Security in a World with Expanding Nuclear Power

Nuclear energy is a clean and relatively economical source of electricity, generating nearly one-sixth of the world’s electricity today. It represents one of the few technologies that have the potential for significant scale-up to meet the growing global demand for energy without exacerbating global climate change. Yet, the power derived from splitting the nucleus can be used not only to electrify the world but to destroy it. Managing the balance between the promotion of peaceful uses of atomic energy and its destructive potential has been a major challenge since the first nuclear explosion in 1945. For the most part, this balance has been managed successfully during the growth of commercial nuclear power over the past 50 years.

The possibility for a substantial global expansion in civilian nuclear power in the coming decades, with attendant increases in uranium enrichment capacity and spent-fuel reprocessing and possibly growth in plutonium trade, gives rise to important security concerns. These expansions create both a challenge and an opportunity to strengthen the international system for monitoring and controlling the nuclear power enterprise.

To examine these concerns and opportunities more critically, and to consider options for mitigation, a workshop was held September 19–21, 2007, at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), involving 45 experts from the nuclear and security communities. The workshop focused on the security implications associated with expanding nuclear power worldwide.

This report is not a consensus document but rather an attempt to summarize salient issues and observations put forward at the meeting, as augmented by the authors’ research. This report hopefully will contribute to a broader dialogue and help shape discussions of efforts to control, by both technical and political measures, the security risks associated with a global expansion in the use of nuclear power.

Finally, a workshop and report whose focus is specifically on the security concerns associated with nuclear power necessarily will have a negative tone, and perhaps even seem antinuclear. This was not our intention. Seen in a wider context, nuclear power may help alleviate global warming, foster development, contribute to energy security, and perhaps provide an arena for political cooperation. Finding comprehensive answers to a problem with this many dimensions was beyond the scope of both the three-day Stanford workshop and this report.