Reframing the Relationship Between Nuclear Security and Commerce

This week an important U.S.-European experts meeting was convened that sought to improve the rapport between the nuclear security and industry communities. This is a relationship evolution that is no longer optional.

Both communities need to more productively engage with one another. It is no longer feasible to remain in stand-alone silos and ignore pressing global realities.

The foundation of common ground between the two groups is based on four crosscutting issues that are stimulating a nuclear debate that has grown stale.

  1. The challenge of climate change and the need for global zero-carbon energy.
  2. The need to guide the next-generation of nuclear technologies.
  3. The ability to meet the supply demands of the global nuclear market of the 21st Century.
  4. The importance of ensuring high levels of global security and nuclear governance.

I’ve spent much of the last seven years working to nurture this relationship. This work began with the Nuclear Security Summits when the nuclear industry and non-proliferation communities convened side events around the main governmental summits.

When that NSS process began in 2010, at least in the U.S., there was virtually no sustained communication between the nonproliferation and industry communities. In fact, there was a fair amount of hostility and lack of trust between them. It was so bad that after a very convoluted process each side agreed to send only one representative to the other’s event. One.

But what that initial engagement did is break the ice and by the fourth summit in 2016, the two sides held a joint event and even exchanged awards.

What became clear from that process was that there was common ground between the nuclear nonproliferation and security communities and the nuclear industry and that the two sides could not be allowed to return to their corners and glare at one another once the summits ended.

One way that PGS institutionalized this common agenda is through a partnership with the Nuclear Energy Institute under the Global Nexus Initiative. GNI focuses on the intersection of climate change, nuclear energy, and global security and it includes a broad cross-section of international experts from the nuclear security, industry, legal, diplomatic, environmental, and energy fields. This is an unprecedented mix of cross-disciplinary expertise.

The most important take-aways from GNI are that non-traditional partners can work together effectively but it takes time and effort to build the trust and understanding that is required.

At the INMM and ESARDA Joint Annual Meeting, my partners in the discussion, from the World Nuclear Association and NuScale Power, made clear their view that the nuclear industry is open to engagement with nonproliferation and nuclear security experts and that this collaboration is important.

There is broad agreement that safeguards and security by design are vital issues for next-generation reactors. This includes ensuring cyber security and addressing a variety of unique challenges that some types of advanced reactors will pose for existing safeguards and security methods.

The new reactor fuel cycles, coolants, uses, and deployment options raise a number of nuclear security, nonproliferation, and nuclear material management issues that need to be addressed at the front end of this development process. A number of articles and reports, some quite critical, already have been published about the security and non-proliferation challenges posed by advanced reactors.

But the reactor design community is not hiding its head in the sand about these concerns. There is a clear understanding that new policies and approaches will be needed to manage these challenges and that they need to be developed in tandem with the technology. They do not want their reactor technologies to contribute to global security dangers. They want their technologies to help humanity.

This is not to say that there isn’t tension between the commercial and security communities and that this conflict won’t intensify at times. The reality is that the nuclear companies need to sell their products in the international marketplace and that means they need to be efficient, raise funds, and be responsive to investors. But I have found that the commercial side wants to find common ground and the right responses.

What we should all be aiming for is the establishment of high standards of nuclear governance for the next phase of nuclear power. It is the creation of these standards and the policies, innovative safeguards, and evolved security systems that can underpin a new era of cooperation between the industry and security communities.

Climate change, the demand for zero-carbon electricity, the need to cleanly power developed and developing economies, and ensuring global security, are realities that now are essential elements of nuclear security and commerce.

If nuclear power is going to be part of the global solution set. And it will be. We have to work together.

Ken Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security