Over 200 nuclear industry leaders from 36 nations vowed to strengthen nuclear safety and security on March 23rd at the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Industry Summit. It was an official pre-summit event of the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, which was held for the second time in Seoul from March 26th–27th. Participants discussed the issue of atomic safety after the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan in 2011.
First, they evaluated progress made in recent years by the global nuclear industry in enhancing atomic safety since the first Nuclear Security Summit in 2010 in Washington, DC. Then three working groups discussed three topics - minimization of civilian use of highly enriched weapons-grade uranium, the securing of sensitive data pertaining to nuclear materials and facilities, and the interface between safety and security in the post-Fukushima era. Finally, the groups released results of their dialogue as a communiqué which described what the industry should do to boost nuclear security, and which was passed along to delegates at the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit for consideration.
In the joint statement, participating organizations said they would try to minimize HEU use by converting it to low-enriched uranium fuel in research reactors, and that they would attempt to increase LEU-target use for the production of radioisotopes. The organizations also promised to improve security by continuing to make workers more cognizant of security threats and promoting the open reporting of security concerns. Furthermore, they pledged to help newcomers set up infrastructure for low-risk nuclear energy, beef up measures against growing cyber threats, and encourage nuclear security information exchanges.
In addition, the summit had much to say about India¡¯s role in the civilian nuclear energy sector, as well as the nuclear cooperation agreement that was signed in July last year between India and South Korea. Under the pact, South Korea and India cooperate in nuclear power, which provides a legal foundation for Korea to take part in nuclear plant projects in India. The agreement was signed after a summit between South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak and his Indian counterpart Pratibha Patil. At the time, South Korea operated 20 atomic plants that met about 35 percent of its electricity needs, and it was eager to export its nuclear expertise to India as a new growth engine for the economy.
One of the panelists, Chang Soon-heung, President of the Korean Nuclear Society and Professor of Nuclear and Quantum Engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, said India had made itself open to being engaged by the international commercial nuclear community. Chang said it was very meaningful that India had not been able to join the commercial nuclear community in the past because it had not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but had changed this by more recently inviting cooperation between itself and states like South Korea, Russia and France in the area of atomic energy.
Chang added that India wants knowledge of South Korea¡¯s PWR (pressurized water reactor) technology. Moreover, India¡¯s nuclear power plants, at 200 – 300 megawatts, are too small for its huge population. So it is very interested in obtaining know-how from South Korea, which is very strong in 1400-megawatt power plants such as the APR 1400.
Meanwhile, another speaker at the summit, Takuya Hattori, President of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, praised India on the issue of preventing nuclear accidents. Hattori said India understands the importance of transparency, for which Fukushima has sparked a campaign, with South Korea establishing an independent watchdog, and Japan¡¯s regulator gaining independence from the ministry it was once part of that promoted nuclear technology.
He referred to India¡¯s energy crisis in which 40 percent of its population, or half a billion people, are still without electricity, by saying India has the huge problem of meeting its goal of installing 63 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2032, a problem it must solve. But Hattori said he was confident India can overcome that crisis. In his view, promoting nuclear power plants with transparency, which India understands is key, is of the utmost importance in resolving the situation.
As for the issue of protection against nuclear industry-related attacks by terrorists, Hattori said that after the industry summit discussions, one of the key issues that emerged was the role of nuclear-related data - how to protect or control sensitive information. And he said the Fukushima accident had revealed the vulnerability of such information to attacks. Hattori concluded that while this type of information cannot be released openly, transparency was also very important to keep nuclear facilities safe from accidents. So the core issue was how to find a balance between protecting the information on the one hand and transparency on the other. He also expressed confidence that from his discussions with India¡¯s delegation to the industry summit, he was confident India understood that central issue well and was thus prepared to handle nuclear-related terror attacks.
Another area in which Hattori expressed admiration for India¡¯s nuclear industry was the problem of preventing loose atomic materials from getting into the wrong hands and stopping illicit nuclear trade. He said the fact that this issue was being controlled and governed well by the Indian government could be seen by the case of India¡¯s relationship to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The NSG is a multinational entity which aims to cut down on nuclear proliferation by controlling the re-transfer and shipping abroad of nuclear materials that may be used to build atomic weapons, as well as through better protection of such materials. Hattori cited the role of the NSG in the U.S. – India Civil Nuclear Agreement, explaining that in 2008, the NSG¡¯s members had agreed to grant India a waiver from the existing rules which banned nuclear trade with a country that was not a signatory to the NPT. The decision came after intense diplomacy on America¡¯s part. And the consent was based on a formal promise by India not to share sensitive nuclear technology or materials with other nations, as well as its pledge to carry through with a moratorium on atomic weapons tests.
In conclusion, industry experts agreed that India¡¯s invitation to the nuclear industry summit was a good sign which raised hopes for its eventual inclusion in that community. They also said its participation in the summit was good for India–South Korea nuclear cooperation in general. Also, they believed there was strong potential for nuclear cooperation between the two key Asian nations in atomic energy, R&D and education; and the two countries could be very beneficial partners for each other.
These experts say that although the Fukushima crisis has sparked a global debate about the safety of atomic energy, India and South Korea have vowed to stick to their nuclear development programs, which means there is great room for future nuclear cooperation between Seoul and New Delhi. Indeed, they are quick to point out that in the post-Fukushima era, with only a few exceptions, most nations are still keen on embracing a nuclear renaissance, given the rise in fossil fuel prices and worries about greenhouse gas emissions. And they are all in agreement about one thing – India is one of the most promising and important customers of the world nuclear industry of tomorrow.