By Andrea Rezzonico, Research Consultant
A recent Belfer Center report by Daniel Poneman, Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, former Deputy Secretary of Energy, and President and Chief Executive Officer of Centrus Energy Corp., tackles the relationship between nuclear and climate issues. The report asks an important question on the expansion of nuclear energy: “can we expand its environmental benefits without increasing the risks of nuclear terror?”
In the Special Report, titled “American Nuclear Diplomacy: Forging a New Consensus to Fight Climate Change and Weapons Proliferation,” Poneman touts the expansion of nuclear energy as a necessary response to cataclysmic climate change globally. Nonetheless, nuclear energy brings inherent security concerns. According to Ponemen, these include the palpable danger of nuclear proliferation; or the possibility that hostile nations or terrorists could divert the technology, equipment, or materials necessary for enrichment to military uses. The report also mentions the threat that a rising number of facilities that handle weapons grade materials could pose to global security, as well as the problematic issue of what to do with nuclear waste. Beyond the risks Poneman identifies, Christine Parthemore noted five others in a recent CCS briefer:
- Clarity on the increasing scale of nuclear ambitions
- Detailed intentions on nuclear technologies of high concern
- Nuclear programs being pursued in absence of climate considerations
- The absence of nuclear-climate nexus thinking can be equally dangerous for domestic political and social reasons
- A changing export marketplace weakening nuclear norms and standards
This demonstrates just how complex the climate-nuclear nexus can be.
Poneman advocates for tougher policies that foster the peaceful utilization of nuclear technology as well as an Assured Nuclear Fuel Services Initiative (ANFSI). The ANSFI would provide fuel services for states that meet high nonproliferation standards. The report also prescribes a stronger US presence in the nuclear arena to ensure a more stable global system for mitigating security concerns.
Effectively balancing climate security and nuclear security issues remains a crucial endeavor. The Belfer report is a significant advancement in our understanding of the climate-nuclear nexus. The Center for Climate and Security hopes to develop further work on this connection in the upcoming year.
Andrea Rezzonico is Research Consultant at the Center for Climate and Security’s Climate-Nuclear-Security Nexus Program