Proliferation or not?
Q: At this week's international nuclear summit in Washington, D.C., one of the key issues being addressed was nuclear proliferation. To what extent would a rapid expansion of nuclear power, particularly in developing countries, raise the risk of nuclear proliferation?
Nuclear power represents the only zero carbon power technology that can generate electricity on a very large scale in any location as part of the base load. Today, much of the base load in many countries is delivered by coal, the highest emitting route to electricity generation. As such nuclear is an important part of the limited number of options available for substantially reducing emissions in the power sector. But who really needs it?
Arguably, if just the EU, USA, China, India, Russia and Japan built nuclear power stations as an alternative to coal, more than 80% or the global coal emissions would be covered. In 2007 emissions from coal/peat use were 12.2 GT globally, with the above countries at about 10.3 GT. All of these countries (or region in the case of the EU) have both civilian and military nuclear programs in operation and have managed nuclear stocks for several decades. They also all have the technical ability to build nuclear weapons should they choose to do so, with or without technology assistance and nuclear technology transfer.
As an extreme case, if just the EU, USA and China utilized nuclear, 9.3 GT of coal emissions could be accounted for, such is the skewed use of the resource globally.
Whilst some other nations may wish to use nuclear, the reality is that the technology doesn't require widespread deployment in order to tackle emissions. Concentrated heavy deployment in limited locations is all that is actually necessary for the foreseeable future.