Monday, April 11, 2011

Shut down Nuclear Plants? Wait!: Peaceful Use and Non-proliferation

After the Fukushima shock, an increasing number of people insist that nuclear power plants be shut down immediately to avoid radioactive pollution to the environment. Some say that renewable resource such as biomass, geothermal, solar, wind, and tidal energy, supplant atomic power as post-petroleum energy resource. However, we should remember that technological assistance to build nuclear reactors for peaceful use is a bargaining tool for nonproliferation. Atomic energy and nuclear weapons are deeply correlated. Therefore, complete elimination of nuclear power plants can remove constraints to rising proliferators, which will lead to more nuclear tests and more radioactive contamination. This paradox is very important when we think of peaceful use of nuclear energy and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons after Fukushima.

Relations between peaceful use of atomic energy and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons can be described from the following points. First, established nuclear great powers like P5 and developed nations offer technological assistance for otherwise proliferators to build nuclear reactors. In return, countries accepting the assistance are demanded to stop developing or proliferating nuclear weapons. Once developed nations shut down nuclear power plants, they will lose this vital bargaining tool. Second, providers of technological assistance can demand verification, even though the customer country is out of the NPT regime.

The US-Indian nuclear deal is the most successful case of reactor for nonproliferation. In return for technological help, India accepted to stop nuclear tests. This deal has become a paradigm for other industrialized and emerging economies keen to pioneer the Indian market. Among them, Japan finally decided to shed anti-nuclear sentiments through Hiroshima-Nagasaki experience, and join the nuclear deal with India. Despite pacifist emotion, Japanese companies such as Hitachi, Toshiba, and Japan Steel Works subcontract General Electric and Areva to build nuclear reactors (“U.S., France press for Japan-India nuclear deal – Nikkei”; Reuters; June 9, 2010).

Reactor for nonproliferation deal is also explored in negotiations with Iran and North Korea. Whether we can talk with them or not, helping reactor building is one of carrots accompanied by a stick of economic sanction. As nuclear power plant projects are suspended in developed countries, negotiations with Iran and North Korea will be stalled.

It is too naïve to demand nuclear power plans be shut down immediately. Once we shut down, we will lose a means to bind potential nuclear proliferators. While the tsunami was a natural disaster once in a thousand years of Japanese history, nuclear testing is an act of human will that can happen anytime. Rising proliferators have poor technological solutions to manage the testing site, which would result in more serious radioactive pollution on the earth.

If we stop peaceful use of nuclear power, the problem will grow beyond energy and the environment. It is regretful that opinion leaders fail to discuss the impact of the Fukushima accident on nuclear arms control and nonproliferation.