Got Fission? Debating Nukes 4 Development

♠ Posted by Emmanuel at 4/02/2012 09:56:00 AM
Our colleagues over at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists sent me a notice about a timely new feature of theirs concerning LDCs considering the adoption of nuclear power (the Atomic Scientists maintain the well-known Doomsday Clock). The impetus for doing so should be familiar to everyone: insecure supplies of crude oil and global warming are concerns that we in the Global South share with our peers in developed nations. That said, traditional problematiques that have bedevilled nuclear power adoption have never really gone away.

Post-Fukushima, it makes many LDCs wonder if one of the world's most technologically savvy nations cannot guarantee nuclear safety, what more developing nations whose technical expertise and institutional capacity are far below those of Japan? Moreover, despite the comparatively dearer price of fossil fuel, nuclear power is hardly a cheap alternative. There's also the question of how to dispose of nuclear waste. Recall the recent fatal accident (albeit non-nuclear) at France's Marcoule site that raises similar questions about waste handling in what is probably the country most experienced at utilizing nuclear power.

That said, no fatalities in Japan and one "industrial accident" in France are hardly mass casualties in the history of humans generating power. Meanwhile, unfortunately far more common coal mining mishaps receive little attention because such incidents generally fail to capture the public imagination. Perhaps prematurely, the Economist has already deemed nuclear power "the dream that failed."

Or has it really? Given the number of LDCs considering nuclear power, that verdict may be premature:
Over 45 countries that do not use nuclear power today are seriously considering its adoption; of these, 37 are classified by the World Bank as developing nations. Moreover, four developing countries -- Bangladesh, Belarus, Turkey, and Vietnam -- are expected to begin construction on nuclear facilities over the upcoming years. This vast potential expansion in the developing world's nuclear capacity raises tricky questions about proliferation, plant safety, and cost. Below, Brazil's Gilberto Jannuzzi, Malaysia's Shahriman Lockman, and India's P.R. Kumaraswamy tackle the question: "How can nuclear power for economic development be made available to developing countries without increasing the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation?"
The contributors have interesting viewpoints concerning what I've termed "Nukes 4 Development." Kumaraswamy argues that Western nations have unfairly characterized LDCs pursuing nuclear power as potential nuclear weapons proliferators, all the while admitting that plant safety in the Global South is iffy. Meanwhile, Lockman is more concerned about the practicalities involved in using nuclear power such as multilateral mechanisms for addressing various stages in the fuel cycle and preventing this technology from getting into the wrong hands from LDCs. Lastly, Jannuzzi opines that there are more cost-effective alternatives to fuelling third world development.

Energy security--especially from nuclear power--is certainly an underresearched area in development studies that needs more attention. These contributions however help point us towards worthwhile research directions.