336. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Proliferation—Follow-on to PD–8

As a result of the Presidential Decision you signed last week, several tasks were immediately assigned to the follow-on group. The first paper is attached. A second decision paper addressing the Japanese problem is also ready at this time.2 Negotiations with the Japanese begin next Tuesday. Three more short papers, dealing with different aspects of U.S. nuclear export policies, will be ready within a few days.

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In PD–8, you build U.S. policy around the central concept that the U.S. will attempt to discourage the further development and use of “sensitive nuclear power technologies which involve direct access to weapons useable materials.” The first task is therefore to define exactly what we will classify as “sensitive,” and in so doing, to achieve government-wide agreement on this central issue. Since these definitions will form the conceptual bedrock of our policy, they do require your approval. One issue—concerning technologies which appear to lie on the boarderline—is flagged for your special attention (Part II).

Part III of the paper deals with important political questions, and with the crucial issue on which the bureaucracy is still deeply divided, of whether our evaluation program will include reprocessing, or just alternatives to it, and more specifically, what the U.S. attitude should be toward existing reprocessing plants.

The attached paper (much of which I do not understand) was approved by an interagency group, including Jim Schlesinger.


Paper Prepared by the Interagency Group on Proliferation3


I. Definition of Weapons-Useable Materials

Weapons useable materials are:

—uranium which is enriched in the isotope 235 to 20% or greater (HEU), or uranium-233 (produced by irradiation of thorium).


These materials must be in either metal or oxide forms in order to be directly useable in weapons: we will call these forms Category A.

Uranium 235 and 233 and plutonium may be present in various chemical and physical forms short of pure oxide or metal: conversion of these forms to pure oxide or metal presents differing difficulties in terms of complexity of chemical operations, time required, and amount of material required. They can be categorized as follows:

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Category B: Material requiring relatively simple chemical operation

HEU in UF6 form (i.e. the output of enrichment plants).

HEU oxide or metal in unirradiated fuel elements.

HEU and/or Pu in nitrate form (i.e. the output of reprocessing plants).

Category C:4 Material requiring more complex chemical operation

—unseparated U-Pu nitrates (e.g. from “coprocessed” LWR fuel).

—mixed oxide (U-Pu) fuel for LWRs (Pu less than 20%).

Category D: Material involving complex chemical operation, in presence of high radioactivity levels, or involving isotopic separation (decreasing order of difficulty)

—low enriched or natural uranium.

—all irradiated fuel.

—partially coprocessed fuel (i.e. some fission products removed).

II. Technologies/Facilities

The major nuclear fuel cycles are presented in Table I, and identified by their utilization or production of the various categories of material. The Table reveals much useful information concerning proliferation. For example, it indicates that only one strictly non-sensitive fuel cycle now exists: the heavy water natural uranium cycle (HWR) without reprocessing. It should be noted however, that the HWR has significant non-proliferation problems. Its core uses many more, smaller individual (and therefore harder to keep track of) fuel rods than an LWR, and it is reloaded continuously, without shutting down the reactor. On the other hand, an LWR must be shut down to be reloaded, and this is only done twice a year, after which it is sealed. The HWR is also capable of producing high quality weapons grade plutonium without interfering with its power production. It was a research version of this reactor which produced the material for the Indian explosion.

The other attractive fuel cycle from the proliferation viewpoint is the LWR without recycle. A large majority of nuclear power programs are based on this reactor (though not on this fuel cycle). The principle drawback of the LWR cycle, is of course that it requires—somewhere—an enrichment capability. All known enrichment processes produce a Category B product, except laser isotope separation which produces Category A.

The decisions which arise from these technical analyses relate to which technologies will be included in our international program, and [Page 850] which we regard as too sensitive, and therefore beyond the pale. The major problem on which agencies now disagree, is whether coprocessing should be encouraged, for example at Tokai. NRC feels that coprocessing is no better in the long run than reprocessing, ACDA disagrees. Other agencies are unsure. To a lesser degree, this same confusion holds for partial coprocessing. This issue is addressed in the accompanying paper on Tokai. It does not require a Presidential decision at this time, but any guidance you might care to offer would be valuable.

COMMENTS: _____________________________________________________________________

III. Political Aspects

To be effective, the evaluation program needs to develop and demonstrate:

1. technical alternatives which will maximize physical barriers to the direct accessibility of weapons-useable materials, e.g., LWRs with long-term spent fuel storage instead of reprocessing, or cycles using fuel “spiked” with highly radioactive material from partial coprocessing.

2. technical/political alternatives which will isolate sensitive technologies, facilities and materials under effective institutional arrangements, e.g., multinational centers, or supplier monopolies on sensitive facilities.

3. institutional arrangements by which positive results of the program could be implemented as widely as possible.

The success of the evaluation program will depend, in large part, on a) its acceptability to the other industrialized countries and b) the degree to which it can be reconciled with existing programs relating to breeder development and associated reprocessing. In this regard, it should be noted that the British are in the process of scaling up their Windscale reprocessing facility, the French have a commercial reprocessing plant in operation with specific plans to increase capacity, the Japanese have built their Tokai pilot reprocessing plant and are ready to begin testing it, and the FRG has a pilot reprocessing plant in operation and appears firmly committed to another much larger facility.

Table II lists existing or planned foreign reprocessing facilities. All of these nations also have avowed interests in proceeding with the breeder. In some cases, the U.S. does not have substantial leverage over their activities. Our objective is to try to induce them to actively participate in the evaluation program and to reorient their current programs.

Given this situation, we could seek the cooperation of France, the UK, and the FRG through an evaluation framework which would include optimizing safeguards and related controls that might be applied [Page 851] to reprocessing and related plutonium handling facilities. Results of such work would prove valuable should we not be successful in moving the world away from a plutonium economy.

Alternatively we could adopt an approach which would leave existing facilities outside the evaluation framework. At the same time, in either case, the U.S. could attempt to wean away British and French reprocessing clients through aggressive aid with spent fuel storage, and through selective use of the U.S. veto over reprocessing of U.S.-origin fuel.

If we adopt a more confrontational position, such as seeking to actively discourage operation of all foreign facilities, there is significant risk that key allies will go forward in spite of our efforts, that we will undercut our attempts to move others away from a plutonium economy, and that we will be isolated in the process from both industrialized and developing countries.

ISSUE: General U.S. stance toward existing reprocessing facilities:

Include in the evaluation program—work to improve safeguards _______.

Neutral stance—existing plants outside the evaluation program _______.

Actively discourage reprocessing wherever it exists _______.

Other _______.

COMMENTS: __________________________________________________________

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 4, PD–08 [1]. Confidential. Sent for action. In the upper right-hand corner, Carter wrote “Zbig—What do we have in reprocessing capacity now. For military or other purpose? J.”
  2. Reference is to a discussion paper on Japan’s reprocessing plant at Tokai. The paper can be found in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, James Schlesinger Papers, Energy Department, Japan, 1977–1979.
  3. Confidential.
  4. There is some controversy over whether Categories B and C are really different. The answer is not yet known. You should note that they may turn out to be essentially one category. However the gap between C and D is very large. [Footnote is in the original.]