House Committee on Foreign Affairs,
Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade
Rayburn House Office
Building, Room 2172
July 24, 2008
Research Fellow for Nuclear Energy Policy
Domestic Policy Studies
The Heritage Foundation
My name is Jack Spencer and I am the Research Fellow for Nuclear
Energy Policy for The Heritage Foundation. The views I
express in this testimony are my own, and should not be construed
as representing any official position of The Heritage
Thank you for inviting me to testify today before the
Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade.
As we sit here today there are approximately 440 commercial
nuclear reactors operating around the world. One hundred and four
of them are operating in this country alone. With the exception of
a few highly publicized and, I might add, mostly misunderstood,
accidents, these reactors have operated safely, cleanly, and to the
benefit of society for most of their lifetimes.
This is not to suggest that no problems have ever arisen. It is
merely to acknowledge the relatively good track record of nuclear
And it is this track record that essentially brings us here
today to discuss ways to save the Nonproliferation Treaty and the
nonproliferation regime in an era of nuclear renaissance.
Is a Nuclear Renaissance Under
Answering such a question is difficult. Certainly the world is
preparing for an expansion of nuclear power. But the size and scope
of that expansion remains unknown. It is clear that many countries,
including the United States, are beginning to look at nuclear power
as a viable alternative for meeting future energy demand.
Indeed, approximately 39 nuclear power reactors are under
construction around the world. More important to the question
before us today is the large number of reactors that could come
online in the next few decades. Nations across the world have
voiced an interest in building nuclear power plants.
Literally hundreds of reactors are in the planning stages. But even
that could be a fraction of what is about to come if there is truly
a nuclear renaissance.
The likelihood of a massive expansion of nuclear power depends
on the factors behind the growth. If it is a question of energy
independence and economics, then the expansion of nuclear power in
the United States, while potentially significant, will likely
remain moderate. However, a mandate to reduce CO2 emissions could
bring about a much more comprehensive expansion.
Recent analysis by the United States Department of Energy's
Energy Information Agency suggests that the United States will need
to add approximately 268 gigawatts of new nuclear power by 2030 to
meet the CO2 emissions objectives mandated by the Lieberman-Warner
climate change bill (S.3036). In terms of reactors, assuming an average
of 1.3 gigwatts per reactor, the U.S. would need to construct
approximately 200 reactors over the next 25 years.
If the rest of the world were held to similar emissions levels,
268 gigawatts in the U.S. would extrapolate to roughly 1000 new
reactors for the rest of the world. This would meet anyone's
definition of a nuclear renaissance.
Whether such an outcome is likely-or even possible for that
matter-is certainly up for question. However, what is clear is that
the path towards drastic CO2 reduction will lead to an accelerated
expansion of nuclear power.
But even aside from being CO2 free, nuclear energy has many
attributes that make it attractive. For that reason, I believe that
even absent CO2 restrictions, nuclear power in one form or another
will play a larger role in energy production around the world in
coming years. China and India provide good examples. Neither of
these countries are necessarily concerned about CO2 emissions, yet
both are planning a significant nuclear expansion to meet their
skyrocketing energy demands.
The question then becomes, what can the U.S. and the
international community do to manage this potential growth so that
states can enjoy the benefits of nuclear power without increasing
the risk of proliferation.
The Nonproliferation Regime
While the nonproliferation regime is under stress, it is not
broken. Indeed, it is largely working. The treaties, agreements,
organizations, and initiatives in place today provide peaceful
nations with numerous tools to control the spread of dangerous
technologies and the authority to act when dangerous behavior is
identified. The question is whether supplier states follow the
established rules and to what extent peaceful nations are willing
to compel proliferators to discontinue risky behavior.
North Korea, for example, did not surprise anyone when its
so-called peaceful nuclear activities were revealed as a cover for
a nuclear program. To the extent there were any surprises in the
early 1990s, the international community had ample time to respond.
Whether changes in policy toward North Korea altered its behavior
can be debated, but certainly the nonproliferation regime worked
insofar as it gave the world ample warning of North Korea's
The same is true today with Iran. The world is not unaware
of Iran's programs. The problem is with states that enable Iran's
actions and the difficulty of developing a cohesive policy to
compel a change in its behavior.
One could argue that the Iran and North Korea problems are
examples of nonproliferation regime failure. Perhaps they are to
the extent that the purpose of nonproliferation policy is to
prevent any spread of nuclear technology for the purposes of
weaponization. But the reality is that as long as the basic
building block of the international system is the sovereign
nation-state, no international treaty or regime can stop a state
from pursuing dangerous programs. It is not a problem of
nonproliferation policy, but a problem of hostile, dangerous
That is not to suggest that current nonproliferation policy
could not be modified. Any set of rules used to manage
something as dynamic as nuclear technology will always require
adjustments to accommodate for tactical changes by would-be
proliferators. That is why there are regularly held NPT
conferences, Nuclear Suppliers Group meetings, and so
In essence, the fundamental bargain of the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty is sound. That being said, there is no
question that a global nuclear renaissance will present new and
unique challenges. But if met appropriately, I believe that a
global nuclear renaissance is not incompatible with
Reestablishing America's Credibility
as a Commercial Nuclear Power Leader
The U.S. no longer dominates the commercial nuclear technology
field. Its industry has atrophied over the past three decades.
During that time other nations-most notably France, Russia, and
Japan-have continued to build their commercial nuclear capacities.
Now they are prepared to supply the world with commercial nuclear
Even if a nuclear renaissance were to come at the expense of
nonproliferation objectives, it is unclear whether the United
States is in a position to do much about it. Like us, other nations
are facing serious energy challenges. The fact is that
notwithstanding optimistic predictions about renewable sources,
nuclear power helps solve many nations' energy problems.
That is not to suggest that the U.S. has nothing to offer or has
no leverage. It does. While other countries were developing strong
nuclear industrial bases and commercial business models, the United
Stats was engaged in significant research and development and
perfecting nuclear power plant operations. Furthermore, despite its
lack of domestic nuclear industry, the United States remains the
most influential nation in the world.
These three things (R&D, expertise in operations and
maintenance, and prestige) are precisely what is needed to ensure
that a global nuclear renaissance moves forward without unduly
jeopardizing the nation's nonproliferation objectives. America's
research and development in nuclear technology will be critical to
the future of safe, global nuclear energy. These technologies will
bring about safer reactors, proliferation-resistant fuels, and new
methods for managing nuclear waste. Exporting these technologies
will be critical to achieving our nonproliferation objectives.
America's nuclear plants operate at over 90 percent capacity,
which is an extremely efficient level. This allows the U.S. to
produce much more power per reactor than anywhere else in the
world. Thus, by exporting our operations and maintenance expertise,
other nations would need fewer reactors. America's reactors are
safe, efficient, and secure. If every reactor in the world operated
like those in the U.S., there would be little proliferation
The challenge for the United States will be to integrate its
principles into a new rule-set that governs peaceful nuclear
The following recommendations can help meet this
First the U.S. must take the lead in developing an
international nuclear fuel supply program. Such a program must
be at the center of any strategy to save the nonproliferation
agenda in an era of nuclear renaissance. The international
component of the Administration's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership
is a good first step, but must evolve further. Because fuel
supplies can never be unconditionally guaranteed, the program
should assure fuel access as long as certain nonproliferation
guidelines are followed by participant countries.
Another important component will be that fuel suppliers maintain
title of the fuel throughout the fuel cycle. This means that
supplier nations must also have a workable spent fuel management
This should be expanded upon to codify new rules to govern
commercial nuclear activities broadly. The most effective way
to protect U.S. interests in an era of nuclear renaissance is to
ensure that the rules and norms of the global nuclear industry are
consistent with American ideals such as free-markets, openness, and
transparency. As part of this effort, fuel supplier states should
agree to open their markets to international competition. Supplier
companies (including state-owned companies) should operate as
private, for-profit firms, and every effort should be made to
eliminate tariffs and quotas that artificially distort the
commercial nuclear market. Doing this requires the U.S. to be
fully engaged in the near-term by ensuring that agreements, such as
123 agreements, respect proliferation concerns without unduly
sacrificing commercial activity. If these agreements do not strike
this balance, the United States risks diminishing its influence
over international nuclear trade policy by isolating itself from
the global nuclear market.
Third, the United States must not cede control of any nuclear
fuel services to an international body such as an international
fuel bank or an international nuclear waste management
agency. While an international fuel bank could have some
merit as an insurance policy for countries whose fear of being
denied access to fuel would limit their participation in a larger
nuclear fuel supply program, such an effort must not be used to
control nuclear fuel distribution broadly. Furthermore, the
international community should not be responsible for managing
nuclear waste. Instead, each nation should operate under its
specific rules and regulations as they pertain to nuclear waste
issues. Reprocessing, permanent geologic storage, and other used
fuel processing technologies would be brought to bear as each
nation deems appropriate.
Instead of ceding power to international bodies, the U.S.
should take a more active role in safeguards and verification.
The International Atomic Energy Agency currently has a monopoly
over this responsibility. While the IAEA has a critical role in
promoting safety, security, and cooperation in the nuclear field,
safeguards and verification need additional oversight. A more
active U.S. role, especially in activities involving fuel services,
would have multiple benefits. First, it would allow the IAEA to
focus its efforts on high-risk countries and activities. Second, it
would provide another level of scrutiny for potential proliferation
concerns-especially those associated with nuclear fuel
And finally, the U.S. should reiterate its support of the
enduring role of Article IV of the Nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty. The reality is that any country can pursue whatever
technologies that it chooses. As the article states, countries'
rights to pursue peaceful nuclear technologies are "inalienable."
This inalienability, however, is not absolute in the context of the
NPT. It is contingent on fulfilling their obligations and
responsibilities under the pact. Any nonproliferation regime that
does not respect the rights of individual states will ultimately
fail. The key is to devise a system that promotes buy-in from both
suppliers and consumers of nuclear fuel services. If the system is
economically rational, credible, and reliable, then peaceful
nuclear countries should find participation beneficial. Only those
that would seek to use nuclear technology for nefarious purposes
would find benefits in operating outside of the system.
In conclusion, the current nonproliferation regime provides the
international community with the tools to control the spread of
dangerous nuclear materials. However, none of these tools can
magically prevent a dedicated nation (or other international actor)
from seeking threatening capabilities. This is not a
nonproliferation policy problem or commercial nuclear problem, but
a hostile regime problem. Preventing hostile regimes from acquiring
nuclear capabilities requires the political will to use the
available tools effectively. Furthermore, there will always be a
struggle to keep technology of all sorts out of the hands of those
who would misuse it. This struggle, however, is not a justification
to deny society the benefit of critical technologies such as
That concludes my testimony today. Thank you for this
opportunity. I look forward to your questions.
The Heritage Foundation is a public policy, research, and
educational organization operating under Section 501(C)(3). It is
privately supported, and receives no funds from any government at
any level, nor does it perform any government or other contract
The Heritage Foundation is the most broadly supported think tank
in the United States. During 2007, it had nearly 330,000
individual, foundation, and corporate supporters representing every
state in the U.S. Its 2007 income came from the following
Publication Sales and Other
The top five corporate givers provided The Heritage Foundation
with 1.8% of its 2007 income. The Heritage Foundation's books are
audited annually by the national accounting firm of McGladrey &
Pullen. A list of major donors is available from The Heritage
Foundation upon request.
Members of The Heritage Foundation staff testify as individuals
discussing their own independent research. The views expressed are
their own, and do not reflect an institutional position for The
Heritage Foundation or its board of trustees.