A SecureWorld

From the Foundation's 1996 Annual Report


Energy is the life-blood of industrialized nations. They will fight to acquire and protect their supplies of it, if necessary. Demand for oil affected the causes and conduct of this century’s two world wars. A dispute over oil reserves in the Persian Gulf fueled Saddam Hussein’s determination to invade Kuwait in 1990. Fear over losing friendly control of Kuwaiti and Saudi oil fields hardened the United States’ resolve to counter the Iraqi aggression. In short, competition for energy resources can lead to war.

The Persian Gulf war also demonstrated the inherent risks that technologies and expertise associated with nuclear power can also be diverted into nuclear weapons programs. In 1981, Israel bombed Iraq’s Osiraq nuclear power plant in an effort to eradicate, or at least delay, Iraq’s quest for nuclear weapons. By 1990, Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program in secret facilities, using the cover of a nuclear power program to help deflect international scrutiny. Today, Iran’s nuclear power program is regarded by the United States and others as an incubator for nuclear weapon capability. Mindful that India used its large civilian nuclear establishment to develop nuclear explosive devices, some observers fear that Japan, South Korea and Taiwan could do the same if changes in their domestic politics or in the international environment motivated them to renounce their commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Indonesia’s interest in acquiring nuclear power reactors, despite that country’s abundance of natural gas, also invites scrutiny on proliferation grounds. In these cases and in others, such as Russia, where controls over nuclear materials are inadequate, the reliance on nuclear power to meet energy needs entails risks of nuclear proliferation and attendant insecurities.

The W. Alton Jones Foundation takes special interest in the linkages between nuclear power programs and the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation. At the same time, the foundation recognizes that states must find satisfactory alternative means to provide the energy services required for development if they are to reduce reliance on nuclear power. And to alleviate international insecurity, these alternatives must themselves prove resistant to interruption or threats that lead some states to prefer nuclear power. Moreover, to lessen the risks of global warming and acid rain, energy policies and practices must decrease consumption of fossil fuels, particularly coal. This environmental imperative also promotes security, to the extent that cross-border migration of sulfur dioxide in the form of acid rain can exacerbate tensions between "recipients" and "producers," as in Northeast Asia, and disparate emissions of greenhouse gases can intensify North-South rancor.

This complex set of objectives requires policies that promote common security, sustainability, and nonproliferation—the objectives of the foundation’s two major programs. Optimally, states would develop and rely on renewable energy technologies, including enhanced efficiency, in an international or regional environment of cooperative security. In today’s imperfect world, however, priority must be placed on incremental steps that (1) reduce reliance on the least sustainable and most proliferation-prone energy technologies, and (2) increase regional cooperation in bringing the most benign fuels and technologies to market.

The process of international cooperation to promote alternatives to coal and nuclear fuels can itself augment regional and international security. Adversarial states may find it easier to cooperate in abating acid rain or greenhouse gas emissions than to address other disputes. In the process of redressing these energy-environmental problems, patterns of cooperation can be established. Similarly, states in Central Asia and South Asia may find it necessary to cooperate to build and maintain transnational pipelines for natural gas, necessary both to improve regional economies and to reduce use of coal. Finally, to the degree that some states will continue to depend on nuclear power, security can be strengthened by cooperation in strengthening safeguards, setting technological and operational standards, managing spent fuel and forestalling expansion of plutonium reprocessing.

The foundation has begun to act on this analysis and these objectives through its Sustainable Energy for Peace initiative, a combined effort of the Sustainable and Secure World Programs. The foundation has concentrated on states and regions where nuclear power programs pose a risk of being utilized directly or indirectly for weapon purposes: Iran, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Projects are being supported to engage specialists and policymakers from these states with international counterparts in identifying how energy needs could be met by non-nuclear means. In India and Pakistan, for instance, grantees are working to build support for transnational pipelines to bring natural gas from the Persian Gulf and/or Central Asia through Pakistan to India. In Iran, preliminary efforts are under way to identify how technological innovations could augment that nation’s efficient use of natural gas in ways that would demonstrate the economic untenability of investing in nuclear power plants. In North Korea, the foundation has supported a detailed analysis of current energy policies and practices, and explored the possibility of training North Korean energy specialists in modern energy demand management practices. The foundation and its grantees recognize that energy needs alone do not motivate these states’ interests in nuclear power. The aim is to pare away the dubious economic and energy rationales for nuclear programs so that their proponents must defend them on more problematic, truthful grounds.

In China and Japan this initiative seeks to heighten official and public awareness of the proliferation risks, and therefore the international consequences, of expanding nuclear power programs, while promoting greater attention to the comparative costs and benefits of alternative energy policies. Special attention has been devoted to supporting public debate in Japan over the necessity, costs, and security implications of a plutonium-based nuclear program. Japan and China receive this attention because they may set examples that other states, particularly in Asia, will follow. Reflecting regional concerns over nuclear power, the foundation also supports efforts to engage experts and officials from Japan, China, South Korea, and the ASEAN states in dialogue on establishing regional approaches to environmental and operational standards for the management of national nuclear power programs.

Lastly, in Russia two objectives guide the foundation’s work. One is to address the risk that inadequate management and control of nuclear materials and facilities allows for theft or sale of weapons-usable items to terrorists or rogue states. The second is to support model local efforts to reduce demand for nuclear power, thereby challenging the claims of the powerful Russian nuclear establishment which seeks to expand its dangerous plutonium reprocessing activities.


Return to Earth & W. Alton Jones Foundation