Archive for April, 2013

RPI Author Hui Zhang: China’s Cautious Moves on Nuclear Power

Workers in front of China's Qinshan No. 2 Nuclear Power Plant (Source: AP)

Workers in front of China’s Qinshan No. 2 Nuclear Power Plant (Source: AP)

Dr. Hui Zhang, Nuclear Debates in Asia project author and senior scholar at Harvard University’s Project on Managing the Atom, and Shangui Zhao recently co-wrote in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:

From 2005 to 2011, China rapidly developed its nuclear power capacity. In 2010 alone, it began operations at two new reactors and broke ground on 10 more, accounting for more than 60 percent of new reactor construction worldwide and making the Chinese nuclear industry by far the fastest-growing in the world. By the end of 2010, China had 14 nuclear reactors in operation with a total capacity of about 11 gigawatts electric, or GWe. That was still a relatively small amount — in contrast, the United States had 104 commercial reactors with a total capacity of about 100 GWe in 2010 — but China was pursuing ambitious plans to rapidly expand.

Then came the tsunami and earthquake that led to Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi meltdown in March 2011, the world’s worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. After Fukushima, China changed course dramatically, slowing the pace of nuclear development to focus on safety. The slower pace is reassuring, but to really be a leader on nuclear safety, China should speed up the adoption of new laws on nuclear energy and enhance the independence and authority of nuclear safety regulators. (more…)

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Boston Marathon Bombings Elicit Mixed Reactions from Asian Powers

makeshift-memorial-boston-marathon-bombingsIn this post, we examine the contrasting reactions of Russia, China and India to last week’s bomb attacks on the Boston Marathon. Commentaries from these Asian powers reflect the differences in their attitudes on how to define and respond to problems of terrorism.


Editorials expressed mixed views on how the Boston bombings may impact US-Russia security relations while also using the incident to criticize US actions and policies against terrorism.

President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed their commitment tostrengthen US- Russia security coordination in a recent telephone conversation. However, others expressed skepticism:

  • Though Russia’s Federal Security Service and the FBI have promised to focus on “all aspects of the challenge,” intelligence sharing efforts are “hampered by mistrust, bureaucracy, and self-interest,” said Russian intelligence expert Andrei Soldatov.
  • Duma Deputy Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party member Vlidimir Zhirinovsky predicted that the U.S. faces a grim future of repeated attacks. “There is a clash of civilizations. The United States bombs the Islamic world, and what can they do in return? As long as Islamic countries are being bombed, attacks will occur in London and New York.”

Several editorials criticized the U.S. for holding double standards regarding terrorism (more…)

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U.S.-South Korea Agree to Punt on Nuclear Cooperation Agreement for Two Years

President Obama during before a speech on U.S.-South Korea issues (Source:AP/Susan Walsh)

President Obama during before a speech on U.S.-South Korea issues (Source: AP)

When President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye sit down during a meeting early next month, one item will be missing from the table: a long-term renewed nuclear cooperation agreement.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry aimed to hammer out a final long-term deal before the summit, but South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said today that the two parties agreed to delay expiration of the current deal by two years until 2016. According to South Korea, while there has been “some meaningful progress” on demonstrating their side’s position, negotiators will use this additional time to address “the complexity of details and technologies.”

As this blog has covered in the past, South Korean negotiators would like to secure new rights to enrichment and reprocessing of U.S.-origin material not granted in the expiring 1972 agreement, which sets rules for the export of U.S. nuclear technology and material. The Wall Street Journal writes:

South Korea has argued that it needs to be able to enrich uranium and reprocess spent fuel to provide a steady supply of nuclear fuel for its fleet of 23 nuclear reactors. It also says it needs the ability to reprocess the spent fuel in order to better store the waste, which it says it is running out of room to store.

The Obama administration and other critics have argued that since these technologies can manufacture fuel for both nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons, a revised nuclear cooperation agreement with these new arrangements could set a poor precedent for future nuclear energy trade, provide a future pathway for a South Korean nuclear bomb, and harm the nonproliferation regime.

Reaction in the South Korean media has been negative towards the United States. In a recent editorial, the newspaper JoonAng Ilbo felt that “Washington does not seem to trust South Korea as much as it reiterates blood-tight relations with Korea are as important as a linchpin, since it does not agree to revising the pact.” The editorial doubted that an additional two years would yield a favorable agreement: “It is merely a makeshift move to avoid a dispute.”

In another editorial by the newspaper Chosun Ilbo, U.S. negotiator Robert J. Einhorn was referred to as a “nonproliferation Taliban” for his laser focus on the proliferation risks of reprocessing and enrichment technologies. The editorial contended that the breakdown of talks so close to the U.S.-South Korean alliance’s upcoming 60th anniversary was a slap in the face by the United States to its Korean ally.

Moving forward, the two nations will continue to “hold talks on a regular basis to intensify consultation,” according to a diplomatic source quoted in Chosun Ilbo. Since negotiations began in October 2010, there have been six rounds of talks. Seoul has indicated that another two rounds over the next two years should be sufficient to make their case.

President Park will be in Washington, DC for a summit with President Obama on May 7. She will also address a joint-session of the U.S. Congress on the following day. Be sure to follow the Rising Power Initiative’s “Nuclear Debates in Asia” project on Twitter @Westmyer and this blog as events develop for more news and analysis.

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Conference on “Russia as a Global Power: Contending Views from Russia”

Henry Nau (George Washington University) and Fyodor Lukyanov (Russia in Global Affairs) exchange views at the conference on "Russia as a Global Power" on March 18, 2013.

Henry Nau (George Washington University) and Fyodor Lukyanov (Russia in Global Affairs) exchange views at the conference on “Russia as a Global Power” on March 18, 2013.

The collapse of the Soviet Union generated a wide range of contending views in Russia on the nation’s place in the world and its relationship with the West. In more recent years, however, Russian foreign policy can be largely characterized as one shaped by a pragmatic approach to balance of power politics and economic development. This outlook and its policy manifestations, along with dissenting views, were the theme of a recent conference on “Russia as a Global Power,” organized by the Rising Powers Initiative at the Elliot School of International Affairs.

Russian worldviews since 1991 can be categorized into roughly three schools of thought, argue Andrew Kuchins and Igor Zevelev in Worldviews of Aspiring Powers. The “Pro-Western Liberals” stress a European identity and favor closer integration with Europe through collective security and economic liberalization, but they have fallen out of favor since their brief rise in the early 1990s. The “Nationalists” see Russia as a distinct civilization apart from the West, and advocate the use of military power to secure Russia as an independent center of power in Eurasia. In contrast to the regional perspective of the Nationalists, the “Great Power Balancers” believe that Russia should have global aspirations in a multipolar world where international status is attained through both economic and military strength.  The three Russian experts featured at the conference roughly reflected this spectrum of worldviews in their discussions on a wide range of topics including Syria’s ongoing conflict, the creation of a Eurasian Customs Union, and Russian relations with China and India. (more…)

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Nuclear Debates in Asia on Center Stage at Conference

2013 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference (Source: Carnegie/Kaveh Sardari)

On April 8-9, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted its biennial Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington, DC. The gathering convened government officials, academics, think tank experts, and private citizens to engage in discussions on nuclear energy, nuclear weapon, and nonproliferation issues around the globe. The Rising Powers Initiative’s Nuclear Debates in Asia project was there to see many of the project’s countries and issues prominently discussed at the event, including nuclear debates in China, India, Japan, and South Korea.

In this blog post, we highlight the major exchanges related to the Nuclear Debates in Asia project:

  • China’s challenge to pursue ambitious nuclear energy goals alongside regulatory oversight
  • How China defends a limited role for nuclear weapons in its defense strategy
  • Indian perspectives on the nonproliferation regime and nuclear energy agendas of emerging powers
  • India’s expansive nuclear energy plans
  • Lessons learned for Japan and India after the accident at Fukushima nuclear plant
  • One viewpoint within South Korea on how to respond to its northern neighbor’s recent provocations
  • South Korea’s approach to balancing nonproliferation concerns with spent fuel challenges through reprocessing


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RPI Author Mike Mochizuki: Getting Kim Jong Un’s Attention

Kim Jong Un speaks with a general on the balcony (Source: AP)

Dr. Mike Mochizuki, Nuclear Debates in Asia project co-director and associate dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, and Michael O’Hanlon recently co-wrote in the New York Times:

Nothing about the international response to North Korea’s third nuclear test in February or subsequent provocations has been unreasonable. The crisis is entirely of Pyongyang’s making. But it is possible that the hard-line approach taken by Washington, Seoul and other capitals to the North Korean bluster, brinkmanship and bombast has been far less than optimal.

We need a firm policy. North Korea must pay a price for its irresponsible and dangerous behavior, and know that the world is united in standing against it. The resolve must begin with the U.S.-South Korean military alliance but extend to other nations, most notably China, North Korea’s only ally and main benefactor.

But there are a couple of problems. One is that China is uneasy about jeopardizing stability next to its borders and only goes along with sanctions reluctantly. Indeed, one possible explanation for North Korea’s behavior is that it is seeking to spook leaders in Beijing so severely that they will be even more averse to applying any further sanctions, perhaps after another North Korean nuclear test.

And the worse this crisis gets, the more it increases the odds of North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, further entrenching himself in hard-line positions from which it will be difficult to backtrack later. Among other things, it would raise the odds that he will seek to accelerate and expand nuclear weapons production activities.

We need a more creative policy should there be another crisis or a substantial worsening of this one (beyond a firing of a medium-range missile, for example). More sanctions might be needed. But new sanctions should sunset automatically, say after two years, unless Pyongyang tests another bomb, expands nuclear production or carries out another aggressive act leading to loss of life. (more…)

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Nuclear Debates in Asia Digest: What to Do with Nuclear Waste? Domestic Debates in Japan and South Korea

Countries with nuclear power in their energy portfolio eventually face a common and difficult challenge: what to do with the radioactive waste once its life as reactor fuel is over? As policymakers develop management solutions to the great quantity of dangerous byproducts, those decisions must coexist with domestic politics, tightening budgets, and national security and global nonproliferation goals.

Japan and South Korea are in the midst of a domestic debate on how to address this spent fuel challenge. Their governments currently envision giving spent fuel a new life through a process called reprocessing whereby radioactive waste is removed from a reactor and later chemically treated to separate and recover fissionable plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel. Advocates of this approach argue that reprocessing could produce new fuel for advanced nuclear reactors and reduce the relative amount of high-level radioactive waste in a country’s stockpile. Many nonproliferation groups, however, argue that this process is too similar to what it takes to make ingredients for a nuclear weapon, is too costly compared to alternative options, and that the spread of these technologies increases the risk of proliferation.

This Nuclear Debates in Asia Digest looks at the following issues:

  • Domestic debate on reprocessing in Japan and South Korea
  • Highlights the major issues facing U.S. negotiators as they seek to renew a nuclear cooperation agreement with South Korea
  • How reprocessing decisions interact with nonproliferation and national security


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Rising Powers in Asia Express Divergent Views on Future of BRICS Group

The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa met in Durban last week for the 5th BRICS Summit, where the group appeared to make some progress on the idea of a BRICS development bank. In today’s Policy Alert, we examine and contrast Russian and Chinese optimism in BRICS, with the much more cautious and cynical views from India and South Korea.



Commentary in Russia uniformly praised the BRICS countries for establishing a “polycentric system of international relations,” and noted the importance of Russia-China relations within the BRICS framework.

  • BRICS has transformed itself from a political idea into a tangible symbol of a multipolar world,” said Vadim Lukov, the Russian foreign ministry’s special envoy to BRICS. Lukov also highlighted the importance of Russia-China relations within the BRICS. “China’s approach to BRICS is characterized by a deep understanding of the significance of creating a new multi-polar international system. Russia-China cooperation within BRICS is one of the important engines of its development.”
  • The absence of consensus on a BRICS development bank, initiated during the previous summit in India, elicited mixed views from Russian experts:
    • Leonid Gusev, expert at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), predicted that making progress on the bank is unlikely, noting that the BRICS economies, particularly China and India, are too closely integrated with the American market for significant changes to take place.
    • Sergei Katyrin, chairman of Russia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was more optimistic, stating that “while no ultimate decisions have been made on the bank’s quantitative parameters, its authorized capital, its contributors and the volume of contributions…I think this project will eventually take shape.”


Most Indian views on the BRICS were either skeptical that the bloc can have any real impact, or were wary of China dominating a BRICS bank in the future.  (more…)

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Nuclear Debates in Asia Digest: China’s Nuclear Energy Technology Sales to Pakistan

china-qinshanOn March 22, The Washington Free Beacon’s Bill Gertz reported that China would sell a new round of nuclear reactor technology to Pakistan at the existing site in the Chashma Nuclear Power Complex in the Punjab region. Several countries have argued that this transfer could violate Beijing’s pledges as a member of the Nuclear Supplier Control (NSG) to not sale nuclear materials, technologies, and related equipment to states outside the nonproliferation regime. Pakistan lacks a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, one of the NSG guideline requirements for nuclear exports.

The exact details of this reported deal are still unknown as official comments on the still developing story remain vague and parsed. China essentially confirmed that a deal was reached between the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, but specific details were not discussed and Beijing pushed back against accusations of NSG violations.

In this Policy Alert, we examine a number of important questions raised by the news:

  • -What are the specific terms of the deal? Does it represent a fundamentally new nuclear sale that violates NSG guidelines or is the transfer merely a continuation of previously arranged China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation?
  • -How has China and Pakistan responded to these reports and accusations?
  • -What is the response of the United State and other NSG members to these new reports?
  • -How could this reported deal influence regional nuclear energy and nonproliferation networks? (more…)
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A Few Reasons Why North Korea Won’t Nuke Us

Gregg Brazinsky, RPI author and Associate Professor of History and International Affairs at GWU recently wrote in the Chicago Tribune:

The North Koreans are at it again. In the past few weeks, their erratic young leader Kim Jong Un, 30, has raised tensions in the Asia Pacific with a string of alarming actions and an almost incessant torrent of threats against the United States and its allies. He has vowed, among other things, to hit American cities with nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles, to turn Seoul into a sea of fire and to strike newly elected South Korean President Park Geun-hye with a “bolt of lightning.”

He won’t.

Although Kim’s vitriolic attacks are unprecedented in their intensity and sense of urgency, rhetorical bluster does not necessarily correlate with actions when it comes to North Korean foreign policy. The situation is not without its dangers, but Americans don’t need to stock the shelves in their fallout shelters any time soon. There are a few good reasons to think that the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea won’t carry through on their threats: (more…)

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