In a 1980 Foreign Affairs article, I first set out with two coauthors an economically based, logically consistent approach to nonproliferation. Eerily presaging today's conditions, the article said:
For fundamental reasons ... nuclear power is not commercially viable, and questions of how to regulate an inexorably expanding world nuclear regime are moot....
[T]he collapse of nuclear power in response to the discipline of the marketplace is to be welcomed, for nuclear power is both the main driving force behind proliferation and the least effective known way to displace oil: indeed, it retards oil displacement by the faster, cheaper and more attractive means which new developments in energy policy now make available to all countries. So far, nonproliferation policy has gotten the wrong answer by persistently asking the wrong questions, creating "a nuclear armed crowd" by assuming its inevitability. We shall argue instead that acknowledging and taking advantage of the nuclear collapse, as part of a pragmatic alternative program, can offer an internally consistent approach to nonproliferation, as well as a resolution to the bitter dispute over Article IV of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
On the eve of the second NPT Review Conference, to be held in Geneva in August 1980, fatalism is becoming fashionable as the headlines show proliferation slipping rapidly out of control. Yet...an effective nonproliferation policy, though impossible with continued commitments to nuclear power, may become possible without it -- if only we ask the right questions.
Thirty years later, as the eighth NPT Review Conference prepares to convene in Vienna on April 30, 2010, just one word needs updating: now that oil generates less than 6 percent of the world's electricity, today's nuclear expansion is meant instead to displace coal to protect climate.
That rationale is identically unsound. In principle, quadrupling today's global nuclear power capacity -- to replace, then triple, retiring units -- could provide up to one-tenth of needed carbon reductions. But nuclear power is the least effective method: using it does save carbon, but about 2-20 times less per dollar and 20-40 times less per year than buying its winning competitors (mentioned below). Nuclear expansion would thus reduce and retard climate protection. We must invest judiciously, not indiscriminately, to get the most climate solution per dollar and per year. Expanding nuclear power does the opposite.