Fuel Banks and Fukushima: Day Seven of the NPT PrepCom 2012

May 10, 2011

Discussions on implementation of provisions pertaining to the inalienable right of Parties to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, grouped under Cluster 3.

The seventh day of the 1st NPT PrepCom featured discussions on implementation of the provisions of the Treaty pertaining to the inalienable right of Parties to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, which were grouped under Cluster 3. Many states addressed the issue of nuclear safety and security in their comments under this section; other major issues included multilateral fuel cycle initiatives, the responsibility and role of the IAEA in facilitating technical cooperation and assistance, and the role of nuclear energy in non-power initiatives.


The morning session featured statements from seventeen countries, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the European Union; after lunch, an additional fourteen countries spoke, and the session adjourned early for the fourth day in a row.

All states took care to emphasize the inalienable nature of the right to peaceful nuclear energy, but some Western states also pointed out that the exercise of that right requires that the peaceful nature of any activities conducted be verified. One major topic was the technical cooperation and assistance provided by the IAEA. The NAM statement, as well as the statements by many NAM members, emphasized that this assistance should not be contingent on any political, economic, military, or other conditions, so long as the material, equipment, technology, and knowledge being provided is used for peaceful purposes. Many states praised the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Fund, and some also singled out specific projects funded by the IAEA for praise. Some states, including South Africa, Switzerland, and Zimbabwe, called for this Technical Cooperation Fund, which is currently funded by voluntary contributions from states, to be included in the IAEA’s regular budget. Iran was also critical of the voluntary nature of the Technical Cooperation Fund, arguing that such voluntary funds are “conditioned” by donors in “footnotes,” so that they cannot be paid to certain developing countries, and that this undermines the fundamental nature of the IAEA.

Many states noted that the 2011 accident at Fukushima had prompted a more active and transparent debate on peaceful nuclear energy as well as nuclear safety and meant that the issue of nuclear safety took on greater significance than it had during the 2010 Review Conference. However, the United States and China both pointed out that while the events at Fukushima altered the public perceptions of the safety of nuclear power and had an adverse effect on the momentum of nuclear energy, the basic factors that had led to increased interest in nuclear power before those events — namely, climate change, concerns over fossil fuels, and energy security — have not changed. Japan reminded those present that it plans to hold a ministerial-level conference on nuclear safety in December. Several states also called on those who have not yet done so to implement the various conventions and codes of conduct concerned with nuclear safety.

The debate over nuclear safety had an additional interesting dimension. Many states were eager to announce or reiterate that they had chosen to forgo nuclear power. However, they also emphasized the importance of non-power uses for nuclear energy, such as technologies for water resource management, food security, and cancer treatment. Austria’s statement noted that choosing not to develop a nuclear power program is one way of exercising the right enshrined in Article IV and that nuclear power is not compatible with the concept of sustainable development. Thus the Fukushima incident and the resulting debate about nuclear safety has had the effect of broadening the discussion about the peaceful use of nuclear energy to encompass additional uses for nuclear technology beyond power generation.

Many states were supportive of the concept of multilateral fuel cycle initiatives, including the IAEA LEU Bank, the Angarsk facilities (IUEC), and the UK Nuclear Fuel Assurance (NFA) proposal. They argued that such mechanisms can build confidence in a reliable supply of nuclear fuel by reducing interruptions in supply or incurring the cost of duplicating facilities, as well as hoping to reinforce international standards of safety and security. However, Brazil pointed out that LEU banks and fuel banks are not the same, and that an LEU bank is useless without fuel fabrication capability, which many states interested in participating do not have.

Side Events

On Wednesday morning, following his report to the plenary session yesterday, Ambassador Jaakko Laajava participated in a discussion held at VCDNP and moderated by CNS’s Dr. Bill Potter. The discussion focused on activities leading up to the 2012 Conference on the establishment of a WMDFZ in the Middle East. Laajava emphasized throughout the session that his job is to facilitate what the countries of the region want with regard to the conference, and not to impose his own beliefs. He stated that though there are still many questions to answer and decisions to be made, states have taken consultations with him very seriously and are committed to the establishment of a WMDFZ in the Middle East. In order to try to resolve tense relations, Laajava shared that in his consultations, he continually tries to emphasize opportunities to cooperate rather than compete, the ultimate goal of a more stable and secure region, and that in the days of globalization, such security issues must be looked at from a win-win point of view, rather than the more traditional win-lose point of view. Laajava also emphasized the role of civil society, saying that their contribution leading up to and at the conference has generally been viewed as welcome and important.

At lunchtime, France hosted a side event on the responsible development of nuclear energy after Fukushima. The event was attended by several diplomats, which was a contrast to the majority of side events at the 2012 NPT PrepCom that have been attended primarily by NGO representatives. H.E. Florence Mangin, the Permanent Representative of France to the UN and International Organizations in Vienna, moderated the panel that included representatives from the French nuclear power utility EDF, the Directorate General for Energy (DGEC) and Climate, and the Ministry of Foreign & European Affairs. The panel discussed aspects of continued development of nuclear energy, emphasizing the 4 pillars of safety, security, non-proliferation, and sustainability. Panelists highlighted the recent stress-tests, which were a part of the European Union’s safety analysis of all nuclear power plants, and supported a global third party nuclear liability regime that has gained momentum since the Fukushima accident. The representative from EDF highlighted France’s role in establishing the Nuclear Rapid Action Force (FARN) group to strengthen emergency preparedness and response.

Also at lunchtime, Shawn Caza, the Chairman of the Zangger Committee, hosted a background briefing on the Committee’s work. He explained that the goal of the Zangger Committee is to clarify NPT language in Article III.2 and to help exporters understand and meet their NPT obligations. Under this article, states are obligated to ensure that relevant exports are subject to safeguards, but just what should be subjected is unclear in the treaty text. Therefore, the Committee created a list of materials and equipment and non-binding procedures to facilitate compliance with Article III.2, as well as an annex with definitions of the items in the list, in order to ensure accuracy and exclude non-nuclear applications. Caza also devoted a fair amount of time to explaining the differences between the work of the Zangger Committee and that of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

IKV Pax Christi also hosted a side event looking at NATO and its NPT obligations. The panelists looked at the arguments frequently put forward for keeping non-strategic nuclear weapons on European territory, and how the NATO defense posture relates to states’ commitments under the NPT. This applies to both the United States and to the non-nuclear-weapon states that have U.S. weapons in their territory.

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office held a lunchtime side event entitled “Nuclear Energy in the Future: Meeting the Need for Training.” The event included three speakers: Professor Richard Clegg of Lloyds Register, Mr. Ashutosh Sharma of the UK’s National Skills Academy Nuclear, and Mr. John Molyneux of Rolls Royce. Based on the UK’s experience in peaceful use of nuclear energy, the speakers shared their views on how best to enhance a safety culture in the nuclear industry. They highlighted the importance of training for future generations to produce more skillful experts in nuclear industry.

Finally, concurrent with the afternoon plenary was a side event on “Moving Beyond Nuclear Deterrence to a Nuclear Weapons Free World.” Sponsored by the Nuclear Abolition Forum (www.abolitionforum.org), the event examined the dynamics of nuclear deterrence in the twenty-first century and explored the political conditions and security mechanisms that might be required to phase out nuclear deterrence in order to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world. The event consisted of two sessions. The first session’s speakers included Chris Ford of the Hudson Institute and Ward Wilson of Rethinking Nuclear Weapons, who presented opposing views on the validity of nuclear deterrence, followed by John Burroughs of Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, who argued that nuclear deterrence is contradictory to international law. The second panel featured four speakers, including Nikolai Sokov and Jean Pascal Zanders. Dr. Sokov, while expressing his doubts regarding the feasibility of a world without nuclear weapons, argued that regional approaches such as NWFZs can produce positive results toward global nuclear disarmament. Jean Pascal Zanders pointed out that comprehensive disarmament of nuclear weapons, as opposed to chemical or biological weapons, remains elusive. Based on the historical experience of banning chemical and biological weapon use through the Geneva Protocol, he suggested that a similar protocol banning nuclear weapon use may be a good start toward the abolition and prohibition of nuclear weapons.

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