuring the effectiveness and credibility of IAEA safeguards." Of the countries with existing or mooted civil nuclear programs, there are four key states that haven't signed the AP: Argentina, Brazil, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The first two, both of which have modest nuclear fuel cycle programs, were in large part responsible for making sure the AP never became a criteria for any NSG supply (NIW Jun.27'11). Egypt, which has historically tied AP accession to seeing disarmament progress from weapons states, is separately planning to build four Rosatom-imported reactors (NIW Sep.18'20; NIW Apr.12'19). Riyadh's lack of an AP may in a way be similar to its broader civil nuclear program: it likes keeping its options open (NIW May8'20). On the nonproliferation front this is best reflected in Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's overt threat in 2018 that if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, "we will follow as soon as possible" (NIW Mar.16'18). Riyadh had already resisted Washington's push for it to follow in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates by committing to forgo pursuit of ENR capabilities in a bilateral nuclear cooperation treaty with the US, but Prince Mohammed's statement explicitly linked the Saudi nuclear program to that of Iran. US diplomats have for several years now focused on trying to convince Saudi Arabia to accede to the AP, but Prince Mohammed's explicit Iran linkage made this a heavy lift given that the Trump administration was simultaneously trying to implode the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, one end result of which would have been Iranian ratification of the AP (which it signed in 2003). With Washington and Tehran nearing a deal for both to recommit to the 2015 agreement, however, the possibility of eventual Iranian accession to the AP is back on the table. And this in turn might make this an opportune time to ramp up the pressure on Riyadh to at least sign the AP. For the moment it's not clear whether other nuclear suppliers might agree to sign onto a similar pledge not to sell NPPs -- let alone ENR technology -- to countries without an AP. Moscow and Beijing are unlikely to sign up to any Washington-led campaign. And if the financing ever materializes to complete Brazil's long-mothballed Angra-3 newbuild, then France's Framatome is poised to play a key role supplying the nuclear island, making Paris unlikely to do anything that might endanger that (NIW Jun.12'20). Phil Chaffee, London

Security Risk , Nuclear, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear Fuel, Nuclear
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