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Nuclear-Power Exporters Back Common Security Measures

photo of Diane Barnes
September 16, 2011

This article originally appeared in Global Security Newswire, produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group whose mission is preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

A global coalition of firms that markets atomic-energy facilities on Thursday unveiled common procedures aimed in part at maximizing the physical protection of newly constructed sites and preventing the spread of weapon-sensitive material and systems. (See GSN, Sept. 8.)

 Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, shown last year, was constructed by a Russian signatory to a newly announced set of proliferation and security principles for atomic site exporters. (Behrouz Mehri/Getty Images)

Negotiated over nearly three years in a process arbitrated by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the nonbinding protocol represents a pledge by signatory exporters to maintain specific security and nonproliferation practices in designing and building nuclear plants, and to demand that potential buyers abide by related guidelines.


Some of the firms have already reported invoking the “Nuclear Power Plant Exporters’ Principles of Conduct” in evaluating prospective atomic-plant sales, Carnegie Endowment expert Ariel Levite said.

“[The companies] pointed out … the issues that still needed to be taken care of as highlighted here for them to actually be able to sign a contract with them,” said Levite, emphasizing that the codes are not intended to cut any nation out of the atomic marketplace.

“Emphatically, this is not a denial regime. This is not designed to exclude anyone,” the former Israeli nuclear official said.

In addition to addressing “Physical Security” and “Nonproliferation and Safeguards” principles, the document includes sections on accident prevention and response, environmental protection and waste disposal, damage compensation and corporate ethics.

“The thought behind this initiative was that the vendors of nuclear power plants have a strong interest to welcome high standards on their own practices and in all the places where they seek to build plants, because … if there’s an accident or lapse anywhere, the industry will be hurt everywhere,” Jessica Mathews, the organization’s president, said in announcing the document.

The participating companies worried that they might be put at a competitive disadvantage if they accepted such standards while other firms did not, acknowledged George Perkovich, who heads the Carnegie Endowment’s Nuclear Policy Program. However, the concept of a common set of practices “was quickly validated,” he added.

The 10 entities that have agreed to the guidelines represent the nuclear power plant export industry “pretty much in entirety,” Perkovich said. The firms include the French firm Areva, GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy and Atomstroiexport, the Russian state-run firm responsible for constructing Iran’s new Bushehr nuclear plant (see related GSN story).

China National Nuclear took part in the negotiations, “but they are still in the process within China of getting the necessary approvals to formally adopt,” the specialist said. “We hope that will happen.”

Carnegie convened the first meeting of the companies in October 2008, and negotiating teams carried out five additional sessions.

“We had the sixth meeting in Seoul in October 2010, thought we were finished, and then we were going to launch it on March 23, and then the earthquake and tsunami happened in Japan on March 11,” severely damaging the country’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, Perkovich said (see GSN, Sept. 15). In response, the exporters delayed the document’s release and “scrubbed the principles to update them,” he said.

The code “reinforces” the importance of various safety practices, said Richard Meserve, president of the Carnegie Institution for Science. “This should be seen as a living document that will change as events like Fukushima unfold and we learn more about what to do,” he said.

The principles call on nuclear power plant exporters to build security protective features into their facilities, but no specific requirements are identified. The firms should guarantee such measures are “compatible” with safety and crisis management needs outlined by the International Atomic Energy Agency, according to the code.

The document requires the export firm to “cooperate with the customer to incorporate the customer state’s Design Basis Threat”--a detailed report on potential dangers posed to a planned facility by outsiders or its own personnel, such as thefts or acts of sabotage--and to “incorporate within design provisions the potential for damage from security threats in accordance with” that assessment.

Before signing off on a deal to construct a nuclear power plant, an export firm must obtain data from the Design Basis Threat report “sufficient to allow the vendor to complete the design,” the principles state. “The threat and risk analysis should take into account plant location and conditions in the region as well as internationally accepted standards.”

In addition, a purchasing government dealing with one of the participating companies must first join the IAEA Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and the U.N. International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. In addition, it must put in place “a national legislative and regulatory infrastructure for nuclear security” that sets out associated duties to plant operators and government agencies and addresses the Design Basis Threat as well as the general public interest.

The principles permit exporters to provide client governments and purchasing entities with data to confirm that protective design features meet IAEA guidelines or another “well established standard.”

The document affirms the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty’s prohibition on military-related nuclear sales, as well as related international and domestic export control rules. In addition, exporters pledged in the agreement to “pay special attention to and promote proliferation-resistant designs and take IAEA safeguards requirements into account in design.”

The signatories commit in the principles to notifying one another “as appropriate” and a purchasing entity’s host state “of any serious nonproliferation concerns related to the equipment, materials and technology provided.”

The export firms “welcome” language in bilateral nuclear trade deals “requiring a customer state to implement effective nuclear export controls and to have an IAEA Additional Protocol in force,” the agreement states.

The participating firms plan to review and potentially revise the document at a series of review meetings starting in December. The upcoming sessions would focus on crafting a mechanism for verifying compliance with the voluntary standards, and the exporters would establish a “permanent secretariat” to play a monitoring role, Levite said.

In addition, the exporters plan in upcoming meetings to share “best pertinent practices, [such as] how you would make nuclear power plants [in an] engineering fashion more safeguards-friendly,” Levite said, regarding measures to ensure that power plant materials or technologies are not turned toward weapons operations.

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