Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Global Partnership Aims To Change Nuclear Power Arrangements

Global Partnership Aims To Change Nuclear Power Arrangements

Partners will offer incentives, assurances to poorer countries, U.S. officials say
By Andrzej ZwanieckiWashington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The United States seeks to work with other countries on an initiative that would reorder international nuclear power arrangements to reduce the weapons proliferation threat and encourage sustainable development, U.S. officials say.
Under Secretary of State Robert Joseph told reporters February 16 that international participation is "absolutely essential" to the success of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) initiative, requiring the sharing of nuclear-power expertise, experience and costs.
Clay Sell, under secretary of energy, said at the same briefing that the Bush administration has requested $250 million from Congress for the initiative for the fiscal year that begins October 1. Sell said he hopes that level "will be matched in a very significant way by international partners."
The goals of the international technology initiative were laid out at a February 16 briefing in Washington. (See related article.)
GNEP aims not only to expand the nuclear-power industry but also to make nuclear energy available to less developed countries in a way that would prevent the spread of sensitive fuel enrichment and reprocessing technologies. These technologies can be used to build nuclear weapons.
Joseph said that the initiative addresses the weapons proliferation threat "not by denying any state its rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but rather by providing incentives."
Under GNEP, developed countries with nuclear capabilities would provide affordable nuclear fuel to developing nations and then take back spent fuel for reprocessing and ultimate disposal. In addition, simpler, smaller and less costly reactors would be promoted for use in developing countries.
John Deutch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said such an offer would be very attractive to less developed countries that care more about meeting energy needs than acquiring nuclear technology.
"They will believe this is a godsend because an offer for enrichment, reprocessing and waste disposal by nuclear-supplier states is likely to be economically quite attractive," Deutch, former U.S. director of central intelligence, said in a February 17 interview with the Washington File.
He was less certain about the reaction of larger, emerging-market countries -- such as Brazil and Iran -- that either have tried or plan to develop nuclear power on their own.
Demonstrating as early as possible that the new arrangement can create benefits for developing countries would be crucial, he said.
"The people are going to evaluate it not in the abstract but how it is really working in practice," he said.
Joseph said that the United States already has been working to assure non-nuclear countries that they can have access to nuclear fuel while discouraging them from investing in very expensive and sensitive technologies.
He said the GNEP concept would advance nonproliferation and would be "intended to prevent future Irans, future contingencies."
Some environmental groups and energy experts question the nonproliferation value of the initiative. They argue that, with a wide global network of temporary storage sites and transportation routes, terrorists would have more opportunities to steal nuclear materials and build devices dispersing radioactive materials.
Deutch said reprocessed spent fuel must be transported with the greatest care to prevent any accidents or hijacking by terrorists. He added that the proposed arrangement would be much less risky than having pure plutonium stored and transported around the world.
"So while there are risks and very serious matters that require attention [in this arrangement]," Deutch said, "they are preferable to more serious risks associated with the existing closed fuel cycle and reprocessing activities."
Sell said new technologies will allow GNEP partners to build a sophisticated system to monitor and control any diversions of nuclear materials as well as promote best practices in handling those materials worldwide.
For additional information on U.S. policy, see Arms Control and Nonproliferation.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


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