US allies to ban transfer of nuke fuel technology
Berlin/Vienna, July 5: Some of Washington's Western allies are seeking to end a US-driven de facto ban on transfers of nuclear fuel technology to countries wishing to enrich uranium for electricity production, diplomats say.
The moratorium has coincided with U S-led efforts to stop Iran's enrichment drive and a new, six-country bid to control nuclear fuel supply that Washington says will deter secret atom bomb pursuits but which many nations see as discriminatory.
A July 15-17 summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrial nations is expected to approve a year's extension of the moratorium on providing uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technology to states not now making nuclear fuel.
But diplomats said the 2006 G8 summit would be the last time the world's top economies, which decide by consensus, would back the freeze on admitting new members to the enrichment club.
''We're laying down a marker that this is the last year this language will be in there,'' a senior Western diplomat said.
Among those interested in opening the door to exporting enrichment activity for peaceful energy needs are Canada and Australia, with the world's largest and second-largest reserves of uranium respectively.
The reason for the curb on enrichment technology, which can be used to produce fuel for nuclear energy or nuclear weapons, has been the long dispute over Iran's enrichment programme.
Tehran hid this work from U.N. inspectors for 18 years until a group of Iranian exiles exposed it in August 2002, alleging the Islamic republic was secretly pursuing atomic weapons.
Iran says it only wants to produce fuel for electricity.
The G8 moratorium was meant to give the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the 45 key producers of nuclear technology, time to come up with new export norms to prevent countries like Iran getting proliferation-prone technology.
But the NSG has yet to specify key criteria, largely because Washington has not yet defined its position, diplomats said.
Washington has been slow to do so because extending the moratorium makes it easier to contain Iran. But analysts say the Iran issue cannot be solved with a blanket moratorium disadvantaging other nations interested in nuclear energy.
Alluding to civilian nuclear nations like Canada and Japan -- both G8 members -- and Australia, a second Western diplomat said some countries are now ''insisting on the U.S. getting serious about developing criteria.
''The Americans have really not moved for three years. (But) all G8 countries except the U.S. feel it's better to have certain criteria a country must fulfil to develop enrichment. So if you meet the criteria, you can have the technology.'' Among the generally agreed principles for countries to enrich would be things like a spotless record of compliance with international non-proliferation obligations and possibly demonstration of an economic need to produce nuclear fuel.
Iran would be unable to meet either of those criteria.
Countries which do not enrich uranium feel that the small number of enriching states wield a virtual monopoly, something reinforced by the current moratorium.
In June, the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands proposed to an International Atomic Energy Agency board meeting a multinational nuclear fuel bank which would be supplied by them and administered by the IAEA.
This would deter states from pursuing enrichment technologies whose ''possible misuse is a serious challenge to the nuclear nonproliferation regime'', the six nations said.
But the proposal was rebuffed as unfair by the 116 developing nations in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
Canadian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Ambra Dickie described the proposal as ''problematic'' if it required states to renounce enrichment options. She said states trusted not to be seeking atom bombs should be able to enrich under strict criteria.