Other than two letters published by The Guardian under the heading “Is it time to abandon the nuclear non-proliferation treaty?”, the collapse of the recent review meeting of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) went almost completely unnoticed by mainstream media.
According to a detailed account of the NPT negotiations, Russia blocked consensus on the NPT outcome document owing to proposed language on “internationally recognized borders”. This was a reference to Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict.
But other nuclear weapons states had already shown their disdain for the good faith efforts towards nuclear disarmament called for in NPT Article VI. They deleted textual references to ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons, to ceasing production of fissile materials, and to nuclear-propelled submarines.
In contrast, all NPT Parties attending the review meeting seemed happy with promotional language inserted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The final text asserted that nuclear energy contributes to “meeting energy needs, improving human and animal health, combating poverty, protecting the environment, developing agriculture, managing the use of water resources, optimizing industrial processes and preserving cultural heritage.”
That overblown statement was based on references to facilitating “peaceful” uses of nuclear energy found in Article IV of the NPT. There is even a mention of “peaceful” nuclear explosions in Article V.
The notion that nuclear power is compatible with a peaceful world has been revealed as a dangerous delusion. Developments at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine show that nuclear power plants are instruments of war. Russian troops have seized control of the plant. Ukraine claims that Russia is using the plant as a base for launching artillery attacks. Russia says Ukraine is shelling the plant.
With the Chernobyl accident, Ukraine and its neighbours witnessed the radioactive contamination that can result from a major accident at a nuclear plant. As yet, the world has not seen an accident involving burning of a spent fuel waste storage facility. This could dwarf the contamination from Chernobyl.
To the communities in the path of radioactive fallout, it would matter little whether Russia or Ukraine would bear the greater share of responsibility were such a disaster to occur at Zaporizhzhia. The threats to world peace and the environment posed by nuclear power — and by its political, military, and corporate supporters — have never been so clearly demonstrated.
IAEA efforts to avoid a disaster at Zaporizhzhia are commendable, but that UN agency’s over-zealous nuclear promotion is highly problematic. The IAEA, along with various national governments, is proposing that “small modular reactors” be mass-produced in factories and sold around the world.
The U.S. Department of Defense, drawing on its experience with nuclear submarines, is exploring the use of such reactors to power its extensive network of overseas military bases.
Canada’s federally-funded research on small modular reactors includes the so-called “reprocessing” of civilian spent fuel to extract plutonium. Given the ease with which a nuclear weapon can be fabricated from plutonium, widespread deployment of such reactors would pose almost unimaginable risks.
In addition to a massive increase in IAEA “safeguards” inspections, national governments would need to vastly ramp up their level of surveillance of ordinary citizens to forestall attempts to acquire plutonium. And whatever its fuel type, each new reactor (and its associated spent fuel waste storage area) would be a target for terrorist attacks, as well as a potential weapon during military conflicts.
The war in Ukraine has dashed any lingering hopes that a technology spawned by world war can be dedicated to purely peaceful uses.
Nuclear power — like nuclear weaponry — has been revealed as an instrument of centralized state control fundamentally incompatible with human rights and world peace. [*]
Ole Hendrickson is an ecologist and section editor for our website, https://tosavetheworld.ca.