WASHINGTON -- The government of Taiwan is prepared to renounce any right to produce nuclear fuel in a forthcoming renewal of its 40-year-old atomic energy cooperation agreement with the United States, according to officials from both nations (see GSN, May 4).
If Taiwan proceeds as expected, the East Asian island nation would be the first U.S. nuclear energy partner state to make such a pledge since the United Arab Emirates promised in a 2009 trade agreement that it would not enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium on its territory.
The UAE accord has been widely hailed as a significant step for nuclear nonproliferation. The Obama administration three years ago dubbed it the “gold standard” for future atomic trade agreements around the globe.
“This is proof that there are at least two countries -- and probably more -- out there that are willing to undertake a legally binding gold standard in their nuclear cooperation agreement,” one congressional source said on Wednesday. “[It] helps establish a new global precedent that enrichment and reprocessing aren’t necessary for a truly civil nuclear program.”
Lacking permission to address the issue publicly, this source and other Capitol Hill aides agreed to be interviewed for this article on condition of not being named.
Since the UAE agreement was inked, senior administration officials have been divided over whether the gold standard should become the norm for additional nuclear commerce pacts or if, instead, this type of restriction on activities should be included only on a “case-by-case” basis.
State and Energy department officials adopted the latter policy early this year, but immediately drew sharp criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for backing away from a potentially useful nonproliferation tool (see GSN, Jan. 23).
Enrichment and reprocessing can be useful for peaceful atomic energy -- the focus of such trade pacts -- in terms of producing fuel for nuclear power plants. It also could open the door, though, to the diversion of fissile material for clandestine efforts to develop an atomic weapon. By contrast, a renunciation of these activities could boost confidence that a partner nation would not build an illicit bomb, and help hold other states accountable for their nuclear activities.
The administration recently suspended implementation of the case-by-case negotiating policy and threw the matter back into interagency review. A White House decision regarding when and how vigorously to pursue the gold standard remains pending, well placed sources said.
Meanwhile, State Department officials last summer began coordinating with counterparts from Energy and other federal agencies on proposed language for the Taiwan trade pact, which is to replace an existing accord that expires in 2014, Washington officials said.
Foggy Bottom’s initial draft included a provision that Taiwan would not produce any nuclear fuels, and in return it would win continued access to sensitive U.S. nuclear energy materials, technologies and information, according to government correspondence obtained by Global Security Newswire through a Freedom of Informational Act request.
The State Department circulated proposed Taiwan pact language last August, but a month passed before Energy officials had a chance to review it, Richard Goorevich, an Energy senior policy adviser, said last September in an e-mail message sent to two other officials at his agency.
“State Department did include essentially the no-ENR language from the UAE agreement in the text,” Goorevich told his colleagues, Joyce Connery, then a senior adviser to Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman, and Sean Oehlbert, an Energy program manager and policy adviser. Connery now directs energy policy on the National Security Council staff.
The term “no-ENR” refers to a prohibition on enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium.
Goorevich, a 19-year career Energy official, asked Connery and Oehlbert to “keep in mind” that the no-enrichment-or-reprocessing “language is not in the current U.S.-Taiwan 123 agreement and has not been included [in] recent renewals, such as the U.S.-Australia renewal” (see GSN, Nov. 18, 2010). Additional text was redacted from the released memo because it was said to contain privileged or advisory content.
“I think it’s no problem for my country to follow these provisions, to agree to that, because we have no such facility to reuse fuel” and “no plans to build such a facility,” one Taiwanese government official said this week, declining to be named because of diplomatic sensitivities. “Our government insists on peaceful use of nuclear energy, so we don’t want to raise any proliferation concerns.”