The Global Nuclear Future
A sustainable and secure supply of energy is one of the great demands of our time, as nations throughout the world work to develop reliable energy sources. While nuclear power is only one of the many types of energy that will be employed to meet the world’s growing energy needs and address concerns about climate change, it is the only one that both avoids carbon emissions and is clearly sufficiently technologically advanced to be employed on a large scale in a relatively short time-frame. The spread of nuclear technology in the absence of rigorous international safety regimes presents a set of unique security risks, including the potential proliferation of weapons capabilities to new states and terrorist groups. Moreover, the renewed interest in nuclear power comes at a time when the nonproliferation regime, which has managed the spread of nuclear material and weapons technology, is severely challenged.
The Global Nuclear Future Initiative is working to advance policies and procedures that ensure that the spread of nuclear energy does not aggravate, and in fact reduces, international security and nonproliferation concerns. The Initiative seeks to:
While discussions of nuclear power have centered on issues of cost, safety and waste, less attention has been paid to security. For instance, since it is costly and politically difficult to change a reactor design once it is chosen or close an enrichment facility once it is constructed, there is an urgent need to evaluate proposals to build proliferation- and theft-resistant nuclear reactors and to establish international regimes to manage the fuel cycle. To achieve this goal, technical communities and proliferation specialists need to be brought together to guide government and industry choices before technology is adopted that might make it easier for countries to proliferate or for nuclear material to be stolen.
- Reduce the probability that a terrorist group could steal or acquire nuclear material from a nuclear facility to make a weapon.
- Diminish the likelihood that new states building nuclear power plants will retain and reprocess spent fuel materials, which could facilitate their development of nuclear weapons.
- Increase the opportunities for strengthening the nonproliferation treaty , specifically by working with nations developing or aspiring to have civilian nuclear energy programs.
The Academy is in a unique position to address this critical challenge. Taking advantage of its convening power, and the wide range of its Fellows’ interests, the Academy is bringing together constituencies that historically have not communicated with each other—from government policy makers to the heads of non-governmental organizations, from nuclear engineers to industry leaders, from social scientists to nonproliferation experts—to create a new global architecture for the nuclear future, accounting for new players, varying interests, and changing realities.
Because many of the crucial decisions that will shape the nuclear future will not be made by the United States alone, the Academy has included experts from overseas, including participants from foreign governments and international organizations, to participate in this work. Since the Academy is not identified with a particular stance on nuclear questions, yet has a fifty-year-old tradition of work on arms control, it offers a neutral forum for discussing these issues. Moreover, by hosting a series of activities over the long term, the Academy can foster a sustained community of experts to evaluate international policy alternatives.
The Global Nuclear Future Initiative is directed by Steven Miller (Harvard University) and Scott Sagan (Stanford University), along with research coordinator Stephen Goldberg ((Argonne National Laboratory) and senior advisor Robert Rosner (University of Chicago). The Initiative’s advisory committee includes Albert Carnesale (University of California, Los Angeles), Thomas Isaacs (Stanford University and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), Richard Meserve (Carnegie Institution for Science), George Perkovich (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), and John Rowe (Exelon Corporation).
The Academy’s Committee on International Security Studies, chaired by Steven Miller and John Steinbruner (University of Maryland), is providing overall advice and guidance.
The Academy is convening a series of workshops in the United States and abroad. To date, these policy-oriented meetings have focused on:
Participants included representatives from government, academia, and industry.
- physical protection of nuclear facilities and materials;
- the nuclear industry and security concerns (including a discussion with chief nuclear operators on how operators from the United States might engage with new nuclear entrant states);
- the fuel cycle; the international regulatory and nonproliferation regime (with a particular focus on the Middle East); and
- the current state and future prospects of the emerging international nuclear order, specifically with regard to development of regional nuclear energy programs and management of the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle (with a particular focus on Southeast Asia).
Through these meetings, the Academy has built an international network of colleagues that includes scholars from the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and representatives from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations (UN), the League of Arab States, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and various state energy agencies. As part of our efforts to bring our findings to policy-makers we organized a high-level meeting during the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May 2010 with a select group of permanent representatives to the UN and representatives from the UN and the IAEA. The meeting focused on the challenges and opportunities likely to arise in the context of the Conference.
The GNF Initiative has contributed to new thinking and discussions about these issues at the highest levels of policy-making in this nation and abroad. Members of the Initiative are presenting the findings at international forums such as the IAEA, at scholarly and public policy conferences at major universities, to diplomats and members of the U.S. Congress, to representatives of the Executive Office of the President and the Departments of Energy and State, and at meetings hosted by organizations such as the World Association of Nuclear Operators. As a result of these outreach efforts, the Initiative has informed discussions at the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, and the Chairman’s final report of the NPT drew on the advice offered at the Academy-sponsored May 2010 project meeting. Members of the Initiative also provided direct input for the U.S. government’s April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit. President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future is using the project publications on the fuel cycle as a resource for their work. The Academy continues to disseminate and advocate for the policy proposals and recommendations generated by this ongoing initiative.
The Academy is grateful to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and to the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Flora Family Foundation, Fred Kavli, and the Kavli Foundation for supporting this project. The statements and views expressed here and in any publications of this project are solely the responsibility of the authors.
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