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Nuclear Energy and the Non Proliferation Treaty:
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Nuclear Energy and the Non Proliferation Treaty:

An Authorized Albatross?


Comments on Article IV of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.


About, about, in reel and rout

The death-fires danced at night;

The water, like a witch’s oils,

Burnt green, and blue and white.

Ah! Well a-day! What evil looks

Had I from old and young!

Instead of a cross, the Albatross

About my neck was hung.

(The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)

Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy

Prepared for the second session of the  Preparatory Committee for the 2000 Review Conference on the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

April 1998


 Table of Contents


1. Summary

2. Recommendations

3. Energy Requirements

4. Risks of Nuclear Energy

    i) Human health and the environment

        a) Nuclear accidents

        b) Nuclear waste

        c) Nuclear transport

   ii) Nuclear weapons proliferation

5. Economic Costs of Nuclear Energy

6. Energy Alternatives

i) Energy efficiency

   ii) Alternative Energy Sources

     a) Biomass

     b) Solar

     c) Wind

     d) Geothermal

7. Unsound Promotion of Nuclear Energy

8. NPT "Right" to Nuclear Energy

9. Nuclear Energy and the NPT 2000 Review

10. Conclusion

Note: This is an updated version of a paper prepared for the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. Electronic version does not include graphics.


1. Summary

Energy development is a primary concern for increasing the standard of living in developing countries. The Non-Proliferation Treaty establishes a "right" of all parties to develop nuclear energy. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is empowered to facilitate the transfer of nuclear technology to non-nuclear states. In addition, the IAEA actively promotes the development of nuclear energy.

It is however becoming increasingly obvious that while the benefits of nuclear technology in medicine, engineering and agriculture may outweigh the risks, this is not true in the case of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy creates a legacy of serious and long-lasting environmental and health problems, and enables proliferation of nuclear weapons. This affects the security and the well being of people in all states, not just those in the states with nuclear energy. Nuclear energy has become an "authorized albatross" around the necks of humanity.

States do not have an "inalienable right" to damage human health or the environment nor to threaten the security of neighboring states or the lives of citizens.

Alternative energy sources which are environmentally safe and cost effective are becoming more available and could provide for the world's energy requirements.

While there is an international agency established to promote and assist the development of nuclear energy, there is no such agency to promote and assist the development of renewable, environmentally safe energy.

"...there is no prospect of security against atomic warfare..." when nations are "free to develop atomic energy but only pledged not to use it for bombs" U.S. Secretary of State's Committee on Atomic Energy, March 16, 1946.

2. Recommendations

a) That an international sustainable energy agency must be established with the aim to promote and assist in the development of energy efficiency, and renewable environmentally safe energy.

b) That states make a commitment not to develop  any new nuclear power facilities and to phase out nuclear energy by the year 2015.

c)That Article IV of the NPT not be reaffirmed at the NPT Review in 2000, but left to lapse as Article V has done.

d) That the Chairman's Working Paper for the NPT Prepartory Committee include language reflecting the above (for draft language see section 9: Nuclear Energy and the 2000 Review of the NPT.


3. Energy Requirements

Developing countries have a right to energy assistance in order to raise their standard of living to that of the developed world. It has been estimated that in order for the developing countries to reach such a standard, their energy production would need to double by the year 2025. (J. Holdren, The Transition to Costlier Energy as cited in P. Ehrlich and A. Ehrlich, Healing the Planet, Addison Wesley, !993 , p 43. Ehrlich and Ehrlich note that this estimate of energy needs takes into account the likely population growth over that time. After 2025 they predict that the population will stabilize.)

Energy assistance needs to conform to the economic, health and environmental needs of the recipient countries.

Energy companies, whose main aim is to make a profit, cannot be relied upon to conform to such requirements. With the support of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear energy industry will continue to promote an energy which is unsafe, uneconomic and unnecessary.

There needs to be an alternative international energy agency with the objective of promoting non-polluting, economic, renewable energy options. The United Nations Committee on the Development and Utilization of New and Renewable Sources of Energy, for example, recommended the creation of UN agency to promote and assist in the development of solar energy, the low impact energy source with the most potential.  ( Commemoration of  the Tenth Anniversary of the Adoption of the Nairobi Programme of Action for the Development and Utilization of New and Renewable Source of Energy: Report of the intergovernmental Group of Experts on New and Renewable Energy,   February 3-14, 1992.)


4. Risks of nuclear energy

        i) Human Health and the Environment

Nuclear energy poses serious risks to human health and the environment

a) Nuclear accidents

While there have been numerous nuclear accidents, those of Windscale (UK), Three Mile Island (US) and Chernobyl (Ukraine) have most forcibly demonstrated the serious risks associated with nuclear energy.

Chernobyl, for example, released over 300 times the radiation released by the Hiroshima bomb, and contaminated at least 20 countries.(   David Naples,  "Chernobyl's  Lengthening Shadow",  Bulletin of Atomic Scientists,  September 1993.) In Finland many reindeer had to be killed due to radioactive contamination. 99% of the land in Belarus is contaminated to some degree and will remain so for up to 250,000 years.

Over 800,000 children in Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and surrounding states are at high risk of contracting leukemia or other cancers as a result of the accident. There is a 300% increase in congenital birth defects, blood and nervous system disorders and cancer in the area. Thyroid cancer increased 1000%. These health problems will continue to appear, particularly in children, for 1000-10,000 generations.(Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Fact Sheet No. 1.  Chernobyl Children's Project, January 1994.) Independent scientists have estimated that between 280,000 and 500,000 deaths will result worldwide from the accident. (Greenpeace Environmental Trust-Nuclear Power Public Document.)

It has been claimed that the RBMK reactor is fundamentally more dangerous than other reactors and that this is the reason for the Chernobyl accident occurring. This is not true. The Chernobyl accident occurred primarily through human error. (Ulrike Fink et al, The International Control of Atomic Energy Agency- 35 Years Promotion of Nuclear Energy, Anti-Atom International, Austria.) In fact, in 1983 Mr. Semenov, Head of the IAEA Department of Nuclear Energy and Safety praised the RBMK reactors for their safety features.(IAEA Bulletin 25 (1983) No. 2.) IAEA reassurances that such an accident cannot happen in other reactors are misleading and fallacious.

If nuclear energy is not phased out, another accident of the magnitude of that at Chernobyl will likely occur sometime.

b) Nuclear waste

Nuclear energy produces waste which remains radioactive and a threat to health and the environment for up to 250,000 years.

There is no known way of storing this waste safely and securely for such a long period. In addition, even if a safe storage method is developed, there is no known way of communicating to subsequent civilizations what is stored, how dangerous it is and how to maintain it safely. No known human language has lasted more than 5000 years, let alone 250,000 years.

It is irresponsible for humanity to keep producing this waste before we have developed storage methods and trans-civilization communication tools which will overcome these problems.

c) Nuclear transport

Nuclear energy involves the transportation of highly radioactive materials from mines to processing plants to reactors to reprocessing plants to reactors again and finally to storage sites. Transporting radioactive materials poses additional risks of accidents resulting in uncontainable leakage into the environment. These risks are particularly high in the shipments of waste across the world's oceans.

While the benefits of nuclear energy are confined to the states possessing such nuclear energy, the health and environmental costs are borne by many others.

        ii) Nuclear Weapons Proliferation

Nuclear energy poses serious threats to nuclear weapons proliferation.

In 1946 a report to the US Secretary of State's Committee on Atomic Energy concluded that

"The development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes and the development of atomic energy for bombs are much of their course interchangeable and interdependent." The committee further concluded that "...there is no prospect of security against atomic warfare" in an international system where nations are "free to develop atomic energy but only pledged not to use it for bombs." (A Report on the International Control of Atomic Energy,  Secretary of State's Committee on Atomic Energy Board of Consultants,  Washington DC March 16, 1946, cited in Plutonium and the NPT, Levanthal, NCI, November 18, 1993).                     

Subsequent events have given proof of this statement. The development of nuclear weapons by France emerged from a nuclear program which many scientists believed was only for civilian purposes. (L.  Scheinman Atomic Energy Policy in France under the Fourth Republic, Princeton University Press,   1965.) A number of states including parties to the NPT such as Iraq and North Korea, have received technical assistance in the development of nuclear energy, only to redirect this technology into a nuclear weapons program.

Frank von Hippel, adviser to the US government, has noted that "Civilian nuclear energy programs provide a convenient cover, as well as the training, technology and nuclear material necessary for the construction of nuclear weapons."(F. von Hippel, Citizen Scientist, Touchstone, NY 1991. p202)

India's explosion of a nuclear device on May 18, 1974, developed from a civilian nuclear program, demonstrates dramatically that fissile material and technology diverted from civilian programs will indeed work in nuclear weapons.

The increase in production and reprocessing of plutonium from civilian nuclear reactors means that diversion into nuclear weapons becomes even harder to prevent. The manufacture of nuclear weapons is technically not difficult once fissile material is obtained. Civilian stocks of separated plutonium, currently at 122 tonnes, are projected to surpass military stocks by the year 2000 and will reach 550 tonnes by 2010. (World Inventory of Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium, Albright, Berkhout and Walker, 1992,  Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.) The recent diversion of Russian plutonium into private hands demonstrates the increasing likelihood that such diversion could enable nuclear weapons production by a growing number of states, including those without nuclear power, and also by non-state entities.


5. Economic Costs of Nuclear Energy

When the "Atoms for Peace" program was first launched it was claimed that nuclear energy would be too cheap to meter. This claim has proven to be blatantly incorrect, as costs for nuclear power plants are now on average above $1 billion to build, and the costs of accidents, decommissioning and downtime have yet to be fully accounted for, let alone the unquantified economic costs of the damage to human health and the environment.

The Chernobyl accident alone could end up costing US$358 Billion by the year 2000.(Yurt Kuryukin, Chief Economist Research and Development Institute of Power Engineering, design company for the Chernobyl reactor.  As reported in " The Pacific Rings of Fire",  Greenpeace 1993.  The official Russian government estimate of costs is $120 billion.)

The development of environmentally safe, renewable energy systems has been hindered by low budgets for research and development, compared to nuclear energy which has had considerable government subsidization for research and development. (From 1978-91, research and development spending on nuclear energy in IAEA member countries amounted to $72 billion [ 63% of total energy R&D spending] while only $10 billion [9%] was spent on R&D for solar and other renewable energies [Source "Power Surge", C. Flavin and H Lenssen, Worldwatch, NY 1994.]) Despite this, the per unit cost for most sustainable energy sources is cheaper than for nuclear energy, competitive with fossil fuels and constantly reducing. (The cost of electricity from photovoltaic modules for example has reduced from $60 per Watt in 1975 to $ $ per Watt in 1993.  ( Average   prices. Source: "Power Surge",  C. Flavin and H Lenssen, Worldwatch, NY 1994).)


6. Energy Alternatives

No one energy source can provide all of humanity’s energy needs. However, a sensible combination of energy efficiency systems and safe, renewable energy sources can meet this requirement.

       i) Energy efficiency

Current consumption of energy by the developed world is inefficient. The developed countries could reduce their energy consumption without damage to their economies or standard of living by using energy efficiency techniques such as minimal processing, recycling, use of energy efficient machinery, and more efficient energy management. (Holdren (1991) has estimated an optimum energy consumption maintaining standards of living enjoyed by the developed world would be 3kW   per person. Current energy consumption per capita in the developed world is 7.5 kW. Holdren argues that this could be reduced to 3.8kW by 2025, and to 3kW by 2100 using energy efficient technology and practices.) Utilizing energy efficiency would in fact improve the standard of living globally as it would reduce the impact of overconsumption of energy on the environment and human health.

Utilizing similar models of energy efficiency, the economies of developing countries could develop without having to consume the same per capita level of energy as the developed world currently consumes.

        ii) Alternative energy sources

Alternative energy sources could provide the energy currently provided by nuclear energy and also the projected energy output of nuclear power plants planned for the future.

Coal, oil and hydroelectric stations will continue to play a role in the world's energy needs. While each of these is either non-renewable or damaging to the environment, they are not life threatening to the degree that nuclear energy is.

However, even without nuclear energy, fossil fuel use could be considerably reduced with the development of solar, biomass, wind, geothermal and other renewable non-polluting energy sources. Such renewable energy sources could fill the bulk of the world’s energy requirements by the mid 21st Century. ( Holdren has suggested that global energy production should increase from 13 terawatts (TW) currently produced to 19 TW by 2025, and to 30TW by 2100 in order to provide 3kW per capita globally. (Ehrlich and Ehrlich (1993) have estimated that biomass could theoretically produce up to 25TW (but a realistic figure is much less), solar energy could produce 50TW, and other renewable energies such as wind, wave and geothermal power could produce 2-3 TW.)

a) Biomass

Biomass involves the generation of energy from plant material through decomposition, burning or other means. Biomass currently provides one-third of the energy used in the developing world. When produced sustainably the burning of energy crops produces no net increase in global carbon dioxide levels. (Pierre Trudeau, Energy for a Habitable World, p 52.)

Conversion of burning sugar cane to energy could generate another third of the developing world's energy needs.

Biomass energy has other advantages in that it can often be produced from byproducts of food crops, making the energy source a dual contribution to the economy.

b) Solar energy

A range of technologies have developed to harness solar energy, including passive water heaters, parabolic troughs, parabolic dishes and photovoltaic systems.

Some of these technologies can be used in decentralized systems, including energy production units on individual homes or businesses. These provide attractive options for the developing world as they are inexpensive and do not require large and expensive energy grids for distribution of energy from a central source.

Other systems can be used to generate large amounts of power from a centralized location to feed energy consuming industries.

Marginally productive or non-productive desert land is ideal for medium to large scale solar energy projects. In a study of possible sites for large scale production of solar energy in the US, a desert area in Nevada was chosen as the most productive. ("Nevada Test Site Solar Feasibility Study",   prepared for the US Department of Energy, April 1994.)

Solar energy is now becoming a comparatively cheap energy source (see figure 1). The proposed Nevada Solar Project could produce 10,000 MWs of energy at 6.22c/Kwh.

c) Wind

Windmills can be used for direct work such as water pumping and grain grinding. They can also be used to generate electricity.

In 1988, 2% of California's energy was produced by windmills.(Ehrlich and Ehrlich (1991), p 56. Flavin and Lenssen (Worldw Power Surge, atch 1994) report that wind could potentially provide as much as 20% of the energy needs of many states.) Wind farms require large amounts of space, but can be established on land also used for agriculture or horticulture. The cost of electricity from wind in the US has reduced from 20c per kilowatt-hour in the 1980s to 5c per kilowatt-hour, and is expected to decline further. ( Flavin and Levenssen, p191)

d) Geothermal

Geothermal energy uses steam from underground volcanic areas to provide heat or to generate electricity. It is currently utilized in Japan, Aotearoa-New Zealand, Hawaii, California and Iceland. Japan, which currently has 270 megawatts of geothermal capacity, has a potential of 250 times that amount, or double the country's current nuclear energy capacity (Flavin and Levenssen, Power Surge, p120-123.) At least 40 countries, including the USA, could produce a considerable percentage of their energy needs from geothermal reserves. Flavin and Levenssen, p 191.


7. Unsound Promotion of Nuclear Energy

Many developed countries are turning away from nuclear energy, but are peddling it to the developing world.

Nuclear energy is now being recognized by many countries in the developed world as being uneconomic, unsafe and unnecessary. As a result developed countries are now turning away from nuclear energy. In the United States all reactor orders placed over the past 20 years have subsequently been cancelled. In Canada the nuclear industry has not placed an order for a reactor since 1974. ( The World Nuclear Industry Status Report, World Watch Institute 1992.)Greece, Italy, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, Finland and Germany have all halted construction of further reactors. (The Pacific Rings of Fire, Greenpeace, 1993.)

Despite the turn away from nuclear power in the developed world, nuclear power companies from the developed world are peddling it instead to the developing world. In 1988, the Philippines government filed a bribery suit against Westinghouse, a US company, accusing it of paying $17.2 million to former president Marcos to win the project.


The International Atomic Energy Agency actively promotes the development of nuclear energy.

The International Atomic Energy Agency was established by a United Nations General Assembly Resolution on 4 December 1954, with the aim to "accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world."

Article III of the IAEA's Statute authorizes the Agency "to meet the needs of research on, and development and practical application of, atomic energy for peaceful purposes, including the production of electric power, with due consideration for the needs of the under-developed areas of the world."

The IAEA acts on this aim through information dissemination and technical assistance. The IAEA has established a number of avenues for accomplishing this including operating research and service laboratories, maintaining the International Nuclear Information System, holding promotional conferences and meetings, provision of technical training, providing nuclear equipment, and publishing bulletins, newsbriefs and other promotional documents. ( See "Activities of the International Atomic Energy Agency relevant to Article IV of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, " UN Documents, Geneva, NPT/Conf. 1995/PC.III/8.)

The IAEA is involved in a number of nuclear endeavors including food irradiation and the use of radio-isotopes in medicine, geothermal exploration and scientific research. However the IAEA has noted that "...promotion of nuclear power will be the Agency's most important contribution to the economy and general welfare." ( " A Long-Term Programme for IAEA",  IAEA Bulletin 5 (1963), No.4.)

The IAEA particularly targets those developing countries currently experiencing economic growth. This is often at the cost of cheaper alternatives. In Thailand, for example, despite a World Bank recommendation against building nuclear power plants because the cost would be much higher than alternatives, Hans Blix, at that time the Director-General of the IAEA, told government officials that

"In the longer term it is inevitable and indispensable to use nuclear power and therefore any developing country with fairly high levels of development like Thailand must begin to prepare for a nuclear period."    (Bangkok Post, 1991, as reported in "Power Move; the Nuclear Salesmen Target the Third World."  WorldWatch, Vol. 7, No. 2, Mar-Apr 1994, p31.)

To this end, the IAEA downplays the environmental, economic and health risks associated with nuclear energy. In 1991, for example, the IAEA downplayed the effects of the Chernobyl accident arguing that the Soviets had over-reacted to the contamination and that "the relocation and foodstuff restrictions should have been less extensive." ( " The International Chernobyl Project-An Overview",   IAEA, Vienna 1991.)

In addition the IAEA at times promotes a reduction in safety standards for nuclear energy. S. Elkund, Director General of the IAEA at the time, noted that "...there is a double standard in safety requirements by which nuclear undertakings are compelled to be safer than all others...and this imposes an economic penalty on nuclear power..." (Safety of Nuclear Reactors, IAEA Bulletin 4 (1962) No. 3.)

8. NPT "Right" to Nuclear Energy

Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty asserts the "inalienable right of all Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes." Article IV also establishes the obligations of nuclear states to assist non-nuclear states with the development of nuclear energy, and notes particularly the "needs for the developing areas of the world".

This "right" would however appear to be in conflict with more fundamental rights such as the rights to health and life.

These rights are confirmed by numerous instruments of international law including;

The Constitution of the World Health Organization;

"The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being..." (Principles paragraph 2)

The Universal declaration of Human Rights;

"Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person" (Article 3)

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

"Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law." (Article 6.1)

Convention on the Rights of the Child;

"States parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life." (Article 6.1)

"States parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child." (Article 6.2)

Nuclear power threatens the health and life of citizens currently living as well as those in subsequent generations. This right is not abrogated by the necessity of energy development as the "deprivation of life may be justified only in defense of life" ( C.K. Boyle, " The Concept of Arbitrary Deprivation of Life", in B.G.  Ramcharan (ED),  The Right to Life in International Law, Martinus Hijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht, 1985, p 221.)

In addition, where there is clearly a choice between non-life-threatening energy options and life-threatening energy options, states have a responsibility to choose non-life-threatening options.

The NPT was adopted at a time when the full implications of nuclear energy for health and life were not known. In fact, these implications are only now coming to light as a result of, inter alia, the Chernobyl accident and nuclear waste problems.

Now that these implications are known, the Article IV "right" to nuclear energy should be allowed to languish just as the Article V "right" to nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes has been left to do.


9. Nuclear Energy and the 2000 Review of the NPT

The Chairman’s Working Paper for the Preparatory Committee for the 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT/CONF.2000/PC.I/32. Annex I) calls on States parties to "reaffirm the importance they attach to ensuring the exercise of the inalienable rights of all the parties to the treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination..."

This draft text should be opposed and replaced with text along the lines of the following;

"The States parties reaffirm the inherent and inalienable rights to life and health and that such rights must be upheld in the pursuit of energy.

The States Parties reaffirm also the rights of all States to the development of energy necessary for economic and social advancement, and call on the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the development of safe and sustainable energy sources.

To that end, the States parties call for the establishment of an International Sustainable Energy Agency with a mandate to promote and assist in the development of energy efficiency and renewable, environmentally safe energy sources.

The States parties recommend that priority for energy assistance be given to States which have forgone nuclear energy or have committed themselves to phasing out nuclear energy over a reasonable timeframe."


10. Conclusion

The 20th Century has seen the rise of many threats to the global environment, nuclear energy being one of the greatest. The legacy of nuclear contamination and environmental destruction which the 20th century has created will remain for generations to come.

We have the choice at the dawn of the 21st Century to continue down a road of nuclear dangers that threatens the health and lives of all people and all other living beings on this planet, or to abandon such a dangerous and destructive path in favor of one which can provide for the energy needs of the world in a safe and economically sound way.

The choice is yours. Please make it wisely



































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