Friday, November 18, 2011

Post #84 - Nuclear Options

Nuclear plant in India
A recent run-down on the place of nuclear energy in the energy economies of thirty countries done by IAEA showed a number of European countries heavily reliant on nuclear fission as source of energy:  78% of France's electricity, 72% in Lithuania, 54% for Belgium.  Other countries have multiple sources available to them, but still choose to have nuclear as part of the mix:  Russia and Canada at 16%, and the United States and the UK at near 20% of their power, with the United States now considering the opening of new plants for the first time since the Three-Mile Island disaster.  Some of those with the fastest growing energy demands get the least from nuclear:  Brazil, India and China are all at 3% or less.

For a country like Iran, which has crude petroleum to sell, but which lacks refining capabilities to fill more than a fraction of its future energy needs through fossil fuels internally, nuclear energy represents a diversification of its energy portfolio that is a hedge against rapidly evolving technologies, changing energy markets and the vagaries of international politics.  Growing concerns and action plans regarding climate change emissions (largely associated with the combustion of fossil fuels) can only make this appear more and more prudent, and many people around the world seem quite willing to table the question of what to do with nuclear waste, like Scarlett O'Hara, until “another day” – sometime in the indefinite future.

In short, if the premier economic powerhouse of the world, the United States, cannot solve the energy conundrum without splitting atoms, why is Iran expected to accomplish that feat of austere self-denial, with an economy smaller than that of the State of Missouri?  Given that some 60% of Iranians are under the age of 30, a population boom can be expected during the coming few years, like the one America saw after the Second World War.

Japanese power plant after quake
The Reynolds BBC article cited above went on:  "Looking even further ahead to when the oil runs out or at least significantly runs down, it may be that the world turns again to nuclear power.  In which case, those countries with uranium deposits would become among the most attractive. The top ten are: Australia, Kazakhstan, Canada, South Africa, Namibia, Brazil, Russia, USA, Uzbekistan and China."

In considering the possibilities for nuclear weapons technologies falling – in the event that Iran actually did decide to pursue their development – into the wrong hands, one must grasp the new “CIS-type” environment in which we live.  According to Dr. George Miller, head of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, the agency given the prime responsibility for development of America's nuclear arsenal, the government provides $200 million annually, at that laboratory alone, on research related to homeland security, intelligence and non-proliferation.  A major component of this work is being able to trace materials back to their source.  “Nuclear forensics,” as the new science is called, “could mean retaliation against the supplying nation as if they had set off the bomb themselves,” according to Amy Oakes, a professor at the College of William & Mary. “I don't think it's an exaggeration,” she said (in a Winter 2006-2007 article in the William & Mary Alumni Magazine), “to say it would be suicidal for the supplier.”  Dr. Miller confirmed (in the same article), “Should something unthinkable happen, we would at least be in a position to say who did it and where it came from.”

Remember that there are in the world today at least 15,000 nuclear warheads, though there may be nearly twice that number.  How many does Iran possess?  Something less than one.  Remember that it was only after North Korea, a country known for selling technologies to the highest bidder, was named part of the “Axis of Evil” by President Bush, that it decided to pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and test weapons at will.  Ms. Simin Royanian, an economist who founded Women for Peace and Justice in Iran, and a person strongly opposed to the policies of the theocratic government in Iran, has nonetheless supported Iran’s right to have nuclear power under the NPT, and has called the United States -- her home for many years now -- “a rogue nation,” because of recent policies vis-à-vis Iran and other countries in the region. 

(In a later post, I’ll go into greater detail concerning the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its provisions.)

NB:  The Consistent Life Network [Full disclosure:  I am a member of CL] noted:  "On November 26 [2011], at their international meeting, the Red Cross/Red Crescent societies adopted a resolution decrying the unacceptable humanitarian and medical consequences of nuclear war and demanding the abolition of these weapons."

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