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. World needs to limit making of nuclear fuel - UN watchdog chief
VIENNA (AFP) Jan 05, 2005
The world cannot continue allowing countries to develop the ability to make nuclear fuel that can be used to make atomic bombs, UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei told AFP Wednesday.

"We just cannot continue business as usual that every country can build its own factories for separating plutonium or enriching uranium.

"Then we are really talking about 30, 40 countries sitting on the fence with a nuclear weapons capability that could be converted into a nuclear weapon in a matter of months," ElBaradei said.

He said the international regime mandated by the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is facing a "major challenge" as countries like Iran acquire nuclear fuel cycle capabilities in what are ostensibly peaceful, power-generating programs.

The problem is that the same technology used to make fuel for nuclear reactors can also be used to manufacture the explosive material for atomic bombs.

This leaves countries free to pull out of the NPT and develop weapons, as North Korea has apparently done.

ElBaradei said that "nuclear weapons are still looked at as a weapon of choice" which countries want to obtain in order to have international clout and to protect themselves in their regions.

ElBaradei said "we just need to take the bull by the horns and address these issues," noting that he would bring this up at an NPT review conference to be held in New York in May.

The UN atomic watchdog chief said: "We need to make sure that we create a global security system that does not depend on nuclear weapons. We need to make sure that the technology is contained, controlled much better than we have it now."

ElBaradei said his International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) must have "the required authority to be able to detect early on any efforts for proliferation" by making the additional protocol to the NPT that allows for tougher inspections the "standard for verification."

But even this was not perfect.

"I would like to show our strengths but also our limitations. I do not like to mislead people into believing that we are the ones who can do it all," he said, pointing out that the IAEA's mandate is to make sure that nuclear materials are not being diverted to make weapons.

"If a country is doing computer studies on simulation for a nuclear test and if I am not able to discover that, don't come to me and say you have failed, because my mandate is very much linked to nuclear materials.

"While I can show a program through nuclear materials, I cannot stop countries from doing preparatory work independent of nuclear materials," ElBaradei said.

He said he was building on lessons learned in verifying nuclear programs in Iraq, North Korea, Iran and Libya.

One lesson was that security issues must be addressed, as is happening with six-party talks with North Korea and with the EU's efforts to get Iran to permanently abandon uranium fuel enrichment.

"In addition to fixing loopholes in the non-proliferation system, you need to address the security concerns (of countries) which continue to be the driver behind the effort to develop nuclear weapons," ElBaradei said.

"There is a need for a structural adjustment to the system. I don't think you can just think around the edges."

He said he would propose a moratorium on countries developing the nuclear fuel cycle in return for their getting guarantees of delivery of nuclear fuel for peaceful production of electricity.

This moratorium would be for "five years until we develop a better system," ElBaradei said.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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