Friday, December 31, 2010

International Fuel Bank Is a Step in the Right Direction

This month, i.e. December 2010, the International Atomic Energy Agency (the IAEA) made history. Its board of governors representing 35 member nations voted to create an international fuel bank. The purpose of this bank is to provide nations with access to a source of low enriched nuclear fuel enabling them to power their civilian nuclear reactors which in turn produce much-needed energy in the form of electricity. Nations seeking access to fuel from the bank would have to forego their right to the technology that would allow them to enrich uranium domestically and create their own fuel thereby reducing the risk to the world of proliferation of dangerous nuclear materials and weapons. This is a tremendous boon to the cause of global security because once a nation has mastered the technology of uranium enrichment it can easily move from producing low enriched uranium needed to power civilian nuclear reactors to highly enriched uranium needed to produce nuclear weapons. Moreover, even if a nation were to have no interest in the development of nuclear weapons, the danger of nuclear material falling into the hands of unscrupulous terrorists increases with every new nation that starts producing its own nuclear fuel.

As a practical matter, the bank is likely to be particularly attractive to small and developing countries that need access to energy sources in order to bolster and aid their development. Indeed, dozens of such countries have already expressed their desire to have nuclear power. However, as the pundits point out it is unlikely to solve the bigger problems our world faces of countries such as Iran and North Korea who pursue uranium enrichment and/or plutonium extraction for reasons that are suspect.

Therefore, although the creation of this international fuel bank is an important first step for bringing the issue of nuclear proliferation under control, I remain convinced that it is not until the nations of the world are willing, one and all, to forego their right to enrich uranium to produce their own nuclear fuel, and to submit nuclear fuel making to the sole jurisdiction of a supranational organization that will ensure that they each have fair and access to the nuclear fuel they need to meet their legitimate energy needs, that this problem will be resolved in the long-term.

The benefits of the approach I advocate are many and include a level playing field for all nations be they large or small, nuclear powers or non-nuclear powers. If we are to build an international community that is based on clear rules rather than fuzzy policies, we must accept the fact that there can be no hypocrisy or double-standards. The rules must apply even-handedly to all nations.

Another benefit is the transparency afforded by such a system which allows nations to know exactly how much nuclear fuel each one of them is getting and how it is being used. The system will be even more fool-proof once the international community gets around to creating an international monitoring and verification system that is robust, applies to all and is coupled with a proper collectively conceived and created system for enforcing the rules and dealing with breaches by rogue nations. Until that day comes, we can take heart in the fact that the international community has taken a firm step in the right direction leading to a more secure world.

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