The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), whose tenth review conference is coming up in August, is in trouble, and not only because of the crescendo of complaints about the failure of the nuclear-armed states to implement nuclear disarmament. The treaty is threatened with irrelevancy because its controls have not kept up with the times. It was drafted over 50 years ago, when it was widely believed that nuclear energy represented the future and would soon take over the generation of electricity. Not surprisingly, countries put few treaty restrictions on access to technology or materials other than to impose international inspection, and even that was circumscribed. We now have a more realistic view of the dangers of access to fuels that are also nuclear explosives (plutonium and highly enriched uranium) and also of the limited economic utility of these fuels for powering reactors. If we want an effective NPT, we have to eliminate these dangerous materials from civilian nuclear power programs. Dealing with uranium enrichment is complicated because nuclear power plants use enriched uranium fuel, but that should not hold us back from eliminating the danger we can eliminate—plutonium.
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 15th March 2021 read more »