problems of proliferation, climate change, and oil dependence share both a nuclear
non-solution that confounds U.S. policy goals and a non-nuclear solution that
first four months of 2010 offer a unique opportunity to align the United
States' foreign-policy goals with domestic energy policy and new market
developments, and thereby to stem what the Pentagon's Nuclear
Posture Review will reportedly rank equally with great-power threats -- the
spread of nuclear weapons.
Gregory Bateson and farmer-poet Wendell Berry counseled "solving for pattern"
-- harnessing hidden commonalities to resolve complex challenges without
making more. President Obama's speech
at the recent U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen hinted at such an approach by
linking an efficient, clean-energy, climate-safe economy with three other key
issues: prosperity, oil displacement, and national security. Keeping
proliferation, climate, and oil in separate policy boxes has in the past
stalled progress on the first two issues over North/South splits that the third
issue intensifies. Yet these three problems share profitable solutions, and
seem tough only because of a wrong economic assumption.
false assumption can distort and defeat policies vital to paramount national
interests. The Copenhagen climate conference proved again how pricing carbon
and winning international collaboration are hard if policymakers assume climate protection is costly,
focusing debate on cost, burden, and sacrifice.
assumption is backwards:
Business experience proves climate protection is not costly but profitable, because saving fuel costs less than
buying fuel. Changing the conversation to profits, jobs, and competitive
advantage sweetens the politics, melting resistance faster than glaciers.
Whether you care most about security, prosperity, or environment, and whatever
you think about climate science, you'll favor exactly the same energy choices: focusing on outcomes, not motives,
can forge broad consensus.
instance, a January 2009 study by McKinsey & Company
demonstrated how it was possible to cut projected 2030 global greenhouse-gas
emissions by 70 percent at a trivial average cost: $6 per metric ton of CO2.
Newer technologies and integrative design,
which often makes very large energy savings cost less than small or no savings, turning diminishing into expanding
returns, could make even bigger abatements cost less than zero dollars.
be done fast enough. Consider that from 1977 through 1985, U.S. oil intensity (barrels per
real GDP dollar) fell 5.2 percent per year. Today, cutting global energy
intensity at an annual rate of about 3-4 percent, vs. the historic 1 percent, could abate further climate damage. The
United States has long achieved 2-4 percent cuts each year without paying
attention; China achieved more than 5 percent reductions from 1976 through 2001
and is on track for 4 percent reductions from 2005 through 2010. Individual
firms have been able to achieve 6-16 percent reductions. So why should 3-4
percent be hard, especially with most of the global economic growth in China
and India, where making new infrastructure efficient is easier than fixing it
energy efficiency consistently makes money (billions for many firms), why
should this be costly? And why should climate negotiators adopt economists'
assumptions about cost rather than business
leaders' experiences of profit? The climate conversation gets vastly easier and
less necessary when it's shifted from shared
sacrifice to informed self-interest.
policymakers likewise assume U.S. oil dependence and imports must be permanent.
Yet a 2004 Pentagon-cosponsored independent study
showed how it was possible to eliminate U.S.
oil use by the 2040s at an average cost of about $15 per barrel, led by business for profit. Implementation
was launched in 2005 by "institutional
acupuncture," then spurred by the 2008 price shock, 2009 policy shifts, and
effort now looks to be on or ahead of schedule: In 2009, "peak oil" emerged,
but on the demand side. U.S. gasoline
demand reached its apex in
Energy Research Associates doubts OECD oil demand will regain its 2005
Bank forecasts light-vehicle electrification (at one-third China's planned
rate, and without counting the other revolutionary innovations underway) will
turn world oil demand downward from
2016 -- reaching, by 2030, 8 percent below 2009.
Suburban sprawl is reversing. Just in 2008, government-mandated "feebates" cut
inefficient cars' sales in France 42 percent and raised efficient cars' sales
50 percent. Thus oil is becoming uncompetitive even at low prices before it
becomes unavailable even at high prices.
oil as with climate, official assessments ignore these solutions as too
detailed, disruptive, novel, or integrative to contemplate. When offered
cramped old choices, policymakers all too often perpetuate largely incremental
policies. Private firms are more likely to innovate, while governments play
catch-up. And intergovernmental negotiations learn slowest of all.
adherence to outmoded orthodoxies now cripples nonproliferation. Policy still
rests on the fatally contradictory assumption that nuclear power is economical, necessary, and experiencing a revival. This
makes the proliferation problem insoluble. Fortunately, that assumption is
counterfactual -- and correcting it can make the proliferation problem largely
soluble. Here's how.
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:
fundamental reasons ... nuclear power is not commercially viable, and questions
of how to regulate an inexorably expanding world nuclear regime are moot....
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).
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.
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.
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.
article's logic remains sound:
- We can have proliferation
with nuclear power, via either end of any fuel cycle: "every form of every fissionable material in every nuclear fuel cycle can be used to make military bombs,
either on its own or in combination with other ingredients made widely
available by nuclear power."
- We can't have nuclear power
without proliferation, because its vast flows of materials, equipment,
skills, knowledge, and skilled people create do-it-yourself bomb kits
wrapped in innocent-looking civilian disguise. Safeguards to prevent that
misuse "cannot succeed either in principle or in practice," because
national rivalries, subnational instabilities, and human frailties trump
treaties and policing.
- We can have proliferation
without nuclear power -- but needn't if we do it right: with unimportant
exceptions, "every known
civilian route to bombs involves either
nuclear power or materials
and technologies whose possession, indeed whose existence in commerce, is
a direct and essential consequence of nuclear fission power."
- Crucially, in a world without nuclear power, the
ingredients needed to make bombs by any known method would no longer be
ordinary items of commerce. They'd become harder to get, more conspicuous
to try to get, and politically costlier to be caught trying to get (or
supply), because their purpose would be unambiguously military. This disambiguation would make
proliferation not impossible but far harder -- and easier to detect timely,
because intelligence resources could focus on needles, not haystacks. Thus
phasing out nuclear power is a necessary and nearly sufficient condition
American Academy of Arts and Sciences' 2009 nuclear study,
confident of nuclear power's necessity and viability, ignored its decades-long collapse in market economies due to unsupportable
economic costs and financial risks. That study simply overlooked the data:
shrinking global nuclear output, less than 5 percent nuclear share of capacity
under construction, retirements outpacing additions for decades to come, every
plant under construction bought by central planners (none by conventional
free-market transactions), and zero equity investment despite extremely
generous new subsidies in the United States, roughly equivalent to or
greater than construction cost.
is, nuclear investment has no business case: With or without a price on carbon,
nuclear power and big fossil-fueled
power plants simply cost far more than "micropower" generation (renewables
except big hydropower, plus cogenerating electricity with useful heat) or saving electricity through
has surpassed nuclear output since 2006, when it produced one-sixth of global
electricity, one-third of new electricity, and 16-52 percent of all electricity
in a dozen industrial countries.
alone, the United States added more megawatts of wind power than it added in
coal generation from 2003 through 2007, or than the world added nuclear power
in 2007. And in 2008, renewables attracted more global investment than
fossil-fueled generation; distributed renewables added 40 billion watts and
got $100 billion of private investment while nuclear added and got zero. In
each year since 2005, nuclear power has added only a few percent as much output
as micropower, and since 2008, less than photovoltaics.
policy can change this: even France's uniquely dirigiste 1970-2000 nuclear
program suffered 3.5-fold capital escalation, nearly doubled construction time,
and acute strains.
reactor types aren't materially different, though they often pose more
proliferation danger. Even more today than when I wrote in 1980, nuclear
power's "risks, including proliferation, are ... not a minor counterweight to
enormous advantages but rather a gratuitous supplement to enormous
these market realities present a brief opportunity to align U.S.
nonproliferation policy with the Obama administration's emphasis on efficient
energy use and renewable, distributed sources.
country with America's wealth, infrastructure, skills, and fuels claims it
needs more nuclear power, all countries gain a strong excuse to follow suit.
But U.S. acknowledgement of the market verdict favoring non-nuclear
alternatives would encourage less richly endowed countries to seek profit and
prestige from similar modernity. Aligning America's energy words, deeds, and
offers would transform her journey beyond fossil fuels from a seeming plot to
choke global development into routine, rational, replicable pursuit of least
cost, green jobs, and industrial renewal.
need be antinuclear. The issue, just as I framed it in 1980, "is not whether to
maintain a thriving [nuclear] enterprise, but rather whether to accept the
verdict of the very calculations on which free market economies rely." Making
nuclear power compete on a level playing field, after 56 years of enormous
subsidies, would be a good start. De-subsidizing all energy across the board
would be an even sounder approach.
Washington proposes nuclear fuel security initiatives, why not broader energy
security initiatives? What if the Obama administration announced it would help
spread the best buys it's adopting -- efficiency, renewables, distributed
energy systems -- to all desirous developing countries, unconditionally and
nondiscriminatorily? Most such countries are renewable-rich, but infrastructure-poor.
They could welcome "Sunbeams for Peace" for the same hard-nosed reasons that
made China the world leader in five renewable technologies, with energy
efficiency its top strategic priority -- not forced by treaty, but informed by
Premier Wen Jiabao's and his fellow-leaders' understanding that otherwise
Beijing can't afford to develop.
the United States, which invented many of these technologies, could even try to
reclaim part of the burgeoning market it abandoned to China, Japan, and Europe.
at the upcoming NPT Review Conference are expected to clash on implementation
of two main points in the original treaty: weapons states' underfulfilled
obligation under Article VI to pursue nuclear disarmament, and developing-country
signatories' right under Article IV to access nuclear technology for
exclusively peaceful purposes.
in and beyond the new round of Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty talks between
the United States and Russia should help on Article VI; policy shifts building
on Obama's Nobel Peace Prize speech can help too. But progress on Article IV depends
on recognizing one simple yet unnoticed fact. When the NPT was drafted in
1958-68, nuclear power was widely expected to be cheap, easy, abundant, and
indispensable. Non-weapons states' reward for forgoing nuclear weapons was
therefore framed as access to nuclear
power -- but only, as I explained in 1980:
because of the nuclear context and background of the negotiators, not as an
expression of the essential purpose of Article IV. ... The time is therefore ripe
to reformulate the bargain in the light of new knowledge. Instead of denying or
hedging their obligations, the exporting nations should fulfill it -- in a
wider sense based on a pragmatic reassessment of what recipients say their real
adjured bombs, recipients want reliable and affordable energy for development.
The past half-century has revealed manifestly cheaper, faster, surer, more
flexible methods than nuclear power, so now, just as I put it in 1980, "recipients should insist on
aid in meeting their declared central need: not nuclear power per se but rather oil [and now coal] displacement and energy security."
Article IV in light of a half century of energy experience can isolate
legitimate from illegitimate motives and help smoke out proliferators,
advancing the treaty's central goal. Let countries that still want specifically
nuclear energy, rather than cheaper
and more suitable options, explain why.
let's solve for pattern. The help developing countries expect under NPT Article
IV is exactly the same help they sought in Copenhagen to get off fossil fuels,
and the same help many also want to escape oil dependence. President Obama's Copenhagen pledge of climate mitigation aid
must now echo in Vienna's NPT context. That linkage would attain many big
policy goals for the price of one, and remove the contradiction undermining the
this new energy conversation in Vienna is America's best opportunity to inhibit
the spread of nuclear bombs and start
breaking the Copenhagen political logjam on climate justice.
proposals to expand nuclear subsidies -- whether to buy Senate climate-bill
votes, or motivated by a sincere but mistaken belief that nuclear expansion
will help protect climate -- will amount to lose-lose scenarios; that approach
will only prop up a failed climate non-solution that also makes proliferation
unstoppable and weakens American values of free markets and a free society.
applying internationally the sound non-nuclear
elements of current domestic energy policy could profitably and simultaneously
help solve the proliferation, climate, and oil problems. It would reinforce
global development, transparency, democracy, women's advancement, energy resilience,
and economic and political stability. It makes sense. It makes money. It would
expose and discomfit only those who lack competitive offerings or harbor
surest path to a richer, fairer, cooler, safer world -- where energy
insecurity, oil, climate change, most proliferation, and many development
problems fade away -- would be a U.S. energy policy that takes economics
seriously. It would let all ways to save or produce energy compete fairly, at
honest prices, regardless of their type, technology, location, size, or
ownership. Who's not in favor of that? Why don't we find out? And why can't
such a least-cost domestic energy strategy inform, integrate, and inspire
foreign policy too?
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