Netherlands - Plutonium Investigation n°11

Nuclear Proliferation and Dual-Use Technology

Even though there is no (known) nuclear weapons programme in the Netherlands, the Dutch nuclear industry has somehow contributed to the development of nuclear weapons in other countries, in at least three ways.

First, the participation in reprocessing programmes in France and in the UK have induced commercial contracts with the same companies which have supplied plutonium to the military programmes, notably COGEMA in France. In Britain, it is clear that the commercial company BNFL has benefited from subsidies and the R&D carried out for the weapons plutonium user, the Atomic Weapons Establishment.

Secondly, when one looks at the legal aspects, according to the European nuclear community agreements (Euratom), special fissile materials in the European Union are the property of Euratom. However, Euratom lets each member country manage its own fissile materials. The Netherlands has sent its spent nuclear fuel - which contains uranium and other radionuclides, including plutonium - to France and to the UK. Both these countries have developed such an intricate industry that nuclear materials for civil and military uses are in some conditions mixed together. For instance, plutonium from the La Hague reprocessing plant; which has processed spent fuel from commercial reactors in Europe and in Japan, has been used for the French fast-breeder reactor programme. Fast-breeder reactors in France (Phénix and Superphénix) have generated plutonium with characteristics to be used in the military programme. The French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) has admitted that the Phénix reactor has not been subject to international nuclear safeguards verifications because it has been used for defense purposes. There is no legal constraint, no bilateral or multilateral agreement, nor any technical constraint which could have forbidden or prevented the use of Dutch materials in the French nuclear weapons programme. Admitting this fact for Dutch authorities was an implicit participation in the French nuclear weapons programme. The situation is similar in the UK although it has no operating fast reactor to convert plutonium.

Thirdly, the Dutch-British-German company URENCO, which operates a uranium enrichment plant at Almelo, has acted as a covert conduit of weapons useable nuclear technology know-how. Blueprints for centrifuge technology to enrich uranium - which can be used to generate highly enriched uranium for military programmes - has been obtained illegally by both the military programmes in Iraq and in Pakistan. For instance, in April 1979, the US Government terminated military aid to Pakistan after it emerged in 1978 that the Pakistani uranium enrichment centrifuge technology had been illegally and clandestinely obtained from a spy, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, based at the URENCO plant in Almelo. Dr. Khan is now considered the father of the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme, which was made public with the nuclear testing in Pakistan at the end of May 1998. Also, a now retired German born engineer, Bruno Stemmler, five years ago admitted that in 1988-89 he had assisted the Iraqi uranium enrichment programme, using knowledge he had gained first during 1969-72, part of which he worked at the early MAN-URENCO centrifuge project at Almelo.

Back to contents
Want to print this report ? Download the newsletter in the Pdf format ( 660 Ko ).