The Pacific Forum, in partnership with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) of Singapore and the University of Sydney in Australia, and with the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, held a Nuclear Energy Experts Group (NEEG) meeting in Singapore on Jan. 22-23, 2018. It brought together approximately 40 specialists from 18 countries in the Asia Pacific and beyond, all attending in their private capacities. The participants joined a day and a half of not-for-attribution discussions on ways to build nuclear governance and improve nuclear safety, security, and safeguards culture in the region. Participants also reflected on the future of nuclear power development in the Asia Pacific and the regional networks that undergird trade and knowledge transfers in nuclear-related industries and institutions. Key findings from the meeting include:
Conceptualizing nuclear governance is a challenge. There is general agreement, however, that it should include both the peaceful and military use of nuclear technology and encompass all elements of the existing and emerging regime: norms and practices (e.g., the norm against nuclear testing), rules and agreements (e.g., Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements or the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone), and arrangements and institutions (e.g., the Proliferation Security Initiative and the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA).
International efforts to improve governance of nuclear materials have focused on the civilian sector, which accounts for slightly over 15 percent of all material. That means nearly 85 percent of nuclear material considered to be for military use remains outside existing international regulations; they are managed exclusively by the governments of nuclear-armed states. Moreover, the production of weapon-grade nuclear material continues in several nuclear-armed states, partly because of a failure to negotiate a fissile material cut-off treaty. Creative work is needed to strengthen the safety, security, and management of military-use nuclear materials.
Good governance of nuclear materials requires a holistic approach to the “3 S’s”: nuclear safety, security, and safeguards. Such an approach is not challenge-free, however, because each “S” has distinct goals and is managed by a different community. Safety focuses on protecting people from a nuclear or radioactive accident and is the primary responsibility of nuclear operators and national authorities; security is aimed at protecting nuclear and radioactive materials from people with bad intentions, which falls under the purview of national authorities; and safeguards are designed to prevent proliferation and are managed mostly by the IAEA and other international bodies.
Further integration of the three “S” communities should be the focus of education and training programs. Because they offer uniquely specialized programs and have opportunities to innovate, the centers of excellence on nuclear security established in recent years are well positioned to encourage such integration. Coordination of work among the centers is critical to enhance the comparative advantages of each center and avoid duplication of work.
The 2010-2016 Nuclear Security Summit process was crucial in raising awareness of the weakest link of the three S’s—nuclear security—and initiating action to plug important gaps. Today there is uncertainty about leadership and ways to strengthen nuclear security governance. Still, efforts have continued, with the development of important action plans by the United Nations, the International Criminal Police Organization, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and the Global Partnership on Weapons of Mass Destruction. More work (and funding) is urgently needed, especially to address issues associated with cybersecurity and emerging technologies, such as 3-D printing.
Building nuclear governance at the regional level is important, if only to ease the burden of work conducted by the IAEA and other international bodies. Doing so comes with issues of its own, however, as the experiences of the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) and the Brazil-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Material (ABACC) have shown. EURATOM has a broad inspection mandate, can impose sanctions, and cooperates and coordinates closely with the IAEA; it is regarded suspiciously by neighboring states, however, notably Russia. Meanwhile, ABACC has been pivotal in helping build confidence between Brazil and Argentina. Still, duplication of work has occurred because the IAEA remains concerned about Brazilian and Argentinian activities, in part because neither country has an additional protocol in force.
ASEANTOM has made significant progress since its establishment in 2012. Cooperation between ASEAN regulatory agencies has grown through regular exchanges of best practices, capacity-building efforts, and assistance to member states to implement key international agreements. ASEANTOM has also conducted important work in nuclear emergency preparedness and response and in environmental radiation monitoring. It has also begun to address nuclear security issues, including nuclear forensics, measures to combat illicit trafficking and unauthorized transfer of nuclear and radioactive materials, and the return of recovered materials to the country of origin.
ASEANTOM requires assistance and funding to maintain and expand its activities. Other challenges to progress include the wide differences in nuclear knowledge and infrastructure among ASEAN member states. Further efforts are needed, therefore, to build capacity in the least developed Southeast Asian countries.
Recent developments suggest that nuclear power development in Southeast Asia will remain aspirational for the next decade or so. Time creates space to enhance capacity in the 3 S’s in that region. For instance, the nuclear cooperation agreements that Southeast Asian states are currently concluding with third parties (notably Japan, South Korea, or Russia), be they for the construction of nuclear power plant construction, research facilities, or reactors, should include requirements that recipients comply with the main safety, security, and nonproliferation regimes. Action is also required right now because research shows that nuclear trade and research networks have expanded considerably in Southeast Asia in recent years. Without a more robust regulatory framework, the region will be vulnerable to illicit trafficking of nuclear materials and technologies.
A first step in improving nuclear governance in Southeast Asia is mapping existing and emerging nuclear trade and research networks, which include the movement of nuclear materials and radioactive sources and nuclear-related components, as well as “tacit knowledge”: expertise. Understanding these networks allows governments to create a nonproliferation and nuclear security policy framework capable of targeting key nodes to prevent illicit trafficking and sanctions evasion efforts. Mapping and monitoring these networks also creates opportunities to expand them, thereby enhancing trade, a first-order priority for most Southeast Asian states.
In terms of nuclear-related trade networks, Southeast Asian countries are already involved in the global nuclear trade, despite a lack of power reactors. All of the major countries in the region are suppliers of radioactive sources and nuclear components at some level, despite lack of membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Singapore and Thailand in particular have the potential to serve as brokers and transshipment hubs, while Malaysia and Indonesia are active buyers of nuclear technology and radioactive sources. It would be valuable for regional governments to think about their role in nuclear governance as suppliers and brokers rather than simply as buyers, and to identify trade relationships that may bear more scrutiny.
In terms of tacit knowledge networks, some Southeast Asian countries already have robust nuclear research enterprises, with Indonesia having long experience in reactor operations and Singapore and Malaysia excelling in modeling and simulation and radiation detection research. While Singapore and Malaysia have fairly densely interconnected networks at a researcher level, Indonesia’s research networks are connected by institutions, with less interpersonal interaction. These differences mean that different approaches are needed when passing on nuclear-related knowledge, in building nuclear research enterprises, and in developing cultures within countries that promote nuclear security and nuclear safety.
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