377. Memorandum From Ambassador-at-Large and Special Representative for Non-Proliferation Matters Smith to Secretary of State Vance 1

Recent Consultations in Europe on Nonproliferation

After visiting FRG, France, UK, Belgium and The Netherlands (and consulting the Japanese in Washington),2 our impressions about realistic post-INFCE possibilities are:

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Although these countries are more sensitive to the risks of proliferation than two years ago, they seem more set than we on giving their own energy needs first priority. They are concerned about spread of reprocessing and enrichment plants and weapons-grade materials. But, they believe we place too much emphasis on risks of diversion from nuclear power programs as compared with dedicated production programs, and that we are over-emphasizing the risks of plutonium separation and use as compared with risks from spread of enrichment facilities and accumulation of spent fuel.

Our allies are very much concerned about the lack of predictability of supplier states’ actions, especially the United States, primarily with respect to approving the reprocessing of spent fuel and use of plutonium. There is still general disapproval of and resentment against the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978 because of its requirements on these points. The prevailing view is that these requirements are more likely to be a stimulus, than an impediment, to the spread of sensitive facilities and materials.


On breeders, thermal recycle of plutonium and the need for reprocessing for waste disposal, there is some convergence of American and other advanced countries’ views.

All believe it necessary for advanced states to continue R&D on breeders as a high priority. With fewer energy options, the others feel this more strongly than we do. But none—not even the French—are prepared now to make a flat commitment to breeder commercialization, although they and the Japanese expect to do so within the next decade.

They all accept that the economic advantage of thermal recycle is at present marginal, at best, and that decisions about recycle will be made on other grounds—assurance of supply and the perceived advantage by some of reprocessing for waste disposal and the need in this case to burn up the resulting plutonium.

The Germans are committed in principle to reprocessing as a precondition to waste disposal and feel that reopening the question would jeopardize their already politically fragile nuclear power program. However, there is increasing acknowledgment that reprocessing is not required to dispose of waste safely. In fact, in the Free World, except for France and UK, there is likely to be little commercial reprocessing of spent fuel for years.


With the end of INFCE approaching and the NPT Review Conference in August 1980, our major problem will be to deal with pressures [Page 959] for a general agreement on conditions for nuclear supply. There is a risk that others will favor conditions which would be so permissive as to seriously undercut our nonproliferation efforts. If, on the other hand, the conditions appear discriminatory, it will be a formidable problem to gain their acceptance by states other than those favored. Acceptance will have to be based on common approaches, at least among key suppliers and consumers, since our leverage as a supplier has diminished. If we can make some accommodations, a consensus may develop among the advanced countries that will be acceptable to most developing states and assist us and other suppliers in dealing with the countries of greatest concern from a nonproliferation point of view. We envisage an evolutionary, or building-block, process—not a grand design.


The two most promising prospects appear to be full-scope safeguards (FSS) and an effective international plutonium storage (IPS) system.

The French have so far blocked FSS as a norm for nuclear trade. It may soon be possible to get them, and other major supplier nations, to agree to condition exports on IAEA safeguards on all peaceful nuclear activities, though the French may wish to withhold this step pending resolution of our differences with respect to U.S. consent rights over U.S. origin spent fuel reprocessed in EURATOM countries and over plutonium derived therefrom.

An IAEA study is underway on an IPS and some Europeans are committed to its early realization—with or without the U.S. There are unresolved issues with respect to the extent of coverage (i.e., whether IPS should follow plutonium from the time of separation until it is back in a reactor), and on the question of authority for release of plutonium. We can probably influence developments in ways consistent with our nonproliferation objectives if we weigh in heavily and can hold out the prospect that exercise of U.S. consent rights with respect to plutonium release could be affected if the IPS has authority to prevent release in the absence of a clear and reasonable need and satisfaction of other agreed conditions.

As noted, our allies and others are very concerned about the lack of predictability in our nuclear supply actions and the exercise of our consent rights for reprocessing. Their attitude toward IPS can be influenced by its relation to the exercise of these consent rights. To influence the development of a post-INFCE consensus, we will need to work out guidelines concerning the exercise of our consent rights.


Aside from IPS, there is little interest in the advanced countries in early multinationalization of fuel cycle facilities, although the UK, [Page 960] France and Belgium have indicated willingness to consider some additive anti-proliferation measures beyond safeguards in order to set a desirable precedent.


In order to meet possible criticism at the NPT Review Conference, the UK and France indicated interest in exploring possible initiatives prior to the Conference to provide further assistance to developing countries in assessing their energy needs and dealing with the problems of nuclear power (e.g., reactor safety).


We will continue to consult these and other states, including developing countries. It seems unlikely that any new arrangements will be ready for agreement next year.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Global Issues, Oplinger/Bloomfield File, Box 41, Proliferation: 11/79–5/80. Confidential. Copies were sent to Christopher, Benson, Pickering, Duncan, and Owen.
  2. Reports on these discussions are in telegram 19652 from Bonn, November 2 (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790507–0778); telegram 35420 from Paris, November 9 (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790521–0650); telegram 21817 from London, November 5 (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790508–1128); telegram 6677 from The Hague, November 6 (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790518–0230); telegram 6678 from The Hague, November 6; (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790518–0175); and telegram 296435 to Tokyo, November 15. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790525–0776)