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

Nuclear Energy In Developing CountriesIn early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a rapid drop in energy demand, laying the foundation for an energy crisis. This foundation was strengthened by the 2020 Russia-Saudi Arabia Oil Price War and cemented by the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, culminating in the collapse of the global oil trade, starting the energy crisis. The energy crisis has hit developing countries the hardest, as developing countries are more reliant on non-renewable sources of energy. As a result, renewable sources of energy, such as nuclear power, are gaining popularity in developing countries as a way to provide energy beyond the methods hurt by the energy crisis. However, nuclear energy in developing countries is still in its infancy. Here are some facts regarding the future of nuclear energy in developing countries.

4 Facts About Nuclear Energy in Developing Countries

  1. Countries Can Form New Partnerships. The most commonly used source of nuclear energy in developing countries, uranium, is not found in every country. By creating nuclear power plants based on uranium, many developing countries give off the impression to nations unaligned with them that they are looking to enter into new trade deals. This was the case in Pakistan in March 2021, when it completed a nuclear power plant with the help of China. This cooperation led to a new trade agreement between Pakistan and China that allowed for a greater exchange of minerals such as those necessary to help build the power plant.
  2. Protection Against Natural Disasters. Out of the 10 deadliest natural disasters in 2021, most of them occurred in developing countries. The threat of a natural disaster is a leading cause of anti-nuclear sentiments, as damage to a power plant could cause tens of thousands to have to evacuate and potentially kill thousands of people. However, through new thorium-based reactors, it is almost impossible to cause a meltdown in a modern nuclear power plant. This is because new reactors make use of a liquid form of thorium that relies on a plutonium battery to produce energy. If a natural disaster were to occur, the thorium could be drained away from the plutonium battery, preventing a meltdown and saving the lives of thousands of people in developing countries.
  3. Defense Against Terrorism. In many developing countries, terrorists pose a major threat to the energy industry. This is evident how in 2019, the Houthi destroyed an oil facility in Saudi Arabia, impacting the production of 5 million barrels per day, according to The Guardian. However, because of new isolation-based reactors, nuclear power plants do not face the same threat. This is because thorium is not a weaponizable material, since its fission doesn’t produce plutonium, which is one of the elements that nuclear weapons use.
  4. Removing the Reliance on Fossil Fuels. Due to an already established reliance on coal, oil, or other fossil fuels, it might be difficult for a developing country with a fossil fuel-based energy system to transition to nuclear-based energy. Despite this, investing in nuclear power has benefits in the long run, even if a developing country has a reliance on fossil fuels. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) projects that by 2050, nuclear energy “could contribute about 12% of global electricity.”

Looking Forward

While nuclear energy may have a slow start in many developing countries, it certainly has a promising future. For instance, in March 2022, Nigeria committed itself to construct a power plant, which could provide energy to millions of impoverished Nigerians.

Along with that, in 2021, Bangladesh began construction of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant with the primary purpose of solving Bangladesh’s longstanding energy problem.

There are certainly hurdles to developing nuclear energy in developing countries. However, as seen in Nigeria and Bangladesh, it is definitely possible to establish nuclear energy within developing countries. As these countries transition away from fossil fuels and into renewables such as nuclear energy, they could be providing a stable source of energy to tens of millions of impoverished people that could live a life with energy without the threat of global disruptions.

– Humzah Ahmad
Photo: Flickr