Nuclear Power and World Peace

It is sometimes argued against nuclear power and nuclear weapons that it poses such a serious threat to world peace that all nuclear activities, including nuclear power plants, should be abandoned. However, nuclear weapons certainly pose a serious danger, but there are already several nations with nuclear weapons and it is too late to abolish them; the cat has already been let out of the bag. Furthermore, a major source of international conflict is the scramble for the remaining oil, which has already destabilised the Middle East.

Although the United States has been a leading oil producer since the mid-nineteenth century, its production peaked in 1972 and since then the rising demand has been met by importing oil. American companies have obtained oil from Saudi Arabia since 1939 and subsequently it has been a major supplier of US oil. As President Roosevelt said in 1947; 'the defence of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defence of the US'. US military bases such as that at Dharahan were established in the Middle East and in 1957 President Eisenhower was willing to use US troops to defend the area against Soviet Russia (Nuclear Issues, April 2005).

This policy was continued during the following years by President Nixon who supported Iran until the fall of the Shah. President Carter re-affirmed this policy, 'declaring in 1980 that to protect its vital interests the US would use any means necessary, including military force'. President Reagan increased the US forces in the Gulf and supported the Saudi royal family: 'There is no way we would stand by and see Saudi Arabia taken over by anyone who would shut off the oil'. When Sadam Hussein invaded Kuwait US and British troops repelled him. Subsequently Iraq was invaded to remove Saddam Hussein and secure continuing access to oil

If the USA considers it necessary to take such drastic measures to secure its oil supplies, it is optimistic to expect other powerful countries not to do the same. This is a potentially explosive situation.

The pressure to secure the diminishing oil is likely to intensify when the demand outstrips the supply, and this time is not far off. Conflicts that have already caused thousands of casualties and inflicted widespread devastation are likely to intensify and spread to other countries.

These very real dangers can be avoided, or at least rendered less severe, if another source of power becomes available, and nuclear power is the only source able to do this on the scale needed. Thus far from being a threat to world peace, nuclear power is the only way to avoid the escalation of the conflicts that are already taking place.

The existing stocks of plutonium, amounting to several hundred tons, can be used as fuel in nuclear reactors, the modern equivalent to beating swords into ploughshares. In 2004, 225 tonnes of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium from 9000 warheads was bought from Russia by the US Enrichment Corporation. When diluted, this uranium can also be used a fuel in nuclear reactors. The Russians plan to use the payment of $450M to improve safety, care of the environment and increased security.

As mentioned in Section 2.3, world oil production is likely to peak in a decade or two, and thereafter fall steadily. The supply of natural gas is expected to peak a decade later, and thereafter to fall rapidly. At the same time the demand for oil and gas continues to increase, so it is inevitable that soon the demand will exceed the supply. The price of oil will rise sharply and this will have serious and extensive repercussions. The most immediate effect will be on all forms of transport, which already use about 65% of world oil. The cost of transport will increase and many people will no longer be able to afford a car. Road transport of food and manufactured goods will become more expensive, and this will be passed on to the consumer. Already there is strong pressure to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars and lorries and this can be met by transferring to hydrogen-driven vehicles. The hydrogen has to be produced, and this can best be done without further carbon dioxide emissions by using nuclear power. The requisite technology is not fully developed, so it is likely that the first commercial hydrogen-powered vehicles will be more expensive than those at present in use. To overcome this, new taxation and other methods may prove necessary but even then it is very likely that the number of cars on the road will suffer a sharp decline. This in turn would cause vast social changes, as people who live in rural areas and work in nearby cities find it economically impossible to continue their lifestyle. This is particularly acute in large countries such as the USA and Australia. In Australia, for example, there are 13.2 million vehicles travelling an average of 15,300 km/yr and this uses 80% of the oil, with a further 10% for aviation. The situation of the USA with 210 million cars and lorries is similar. Even in Britain, with shorter distances and a well-developed public transport system, road transport still accounts for 62% of petroleum, and a further 20% for aviation. With the ending of the supply of cheap oil, the economic expansion of the last two hundred years will end. Many financial institutions are based on the assumption of continued economic growth, lending money they do not have in the expectation that it will be repaid by an expanding economy, so that if growth ceases they could face economic collapse, with immense repercussions. Poorer countries will have to pay more for their oil, putting a severe additional strain on their already overstressed economies.

The only practicable way to prevent this and to ease the painful transition from an oil-based economy to one based on other energy sources is a massive expansion of nuclear power. Even if this is done, the transition will inevitably prove to be a painful and socially-disruptive process.

To tackle the immediate situation concerning oil, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil has proposed the so-called Rimini Protocol which requires countries to restrict their oil production to their current depletion rate 'defined as the annual production as a percentage of the estimated annual left to produce and that each importing country shall reduce its imports to match the current World Depletion Rate, deducting any indigenous productions' (Nuclear Issues, June 2005). Such an agreement will encounter severe difficulties, but it does offer a possible way to ease the transition.

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