- Nuclear Energy
- Expert Workshop Series
Cooperation on the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle has largely referred specifically to uranium enrichment. In this regard, there are typically two approaches towards front end cooperation: a state can invest and purchase stakes in a foreign enrichment facility to enhance assurance to enrichment services, or it can site a domestic facility with multinational supervision. Countries such as the Republic of Korea have sought collaboration in this area in order to enhance national energy security. In the case of the ROK specifically, given its ambitions to increase global reactor exports, front end cooperation is also seen as a means to enhance export competitiveness. While debate persists over the proliferation resistance of multilateral oversight, the relative merits of stockpiling versus enrichment development, and the economic viability of new enrichment facilities, given the growing interest in nuclear power throughout the world, this is an issue that will continue to be visited in the foreseeable future.
With regards to back end cooperation, both the US and Japan are illustrative examples. In the case of Japan, the Japanese government has maintained its support for nuclear power and development of a closed fuel cycle. Transparency in the development and ultimate commercial operation of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant is a major example of Japan’s cooperation with the international community and commitment to the global nonproliferation regime. Back end policy in the US, given its position of leadership in world affairs, necessarily has impact on spent fuel management on the rest of the world. While the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on America’s Nuclear Future was created to formulate solutions and recommendations to US spent fuel issues, there remains great uncertainty regarding spent fuel legislation, regulatory restructuring, retrieval requirements, and the future of nuclear recycling in the US. Indecision on these fronts has hindered back end cooperation with other countries, and ultimately has had negative impacts on the US nonproliferation agenda.
Although many continue to argue against the economic viability of new enrichment, some assert that an enrichment capability can indeed promote energy security and forge a significant competitive advantage, given the cutthroat nature of the nuclear export market. On the back end, while interim storage will likely be at least a part of the solution for many countries operating nuclear plants, creating a sustainable nuclear power program must involve consideration of long-term issues and the development of recycling technologies and next generation reactors.