The first decade of this millennium has seen a global revival of interest in the use of nuclear energy for generating electricity. Since around 2000 a widely shared view has emerged that the coming years will witness an explosion in the use of nuclear energy amounting to a ‘renaissance’.1 The nuclear industry, in the doldrums since the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, has sensed a ‘second coming’. Governments and international organizations have expressed growing enthusiasm for a power source that appears relatively ‘green’, can help cut greenhouse gas emissions and provide greater energy diversity and security. The nuclear trade press, as well as the general media, has touted the revival, often unquestioningly. Commentary in the media has fed on itself, creating hyperbole reminiscent of the nuclear hucksterism of the Atoms for Peace era of the 1960s and 1970s. Journalistic books and academic tomes alike have reinforced the perceived inevitability of a nuclear revival.2 There has certainly been, then, a revival of interest in nuclear energy. The first question this study considers is whether this interest is likely to be translated into action. This book will not use the term ‘renaissance’ but the more neutral ‘revival’, except when referring to others’ characterization of the revival as a renaissance. ‘Renaissance’ has a romantic air about it that trivializes the serious dilemmas facing governments and others over energy and climate change policies that may well determine the fate of the planet. It also glosses over complicated issues like the still unsolved problem of long-lived, high-level nuclear waste. This study seeks to be disinterested. It is neither pro-nor anti-nuclear, but is an attempt to predict the likely course of nuclear energy worldwide in the coming decades in all its complexities. The future growth of nuclear energy globally will ultimately be dependent on the confluence of decisions by governments, electricity utilities, the nuclear industry, private and institutional investors and international organizations. Perhaps most important of all will be the decisions of interested stakeholders outside the industry itself, notably the general public as expressed through elections, opinion polls or other means, and the activities of civil society in supporting or opposing nuclear energy. One way of considering how policy-makers might reach their decisions is to consider the balance of drivers and constraints. The first three chapters of this
book are thus devoted to analysing the drivers and constraints that are most likely to influence decision-making about nuclear energy in the coming decades and seeking to discover where the balance is likely to lie. Facts and figures are useful in this effort but ultimately qualitative and other types of judgements, especially about governments’ likely policy preferences, are necessary. Comparisons are made in this work between nuclear power and other sources of electricity generation, including nuclear’s traditional competitors, coal and natural gas, but also emerging alternative energy sources. Inevitably, in a work focused on nuclear power, it is impossible to give equal attention to all of its competitors, especially given the rapid developments occurring in generation by wind, solar energy and renewables. Otherwise the book would have been twice the size. In similar vein, the focus of this study is necessarily on possible developments to 2030, given that prognostications beyond then become ludicrously difficult to make in a rapidly evolving energy and climate change context. Particular attention is, however, paid to aspirant states, especially those in the developing world, that are seeking to acquire nuclear energy for the first time – since it is often these countries that feature in the more extravagant predictions of a global nuclear energy surge. The second question that this study seeks to answer is the likely impact of a nuclear energy revival on global nuclear governance. The three key areas of global nuclear governance cover safety, security and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Nuclear safety is concerned with preventing harm to people and the environment from the use of nuclear power, whether from nuclear reactors, nuclear materials in situ or in transit, or associated nuclear fuel cycle facilities such as enrichment and reprocessing plants. This has been an enduring concern of the international community, especially since the Chernobyl disaster. Nuclear security, on the other hand, is concerned with preventing attacks on or illicit access to nuclear facilities and materials. This has been the subject of heightened concern since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 on the United States and the resulting fear that terrorists will seek nuclear materials for nuclear weapons or radiological dispersal devices (RDDs), otherwise known as radiological weapons or in popular parlance ‘dirty bombs’. A related concern is that terrorists might attempt to attack or sabotage a nuclear power plant or other nuclear facility. Non-proliferation efforts, meanwhile, are concerned with preventing additional states acquiring nuclear weapons through the acquisition of the peaceful nuclear fuel cycle, including nuclear reactors, but more particularly enrichment and reprocessing facilities capable of producing material for nuclear devices. The case of Iran, which claims to want civilian nuclear power, but is clearly intent on acquiring at least the option of a nuclear weapon capability, in violation of its treaty obligations, is a contemporary example of the potential non-proliferation implications of a demand for nuclear energy by aspirant states. In this sense this book is also about the implications of a nuclear energy revival for international security more broadly defined. For the purposes of this study ‘global nuclear governance’ refers to the web of international treaties, agreements, regulatory regimes, organizations and agen-
cies, monitoring and verification mechanisms and supplementary arrangements that help determine the way that the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, notably the generation of nuclear electricity, is governed.3 These may exist at the international, regional, sub-regional or bilateral levels. Governance at all these levels is in turn dependent on national implementation arrangements which ensure that each country fulfils its obligations in the nuclear field. Such a broad conceptualization of governance is intended to emphasize the need for a holistic approach when contemplating the implications of a civilian nuclear energy revival. Global governance will axiomatically be a collaborative enterprise involving many players. It will also be perpetually a work in progress. Chapters 4 and 5 consider the current status and strengths and weaknesses of the existing global governance arrangements in the three key areas of nuclear safety, nuclear security and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Chapter 6 analyses the likely impact of a nuclear energy revival on the three regimes. Although for the purposes of clarity this study treats nuclear safety, nuclear security and nuclear non-proliferation separately, it is increasingly recognized that there is an actual and potential relationship between them that is not always reflected in the ad hoc evolution of the global governance arrangements pertaining to each. Nor is it often reflected in policy or academic analysis. In particular the non-proliferation community on the one hand and the safety and security communities on the other tend to ignore each other. Seeking to overcome this intellectual ‘stove-piping’ was one of the motivations for including all of the regimes in this study. While the uses of nuclear technology, including nuclear reactors, for peaceful purposes, are diverse, this study focuses on the generation of electricity by nuclear reactors. Although the global governance implications of the use of nuclear reactors for any type of peaceful purpose are the same – whether for desalination, process heat (such as for the production of oil from tar sands) or hydrogen production – the overwhelming majority of civilian nuclear reactors are used for generating electricity which is fed into power grids for domestic and industrial use. This study will therefore focus on this major use of nuclear reactors, mostly to the exclusion of others. This study thus does not consider developments pertaining to research reactors, isotope production reactors, experimental reactors or radioactive sources since these are not normally considered to be part of the nuclear revival, even though interest in them may be increasing. The study also does not consider nuclear reactors that are exclusively dedicated to producing plutonium for nuclear weapons, except in respect of the possibility that civilian nuclear power reactors might be converted to such purposes. Aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle beyond nuclear power plants themselves are not considered in detail but only where they are relevant to safety, security and non-proliferation. The concluding chapter of this book provides ideas and recommendations for consideration by the international community as to how global governance might be strengthened in advance of a nuclear energy revival of whatever size. The role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the paramount
organization in global nuclear governance, is highlighted. Particular attention is again paid to the period to 2030, although many of the recommendations would lay the groundwork for solid governance arrangements well beyond that. Finally, the likelihood that such recommendations for reform might actually be implemented is considered in the light of the considerable political, financial and technical barriers that they face. Among the most vexing of these is the stark and seemingly growing division between the nuclear ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ over constraints on access to the peaceful uses of nuclear technology and the pace of nuclear disarmament.