Nuclear option: The developing world weighs energy needs and security risks


Over 45 countries that do not use nuclear power today are seriously considering its adoption; of these, 37 are classified by the World Bank as developing nations. Moreover, four developing countries -- Bangladesh, Belarus, Turkey, and Vietnam -- are expected to begin construction on nuclear facilities over the upcoming years. This vast potential expansion in the developing world's nuclear capacity raises tricky questions about proliferation, plant safety, and cost. Below, Brazil's Gilberto Jannuzzi, Malaysia's Shahriman Lockman, and India's P.R. Kumaraswamy tackle the question: "How can nuclear power for economic development be made available to developing countries without increasing the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation?"

Round 1

Too much proliferation focus, too little energy

Western governments and the nonproliferation community in general tend to view every developing nation that pursues nuclear power as a potential risk for nuclear weapons proliferation. This attitude is unfortunate for several reasons. First, it fails to recognize the pressing need for increased energy supply that many developing countries face. Second, it deflects attention from the legitimate issue of poor safety practices at developing-world nuclear power plants. Third, it reinforces the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's (NPT) division of the world into nuclear "haves" and "have-nots."

Low energy. In the developing world, a number of countries are perpetually energy-starved. In India, for example, economic liberalization over the past two decades has resulted in sharply increased energy demand that cannot be satisfied solely with electricity derived from hydrocarbons. Thus the country's urban areas are routinely subjected to rolling blackouts (otherwise known as "load shedding"). These power cuts, especially prevalent during the hot summer months, force many business owners to establish backup electricity options, like diesel generators. Such arrangements are costly and polluting and constitute a burden both for business owners and for the economy at large. In addition, the country must import a large share of the hydrocarbons it uses, including about 70 percent of the oil it consumes, and this exacerbates the country's trade deficit.

China, too, has become energy deficient due to rapid economic growth. Other developing countries, like Jordan, enjoy only limited energy resources to begin with. But whatever their circumstances, many developing countries must increase their energy supplies if they are to achieve and sustain economic growth and fulfill their people's aspirations.

Unfortunately, every available option for increasing energy supply presents problems of some sort. Oil is a polluting resource; imported oil is subject to wide price fluctuations; and dependence on foreign oil becomes especially problematic whenever the Persian Gulf experiences conflict or tension. Coal is even more polluting than oil. Hydropower, meanwhile, depends on the vagaries of rainfall, and a country dependent on hydropower can suffer acute electricity shortages during times of drought. Alternative energy sources like solar, wind, and biofuels have not yet taken hold because of the large investments necessary and problems with commercial viability.

For many developing countries, then, nuclear energy is — plain and simple — a practical means for increasing energy supply and thus enabling economic progress. Much of the international community, however, imposes its proliferation concerns on nuclear-power programs that do not merit such worries. To be sure, proliferation concerns are justified in some instances. Iran springs to mind. Also, India started its atomic energy program with the stated aim of pursuing only peaceful uses but eventually began a nuclear weapons program under the same aegis (though the fissile materials for India's nuclear weapons are believed not to be derived from power production reactors). Still, not all countries that have pursued nuclear power in the past have pursued weapons capability — and indeed, some countries' pursuit of nuclear power has hardly even elicited concerns about proliferation, much less resulted in proliferation itself.

Japan is an example. In its case, of course, proliferation fears were muted because the US military maintained a presence in the country and the United States acted as a security guarantor in the region. But these factors alone were not sufficient to eliminate proliferation concerns. Rather, the deciding factor was postwar Japan's decision to demilitarize its foreign policy and to improve fractious relationships with neighbors. Thus, Japan's development of nuclear power was seen abroad as an integral part of the country's economic policy — not as part of its strategic policy. Other countries can try to emulate this model today, though doing so requires a willingness on their part to pursue transparent, credible policies that are open to international scrutiny.

Safety last. In any case, the key problem that nuclear energy presents in most developing countries is not proliferation but plant safety. In many developing nations, the idea of public safety is met with apathy. In India and China, for example, the national rail transportation systems experience unacceptably high accident rates, yet this does not deter millions of people from riding trains daily. Similarly, tolerant attitudes apply to nuclear safety, and this problem is compounded in many cases by inadequate funding. Thus, some nuclear energy programs in the developing world compromise on standards, utilize inadequate materials, suffer from corruption, and generally perform abysmally in nuclear safety.

Making matters worse, some of these  nuclear facilities are located in areas prone to earthquake. While this is also true of Japan, of course, government regulators there enforce rigorous construction standards meant to minimize structural damage during earthquakes, including damage to nuclear power plants. This sort of rigor is not maintained in poorer countries. The accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, meanwhile, demonstrated the difficulties that even highly developed countries can experience in managing a nuclear disaster. Less developed countries would certainly face even greater struggles under similar circumstances.

Encouragingly, the Fukushima disaster has heightened public awareness of nuclear safety issues in the developing world. In India, protests over the under-construction Kudankulam nuclear facility in the southern state of Tamil Nadu are one manifestation of such popular concerns. (Public fears there are only intensified by the fact that the area was affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.) One hopes that such public engagement will eventually lead to improved safety conditions at nuclear facilities in the developing world.

No technology is immune to accidents. Nor is progress ever free of risk. Nuclear safety is simply another realm of technology — admittedly, a complex and expensive realm — in which progress can be achieved over time. In the short term, though, the number of countries capable of providing nuclear energy to their populations is limited; therefore, it should be possible for nuclear safety challenges in this limited number of countries to be satisfactorily addressed.

Meanwhile, the international community must abandon its traditional attitude according to which every country seeking nuclear power is a potential weapons proliferator. The NPT has evolved into a cartel of the nuclear-weapons "haves," but the same should not be allowed to occur where nuclear energy is concerned. Certainly, proliferation remains a legitimate worry in a few cases, and all nuclear power plants must be brought under the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspection regime. But misplaced proliferation fears must not interfere with developing nations' legitimate efforts to meet their urgent energy needs.

Nuclear power’s limited usefulness and limited proliferation risk

In some quarters the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station has prompted a reconsideration of nuclear energy — but in many developing nations with nuclear energy programs, the incident has had barely any effect. Bangladesh, Belarus, Turkey, and Vietnam are expected to start building their first nuclear power plants in the near future, and several other developing countries are likely to follow suit in subsequent years. But is nuclear power necessarily good for the economic development of these nations?

Proponents of nuclear power often tout its ability to meet the energy requirements of expanding economies; in fact, the link between nuclear power and economic development is tenuous at best. True, nuclear power plants are relatively cheap to fuel and operate — but they are notoriously expensive to build. As noted by Brazilian physicist José Goldemberg, any country with a gross domestic product of less than $50 billion probably cannot afford to purchase a nuclear reactor. (Many other developing countries, according to Goldemberg, make poor candidates for nuclear power because of their inadequate electrical grids.) Adding to the expense is that cost overruns have long been common in the nuclear industry: The 75 US nuclear power plants on which construction began between 1966 and 1977 experienced cost overruns averaging in excess of 200 percent. Furthermore, amid growing global demand for nuclear energy, the cost of materials and expertise required to build nuclear power plants has risen dramatically in recent years.

Despite these financial realities, nuclear power is regarded as an attractive energy option in a number of developing countries, particularly those that wish to enhance the security of their energy supply. As energy expert Daniel Yergin has observed, many developing countries equate energy security with the ability to safeguard their balance of payments against fluctuations in energy prices. Thus, a number of developing countries — enjoying only limited access to domestic energy resources, and acting in the expectation that prices for oil, natural gas, and coal will rise over the long term — have begun to contemplate the adoption of nuclear energy. In Malaysia, for example, interest in nuclear power is largely driven by the likelihood that, unless the country soon discovers new oil and gas resources (which is unlikely because of territorial disputes in the South China Sea), it will become a net importer of energy by the end of this decade. Concerns about supply security have likely influenced Vietnam and Bangladesh's decisions to adopt nuclear energy as well.

The thorny question. It is certain, then, that a number of developing countries will acquire nuclear reactors in the coming years. But will this necessarily increase the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation?

Arguing otherwise would be difficult. Still, the risk may not be severe enough to merit serious concern. It has been argued that even a tenfold increase in nuclear reactors would not have a significant impact on nuclear proliferation, and that the key issue in proliferation risk is not how many countries use nuclear power but how many rogue states are intent on developing nuclear weapons. Indeed nuclear reactors — especially the light water reactors that are now the industry standard — do not, themselves, present high proliferation risks. Rather, the danger comes from enrichment and reprocessing facilities, which generate fuel for reactors but could also produce weapons-grade fissile materials.

This raises a thorny question: whether countries that adopt nuclear energy should maintain their own enrichment and reprocessing facilities — in other words, whether they should develop their own fuel cycles. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty suggests that they have every right to do so, with Article IV recognizing an "inalienable right" to "nuclear energy for peaceful purposes." This powerful set of words is generally understood to encompass the entire fuel cycle.

Yet the overwhelming majority of countries that maintain nuclear power plants or plan to build them have demonstrated little interest in establishing their own enrichment and reprocessing facilities — not least because of the considerable investment required. These countries also recognize that new enrichment and reprocessing facilities place additional strains on the international community's capacity to monitor nonproliferation compliance. Therefore, they have preferred to purchase the fuel they require from external sources.

Even so, they have generally demonstrated a lukewarm attitude toward proposals for making the fuel cycle multilateral, whether these proposals entail fuel banks, multilateral management of facilities, or assurances of supply. Arrangements like these, some nations fear, would create an irreversible divide between supplier states and buyer states — in effect, an erosion of the rights established under Article IV of the treaty.

Ways forward. Even in the absence of a broad consensus on multilateral approaches to the fuel cycle, a host of measures is available to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy. As outlined in a memorandum by the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific, a network of regional nongovernmental organizations, these measures might include promoting effective export-control regimes to prevent nuclear technologies and materials from falling into the wrong hands. Another important step would be ensuring that the International Atomic Energy Agency has sufficient financial resources to conduct activities in technical cooperation, inspection, and enforcement.

More could also be done to cultivate a culture of safety and security in nations that adopt nuclear energy in the future. For instance, it is not enough for countries to train their law-enforcement officials to prevent, detect, and respond to illicit trafficking of nuclear materials. Officials must also be inculcated with a genuine appreciation of why proliferation needs to be prevented. In some developing countries, the risk of proliferation is regarded as the developed world's peculiar obsession rather than as a real threat to the nation's own security. That sort of attitude needs to be dispelled if the global nonproliferation regime is to remain effective in the long run.

The developing world has better options than nuclear energy

In discussions about nuclear energy, whether in the developing world or in industrial countries, the topics that generally dominate are cost, waste disposal, risk of accident, and weapons proliferation. This Roundtable introduces an additional dimension to the nuclear-power conversation: developing countries' need for economic development and the energy that such development requires.

In Latin America, where I live and work as an energy analyst, nuclear energy is not very widespread. Only a small fraction of the electricity generated in the region is nuclear, and only three countries — Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico — operate nuclear power plants. In Brazil, Latin America's biggest energy consumer, nuclear power provides only about 2.7 percent of the domestic electricity supply. Hydropower, meanwhile, accounts for about 74 percent of domestic electricity production, while biofuels and wind play an increasing role as well.

But energy demands will only grow over time in Latin America and elsewhere in the developing world, and nuclear power's potential to help meet that growing demand should at least be considered in certain cases. Still, determining whether nuclear energy makes sense in the developing world requires carefully examining the relationship between energy and economic development. More specifically, it requires asking how much electricity is really required for economic development.

More than money. A provisional answer to this question might come from distinguishing between two types of developing countries — low-income nations and middle-income nations, as classified by the World Bank on the basis of gross national income per capita. In low-income countries, like Cambodia for example, where a large proportion of the population lives in rural areas, electricity is required chiefly to satisfy basic needs in lighting, health services, education, and so on. In these countries, per capita, about 50 to 100 kilowatt hours are an adequate annual supply of electricity (depending on differences in climate, culture, and so forth). In middle-income developing countries, like Brazil, where certain segments of the population enjoy only limited access to modern electricity services but other segments exhibit consumption patterns very similar to those in industrialized countries, electricity use ranges from 1,000 to 2,000 kilowatt hours per capita per year.

This information is useful, but any approach that categorizes countries according to their income levels alone is perhaps too narrow for this Roundtable. A better tool for current purposes is provided by the United Nations' Human Development Index, which assesses not only countries' incomes but also their life expectancies and education levels. Research constructed around this index has revealed surprising relationships between electricity use and human welfare.

For example, several studies have shown that human welfare tends to improve rapidly as societies advance from low to modest levels of commercial energy consumption, but that welfare does not improve very much as energy consumption increases further. Moreover, as shown in a comprehensive data analysis published in 2009, the amount of energy required for improvements in human welfare has decreased significantly over time. This suggests that improvements in human welfare do not require any fixed quantity of energy.

Don't need it, don't want it. For low-income countries, then, nuclear power hardly seems an appropriate supply choice. In the short term, these countries' energy needs are not large enough to justify the adoption of nuclear power; in the medium term, these nations can achieve significant, necessary improvements in the welfare of their people without massive increases in electricity supply. Simply put, nuclear energy is far too costly and centralized for them. Middle-income countries, however, with their expanding urban populations and growing industrial sectors and infrastructure bases, might indeed be candidates for nuclear power.

But even middle-income countries must consider the fact that nuclear energy is not only capital-intensive but also requires sophisticated technical, industrial, and institutional capabilities if plants are to be operated safely and reliably. Very few developing countries can afford to maintain the infrastructure necessary for all this. To be sure, safety standards for nuclear energy have become stricter in the industrialized world over the years and rich nations have made large investments in safer facilities. For most developing countries, however, adopting new generations of reactors would be prohibitively expensive and might only exacerbate these countries' technological — and economic — dependence on advanced nations (unless they also choose to become involved in the nuclear industry's production chain).

In any event, the planning of an energy system should not be reduced to a discussion of supply sources; energy systems are composed of complex subsystems such as primary energy resources, conversion technologies, and final energy services. Hence, developing countries making choices about their energy futures must consider the full spectrum of energy technologies available to them, from primary sources and related conversion processes all the way through to final services. Developing countries must also assess the complete social and environmental costs of putting into place secure and reliable energy systems, costs that include the public institutions necessary to plan, regulate, and supervise technologies and resources over their entire life cycles.

Intriguing alternatives to nuclear power are emerging around the world as new choices in energy technology increasingly become available. Indeed, opportunities to integrate renewable energy sources into existing and future energy grids are becoming ever more feasible due to advances in material technologies; in storage, transmission, and distribution methods; and in end-use energy systems.

As low- and middle-income developing countries plan their energy futures, they have the opportunity to leapfrog past existing technologies to different kinds of energy systems — more flexible systems that integrate distributed sources and make use of smart meters and smart-grid technologies. Such leapfrogging would see developing countries build zero-energy buildings, gain greater efficiency in everything from electrical appliances to industrial processes, and generally establish urban infrastructures that are less energy-intensive. Such a path would allow developing countries to advance their technological and industrial capacities without introducing the proliferation and public health risks that nuclear power poses.

Decision-making processes in the energy realm must, of course, weigh issues such as cost and waste management. But developing countries must also take into account how much energy is really required to meet their economic and human-welfare goals — and must decide whether to advance to an economy based on lower energy intensity.

Round 2

Time to jettison reflexive suspicion

A consensus has emerged in this Roundtable that proliferation concerns should not be used to deny developing countries access to nuclear energy. While nuclear proliferation is a worry that cannot be dismissed lightly, one also cannot ignore the excessive concerns about nuclear power that the nonproliferation community harbors (especially civil society organizations, which stand in the forefront of the crusade against nuclear energy).

The perennial energy crises facing many low- and middle-income countries do not make good news copy. Most of the time, energy shortages do not make the news at all. Meanwhile, the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station seem to convey a powerful, deadly message: never again. As horrible as these accidents have been, it is essential to keep things in perspective: The 1984 industrial accident in Bhopal, India, resulted in many more immediate deaths than did Chernobyl (though the long-term losses from both incidents are still being counted).

But despite the lack of attention paid to developing countries' energy shortages, it is precisely because of perennial or growing dependence on hydrocarbon imports that many countries utilize or contemplate adopting nuclear power. In India, China, and even Japan, nuclear energy cannot be delinked from hydrocarbon dependence. Such dependence is always problematic because of price volatility and political instability in the oil-rich Persian Gulf — but the West's new oil sanctions against Iran have made commercial petroleum transactions even more difficult and expensive. Though the sanctions against Iran are driven by proliferation concerns, these same sanctions increase the appeal of nuclear energy. Import-dependent countries such as China and India can be expected increasingly to look to nuclear energy as an option, both to enhance their energy security and to minimize Western interference over the medium to long term. These countries also might be tempted to use their growing financial clout to challenge the West's nuclear energy policies.

And despite all the concern about proliferation, how many countries have actually pursued weaponization over the years? More than six decades after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, only nine countries possess nuclear weapons. While the global nonproliferation regime can take some credit for this, it is important to keep in mind that weaponization is a both a costly and risk-laden affair. In fact, the technological and financial challenges involved in developing nuclear weapons may be exceeded by the security costs of doing so. In Iran's case, for example, weaponization might undermine the country's security interests by encouraging Arab nations or even Turkey to seek a nuclear umbrella or nuclear weapons. Countries do not follow such a course without undertaking a serious risk assessment, and the decision to proliferate is based on careful calculation. Excessive focus on a very few nations' decision to proliferate only introduces confusion into the global debate about energy needs.

To become more effective, the global nonproliferation community needs to engage more seriously with the energy crises facing many low- and middle-income countries. Such engagement would necessarily entail recognition of the forces that cause developing countries to consider nuclear energy, and would offer three distinct advantages.

First, if the nonproliferation community abandoned its tendency to regard with suspicion every nation that seeks nuclear power, it could more effectively identify true proliferators and act decisively to constrain them. Second, developed countries could contribute more to the developing world's economic advancement if they regarded nuclear power as a platform for growth.

Third, the developed world might encourage meaningful debate about nuclear power within developing countries if it stopped placing impediments in the way of the developing world's use of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy, after all, is not a panacea for socioeconomic problems in low- and middle-income countries — indeed, it may not even be a remedy for energy shortages. As Gilberto M. Jannuzzi and Shahriman Lockman have indicated in this Roundtable, nuclear power is not only expensive but in many cases may be environmentally and technologically counterproductive for developing countries. These realities are obscured as long as the rich world fails to treat nuclear power as just another energy option. If this failure were rectified, developing countries might more realistically grapple with issues such as nuclear energy's economic viability and safety profile — and ultimately opt to address their energy needs through less complicated means.

Nonproliferation advocates should both recognize the energy challenges of developing countries and delink these challenges from proliferation concerns. Otherwise, nonproliferation becomes a force that inhibits rational decision-making in the developed and developing worlds alike.


An exaggerated risk, yet a real one

As more and more countries in the developing world consider adopting nuclear power, Western governments and the nonproliferation community all too often exaggerate the attendant risks of weapons proliferation. So should concerns about the security implications of new nuclear power programs therefore be abandoned? My answer is no — not when the resources, institutions, and attitudes needed to ensure nuclear security and safety remain in short supply in the developing world.

In his first essay for this Roundtable, P. R. Kumaraswamy asserted that few countries with nuclear energy programs have sought to develop nuclear weapons. He is correct. Indeed, nonproliferation scholar Matthew Fuhrmann recently analyzed 129 countries, some of which showed interest in nuclear power and some of which did not, between 1965 and 2000. He found little support for the notion that nations pursue nuclear energy in order to lay the foundation for future nuclear weapons programs. In other words, countries do not generally engage in nuclear hedging.

Thus, officials from developing countries are justifiably puzzled by the alarm with which their counterparts in the developed world view nuclear proliferation. The United States, in particular, often regards remote security threats — including those stemming from nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism — as if they were certainties, despite the fact that the world is arguably less dangerous today than ever before (particularly for the United States). Further, security expert Tom Sauer argues that Europe's nonproliferation policy since 9/11 has increasingly come to resemble that of the United States.

Despite all this, the international growth of nuclear energy does in fact present risks, and we should not underestimate them. True, new producers of nuclear energy do not generally intend to proliferate, but it remains unwise to dismiss the possibility that a given country with nuclear power might someday seek to harness its latent weapons capability. In Southeast Asian countries, for instance, nuclear breakout appears unlikely, but cannot be ruled out over the long term, especially if the region's strategic environment undergoes dramatic, destabilizing changes.

Furthermore, it should be acknowledged that developing countries often lack the resources and institutions needed to maintain nuclear security — which the International Atomic Energy Agency defines as "the prevention and detection of, and response to, theft, sabotage, unauthorized access, illegal transfer, and other malicious acts involving nuclear material, other radioactive substances, or their associated facilities." Vietnam, for instance, has said it will build up to 10 nuclear reactors by 2030, but doubts surround its ability to train the personnel necessary to operate and regulate these plants. Moreover, according to the Nuclear Materials Security Index produced this year by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Economist Intelligence Unit, Vietnam rates poorly across a number of nuclear security indicators; among other issues, corruption is pervasive and the country lacks an independent regulatory agency. It is worth remembering that Vietnam has not even ratified key international agreements on nuclear security, such as the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its 2005 amendment.

Beyond these issues of nuclear security, another reason to view with concern the expansion of nuclear power in the developing world is the lack of safety culture in developing countries. Kumaraswamy, in his first Roundtable essay, highlighted the lackadaisical attitudes toward safety that exist in some developing countries, while Gilberto M. Jannuzzi mentioned the high cost of maintaining the capabilities necessary for operating nuclear power plants safely. But nuclear safety and nuclear security are increasingly recognized as overlapping and indeed as requiring common responses. For example, defense-in-depth techniques — which involve creating multiple layers of defense against human and mechanical failures in nuclear facilities — provide protection not only against nuclear accidents but potentially against sabotage and attack as well. Developing countries that contemplate the adoption of nuclear power should seriously ponder whether their safety capacities — not to mention their security capacities — are really up to the task.

Developing countries deciding whether to embark on nuclear energy programs face a complex set of considerations. Yes, growth in energy demand is a crucial issue. And climate change represents a major problem for developing countries. But addressing these challenges should not preclude making sober assessments about weapons proliferation and nuclear terrorism.

Supply, demand, and knowing what is important

In international conversations about nuclear energy in the developing world, both the nonproliferation community and developing countries themselves often attach excessive importance to certain elements of the debate and too little importance to others. As suggested by P.R. Kumaraswamy in his first essay in this Roundtable, the nonproliferation community focuses so much on weapons proliferation that it sometimes fails to appreciate developing nations' growing need for energy services and consequently fails to grapple with how that need might be met. Additionally, nonproliferation advocates often give short shrift to climate change, which, with its unpredictable effects in the developing world, may represent a greater danger than proliferation.

Meanwhile, some developing countries' contemplation of adopting nuclear power may stem from an excessive focus on energy security and inadequate attention paid to other elements of the energy equation. Indeed, strategies for energy security can trap developing nations into conventional approaches to energy planning, and in any event tend to be biased toward a limited number of supply options. Developing countries err, no matter how legitimate their energy needs, if they restrict their options to expanding supply.

But excessive focus on supply-side technologies is a typical feature of energy debates in general. Strategies that could radically alter delivery systems and end-use infrastructures are often overlooked — though radical progress toward such modern, efficient infrastructures could be achieved through the technical solutions I discussed in my first Roundtable essay (these include zero-energy buildings, distributed generation, and transportation systems that require less energy to operate).

Nonetheless, many developing countries are characterized both by repressed energy demand and by growing populations. Thus, even aggressive programs of demand-side innovation will be insufficient to bring these nations' energy equations into balance. According to the 2010 World Energy Outlook, about 1.4 billion people around the world (roughly 85 percent of them in rural areas) have no access to electricity. By 2030, this number is expected to drop to 1.2 billion (even if no new policies to expand access are implemented), but that lower number will still represent about 15 percent of the world's population. Meanwhile, about 2.7 billion people have no access to modern cooking fuels, and that figure is expected to increase to 2.8 billion by 2030. Considering that the burning of biomass produces greenhouse gases and poses dangers to human health, this represents a significant problem.

Given all this, even aggressive policies to adopt advanced demand-side technologies will not solve every country's energy problems; in many cases, expanding the supply base will prove necessary after all. The irregular or low-quality energy services that are available to many in developing countries hamper people's ambitions to improve their lives and, more broadly, hamper nations' efforts to develop economically. Therefore, it is perfectly legitimate for developing countries to seek expansion of their energy supplies, and to consider nuclear energy as part of this effort.

The international community, then, rather than standing in the way of nations' efforts to develop nuclear power, could try to help the developing world meet its energy needs in cost-effective and climate-friendly ways. Providing technology is of course one way to provide assistance, but supply-side technologies cannot be the sole area of emphasis. Other steps might include facilitation of funding for innovative low-energy development, for renewable energy and modern demand systems, and for greater efficiency in areas from construction to the agro-industrial sector. Greater support could also be provided to social institutions and local human resources that have the capability to manage sustainable energy systems. Also important, of course, is for developing countries to engage with each other in technology transfers and generally to strive for greater South-South cooperation.

Nuclear power is one of several legitimate energy options for the developing world. It is the wrong choice in many instances, and the worst outcome for developing countries would be to pursue inappropriate energy choices while simultaneously creating unsustainable patterns of future energy demand. Nonetheless, growth in demand for energy services is real, and must be addressed realistically.

Round 3

Technological progress, not political control

Does any intrinsic link connect nuclear energy and weaponization programs? This has developed as the central issue of this Roundtable — and the evidence presented here does not substantiate the idea that such a link exists. Both Gilberto Jannuzzi and I have argued extensively that the global nonproliferation regime tends to exaggerate proliferation risks, potentially impeding developing countries' legitimate ambitions to develop nuclear power sectors; and Shahriman Lockman, though he regards proliferation as a greater risk than do the other Roundtable participants, does not argue that the spread of nuclear power will likely lead to the spread of nuclear weapons. To be sure, some countries have embarked on nuclear energy programs and then undertaken weaponization processes as well. But even in India, a conspicuous case, the desire for nuclear energy was not merely an excuse for weaponization.

Given the consensus that has developed regarding this Roundtable's central theme, it seems worthwhile now to focus additional attention on one region where nuclear issues are particularly fraught. That region is the Middle East — where the Arab Spring has underscored the need in many countries for new energy options, including nuclear energy. The weakening of central authority in Egypt, for example, has led to several acts of sabotage against the Egypt-Jordan gas pipeline, intensifying an existing energy shortage in Jordan. That shortage, along with the meagerness of the state's economic resources, undermines the stability of the government — and the strains remain even though the reform measures that Jordan has initiated amid the Arab Spring are more significant than those instituted by many other Middle Eastern countries. In Jordan, nuclear energy may be the only realistic option for meeting national energy needs — and may also be necessary if the country is to implement further, long-awaited political reforms.

Still, nuclear energy's importance as an electricity source does not eliminate proliferation concerns. Israel's long-standing nuclear capability has not spurred a nuclear arms race, but this does not mean that Arab countries have reconciled themselves to nuclear asymmetry in their region. Instead, a US carrot-and-stick policy has dissuaded Arab nations from pursuing the nuclear option. Israel, meanwhile, despite occasional lapses, has maintained an opaque nuclear posture since the late 1960s, thereby avoiding international sanctions.

In the Middle Eastern context, a nuclear-weapon-free zone continues to be a utopian idea, as no meaningful progress toward this goal can occur without a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The only realistic solution to that conflict — a two-state option, with Israel and Palestine existing side by side — continues to be elusive. But in any case, the heart of the problem is not borders or settlements or other such issues, but rather acceptance of Israel as a political entity, with everything implied by that.

Meanwhile, the ongoing controversy surrounding Iran's presumed nuclear ambitions exposes the limits of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's (NPT) ability to discourage proliferation while also guaranteeing signatories' legitimate right to develop nuclear power. If Iran becomes a de facto nuclear weapon state, countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt might seek such weapons too, or at least a nuclear umbrella. Israel might be tempted to brandish its nuclear capability openly. Hence, it is not an exaggeration to say that the survival of the NPT regime hinges on the regime's ability to ensure that Iran remains a non-nuclear weapon state.

But again, regarding the central issue of a link between nuclear energy and weaponization, risks are inherent in any technology and nuclear energy is a more dangerous technology than most. Still, to a significant extent, human progress depends on utilizing nuclear energy while minimizing its dangers. Progress is not advanced by denying technology to certain nations or exerting political control over them.

Knowing how much to worry

In developing countries, the dangers of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism can often seem remote. In the developed world, these threats are seen as rather grave. Part of the reason that the two viewpoints are so incompatible is that proliferation risk is very difficult to assess.

Even relatively stable regions, and indeed even countries without nuclear energy programs, can contribute to proliferation. In Malaysia, for example, the threat of proliferation was long assigned a low priority. This began to change in 2004, when it was discovered that a Malaysian company, operating as part of the A.Q. Khan network, had produced  centrifuge components for the Libyan regime of Muammar Qaddafi. To prevent this sort of thing from happening again, Malaysia in 2010 passed one of the toughest export-control laws in Asia. It is also planning to ratify the Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as well as to sign the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its 2005 amendment.

Most developing countries, however, tend to take a piecemeal approach toward threats such as nuclear terrorism. This is particularly apparent in the context of regional groupings like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), where countries often have to operate at the level of the lowest common denominator. Though ASEAN has established a nuclear-weapon-free zone in its region, nuclear terrorism has not received much prominence in ASEAN's security agenda, despite the fact that a number of Southeast Asian countries are actively contemplating the adoption of nuclear power. This has prompted Filipino political scientist Raymund Jose G. Quilop to suggest that countries from outside Southeast Asia may need to “drive the process” of increasing nuclear security’s significance within ASEAN (for instance, in the context of regional processes like the East Asia Summit).

It is, of course, in developed countries outside the region — countries such as the United States and Australia — that the prospect of nuclear terrorism creates a distinct sense of alarm. The United States in particular has treated nuclear terrorism as a major concern for over three decades. In 1976, in what Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations describes as the CIA's first comprehensive analysis of international terrorism, the agency assessed that "the prospect of nuclear-armed terrorists can, in fact, no longer be dismissed." The 9/11 attacks dramatically heightened US anxiety over this threat, and President Barack Obama has described nuclear terrorism as "the single most important national security threat that we face" and "a threat that rises above all others in urgency.”

Does the threat of nuclear terrorism warrant such intense fear? I believe not. But nor can it be dismissed too lightly. To be sure, aspiring nuclear terrorists would face major technical and logistical obstacles as they sought the ability to detonate an improvised nuclear device. Yet uncertainty surrounds the security of the world’s stocks of fissile material. As US nuclear physicist Peter D. Zimmerman notes, "it is not possible to reassure the world that there has been no theft of fissile material, or that any [such] attempt will be detected quickly enough to prevent [the material’s] being made into a nuclear device."

In such an environment, developing countries should treat the threat of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism more seriously than they do. This especially applies to those countries considering the adoption of nuclear power. Such countries, if they fail to demonstrate a true commitment to nonproliferation and nuclear security, should not be surprised if the international community expresses doubts about their willingness and ability to minimize nuclear threats.

Thus, I do not agree with P. R. Kumaraswamy that nuclear power can ever be regarded as "just another energy option." At the same time, developed countries should stop describing in alarmist terms the security risks associated with nuclear energy programs. Nothing more surely undermines the case for serious approaches to nonproliferation and nuclear security than exaggeration of threats; moreover, such exaggeration may cause some in the developing world to question the motives of those who give the warnings. For the good of all concerned, assessments of security risks must strive for careful balance.

Where proliferation concerns ring hollow

To Latin Americans, who live in a relatively peaceful region, the international community's concerns about the proliferation of nuclear weapons can sound a bit strange. Latin America has been a nuclear-weapon-free zone since since 1969, when the Treaty of Tlatelolco entered into force. All countries in the region, in addition to being signatories to that treaty, are also parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Given all this, proliferation just does not seem a pressing concern to most people in Latin America.

Brazil, my own country, became a party to the NPT in 1998 as a non-nuclear weapon state. (After adopting a new constitution in 1988, the country had renounced previous efforts toward developing nuclear weapons.) But participation in the global and regional nonproliferation regimes does not mean that Brazil has no legitimate interest in developing its domestic capacities in nuclear technology.

Brazil has managed over the last 40 years to create a domestic nuclear industry, with the exception of civilian nuclear power technologies, and has developed its own technology to enrich uranium for use in nuclear submarines. Indeed, it is because of issues surrounding its naval nuclear fuel program that Brazil has not signed the 1997 Additional Protocol to the NPT. This highlights a problem with the international nonproliferation regime: International treaties can limit the scope of individual countries' legitimate nuclear aims. They can also have the discriminatory effect of locking signatories into perpetual status as purchasers of technology.

Meanwhile, Brazil's experience with nuclear electricity generation has been costly and full of pitfalls, to say the least. Construction on Brazil's first nuclear plant, ANGRA I, began in 1971, but the facility only started to operate commercially in 1985. The total cost is officially reported as $2 billion, but several analysts contend that this figure is conservative. A second plant, ANGRA II, began operating in 2000, though work on the facility had begun all the way back in 1976. Work on a third plant, ANGRA III, began in 1984, but was halted for many years. Construction started again only in 2009 and is not expected to be concluded until 2015, with a final cost projection of nearly $6 billion.

Currently, nuclear energy accounts for less than 3 percent of Brazil's total electricity production. This number could increase if the government goes ahead with plans for four additional plants as envisioned in National Energy Plan 2030, but would rise to only about 4 percent in 2030 (depending on demand scenarios). In any event, the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station has caused the government to review its plans for nuclear energy, and it is very likely that National Energy Plan 2035 will drastically reduce the nuclear capacity previously projected.

Construction of Brazil's existing nuclear facilities has been accompanied by public protest, weak political leadership, and unclear priorities in energy policy. The drastic variations in nuclear policy that the country has experienced at the highest levels carry significant implications — changes in priorities have caused plant construction to be postponed or halted, leading to greater final costs for the electricity generated.

Lack of political continuity has also interrupted Brazil's efforts to build up its domestic human resources. Nuclear energy is a very specialized and sophisticated technology. It requires a cadre of people trained in safety, operations, maintenance, and other aspects of the production chain. Putting all this in place takes time and sustained effort. And in Brazil, issues such as public safety and waste management still need to be more fully addressed and more systematically reviewed, both by the authorities and through public consultation.

In Latin America, nuclear weapons proliferation is a highly regulated issue that is overseen by trusted local and international bodies. Meanwhile, I continue to believe that not much room exists for nuclear energy to achieve greater importance in electricity production, either in Brazil or in most of Latin America.


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