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After Fukushima: Implications for the Nuclear 3S (Safeguards, Safety and Security)

  • AUTHORJohn Carlson, Asan Institute
  • Nov 15, 2011

The principal lesson of Fukushima is that nuclear activities cannot be regarded as the exclusive province of individual states—nuclear activities have potential consequences well beyond the borders of any one state. Even if an incident does not result in significant transboundary contamination, there will be an impact on confidence in and support for nuclear energy. Likewise, a nuclear detonation or major nuclear sabotage by terrorists will have global repercussions. Fukushima has also demonstrated that neither individual states nor the international community as a whole are well served by relying exclusively on national oversight of nuclear activities. If a leading state such as Japan has difficulties with nuclear regulation and emergency management, what can be expected with smaller states, and those planning new nuclear programs? 

The '3S'—safeguards, safety and security—is a convenient shorthand term covering nuclear governance, i.e. the institutional arrangements for regulating the use of nuclear energy. This paper discusses international governance—the framework of treaties, decisions of international bodies, cooperation arrangements and other mechanisms for balancing national and international interests, particularly in the areas of nuclear non-proliferation, safety and security.

The key international interests can be summarized as follows: that the use of nuclear energy does not lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons; and that it does not endanger human and environmental health and safety, whether by accident or terrorist action. There is also an international interest in ensuring that nuclear energy is able to realize its potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions—this is very much dependent on public and political confidence in nuclear energy, which in turn depends on how well the 3S are implemented.

The international interest in non-proliferation is long-recognised, through a number of treaties and the international safeguards system. The international interest in nuclear safety and security is also of fundamental importance, but unfortunately less well reflected in governance arrangements, too much of which is voluntary. Fukushima—and also the Iranian nuclear crisis—show the need to find a more appropriate balance between national and international interests in the conduct of nuclear energy.

The first six decades of the nuclear age have been characterized by an emphasis on nuclear sovereignty, the predominance of state rights over the international interest. This 20th century attitude is out of step with contemporary needs. Nuclear energy has long since developed beyond military applications and is now an important source of global electricity supply. Nuclear energy should no longer be seen as an instrument of national policy. Rather, nuclear energy can make a major contribution to the common interests of mitigating climate change and enhancing energy security and economic development. A change of mindset is needed, away from the emphasis on sovereignty, to a recognition of shared interest, shared responsibilities, greater international transparency and accountability, and greater cooperation and collaboration.

Although the need for a new approach is global, such an approach might proceed on a regional basis. As well as regional cooperation in safeguards, safety and security, regional arrangements could encompass such matters as regional fuel cycle facilities, fuel supply assurances and cooperation in fuel management. In regions where there is no experience of operating nuclear power programs, such as the Middle East and South-East Asia, nuclear programs could even be owned and operated on a regional or transnational basis. Our own region could lead on these issues through the development of an Asia-Pacific nuclear energy community. 

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