Proliferation

The link between an expansion of nuclear energy capacity and the potential spread of nuclear weapons is a continuing cause for concern. The authors of the MIT study probably reflect the views of many when they recommend that nuclear power should not expand unless the risk of proliferation is made acceptably small (Ansolabehere et al, 2003).

Security risks arise with the possible diversion or theft of materials such as stocks of stored plutonium from nuclear facilities with inadequate controls. Perhaps of even greater concern is the risk that an increasing number of nations could acquire sensitive technologies or materials that would enable them to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Fuel cycles that involve reprocessing of used fuel to separate out weapon-usable plutonium or the enrichment of uranium are specific examples. The number of countries with access to fissile materials and competent nuclear physicists and engineers who could design and fabricate nuclear weapons is likely to increase. Some of those countries are likely to be in politically unstable regions with differing security circumstances.

Post-9/11, a related concern has been the security of existing nuclear facilities against terrorist elements. The potential of targeting a facility or materials in transit in order to cause a major radioactive release, mass casualties, significant economic impact or simply confusion has mobilized many plants to improve physical protection and security operations. A scenario in which terrorist organizations could acquire materials to create crude nuclear devices such as a dirty bomb is everyone's nightmare.

The IAEA was created in the late 1950s to administer safeguards while promoting the peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology. A key instrument is the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force in 1970 and has been ratified by nearly 190 countries (IAEA, 1970). The bargain that was struck was that non-nuclear weapons states would give up the development or acquisition of nuclear weapons in exchange for the 'inalienable right' to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The nuclear weapons states (the US, Russia, China, France and the UK) would pursue negotiations towards nuclear disarmament. Additional protocols have been developed to strengthen safeguards through inspection and detailed accounting processes. In parallel, a voluntary Nuclear Suppliers Group of 45 member countries seeks to contribute to non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through coordination, implementation of guidelines and control of nuclear related exports.

The regime is not without its difficulties and continues to be tested. Certain countries have chosen to remain outside the treaty, while others can develop their technologies and facilities and then opt out. Furthermore, private networks of technology suppliers circumvent the controls of the treaty. In order to ensure that the IAEA is a strong, independent verification organization, adequate financial resources are required. Some suggest that tighter controls are necessary to keep nuclear material stockpiles secure and that mechanisms need to be developed to restrict deployment of reprocessing and enrichment technologies. A proposed agreement that would allow India to acquire nuclear fuel and advanced reactors from the US in return for permitting inspection and safeguards is thought by some to strike at the very essence of the non-proliferation regime. And, of course, nations need to make progress on nuclear disarmament.

Improving proliferation resistance is also a key objective in developing the next generation of technologies. Collaborative efforts to develop advanced closed-fuel cycle systems, more efficient use of uranium and thorium and minimization of waste are being undertaken by the ten nations and the European Union within the Generation IV International Forum and the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactor and Fuel Cycles of the IAEA. Proposals involving fuel leasing and take-back are surfacing. The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership seeks to guarantee supplies of nuclear fuel and services to certain countries eliminating the need for them to develop indigenous fuel-cycle capabilities. The concept of 'insure to assure' has recently been proposed by a joint team from the Wharton Business School and Harvard's Kennedy

School. The proposal envisages a partnership between financial industries and governments to create the world's first international nuclear fuel insurance fund that would discourage the spread of enrichment facilities.

So, while some nuclear power proponents suggest that nuclear proliferation and terrorism risks are readily managed, others allege weaknesses in the system and warn that there is no room for complacency.

0 0

Post a comment