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


  • U.S. Attitude Toward Reprocessing Abroad

From the very beginning of the PRM deliberations, the key central decision on which views have continued to differ is the question of how the United States should relate to the reality of existing reprocessing abroad. The first section of the attached minutes of the PRC meeting summarizes the arguments that were made on this subject at that time (Tab A).2

The State Department feels very strongly that we have to be able to give a specific answer to the question: “Will the international fuel cycle evaluation program include reprocessing?”

[Page 855]

After your announcement,3 Joe Nye and Nelson Sievering (of ERDA) held a consultation in Paris.4 The French took a very tough line, stating that they would not participate in the international evaluation program if reprocessing were not included in it. The State Department interprets this as a flat final position on the part of the French. I have no way of knowing whether that is the case or whether their position was dictated by negotiating tactics. However, as you know, it cannot be doubted that there is substantial international resistance to our proliferation proposals, particularly from the French.

The international evaluation program has been conceived as including major physical demonstrations and actual operating plants on the various new technologies. No one doubts that the United States will be providing the bulk of the financial support for these operations. There is therefore a real likelihood that if reprocessing is included in the program, we would be supporting it abroad while banning it here (which may mean a $250 million loss to the Barnwell consortium).

This decision is a tough, close, political call. To rule out reprocessing might fatally jeopardize the program, while to include it might merely result in marginally improving the safety and safeguardability of reprocessing plants, or even “proving” (perhaps by being outvoted in some program forum) that reprocessing is acceptable—exactly the opposite of what we set out to do.

A possible middle position might be to offer to do paper studies on reprocessing within the context of the evaluation program and to leave Windscale and LaHague (the British and French reprocessing plants) operating outside the program. I do not believe that there is any a priori reason that every nuclear facility in the participating countries has to be a part of this program. Further, there are a great many issues—in fact the key issues—which can be debated and decided on paper. These include economic questions as to the value of reprocessing in a non-[Page 856]breeder fuel cycle, the availability of uranium resources, future nuclear energy demand, etc. Other key issues that determine the value of reprocessing will be directly addressed in the operational sense, including accelerated R&D and development of spent fuel storage technologies. I do not know whether this position would be acceptable to others but it may be worth exploring.


—A tough U.S. stance against reprocessing everywhere where we can influence it. ______


—Including reprocessing in the international fuel cycle evaluation program. ______


—A compromise position including paper studies, but not operational demonstration. ______5

Requests for approval for retransfer for reprocessing.

The United States now has the right to approve or veto any retransfer of U.S.-supplied fuel to another country (now the UK or France) for reprocessing. U.S. policies on approving such requests is intimately related to our overall policy toward reprocessing, since we can in effect, halt or very substantially slow British and French reprocessing by preventing their clients from coming to them.

The interagency group recommends that approvals be granted only when:

—Both the fuel owner and reprocessor are generally cooperative in non-proliferation and evaluation efforts;

—The U.S. is provided a veto on retransfer of the produced plutonium;

—A need exists, for example in terms of requirement for fuel movement due to fuel storage capacity limitations; and

—No commitment is implied for long term continuation of approvals.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission which has the responsibility for implementing these decisions, points out in its formal agency comments6 that: “The paper could usefully include as an option a tougher stance on requests for approval for retransfer of reprocessing. Under [Page 857]this option, reprocessing in the UK and France would be viewed only as a last resort, to be avoided if at all possible. A clear showing of need would be a strict prerequisite to granting of approvals.”


Interagency recommendation


Tougher stance (which still allows flexibility) 7

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 60, PRC 007, 3/16/77, Nuclear Proliferation. Secret. Sent for action. Carter initialed the upper right-hand corner of the memorandum.
  2. See Document 328.
  3. On April 7, Carter stated that despite his belief that the “benefits of nuclear power” were “very real and practical,” he worried that “components of the nuclear power process will be turned to providing nuclear weapons.” Therefore, he announced that the U.S. would “defer indefinitely the commercial reprocessing and recycling of plutonium produced in the U.S. nuclear power programs” and called for the “establishment of an international fuel cycle evaluation program aimed at developing alternative fuel cycles and a variety of international and U.S. measures to assure access to nuclear fuel supplies and spent fuel storage for nations sharing common non-proliferation objectives.” His administration would also begin to “redirect funding of U.S. nuclear research and development programs to accelerate our research into alternative nuclear fuel cycles which do not involve direct access to materials usable in nuclear weapons.” He closed by promising that the U.S. would “develop wider international cooperation in regard to this vital issue through systematic and thorough international consultations.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1977, pp. 587–588)
  4. The Nye/Sievering consultations with the French are reported in telegram 9761 from Paris, April 4; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770116–0483.
  5. Carter checked this option and wrote “We won’t pay reprocessing costs for others.”
  6. Not found.
  7. Carter checked this option and underlined the phrase “still allows flexibility.”