Serious Rules for Nuclear Power without Proliferation
Attributed Authors: Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski Published: May 2012
Tags: NPEC nonproliferation energy security nuclear subsidies
The nonproliferation principles we propose are intended to establish a framework for dealing with the main deficiencies in current NPT regime. These are: the notion that countries could amass the means for a weapons program under the NPT and the withdraw on 90-days notice; the idea that the Treaty gives members the “inalienable right” to conduct “peaceful” work with all nuclear materials, including nuclear explosives; that countries could limit the activities of IAEA inspectors; that enforcement of Treaty provisions is left up to members on an ad hoc basis; and that the several non-members are free of any restrictions. Fixing these deficiencies is in our view the minimum we need to do to reasonably control the proliferation risks associated with any expanded nuclear power use worldwide.
Our proposed principles are as follows:
1. It is not consistent with the NPT’s purpose for members to exercise the withdrawal provision after gaining technology of relevance to weapons—whether by importing it or developing it domestically—as this was done under the assumption by other members that it was for peaceful uses. Treaty members cannot exercise the withdrawal clause without squaring accounts. As a practical matter this would mean membership in the Treaty was essentially permanent. Under this interpretation North Korea’s 2003 announcement of “withdrawal” put that country into a state of Treaty violation.
2. The Treaty cannot be a vehicle for legally coming overly close to a weapons capability. There has to be a technological safety margin between genuinely peaceful and potentially military applications. As a consequence, the “inalienable right” language in the Treaty has to be interpreted in terms of the Treaty’s overriding objective, and thus there have to be restrictions on the kinds of technology that is acceptable for non-military use. Nuclear power needs to develop in a way that does not provide easy access to nuclear explosives. Where to draw the line is now coming to a head in the context of Iran’s nuclear program.
3. Countries involved in nuclear energy must accept that the inherent international security dangers such involvement implies require them to relinquish a considerable degree of sovereignty to international security organizations, in particular the IAEA inspectorate. In view of the concerns about clandestine facilities, both with respect to enrichment and reprocessing, countries have to agree to essentially unlimited inspection rights for international inspectors. The Additional Protocol is a good start in this direction.
4. The NPT needs an established enforcement mechanism to deal with Treaty violation in a predictable way. The foregoing rules for operating nuclear power plants in a manner that is consistent with international security are not self-enforcing. There has to be agreement among the Treaty parties concerning reasonably predictable responses to particular violations so as to remove the notion that violators can escape with impunity.
5. All nuclear weapons states have to participate in weapons reductions. This is essential for gaining the cooperation of the other NPT members in restrictive measures. In the first instance this includes Britain, France, and China, which have up to now not participated in the reduction process that has involved the United States and Russia. But it has also to include India, Israel, and Pakistan, and North Korea, as well. With 190 nations adhering to the NPT, the Treaty and its obligations should be regarded as universal, thus applying to all countries, whether they formally joined the Treaty or not. From this point of view, the three countries that never did and North Korea would be regarded as members who are out of compliance, but by participating in suitably monitored weapons reduction process, they could be viewed as members in the process of coming into compliance.
Why propose these principles? First, while it is unrealistic at this point to expect international agreement on specific application of these principles, most persons involved with nonproliferation policy, probably even in government, would agree at least with their general formulation. A clear and consistent set of principles provides a framework for policy, which is valuable even if the goals are not immediately attainable. Second, countries around the world may in time come to view the problem of proliferation more seriously than they do now. It is useful for all to be clear on what it takes to protect national use of nuclear technology for electric power from diversion to weapons.
If the impression is left that a serious application of these principles would restrict nuclear power, that is a correct impression. It comes down to a matter of priorities. If the United States and other countries shifted from the present emphasis on nuclear expansion to a security-first ap-proach, the result is bound to restrain the worldwide development of nuclear energy. In fact it must be said that the dangers of proliferation are in every respect eased by a reduced use of nu-clear energy for power around the world. There will inevitably remain a trade-off between energy and security objectives, even if we put security first. Realistically, we cannot turn around sharply other countries’ policies of long standing. But at a minimum, there should be no argument that it makes sense for the United State to encourage and subsidize the spread around the world of nuclear power plants that don’t meet a market test, when these same plants create security worries, either directly or indirectly.