Friday, May 23, 2008

The nuclear energy dilemma

Thirteen countries in the Middle East have started or revived nuclear energy programs in recent years, reacting to Iran's nuclear energy/potential nuclear weapon program. Iran is just one example of a "peaceful" nuclear program undergoing questionable developments, something that right-wing enthusiasts over nuclear energy completely fail to handle (assuming that serial invasions isn't the best approach). It's also a tough nut for people like me, though, who are skeptical semi-supporters of increased nuclear power.

The question about nuclear energy isn't just whether it's good or bad for the environment, it's also about the potential harm to international security. Not many people have expertise in both areas.*

My sense is that we need to pursue all the low-carbon energy strategies, but how to handle nuclear energy on the international level?

Some ideas:

  • To discourage the spread of control of nuclear technology and nuclear materials, new nuclear plants could be located in countries that already possess plants, with the power exported at internationally-controlled prices.
  • Massively beefed-up IAEA control of nuclear plants should exist in countries acquiring nuclear power for the first time. Maybe every important job and piece of equipment could be staffed and owned by the IAEA using foreign nationals, except crucial safety personnel. The plants should be run by the IAEA, except that the host country has the right to shut down operations for safety reasons.
  • Why should countries newly acquiring nuclear energy have less sovereign ownership than current nuclear operators? They shouldn't - the same rules should apply to nuclear power in countries that have it right now (good luck getting Americans to go along with this).
  • As an alternative to submitting American nuclear power plants to IAEA control, the price Americans and other sovereign controllers of nuclear power should pay in return for new countries losing that sovereign power is that we should accept the nuclear waste from those new countries' plants.
I don't think these ideas would look all that attractive to typical American proponents of nuclear power, even if I have no objection to them.

*Al Gore does have expertise in both fields, and he opposes an expanded role for nuclear power, mainly because of the nuclear waste issue (I don't care much about) and nuclear proliferation issue (does bother me).

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