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Civil and military nuclear industries locked in dependence on each other

questions arise over many well-documented military entanglements of nuclear power

the “reliable provision of Russia’s defense capability is the main priority of the nuclear industry” – Rosatom

a host of other defense policy discussions are very clear that the UK nuclear ‘submarine industrial base’ would not be sustainable, if a decision were taken to discontinue civil nuclear power…statements from UK submarine industry sources note incentives to “mask” the costs of this military programme behind the related civilian industrial infrastructure…. a programme of submarine-derived small modular reactors should be adopted in UK energy policy in order to “relieve the Ministry of the burden of developing and retaining skills and capability” on the military side. – Rolls Royce

focused on facilitating ‘mobility’ between the civil and defense nuclear workforce – UK

In the USA, powerful imperatives have recently been openly declared in high level policy debate, to maintain support for otherwise-uncompetitive nuclear power in order to sustain a continuing nuclear navy.

How much of the costs of these shared underpinnings for military nuclear ambitions, are being concealed by otherwise uneconomic joint civil-military nuclear infrastructures?

A Global Picture of Industrial Interdependencies Between Civil and Military Nuclear Infrastructures  https://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=2018-13-swps-stirling-and-johnstone.pdf&site=25  (this paper is richly supplied with comprehensive footnotes and references. Andy Stirling, Phil Johnstone, SPRU, August 2018 (This is an extended, updated and more fully referenced version of a chapter appearing in M. Schneider, A. Froggatt, J. Hazemann, T. Katsuta, M.V. Ramana, A. Stirling, P. Johnstone, C. von Hirschhausen, B. Wealer, The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018, Mycle Schneider Consulting, Paris, 2018)

Abstract

Noting the increasingly unfavourable economic and operational position of nuclear power around the world, this paper reviews evidence for a hitherto neglected connection between international commitments to civil and military nuclear infrastructures. Reviewing well established understandings of interlinkages associated with fissile materials and other nuclear weapons related substances, the paper surveys a distinct – and currently potentially more important – kind of interdependency that has up to now received virtually no policy attention. This relates to the national industrial supply chains necessary for the manufacture and operation of nuclear propelled submarines, that are deemed central to strategic military doctrine in a few states – and to burgeoning ambitions in a number of others. One of the most striking features of these interdependencies, is that evidence is so strong in strategic military literatures, but that the issue is typically so neglected in energy policy analysis. So the repercussions extend beyond specific domains of civil and military nuclear policy making in themselves – significant as these may be. Across a range of countries, arguably the most important implications arise for the rigour and transparency of mainstream academic and energy policy analysis and the quality and accountability of wider democratic processes – that are failing to give due attention to the evident force of these connections. With civil nuclear power now increasingly recognised to be growing obsolescent as a low carbon energy source, but key military capabilities evidently depending so strongly on its maintenance, a potentially important new window of opportunity may be opening up for robust measures to reduce global military nuclear threats.

1: The Odd Persistence of Nuclear Power Why is it that nuclear power is proving so surprisingly resistant in particular places around the world, to dramatically changing global energy market conditions and structures for electricity supply?1 Against a backdrop of stark decline in the worldwide nuclear industry as a whole, plans for plant life-extension and nuclear newbuild remain major areas of investment in a few specific countries.2 Intense attachments persist to projects like Hinkley Point C in the UK3 for instance, despite: a delay standing presently at more than a decade; costs multiplying fivefold over original estimates; a series of still-unresolved serious technical difficulties; and demands for escalating government financial concessions and guarantees4. Globally, a range of different commentaries show how the relatively small number of continuing nuclear programmes typically display a similar mix of severely deteriorating conditions and oddly dogged enthusiasm 5 .

It is surprising to see such persistent nuclear attachments, because nuclear energy has clearly become much less attractive, when compared with competing low-carbon options. Worldwide, nuclear is already significantly more expensive than major alternatives like solar photovoltaics and onshore and offshore wind power, with the disadvantage growing fast.6  Available cost-effective energy resources from these renewables are huge,7 and their modularity, small unit size and short lead times typically make them a more rapid means to carbon emissions abatement.8 Where once nuclear advocates claimed that ‘firm’ (inflexibly-steady) nuclear output is an advantage, grid operators now recognize that new network technologies render the underlying idea of ‘base load’ power to be “outdated”.9 Many options exist to manage so-called intermittent power10 at a fraction of the growing renewable cost advantage.11

Other stated energy policy aims also favour renewables. Across different countries, these are typically domestic resources whose geographically-distributed nature helps avoid the particular vulnerabilities associated with concentrated sites and sources as well as insecure global fuel supply chains. 12 Amidst many complexities, renewables offer employment benefits generally greater than those of nuclear. 13 And capital intensity, large unit size and long lead times are also major financial downsides of established nuclear designs in current investment markets.14 Technologies with such strikingly cumulative comparative disadvantages as nuclear would be abandoned in most other sectors. Therefore, serious questions arise as to why the declared commitments of some governments (like those of the UK, USA, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran) should remain so oddly intense around a nuclear option that under-performs so badly across so many energy policy criteria.

 The oddity is compounded by the fact that change is so routine – and rapid – in other areas of the global electricity sector. Electricity markets have shifted radically in several waves of reform.15 Emerging distributed networked infrastructures are unrecognizable from only a few years ago. Over decades, many other supply technologies have come and gone. New forms of integrated gasification, pebble bed combustion and combined cycle gas turbines have been adopted.16 Battery and other storage technologies have been transformed.1 many places, once-dominant fossil fuel infrastructures are now being phased out.18 Globally, renewables attract greater capital investment than all other generating technologies put together. 19 With nuclear power comprising only relatively small proportions of most electricity systems, it is not clear why it should evidently be more ‘locked in’ than anything else. So, the question remains: why is it proving so difficult in particular places, to acknowledge the generally growing obsolescence of nuclear power? 20

2: Neglected Military Dimensions of Nuclear Power In a diverse and complex world, there are obviously many factors at work. In policy imaginations, organisational attitudes and elite cultures as well as infrastructures, the importance of sheer momentum and inertia should never be underestimated. 21 Although now increasingly replaced by the iconic status of other areas of innovation (like machine intelligence, synthetic biology, neuroscience and nanotechnology) one possible reason for the persistence of nuclear power in particular settings may relate to a residual effect of the past image of nuclear expertise as an epitome of scientific and technological prowess – and so a symbol of national standing. 22 And it must also be acknowledged that under some legitimate political perspectives, a few of the general strategic disadvantages discussed here around nuclear power are less acute in specific geographical settings. But the overall picture is so stark, that there do remain good grounds for asking what other influences might be in play, to help maintain such entrenched support for an energy technology that is, in so many respects, increasingly superseded.

 In particular, questions arise over many well-documented military entanglements of nuclear power. A range of costly specialist international legal-political regimes is dedicated to addressing these unique features of nuclear power.23 Nuclear reactors, whether small or commercial-size, are the only effective means to produce crucial fissile materials for nuclear weapons, like plutonium-239. The fuel supply chain for nuclear power, and uranium enrichment in particular, is the main source for other weapons ingredients like high-enriched uranium. Further specialist materials for various types of thermonuclear weapons, like tritium, are by-products of nuclear power. All these ‘material links’ have been acknowledged for many years and described in great detail24. But less well appreciated in public debate, are a set of ‘industrial interdependencies’—involving the wider nuclear skills, education, research, design, engineering and industrial capabilities associated with civil nuclear industries, that are also essential in many ways to the sustaining or introduction of nuclear weapons programmes or their associated platforms and infrastructures.25

Together, these material links and industrial interdependencies have left many important imprints on the world civil nuclear industry. For instance, most reactor design traditions derive from past prioritization of military aims. Heavy water reactors and graphite-moderated designs like the Chernobyl-style RBMK or the French and UK natural uranium gas-graphite reactors were based on principles originally chosen to facilitate on-load refueling for production of plutonium required in nuclear weapons manufacture. Likewise, even the most modern variants of light water reactors are still built around basic engineering principles originally optimized for the confined spaces of nuclear-propelled submarines.26 Yet, even after many decades of opportunities to establish entirely new designs dedicated to civilian power production, these military-derived variants still account for almost all of global civil nuclear power capacity worldwide27. In fact, there exists no major commercial reactor design, whose basic configuration was optimized from first principles solely for safe or economic civilian power. A high proportion of leading designs for a currently much-vaunted ‘new generation’ of Small Modular Reactors or SMRs relate even more closely to contemporary nuclear submarine propulsion reactors.28

Nor is there any sign that these longstanding connections are diminishing. An additional dimension to civil-military nuclear interdependencies has only come to light only in recent years. This is the importance to government support of nuclear power in some countries of continuing commitments to build and maintain military, nuclear-propelled submarines.29 These machines are often identified as being among the most complex and demanding manufactured artefacts ever conceived. Security concerns are seen to require the sustaining of the entire range of necessary industrial capacities within a single country. Only in the last couple of years, are inside sources beginning to acknowledge that (even in large economies like that of the USA, it is difficult to sustain this military capability without a parallel civil nuclear power industry.30 High profile documents by industry bodies and senior policy figures openly urge that perceived needs to maintain the naval nuclear propulsion industry is a major reason to continue with otherwise-declining civil nuclear power.31 National achievement of nuclear submarine capabilities is also widely associated with global strategic leadership, for instance with former President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil stating in 2014 on a visit to the new Brazilian nuclear submarine facility: “The Brazilian naval force… have contributed decisively to our nation, towards our country integrating into the select group of five member countries of the Council of the United Nations Security dominating the submarine construction technology with nuclear propulsion”.32

Nor is there any sign that these longstanding connections are diminishing. An additional dimension to civil-military nuclear interdependencies has only come to light only in recent years. This is the importance to government support of nuclear power in some countries of continuing commitments to build and maintain military, nuclear-propelled submarines.29 These machines are often identified as being among the most complex and demanding manufactured artefacts ever conceived. Security concerns are seen to require the sustaining of the entire range of necessary industrial capacities within a single country. Only in the last couple of years, are inside sources beginning to acknowledge that (even in large economies like that of the USA, it is difficult to sustain this military capability without a parallel civil nuclear power industry.30 High profile documents by industry bodies and senior policy figures openly urge that perceived needs to maintain the naval nuclear propulsion industry is a major reason to continue with otherwise-declining civil nuclear power.31 National achievement of nuclear submarine capabilities is also widely associated with global strategic leadership, for instance with former President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil stating in 2014 on a visit to the new Brazilian nuclear submarine facility: “The Brazilian naval force… have contributed decisively to our nation, towards our country integrating into the select group of five member countries of the Council of the United Nations Security dominating the submarine construction technology with nuclear propulsion”.32

There are, around the world, then, many major connections between civil and military nuclear industrial capabilities, skills, expertise and infrastructures. Yet when taken together, these joint civil-military nuclear specialisms are in their turn, in many ways arguably unusually restricted in their general interconnectedness throughout the economy.33 Dependencies between civil and military nuclear are often greater than between nuclear-specific engineering and other industrial sectors. So, if civilian nuclear power and its associated specialist practices are to be allowed (like many earlier technologies) to go obsolete, then – with more net employment typically available in proportion to investment by other means 34– it seems that the only significant losers would be the nuclear establishments of a small number of countries that maintain military nuclear ambitions. Conversely, for those hoping for long-stalled reversal in either horizontal or vertical nuclear weapons proliferation35, it is possible that obsolescence of civil nuclear power as an energy source forms a potentially major– but under-considered – global opportunity.

3: Broad Patterns in National Civil and Military Nuclear Ambitions In all states with current and past nuclear weapons capabilities, parallel availability of the skills and industrial and research capacities now associated with civil nuclear power have been essential.36 The revenues arising from nuclear electricity sales have also been important, as part of these flow indirectly into supply chains and research, training and industrial systems that have joint civil and military applications.37 Some states (notably Israel and North Korea) have built modest military nuclear capabilities without directly pursuing civil nuclear power. But even here, existence of wider international nuclear industries (especially in sponsoring powers) has remained crucial.38 More broadly in current global nuclear politics, it is generally recognized that the intensity and nature of many national nuclear programmes is best understood by reference to ambitions to establish industrial capacities, by means of which future acquisition of military nuclear capabilities would be relatively easy.

This is true historically for instance, in countries like Canada, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, which were all enthusiastic pioneers of civil nuclear power, who also entertained early nuclear military ambitions, but which each later relinquished nuclear weapons. And these linkages can also be found in the history of ostensibly civilian nuclear programmes of currently non-nuclear weapons states including Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Japan, South Africa and South Korea. Likewise, such links are well acknowledged in contemporary politics around the projected nuclear programmes of Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. The Economist for instance, argues of Saudi Arabia’s potential nuclear new-build programme, that it makes “little economic sense”.39 The Saudi King has put this directly into a military context, in stating that “without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible”.40 Civil nuclear programmes in Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, are held to be among the countries “most poised to seek advanced nuclear capabilities in response to a resurgent nuclear Iran”.41

One rough circumstantial reflection of these evident general civil-military nuclear connections can be seen in the coarse-grain structure of resonating nuclear and military enthusiasms around the world today. Figure 1 below [ on original] illuminates broad overlapping patterns across all relevant countries, between general military standing, nuclear weapons status, nuclear submarine capabilities, global geopolitical profile and the intensity of declared civil nuclear ambitions (as expressed in data published by the leading nuclear industrial advocacy organization).

According to the positions asserted in national data published by the global industry trade body – the World Nuclear Association (WNA), the five largest-scale prospective nuclear new-build programmes in the world are in four of the five ‘official’ nuclear weapons states (excepting France).43 India and Iran are also pursuing ambitious nuclear new-build programmes. And France is an illuminating exception, in that the scale of its existing reliance on nuclear power in itself militates against further large-scale national expansion. So large is the existing French civil nuclear fleet, that the associated national engineering base also required for military purposes, is much less under threat from nuclear decline than in other countries. But the Le Monde newspaper nonetheless does still highlight “the ultimate question an expert dares asking”: “What would become of the credibility of our nuclear weapons programme and our position at the UN [Security Council], if France were to renounce its [nuclear power] plants?”44

Such military anxieties over declining capabilities seem even more pronounced in other nuclear-armed countries with proportionally less well-established nuclear industries. The major state-held Russian nuclear construction and services company Rosatom is clear that the “[r]eliable provision of Russia’s defense capability is the main priority of the nuclear industry”.45 And in the US, the Nuclear Energy Institute, now strongly lobbies for subsidies for failing nuclear developments, on the grounds that abandonment of these will “stunt development of the nation’s defense nuclear complex”.46 Likewise, the pro-nuclear Environmental Progress group, highlights the national security implications of the USA’s declining nuclear industry.47 Perhaps most significantly, former US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz48 launched a report in 2017, which stated that “a strong domestic supply chain is needed to provide for nuclear Navy requirements. This supply chain has an inherent and very strong overlap with the commercial nuclear energy”.49Accordingly, a memorandum leaked under the Trump administration in June 2018, reveals that recent regulatory measures to protect nuclear power, are a reflection of high-level perceptions that the civil nuclear industry is essential to national security, specifically including naval propulsion.50

Also evident in Figure 1 [on original] is a pattern under which, of the relatively few other countries in the world presenting themselves as pursuing the most ambitious civil nuclear new-build plans, eleven out of thirteen hold the status of being major (at least regional) military powers.51 With regard to the next tier of stated national ambitions for nuclear power, an association between civil nuclear and military interests is also apparent. Of 23 countries widely designated as ‘major regional powers’ or above, only Australia has never developed, or is not seeking to develop, a civil nuclear programme. And among those in this group who have developed such programmes in the past, only Germany and Taiwan are presented by the WNA to be without any nuclear new-build programmes.52

Given the complexities of global affairs, it must be expected that any general pattern like this will include exceptions. That the UAE is the only example in the world of a country displaying high stated civil nuclear ambitions that is not at least a regional military power, is actually an indication of the striking nature of the broader patterns shown in Figure 1.[on original]  And it is notable in this regard, that the UAE is also at the geographical center of what is currently one of the most intense areas of regional military tension—and whose stated ambitious nuclear plans are in any case somewhat performative. Likewise, North Korea is already a nuclear-armed state, which is not formally categorized as a regional military power. But this involves other well-known extraordinary circumstances, implicating arguably the single most acute military nuclear stand-off in the contemporary world. On the other hand, Germany is the only regional military power, which WNA acknowledges to be actively scaling back its civil nuclear programmes. Yet this is also a special case, in that the ‘Energiewende’ policy in Germany has been forced by globally distinctive social mobilization 53 . In Japan, the current reigning back of plans for nuclear power is conditioned by the even more unique political consequences of the Fukushima catastrophe, but is not reflected in WNA projections.54 And here, civil-military links are also still alive, for instance, in senior Liberal Democrat politician Shigeru Ishiba’s statement that “Japan should never let go of nuclear power plants. Because having nuclear power means that we can manufacture nuclear weapons within a certain period of time and it can be a deterrent”.55

Albeit circumstantial, it is quite obvious that it tends to be the leading global military powers who are also the leaders in civil nuclear power around the world – and the most committed to large scale new nuclear build. There is no global or regional military power, that has not displayed at least some active history of strong strategic pressures to pursue civil nuclear power capabilities. Conversely, no country with a current nuclear moratorium or that is phasing out nuclear power has either nuclear weapons, nuclear submarines or plans to develop either.

4: The Case of the UK The UK was one of the first developers of both nuclear weapons and commercial nuclear power. With early civil nuclear facilities documented to have been central to military plutonium production56, joint civil-military nuclear ambitions are especially relevant in the UK. Military nuclear standing is frequently emphasized as being central to elite British political identities on the world stage: 57 suggestive of the cherished status of a country that “punches above its weight”; 58 and indirectly linked to the “seat at the top table” of permanent membership of the UN Security Council.59

So, it is no surprise that the UK should currently be home to some of the most intense nuclear rhetorics–defying the manifest serious global decline of nuclear power by: loudly championing a “nuclear renaissance”; pursuing declared nuclear new-build commitments that are exceptional in Europe (and in proportion to its system, the largest in the world); and with the then-responsible minister insisting in 2016 that “nuclear power is what this Government is all about for the next twenty years”.60

Yet the depths of these idiosyncrasies have not gone unnoticed, even by UK governmental bodies. The UK Parliament’s National Audit Office (NAO), for instance, concluded in a 2017 report that government nuclear planning “…has locked consumers into a risky and expensive project with uncertain strategic and economic benefits”.61 The NAO holds Government justification of this programme to hinge on “wider strategic” considerations beyond the officially-stated “energy trilemma” around affordability, climate change and energy security. Neither the NAO nor any other government body anywhere disclose what these other “unquantified strategic benefits” actually are.62

It is long since the UK undertook any kind of full policy analysis systematically to justify its nuclear commitments. Here, the NAO again departs from normal procedure by explicitly criticizing in 2017 that Government, in its review of the proposed Hinkley Point C project, “has not formally reviewed and consulted on its published strategic case for nuclear power since the publication of the 2008 white paper”.63 And, in addition, this last attempt to justify the current nuclear programme, was itself based on a consultation process that was successfully challenged by judicial review for being too cursory.64 This earlier white paper was also repeatedly criticized by Parliament at the time for being inappropriately opaque. 65

Thus, the most recent major UK energy policy initiative that was not subject to this kind of general formal skepticism goes back even further, to 2003. And, based on a far more comprehensive analysis66, the conclusion of this last fully-considered UK Government energy white paper was that nuclear power is “unattractive”.67 Openly unwelcome to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair68 (but for reasons that were undeclared), it was this finding that was over-ridden by the cursory white paper of 2008 in a process acknowledged by Parliamentarians69 and nuclear proponents 70 alike, to have been extraordinarily secretive. And despite the market conditions becoming even less favorable, it is this under-substantiated positive official characterization of nuclear power that persists to this day.

A question that arises unusually explicitly and specifically in the UK case, then, is what these powerful but hidden “strategic factors” might be, that have so emphatically trumped stated energy policy considerations? Again, the NAO quietly cast some light on this, observing in their 2008 report on the UK Trident nuclear weapons programme that “[o]ne assumption of the future deterrent programme is that the United Kingdom submarine industry will be sustainable and that the costs of supporting it will not fall directly on the future deterrent programme”.71

If the costs of keeping the national submarine industry in business must fall elsewhere, what could that other budget be? With successive NAO reports being so thorough in their documenting of strategic justifications for different flows of resources, there is one explanation that is notably consistent with both NAO’s 2008 Trident and 2017 Hinkley Point reports. This is, that the oddly-unspecified “unquantified strategic benefits” that the NAO observed in 2017 to be driving UK Government support for otherwise uneconomic civil nuclear power, relates directly to the military nuclear submarine capabilities that they assumed in 2008 to be underwritten from other sources.72

This NAO evidence is only the tip of the iceberg. These official statements by the UK’s leading public audit body confirm a picture that is highly visible in defense debates, but remarkably undiscussed in energy policy. With heavily redacted documents released under freedom of information legislation expressing strong anxieties73, a host of other defense policy discussions are very clear that the UK nuclear ‘submarine industrial base’ would not be sustainable, if a decision were taken to discontinue civil nuclear power.74 Indeed, statements from UK submarine industry sources note incentives to “mask” the costs of this military programme behind the related civilian industrial infrastructure.75 Submarine reactor manufacturer Rolls Royce recently dedicated a major report in large part to the argument that a programme of submarine-derived small modular reactors should be adopted in UK energy policy in order to “relieve the Ministry of the burden of developing and retaining skills and capability” on the military side.76

These civil-military links are also highly visible in UK industrial strategy, with priority given to a nuclear ‘sector deal’ spanning both sectors together77 and with many new agencies and programmes openly dedicated to achieving synergies between UK submarine and civil nuclear programmes. The nuclear sector deal is particularly focused on facilitating ‘mobility’ between the civil and defense nuclear workforce as a key strategy to manage the skills challenge. It is stated in “The Nuclear Sector Deal”78 that “the sector is committed to increasing the opportunities for transferability between civil and defense industries and generally increasing mobility to ensure resources are positioned at required locations” and that 18 percent of projected skills gaps can be met by ‘transferability and mobility’. The document also states that the skills gap can be met through “greater alignment of the civil and defense sectors with increased proactive two-way transfer of people and knowledge. As the military service sector tends to be age and nationality limited, we propose that we actively seek a recognisable career pathway between the civil and sectors to ease transfer between the two”.

The Nuclear Skills Strategic Plan” outlines: “Demand for competent people is forecast to rise from 78,000 full time equivalent people (FTEs) in 2015 to 111,000 by 2021, requiring a total industry inflow of 9,000 per year” which includes both civil and defense activities. Precise numbers on defense requirements are not given in latest skills documentation and important caveats are required. One is that it is acknowledged that “in the civil sector, the new-build programme means that the main challenge is in the ‘generic skills’ element. For research and development, the challenge is more located in the area of subject matter experts”. While generic skills are not specific to nuclear, the defense industry has more requirement for nuclear-specific skills in the long term. Also the analysis of future skills “averages across the industry and will not reflect movement within the industry”. 79

This recent emphasis on mobility came after earlier statements on the severe crisis in the nuclear submarine industry80. As stated by Grimes et al: “Across the enterprise the availability of deep specialist expertise in key and suitably qualified staff appears to be at the bare minimum necessary to deliver the programme”.81 There are additional pressures on the defense nuclear programme as most workers have to be British nationals for security reasons and for cuts MoD budgets contribute to pressures on the submarine industry.82

These included acknowledgements of overlaps and shared skills between defense and civil and the benefits of civil engagement for defense, as illustrated by Rolls Royce: “Skills are considered to be transferable between military propulsion and civil programmes”, where “a larger involvement in the broader [civil] industry will also have a spillover benefit to military capability through skill development and experience exchange83 as well as admissions that the decline of civil nuclear has exacerbated skills challenges related to defense. 84

As acknowledged by the UK submarine industry lobby organization, the Keep Our Future Afloat campaign (KOFAC), “the decline of the UK civil nuclear programme has forced the military nuclear programme, and in particular the nuclear submarine programme, to develop and fund its own expertise and personnel in order to remain operational”. 85 Additionally, in terms of R&D support, it has been noted that “the MOD’s programme had been underwritten by civil nuclear research that has over the years been dismantled and commercialised”, where the “…expertise these activities generated has atrophied”.86 Grimes et al, are providing specific recommendations for managing the capabilities crisis in the nuclear submarine industry through further engagement with the civil sector. This includes that “the programme seek imaginative methods to better engage with the emergent civil new-build programme on nuclear matters to the benefit of defence”, that “the Research Programme Group establish a workstrand to look at leveraging to maximum effect civil nuclear investment”, and that “MOD revisit the possible option of utilising other nuclear facilities including those in the civil sector”.87

Stephen Lovegrove, current Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defense and former Permanent Secretary at the Department for Energy and Climate Change responsible for negotiating the Hinkley Point C contracts, stated under questioning by the U.K. Parliament Public Accounts Committee88: “We are completing the build of the nuclear submarines, which carry conventional weaponry. We have at some point to renew the warheads, so there is very definitely an opportunity here for the nation to grasp in terms of building up its nuclear skills. I do not think that that is going to happen by accident; it is going to require concerted Government action to make it happen.”89

 It is these remarkable conjunctions that have helped lead to reports in the UK90 and international91 press, that what is underway in the UK is, in effect, an unacknowledged cross-subsidy (amounting at least to several tens of billions of pounds)92 away from electricity consumers and to the benefit of military nuclear interests. Whatever the actual figures may prove to be amidst many complexities and uncertainties, the prima facie evidence seems clear that future UK electricity prices are being raised significantly higher than would otherwise be the case, at least partly in order indirectly to support military nuclear infrastructures by enabling a flow of resources into joint civil-military nuclear engineering supply chains and wider shared provisions for nuclear skills, research, design and regulation.

The attraction of this strategy for the UK Government appears to lie in the triple aim of: (1) finding a means to cover the otherwise insupportable costs of this major military commitment; (2) whilst keeping the resulting expenditures away from inconvenient public scrutiny; and (3) entirely off the public books. But what is perhaps most remarkable, is that these evidently powerful pressures with apparently major impacts, remain entirely undiscussed anywhere in UK energy policy or related media debates. Despite the very high financial stakes, it is perhaps these implications for the rigour, transparency and accountability of UK democracy that are therefore most important. And where other countries–like those reviewed earlier–display similar dynamics, similarly serious implications evidently also arise elsewhere in the world.

5: Nuclear Power, Nuclear Weapons and Democracy Despite complexities, ambiguities and uncertainties – as well as constant change – the picture painted in this paper is quite striking. Based on a broad survey of the international scene (and with a particular focus on the UK), a diverse array of evidence has been summarised, that there exist continuing major links between deeply entrenched commitments in particular settings to civil and military nuclear technologies. A strong general association can be observed across different countries, between strategic military ambitions and the scale of stated plans for new nuclear power. In the USA, powerful imperatives have recently been openly declared in high level policy debate, to maintain support for otherwise-uncompetitive nuclear power in order to sustain a continuing nuclear navy. In the UK, evidence for the same links is strong on the military side, but virtually entirely absent in official energy policy documents or debate. Official audit procedures seem aware of these issues, but are circumspect about discussing them in public. And for their part, industry sources are clear about incentives to ‘mask’ these links.

So, equally in terms of institutional processes, as well as energy outcomes, the economic and political stakes are clearly very high. Nuclear power is a controversial and expensive technology with a number of adverse wider characteristics, that is increasingly recognized to be growing obsolete by comparison with competing low-carbon energy technologies, yet which continues to receive oddly intense (and very expensive) continuing strong government support in several places around the world. The reasons for this are seriously under-documented and under-scrutinized in energy policy arenas. But it is relatively clear in policy debates that civil and military commitments are interlinked. Given the volume, depth and ostensible rigour of detailed energy analysis around the world, this substantive gap in discussion is quite remarkable. That so much of the picture has to be indirectly inferred – rather than being openly queried and analysed in policy documents – adds to, rather than detracts from, the gravity of the issue.

It is especially notable that official energy policy discussions should be so silent on these issues, in countries like the UK, which pride themselves on robust policy procedures and vigorous democratic debate. 93 It took more than a year from the first coverage in major newspapers in other countries, for the topic even to be raised in a UK broadsheet (in two major pieces in the Guardian). Yet, despite the strong qualitative evidence reviewed in this paper, analysis of interdependencies, cross-subsidization and strategic complementarities between civil nuclear power and the military sector (especially the nuclear submarine industries), remains undiscussed beyond the work of the present authors – with even the asking of questions being dismissed by other energy researchers as a ‘conspiracy theory’.94 Firm quantitative evidence for the scale of such interdepencies does indeed remain lacking. But this is because necessary disaggregated information on flows of revenue, capital, employment and skill are not in the public domain. It may be that the gravity of these political implications – and fear of ‘conspiracy theory’ accusations – may in themselves be helping to inhibit due attention. So the undermining effects of these pressures on democratic debate are among the most serious potential impacts of the continuing policy and media inertia on these questions.

In the end, however, the issues raised in this analysis are quite straightforward. To whatever degree, there can be little doubt that the increasingly precarious global status of civil nuclear power, is presenting a growing problem for the small minority of the world’s countries who wish to pursue military nuclear ambitions. Yet the secretive nature of the forces at work, is evidently helping prevent definitive conclusions over the scale of the associated impacts on military or energy strategies. What is urgently required in order to resolve this picture more clearly, then, is the publication of currently missing crucial data concerning the nature and scale of the flows and interdependencies between civil and military nuclear industries, and a rigourous process of scrutiny involving probing interrogation, dedicated research and robust analysis.

A series of questions remain open. To what extent are current continuing commitments to nuclear power, in particular countries around the world, due to national attachments to parallel military nuclear infrastructures? What is the magnitude of public provision for a shared civil and military strategic base in education, skills, research and key industrial and supply-chain capabilities? How much of the costs of these shared underpinnings for military nuclear ambitions, are being concealed by otherwise uneconomic joint civil-military nuclear infrastructures? How much cheaper might low carbon electricity services be to consumers, if these military pressures for nuclear lock-in were removed, easing a shift to more affordable energy efficiency and renewable energy? And if this lock-in is escaped, what opportunities are presented by the current demise of nuclear power, towards also reducing global exposures to military nuclear threats?

It is remarkable that queries like these have for so long remained so unattended to in worldwide energy debates.95 For answers to be so lacking – and even the questioning itself to be so muted – is arguably one of the most serious legacies of the uniquely-shared infrastructures, institutions and cultures of civil and military nuclear technologies. What seems at stake is not just the future of these interlinked energy and security strategies, but arguably the health of democracies themselves.

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September 18, 2018 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, weapons and war

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