Safeguards Symposium held in Vienna

January 11, 2011

The 11th IAEA Safeguards Symposium was held during the first week of November at the Agency’s headquarters in Vienna. Herman Nackaerts, head of the Agency’s Department of Safeguards, said the aim of the event was ‘to provide an opportunity…to explore possible solutions to the various current and future challenges that confront us and thereby to support the Agency’s verification mission’.

The technical plenary opened with the presentation of the Department of Safeguard’s strategic plan by Jill Cooley, director of the Concepts and Planning division within the Department. Introduced as the ‘first ever long-term’ plan, and running from 2012 to 2023, it sets out steps to advance the department’s three strategic objectives, namely: deterring the proliferation of nuclear weapons; contributing to nuclear arms control and disarmament; and improving and optimizing departmental operations and capabilities. The plan’s conceptual framework highlighted how the efficiency and effectiveness of the safeguards system could be improved by making it more information-driven and through the wider implementation of ‘state-level’ and ‘integrated safeguards’ approaches. The symposium sessions then moved on to exploring the plan’s strategies and objectives in more detail.

One session, referred to by Chile as ‘the most important of the Symposium’, was dedicated to exploring the possible uptake of new verification missions by the Agency, specifically in the disarmament field. Summing up the arguments made by Andreas Persbo, Ole Reistad, Jan Lodding and Tom Shea on this topic, John Carlson said that the IAEA was ‘well equipped’ on both the legal and technical fronts to take on greater responsibilities in the realm of disarmament verification. Indeed, in this respect, discussions are being held on how the Agency should assume its responsibilities under the 2000 US-Russia Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (see T&V 130, p8).

Besides discussions on new verification missions, several sessions focused on the need to enhance the Agency’s existing capabilities for its current work on safeguards. The need for universalization of the Additional Protocol was stressed many times as a matter of great importance. The symposium also underscored the need to address funding issues at the Agency. In John Carlson’s view ‘it is clear that there is a fundamental problem that resources are not keeping track with increasing workload’. If the Agency is ever to take on new verification roles, having an appropriate budget will be vital.

Sonia Drobysz, Paris


Progress in CW destruction, but a long way left to go

January 11, 2011

According to figures reported by the US Army Chemical Materials Agency (CMA) in October 2010, the United States has managed to dispose of 30 per cent of its chemical weapons in the last three years. In comparison, between 1997 and 2007, only half of US stocks had been destroyed. Last autumn also saw the completion of disposal operations at a US arsenal where 3,850 tons of the country’s chemical weapons had been stored for over sixty years.

Russia’s chemical weapons disposal has also been accelerating. According to the head of the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade, the country destroyed over 19,000 tons of weapons stockpiles between November 2009 and September 2010, which amounts to more than it had been able to eliminate over the previous two years.

Despite this accelerated progress, however, neither Russia nor the United States will be able to meet the 2012 deadline for the complete destruction of their chemical weapons. As parties to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), both countries were originally expected to eliminate their stockpiles by 2007, but were granted five-year extensions since they said they needed more time.

While the CMA is on track to complete the disposal of 90 per cent of US chemical weapons by the April 2012 deadline, the remaining ten per cent of the stockpile, which is to be eliminated through the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA) programme, will not be destroyed on time. In addition, two chemical agent destruction plants currently under construction and not scheduled to begin operations until at least 2017 and 2021 respectively. The US will therefore also miss deadlines set by two 2008 national laws which mandated that the country’s stockpile be destroyed by the CWC deadline (29 April 2012), and failing that, no later than 2017.

In Russia, a new chemical weapons disposal plant was opened in November 2010 to speed up the elimination process. The facility, located 250 miles southwest of Moscow, is the largest of the six chemical weapons disposal plants built in the country in recent years, and is expected to destroy about 19 per cent of Russia’s stockpile. While Russia had announced this summer that elimination would not be complete until 2015, according to a high-ranking Russian official, as of November the country was expecting to finish disposal by the end of 2014.

Agata Slota, London


Funding disputes delaying ozone protection

January 11, 2011

Parties to the 1987 Montreal Protocol failed this November to reach an agreement on how to fund the destruction of stockpiles of ozone-depleting substances (ODS), a step necessary for ensuring that the substances do not leak into the atmosphere. Financing is needed for the recovery of the substances from ODS ‘banks’ (chemical stockpiles and discarded products and equipment) and their subsequent destruction. But negotiators at the annual meeting of parties to the protocol—held in Bangkok, from 8 to 12 November—were unable to agree on sources for funding these activities.

The Montreal Protocol mandates the gradual phase-out of the production and consumption of a number of ODSs. Shortly after the treaty came into force, parties established a ‘Multilateral Fund’ (MLF) to assist developing countries with implementing the control measures specified by the treaty. Replenished every three years through developed countries’ contributions, the fund remains the key financial mechanism of the protocol.

But, countries disagree over whether the MLF should be the sole source of funding for ODS destruction or, indeed, whether it is appropriate to use this mechanism at all for this purpose. Disagreements also persist over types of alternative financing arrangements. Until this issue is resolved, ODS destruction activities might not go ahead in states that do not have the financial means to dispose of the banks themselves.

The absence of clear funding sources is largely due to the fact that ODS disposal is not mandated by the treaty, with attention having been primarily focused on consumption and production activities. Consequently, when some states in Bangkok argued that funding should come from the MLF, opponents maintained that ODS destruction ‘is not a compliance requirement under the Protocol’ and cannot, therefore, be covered by the MLF.

States opposed to drawing money from the MLF instead argued for using external funding sources, such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a financial organization that provides environmental grants to developing countries. Many developed states pushed for GEF funding, underlining ‘the opportunities for partnership and co-financing that the GEF presents.’ But there was concern among developing countries that GEF could prioritize other multilateral environmental agreements over the ozone treaty. They also pointed out that the GEF had not provided adequate funds for ODS destruction in the past.

Another option proposed at the meeting was the use of voluntary carbon markets, which would allow countries to earn carbon credits through the destruction of ozone-depleting substances.

Despite not being included in the treaty’s provisions, bank destruction is an important activity because these holdings can release ODSs into the atmosphere, damaging both the ozone layer and the climate. According to reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and UNEP’s Technical and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP), 20 per cent of ODSs (measured in carbon-dioxide equivalent) have leaked from ODS banks since 2002.

The TEAP has also pointed out that, if unmanaged, those banks which are relatively easy and cheap to destroy will have released most of their stored gases by 2020.

Despite the impasse over funding, the parties did make some progress on ODS destruction mechanisms. They agreed to request the TEAP to review the list of destruction technologies adopted by parties at a previous meeting and to ‘develop criteria that should be used to verify the destruction of ODS in facilities that use appropriate ODS destruction technologies.’ But as long as the funding issue is not resolved, the overall rate of ODS bank disposal will be restricted and opportunities to prevent emissions from easily destroyable banks could be missed.

Agata Slota, London


Cancun climate talks show signs of progress

January 11, 2011

In December of last year, after two weeks of negotiations, the annual UN climate change conference ended with the adoption of an important set of agreements. Gathering over 190 countries together, the event encompassed negotiating tracks on the UN climate convention and its Kyoto Protocol, as well as sessions of both subsidiary bodies and numerous side-events. Named after the Mexican city where the meeting was held, the ‘Cancun Agreements’ hold a good deal of promise for future efforts on climate change.

The agreements reaffirm and go beyond the accord reached at the previous UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, which ended largely in disappointment, and polarisation on a number of issues, last year. These agreements show progress on several major areas including emissions reductions, finance, forests, and transparency. Although some may have viewed the outcome as rather modest (in particular with regard to the depth of emissions targets set), the agreements reached in Cancun have established a series of goals, institutions and processes that will be instrumental in accelerating action on climate change. These negotiations were also characterized by a marked change in mood since Copenhagen, with countries apparently showing greater willingness to collaborate with one another. Indeed, this new spirit fo cooperation and the tangible progress made in Cancun have helped to revitalize the UN negotiating process.

However, due to the pace of negotiations so far, and the set-backs of Copenhagen, the Cancun meeting began from a low baseline. Thus, although progress has been made, the level of ambition in addressing climate change needs to be raised significantly. In addition, there is a considerable amount of work still left to be done in order to flesh out the framework adopted in Cancun. The agreements establish a platform for action; the detailed working procedures still need to be developed.

Technology, adaptation and finance also feature in the Cancun Agreements with a new set of frameworks and institutions to push for progress in these areas. Of particular importance—both in terms of climate action and relationships between countries—was the reaffirmation of a commitment by developed countries to specific amounts of financial assistance and to timelines for its provision. Cancun also established a ‘Green Climate Fund’ governed by a board composed of an equal number of members from developing and developed country parties.

The agreements contain a significant development for the treaty’s verification procedures. Though arguments over transparency and accountability have soured relationships in the past, a broad monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) framework has now been established, building on existing structures.

The framework enhances MRV reporting requirements of both developed and developing countries, but still distinguishes between them on the basis of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’. Developed countries are to improve MRV of emissions, implementation of mitigation measures and financial support—with reviews to be conducted by technical experts. Measures to improve MRV by developing countries were also agreed.

But it was progress on forests and climate change that many consider to be among the most positive of all the results from Cancun. Some major issues remain outstanding—finance and functional defintions of key terms among them—but the decision includes an agreement on an overall goal to reduce emissions, to address the drivers of deforestation and to establish forest monitoring systems.

Critically, the decision on forests includes requirements for upholding social and environmental safeguards and systems for generating information on progress on these issues. Strengthening forest governance and systems designed to assist in policy development and implementation have been a key component of VERTIC’s work on climate change for a number of years. The progress made in Cancun is welcome, but it will be important to ensure that good intentions are put into practice in the years ahead.

Sonia Drobysz, Paris


US and Russia request IAEA monitoring of plutonium disposition

October 1, 2010

In his speech to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna earlier this September, the organization’s Directo General, Yukia Amano, announced that the IAEA had recently received a joint US-Russian letter ‘requesting IAEA assistance to independently verify implementation of their agreement on the disposition of plutonium no longer required for defence purposes.’ The letter refers to the September 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), subsequently amended in April 2010, which calls for each country to dispose of no less than 34 metric tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium. The combined 68-ton total represents, according to the US State Department, enough fissile material for nearly 17,000 nuclear weapons.

The 2000 text of the PMDA stated that the process of plutonium disposition in both countries would involve the use of light-water reactors, although Russia also enshrined the right to use its BN-600 fast-neutron reactor at Beloyarsk. However, as Elena Sokova has written for the Nuclear Threat Initiative, an advocacy group, ‘implementation of the agreement was delayed, partly because of Russia’s reluctance to devote significant resources to a programme that would be based on light-water reactor technology.’ Among other changes, including a doubling of US financial contributions to Russia’s disposition efforts (from $200m to $400m), the 2010 amended version of the PMDA expands Russia’s right to use fast-neutron rectors in the implementation of the agreement. In addition to its BN-600, the 2010 text—designed to make the PMDA more compatible with Russia’s long-term energy strategy—allows Russia to use its more advanced BN-800 fast-neutron reactor as well.

In terms of verification, the text of the PMDA (in both versions) notes that both parties ‘shall have the right to conduct and the obligation to receive and facilitate monitoring and inspection activities’ in order to confirm that the agreement is being followed correctly. The need to involve the IAEA is reaffirmed in the 2010 version of the agreement, which states that: ‘Each party, in cooperation with the other party, shall begin consultations with the International Atomic Energy Agency at an early date and undertake all other necessary steps to conclude appropriate agreements with the IAEA to allow it to implement verification measures with respect to each party’s disposition programme.’

Specific verification arrangements, however, have yet to be finalised. The joint letter to the Agency, signed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, asks that the Agency ‘engage in all necessary [verification] efforts…with the goal of preparing the necessary legally binding verification arrangements in 2011.’ According to a State Department press release issued on the day of the PMDA’s amendment, actual disposition is set to begin at some point before 2018, ‘after the necessary facilities are completed and operating.’ Given the importance of irreversibility to nuclear disarmament efforts, and the need for transparency highlighted in the Final Document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, ensuring that the implementation of the PMDA is effectively verified will be essential to the ultimate success of the process and its wider impact on the NPT regime.

David Cliff, Vienna.


Alleged chemical weapons use by Turkey

October 1, 2010

On 12 August, Der Spiegel and Die Tageszeitung reported on allegations that Turkey had used chemical weapons against members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The claims were based on photographs showing bodies of eight PKK members. The photographs had been handed over to a delegation of the German Left Party by Turkish-Kurdish human rights activists. A German expert in photo forgeries confirmed the photos were authentic and the Hamburg University Hospital stated that it was highly probable that the eight members had died due to the use of chemical weapons. With this evidence at hand, German politicians made calls for an investigation of the alleged use. They were joined by parliamentarians from the Netherlands, which hosts the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the body tasked with the implementation of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

The next day, however, the Hamburg University Hospital published an errata stating that ‘the assessment of the doctors does not support the accusation that the deaths have been caused by chemical weapons in any way. No clear statement on the cause and time of the injuries can be made.’ The Turkish authorities also denied the reports: ‘The allegations that our country might have used chemical weapons do not represent the truth in any way. Our country, which has been a state party to the CWC since 1997, does not produce, possess or use chemical weapons,’ the spokesperson of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs informed the parliament that due to the errata notification he did not see any reason to investigate the matter further. The German Minister of Foreign Affairs did not taken action either.

In this case, then, the need to proceed with formal verification procedures diminished. However, in future instances where verification is required of the alleged use of chemical weapons in a country, there are several options available. The state in question could start its own investigation or invite or accept offers for a collaborative investigation from interested states, a regional organization, or a relevant international organization such as the UN Secretary General’s mechanism for examining alleged chemical (or biological) weapons use. This mechanism was recently updated so that the OPCW can now be involved in its procedures. Any state party to the CWC could also choose to initiate the Convention’s various compliance mechanisms, including the relatively innocuous ‘clarification’ and more politically-charged ‘challenge inspection’ procedures under the Article IX ‘Consultation, Cooperation and Fact-Finding’ provision. To date, however, the ‘challenge inspection’ procedure has never been used.

Yasemin Balci, London.


Russia unable to complete chemical weapons disarmament by 2012 deadline

October 1, 2010

Russia has announced that it will miss its 2012 deadline for the complete elimination of its chemical weapons stockpile, confirming what many 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) observers had long suspected. According to the Interfax News Agency, the Russian Foreign Ministry attributes the delay to ‘financial and technical difficulties.’ These difficulties resulted from the recent worldwide economic recession. Viktor Kholstov, treaty implementation chief at the Russian Industry and Trade Ministry, said that both Russian and foreign funding had fallen, according to a statement on the website of the Kirov region’s government. An article from the Xinhua News Agency reported that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has unilaterally declared a new completion deadline of 29 April 2015.

States possessing chemical weapons were required to destroy their entire chemical weapons stockpile by 2007. The US acknowledged in May 2006 that it would be unable to meet the 2007 deadline and, along with Russia, successfully petitioned for a one-off five year extension, which is permissible under the convention. However the US is also experiencing significant problems in completing destruction. On the US Army website, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Elimination of Chemical Weapons) Carmen Spencer noted that destruction was realistically scheduled for completion by 2021.

The issue of sanctions for failure to meet this deadline is not under serious consideration, with pressure focussing on securing continued political commitment to ensure safe and eventual destruction of remaining stockpiles. In a press release from Global Green USA, Rogelio Pfirter, former Director General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), remarked, ‘Given the excellent track record and firm commitment to the implementation of the convention consistently shown by the Russian Federation and by the United States of America, the key goal of achieving the total and irreversible destruction of the declared stockpiles is, in my view, not in question.’ Other CWC states parties will expect these two states to continue to be transparent about the status of stockpile destruction, and to allocate sufficient resources to the task.

Kara Allen, London.