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Nuclear security: Partner with industry

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COMMENTS

28 March 2012 10:20

North Korea made good use of the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul to illustrate the limits of global summitry to deal with real-life nuclear dangers. 

The announcement of intent to launch a satellite into space in mid-April aboard a long-range rocket, widely believed to be a cover for the DPRK's nuclear missile development, distracted considerably from the Summit's principal agenda, which was to secure more of the world's dangerous nuclear material, to ensure such material does not get into terrorist hands and, over time, to reduce the global stockpile of fissile material.

Securing sensitive nuclear material is part of a much broader international agenda to protect the world from nuclear dangers. This agenda is commonly referred to as the 'three Ss' — safety, safeguards and security. Only for safeguards do we have an international treaty, the NPT, governing the rules of non-proliferation. An inspectorate, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is tasked to police these undertakings, with mixed results. 

Many countries, especially those aspiring to nuclear power in Asia, do not have the know-how or resources to manage nuclear safety and security, and many do not attach priority to it. They worry that calls by the established nuclear powers to implement shared controls are designed to deprive them of the right to use nuclear technology, including sensitive technologies like enrichment and reprocessing, limits to which would considerably reduce proliferation dangers.

This sovereign mindset is hard to crack, especially among developing countries. But the business of nuclear governance is increasingly being shared between governments, industry and transnational organisations. Much of the world's nuclear industry is multinational, with significant public/private cross-ownership where commercial interests, nonproliferation interests and national strategic interests can overlap or collide.

The terrible events at Fukushima just over a year ago have underscored graphically that effective nuclear governance is not just a cost of doing business, but a prerequisite for running a sustainable business. The nuclear industry and its shareholders have a stake in achieving a world free of nuclear dangers. Maintaining reputation for safety and responsibility is critical to a successful business and shareholder value.

So it could be in the boardrooms rather than the parliaments where greater accountabilities are possible in managing global nuclear risks. One might say that nuclear governance is too important to be left to governments alone. Yet institutionally, we have not really embraced this idea. For example, the Seoul security summit had a 'side event' with industry, which preceded the formal summit by several days.*

Industry sometimes takes a more conservative approach to nuclear business than governments, which push for nuclear cooperation for diplomatic and political reasons, but where this makes no sense commercially. Industry can contribute to global efforts to raise the political, financial and commercial costs of proliferation. Industry is at the front line of the development and spread of dual-use nuclear technology and has the capacity to prevent, limit or place conditions on the spread of that technology, as well as report it. It can also influence the type of nuclear technology that is developed in the future.

Industry's comparative advantage includes its knowledge of increasingly complex supply chains for hardware and technology exports and its ability to deploy such knowledge to prevent proliferation. This will be discussed at the next Nuclear Suppliers Group plenary hosted by the US in April.

Recent examples of more responsible nuclear corporate citizenship include the reactor vendor's code facilitated by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Uranium Stewardship exercise — a cradle to grave accountability mechanism — initiated by Australia, now being managed through the World Nuclear Association.

In June 2010, the Lowy Institute undertook the most comprehensive survey yet of the global nuclear industry. Respondents showed a strong willingness to do more to prevent nuclear proliferation.

Public confidence is fundamental to the nuclear enterprise; we know that 'a nuclear incident anywhere is a nuclear incident everywhere'. The changing nuclear landscape and the integrated nature of the world's nuclear industry suggest that industry and government should develop jointly new understandings of dealing effectively with nuclear proliferation dangers, safety and security to rebuild confidence in the global nuclear project.

* I note, however, Prime Minister Gillard's intervention at the Summit: 'And third, I think we should find mechanisms to foster co-operation between governments and the private sector.'

Photo courtesy of the Nuclear Security Summit.

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