Last updated on: 10/5/2020 | Author: ProCon.org

Does Expanding Nuclear Energy Contribute to the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

The BBC in a Jan. 14, 2020 article, “Nuclear Weapons: Which Countries Have Them and How Many Are There?,” available at bbc.com, stated

“Nuclear weapons release huge amounts of radiation – which can cause radiation sickness – so their actual impact lasts longer than the blast.

But they’ve only ever been used twice in history – against Japan in 1945 during World War Two where they caused huge devastation and enormous loss of life.

The radiation from the bomb dropped on the city of Hiroshima lasted several months and killed an estimated 80,000 people.

And the bomb dropped on Nagasaki killed more than 70,000 people.

They haven’t been detonated in war since then.

Nine countries currently have nuclear weapons: the US, UK, Russia, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.”

Jan. 14, 2020

PRO (yes)

Pro

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, in a June 2018 report, “The Links between Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons,” available at cnduk.org, stated:

“Nuclear weapons and nuclear power share several common features. The long list of links includes their histories, similar technologies, skills, health and safety aspects, regulatory issues and radiological research and development. For example, the process of enriching uranium to make it into fuel for nuclear power stations is also used to make nuclear weapons. Plutonium is a by-product of the nuclear fuel cycle and is still used by some countries to make nuclear weapons.

There is a danger that more nuclear power stations in the world could mean more nuclear weapons. Because countries like the UK are promoting the expansion of nuclear power, other countries are beginning to plan for their own nuclear power programmes too. But there is always the danger that countries acquiring nuclear power technology may subvert its use to develop a nuclear weapons programme. After all, the UK’s first nuclear power stations were built primarily to provide fissile material for nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Nuclear materials may also get into the wrong hands and be used to make a crude nuclear device or a so-called ‘dirty bomb.'”

June 2018

Pro

Mark Z. Jacobson, PhD, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Director, Atmosphere/Energy Program, Stanford University, in a June 20, 2019 article, “The 7 Reasons Why Nuclear Energy Is Not the Answer to Solve Climate Change,” available at leonardodicaprio.org, stated:

“The growth of nuclear energy has historically increased the ability of nations to obtain or harvest plutonium or enrich uranium to manufacture nuclear weapons. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognizes this fact. They concluded in the Executive Summary of their 2014 report on energy, with ‘robust evidence and high agreement’ that nuclear weapons proliferation concern is a barrier and risk to the increasing development of nuclear energy…

The building of a nuclear reactor for energy in a country that does not currently have a reactor allows the country to import uranium for use in the nuclear energy facility. If the country so chooses, it can secretly enrich the uranium to create weapons grade uranium and harvest plutonium from uranium fuel rods for use in nuclear weapons. This does not mean any or every country will do this, but historically some have and the risk is high, as noted by IPCC. The building and spreading of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) may increase this risk further.”

June 20, 2019

Pro

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, in a Sep. 2019 report, “How Nuclear Power Powers the Bomb,” available at ippnw.org, stated:

“Of the 25 countries that are currently building or officially planning to build nuclear reactors, 23 either have nuclear weapons or have shown an interest in their development. Only Finland and Hungary had no ambitions to build nuclear weapons and yet invested in civil nuclear energy, while states with nuclear ambitions such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey or Iran are suspected of pursuing civil nuclear programmes with the main aim to develop military nuclear capabilities…

But despite the lack of effects on the climate crisis, economic disadvantages, detrimental ecological and health effects and staggering safety issues, a number of states are sticking to nuclear energy and are even investing in the development of new generations of nuclear reactors. Why do they do this?

The obvious answer is the capacity to develop military nuclear capabilities. For states which do not yet have nuclear weapons, promoting a civilian nuclear energy programme in order to acquire nuclear weapons makes sense.”

Sep. 2019

Pro

Vladimir Kobezskii, analyst at ROSATOM State Corporation, and Elliot Serbin, research analyst at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, in a June 20, 2019, article, “Will Nuclear Proliferation Challenges Limit a Significant Expansion of Global Nuclear Power?,” available at thebulletin.org, stated:

“Beyond safety and security concerns, nuclear technologies pose proliferation risks. Nuclear technologies are dual-use; that is, they can be used for both civilian and military purposes. The domestic development of an ostensibly peaceful nuclear power program and the enrichment facilities needed to fuel it can provide the means for a non-nuclear weapons state to create nuclear weapons. Because nuclear power has significant benefits as an energy source, particularly in regard to the fight against climate change, and has a valuable role in other industries, such as nuclear medicine, it is important that the international community continue to manage proliferation risks in emerging nuclear countries.

The expansion of nuclear power could pose serious proliferation risks, but we believe that these risks can be managed. While a global expansion of nuclear power may provide existing non-nuclear weapons states with the means and motives to pursue a nuclear weapons program, these risks can be addressed adequately if the international community pursues policies that mitigate the technical, legal, and normative factors that most significantly drive the proliferation risks associated with commercial nuclear power. For this reason, we believe that the proliferation concerns should not be a decisive factor in limiting the expansion of nuclear power, especially given the potentially significant benefits of nuclear energy in regard to providing a large-scale reliable electricity source that helps combat climate change.”

June 20, 2019

CON (no)

Con

Nicholas L Miller, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College, in a Nov. 1, 2017 article, “Why Nuclear Energy Programs Rarely Lead to Proliferation,” available at mitpressjournals.org, stated:

“The conventional wisdom suggests that states with nuclear energy programs are more likely to seek or acquire nuclear weapons. Yet there is a dearth of systematic empirical work that directly assesses this proposition. A systematic analysis of the historical evidence suggests that the link between nuclear energy programs and proliferation is overstated. Although such programs increase the technical capacity of a state to build nuclear weapons, they have important countervailing political effects that limit the odds of proliferation. Specifically, nuclear energy programs increase the likelihood that parallel nuclear weapons programs will be detected and face counterproliferation pressures; they also increase the costliness of nonproliferation sanctions. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, states with nuclear energy programs historically have not been significantly more likely to seek or acquire nuclear weapons.”

Nov. 1, 2017

Con

Sico van der Meer, Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute, in a 2016 article, “States’ Motivations to Acquire or Forgo Nuclear Weapons: Four Factors of Influence,” available at clingendael.org, stated:

“Since the invention and first use of nuclear weapons in 1945, predictions on the proliferation of these weapons have traditionally been overestimating. Despite all gloomy forecasts, only nine states nowadays are considered to possess nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Although more states have operated nuclear weapons programmes at some point in the past 65 years – some experts argue that in total 39 states once engaged in nuclear weapons activities – most of them sooner or later gave up their ambition to acquire these weapons. Especially since the second half of the 1980s the number of states with nuclear weapons-related activities has become relatively low. Taking into account the historical trends, it looks like political and academic forecasts even nowadays tend to be overemphasizing the risks of further proliferation of nuclear weapons in the near future.”

2016

Con

Ted Nordhaus, Cofounder and Executive Director of The Breakthrough Institute, in a May 14, 2017 article, “Time to Stop Confusing Nuclear Weapons with Nuclear Power,” available at thehill.com, stated:

“Even among more open-minded observers, the tendency to conflate nuclear energy with nuclear weapons is hard to resist. Both technologies involve the release of energy from atomic reactions, and nuclear energy was originally developed by the U.S. Navy as a source of electricity to power submarines and aircraft carriers.

But it is also extremely misleading. Neither the physics nor the technologies are the same, nor are the institutions that manage the two technologies. Nuclear weapons today involve fusing two atoms together in an uncontrolled explosion. Nuclear energy involves harnessing the decay of naturally occurring radioactive elements in a slow and controlled reaction, creating heat that turns steam turbines.

Nuclear facilities such as Hanford are a legacy of the headlong rush to build enormous nuclear weapons arsenals at the height of the Cold War. Faced with an existential threat from an enemy who had promised to “bury” us, the developers of America’s nuclear arsenal didn’t worry too much about the toxic hangover in the rush to produce plutonium for new and ever more powerful weaponry. It wasn’t until the end of the Cold War that the nation began to come to terms with the enormous legacy costs of cleaning up the weapons laboratories.

Nuclear energy, by contrast, has been tightly regulated from the beginning, originally by the Atomic Energy Commission and then by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The operators of civilian nuclear energy plants have been required to set aside funds for the decommissioning of nuclear plants and the disposal of waste for many decades.”

May 14, 2017

Con

Timothy A Frazier, former US Department of Energy employee, in a Mar. 2017 report, “The Role of Policy in Reviving and Expanding the United States’ Global Nuclear Leadership,” available energypolicy.columbia.org, stated:

“The United States should change it views on reprocessing [nuclear fuel] to be more in line with the rest of the world and resume leadership by acknowledging that reprocessing spent nuclear fuel is no longer the shortest path to a nuclear weapon and, in fact, a valid resource utilization and waste-management strategy. The United States could then play a more active role in the expansion of nuclear power around the world and interacting with those countries that have or may plan to—for energy security reasons of their own—reprocess…

This expanding leadership and expanding capabilities are vital to enable a strong presence across the globe as the use of nuclear power continues to grow in countries that have nuclear power and those that are new to the use of nuclear power..

The United States can become the preeminent global nuclear leader. The United States may even, in time, be able to pursue a global expansion of nuclear power that improves energy security and access for presently impoverished populations, just as Eisenhower argued in 1953. It will simply take a commitment of the president and Congress to make it so. To not make the commitment now will see the global nuclear leadership of the United States continue to dim.”

Mar. 2017