Read the Conference Paper.
Listen to the FAS Podcast: A Conversation With An Expert, featuring my trip to South Korea.
From December 2nd to 3rd, I participated in the 9th Republic of Korea-United Nations annual Conference on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Issues. This year’s conference took place at Jeju, South Korea, which is an island off the southern coast of the Republic of Korea’s mainland . While Jeju is famous for its resorts and is thus a favorite vacation destination for Koreans, it is equally as renowned for hosting bilateral and multinational meetings to discuss security issues. Longtime participants in these meetings refer to the “Jeju process.”
This year’s conference coincided with increased military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The week prior to the conference, the North Korean military had fired artillery at Yeonpyeong Island, which is near the border between North and South Korea. This attack killed two South Korean Marines and two civilians and injured several other people. With this tense backdrop, having the conference at a resort felt kind of surreal. But the recent attack was an immediate reminder of the seriousness of the conference’s agenda continuing the international dialogue about nuclear energy and nuclear nonproliferation.
While South Korea is moving forward rapidly with construction of more peaceful nuclear power reactors, its government is expressing interest in perhaps venturing into uranium enrichment for making low enriched uranium nuclear fuel and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel to recycle plutonium and other fissionable materials in nuclear fuel. Enrichment and reprocessing, however are dual-use because these technologies can also be used to make fissile material for nuclear weapons. Thus, the challenge is to determine how to continue to make use of peaceful nuclear power without increasing nuclear proliferation.
The conference was not for attribution, so I am not allowed to mention specific speakers’ comments. I will say that the session I chaired on the first day about the potential for a nuclear energy renaissance and the potential security risks was very lively and stimulated considerable questions and debate. Some analysts question whether nuclear energy is financially viable; others raised concern about the further spread of enrichment and reprocessing without adequate safeguards. On the other hand, another analyst highlighted that political intentions matter and that security alliances play a major role in curbing desires for nuclear weapons. So, the increased use of enrichment and reprocessing may not trigger further production of nuclear weapons in more countries.
Here I provide a link to the paper I presented on my views on civil society’s perspective on nuclear energy and nuclear weapons policy.