nuclear-logoBalancing Risks and Rewards

The promise and the perils of nuclear energy in the current era come together most graphically in Asia. On the one hand, nuclear power lessens the need to develop and transport fossil fuel resources in maritime regions of Asia and could contribute to addressing the problem of global climate change. On the other hand, promotion of nuclear energy compounds Asia’s nonproliferation problem, not only in terms of the spread of nuclear technology to outlier states such as North Korea or from North Korea to Pakistan and other countries but also the spread of nuclear radiation and safety threats.

The rise in global demand for nuclear energy is heavily concentrated in emerging and aspiring Asian powers. Led by China and India, others such as Thailand and Vietnam, are joining Japan, Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan which have been already active in the nuclear energy field. Most are at a key transition point and are making important choices on nuclear energy and future defense strategies. The National Bureau of Asian Research’s annual flagship publication, Strategic Asia 2010-11 identifies nuclear power and nuclear nonproliferation as among the top five functional areas in Asia that have a significant impact on global power and security.

Domestic Debates:

Despite Asia being the region of greatest current and future growth of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons capability, our grasp of the domestic dynamics in the nuclear arena in these countries falls seriously short. We lack a clear understanding of how at the domestic political and societal level, positions on nuclear energy, national security, and nuclear non-proliferation are linked. Nuclear issues are often a source of domestic contestation. We tend to look at official pronouncements of governments as the last word or fall back on easy terms such as “pro-nuclear” and “anti-nuclear” to describe domestic sentiment. To reduce opinion in Asia to such simplistic characterization is to miss a wider, more nuanced and more complex range of viewpoints. As US policymakers design nuclear security and nonproliferation policies, it is vital that they take fully into account empirical data on the political and societal levers driving nuclear decisions in Asia.

The Project:

The “Nuclear Debates in Asia” project tracks the domestic debates and discussion on nuclear power and nonproliferation in eight countries in Asia at varying stages of nuclear power planning and acquisition: China, India, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Project Goals:

The goals of the project are:

  1. to fill a significant gap in the existing literature on nuclear power, security and nonproliferation
  2. to produce policy relevant material accessible to US government officials and media
  3. to educate students, policy communities and the informed public on critical nuclear viewpoints in Asia


The “Nuclear Debates in Asia” project is generously supported by the MacArthur Foundation. The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society. More information is at www.macfound.org.