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323. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter 1

SUBJECT

  • Nuclear Proliferation

This is a quick response to your request of February 16 regarding possible U.S. initiatives designed to develop “international restraints” in order to slow nuclear proliferation.2 As you know, we have a PRM in process to develop “options for formal and informal international coordination of incentives, controls and sanctions throughout the nuclear fuel cycle in order to limit nuclear proliferation.” The PRM response will be submitted by February 28th.

The following list of possible U.S. actions does not therefore attempt to provide a thorough analysis of each, but rather sets forth some of the major options being considered in the PRM. Many of these options entail considerable sacrifices on the part of other nations which originally adopted the once-conventional U.S. wisdom regarding long-range energy plans. We will now be asking them to reconsider these plans at considerable cost in dollars or national pride or both. Accordingly, there are certain domestic actions which may have to be taken to make any or all of the above steps credible or saleable to other nations.

First, we should try to demonstrate that we no longer view the breeder reactor (at least in its current design) as the centerpiece of our energy strategy by sending an unequivocal signal that we are not proceeding with its commercialization—specifically with the Clinch River demonstration project. Secondly, we might even have to consider suspending completion of the Barnwell reprocessing plant3 until we have completed our own thorough investigation of all possible alternatives to reprocessing.4

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Preliminary options:

1. A call by the U.S. or jointly by the Suppliers Group, for a three-year moratorium on sensitive transfers while we search for other ways to meet legitimate nuclear energy fuel cycle needs. The term “sensitive transfers” refers to enrichment facilities, reprocessing facilities, and highly enriched, weapons grade uranium (HEU).

2. Further investigate the possibility of a few multinational fuel cycle centers which would provide regional enrichment and reprocessing capacity. This option would only be attractive if a study reveals that there exist suitable sites for such an operation, and that multilateral management and control arrangements could be worked out that would guarantee adequate safeguarding.

3. Fuel assurances provided either unilaterally or, much more attractively, multilaterally. In either case, this policy would demand that we expand current U.S. enrichment capacity so that we can guarantee the supply of low-enriched fuel. Longer term possibilities might include some form of international “bank” managed by the IAEA which would ensure non-discriminatory access by all nations to an international pool of SWU’s (the measure of enrichment capacity).

4. As an alternative to reprocessing, the creation of a multinational spent fuel-plutonium storage regime. Under such a policy, reprocessing would be either ruled out or indefinitely deferred in favor of a “once through” fuel cycle in which used fuel rods are not reprocessed but rather stored for an indefinite period of time.

5. Renegotiation of existing agreements for cooperation. Under this policy, the United States would attempt to renegotiate its existing agreements for cooperation to include stricter safeguard criteria. One possibility would require recipient nations to agree to full scope safeguards under which all of their nuclear facilities—regardless of where they came from—would be subject to IAEA safeguards. Not only are there severe legal barriers to renegotiating existing agreements, but this effort would meet very stiff political resistance from key nations such as Yugoslavia, Israel, and many others. Canada is encountering serious difficulties in its effort along these lines (PDB, February 17).

6. A legislative or regulatory finding that reprocessing plants are inherently unsafeguardable (there are several such Bills on the Hill). This would mean that in exporting nuclear fuel the U.S. would have to require that it not be reprocessed, or be returned to a nuclear weapons state for reprocessing. This would raise immediate problems with the Japanese (among others) who have a reprocessing plant in the final testing stages and need our permission to begin reprocessing U.S.-supplied fuel.

7. Expansion of U.S. cooperation in developing non-nuclear energy resources. The United States’ abundant (relatively speaking) domestic [Page 796]supply of energy makes many other nations highly suspicious of our efforts to limit proliferation. Thus, a long-term effort in this area will probably have to include a substantial commitment by the United States to help other nations develop alternative—perhaps in some cases non-electrified—energy programs. This would be costly.

8. U.S. or joint efforts to research and develop alternative reactor designs. There is a likelihood that “second generation” nuclear fuel cycles can be developed that are inherently much more proliferation resistant than the uranium-plutonium fuel cycle. One possibility that has attracted increasing attention is a thorium cycle which uses denatured Uranium-233 as fuel.5

9. A substantially strengthened IAEA endowed with the power to impose stiff sanctions for any violations of safeguard agreements. This would require a major political effort to obtain the needed consensus, especially among the nuclear club members.6

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 60, PRC 007, 3/16/77, Nuclear Proliferation. Confidential. Sent for information. Carter initialed the upper right-hand corner of the memorandum and the margin beside each paragraph after “Preliminary options” with a “C”.
  2. Not found.
  3. A private-sector company began construction of a commercial nuclear reprocessing plant in Barnwell, SC in 1970.
  4. In the right-hand margin next to this paragraph, Carter wrote “ok but not cancel outright.”
  5. Underneath this paragraph, Carter drew an arrow and wrote “Thorium breeder to go critical at Shippingport [Pa] this fall—J.”
  6. Underneath this paragraph, Carter wrote “I look forward to the 2/28 recommendations.”