Jeffrey LewisBrazil: Milhollin goes HEU over Resende

Readers may have noticed references over the past few days to a long-running dispute between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Brazil over access to a Brazilian facility to enrich uranium, INB Resende.

The dispute centers over whether the inspectors need to actually see the centrifuges in operation or not. The IAEA claims that the inspectors require such access; Brazil worries about the the loss of proprietary information.

The major news story was that Brazil and the IAEA were closing in on a deal. Secretary Powell noted similar disputes in the past had been resolved and expressed confidence that Brazil and the IAEA would “will work it out this time” as well. A source “close to the talks” told Reuters to expect a deal in less than 30 days.

Enter Gary Milhollin at the Wisconsin Project On Nuclear Arms Control. When it comes to press, Milhollin wears the red dress. As Brazil and the IAEA move toward resolution, Milhollin has published an article in Science called “Brazil’s Nuclear Puzzle” that points out the plant could produce enough HEU for 5-6 implosion type warheads. (Science requires a subscription, but The Wisconsin Project has made the article available on its website.)

The Brazilian government promptly issued an angry response. “They can only be the result of misinformation or motivated by shadowy interests,” said the president of Brazil’s National Nuclear Energy Commission, Odair Dias Goncalves, “Both motives are incompatible with the tradition of such a prestigious magazine like Science.”

He may have a point. To say that Milhollin was a major culprit in whipping up hysteria over Saddam’s bomb is an understatement. Milhollin compared Hans Blix to a crab that will scurry sideways … shunning confrontation. All you need to know about Milhollin was captured by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (“Arms control in a battle of its own: Retired UW professor doubts weapons checks can control nuclear threats,” April 1, 2003, p.01A):

  • “Milhollin is a lawyer, not a scientist. He has an engineering degree, and he gained some technical fluency as an administrative judge for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”
  • “Milhollin’s most important skill may be public relations. He is widely quoted and widely published. He has published four op-ed pieces in the New York Times since 1997, three in the Wall Street Journal since last fall.”

That tells you a lot about Milhollin’s latest missive in Science magazine. Everyone agrees that Resende needs to be safeguarded, particularly in light of Brazil’s nuclear weapons history. Hence, the negotiations.

Ostensibly claiming to be a technical analysis of the capacity of INB Resende, Milhollin’s real argument is political. “If Brazil succeeds in denying the IAEA access to its centrifuges,” Milhollin and a colleague write, “Iran can demand the same treatment. Under the NPT, there is no legal ground for treating the two countries differently.”

Not precisely the analysis for which I read Science. Particularly, since it seems wrong. Milhollin is the lawyer here, but as I understand the situation, Brazil (along with Argentina) has a unique legal arrangement with the IAEA.

Brazil, Argentina, the IAEA, and the ABACC (Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials) signed a quadripartite agreement in December 1991 to allow for full-scope IAEA safeguards of Argentine and Brazilian nuclear installations. That agreement permitted both countries to maintain rights to “technological secrets,” to develop nuclear energy for the propulsion of submarines and established a relationship between the IAEA and the ABACC. Marco A. Marzo and Hugo E. Vicens of ABACC explain that:

The special thing in this agreement is the relationship between ABACC and the Agency. ABACC and the Agency, when applying safeguards activities, shall be guided by the following principles: First, they need to reach independent conclusions. Second, they need to coordinate, to the greatest extent possible, their activities for the optimal implementation of the agreement and to avoid unnecessary duplication. Of course, item A and B are conflicting, because the Agency has to avoid the unnecessary duplication of ABACC activities, but has to reach independent conclusions. This is always very difficult in day-by-day life.

I can’t see a similar precedent for Iran, nor can I imagine that the pages of Science magazine are the appropriate forum for this discussion. But this isn’t really about hunting bears, is it?

Late Update: The IAEA and Brazil reached a deal in November 2004 that “allowed [IAEA inspectors] to view pipes and valves of the centrifuges but [not] other centrifuge components.”