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G8 trying to have it both ways on nukes

by Eric Johnston

TOYAKO, Hokkaido — On July 1, 1968, world leaders signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT, in which nonnuclear weapons states agreed to never produce or acquire such arms while countries possessing them agreed to eventually scrap their arsenals.

Four decades later, nuclear weapons remain and the goal of the NPT, which comes up for review in 2010, shows no sign of being fulfilled. The last NPT review conference, in 2005, was widely regarded as a failure.

But even as the Group of Eight leaders in Toyako, Hokkaido, announced strong support for the treaty, antinuclear activists raised questions as to why the G8 is simultaneously saying it supports preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and their materials, yet encouraging, in separate statements, a worldwide expansion of nuclear power generation.

“We will work collectively to achieve a successful outcome of the 2010 Nonproliferation Review Treaty Conference. In this context, we reaffirm our full commitment to all three pillars (nonproliferation, peaceful uses of nuclear energy and disarmament) of the NPT and pledge ourselves to redouble our efforts to uphold and strengthen the treaty,” said a statement on nonproliferation released Tuesday.

However, in separate statements, the G8 has recognized the importance of nuclear power in combating climate change and has emphasized that countries seeking to build atomic plants must convince the world they have nonproliferation safeguards in place, and that they can operate the plants in a safe and secure manner.

For antinuclear activists the notion that nonproliferation safeguards can be made effective, and that the spread of nuclear weapons can eventually be banished as agreed to in the NPT while nearly 30 countries, many of them with poor records of international accountability and transparency, can build atomic plants with proliferation risks, is absurd.

“There is an inherent contradiction in the idea that you can eliminate nuclear weapons and promote nuclear power. There is no such thing as safe nuclear energy,” said Manami Suzuki of Greenpeace Japan.

Much of the problem with the G8 statements on nonproliferation, nuclear experts point out, is that the industrialized nations still assume that nation states have the authority to control their nuclear materials and that as long as countries seeking nuclear plants agree to adhere to the principles of the NPT, proliferation concerns can be minimized.

Such assurances, however, fail to address problems like the black market operations of Pakistani engineer A.Q. Khan, the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear program who ran a secret operation that sold nuclear weapons technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

The G8 counters these concerns by claiming the research and development of a new generation of nuclear power technologies will vastly reduce the danger of nuclear material being secretly diverted.

They also promote a variety of partnerships between supplier nations in order to assist the International Atomic Energy Agency in its role as a monitor of nuclear materials.

“Clearly, what’s driving the G8′s statements on proliferation and nuclear power is the desire by their nuclear industries to export nuclear technology and expertise to other countries, regardless of the dangers,” antinuclear activist Akira Kawasaki of Peace Boat Japan said.