Zine Ghediri on How International Law Affects the Development of Nuclear Energy by Nations in the Developing World

A Concise Overview of the Treaties and International Agreements Working to Hamper Atomic Energy Production in the So-Called ‘Have-Not’ or ‘Will-Have’ Nations

The most pressing issue of the coming decades is how to provide sustainable energy in large enough quantities to meet the demands of an ever-increasing global population. Scientists worldwide are in agreement; relying on fossil fuels is a disastrous idea, given the extreme harm they cause to the environment through greenhouse gas and other toxic chemical emissions. Green energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal power show promising results, but, at least at this stage in their development, cannot generate nearly enough energy to power the bulk of human civilization. Indeed, of all the renewable energy options, hydropower is by far the most practical — it can generate significant quantities of power with a comparably low environmental impact. However, it, too, Zine Ghediri says it has downsides, primarily being that the construction of hydroelectric power plants is dependent on favorable geography.

Finally, there is nuclear energy. Although public opinion on it in the developed world is decidedly negative, when overseen with the utmost attention to safety and administered by civilian officials, nuclear energy offers a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels while simultaneously having an immense capacity to generate electricity. As such, in the decades since its inception, nuclear energy has been viewed as a potential power-generating panacea by the countries of the developing world. But there are many obstacles in place preventing the so-called ‘have-not’ or ‘will-have’ nations from harnessing the power of atomic energy. Zine Ghediri outlines a concise overview of some of the primary obstacles, many of which take the form of legally binding international treaties.

Nuclear Power Plants

When nuclear power plants first became viable in the 1950s, fully industrialized nations such as France, Japan, the Soviet Union, and the United States embraced them as a dependable way to produce plentiful energy for their growing populations. In truth, such nations were the only ones in possession of the wealth and technology necessary to build nuclear power plants. Remarkably, this is still generally the case. The construction of nuclear plants, although ultimately leading to a cheaper source of power over time, requires a heavy initial investment. As to the technology, only a handful of nations have developed it independently and they have been extremely reluctant to share it with less advantaged nations, ostensibly for fear of misuse and weaponization. During the latter half of the twentieth century, this attitude was so prevalent that the developed world cultivated an entire branch of international law dedicated to strictly regulating and monitoring nuclear technology throughout the world.

Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)

The 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is a landmark in this respect. In it, provisions for the peaceful use of nuclear technology are made. States who had not developed a nuclear arsenal to that point agreed to never pursue one in exchange for assurances that nuclear states would share some of their power generation technology. This came with a fairly large proviso, as signatory states also agreed to totally submit whatever nuclear facilities they constructed to surprise inspections from the newly-created International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Although this agreement has been effective in its goal to limit the worldwide production of weapons of mass destruction, it has also served to somewhat hamper the ability of developing nations to conduct their own research into nuclear power. Zine Ghediri says the same is even more true of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans all nuclear testing for both military and civilian purposes.

Complicating matters, there have been a few well-publicized examples of rogue countries cultivating secret nuclear programs over the decades. Iraq and Libya flirted with enriching uranium in the 1990s and 2000s, and Iran blurred the lines between its nuclear power generating and weapons manufacturing capabilities as recently as 2014. Then there is the case of North Korea, who, after failing repeated inspections by IAEA, simply withdrew from its treaty commitments and began testing nuclear weapons out in the open. Some of these situations have resulted in diplomatic incidents, and some in outright conflict. Each one caused feelings of reticence to deepen among international institutions and wealthy countries regarding their facilitation of nuclear energy programs in developing nations. To put it succinctly, each of these incidents caused the “have” nations to pull back hard from the “have-not” or “will-have” nations vis-a-vis nuclear power.

The Bottom Line

In summary, due to the fact that most developing countries are located in or near the equatorial region, they are often the first and hardest hit with the terrible consequences of climate change — droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, etc. Because of this, the governments of many developing countries have made it policy to pursue only renewable sources of energy in order to slow climate change’s damaging effects. But many of these countries are not blessed with geography conducive to solar, wind, geothermal, or hydroelectric power generation. So, in a lot of cases, nuclear energy is the only viable option for sustainable, industrial-level power generation that does not emit harmful greenhouse gasses and other pollutants. Lamentably, the current state of international law does not make converting the power grids of developing nations to incorporate nuclear technology an easy proposition. There is some reason for hope, though. In the last twenty years, the governments of Egypt and Brazil have resurrected their nuclear power programs by working in conjunction with teams from friendly developed nations and submitting to regular inspections from the IAEA. Perhaps by following their lead, other so-called “have-not” or “will-have” countries will find a workable path to launching their own nuclear power programs and shedding their reliance on fossil fuels.

Originally born in Algeria, Zine Ghediri sought his education in France, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Public International Law from the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis. In the years since graduating, he immigrated to Canada and successfully navigated his way through the professional workforce. Zine Ghediri has amassed a large amount of diversified experience in both the private and public sectors of the economy, which has been useful in rounding out his viewpoint on all manner of important issues. Presently, Zine Ghediri lives in Montreal, Quebec, where he works for the provincial government as an Administrative Reviewer.

Montreal, Quebec | Zine Ghediri is works for the Government of Quebec as an Administrative Reviewer in the Department of Labor Law | www.zine-ghediri.com