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NUCLEAR POWER WE CAN AFFORD,OR CAN WE?

Apart from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council how many nations on Earth now possess the means or the technology to create energy from a nuclear source? The answer was until 2006 five for sure with many the world thought might have it but it is becoming increasingly clear that those nations that had it and kept it secure are no longer the zealous protectors of what could become a weapon of mass destruction. The dissemination of the technology to create a weapon from that which was sold or given to any new member of the “Nuclear Club” has now become a question of  “How long will it take” Whereas previously it a case of “it can never happen.

In the past year two states which were considered by the USA to be members of “The axis of evil” have either made it known that they possess nuclear technology or have actually tested a nuclear device. Not only have they demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that they are in possession of technology that could result in the production of a nuclear weapon they have also developed a delivery system which could deliver a nuclear device from any point within a four thousand mile radius of a target. The Two states both maintain that they have no aggressive ambitions and that the technology they now possess is for peaceful purposes only. Given the location and the ideology of both countries it is far from believable that their intent is purely peaceful. The non proliferation treaties of the past were put into place to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons but it seems that political expediency is now achieving what all of the threats, posturing and hard bargaining could never do in the past, it has loosened the grip that the super-powers once had upon nuclear weapons and with that relaxation bought a threat to reality that has made the possibility of a nuclear war that much more likely.

The concern is not really “Who has the technology to go nuclear” but more “who would be most likely to exploit the technology if they should acquire it. The disturbing aspect of the spread of the technology is its location. India and Pakistan have both developed a nuclear capability, one based upon a Russian input whilst the other came from an American influence, in the days when the USSR and the USA were both super powers scenario’s were played out by third parties remote from the
plots and intrigues of their respective benefactors [who each in turn had their motives].
Though India and Pakistan had access to nuclear technology it remained a peaceful intent for many years but with the waning of super power influence the technology diversified into uranium enrichment and therefore weapons research. The coexistence of these two neighbours was always one of unease but with the ensuing arms race it left the realm of unease to border on fraught. Each had a vast population with ideologies that were diverse but somehow the “Finger never strayed toward the launch button “

The treaties that covered nuclear technology controlled the spread of the technology by agreements of  “Non-Proliferation” [technology restricted by supply] but even under stringent controls it became obvious that the “Holy grail” of nuclear power was not beyond the reach of anyone of serious intent to acquire it.

In 2006 North Korea tested a nuclear device in an underground cave complex near the borders of both its super power neighbours China and Russia. It was a demonstration that there was a new member of the club and this one was not aligned with any previously held principles. It became clear that the non-proliferation treaties of the past were ineffective and the proliferation of nuclear technology could not be prevented.
The events in Iran in many ways confirmed the view that the technology was not only spreading but it was spreading to places where the “Self-styled” custodians that had previously jealously guarded its secrets had little influence over how it might be used.
Iran has been systematically developing the technology to enrich uranium from the grade used to generate energy to the grade that can be used to construct a nuclear bomb although it still maintains that Iran’s intent is entirely peaceful. Yet in the Iranian scenario and the North Korean case it is the development of a delivery system capable of transmitting a nuclear warhead to a target four thousand miles away that is reinforcing the view of sceptics.

Following a meeting of the Gulf States Cooperation Council held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia the final communiqué announced the intent of the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates that they too are now considering developing a nuclear capability in the Gulf States, but when the Gulf states put forward the premise of intent the world may measure a “Consideration of an intent to develop a peaceful with the vat wealth that exists in the Gulf and conclude that these small states are more than capable of buying such technology “Off the shelf” all that has prevented it in the past were the non-proliferation treaty’s. The enemies of these states already have the technology and they are on the other side of the Gulf.
 In the past month the upper chamber of Congress in the United States has voted in favour of legislation endorsing a nuclear that specifically put India outside all of the agreements upon the non-proliferation of nuclear technology. The new legislation will consign to history fifty years of American resistance to the proliferation of nuclear technology and there are many members of both houses on the hill that would sleep easier if it were to fail. The debate saw the Senate withdraw amendments to the Bill that would have ensured its failure by making it unacceptable to India, the critics of the Bill still intent on withholding nuclear technology upon any terms but their own.
It has long been the case that India did not subscribe to the non-proliferation treaties, the latitude that the Bill allows will enable India to accept the treaties on its own terms and it is hoped curtails the spread of a dangerous technology. The news of the Bill’s passage however did not meet with a universal approval.
It is thought that India has 22 nuclear power stations, all of them strangers to an IAEA [International Atomic Energy Authority a UN inspectorate] inspection for many years. Whilst the Bill now permits commercial trade between India and the US in nuclear technology the trade-off is that 14 of the 22 Indian power stations will be designated as “Civilian” establishments and become subject to inspection by the IAEA. The point that both China and Pakistan noted was that 8 will not and are free to produce or contribute their plutonium to any weapons program that India has in progress.
The reaction of China and Pakistan might be predictable, both could well increase their funding to weapons programs unconvinced that a neighbour has no ambition for aggression. In fact the same stance taken by the US when North Korea carried out its underground test of a nuclear device. If non-proliferation of nuclear technology was the stated aim of the Bill it has probably had the reverse effect.

The location of the confirmed new members of the “Nuclear Club” would seem significant, all of them in a broad swathe along the southern edge of the world’s largest continent and most are Islamic states. China and Russia are long standing nuclear power but have now been joined by North Korea, whilst both Pakistan and India have a developing nuclear capability [with at least one nuclear test planned] Iran has also been developing technology to enrich uranium to weapons grade and with its cohort Syria is also known to support and fund Hezbollah in Lebanon. The archenemy of the Islamic world, Israel has been in conflict with most of the Arab world for many years and it is suspected but as yet not proved that they possess a nuclear weapon.
To add a source of supply of uranium 235 or plutonium to this theatre of nuclear development which is what, in effect the Bill passed by Congress will do because it permits India to trade “Domestic nuclear fuel”. One of the proposed amendments to the Bill that was later dropped dealt with the disposal/processing of the radioactive waste from India’s reactors. It forbade the export in any form of the waste for processing or reuse to a third party and would have required India to process its own waste, why it was dropped is unclear but it was put to the Senate that such an amendment would give India reason cause to withdraw from the agreement and with that withdrawal the loss of the right for the UN to inspect 14 of its 22 nuclear establishments. The feeling on The Hill is that they will come to regret the passage of this Bill, Armageddon is clearly visible but few will acknowledge its existence.
The Bill is due to be discussed again in January but it is unlikely that it will falter.

JP.


Posted: December 13, 2006 



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