Monday, November 8, 2010

That Little Problem of Nuclear Energy

 I recently wrote this short piece for an online publication in the UK called The Fresh Outlook.

Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant makes the world a more dangerous place. There – I said it. On this point, I am in agreement with the hardliners in Israel, the United States and the West in general. Where our viewpoints diverge, though, is why it is dangerous and what we should do about it.

Article IV of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty gives “the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” In this sense, Iran is well within its rights to develop and operate one or more nuclear power plants.

However, given the relative ease with which a country can employ dual-use technologies to clandestinely develop a nuclear weapons programme, perhaps it is time to reconsider spreading nuclear power plants across the globe. Apart from the astronomical expense, danger of operation and lack of a plan for highly toxic waste, a double standard of encouraging nuclear energy in “good” countries and trying to prevent it in “bad” countries simply cannot hold.

Before the revolution in 1979, Iran was considered to be a US ally. During this period of friendship, the US encouraged the Shah to develop nuclear energy in Iran. The United States supplied Iran with a research reactor under the Atoms for Peace programme. US President Jimmy Carter signed an agreement with Iran in 1978 that would have sent eight US-made nuclear reactors to Iran. However, that agreement never went through because the 1979 revolution nullified it. How quickly a friend can become an enemy!

By allowing nuclear power to proliferate, we are asking for trouble down the road. Leaders such as France’s Nicolas Sarkozy should not be allowed to sell nuclear power plants to countries for short-term gain and leave subsequent generations to clean up the mess. We must begin to take a longer-term view of the world and our actions if we want to avoid these sticky situations. As for what to do about Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, the best we can do at this point is to negotiate with the Iranians to ensure that the strictest safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency are in place.

Nuclear power is not a “must-have.” Humans are intelligent and creative enough to come up with energy solutions that do not create the key materials for weapons that can destroy civilization. Whether it’s the Bushehr plant in Iran or Sizewell in the UK, nuclear power is a short-sighted technology that creates many more problems than it solves.

1 comment:

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