Gordon Brown lays out UK's nuclear diplomacy

23 March 2009

UK prime minister Gordon Brown has argued for greater diplomacy and international safeguards in a new world view that involves a greater access to nuclear power, and greater penalties for proliferation, in a speech delivered to the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Conference in London on March 16.

He said that not only does the world need to continue to press for nuclear disarmament, but also it needs "to create a new international system to help non-nuclear states acquire the new sources of energy they need. Because - whether we like it or not - we will not meet the challenges of climate change without the far wider use of civil nuclear power."

"Given the scale of global emissions reductions required, and the likely costs, no cost-effective low carbon technology must be off limits. The complete lifecycle emissions from nuclear power - from uranium mining to waste management - are only between 2% and 6% of those from gas for every unit of electricity generated. And the International Energy Agency estimates that we must build 32 nuclear reactors globally every year if we are to halve emissions by 2050.

"So however we look at it, we will not secure the supply of the sustainable energy on which the future of our planet depends without a role for civil nuclear power. And we simply cannot avoid the real and pressing challenges that are present, from the safety and security of fissile material to the handling of waste."

He said that although the barriers to entry for civil nuclear power should be lowered, at the same time the restrictions to proliferating nuclear weapons should be increased. Every country should have the right to access civil nuclear power, he said. He suggested non-nuclear states consider working together regionally, as the Gulf Cooperation Council has done in the Middle East. But on the other hand, any state that breaks the rules against non-proliferation would be fined with sanctions.

"Iran is a test case for this new philosophy of the right to civil nuclear power with sanctions for rule breakers," Brown said. Although he said that the country is entitled to pursue civil nuclear power, he added: "Iran has concealed nuclear activities, refused to co-operate with the IAEA, and flouted UN Security Council Resolutions. Its refusal to play by the rules leads us to view its nuclear programme as a critical proliferation threat."

He argued that nuclear inspectors should have more powers to deal with a greater number of nuclear power plants worldwide. In particular, the IAEA should have the so-called 'additional protocol' that there is no undeclared nuclear material or activities in a state. He proposed even tighter regulations in the future, that any 'material failure' to cooperate with inspections or withdrawal from the non-proliferation treaty would be referred automatically to the UN Security Council, with sanctions likely.

"At the moment the international community has to prove an offence against the treaty, but in future the right to develop nuclear energy should be matched by an acknowledged obligation towards openness and transparency."

Brown also said that Britain would work on developing a 'proliferation-proof nuclear fuel cycle'. Although he praised the UK proposal for a uranium enrichment bond, he said that more work needs to be done with the second half of the fuel cycle: after reactor burn-up. He said that Britain will also propose 'detailed' plans to deal with fissile material stocks, and plans to strengthen the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which he called 'vital'.

He said that over the next few months Britain would work with other countries to plan for the event with 'detailed' proposals in advance of the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference on civil nuclear power, disarmament, non-proliferation, fissile material security and increasing the role of the IAEA.

Brown said that there were two 'breakthroughs' required to create a peaceful, nuclear world in the future: "effective and universal mechanisms to prevent proliferation to non-nuclear weapons states and active steps by nuclear weapons states towards disarmament."


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