Sep 072007

There’s a whole slew of good reasons to NOT sell uranium to Russia.

I’ve already alluded to a few in this tome. We’re told ad infinitum, however, that selling uranium to India and now Russia is perfectly alright and inherently safe because these are reputable nations, not outrageously rogue states. Let’s recall for a moment that Iraq under Saddam Hussein wasn’t considered a rogue state by the United States, or even the UN, not so many years ago.
I’m endlessly amused by protestations from ‘Dolly’ Downer against the nay-sayers to these sales, on the basis that purchaser nations will sign a piece of paper promising fervently that our uranium won’t be directed towards military endeavours. Russia has it’s own uranium, by the way. What relevance that factoid has to the issue totally escapes me, I’m afraid. Pardon my cynacism, but (a) just what importance does this so-called ‘Nuclear Safeguards Agreement’ have in the grand scheme, and (b) how the hell is an anonymous substance like yellowcake tracked once it’s emptied from it’s drum? Let’s be frank and admit that once uranium oxide is converted to the gaseous uranium hexafluoride, there cannot possibly be any definitive method for tracking a given quantity of the base isotopes. It’s a physical impossibility. Perusal of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987 gives no indication as to just how this safeguarding of non-military use takes place. Responsibility for the inspection process lies with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and even in their copious spread of information, you’ll be very hard-pressed to find anything definitive regarding the actual process of ensuring that nations which have entered into safeguard agreements aren’t contravening those agreements. Lots and warm, fuzzy motherhood stuff, but nothing hard & fast.
From what I’ve been able to ascertain, the IAEA safeguards monitoring process is wholly dependent upon member states honouring the agreements they’ve entered into, providing assurances by way of regular reports on movements of fissile or raw materials, accounting of storage facilities, processing facilities and all associated methods for same, regular updating of safeguard procedures in regard to scientific advances in processing methods, and so on. No where will you find, dear reader, any information on just how a given quantity of U3O8, once converted to UF6 is traced and accounted for. Follow the enrichment process, the centrifugal process for example, through it’s cascading process and pretty soon you’ll realise that such accounting is a physical impossibility.
Now take into account that Russia has an appalling record for tracking it’s own fissile materials. This passage from a paper entitled “Towards a comprehensive safeguards system: keeping fissile material out of terrorists hands” by Siegfried Hecker of Stanford University makes particularly disturbing reading:

The Russian nuclear complex was most vulnerable in the early and mid-1990s. We are fortunate that nothing really terrible happened in the Russian nuclear complex. Credit goes to the loyalty of Russian nuclear workers and to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program. Over the past five years, the Russian government has enhanced physical security at its sites and reduced economic hardship for its nuclear stewards. But the Russian complex remains excessively large, and the amount of weapons-usable materials is staggering. Unfortunately, cooperative efforts have yielded significant improvements in control and accounting in only a limited number of facilities. To my knowledge, Russia has neither a baseline inventory of fissile materials produced nor a reconciliation of what exists today with what has been produced and used. There is apparently no incentive to pursue one. Enhanced physical protection and reemergence of strong security services provide only temporary protection. It is time for Russia to make the commitment to and investment in a comprehensive, modern MPC&A system for all of its facilities. The United States can help, but only if Russia takes the lead.

But, ‘Dolly’ Downer tells us that all is well. That Russia wouldn’t knowingly contravene any safeguards agreement. I think the salient point in this matter is that clearly, Russia wouldn’t know if it had contravened a safeguards agreement. However, damn the WMD’s it’s full speed ahead on that road to hell in a handbasket for Australian uranium oxide. Trust in your government, Australia! Would they tell you a lie?