"More Nuclear Power Means More Nuclear Proliferation."
Maybe. It's true that the nuclear enrichment and reprocessing facilities used to produce fuel for peaceful reactors can just as easily be used to make fissile material for bombs. For now, however, this threat starts and ends with Iran. Most of the 30 countries that use nuclear power don't build their own enrichment or reprocessing facilities, instead buying fuel for their nuclear power plants from external suppliers. The only countries with enrichment facilities that don't have nuclear weapons as well are Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Iran, Japan, and the Netherlands -- and only one of those six keeps nonproliferation hawks up at night.
The rest of the world has been willing by and large to abide by arrangements like the 2009 deal between the United States and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Under its terms, the UAE passed a national law banning the construction of enrichment and reprocessing facilities in exchange for access to a reliable source of nuclear fuel. Such agreements could maintain the status quo as long as the same standard is enforced across the board. Unfortunately, U.S. President Barack Obama's administration is in the process of eroding this precedent in deals it is pursuing with Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam, which could impose less strict terms -- and possibly lead the UAE to rethink its self-imposed moratorium. In April, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed a resolution backing legislation to make terms like those in the UAE deal the norm, but it has yet to become law.
The bad news is that the threat of peaceful nukes begetting the destructive kind is going to get worse before it gets better, thanks to technological advances. Global Laser Enrichment, a North Carolina-based firm, appears to be on the verge of commercializing a process that would use laser technology to enrich uranium. A laser enrichment facility would take up relatively little space -- it could be hidden in a single nondescript warehouse in an otherwise benign industrial park -- and emit few overt signs of activity, making it far more difficult to detect than conventional centrifuge enrichment. Successful commercialization could trigger the spread of the technology despite the company's and the United States' efforts to keep it safe. The "secret" of the nuclear bomb, after all, only lasted a few years.
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