Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Nuclear Energy Development

When a nation such as Oman decides to develop a peaceful nuclear energy program, the first step in essence will decide the political and economic consequences of the entire process. This first step is to become a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). That step is important because nations that lack the domestic capacity to develop nuclear energy will require technological support from other nations. In order to obtain this technological support, the country seeking to develop nuclear energy will need to join the NPT and fulfill a number of political obligations and related criteria.

Joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty
The NPT came into force on 5 March 1970 and includes 189 signatory nations, including Oman. Oman ratified the NPT in 1997 and therefore already fulfills this basic fundamental criteria. The NPT includes three basic "pillars": non-proliferation, disarmament, and the right to peacefully use nuclear technology. The provisions on peaceful use of nuclear technology are most important for Oman’s current plans, and are addressed in Article 4 of the NPT.

Article 4 of the NPT gives a county seeking to embark on a nuclear energy program the inalienable right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes within the parameters laid down by the obligations in the treaty.

A country such as Oman, which lacks the domestic technical resources and capacity for nuclear energy development, may seek to avail itself of Article 4(2) of the treaty. Article 4(2) deals with the exchange of equipment, materials and scientific technical information for the peaceful use of nuclear energy between member states. Article 4(2) also sets out the non-binding moral obligations of member states to support the responsible spread of the use of peaceful nuclear technology.

In practice, Article 4(2) is monitored by a group of forty six nuclear supplier states, including China, Russia and the U.S., that have voluntarily agreed to coordinate their export controls governing transfers of civilian nuclear material and technology to non-nuclear weapon states. This group is known as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), and was created in 1975 after an incident involving India’s explosion of a nuclear device. This incident demonstrated that nuclear technology transferred for peaceful purposes can be misused. The objective of the NSG is to prevent nuclear exports for commercial and peaceful purposes from being used to make nuclear weapons. Under the NSG structure, members are obligated to refrain from nuclear trade with governments that do not subject themselves to international inspections of their nuclear imports. The inspections are designed to provide confidence that their nuclear imports are not being used to develop a nuclear arsenal.

As Oman will require technical support from the international community in developing a nuclear program, it is important to instill confidence in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the NSG to ensure that the international community understands that Oman’s intentions are NPT compliant. Specifically, a nation in this situation should show its adherence to international instruments and inspections.

Developing Effective Legislation
A country seeking to develop a nuclear program will require legislation to move the process forward. Specifically, nuclear legislation should:

  • Ensure control over nuclear materials, facilities and any other radioactive material.
  • Ensure that nuclear energy and its applications are used exclusively for peaceful purposes.
  • Ensure that nuclear facilities, nuclear materials and any other radioactive material are handled and operated safely and securely through a system of regulatory control.
  • Ensure that compensation mechanisms are in place in case of nuclear damage.