Strengthening Global Nuclear Governance: Interest in Nuclear Energy by Developing Countries without Nuclear Experience Could Pose Major Challenges to the Global Rules Now in Place to Ensure the Safe, Secure, and Peaceful Use of Nuclear Power

Article excerpt

Motivated in large part by climate change and the need for carbon-free energy sources, governments and companies around the world are pushing to revive nuclear energy. Developed and developing countries alike have expressed interest. For developing countries, however, building a nuclear power plant can be particularly problematic, both for the countries and the world overall. The lack of regulatory and operating experience of developing countries considering nuclear power could pose major challenges to the global rules now in place to ensure the safe, secure, and peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The challenges facing the global governance regime can be seen in the case of a promising candidate for nuclear energy, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and a far more worrisome one, Nigeria. Although it has the worlds sixth largest proven oil reserves and fifth largest proven natural gas reserves, the UAE has been making a strong case for nuclear power based on its rapid economic growth and a desire to retain its oil and gas for export rather than domestic use. The federation has moved aggressively to court foreign reactor vendors, sign nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries, and hire foreigners, lured by extraordinary salaries, to run its regulatory authority. It recently ordered its first nuclear power plants from a South Korean consortium. The UAE has sought to be a nonproliferation model by signing an Additional Protocol to its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreement, as well as renouncing any ambition to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium, and concluding a so-called 123 Agreement with the United States that could provide additional legal assurances.

At the other end of the spectrum, Nigeria, which has repeatedly declared its desire to acquire nuclear power, is the epitome of a bad candidate. Although oil-rich like the UAE, it has a long history of mismanaging large projects, including its oil industry. Its national electricity grid has one of the worst transmission and distribution loss rates in the world, with only a fraction of its generating units operating at a given time. Violence often breaks out in the Niger Delta because of various economic, social, ethnic, and religious tensions, seriously disrupting the country's predominantly foreign-owned oil industry. Of the developing countries pursuing nuclear power, Nigeria's scores, calculated by the World Bank, for political violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, and control of corruption rank second worst. The country is not a party to key nuclear governance accords. Fortunately, to date its nuclear energy plans have gone nowhere.

Global governance needs to be prepared to address the challenges of the array of developing countries seeking nuclear energy, not just those most likely to succeed. The institutions for doing so are, for the most part, already in place, so the central question is whether they are able to adapt to the needs of developing countries. They are struggling thus far and have much work to do.

Nuclear hopes and realities

The Survey of Emerging Nuclear Energy States (SENES) compiled by the Nuclear Energy Futures Project--a joint undertaking of the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Canada, and the Canadian Centre for Treaty Compliance (CCTC) at Carleton University--tracks the progress of all aspiring nuclear energy countries from an initial governmental declaration of interest to the eventual connection of a reactor to the electricity grid. The project has identified the following as having an official interest in nuclear power: Central Asia (Kazakhstan and Mongolia); Africa (Algeria, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia); Europe (Albania and Belarus); the Middle East (Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the UAE); South America (Venezuela); South Asia (Bangladesh); and Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam). …