Cablegate: Argentina - Preparations for Global Nuclear Security Summit


DE RUEHBU #0138/01 0361508
R 051507Z FEB 10



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: C-WPO-00038

1. (SBU) Emboffs met with Alberto Dojas, Deputy Director at the
MFA's Direction for International Security and Nuclear Affairs
(DIGAN), and with Francisco Spano and Elena Maceiras, respectively
Chairman and Vice-President of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency (ARN),
to discuss points raised in reftel. Our interlocutors were open
and forthcoming with the information provided. Their replies to
reftel questions follow.

2. (SBU) DIGAN officials described Argentina's main concern in
terms of nuclear security to be protection against theft or
inadvertent diversion of nuclear fuels. Although terrorist
networks were not discounted as a threat, these officials viewed
the most likely danger as being from international crime and
trafficking networks that might turn to nuclear materials as a
target of opportunity. They felt that Argentina's reactors and
fuel storage are well monitored and protected, but said that the
GOA was always open to dialogue on the topic.

3. (SBU) The officials did not offer a viewpoint on the most likely
form nuclear terrorism might take or target, but believed that all
nations have a responsibility to protect against it. They did not
discount the possibility that terrorists would in fact make use of
devices if they could obtain them. In addition to its opposition
to terrorism in any form, Argentina also has a material interest in
high safety and security standards for the industry worldwide. It
seeks participation in the global nuclear energy market and
understands that a terrorist incident would harm growth prospects,
and a theft of material in Argentina would tarnish its good image
as a reliable exporter.

4. (SBU) In terms of practical actions before the Summit, the GOA
appears fully committed to signing a bilateral agreement to
implement the Megaports initiative in country. Key longstanding
obstacles were resolved in November 2009 and the GOA is working to
have the document ready for signature prior to the Summit.

5. (SBU) ARN officials stressed that Argentina's approach to
nuclear development has historically been holistic, with no new
step taken without ensuring that a pre-existing regulatory
framework was in place. The step-by-step approach left no room to
improvisation, and the officials noted that Argentina's excellence
in safety, security and control was serving as model to neighboring
countries, such as Uruguay, Chile and Peru. The key to control and
the ARN's guiding philosophy, they said, is a thorough follow-up of
all nuclear materials throughout their life. Their message was
that a strong regulator is an important guarantee for nuclear

6. (SBU) The ARN officials identified the most likely threat to be
car-jacking, where criminals steal a vehicle, not knowing that it
is transporting a small radiation source destined to medical use,
and discard the source. Thousands of movements of nuclear sources
take place every year in Argentina, they said, with 99 percent of
them being sources for medical use. Another threat, which actually
occurred in Argentina last year, is the theft of a radiation source
for profit. In last year's case, efficient inter-agency task force
work allowed the GOA to recover the source within 48 hours and to
arrest the perpetrator. The likelihood of recovery in such a
scenario was estimated to be high and the risk of significant
contamination to be low.

7. (SBU) The ARN officials rated the threat of an attack on a
transport of nuclear material destined for a nuclear plant, or an
attack on a nuclear facility, as extremely low. They pointed out
that all nuclear facilities are protected by the Gendarmerie, a
well-trained paramilitary police force, and the Prefectura, an
equivalent of our Coast Guard. They added that a factor working in
Argentina's favor is that all of the country's nuclear plants now
use low-enriched uranium (LEU). While terrorists or criminals
could still use stolen LEU for a radiological dispersion device,
they would be many crucial and difficult steps away from being able
to use it for an improvised nuclear device.

8. (SBU) The major preoccupation for the GOA, according to the ARN,
is the threat posed by the stockpiles of highly enriched uranium
(HEU) worldwide. HEU poses a very real threat of direct use, if
ever diverted or stolen. The officials made it clear that
Argentina's answer to the threat of nuclear theft was to convert
its entire nuclear program to the use of LEU. They highlighted
their collaboration not only with neighboring countries but also
within the Ibero-American Forum of Regulators, which they
identified as an excellent venue for cooperation.

9. (SBU) As for the upcoming Summit, Argentina's major
preoccupation is to ensure that its focus is limited. The ARN
officials pointed out that the major threat worldwide is nuclear
material and not radioactive material, and they stressed that this
should remain the Summit's main axis. They viewed the IAEA's
tendency to treat both types of material in the same fashion as
misguided. They hoped that a balance would be reached at the
Summit between the actions to be taken by nations that are major
repositories of nuclear material, in particular HEU, and those that
mostly deal with radioactive sources or with LEU. They emphasized
that whichever measures will be discussed must take this into
account and be shared and balanced. While noting that it is
intrinsically each nation's responsibility to protect its own
nuclear materials, the officials highlighted the need for a
multilateral approach to security. Argentina's goal at the Summit
will be to focus on promoting LEU development and regulatory
development as ways to mitigate the nuclear threat.

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