Imagine that you are a nuclear safeguards inspector who will shortly be going to Iraq to conduct an inspection. You have to imagine yourself as a national of the Soviet Union or another Eastern bloc country. Since 1976, all inspections performed in Iraq have been have been conducted by Soviets or Hungarians. Countries have the right to veto inspectors from whatever countries they choose -- a right which they regularly exercise. As an accepted inspector, you must keep in mind that any adverse conclusions you might reach as a result of your inspections would have to take into account your country's sensitivity to how this information might affect relations with Iraq.
In preparing for the inspection, you must first give the government of Iraq several weeks' notice of your planned inspection and obtain a visa. The government may agree with the date or could, as has recently been the case, suggest you postpone or change your plans.
You are aware that, since Iraq is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the only facilities subject to your examinations are those that Iraq has declared, the the International Atomic Energy Agency, as containing either thorium, natural or depleted uranium in metal or oxide form, or plutonium. Natural uranium in the form of U3O8, commonly known as yellowcake, is not subject to safeguards, despite its potential for easy conversion to target specimens for plutonium production. You are not entitled even to look at the other facilities if Iraq has not adhered to its obligation under NPT to report to the IAEA that material subject to safeguards is located in these facilities. You are aware that the role of the inspector is limited to verifying only material declared by Iraq or France. You have no authority to look for undeclared material. Your job is to verify that the declared material accountancy balance is correct. The IAEA does not look for clandestine operations. The IAEA, in effect, conducts an accounting operation.
The amount and level of enrichment of the reactor fuel elements is indicated on your computer printout. But you notice that 100 tons of uranium in the form of U3O8 is not on the list. This is not an oversight but a reflection of the fact that, even though Portugal reported the shipment to the IAEA, it is only a formality: the 200,000 pounds of U3O8 is not subject to safeguards. Had this uranium been in a slightly reduced form, such as UO2, it would have been under safeguards; but this loophole could enable Iraq to do as it pleases with the U3O8. And so long as it does not report that the U3O8 has been converted into a material that is in the safeguarded category, you have no right to inquire of its whereabouts. You are disturbed by this because you realize that in the other Italian-supplied fuel-processing equipment, which is not under safeguards, Iraq possesses the capability to convert, in a rather simple fashion, the U3O8 to UO2 or, even better, to uranium metal.
As much as 17 to 24 kilograms of plutonium could be produced each year with the Osirak reactor. Even if only one-third of this amount was produced in the first few years of operation of the reactor, throught the use of the attendant processing facilities Iraq could acquire a stockpile of plutonium sufficent to make several atomic bombs.
Equally disturbing to you as an inspector is the realization that under the present negotiated agreement between the IAEA and Iraq, you will be limited to only three inspections per year, usually spaced at approximately four-month intervals. By the time you arrive to verify the declared inventory of fuel elements that power the reactor, all evidence of illicit irradiations could be covered up.
You may now be wondering what exactly an inspector actually does in the course of performing a safeguard inspection of the Osirak nuclear complex. Your inspection assignment is actually quite narrowly focused. First, you will sit down with the operator of the nuclear reactor and review your computer listing of the nuclear material that has been declared to the IAEA. You will determine that the amount recorded by the operator is consistent with the amount reported to the IAEA by France.
If there is new, unirradiated fuel in the inventory, you will determine that the elements have not been replaced by dummy replica fuel. This is particularly important in the case of the Osirak fuel, since it would be a relatively easy matter to melt down the weapons-grade highly enriched uranium fuels plates for use in a nuclear bomb.
If the fuel elements are already in the reactor and have been irradiated, the inspection procedure normally requires that you visually identify the fuel elements. They can normally be observed under the approximately 20 feet of water. To confirm that these elements are not dummies, you have the right to ask the operator to turn on the reactor. You should then see a characteristic blue glow.
You will now return to Vienna and report that your inspection disclosed no discrepancies between the operator's records and that of the agency. The difficult part of the job is that you must prepare yourself mentally to ignore the many signs that may indicate the presence of clandestine activites going on in the facilities adjacent to the reactor -- facilities that you were not permitted to inspect. You wil try to forget that you have just been party to a very misleading process.
I was prompted a year ago to write of my concerns about Osirak to the Department of I was prompted a year ago to write of my concerns about Osirak to the Department of State U.S. mission to the IAEA:
"The available information points to an aggressive, coordinated program by Iraq to develop a nuclear weapons capability during the next five years.
"As a nuclear safeguards inspector at the IAEA, my concern and complaint is that Iraq will be able to conduct this program under the auspices of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and while violating the provisions of NPT. The IAEA safeguards are totally incapable of detecting the production of plutonium in large-size material test reactors under the presently constituted safeguards arrangements. Perhaps the most disturbing implication of the Iraqi nuclear program is that the NPT agreement has had the effect of assisting Iraq in acquiring the nuclear technology and nuclear material for its program by absolving the cooperating nations of their moral responsibility by shifting it to the IAEA. These cooperating nations have thwarted concerted international criticism of their actions by pointing to Iraq's signing of NPT, while turning away from the numerous, obvious and compelling evidence which leads to the conclusion that Iraq is embarked on a nuclear weapons program."