Mongolia’s Contribution to a Nuclear-Weapon-Free-World and the Problem of Nuclear Energy Security
Professor Myagmar Dovchin, (Sc.D)
Director, Mongolian Institute of Geopolitical Studies
Mongolia’s contribution to a nuclear-weapon-free-world
One of the main goals of Mongolian foreign policy is to ensure its security by political and diplomatic means. In the framework of implementing this goal, it has been 25 years since Mongolia declared its territory a nuclear- weapon-free zone in 1992.
So far, our initiative to establish a single-state nuclear-weapon-free zone has received understanding and support from many countries of the world including the nuclear weapon states, and from the United Nations. It is considered a substantial contribution to international efforts to promote a nuclear-weapon-free world.
Because of its geographical location, tensions on the Korean peninsula as well as the conflict of interests of great powers, Mongolia places great importance on nuclear issues and firmly supports nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy since its ratification of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and other international instruments.
During the Cold war, Soviet troops were deployed in Mongolia. My country at that time was aligned against China, a newly emerging nuclear weapon state. In other words, during the Sino-Soviet split, which lasted from the mid 60s until the late 80s, Mongolia remained under the constant threat of becoming a possible nuclear battlefield. Fortunately, thanks to the improvement of Soviet-China relations, Soviet troops withdrew from Mongolia in 1992.
However, it is impossible to say that the nuclear danger, which may threaten Mongolia, has totally vanished. 27 percent of all nuclear tests of the world were conducted in the vicinity of Mongolia. The environmental and health consequences of these tests have not been thoroughly studied. Today, more than 20 nuclear facilities, including nuclear weapons and nuclear waste repositories of Russia and China, still operate in the proximity of Mongolian borders.
Considering the abovementioned reasons, the Mongolian government upgraded the country’s nuclear-weapon-free-existence to official state policy, and in 1992, from the UN rostrum, solemnly proclaimed its territory a nuclear-weapon-free zone.
From its very beginning, Mongolia’s initiative had been welcomed in principle by its two neighbors and other countries of the world. In doing so, they accepted Mongolia’s policy of neutrality; its desire not to be involved in different kinds of plans and calculations of nuclear strategy of its two neighbors and other nuclear powers. On 4 December 1998, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on “Mongolia’s International Security and Nuclear-Weapon-Free Status” without a vote. The resolution welcomed the declaration by Mongolia of its nuclear-weapon-free status and invited member states, including the five nuclear-weapon states, to cooperate and support it. Since then, Mongolia’s efforts to institutionalize its nuclear-weapon-free status through international law have been advancing, though at a moderate pace. Among the measures taken at the national level, adoption of a Law defining its nuclear-weapon-free status in 2000 was a historic turning point. The joint statement by five permanent members of the UN Security Council on security assurances to Mongolia was a one of the first expressions of their endorsement of Mongolia’s initiative.
In September 2001, representatives of Mongolia and of the five permanent member states of the UN Security Council met unofficially to discuss the institutionalization of Mongolia’s nuclear-weapon-free status and adopted two concrete recommendations. They advised the Mongolian government to either conclude a trilateral treaty with China and Russia, its two neighbors or a multilateral treaty with all the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Following the first recommendation, in 2002, the Mongolian government proposed to the governments of its two neighboring countries to conclude a trilateral treaty. By concluding such a treaty, Mongolia’s two neighbors would commit to respecting Mongolia’s status. In principle, they agreed to adopt a legal instrument and shared their views with Mongolia regarding its possible content. Based on these proposals, Mongolia drafted the treaty and submitted it to its neighbors in September 2007. Mongolia also consulted with them about the draft treaty in March and September of 2009.
The draft reflects not only the traditional positions of the three countries about nuclear-weapon-free zones, but also contains some specific provisions related to Mongolia’s unique geopolitical location between two great and nuclear powers. In addition, it defines their responsibilities in consolidating Mongolia’s nuclear-weapon-free status. Like other nuclear-weapon-free zones, the draft treaty also covers issues like the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, the safeguarding and verification of nuclear material, as well as dispute settlement. It also has an additional protocol which would invite the other three nuclear powers — USA, the United Kingdom and France — to respect Mongolia’s status and to assist in the implementation of the trilateral treaty.
On September 17 2012, permanent representatives to the UN of the five nuclear weapon states signed a joint declaration to provide security assurances to Mongolia by officially recognizing the country’s nuclear weapon free status as agreed on August 23 of the same year in Geneva. This was a specific expression of the success of Mongolia’s consistent nuclear-weapon-free policy, especially the country’s commitment to institutionalize its independent nuclear-weapon-free status through international support. The declaration mainly stipulates that the five nuclear weapon states will welcome Mongolia’s legislation on its nuclear-weapon-free status, and affirm their intent to respect Mongolia’s status and not to contribute any act that would violate it.[i]
To sum up, Mongolia’s initiative to establish a single-state nuclear-weapon-free zone is receiving growing support from the international community. Mongolia’s successful conclusion of a trilateral treaty with China and Russia will help it to become a full-fledged member of an emerging network of nuclear-weapon-free zones. It would not only institutionalize its status officially through international law, but would also mark a huge success for Mongolia’s peaceful foreign policy, and serve as an important leverage to raise the country’s positive image and reputation on the international stage. Furthermore, it would serve as an important contribution to the creation of a collective security system in Northeast Asia.
The Problem of Nuclear Energy Security
Mongolia declared its territory free of nuclear weapons in 1992, and since then it has been taking sequential and steadfast actions to recognize this initiative at a national level, to make it state policy and to confirm along with international treaties.
In the last 25 years more and more countries have started to acknowledge and support this initiative, valuing international efforts to create a collective security system for Northeast Asian security. This is a great achievement of peace-oriented Mongolian foreign policy as well as a testimony to the significant process Mongolia has made in building its reputation on the international stage.
The next policy Mongolia will make in the nuclear arena is to enable the mining of uranium and the production of nuclear power. In 2009, the State Great Khural (Parliament) ratified the Law on Nuclear Energy[ii] and Mongolia’s state policy on radioactive resources and nuclear energy,[iii] attracting the attention of not only Mongolians but of the whole world.
Besides that, the extraction and export of nuclear raw materials, the building of atomic power plants, the import of nuclear fuel, and adherence to international monitoring regimes — as always necessitated by the production of nuclear power — have to be considered. Indeed, the prevention of any accident and harm to people and the environment due to unspent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste are factors of nuclear security to keep ones eyes on when making policies at the governmental level.
Thus, countries violating or not joining the NPT, along with terrorist organizations abusing nuclear raw materials and enriched uranium, will be blocked according to Mongolian law, implemented by the government to carry out its responsibilities.
Main Issues Surrounding Nuclear Energy Security
Disarmament, nonproliferation and the use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes are reflected in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty which sets up a legal framework for implementation.
Nuclear power is a comparatively new source of energy, attracting more and more attention from numerous countries because of its potential to be less harmful than coal and some other sources. In order to meet energy security requirements, we need to have a trusted source of energy; hence, more countries are considering choosing nuclear energy. On the other hand, the production of nuclear fuel brings many risks associated with technological or human error, as well as proliferation risks related to attempts at nuclear weapons production.
The major raw material in nuclear energy production is uranium. Uranium is very common on earth, can be found even in geopolitically small countries, commanding attention for international security reasons. The cost of the uranium itself is only a small part of the total expense of nuclear power production, leading nuclear power plant owners to not to worry about the price of uranium. Also, strategically preserving uranium for years is easy and financially insignificant.
There have been occasions in some countries, including Russia and China. where reactors have had to be shut down in order that the nuclear plants be renovated or repaired, or because of changes in general safety and security requirements. However, those countries have managed to promote high standards of security without losing trust in and reliability of their power supply.
In order to implement the NPT and to prevent any terrorist actions, international organizations monitor nuclear fuel market. However, a specialized international organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has monitoring rules which supplement every country’s laws on the use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes, allowing trade of nuclear materials.
The problems of supplying and safeguarding of reactor fuel, the storing of spent fuel and the burying of nuclear waste are some of the main issues in promoting the security of nuclear fuel production. Also, in recent years, the spread and abuse of nuclear materials by terrorists has also been discussed. We therefore have to create a multilateral monitoring system for nuclear fuel production.
The idea of subjecting nuclear fuel production to multilateral monitoring is not new. In the beginning of the nuclear era in 1946, it was first reflected in Baruch[iv] and Gromyko’s[v] plans and never excluded in subsequent contracts and treaties. The main principle behind the idea is that nuclear fuel production should not be under the control of a single state, but rather a group of countries or international organizations. The purpose of multilateral monitoring is to coordinate nuclear power production with the objective of international security thereby prohibiting the uncontrolled spread and theft of nuclear raw materials and stopping their use for terrorist actions. Multilateral monitoring helps countries to manage their nuclear objectives as well as save on the costs this would entail. Moreover it is a strong tool for enhancing trust among states and has the ultimate goal of assembling real conditions to promote security in this high-tech and risky field.
International Nuclear Power Security and a Mechanism of Cooperation
“Towards a Safer World”, the 2003 Economist article by former IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei,[vi] clearly mentions the need to subject nuclear fuel production to multilateral monitoring. The point of his article was that the level of management of the processes of uranium enrichment and reprocessing, as well as the disposal of spent fuel and nuclear waste, must be increased.
In 2004, under the initiative of ElBaradei, an international team of experts was formed in order to research this issue. This team published a report entitled “Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle.”[vii] Since then, governments, representatives of the nuclear field and international organizations have come up with around 12 significant proposals. Below is a brief summary of some of those proposals, published in a 2007 IAEA report[viii]:
1. Preparing reserves for nuclear fuel /September 2005/: On the occasion of the 49th General Conference of the IAEA, the USA promised to downgrade 17 tons of high-enriched uranium to low-enriched to supply nuclear fuel to countries which had stopped enrichment and reprocessing.
2. Creating Global Nuclear Power Infrastructure /January 2006/: The Russian Federation proposed the creation of a Global Nuclear Power Infrastructure (GNPI). This infrastructure would aim to give equal rights to countries which actively participate in the campaign of nuclear nonproliferation to use nuclear power. If things were to happen according to this initiative, there would be suitable conditions to establish international stations running the service of nuclear fuel production, particularly the enrichment of uranium, under the control and guidance of IAEA, based on the rule of equal treatment.
3. Global Nuclear Energy Partnership /February 2006/: The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), initiated by countries like the USA with highly developed nuclear technology proposes the formation of a joint consortium. This consortium would aim to reliably supply nuclear fuel to countries that refused to invest in enrichment and reprocessing.
4. World Nuclear Association /May 2006/: This association proposed a mechanism of three levels of uranium enrichment services. The goal of this proposal was to give a joint guarantee to enriching companies responsible for security in front of the IAEA and their governments, in accordance with the present-day world market’s need for raw materials. It also aimed to promote supply security using those countries’ stocks of enriched uranium, which is currently under the control of individual governments.
5. Concept for a multilateral mechanism for reliably access to nuclear fuel /June 2006/: Some countries engaged in the enrichment of nuclear fuel (USA, UK, Russia, Germany, France, Netherlands) recommended a two-level verification of supply. If this proposal comes into practice, these countries would reliably supply nuclear fuel to other countries that comply with the NPT, compensating each other when the supply runs dry, and deciding together whether to replenish low-enriched uranium.
6. IAEA’s coordination of a system of reserves /September 2006/: Japan recommended an information network on nuclear fuel reserves as an amendment to the previous proposal. This information network would be administrated by the IAEA, saving and spreading information gathered voluntarily from member states.
7. IAEA’s nuclear fuel bank /September 2006/: The Preventing Nuclear Threats Initiative submitted a proposal to the IAEA to help create a reserve of low-enriched uranium. The reserves would be used when the supply is diminished.
8. International center for enriching uranium /January and May 2007/: Within the framework of establishing global nuclear power infrastructure, Russia recommended building an international center for enriching uranium in Angarsk. This center will be situated in the Electrolyze chemical complex of Angarsk, and will promote verification of the supply of enriched uranium to participant countries. There is also the idea to create a repository of low-enriched uranium in order to make supply and export more efficient.
9. The project of establishing an enrichment center with multilateral monitoring /May 2007/: Proposal submitted by Germany. This center would work under the control of the IAEA when it trades, becoming a new supplier on the market. With this proposal, customers would have the opportunity to purchase nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes under strict control.
10. Subjecting nuclear fuel production to multilateral monitoring /May 2007/: Initiated by Austria. They recommended a two-level multilateral monitoring mechanism. The first level aims to increase transparency of the IAEA; the next level is a Nuclear Fuel Bank which would control the supply of nuclear fuel. Also, one of the most important ideas was to create opportunities to take part in monitoring.
11. Documentation of unofficial nuclear fuel production /June 2007/: The European Union submitted a proposal of some requirements for a multilateral mechanism of nuclear fuel supply. This includes the guarantee of market neutrality, regardless of their nuclear weapon status, and that each country should have an equal right to supply nuclear fuel to the market and conduct verification relating to other countries.
Experts determine, however, that while these proposals and projects differ from each other in terms of long-term objectives, area of impact, strategy and implementation timeline, most of them focus on monitoring of the supply of nuclear fuel. However, Russia’s proposal of establishing a Global Nuclear Power Infrastructure, the US proposal for a Global Energy Partnership, and the Austrian two-level multilateral monitoring mechanism are attracting much more attention, as they aim to encompass not only supply of nuclear fuel but also enrichment and reprocessing.
In the researchers’ opinion, modest proposals and projects have the advantage that they can be carried out in a short period. Unfortunately these small projects are less beneficial to customer countries, giving more dominance to supplier countries — suspected to be part of the secret strategy. Bigger proposals and projects are really multilateral, allowing customer countries to gain more. But to implement these, an enormous construction of infrastructure and solutions to political, legal and economic issues would be needed, requiring a great amount of time.
To promote nuclear energy security, countries such as Mongolia should carefully consider the conventions, initiatives and international organizations shown below:
Treaties we can join:
· International Convention on Nuclear Security
· Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management
· Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency
· Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage
· Paris Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy
Multilateral initiatives with which we can cooperate:
· The International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation (formerly the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership)
· IAEA’s rules on the safety of radioactive material management and the safety of preservation, additional rules of import and export of radioactive resources
· International Uranium Enrichment Center (Russian proposal)
Organizations with which we can cooperate:
· International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
· International Conference on Nuclear Security
· Educational program for the operation of civil nuclear sites
Cooperation on the Promotion of Security of Nuclear Power in the Asia-Pacific Region
Another issue receiving a lot of attention is whether we should consider independent proposals and initiatives to promote the security of nuclear power in the Asia-Pacific region.
- Research should be conducted specifically on the proposal to establish a “Free independent zone of enrichment and reprocessing” involving ASEAN members. Establishing this zone may prevent the secret production of nuclear weapons in the guise of a civil nuclear power programme.
- An international group of East Asian nuclear energy experts should be convened and their activities supported. Mongolia should see if its support could in any way benefit their activities, which should be carried out in a transparent manner. The group’s activities should aim to study the development of a multilateral monitoring system for nuclear fuel production.
- It would be prudent to consider establishing an Asia Pacific Atomic Energy Association or regional verification mechanism for nuclear security, similar to EURATOM[ix] and ABACC[x]. The Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific submitted such a proposal, not to replace the role of the IAEA but to lighten its burden, initiated by CSCAP.[xi]
We should consider suggestions to create cooperation mechanisms on the issue of nuclear power for the Asia-Pacific:
- Establishing an international nuclear power administrating organization that has the right to decide ownership of nuclear raw materials in the region, sharing the cost of providing a mechanism of security with the IAEA. It could jointly support countries in the region to produce nuclear fuel centrally and coordinate the development of a nuclear security study in the framework of international contracts and conventions.
- Reacting when accidents related to nuclear energy occur in the region, planning and prioritizing international work, as well as providing a mechanism of international cooperation.
- Providing help for developing countries to develop a national strategy for nuclear power in cooperation with countries where nuclear technology has proven to be lucrative; calculating risks of making stocks; promoting safety and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons; and seriously considering the problem of nuclear fuel supply, spent fuel management and disposal by burying.
- Establishing an Asia-Pacific information gathering and dissemination center by exchanging best practices and conducting training.
- Establishing a central repository for spent radioactive nuclear fuel.
- Developing international cooperation in the region so as to assemble qualified human resources in the field of nuclear energy.
- Activating international technical cooperation on the management of spent nuclear fuel and waste.
- Joint researching promotion of safety on nuclear sites and broadening the process of information exchange, creating general standards on the management of spent fuel and waste, and establishing regional organizations to experiment with new proposals and technologies.
In conclusion, Mongolia has made significant achievements with regard to the use of nuclear power. Mongolia has declared its territory a nuclear-weapon-free zone, actively pursuing recognition in this regard — which it is likely to continue to receive from many countries. It can serve as an exemplar country with sound policies for promoting safety of nuclear power and related activities. Cooperating effectively with other countries in this field will ultimately tie in with Mongolia’s fundamental interests.
[i] U.N. Security Council, 67th Year. Letter dated 20 September 2012 from the Permanent Representatives of China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General. (A/67/393–S/2012/721). Official Record. New York, 2012.
[ii] Law of Mongolia on Nuclear Energy, Jul 16, 2009, http://legal-policy.mn/uploads/files/1437032892-85658440.pdf.
[iii] “45 dugaar togtoolyn khavsralt” 45 дугаар тогтоолын хавсралт [Parliament of Mongolia Annex to Resolution 45] 2009, http://www.legalinfo.mn/annex/details/3309?lawid=6174.
[iv] “The Baruch Plan” (Presented to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, June 14, 1946),
[v] Address by the Soviet Representative (Andrei Gromyko) to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, June 19, 1946, https://www.scribd.com/document/323042045/Gromyko-Plan-1946.
[vii] “Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, Expert Group Report to the Director General of the IAEA”, February 22, 2005, http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/mna-2005_web.pdf.
[viii] “Annual Report”, International Atomic Energy Agency, 2007, https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/publications/reports/2007/anrep2007_full.pdf.
[ix] EURATOM: the European Atomic Energy Community, an international organization founded in 1957. See https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/h2020-section/euratom.