Washington (UPI) Jul 8, 2008
A report from a State Department advisory panel says a coming large expansion in global nuclear power generation poses proliferation risks, but the United States must embrace it to ensure that nuclear supplier nations build safeguards into the growing market.
The report highlights division among experts about the future of civil nuclear power across the globe, the risks it poses, and the degree to which U.S. policy should support its spread. Some critics of the report say the expansion of nuclear power is not inevitable and should be resisted.
A task force of the International Security Advisory Board -- chaired by former Pentagon and World Bank official Paul Wolfowitz -- produced the report, titled "Proliferation Implications of the Global Expansion of Civil Nuclear Power," in response to a request from Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph.
The task force, led by former Reagan and Bush I arms negotiator and government scientist C. Paul Robinson, produced their relatively brief (10 pages, with about twice that in appendices and introductory material) report in just two months earlier this year. A copy was posted recently on the State Department Web site.
The report says global demand for power is likely to rise by 100 percent by 2030. "Nuclear energy is likely to be in great demand because of the large price increases for oil and natural gas and the fact that nuclear power produces no carbon (or other) emissions."
Robinson bluntly says the expansion of civil nuclear energy generation is not just inevitable, it is already under way.
"You just have to read the newspapers to see that this is the case," he told United Press International.
The report cites a list prepared by the State Department in 2007 of a dozen countries planning to join the nuclear power club, or "giving serious consideration" to it, within the next 10 years -- including the former Soviet Central Asian nations of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan; Islamic giants Indonesia, Egypt and Turkey; and Poland and the Baltic states.
Fifteen other nations -- including Algeria, Ghana, Libya, Malaysia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen -- have "longer-term plans or studies under way," according to the State Department list.
While wealthier countries "can try to buy their way out" of the looming energy crunch, "the Third World does not have that option," and there are few real alternatives to nuclear power for many countries. "There has proved to be no silver bullet in renewable or other alternative energy sources."
The report says there are currently 435 nuclear reactors operating around the world, with 28 new ones currently under construction. It says 222 more are being planned.
"It's a pretty depressing prospect," Robinson concluded.
One of the key concerns is the two principal ways of making nuclear fuel -- the enrichment of uranium, for instance, in huge installations of centrifuges; and the reprocessing of spent fuel into plutonium -- can too easily be used to make weapons-grade material for nuclear bombs.
So the panel recommends the United States -- in partnership with other countries that already have the capacity to make fuel, the "supplier nations" -- volunteer to "provide reliable, economical supplies of fuel to nations undertaking new or additional nuclear energy plants" with tough safeguards to prevent them developing their own capacities.
But critics challenge their premise, saying the idea that the growth of nuclear power generation is inevitable is a canard.
Many of those 435 reactors currently operating are due to be retired in the next 20 to 30 years, points out Henry Sokolski, a proliferation expert who worked for Wolfowitz in the Bush I administration and currently sits alongside him on the congressionally mandated blue-ribbon panel examining the threat of terrorist attacks using nuclear material or other weapons of mass destruction.
Nuclear energy is too expensive and too risky to be a commercially viable venture without government support, he told UPI.
"There's a reason no one in the private sector wants to do this with their own money," Sokolski said. "Nuclear power is a hard sell, literally. ... What the (U.S.) nuclear industry is doing is asking for government handouts, in the form of tax credits, loan guarantees and insurance caps."
Reprocessing is also not economically feasible without government financial support. "Working with plutonium requires special safety measures which are very expensive," Sokolski said.
The idea that new technologies could help make generation or reprocessing economical is "atomic pie in the sky. The advances required are as far off as making fusion-generation practical, in terms of technology."
Expansion is "not inevitable, it is contingent" on U.S. policy changes. "Maybe nuclear power won't expand. It shrank by 2 percent last year," he said.
Sokolski called the report "disappointing."
He said its authors "seem to be in the business of promoting the expansion of nuclear power, rather than examining the risks associated with its expansion. ... They should have explained in more detail why we should be concerned."
But the report does make a bald statement, that the expansion of civil nuclear generating capacity "particularly within Third World nations, inevitably increases the risks of proliferation. What the United States must do," it concludes, "is find ways to mitigate those risks."
"Something is afoot, and we can't put on blinkers and pretend it's not happening," said Robinson.
(Part 2 will examine the tough new risk-mitigation safeguards the report recommends -- and why some critics say they are not enough.)
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Left-wing parties pull backing for Indian government
New Delhi (AFP) July 8, 2008
A bloc of Indian left-wing parties announced Tuesday they were pulling out their backing for the country's coalition government in protest against a nuclear energy deal with the United States.
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