Monday, May 03, 2010

Safety and Security (floating or sinking?)

I wonder what the delegates at the Review Conference of Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which begins today in New York think of current discussions within the shipping sector about building nuclear-powered merchant ships.

We addressed some of the safety aspects of this issue, here Chez Rémi when the CEO of the COSCO Group, the largest shipping conglomerate in the world, made in December last year a passionate plea for the development of nuclear-powered merchant fleets. But what about the security implications? What's at stake for the non-nuclear proliferation regime if one day dozens, hundreds or even thousands of nuclear-powered merchant vessels routinely sailed accross the oceans of the world, including through unsafe straits, channels and canals?

A new piece "Going Fission - Exploring the Potential for Nuclear-Powered Merchant Ships" has just been published on the website of the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO).

Of course there is at the end of the article a footnote that says "Feature articles written by outside contributors do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of BIMCO", and obviously nuclear-powered merchant vessels aren't ready to be launched in the immediate future. However, Mike Corkhill, the author of the article reports that "in the past two years several classification societies have launched technical investigations into the potential for applying nuclear power to a new generation of merchant ships. The early focus of this work has been on propulsion units for tankers, bulk carriers, container ships and cruise ships, but it is acknowledged that other ship types are also potential beneficiaries of the nuclear option." And experience with other issues also shows that the more vested interests are created and maintained through R&D contracts (public, semi-public as well as private) the more it becomes difficult to stop a train -- even a mad train, like for example the plans to dispose of high-level radioactive wastes under the seabed in the high seas in the 1970s and 1980s: even though this practice was officially ruled out and banned worldwide by treaty in 1993 a quick google search shows that the promotion of, and research into this option hasn't been completely halted.

This month's NPT Review Conference should be more interesting than the last previous ones which took place in 2000 and 2005 respectively. I'm curious to see how this, the first NPT Review Conference under the Obama administration, develops (Iran crisis notwithstanding).

Rebecca Johnson, Director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy has sent me the link to her briefings for this session.

Rebecca says she's blogging during the four-week meeting. Knowing Rebecca well, I'm sure it will be a blog for international policy junkies-only. But because I know there are quite a few of them among our regular visitors here Chez Rémi, I thought I'd mention it.

[See, in particular Rebecca's A Nuclear Weapons Convention - Now we Can]

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