Humanitarian Use of Nuclear Technology
Signed in 1968 and implemented in 1970, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) has been a lasting, positive force in regulating nuclear weapons internationally and foregrounding the humanitarian use of nuclear technology. Since its conception, the U.S. has not only been committed to upholding the initial conditions of the treaty but also expanding its efforts through the support of organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF). Further development of nuclear techniques in agriculture, environmental preservation and medicine all contribute to improving living conditions and reducing poverty in less developed countries.

History of US Support

Since the treaty went into effect in 1970, the involved parties met every five years to discuss its renewal until it was extended indefinitely in the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. It has been largely effective, with nuclear weapons stockpile falling by 88% in the U.S. and 80% globally since 1986.

However, it was not until more recently that the members of the NPT began working more vigorously in their efforts to aid in meeting the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Though humanitarian use of nuclear technology has been central to the NPT since its founding, in 2010 the IAEA introduced the Peaceful Use Initiative (PUI) as a way of generating even more funding in support of these goals. The U.S. is the leading contributor to the PUI, donating $395 million to the initiative since 2015 and pledging another $50 million over five years in November 2020.

Lastly, at the most recent NPT Conference in August 2022, the U.S. and 29 other countries gave $3.9 million to launch the “Sustained Dialogue on Peaceful Uses” and delegated its operations to the CRDF.

Success in Reducing Hunger and Improving Quality of Life

Nuclear technology can benefit humanity in a myriad of ways. Scientists have made great strides in increasing yields in agricultural production. Using various techniques, they have discovered ways of making hardier, more resistant crops, maximizing water use efficiency, reducing populations of invasive insect species that kill crops, cleaning crops through irradiation and diagnosing livestock with dangerous illnesses. It has also been very useful for understanding and protecting the environment and, of course, medicine.

Various governments and organizations across the world have been able to implement technologies like these because of U.S. funding. For example, more than $8.4 million that the U.S. provided to the PUI fund helped Vietnamese authorities combat a swine fever outbreak in their livestock using nuclear technology. Another instance is in 2017 when the IAEA used $6 million of U.S.-backed funds to develop more nutrient-rich crops as a means of reducing malnutrition in Sierra Leone. Additionally, in March 2019 $4.3 million in U.S. support went to the development of isotope hydrology, a cutting technique that “allow(s) national experts to identify and assess the availability of groundwater resources.” These are just a few of the ways that U.S. support has been instrumental in the proliferation of the humanitarian use of nuclear technology.

Looking Forward

International cooperation to further develop the peaceful use of nuclear technology is essential in the fight against poverty, and U.S. financial support is instrumental for organizations like the IAEA and CRDF to continue innovating and implementing these solutions.

– Xander Heiple
Photo: Flickr

Thorium-Based Nuclear EnergyThe 2021-2022 global energy crisis is the most recent in a series of energy shortages in the last 50 years. However, because of the rise in gas prices along with the strain on the world oil supply caused by the Russia-Ukraine War, impoverished countries reliant on oil and gas as their primary sources of energy are affected by this crisis much more. Now more than ever, the importance of alternative energy sources, such as thorium-based nuclear energy, is evident as countries reliant on the now strangled supply of oil and gas face struggles.

What is Causing Increased Energy Prices?

The primary source of energy in the world is usually a type of fossil fuel such as oil, natural gas and coal.

However, as a result of the current global energy crisis, every form of fossil fuel has rocketed in price. Due to the sudden hike in prices, some countries could find it difficult to afford their required quantities of fossil fuels. As such, countries could be unable to obtain enough energy-producing resources.

What is Thorium?

Thorium is a naturally occurring, slightly radioactive element that can be used to derive nuclear energy. It is also far less radioactive than uranium.

Thorium does not contain fissile material and therefore it is far safer than uranium. It can be immediately switched off in the case of a disaster, preventing a meltdown, while the latter will continue to produce energy during a disaster, causing a meltdown to occur.

Along with being safer, thorium is cheaper and more plentiful compared to uranium as well. This is partly because the concentration of uranium within the earth’s crust is far less abundant than thorium, making uranium much rarer. This could make thorium-based nuclear energy a much more affordable option.

How Thorium Can Help Energy Shortages?

While the initial cost of mining thorium and constructing power plants would be costly, it is an investment that could pay off in the long run. Thorium is extremely efficient when compared to the most commonly used sources of energy in the developing world. For instance, a ton of thorium is equivalent to around 3.5 million tons of coal.

Even when compared to other nuclear resources, thorium still holds out as superior to uranium, to which thorium is around 200 times as efficient.

Throughout history, energy sustainability has been one of the forefront issues when dealing with fossil fuels. This is especially true in developing nations, as many rely on coal as their main source of energy.

However, due to recent developments in nuclear technology, thorium-based nuclear energy puts humanity a step forward in achieving energy sustainability. The use of thorium could possibly eliminate one of the biggest problems faced by those in poverty, being a reliable source of energy that does not cause frequent power outages while being able to readily supply heat.

Hope for the Future

Energy crises are complex and even life-threatening disasters. In developed countries like the U.S., reserved power and backup sources of deriving energy encourage recovery. However, even with these resources, truly getting out of an energy crisis could take years; if unsuccessful, many could lose their jobs/livelihoods along with losing their comfortable standards of living.

In developing countries, years easily turn into lifetime struggles with a crisis that could prevent much of their population from advancing out of poverty. Fortunately, many countries in the developing world are realizing the potential of nuclear power and are funding programs to provide its energy to their citizens.

For example, in 2021, Nigeria established the Russian-Nigerian Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) which plans to build the largest nuclear power plant in Africa by the end of the decade.

In 2018, Bangladesh’s signed into law the funding for a second VVER-1200 nuclear power plant, one of the most efficient in the world.

While thorium-based nuclear energy may not be the perfect solution to the energy problem, it certainly could be a good start in helping those in poverty live a life without energy instability.

– Humzah Ahmad
Photo: Flickr

Iran nuclear dealThe United States’ involvement with the Iran nuclear deal is up in the air, as President Trump has made his fair share of criticism of it. Support for the Iran deal is split down party lines, with most Democrats being in favor of it and most Republicans being against it.

Put into effect in 2015 during the Obama administration, the 100-page Iran deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, mandates Iran to cease nuclear development for the next decade and seeks to take apart nuclear sites in the country. In exchange, Iran will receive sanctions relief on a gradual basis as they follow the agreement. Some of the terms of the agreement include removing two-thirds of Iran’s 19,000 centrifuges and the destruction of Iran’s stockpile of uranium.

According to U.S. officials, European allies and the United Nations, Iran has been following the deal. For the Trump administration, this is not good enough. While not violating any terms in the agreement, Iran has reportedly been testing ballistic missiles and supporting militant groups in Syria and Yemen.

During an interview with Fox News, President Trump stated that the deal was done “out of weakness, when actually we had great strength.” The administration is looking to strengthen the provisions of the deal or back out of it entirely.

For those who support the deal, much of the concern lies with their belief that dropping out of it will hurt the United States’ global governance and influence. In an interview with Kasie Hunt on MSNBC, Senator Al Franken said that with European allies, Russia and China having no intentions of abandoning the Iran deal. It would only isolate the United States and “undercut” our leadership in the world.

“If the United States desires to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran, I say they should remain,” said Desiree Hendrix, a political science graduate from the University of Delaware. Hendrix also believes that leaving the Iran deal could jeopardize the United States’ global influence because of its status as being part of the big five in the U.N., and the U.S. would not be able to just assume further alliances with Europe due to its current fragile state.

The House of Representatives will vote on whether the United States will remain in the Iran nuclear deal next week.

– Blake Chambers

Photo: Google

nuclear_testing_in_north_korea
North Korea, a state that has a notorious reputation for its secretive, alarming and militaristic demeanor, is at it again. After momentarily stepping down after having alarmed the international community with threats of nuclear testing in February 2013, the regime has once again avowed its intent to initiate an onslaught of nuclear testing despite ongoing suspicion that the state is erecting a nuclear arsenal.

According to a local North Korean newspaper, the state is simply taking protective measures against potential threats to its independence waged by the U.S. and neighboring South Korea. North Korea‘s decision to revitalize its nuclear testing programs is another method in which the state has demonstrated its military competence in order to establish itself as a global militaristic threat and power.

This wager comes fresh off of the United Nations‘ sanctions against North Korea for launching a set of short-range missiles in March, eerily chosen to occur on the fourth anniversary of the sinking of a South Korean ship. According to the Security Council, the regime’s decision to launch the short-range missiles violated significant UN agreements. According to the South Korean defense ministry’s spokesperson, Kim Min-seok, “This missile is capable of hitting not only most of Japan but also Russia and China.” Therefore, the missiles also pose a grave threat towards the well-being of residents in neighboring states — a threat that has not been taken lightly.

Despite North Korea’s recalcitrance, South Korea’s foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, issued a message to the state warning that the sheer economic cost of maintaining an effective nuclear testing program may in fact endanger the longevity of the state. While the economic cost of nuclear-building is in itself an obstacle for North Korea, Yun also avows that South Korea and its alliances in the Security Council will further aggravate the regime’s ability to conduct nuclear testing. For instance, Yun affirmed that “South Korea, together with its partners in the Security Council, will make the cost of having these nuclear weapons very very high, very very heavy, so that could backfire to the regime — the survival of the regime.”

Furthermore, the foreign minister threatened that if North Korea continues to defy present and future sanctions, the regime would have to face substantial retribution from the UN. Therefore, not only will the regime’s nuclear testing program come as a direct economic threat to its government and people, it is also fraught with the potential to break the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — an international agreement that strives to maintain nuclear peace. It is especially alarming that North Korea has already withdrawn from this crucial peace-keeping treaty, indicating its resistance to upholding its once-alleged commitment to the diplomatic use of nuclear technology.

However, Yun’s intentions are not only aimed at halting North Korea’s nuclear testing wagers, but also to facilitate the reunification of Korea,  a process which the foreign minister recognizes as arduous and delicate. The notion here is that the reunification of North and South Korea will help stabilize Asia and engender a long unseen sense of trust among the Asian nations. It is presumed that global peace is unattainable without first having attained global trust.

Furthermore, the foreign minister elaborates: “The geopolitical plate of the region is going through what I would call tectonic shifts. We are witnessing a rising China, a resurgent Japan, an assertive Russia and an anachronistic North Korea which is simultaneously pursuing nuclear weapons and economic development.” Therefore, in order for any cohesion to be established among these changing nations, the development of trust is imperative.

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: ABC News, BBC, The Guardian
Photo: Flickr

North-Korea-Foal-Eagle
In a bid to better relations with its southward neighbor, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea has agreed to allow family reunions with The Republic of Korea for those separated during the Korean War. Initially proposed by President Park Geun-hye early in 2014, the reunion was promptly rejected by North Korea.

However, a news conference from the North Koreans communicated the acceptance of the proposal under the guise of improving relations between the two countries. Between 1985 and 2010, over 22,000 individuals have been reunited with their families as organized by both governments on the peninsula, reports The New York Times.

This development comes as a result of South Korea’s prompt to its northern neighbor to prove their desire to reconcile citing a letter from North Korea which relayed the message of “reconciliation and unity” with South Korea. The letter comes from the National Defense Commission and more directly, Kim Jong-un himself. “The DPRK [North Korea] has already unilaterally opted for halting all acts of getting on the nerves of South Korea and slandering it,” reports the BBC.

However, South Korea and its military ally, the United States, remain wary of either proposal. Previous military provocations despite periodic peace concessions from North Korea keep the two allied nations skeptic. A North Korean disarmament of nuclear arms remains to be realized and this new development may just be another power play from the North.

Furthermore, “Foal Eagle” maneuvers, annual military drills between South Korea and the U.S., are often met with aggression from North Korea. In 2013, North Korea threatened both nations with pre-emptive nuclear strikes, viewing the military collaboration as acts of aggression against the People’s Republic.

“Foal Eagle” will consist of around 10,000 soldiers from both South Korea and the U.S. and is set to begin in February.

In its open letter, North Korea has asked to stop the military drills, to which the U.S. has responded with a clear no—the drills will continue as planned.

Whether or not North Korea is serious in its calls for reconciliation remains to be seen, as will most likely become clear as the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises begin.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: BBC, CNN, New York Times
Photo: Borgen

Bolivia
Bolivian President Evo Morales has announced the first steps towards building the first nuclear reactor in the country during his annual state of the union address to the Bolivian Congress. Morales stressed that the nuclear program will be developed for peaceful purposes with the help of France, Iran and Argentina.

Evo Morales called the nuclear development project a priority for Bolivia and stressed that the South American country “will not remain excluded from this technology, which belongs to all humankind.”

If Bolivia follows through on its claims, it will join the ranks of only three other Latin American nations with functioning nuclear programs. Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have had nuclear programs for peaceful purposes ever since the Treaty of Tlateloco in 1967 established a nuclear-weapon-free zone across Latin America.

Bolivia stated that Iran, France and Argentina had agreed to aid the country in its efforts to establish a nuclear weapons program.

Evo Morales is the first indigenous president of Bolivia and is known as a bombastic critic of the United States and its policies throughout Latin America. He expelled the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 2011 and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2013 as an effort to reduce subversive US influence in the country.

Earlier this year, Bolivia became one of the last states in South America to have its own telecommunications satellite when China stepped in to help with the launch of the satellite, named after Tupak Katari, an indigenous folk hero who fought against Spanish colonialism.

The telecommunications satellite will help reduce the cost of communications and improve access to the Internet for many Bolivians living in rural areas. The move is also a further step towards increased independence from the West that President Morales would like to see more of.

In spite of these campaigns, Bolivia is expected to continue on a path of energy diversification by investing in explorations for oil and uranium reserves in Potosí.

Jeff Meyer

Sources: BBC, Latin Post, BBC, UPI
Photo: Polygrafi

iran_nuclear_talks
Diplomats from Iran and the European Union held talks this week on implementing a nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers, with the two sides reporting progress in their efforts to bridge the nuclear divide between the Islamic Republic and the West.

Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, told Iranian state television after the talks that, “We found solutions for all the points of disagreement.”  The EU also sounded a positive note following the two days of negotiations in Geneva, with a spokesman for the 28-nation bloc saying that “very good progress” was made “on all the pertinent issues.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, Jen Psaki, told reporters in Washington that the talks on the technical aspects of the accord between Tehran and the diplomatic bloc known as the P5-plus-1 — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany — had yielded progress, but cautioned that, “Reports that a deal had been finalized were inaccurate.”

The EU has been negotiating with Iran on behalf of the P5-plus-1, which forged a temporary six month accord with Tehran on November 24, following years of on-again, off-again talks between the two sides.

In recent weeks, representatives of the P5-plus-1 group and Iran have been holding negotiations on how to implement the technical aspects of the deal, which temporarily curbs key elements Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for temporarily lifting some of the onerous sanctions that have inhibited Iran’s ability to export oil and repatriate the hard currency earned from these sales.

This weeks’ talks between Helga Schmid, the deputy of EU foreign policy chief Katherine Ashton, and Araqchi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, was a continuation of the efforts by Tehran and the six world powers to forge an agreement on how to execute the technical details of the nuclear accord, including the sequence of the steps the two sides must carry out and whether Iran would be allowed to conduct research on advanced centrifuges during the six month lifespan of the accord.

According to diplomats cited by Reuters, Tehran and the P5-plus-1 are seeking to bring the agreement into force on January 20, which would allow EU foreign ministers meeting that day to approve the suspension of some of the sanctions imposed by the 28-nation bloc against Iran.

The interim agreement, which is aimed at opening a window of time in which to negotiate a permanent, comprehensive accord, requires Tehran to suspend the aspects of its nuclear program that have worried Washington and other western capitals the most.

Under the accord, Iran is prohibited from enriching to above 5% purity and is required to neutralize its entire stockpile of uranium enriched to 20% purity by either diluting it to 5% purity or converting the stockpile into its oxide form.  Uranium enriched to 20% — meaning it has a 20% concentration of U-235, the isotope necessary for nuclear fission — is just a short technical step away from the weapons grade fissile material that forms the core of an atomic bomb.

In exchange for these and other nuclear concessions from Tehran, the U.S. and its European negotiating partners agreed to lift some of the sanctions that have sent Iran’s hydro-carbon rich economy into a tailspin in recent years.

– Eric Erdahl

Sources: BBC, Reuters, The Telegraph
Photo: RTL