Friday 19 Jul 2019 | 03:18 | SYDNEY
Friday 19 Jul 2019 | 03:18 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: N industry has big role


Martine Letts

5 April 2012 16:17

Henry Sokolski, Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, has responded to my post calling for governments to cooperate more with industry to manage nuclear risks:

All of this is a bit hortatory and quite vague. Do you have any clear cut examples where industry has been more conservative in pushing its nuclear wares than their governmental overseers?  I think the first responsibility of any sound corporation is to its stockholders and that requires making as many sales as are legal.

Yes, it is hortatory because we have barely begun the process. It lacks detail not least because we need more information about where an increased industry contribution would add the most value and cause the least disruption to business. For that, a more regular and specialised dialogue is required. 

The Nuclear Suppliers Group is taking some small steps to consider how industry might be persuaded to share with government more information about attempts to procure items for illicit weapons of mass destruction programs. Additional measures might include due diligence checks on potential customers and business partners and the goods, software and technology they wish to acquire. Adoption of best-practice principles and adding non-proliferation into Corporate Social Responsibility statements should also be considered. 

We know that boardrooms and shareholders do not want their companies tainted with WMD proliferation.

An 11 March 2008 NY Times article by Smith and Ferguson ('France's nuclear diplomacy') reports on the disconnect between President Sarkozy's aggressive nuclear diplomacy and the financial and technical capacity limits of AREVA to match it. The article notes that this is not an exclusively French problem. When the sale of uranium to India was first mooted by the Howard Government in 2007, the push to sell uranium was a purely political one, not encouraged by Australian uranium mining companies. Some were at pains to highlight their strict adherence to supplying in accordance with strict non-proliferation rules and guidelines, including membership of the NPT.

The lessons of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) are instructive here: the world's chemical industry understood (eventually) the advantage of showing shareholders and the public its commitment to chemical disarmament and non-proliferation, especially in light of its inadvertent contribution to Iraq's chemical weapons program. If industry was to be regulated intensively and obtrusively, there were distinct advantages to being a collaborator and ensuring that business did not contribute to chemical weapons proliferation, while at the same time having a direct say in how commercial confidentiality could be preserved. 

The 1989 Government-Industry Conference against Chemical Weapons, hosted by Australia, laid the groundwork for a successful government-industry partnership for this purpose. The conference took place in the context of the emerging global consensus that chemical weapons should be abolished altogether. This was preceded by intensive, multi-year lobbying with leading chemical companies by Australia, with some political support from partner countries. Without the chemical industry's support and collaboration, the CWC could not have come into existence. 

It is true that political support and momentum for complete nuclear disarmament is not as strong as it was for chemical weapons disarmament. That said, the features of the nuclear industry (global, integrated and closely connected to government) and the nuclear policy landscape, including concerns about safety and security, strongly favour deeper and more regular government-industry collaboration. A jointly negotiated declaration as to how that could be done would add a new dimension to the global nuclear conversation and would reinforce some of the methods of government-industry cooperation suggested above, including joint monitoring, reporting, enforcement of the rules and export controls. 

That is why Prime Minister Gillard's exhortation for greater government-industry collaboration at the Nuclear Summit in Seoul was a small but welcome step in that direction.