International Diplomacy and the Nuclear Industry - A Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Canadian Industry Delegation to IAEA General Conference - Sept 2016Canadian Industry Delegation to IAEA General Conference - Sept 2016




Perhaps you are like me. At Christmas I always find a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of considerable complexity awaiting me. The next three days or so are spent in obsession until the final piece goes in. I think we’d agree – nothing is more disconcerting than a piece that’s gone missing.

Somewhat analogous to that missing-piece feeling is the absence of the nuclear industry’s utility and technology leaders from the international diplomatic arena. This is especially true where states get together to set guidelines, rules and regulations that impinge directly on the industry’s operations.

Which takes me to diplomacy - and the missing pieces of the international nuclear governance puzzle.

Take the three major areas of internationally and domestically imposed constraints on the use of civil nuclear technology – safeguards (against proliferation), safety, and security (protection against theft, sabotage, terrorism). All are vitally important for our public safety and national security.  Treaties, conventions, national laws exist in all three areas.

The missing piece of the nuclear governance puzzle? The absence of senior representatives of the civil nuclear industry – CEOS, Chief Nuclear Operators, Chief Nuclear Engineers – i.e. those with responsibility ultimately for safety and security.

It remains a mystery to me why those with hands-on operational experience are not systematically invited to join standard-setting and rule-making deliberations in international forums such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, the UN Conference on Disarmament (to cite a few examples).

Without such expertise at the table, how can the diplomats find the balance between imposing rigid constraints on facility operators, on the one hand, and providing flexibility in accordance with specific site risks and threats?

What about including the technology developers working on Advanced Reactors (AR) and Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)? These are coming down the track and will bring new and different considerations re safeguards, safety and security.  Shouldn’t they be at the table, before the non-specialist diplomatic representatives introduce rules and regulations that effectively strangle ARs and SMRs at birth?

Moreover, it’s in the interest of governments and industry alike. Governments want (for the most part) to provide the benefits of nuclear power to their citizens and communities – safely and securely. Companies and utilities want to do the same, but have to keep viable financially and operationally. Both would benefit from a steady input of industry’s knowledge and best practices. That’s how you find the balance.

So what to do?

First, start with identifying ways and means to engage industry leaders and representatives more systematically and effectively with international forums such as the IAEA.

Second, provide such forums with input from: (a) sectors of the nuclear industry responsible for implementation of regulations, policies and activities relating to safeguards, safety and security, and (b) technology developers working on designs and fuels for advanced research, power and isotope-producing reactors.

Third, be creative. For example, I have recommended that IAEA Director General establish a Director General’s Roundtable Dialogue with Nuclear Industry as a source of input from industry on strengthening nuclear safety and security.

Fourth, invite those with executive authority in charge of design-basis nuclear security or in implementing nuclear security regulations in operating plants; include those responsible for transportation of radiological devices and medical isotopes.

There are more topics where industry has a leading role and responsibility in implementing. These too could be part of the dialogue and engagement in intergovernmental bodies and diplomatic forums.

For example: improving gender balance and diversity across the global nuclear industry. Or deepening industry cooperation in implementing safeguards and export controls. Or supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the “peaceful uses of nuclear energy”, in particular by building capacity in developing countries.

I have a number of puzzle pieces for enhancing industry engagement in deliberative and rule-setting diplomatic forums. They are, in my view, missing pieces in the larger puzzle of international civil nuclear governance.

You have to work a bit to make them fit. But once they’re in – the assembled picture becomes a fine sight indeed. More effective safeguards; greater safety; enhanced security. And with the input and engagement of industry, now more strongly connected together in a whole, .

I’ll tell you more about these missing pieces in a future edition of John’s Musings.  Until then, please be patient – as all good puzzlers are.