Dædalus, Fall 2009
President Obama gave a remarkable speech in Prague on April 5, 2009, in which he
called for deep reductions in nuclear arms in the immediate future and, eventually,
a world without nuclear weapons. He also proposed strengthened measures to prevent
the spread of nuclear weapons. His words recall those of the German philosopher
Hegel: “Human beings make history, but they are not aware of which history they
are making.” We should join President Obama in becoming aware of the history we
should all strive to make – one that lays the groundwork for a safer, more prosperous
world in which the planet’s resources are more equitably distributed and the environment
is safer and cleaner.
The we which I use here refers,first and foremost, to states, which have
the responsibility to ensure a peaceful and prosperous world. But nongovernmental
actors, such as laboratories, universities, think tanks, and corporations, must
each play its individual part in helping to build and sustain this world. And now
that the growing enthusiasm for nuclear energy that has been expressed by governments,
utilities, and electro-intensive industries around the globe seems more than just
a craze or a passing fashion, it is that much more necessary to involve all stakeholders.
Do we have to fear this nuclear renaissance? Several observers suggest that we do,
arguing that the current nonproliferation system, the product of many decades of
development, simply no longer works effectively or that it needs to be radically
altered. I would suggest that, rather than fear a nuclear renaissance, we must seize
it as a unique opportunity to enhance the culture of nonproliferation, in a way
that involves all stakeholders in this renaissance.
Rational, well-grounded reasons underlie the nuclear renaissance. Governments and
electricity utilities want to build new nuclear plants to address greenhouse gas
emissions and to meet growing energy needs. Nuclear must do so while addressing
three challenges that lie at the heart of any energy consideration: namely, sustainability,
competitiveness, and security.
Few sources of energy can meet all three of these requirements. Fossil fuels, with
their substantial greenhouse gas emissions, cannot meet the sustainability requirement.
While we do need to develop renewable energy sources, most renewables provide only
intermittent supplies of energy and therefore cannot by themselves ensure full security
of supply. Moreover, they do not meet the competitiveness requirement, since, like
all sources of energy at an early stage of development, they will require heavy
subsidies in the United States, as well as in Europe.
Nuclear energy meets all three requirements. Indeed, nuclear energy is:
- Carbon free and sustainable, because it emits the lowest amount of carbon per kilowatt
hour among all sources of energy;
- Competitive, even without a carbon pricing system. That is why it is the choice
of countries with highly regulated economic systems (for example, China and India);
partially deregulated ones, such as the United States; or totally deregulated economies,
like in the United Kingdom; and
- Secure, because uranium is widely available around the world. Current major mines
are in politically stable countries, such as Canada and Australia, and conventional
resources account for 200 times the annual demand. In addition, the global nuclear
fuel market is functioning effectively, and consumer states are able to obtain satisfactory
assurances of enriched uranium fuel through long-term contracts. For example, AREVA
has signed a 60-year contract with one customer.
Nuclear power’s ability to meet these requirements explains the growing global interest
in nuclear energy. However, the prospects for expanding nuclear energy also come
with concerns in some quarters that the spread of this technology could contribute
to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, either in additional states or among non-state
actors, such as terrorist groups. As a result, some have advocated discouraging
the development of nuclear power, particularly its spread to states that do not
now have nuclear energy programs in operation. Over the last several years, some
academic and media circles have taken a pessimistic view of the prospects of containing
the spread of nuclear weapons. They have argued that the end of the Cold War has
accelerated the risks of proliferation and that the current nonproliferation system,
a decades-long development, is no longer effective and needs to be radically altered.
While a few countries have taken irresponsible actions in the nuclear field that
threaten international and regional peace and security, the international nonproliferation
system has, on the whole, been highly successful in limiting the spread of nuclear
weapons. One hundred and eighty-seven states now adhere to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation
of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Only three states have elected not to join the NPT, and
some states, such as South Africa or, more recently, Libya, have abandoned or dismantled
their nuclear weapons programs altogether. The non-nuclear-weapons states that are
party to the NPT have pledged to forgo the manufacture or acquisition of nuclear
weapons and have agreed to accept International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards
on all of their nuclear activities. Nearly all have faithfully abided by that commitment.
Nevertheless, during the past few years, new threats have emerged to challenge the
global nonproliferation regime. Over a 20-year period, Iran has clandestinely acquired
uranium enrichment capabilities in a manner that constitutes a violation of its
obligations under the IAEA safeguards agreement. In this action Iran has been supported
by Pakistan, which itself has admitted that A.Q. Khan, the former head of the Khan
Research Laboratory in Pakistan, transferred enrichment technology to North Korea,
Iran, and Libya. The A.Q. Khan clandestine network also spread nuclear weapons technology
to Iran and Libya. Thus far Iran has chosen to ignore several calls by the United
Nations Security Council to suspend its enrichment activities. North Korea, which
withdrew from the NPT and conducted nuclear tests, demonstrates another major challenge
to the nonproliferation regime. While North Korea had begun dismantling its nuclear
facilities, the 6-party talks with Pyongyang have stalled over disagreements about
verification arrangements; as of this writing, North Korea had just expelled IAEA
inspectors and announced its decision to restart its facilities.
Clearly the nonproliferation regime shows weaknesses and needs continuous strengthening.
Responsible members of the international community must be ever vigilant, and must
accelerate their efforts to strengthen international safeguards, nuclear export
controls, physical protection, and other elements of the regime. The nonproliferation
policy proposed by President Obama provides hope that the international community
can take effective steps to close the loopholes in the nonproliferation regime.
However great the challenges we now face in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons,
they do not cast doubt on the effectiveness of the nonproliferation system as a
whole. Nor do they justify the conclusion that the growth of civil nuclear power
programs means the spread of nuclear weapons. It is worth emphasizing that the few
countries that have sought to acquire nuclear weapons in recent years have done
so for reasons of national security, national power, or prestige: in other words,
their basic motivations have been political. The nuclear programs of these countries –
North Korea, Iraq, and Iran – have never used nuclear power to produce a single kilowatt
hour of electricity.
The responsibility for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons rests first and foremost
with governments. As President Obama has said, “Rules must be binding. Violations
must be punished.” States must ensure that countries comply with commitments they
have made under the NPT, their IAEA safeguards agreements, and other elements of
the regime. But we all share in the responsibility to prevent the proliferation
of nuclear weapons. The nuclear industry, as well as the arms control and nonproliferation
communities, must join governments in ensuring that the nuclear renaissance takes
place under conditions that minimize the risk of proliferation.
The renewed interest in nuclear energy and the international growth of nuclear electricity
generation do not equate – and should not be equated – with increasing proliferation
risks. Indeed, the nuclear renaissance presents a unique opportunity to enhance
the culture of nonproliferation. The nuclear industry must play a major role in
strengthening this culture AREVA’s “Value Charter” establishes nonproliferation
at the top of its operating principles. Among other things:
- AREVA manages all of its nuclear facilities and nuclear materials in full accord
with all international nonproliferation treaties, norms, and national regulations.
- AREVA does not, and will never, cooperate with any customer from a country that
does not adhere to international nonproliferation standards or is not compliant
with its nonproliferation obligations.
- Even if a country satisfies the above criteria, AREVA reserves the right to assess
the political stability and security situation of the country, and even the region,
to consider possible risks associated with a given commercial transaction.
- AREVA strictly implements national and international rules and procedures governing
export control for all end-user countries; it has also developed a special training
and awareness program for all AREVA employees in charge of export control.
- AREVA is ready to supply countries with light water reactors, such as its EPR reactor,
that by themselves do not present a proliferation risk, provided effective controls
and conditions are accepted and implemented in these countries.
- AREVA is committed to exercising special care in considering the transfer of sensitive
technologies, such as enrichment and reprocessing (or recycling) technologies, to
other countries. We have transferred recycling technology to Japan, with the provision
that Japan agree to refrain from retransferring the technology to any other country,
and we have supported the implementation of IAEA safeguards in Japan. We are currently
considering transferring recycling technology (without separation of pure plutonium)
for peaceful purposes to China, and we are also prepared to transfer such technology
to the United States, if the United States chooses to adopt recycling as part of
its strategy to manage the back end of its fuel cycle. However, we have no plans
to transfer such sensitive nuclear technology to other countries.
It also bears mentioning that the vast majority of potential AREVA customers have
no aspiration to acquire enrichment or recycling facilities. On the contrary, most
are interested only in the generation of clean and affordable power. We no longer
live in the era when countries sought to master all aspects of the nuclear fuel
cycle for reasons of prestige or demonstrating their technological prowess. Rather,
most countries recognize that we have entered an era of realism and efficiency in
meeting energy needs. Countries have an equation to solve: how to generate X thousand
megawatts of electricity beginning in 2020 or 2025 on a competitive, sustainable,
and responsible basis. Nuclear electricity generation is one of the solutions; but
most countries do not believe that the development of their own sensitive nuclear
technologies, such as highly sophisticated uranium enrichment or used-fuel treatment
capability, will provide them with a sensible, economic, or competitive approach
to help solve this equation. None of AREVA’s customers has expressed a real interest
in acquiring sensitive nuclear technology. At any rate, AREVA would not provide
such technologies to countries where it would make no economic sense, or where it
would present a risk of political instability or a danger of proliferation.
Beyond the care that AREVA exercises in its nuclear export policies, AREVA also
seeks to contribute to nonproliferation in several other ways. AREVA actively participates
in numerous international initiatives, committees, and institutions that are working
to strengthen the nonproliferation regime. Such participation gives AREVA the opportunity
to share its experience, to benefit from the expertise of others, and to improve
its own export control practices, safeguards, and physical protection measures.
For example, AREVA joined the IAEA’s Committee 2020, established in 2008 by IAEA
Director General Mohamed ElBaradei with the purpose of reflecting upon the nature
and scope of the Agency’s program up to 2020 and beyond and addressing the many
challenges and opportunities the Agency will face in the coming years. That committee’s
report set out concrete recommendations, calling for a reinvigorated global nuclear
order that reduces risks while allowing rapidly growing contributions from nuclear
technologies to human well-being. AREVA is also working with the International Commission
on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, chaired by Garreth Evans and Yuriko
Kawaguchi. The commission aims to revive the global debate on the need to prevent
the further spread of nuclear weapons, as well as the need for nuclear disarmament;
the commission also hopes to strengthen the NPT by seeking to shape a global consensus
in the lead-up to the 2010 NPT Review Conference and beyond. A key issue that the
commission will examine is how to ensure that expanded use of civil nuclear energy – most
welcome in view of climate change and energy security concerns – does not result in
an associated increase in proliferation risks.
AREVA does not participate in such endeavors to enhance its public image or to win
a seal of good behavior for the nuclear industry. Rather, AREVA believes that being
a responsible member of the international community means that the nuclear industry
should partner with others, to learn from them and to share with them AREVA’s considerable
experience in safeguards, physical protection, and other technical aspects of nonproliferation.
In considering the global nuclear renaissance, we need to pay special heed to the
interests that developing countries have expressed in acquiring civil nuclear programs.
Some observers have expressed concern that the expansion of civil nuclear power
to such countries will only increase the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation.
However, we should view these countries’ interest in nuclear energy as good news,
for at least three reasons.
First, we need to do everything we can to put an end to today’s global energy imbalance.
Two billion people currently live without access to electricity, and not having
electricity shortens life expectancy to 35 or 40 years. We know that many countries
without sufficient energy now will face serious power shortages in the future as
their populations continue to grow. We should not – cannot – allow this situation to
Second, the effects of climate change will not be limited to industrialized countries.
Developing countries will be hit particularly hard by global warming. Many of them
are now turning to nuclear power as a source of energy that is carbon free. Far
from trying to dissuade this, we should applaud and support their efforts.
Third, objecting to nuclear energy in the developing world on nonproliferation grounds
is politically, legally, and ethically unacceptable. Article IV of the NPT1
is part of the basic bargain of the international nonproliferation regime. As President
Obama stated in his speech in Prague:
The basic bargain is sound: Countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament,
countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them, and all countries can access
peaceful nuclear energy. To strengthen the treaty, we should embrace several principles.
We need more resources and authority to strengthen international inspections. We
need real and immediate consequences for countries caught breaking the rules or
trying to leave the treaty without cause.
And we should build a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, including an
international fuel bank, so that countries can access peaceful power without increasing
the risks of proliferation. That must be the right of every nation that renounces
nuclear weapons, especially developing countries embarking on peaceful programs.
And no approach will succeed if it’s based on the denial of rights to nations that
play by the rules. We must harness the power of nuclear energy on behalf of our
efforts to combat climate change, and to advance peace opportunity for all people.
Opposing the expansion of civil nuclear power to developing countries by claiming
that it will lead to the spread of nuclear weapons is to deny these states’ right
to peaceful nuclear energy. Any effort to deny the benefits of civil nuclear power
programs to developing countries risks overturning the fundamental balance of the
NPT and jeopardizes the very foundation of the nonproliferation system. Nuclear
energy is not just a privilege for rich countries.
This does not mean that it makes sense for all developing countries to choose the
nuclear power option. Nuclear energy will not be appropriate for some countries
in the world because they lack the required political stability and secure environment,
the industrial infrastructure, and the human and financial resources to purchase,
operate, and maintain nuclear power plants in the long run. However, for those countries
for which nuclear power provides a sensible economic and technical means of meeting
energy needs, AREVA believes that the rules for selling nuclear reactors and fuel
should be fair, nondiscriminatory, and universal. Once a country commits to comply
with international nonproliferation norms and obligations, we must apply the same
rules, whether that country is America or Finland, China or South Africa. India
has represented an important development in this respect. The reopening of nuclear
trade relations with India over the last years has been based on the necessary peaceful-use
guarantees and international inspections in the country.
The past several years have seen a number of proposals to minimize the risks associated
with the spread of sensitive nuclear technologies. The Nuclear Suppliers Group is
working to develop new criteria for the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing
technology. France, Germany, The Netherlands, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the
United States, at the June 2006 meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors, offered
improved fuel assurances in order to discourage countries from developing enrichment
and reprocessing facilities of their own. The proposal from that meeting, “Concept
for a Multilateral Mechanism for Reliable Access to Nuclear Fuel,” outlines a reliable
supply mechanism, backed up by reserves of enriched uranium, that would support
expansion of nuclear energy while at the same time obviating the need for investments
in additional enrichment and reprocessing facilities.2
The United States announced in September 2005 that it would commit 17.4 tons of
highly enriched uranium to be blended down to low enriched uranium “to support assurance
of reliable fuel supplies for states that forgo enrichment and reprocessing.” 3
In addition, the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), an American nongovernmental organization,
pledged $50 million for the establishment of an international fuel bank under the
auspices of the IAEA, provided that one or more member states contribute either
an additional $100 million in funding or an equivalent value of low enriched uranium
to jump-start the reserve. The United States, the European Union, Norway, the United
Arab Emirates, and Kuwait have pledged the necessary funds to establish this bank;
the IAEA now needs to define the proper mechanism to implement such a bank.
In June 2007, Russia offered to set aside 120 tons of low enriched uranium, to be
released upon request by the IAEA for use by member states of the Agency.4
These initiatives show that the international community is prepared to take concrete
and meaningful steps to provide nuclear fuel assurances to countries that suffer
disruptions of supply unrelated to their fulfilment of nonproliferation obligations.
The nuclear industry itself can play an important role in making the acquisition
of national enrichment and recycling facilities unnecessary and uneconomic. A well-functioning
fuel cycle market, with suppliers like AREVA providing enrichment and used-fuel
recycling services at competitive prices, makes it unnecessary for newcomers to
nuclear energy to acquire sensitive nuclear technologies. It is worth pointing out
that developed countries such as Belgium and Switzerland have enjoyed the benefits
of nuclear energy for 40 years without perceiving any need to acquire sensitive
capabilities, despite their having the technical and financial means to do so. They
have purchased nuclear fuel as part of long-term contracts with enrichment suppliers,
covered by export licenses. To make sure its products and services remain reliable
in the long term, the nuclear industry has already committed to major investments
in new capacity.
However, we cannot restrict our attention to assurances of supply of nuclear fuel.
We also have to decide how to manage the used nuclear fuel once it has been discharged
from reactors. There has been a long-standing debate about the merits of recycling
and the management of the back end of the fuel cycle. On one side of the debate
is the once-through approach historically endorsed by the United States, which involves
disposing of used nuclear fuel as a waste. On the other side is the recycling approach
adopted by France, Japan, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, The Netherlands,
and under consideration by China and India; this approach entails recycling used
fuel and recovering both plutonium and uranium to produce recycled fuel for peaceful
use in nuclear reactors.
Concerns about the proliferation risks associated with recycling have been at the
heart of U.S. policy, which was originally established on an interim basis by President
Ford and was extended by President Carter. The Bush administration showed a new
willingness to reconsider America’s once-through used fuel management strategy and
to examine the merits of developing advanced reprocessing and recycling technologies.
We do not yet know what policy the Obama administration will adopt on recycling,
but Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has expressed interest in continued research
and development in the area of recycling technologies.
AREVA believes that the closed
fuel cycle approach is an industrial solution available today, and that under the
appropriate nonproliferation controls and conditions, it offers a sensible path
in the future for some countries. In such cases, AREVA’s experience shows that treatment
and recycling can provide a very good fuel-cycle option at a competitive cost, and
is an economically, environmentally, and socially responsible approach to the management
of used nuclear fuel. AREVA has treated more than 20,000 tons of used nuclear fuel
from seven countries on a commercial basis. AREVA takes the used fuel produced by
our customers back to La Hague and treats it there to recycle 96 percent of its
contents. The recycled materials are then manufactured into mixed oxide fuel (MOX)
in our MELOX facility. Waste from recycling (which is exempt from IAEA safeguards)
is returned to the country that enjoyed the benefit of the energy delivered. Recycled
uranium can be reenriched and sent back on the global market. Plutonium, the most
sensitive material, shall be recycled in selected countries, dependent on technical,
economic, security, and nonproliferation considerations and subject to international
arrangements. With such a model, most countries could enjoy the full benefits of
nuclear energy without having either to master or develop locally any sensitive
technologies, significantly contributing to stabilizing the world’s geopolitics.
AREVA believes that treating used nuclear fuel and fabricating MOX fuel for countries
under effective international safeguards and physical protection measures do not
present a proliferation risk and will not contribute to the weakening of the nonproliferation
regime. On the contrary, AREVA is contributing both to reducing proliferation risks
and to protecting the environment by removing used fuel, recycling reusable material,
and reducing the volume and radiotoxicity of waste. In this respect, AREVA is prepared
to consider treating used fuel from countries that would not necessarily be interested
in or be in a technical or political position to recover the recycled fuels themselves.
Some utilities that already recycle their own fuels, as well as utilities located
in the G8 countries, for instance, could be encouraged to facilitate such operations.
In addition to its industrial reprocessing and recycling programs, AREVA is contributing
to nuclear arms control and disarmament by helping to eliminate excess weapons-grade
plutonium from the United States in connection with the U.S.-Russian Plutonium Management
and Disposition Agreement of 2000. Securing and reducing global inventories of nuclear
weapons and materials must be an integral part of any effort to prevent them from
falling into the hands of terrorists. The United States and Russia have already
declared a significant fraction of their plutonium as in excess of their defense
needs. Much larger amounts could be removed as they reduce their arsenals to somewhere
in the range of 1,700 to 2,200 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads
by 2012, as agreed under the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT). And U.S.
President Obama and Russian President Medvedev have agreed to pursue new and verifiable
reductions in strategic offensive arsenals. Such reductions could result in additional
quantities of excess plutonium from dismantled weapons.
AREVA is building a MOX fuel fabrication facility in Savannah River, South Carolina,
based on its MELOX facility. This new U.S. facility will enable the United States
to convert 34 metric tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium into MOX fuel and to
produce electricity for peaceful use in nuclear plants. President Obama has urged
the nuclear-weapons states to reduce their nuclear weapons arsenals. AREVA, already
part of several U.S.-led initiatives aimed at reducing the risks of unused highly
enriched uranium, is ready to deepen its partnership with the U.S. government to
support this goal. It is important to stress that using MOX fuel for peaceful purposes
in nuclear reactors is the only solution available in the short term to reduce the
surplus of weapons-usable plutonium and civil plutonium.
We have entered a world where the nuclear industry cannot be part of the problem;
it must be an active part of the solution. It must help create a world where countries
must replace the alleged prestige and status of possessing nuclear weapons or sensitive
nuclear technologies with new emphasis on the efficiency and pragmatism of producing
electricity for peaceful purposes.
The ongoing nuclear renaissance presents a tremendous
opportunity to meet the energy, economic, and environmental needs of both developed
and developing countries for the lifetime of our children and beyond. However, governments,
industry, and the nonproliferation community must cooperate closely to ensure that
the growth of nuclear power does not increase the risk of nuclear weapons. We must
make use of this nuclear renaissance as a unique opportunity to enhance the culture
of nonproliferation among all stakeholders in the renaissance.