- Nuclear Energy
- Expert Workshop Series
The diffusion of sensitive nuclear technologies, particularly uranium enrichment, has led to repeated calls for internationalization of the nuclear fuel cycle. However, the realization of international/multilateral fuel cycle arrangements has faced significant barriers. States have asserted their rights to develop enrichment technologies under Article IV of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), citing the inalienable right to peaceful use of nuclear technology. Although the nuclear fuel and enrichment market has functioned relatively well and at present, there is no commercial justification for additional enrichment capacity, some countries have nevertheless proceeded with domestic enrichment programs.
Despite the apparent lack of an economic justification, many national governments have argued the need for domestic enrichment on the basis of energy security and the possibility of supply disruptions based on political factors. In the case of Iran, longtime historical animosity with the West has led to a general mistrust regarding the reliability of the global nuclear fuel market. Despite significant surplus in the world enrichment market, China has aggressively expanded its enrichment capacity, arguing that it requires an adequate means to fuel its rapidly growing fleet of power reactors.
Multinational fuel cycle initiatives can address insecurity regarding nuclear fuel supply, and also allay concerns with regards to national intentions with fuel cycle development. The “nuclear islands” concept, in which an international organization would oversee a multilaterally owned and operated enrichment facility, could be a promising approach to enhancing nonproliferation assurance in nuclear fuel cycle activities worldwide. Although political barriers remain and countries with existing fuel cycle programs will likely be in opposition, smaller regional arrangements and multinational business alliances may reduce political resistance and develop momentum for such initiatives going forward.