370. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1



The International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation (INFCE) represents one of the most ambitious and complex ventures undertaken in the field of international diplomacy. This two-year program, launched by a US initiative, seeks to construct a consensus among industrial and developing nations on the future role of nuclear energy. In this effort, the Evaluation takes into account not only national economic requirements but also the global political objective of reducing, to the maximum extent possible, the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation.

The Evaluation has stimulated a higher degree of awareness concerning the dangers inherent in the spread of advanced nuclear technology and of US policy objectives in this sensitive area. It has also identified the major obstacles to a new consensus on the future role of nuclear energy. As it enters its second and final year, INFCE is beset by a fundamental dispute among the participating countries—indeed, it has been hampered from the start by the difficulty of reconciling US non-proliferation policy with the priority resource-poor nations attach to energy-security. Many of the advanced industrial nations believe that a plutonium-based fuel cycle will reduce their dependence on external energy resources. Their desire to proceed with the “plutonium economy” despite its associated proliferation hazards has been amply demonstrated in the INFCE working groups. These nations, along with the LDCs, justify their resistance to US non-proliferation policy on the basis of:

—Conservative estimates of the size of world uranium reserves, coupled with high projections of the need for nuclear power;

—Claims that the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel and its recycle in power reactors offers an effective program for dealing with anticipated energy vulnerabilities; and

—Assertions that the fast breeder reactor will eventually lead to a self-contained fuel cycle that will help eliminate the problems associated with energy dependence.

[Page 942]

Efforts by the United States and other major uranium suppliers to formulate an effective alternative to the plutonium economy lack credibility in the eyes of energy-dependent nations. INFCE is unlikely to resolve this conflict because there are

—Serious doubts about the United States as a reliable uranium supplier, reinforced by the 1978 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act that requires the review and possible revision of supply contracts, and

—Few, if any, political guarantees or technical fixes that will satisfy those nations with the greatest need for assured access to nuclear fuel.

Underlying reservations about US non-proliferation policies have prompted the advanced industrial nations to conduct a damage limitation exercise in INFCE. Even in its most positive sense, the Evaluation for these nations represents primarily an opportunity to reaffirm the long-term benefits of the plutonium economy in the face of US criticism. The less developed nations, for their part, see INFCE as a chance to voice once again their demands for the unrestricted transfer of nuclear technology rather than as an opportunity to join the search for a more proliferation resistant nuclear regime.

Representatives of the nearly 60 governments and international organizations participating in the Evaluation are scheduled to hold a plenary session in Vienna from 27 November to 1 December to review progress to date. Thus far, the working groups have assembled technical data that will serve as the basis for their formal reports, which are to be completed within the next six months.

The success of INFCE cannot, however, be measured only in terms of these technical studies or the final report that will probably be drafted from them. Indeed, INFCE has no formal binding authority on its participants. As a US initiative, it is only one part of Washington’s broad policy to slow the pace of nuclear proliferation. Consequently, developments relating to nuclear energy and technology outside the Evaluation will have an impact on its outcome. For example, bilateral consultations between the United States and INFCE participants concerning the implementation of the 1978 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act could have a decisive influence on the degree of cooperation exhibited during the concluding year of the Evaluation.

One factor that might overshadow the Evaluation is the second NPT Review Conference. The Conference is scheduled to begin only three months after the Evaluation ends in February 1980. At a minimum, preparation for the Review Conference preparation will divert the attention of nuclear policy makers and experts from many developing countries which consider it a more effective political forum to criticize supplier states attempting to curb the transfer of nuclear technology.

Shifting the focus of the debate to a new arena may make it easier to draft an INFCE report. Nonetheless, the extent to which a final re-port represents a resolution rather than an effort to paper over the disagreement between those who place the highest priority on non-proliferation and those who are preoccu[Page 943]pied with energy security would appear at this juncture to depend more on perceptions by the energy-poor nations of greater flexibility in US policy than on any substantial compromises on what they see as essential national interests.

[Omitted here is the body of the memorandum.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Chronological Files, Speeches, and Papers of Lucy W. Benson, Lot 81D321, Box 8, INFCE 1978. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]. At the top of the memorandum, an unknown hand wrote “FYIslow read.”
  2. This memorandum was prepared by the International Issues Division of the Office of Regional and Political Analysis and was coordinated with the relevant Divisions of the Office of Regional and Political Analysis, the Office of Economic Research, and the Office of Scientific Intelligence. Comments and Questions should be addressed to [less than 1 line not declassified]. [Footnote is in the original.]