Multilateral Cooperation in Asia's Nuclear Sector: Prospects for Growth and Safety
James E. Platte
This working paper explores prospects for growth and multilateral cooperation in Asia’s nuclear sector and argues the need for effective regulation and continued multilateral cooperation.
Nuclear power has a long and vibrant history in Asia. China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have built robust nuclear industries, while the region as a whole is the primary growth market for the global nuclear industry. Yet despite a generally positive growth outlook, Asia’s nuclear sector faces significant challenges. Incidents in both Japan and South Korea have highlighted the importance of safety culture and regulatory practice for maintaining sector vitality, while new nuclear countries such as Bangladesh and Vietnam will need to build up their regulatory framework and capacity to ensure the safe, reliable use of nuclear energy. Individually and collectively, the countries of the Asia-Pacific must work to improve safety and operational practices in order to maintain current reactors and ensure continued growth.
Asia’s nuclear industries have always involved close bilateral or multilateral cooperation between regional or extraregional actors. Maintaining bilateral or multilateral cooperation can provide resiliency, support, and innovation, but it also means having to delicately balance political sensitivities between partners, particularly on issues related to nonproliferation and nuclear security.
Dealing with spent nuclear fuel has been a vexing issue for nuclear industries around the world, yet the longer-term viability of any nuclear sector depends on being able to properly manage such material. Interim storage in above-ground dry casks for several decades could provide temporary relief and allow more time for developing long-term management options.
Actually realizing Asia’s nuclear growth plans will require strong, stable financing for nuclear construction and operation firms, but to create public acceptance, safety must not be compromised for the sake of lower construction costs. Various public and private actors involved must work to balance safety and affordability. Governments must optimize the regulatory process—while maintaining strict safety standards—to reduce licensing costs and time, and reactor vendors and operators must continue to develop safer designs and practices.