NPT 'remains vital', fresh push on sharing nuclear tech for peaceful uses

31 August 2022

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres has expressed his disappointment at the inability of the Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) to reach consensus but welcomed the fact that the conference recognised the NPT as the "cornerstone" of the global disarmament and non-proliferation regime. Meanwhile more than 30 countries are establishing a Sustained Dialogue on expanding access to peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

The review conference was held at the UN in New York

Coming into force in 1970 and made permanent in 1995, the NPT is a deal by which countries that held nuclear weapons before 1968 promised to take steps towards permanent disarmament, while nations without atomic weapons promised not to develop then. It also seeks to promote the safe sharing of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

A total of 191 states have joined the NPT, including the five nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA). The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is charged with the responsibility of verifying the compliance of the non-weapons states, as well as aiding them in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The NPT allows for the parties to gather every five years to review its operation. The tenth such review was held at the United Nations headquarters in New York from 1 August to 26 August.

The President of the review conference, Ambassador Gustavo Zlauvinen, said that there had been progress made despite his disappointment at the failure to agree a consensus outcome, after Russia objected to the wording about Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which its military currently controls.

He said that the establishment of a working group to look at strengthening the review mechanism of the treaty was something which many delegations had tried to get established for many years. He said that getting agreement on the working group was a "meaningful achievement".

Efforts to get a agreement on a consensus document - despite the difficult geopolitical backdrop and differences between some non-nuclear states and nuclear states on progress on disarmament - looked to have got close to success by Friday's close.

But Russian Deputy Permanent Representative to International Organisations in Geneva, Andrey Belousov, said the "conference became a political hostage" of parties who wanted to use the “conference to settle scores with Russia”, according Russia’s TASS news service.

The USA’s State Department said that "despite Russia’s cynical obstructionism the fact that all the other remaining State Parties were able to support the final document speaks to the treaty’s essential role in preventing nuclear proliferation and averting the danger of nuclear war".

The statement added that the NPT remains "essential to advancing the peaceful uses of nuclear energy”.

The UK’s representative to the conference, Aidan Liddle, said that "we cannot escape the fact that there are deep divisions, in this Treaty and in the world", adding that the NPT "makes a vital and integral contribution to international peace and security". He said the UK would "do its part" by "establishing, with the United States and 30 other partners who have joined so far, the Sustained Dialogue on expanding access to the peaceful uses of nuclear technologies".

Ambassador Zlauvinen, in an interview for the World Nuclear News podcast, said that one of his goals for the review conference was to ensure that the peaceful sharing of nuclear technology was treated on an equal footing with the other NPT pillars of disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons.

Earlier this month 20 national and international nuclear industry associations issued a joint statement in support of the NPT calling on signatories to the treaty to support the transfer of nuclear technology for peaceful uses among those meeting their commitments under it.

The statement noted that Article IV of the NPT "sets out the inalienable right of all States Parties to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and calls upon States Parties to cooperate to further develop the applications of nuclear science and technologies for peaceful purposes.

"We therefore urge governments to firmly embrace nuclear technologies in their post-COVID economic recovery and energy transition plans, and to support policies to ensure the realisation of their many benefits in accordance with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals," the associations said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News