Since Angie Zelter asked me, over a year ago now, to write a chapter about the connection between civil nuclear power and nuclear weapons for her book “World in Chains”, I have become more and more concerned about the likelihood that nuclear weapons will spread to flashpoints around the globe.
Angie is a well-known campaigner on peace, justice environmental and human rights issues, but she is probably most famous for her work against Trident and her role in the world’s first High Court examination of the legality of an individual state’s deployment of nuclear weapons.
My chapter in Angie’s latest anthology argues that, because of the ease with which nuclear materials can be diverted from civil nuclear programmes into military programmes, by spreading nuclear technology in the hope of mitigating the affects of burning fossil fuels on our climate, we will, in fact, be spreading the capability to make nuclear bombs. This runs the risk of provoking multiple mini cold wars around the world. Of around 60 countries who have expressed an interest recently in obtaining nuclear technology, thirteen are in the greater Middle East. Some of these countries appear to be moving down the nuclear path in response to Iran’s pursuit of uranium enrichment raising the prospect of a Sunni/Shia arms race. And of course, since the book went to print, tensions between Sunni and Shia have worsened as the war in Syria spreads across the border into Iraq.
Other recent worrying developments include Japan’s failure to disclose the existence of 640kg of plutonium which has aroused China’s concern; The election of Narendra Modi and the Hindu nationalist BJP Party in India which might mean that another a major terrorist incident traced back to, or blamed on, Pakistan, could inflame nuclear tensions on the sub continent; and Pakistan has been forced to step up security around nuclear facilities after 10 Taliban militants brought chaos to Karachi airport.
A new report published earlier this month and edited Henry D. Sokolski, the Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington, reassesses the assumptions currently driving international non-proliferation policies. The book agrees with me that nuclear weapons proliferation is more likely to occur with the spread of civilian nuclear technology and that such nuclear proliferation constitutes a threat to international security. It makes the case that civilian nuclear power programmes actually afford a major leg up for any nation seeking development of a nuclear weapons option.
As one of the contributors, Patrick S Roberts says: “Developing economies demand new energy sources, while North America and Europe are showing a greater resistance to the costs and potential consequences of nuclear power. Therefore, new nuclear reactors will likely be built in regions where the risks of proliferation are the highest.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency, whose role is to enforce the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, has a mixed history of preventing diversion of nuclear materials in a timely manner. Iraq, North Korea, Iran, and Libya all engaged in illegal nuclear activities, and it is generally agreed that all embarked on some stage of an illegal nuclear programme. Nevertheless, the IAEA detected violations in only one case, Iraq, and even there, the evidence is mixed.
Pakistan’s Daily Times on 24th June bemoaned the fact that the challenges facing non-proliferation efforts appear insurmountable. There is a desperate need for a comprehensive, universal, enforceable non-proliferation treaty, it said, but the possibility of such a treaty might seem impractical or utopian under present circumstances. But maybe it’s time for the world to think about what is necessary rather than what is practical for a change.
Scotland is in a good position to help such efforts. We have a world leading Climate Change Act; no plans to build new nuclear reactors; a target for producing the equivalent of 100% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Wouldn’t it be great if we could influence the world to work together to tackle the twin threats of climate change and nuclear proliferation beginning with a phase-out of weapons-useable nuclear materials, replacing them instead with sustainable energy to meet the world’s need for energy in a way that promotes peace rather than threatening it.
World in Chains, edited by Angie Zelter, Luath Press is out now.