Nuclear Power and Nuclear Bombs

After the final no there comes a yes

And on that yes the future of the world depends.

-Wallace Stevens

The nuclear proliferation problem, as posed, is insoluble. All policies to control proliferation have assumed that the rapid worldwide spread of nuclear power is essential to reduce dependence on oil, economically desirable, and inevitable; that efforts to inhibit the concomitant spread of nuclear bombs must not be allowed to interfere with this vital reality; and that the international political order must remain inherently discriminatory, dominated by bipolar hegemony and the nuclear arms race. These unexamined assumptions, which artificially constrain the arena of choice and maximize the intractability of the proliferation problem, underlay the influential Ford-MITRE report and were embodied in U.S. policy initiatives under Gerald Ford and especially Jimmy Carter to slow the spread of plutonium technologies.1 Identical assumptions underlay the recently concluded multilateral two-year International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation (INFCE), whose lack of sympathy for those U.S. initiatives is now being cited as a political and technical rationale for dismantling what is left of them.2 Unfortunately, INFCE's assumptions were widely represented as its conclusions, ostensibly resulting from a careful assessment of alternatives which never actually took place.

Our thesis rests on a different perception. Our attempt to rethink focuses not on marginal reforms but on basic assumptions. In fact, the global nuclear power enterprise is rapidly disappearing. De facto moratoria on reactor ordering exist today in the United States, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, Ireland, and probably the United Kingdom, Belgium, Switzerland, Japan and Canada. Nuclear power has been indefinitely deferred or abandoned in Austria, Denmark, Norway, Iran, China, Australia and New Zealand. Nuclear power elsewhere is in grave difficulties. Only in centrally planned economies, notably France and the U.S.S.R., is bureaucratic power sufficient to override, if not overcome, economic facts. The high nuclear growth forecasts that drove INFCE's endorsement of fast breeder reactors are thus mere wishful thinking. For fundamental reasons which we shall describe, nuclear power is not commercially viable, and questions of how to regulate an inexorably expanding world nuclear regime are moot.

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