Proliferation Resistance and Safeguards

  • Scott F. DeMuth


The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NNPT or NPT) is the primary cornerstone of international efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Currently, 189 countries are party to the treaty, with only four sovereign states abstaining: India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea. The treaty is broadly interpreted as having three pillars: (1) nonproliferation, (2) disarmament, and (3) the right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

Five countries are recognized by the NPT as nuclear weapon states (NWSs): the United States (US), the Soviet Union (obligations and rights now assumed by Russia), France, the United Kingdom, and the People’s Republic of China. These five nations are also the five permanent members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council. In accordance with the NPT, the NWSs agree to not transfer nuclear weapons to a nonnuclear weapons state (NNWS) or assist NNWSs in acquiring nuclear weapons. Additionally, the NNWSs party to the NPT agree not to receive or manufacture nuclear weapons. NNWSs also agree to accept safeguards monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify that they are not diverting material derived from the peaceful use of nuclear technology to weapons.

The NPT’s preamble also contains language affirming the desire of all signatories to halt the production of nuclear weapons worldwide and to develop an additional treaty related to complete nuclear disarmament and liquidation, including their delivery vehicles. However, the NPT wording does not strictly require all signatories to actually conclude a disarmament treaty, but rather to negotiate in good faith. Some NNWSs belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement (an international organization of states considering themselves not formally aligned with or against any major power block) have interpreted the NPT as requiring the NWSs to disarm themselves and argue that these states have failed to meet their obligations.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the United States (U.S.) and Soviet Union is considered by many to be the largest and most complex arms control treaty in history. The treaty was signed on 31 July 1991, but entry-into-force was delayed until 5 December 1994 due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. By way of the Lisbon Protocol to the START treaty signed 23 May 1992, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine became Parties to the treaty as legal successors to the Soviet Union. Upon initiation of the START II negotiations, the original START was renamed to START I. START II was signed by the U.S. and Russian presidents on 3 January 1993, banning the use of multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Russian ratification of START II was contingent on preservation of the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. START II was never entered-into-force because the U.S. withdrew from the ABM treaty 13 June 2002 in order to pursue a missile defense system, whereupon Russia withdrew from START II one day later. As a result of START I, there has been a significant reduction in the number of deployed warheads for both the U.S. and Soviet Union.

Under the May 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), both the U.S. and Russia pledged to reduce the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons to between 1700 and 2200 by the year 2012. SORT is different from START in that it limits actual warheads, whereas START I limits warheads only through their means of delivery (ICBMs, SLBMs, and Heavy Bombers). Experts have estimated that by the year 2009, the U.S. and Russia arsenals for strategic nuclear weapons ranged from 2200 to 3000 each. The U.S. and Russian presidents signed a preliminary agreement on 6 July 2009 to further reduce the number of active nuclear weapons to between 1,500 and 1,675 from 2,200. In accordance with the agreement, the new caps on nuclear arsenals will need to be fully implemented by 2012.

Although the START and SORT treaties have been the backbone of joint US and Russia efforts toward nuclear disarmament, the treaties have not addressed the discontinuation of weapons-grade fissile material production and disposition of excess weapons-grade materials. The 1993 UN Assembly resolution 48/75L called for negotiations leading to a verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. Additional UN activities have followed the initial resolution; however, a final treaty has not yet been completed. The current situation is that the US, France, and the United Kingdom have ceased production. In 1997, the US and Russia signed the Plutonium Production Reactor Agreement (PPRA) to cease production of plutonium for weapons production, which included provisions for monitoring. Although Russia still operates nuclear reactors used previously for production of weapons material, to generate heat and electricity, they do not process the spent fuel. Plans are in place to decommission the Russian production reactors. Unsubstantiated reports indicate that China also has instituted a moratorium on production. Both India and Pakistan apparently are still producing weapons-grade material, and Israel’s position is unclear.

Throughout the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union produced ∼ 100 and 150 metric tons (MT) of weapons-grade plutonium, respectively. In September 2000, the US and Russia each formally agreed to transform 34 MT of excess military plutonium into a more proliferation-resistant form over the course of 20 years. Current plans for both countries are to irradiate all 34 MT of its plutonium in nuclear power reactors. Plutonium disposition programs in both countries are still in the early stages. The start-up costs of plutonium disposition are extremely high. Currently, Russia favors irradiation in a new generation of fast reactors yet to be developed, and the US favors irradiation in their existing commercial light-water-reactor (LWR) fleet. Additionally, a joint program was developed by the US and Russia to disposition excess highly enriched uranium (HEU). Excess HEU is currently being dispositioned by way of the joint HEU downblend program. The HEU downblend program includes 500 MT of HEU from Russia (of the 1,000–1,500 MT of HEU produced by the USSR during the Cold War), whereas ∼ 175 MT of HEU from the US (from 500 to 750 MT of HEU produced during the Cold War) has been declared excess. The HEU is downblended with natural uranium to produce low enriched uranium (LEU) for commercial power reactor fuel. Over 300 MT of HEU from Russia and tens of MT from the US have already been downblended.


International Atomic Energy Agency Nuclear Material Spend Fuel Thermal Ionization Mass Spectrometry Material Type 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Special thanks are owed to James Doyle, Kevin Hase, and Lisa Rothrock of Los Alamos National Laboratory for advice related to content and editing of this chapter.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Scott F. DeMuth
    • 1
  1. 1.Los Alamos National LaboratoryLos AlamosNMUSA

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