by J. Tortorici
As we twist and turn in the gale of daily upheavals surrounding the Paris Accords, our attention is drawn to the imperative exchange of a fossil fuel economy for renewable “clean” sources of energy. Our course is logical, based in science, and drenched in the altruism of a just cause…or so we believe.
Nuclear power is officially termed a “low-carbon energy technology,” hold that thought. The International Atomic Energy Agency published a comprehensive paper, Nuclear Power and the Paris Agreement, in November of 2016, touting the essential role nuclear power will play in reaching the goals set forth by the accord. Nowhere in any of the documents from the I.A.E.A. or administrative bodies associated with the Paris Accord is reference made to the inherent risks associated with nuclear power. “Low-carbon” now supersedes nuclear contamination.
As a society we give diligence to the threat of radioactive weaponization while the ongoing history of industrial nuclear power continues to pose a “clear and present danger.” We are inviting one of the greatest toxins known in humanity to thrive, waiting for it to take life on a scale we refuse to fear.
A great irony is the peaceful uses of nuclear power (the generation of electricity) are far from benign. The 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant still resonates around the globe. Residual radiation spans the Pacific to the shores of the North American continent. In the United States, we note Simi Valley, California (1959), and Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania (1979). Chernobyl, Russia (1986), remains “hot” and abandoned to this day. The International Atomic Energy Authority uses a scale of 1 – 7 to classify accident severity. Fukushima was a “5”, Chernobyl was rated the most serious at “7”. Great Britain’s Guardian identified thirty-three serious (level 5 or greater) incidents and accidents at nuclear power stations since the first recorded one in 1952 at Chalk River in Ontario, Canada. Minor “incidents” occur regularly. The aggregate number of persons measurably contaminated by such “incidents”, great and small, remains elusive. Conservative estimates number in the millions.
One could ask in what role the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) of 1970 exists as a practical instrument for our protection in conjunction with the Paris Accords. There lies a profound contradiction.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Or in Virgil’s Aeneid: “the descent to hell is easy.” By attempting to limit the aspirations of a potential nuclear state for the sake of peace and order, the treaty exacerbates an imbalance of power and economic self-determination, environmental issues be damned. Despite the numerous iterations of “peaceful nuclear activities” and the “danger of nuclear war,” the treaty presents the impossible expectation of a static world.
The NNPT is based upon three pillars of action: non-proliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful uses of nuclear power. Both the NNPT and the I.A.E.A., who are responsible for controlling nuclear proliferation, also have a mandate to spread the productive use of nuclear power. Conflicts arise at every turn. As of November 2016, thirty countries worldwide are operating four-hundred fifty nuclear reactors for electricity generation, and sixty new nuclear plants are under construction in fifteen countries.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (http://www.cnduk.org/) puts it succinctly: “any country that has nuclear power has the potential to make nuclear weapons.” The NNPT is realistically unenforceable. The only redress is economic, and sanctions have a limited effect. Worse, these non-signatory nations are at the heart of regional conflicts.
India and Pakistan
Over sixty years of conflict and two wars regarding the disputed area of Kashmir plague this part of the world. Kashmiri self-determination is held hostage by India and Pakistan, with a minor role for China in the northeast region of the country. A cultural conflict of religion is ever-present between the Muslim majority (Pakistan) and the Hindu/Sikh (India) administrators. Both combatants boast nuclear stockpiles and the will to exhibit their effectiveness with countering test detonations.
The issue of primary concern is “command and control”. Where larger nuclear powers have an obsessive system of administering order and accountability with their nuclear arsenals, India and Pakistan are notoriously less strident. In recent years Pakistan has progressively lowered the threshold for nuclear weapons use by developing tactical nuclear weapons capabilities to counter perceived Indian conventional military threats. A hot war could take a nuclear turn with little provocation, and only “perception”.
Neither country is a signatory to the NNPT. Both countries have agreed to the Paris Accords.
Israel and the Arab Middle East
Israel has not publicly conducted a nuclear test, does not admit or deny having nuclear weapons, and states that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Nevertheless, Israel is universally believed to possess nuclear arms, although it is unclear exactly how many. The best estimate is eighty warheads.
Iran and Libya have pursued secret nuclear activities in violation of the treaty’s terms, and Syria is suspected of having done the same. In September of 2007, Israel conducted an airstrike in Syria on what U.S. officials alleged was the construction site of a nuclear research reactor.
Iran’s intentions have been clear for more than a decade. Iran cannot be stopped from exercising its nuclear ambitions. No amount of threat or aggression from Israel can halt the development of Iranian nuclear technology without inflaming the region into war.
In essence, a nuclear armed Israel is surrounded by Arab states that are actively developing nuclear arms and none of these principals is a signatory to the NNPT. However, Israel and Saudi Arabia are signatories to the Paris Accords, Syria is not.
North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NNPT in January 2003 and has tested nuclear devices since that time. North and South Korea, Japan and China are signatories to the Accord.
Conflicting interests over the proliferation of nuclear power are global. None of it is “clean.”
The nuclear genie was set free decades ago, cloaked in the same altruism and just cause. The stain of its presence marks our planet, peaceful or otherwise. The revolution in clean energy and concern for our environment cannot, in good conscience, include the present state of nuclear power.
It remains the other “Inconvenient Truth.”