380. Paper Prepared in the Department of State1

Summary of INFCE

The President emphasized at INFCE’s 1977 opening session the need for greater mutual understanding of nuclear fuel cycle problems and opportunities with a view to finding “common ground” regarding the role of nuclear energy and prevention of proliferation. It was agreed by the participating countries to proceed with INFCE as a technical study which would not jeopardize their respective fuel cycle policies and not be binding on them.

INFCE is now completed with the following results:

1. Although it began with tension and suspicion of US motives, the INFCE dialogue has eased tensions, eliminated misunderstandings regarding US policy, and provided a basis for common approaches. INFCE reflects both varying views and “common ground”. The President has indicated we would take INFCE results into account; this is consistent with the law which states that its provisions shall not prejudice objective consideration of these results.

2. There is now broad international acceptance of the proposition that, while proliferation is basically a political problem, fuel cycle weapons usable material (plutonium and high enriched uranium), and technology from which it can be obtained, pose proliferation risks.

3. Different national situations (e.g., lack of energy resources or indigenous uranium) can lead to different fuel cycle choices. Although views differ on timing, and INFCE is overly optimistic, regarding commercialization, exploration of breeder and advanced reactor options (using plutonium) is attractive to countries with large electric grids and advanced nuclear programs. But recycle of plutonium in current generation reactors (thermal recycle) is economically marginal, although some wish to preserve the option for energy security. These factors could justify distinctions between breeder programs in advanced countries and widespread use of plutonium wherever there are reactors.

4. INFCE did not endorse any fuel cycle as being more proliferation resistant than another; nor did it identify any technical fix for proliferation risks. It did single out the importance of improved IAEA safeguards; international plutonium storage; limits on, or multinational approaches to, sensitive facilities (enrichment and reprocessing); and [Page 968] reduced enrichment levels for research fuel. INFCE also concluded that reprocessing was not a necessary precondition for waste disposal.

5. Based as they are on 1977 data, INFCE’s nuclear power projections are greatly exaggerated (the US component (50% of the total) is now 30% lower for 1995); the low estimate looks more like a realistic high. Under this low case, there will be more than enough uranium to supply reactors well into the next century without breeders, and present and planned enrichment capacity is sufficient to the end of the century. This availability of uranium and enrichment services reduces the urgency of breeders and thermal recycle.

6. While recognizing that nuclear supply assurance and nonproliferation assurance are complementary, INFCE expresses concern over unpredictability in nuclear export policies and in the exercise of rights regarding reprocessing and plutonium use (i.e., US and Canadian policies). INFCE notes that international nuclear markets have worked reasonably well in the past, but asserts that continuing uncertainty in supply policies could cause future damage to power programs. It urges common approaches satisfactory to both suppliers and consumers.

7. INFCE is moderate on developing country needs and asserts that nuclear power is not a panacea.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Global Issues, Oplinger/Bloomfield File, Box 53, Proliferation: Smith (Gerard) Initiative: 11/79–4/80. Confidential. Sent under cover of a March 5 memorandum from Smith to Owen.