Several recent developments raise serious questions about whether the U.S. and its allies are focused on the real nuclear security challenges of the 21st Century.
At the Aspen Security Forum several U.S. officials outlined the long-term, and growing, global security challenge posed by China. But, it isn’t clear that this warning is taking hold. A key element of China’s challenge is to dominate advanced technologies, including the half-trillion dollar global nuclear power market as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, which is aimed at expanding its influence with developing economy nations.
One example is the United Arab Emirates, where the first nuclear reactor in the Arab world received its electricity generation license this week. The reactor and two others under construction are being built in cooperation with the Korean Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), and they contain roughly $2 billion of U.S. content. China’s President Xi Jinping was in the UAE this week and signed 13 strategic agreements, including one to advance energy cooperation. China is also in the running to build Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear reactor.
Nuclear technology in the Middle East raises significant security and nuclear terrorism concerns, but it isn’t clear that policymakers are taking them seriously. A new assessment by the Arms Control Association and the Partnership for a Secure America states that “while the worldwide use of nuclear and radioactive materials has grown, the issue of nuclear security…has all but faded from the U.S. national conversation.” The report further cites a “concerning loss” of congressional leadership in preventing nuclear terrorism.
Effectively addressing nuclear security challenges is not just essential for existing nuclear infrastructure, but also for next generation, advanced nuclear technologies – and who will supply them. Third Way released a new report that asked whether the U.S. can regain its nuclear security leadership. It noted that the country is “losing its leadership in the global civilian nuclear marketplace [and]…as a result, its influence on nuclear security is at risk.”
Advanced reactors may have an important role to play in a carbon constrained world. As temperatures rise more pressure is being put on electric power sources. Just this week an excessive heat warning caused the California grid operator to ask residents to conserve power because “there is the potential for demand on the grid to exceed the grid’s capacity.” California is not alone as Japan recorded its highest temperature ever at 106 degrees.
Nuclear power, climate change, and global security. They are deeply entwined, and PGS’s Global Nexus Initiative is addressing their connections. But, like China’s challenge, it is not clear that our leaders are paying attention.
Kenneth Luongo, President, Partnership for Global Security
Photo Credit: Petter Rudwall