PEST(EL) in the Nuclear Industry – The Political (part 3)

Two weeks ago I discussed some of the basic political landscape affecting the nuclear industry. Last week we looked at the myriad agencies that affect the industry. This week is the final (I think) installment on Politics in the Nuclear Industry. We’re going on an international tour. There are a lot of countries out there with active nuclear programs or have expressed a desire for such to review each of those countries would take far more time and expertise than I possess. I’m rather going to look at some broader issues.

Non-Proliferation Treaty. The grand idea was to get all nations to forswear the use of nuclear in the making of weapons. There are currently 189 countries that are party to the treaty. Countries that already had nuclear weapons at the time of the treaty entered into force (March 1970) got to retain their programs, those that didn’t have such weapons were to agree never to build them. India, Israel, and Pakistan never signed it. North Korea has withdrawn. Taiwan isn’t recognized, but accepts IAEA oversight. The treaty allows non-weapons states to explore all aspects of the peaceful use of nuclear energy. It requires significant oversight by the IAEA to assure the world that each state is not developing an ability to generate highly enriched uranium.

Export Control concerns. I wrote about the impact of current export control regulation in the US on the domestic industry at the ANS nuclear café in October of 2010. Nothing has changed from there. We still have a mess of regulation.

Reprocessing. In the U.S. presidents Carter and Reagan in the late 70’s and early 80’s ended the US effort to reprocess used commercial nuclear fuel to extract the remaining uranium and plutonium to reuse it in reactors. This was the birth of the National Waste Policy Act (NWPA) and the debate about the disposal of used nuclear fuel. It was President Carter’s vision to set the example to the world not to reprocess such fuel to prevent any risk of the resulting material being used to develop weapons. However, much of the world ignored Mr. Carter’s advice and either developed reprocessing facilities or sent their fuel to other countries to be reprocessed.

New Nuclear States (and some not so new). A number of countries have stated their intention to build or expand their nuclear programs. Most of them have maintained that desired even after the events at Fukushima. Unfortunately, the U.S. government has not been able to develop and consistently support a strategy toward these countries. There seems to be a belief that if the US doesn’t support the country it will not develop nuclear energy capabilities. Russia, France, and South Korea have all made it clear that they will work with these countries and help them move forward. The US is rapidly becoming a non-player in these markets.

So what does all of this mean?

There are reasons BEYOND economics or environment for nuclear energy to be a part of this nation’s energy program. It is clear that many nations in the world are going to continue to use nuclear energy as a fundamental part of their energy portfolios. If the United States does not participate in the development of new technologies, in the design of new reactors, in the building of new nuclear facilities, and chooses to end its leadership in this technology, we will no longer be at the table with the rest of the world in determining the best, safest, and most accountable operations of these facilities.

The genie of nuclear energy is out of the bottle and no amount of wishful thinking will put that genie back into that bottle. If, we, as a nation want to continue to lead the world in this technology to guide the peaceful use of nuclear energy, to ensure the safety and accountability of all nations, we must lead the way in developing those technologies and demonstrating the safe, economic, and reliable use of nuclear energy in our society as well. We must continue to be the “gold standard” that other nations look to in determining how to implement this technology.