Can President Barack Obama Save the Non-Proliferation Treaty?
2 Mar, 2009 06:17 pm
Those concerned about the fundamental challenges that face the international community ? including the threats posed by the proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear terrorism, the consequences of global climate change, and the provision of secure energy for all countries - will welcome the appointment of Professor John Holdren as Science Advisor to President Obama.
The NWS (
Another threat to the NPT is that three countries,
Article IV of the Treaty allows, and even encourages, NNWS to develop uranium-enrichment and plutonium-reprocessing technologies - technologies that can also be used to acquire the fissile material needed for nuclear weapons. In other words, the NPT encourages the spread of the very technologies it seeks to control.
The nuclear renaissance now underway will spread civil nuclear technology to more countries so that 40 or so countries will, in the foreseeable future, acquire the capability to produce fissile material that could be used in nuclear weapons, becoming latent or actual nuclear-weapon powers (5). The international community will then be faced with the threat of nuclear anarchy.
Despite statements to the contrary, there is no "proliferation-proof" nuclear fuel cycle. Proposals have been made to internationalize the enrichment and reprocessing elements of the cycle by putting them under the ownership and control of, for example, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that would guarantee an assured supply of nuclear fuel to all countries while providing for safeguards of their nuclear facilities (6 and 7). Such a fuel bank would, however, be discriminatory and, therefore, unacceptable to many countries. Some uranium suppliers, countries that want to develop their own nuclear fuel cycles, and countries that do not want to rely on foreign suppliers of energy object to the proposal.
Some countries will not agree to put their nuclear fuel cycles into the hands of the IAEA when the NWS continue to operate and control their own nuclear technologies. The NWS, however, perceive a need to keep their civil nuclear technology up-to-date to support their nuclear-weapon programmes.
We will avoid global nuclear anarchy only if President Obama leads the way to strengthen the NPT. A good start would be to get the US Senate to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and to negotiate an agreement with the Russians to take their nuclear weapons off alert. But much more will have to be done. There is little time left. It is, unfortunately, hard to avoid the conclusion that a world of many nuclear-weapon powers is the most likely future. But let’s hope for a better outcome.
1. The text of the NPT is given at: www.disarmament.un.org/wmd/npt/
3. Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky, The nonproliferation regime under siege, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 5 August 2007.
4. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, SIPRI Yearbook 2008, Oxford University Press, 2008, p.367.
5. World Nuclear Association, Nuclear Power Reactors and Uranium Requirements, 5 January 2009.
6. Debora Mackenzie, Could a fuel bank curb proliferation? New Scientist, Vol.201, No.2690, 10 January 2009, pp.6-7.
7. International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA Press Release 2006/15, IAEA Seeks Guarantees of Nuclear Fuel, 15 September 2006.