U.S. Begins Destroying Last Batch of Sarin
The United States has begun the final step in destroying chemical weapon munitions at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Kentucky, the Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives announced in January. The site began destroying its stored munitions in June 2019, and by the end of January, 18 tons of chemical agent, representing 3.4 percent of the original stockpile stored at Blue Grass, had been destroyed, including the first munitions containing sarin.
The 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention called for destroying all Schedule 1 agents, including mustard and sarin gases, within 10 years of its entry into force. The United States missed this deadline and a subsequent April 2012 completion target. (See ACT, May 2006.) Today, the remaining U.S. chemical munitions are housed at the Blue Grass facility and at the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Colorado.
Speaking on the January milestone of beginning destruction of a sarin-filled munition at Blue Grass, the plant’s site manager told the Lexington Herald Leader that “this is another major milestone toward eliminating the total chemical weapons stockpile in Kentucky.” At the Pueblo site, destruction of munitions containing more than 2,600 tons of mustard agent is ongoing.—JULIA MASTERSON
Nuclear Powers Discuss Arms Control
Nuclear-armed powers discussed a range of arms control issues during a Feb. 11–12 meeting in London in advance of this year’s nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, scheduled to begin in April. Representatives from the five NPT-recognized nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) joined participants from 16 non-nuclear-weapon states to address topics such as nuclear transparency, disarmament, and verification.
Thomas Drew, a senior UK Foreign Office official, chaired the conference. The other nuclear power delegations were led by Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation; David Bertolotti, director of strategic affairs, security, and disarmament in the French Foreign Ministry; Vladimir Leontiev, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s nonproliferation and arms control department; and Fu Cong, director-general of the Department of Arms Control of the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Cong said the nuclear-weapon states are “responsible for strengthening coordination and cooperation and ensuring the success” of the NPT review conference, according to a Feb. 14 statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
He also commented on efforts by the Trump administration to engage Beijing in arms control talks with the United States and Russia. “It is neither fair nor reasonable to encourage the Chinese side to join trilateral arms control negotiations,” he said.
The United States nevertheless encouraged Chinese participation. “Beijing poses a serious threat to strategic security given the trajectory of its nuclear build-up,” said Robert Wood, U.S. permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament, in a Feb. 19 tweet.
The five nuclear powers plan to host a side event during the NPT review conference to “exchange perspectives and answer questions about how we think about nuclear weapons, doctrine, and disarmament issues,” Ford said in December.—SHANNON BUGOS
U.S. Indicts Five for Smuggling to Pakistan
The United States has indicted five men for engineering a network to procure U.S. goods for Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs, the Justice Department announced on Jan. 15. The men, from Canada, Hong Kong, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom, are accused of operating a network of 29 companies in the United States from September 2014 until October 2019, when the indictment was issued.
The five indicted are reportedly involved with a front company called Business World located in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. The federal court indictment charged the company’s associates with conspiring to violate the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the 2018 Export Control Reform Act (ECRA).
In total, the indictment identified 38 U.S. exports that were transported through the network to the Advanced Engineering Research Organization (AERO) and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). Both AERO and PAEC fall on the U.S. Commerce Department’s Entity List alongside other organizations that defy “U.S. national security or foreign policy interests” and have since 2014 and 1998, respectively.
Under the IEEPA and the ECRA, export licenses are required for goods to be transported to organizations on the Commerce Entity List. The Business World associates did not apply for nor obtain such licenses.
A U.S. Homeland Security Department official cited in the Justice Department release said the indictment was “a result of ongoing coordination and collaborative counter proliferation efforts” by various U.S. government bodies, including the Commerce, Defense, and Homeland Security departments.—JULIA MASTERSON
France, China Push Reprocessing
France is pressing forward with a plan to construct a French-built nuclear fuel reprocessing facility in China, but the exact site remains unannounced despite a Jan. 31 deadline to determine the cost and location of the plant.
The deadline for establishing plans for the facility, to be built by the French company Orano, was set by French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a November 2019 meeting. In 2016, China suspended preliminary work in the town of Lianyungang in the Jiangsu province after protests by local residents.
Orano, formerly Areva, reached a “protocol agreement” to build the facility, projected to cost $12 billion with a capacity of 800 tons, with China National Nuclear Corp. during Macron’s January 2018 visit to Beijing. The following June, Orano agreed to perform preparatory work, estimated at $23 million, for the future reprocessing plant, but the agreement only covered project management and quality control paperwork and expired at the end of 2018. No definitive contract between the two has been signed, despite more than a decade of negotiations.
According to Orano’s website, “negotiations are now in their final stage,” with the plan to “start the plant commercial operation in the early 2030s.”
Besides France, Russia is the only other country to recycle nuclear fuel, a process that separates plutonium and uranium from other materials contained in the spent fuel from nuclear reactors.—SHANNON BUGOS