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Energy security and nuclear security

  • AUTHORGareth Evans, ASAN Institute for Policy Studies Nuclear Forum
  • Feb 20, 2013

Panel Presentation by Professor the Hon Gareth Evans, Convenor of Asia Pacific Leadership Network on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (APLN), to ASAN Institute for Policy Studies Nuclear Forum, Seoul, 20 February 2013


Developing nuclear energy to achieve energy security can create real problems for nuclear security. The potential for tension between the two objectives has been recognised since the dawn of the nuclear age, and it is a long way from being resolved. For two reasons: too much is still happening on the energy security side of the ledger, and too little on the nuclear security side.

Energy Security. Despite the impact of Fukushima in both political and financial terms, the attractions of nuclear power generation – and with it the potential for misuse of fissile material – are not going to go away. It is reasonable to assume that many states – both those already with nuclear power stations, and those yet to go down this path, and whether or not they are moved to make their power generation more climate friendly – will not be confident they can generate the base loads they need from renewables, and will be more confident in the continued unbroken availability of uranium (in ample supply worldwide) than imported fossil fuels. It remains to be seen how long the German as well as Japanese decisions to phase out nuclear power will hold, and while the number of new builds worldwide will certainly be for the foreseeable future well down on pre-Fukushima predictions, the IAEA reported last year that there are still as many 29 new states (most of them developing countries) planning or proposing nuclear power programs. How all this will translate into hard numbers is very difficult to predict, but significant numbers there will be.

Nuclear Security. The nuclear security problems which potentially arise when nuclear energy is part of a country’s energy security strategy are of two basic kinds:

-  The broadest and most traditional concern is proliferation - that the acquisition of nuclear energy capability will bring with it the ability to build, or at least fuel, nuclear weapons. This is the problem that the world attempts to deal with at the treaty level with the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), supplemented by less formal mechanisms like the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) and PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative).

-  The narrower security concern, with which the world has been obsessively preoccupied since 9/11, is terrorism – the risks associated with theft and trafficking of nuclear and radiological materials, and the sabotage of nuclear facilities (with the safety failures of Fukushima being an important demonstration of vulnerabilities here, e.g. in external power supply systems, not given enough attention in the past) .The nuclear security problem in this sense is the one that we have attempted to deal with through a litter of international instruments like the CPPNM (Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials), resolutions like UNSCR 1540, and national regulatory measures, with the Nuclear Security Summits of Washington and Seoul, and the Netherlands in 2014, being the focal point for discussion.

For all the activity that has been going on in recent years in relation to these and related nuclear weapons problems, the achievements have not been stellar. There will be published next month by the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament in Canberra, with which I am associated, a nearly 300-page report card (Nuclear Weapons: The State of Play, available at cnnd.anu.edu.au ) which documents in meticulous detail just how un-stellar – above all in the area of disarmament (which of course impacts in turn on the willingness of many non-nuclear armed states to embrace tougher non-proliferation measures). This is not the occasion to track through that record in any detail, but let me just make a few quick points in relation to the two nuclear security areas with which we are immediately concerned here.

Meeting the Risk of Proliferation from Civil Nuclear Programs. Most states are meeting their NPT peaceful use commitments, but non-compliance cases – especially Iran and North Korea – are obvious cause for concern. On safeguards, there is still strong resistance in many quarters to making Additional Protocol standards obligatory, and to the IAEA adopting a more robust approach to inspections. On export controls, the NSG’s accommodation of the US–India deal has not helped its credibility. The spread of sensitive nuclear technology and the prospective spread of fast reactors and plutonium fuels in the future will present serious challenges unless addressed. HEU minimization is moving, albeit slowly, but no similar effort has been made to minimize plutonium. And acceptance of multilateral approaches to nuclear fuel cycle management has a long way to go.

Securing Civil Nuclear Materials and Facilities from the Risk of Terrorism. Progress has been made – especially with the stimulus of the Nuclear Security Summits – in developing national regulatory systems for protection and control in relation to nuclear and radiological materials, but the extent of effective implementation remains unclear. Internationally, however, this area lags well behind the other nuclear regimes (with all their limitations) for safety, safeguards and arms control. There are a number of measures making up the ‘global architecture’ but they need to be more comprehensive and robust, with effective monitoring requirements, and authority and procedures for enforcing agreed commitments without which accountability is lacking.

Proposal for an Asia Pacific Nuclear Energy Community.  There is clearly a need for all these individual issues to be pursued at the global level, and I hope very much they will be through such mechanisms as the NPT Review Conference process, and the next Nuclear Security Summit, with which many of us here are involved. But I believe there is also a need for considering what more we might be able to do at a regional level, and in this respect I want to draw your attention (I hope not too shamelessly) to another publication with which I am associated – a discussion paper released this week by the Asia Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (APLN) [available at a-pln.org], which makes the case for thinking again about establishing an Asia Pacific Nuclear Energy Community. 

Ideas for such a community have been around for some years without ever gaining much traction, but circumstances are changing. The Asian region is a major growth area for nuclear energy, and states here are increasingly concerned about the need for assurance that nuclear programs in neighbouring states meet the highest standards of nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation.

The Fukushima accident has highlighted the need for stronger international governance and closer international cooperation on nuclear safety, and by extension nuclear security.  Nuclear programs cannot be regarded now, if they ever could, as a solely national concern. There is a strong mutual interest in ensuring high levels of confidence and vigilance through in-depth international consultation, information-sharing, cooperation and experience-sharing.   

At the same time, there is increasing awareness of the need to avoid proliferation risk from the growth in nuclear programs and particularly the spread of proliferation-sensitive technologies. New international arrangements are being discussed, in IFNEC (the International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation) and elsewhere, to ensure that states using nuclear energy have long-term security of supply, assistance with fuel management, and cooperation to ensure best practice in facility operations.  These issues are of global importance. However, it may be possible to progress practical steps more expeditiously at a regional level.

There are already several regional institutions dealing with nuclear matters, including the Forum for Nuclear Cooperation in Asia (FNCA), Asia-Pacific Regional Cooperative Agreement (RCA), Asia Nuclear Safety Network (ANSN) and Asia-Pacific Safeguards Network (APSN), but as their names suggest, they mainly address quite specific areas of activity. And none of them is treaty-based, with any executive authority. 

The role of the community, as we envisage it, would embrace such areas as high-level consultation on planned nuclear programs and current operations; mechanisms for assuring best practice in nuclear safety, security and safeguards (the “3 Ss”); capacity building more broadly; harmonisation of industry regulation; collaborative research programs; cooperation in regional power supply where physically possible; and, most ambitiously but in many ways importantly, nuclear fuel cycle collaboration (including security of supply arrangements for nuclear material and fuel cycle services, multi-nation involvement in the management of proliferation-sensitive stages of the fuel cycle, and collaboration on the management of spent fuel and high-level wastes). 

Compared with the specialised institutions that exist now, an Asia-Pacific nuclear energy community of the kind we envisage would be more high-level, both in subject matter − e.g. security of supply, fuel cycle management, safety and security assurances − and in participation, involving government leaders as well as ministers.

This may not be an idea whose time has come, but it is to be hoped that it will be carefully studied – and find some champions – around the region. On most of these issues we have been limping along far too ineffectually for far too long.

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