Before anything can happen to bring more order and improved standards to the international threat of nuclear reactor failure, involved nations must agree to agree. Like the European Union, which now includes 23 countries using a common currency, and others that wish to join, if nations perceive that cooperation is in their best interests they will cooperate.
Of the 29 countries with operating nuclear reactors today, 12 countries operate 10 or more reactors, constituting 72 percent of the total number of reactors. The top 12 reactor operators include the U.S., France, Japan, Russian Federation, Republic of Korea, India, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Ukraine, China and Sweden. Of the 33 documented accidents and incidents since 1952, 22 took place in eight of these countries.
These are nations with histories of international cooperation and accords. They could build on or evolve from existing agencies like the International Atomic Energy Agency, which operates under the United Nations, the Nuclear Energy Agency, which has 29 member countries, or the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Rather than observing, assisting and advising, an international agency needs to be created that can establish safety standards, inspect nuclear sites, and if necessary enforce compliance.
Once established, this alliance of nuclear operating countries would be in a position to reach out to less well-developed nations and countries with fewer reactors. The alliance could bring other nuclear power players into its sphere to assure that their reactors are operating to world standards. It would not be out of the question to enforce compliance by withholding foreign aid or to imposing economic sanctions on nations with non-compliant nuclear reactors.
There are several historical examples of nations, even those hostile to one another, working together in their mutual interest. Usually those alliances occur during wars. In other instances the alliances address narrow specific interests, like the need to have a unified, international airline flight management system with a single, universal language that all pilots can understand and speak. Today, hundreds of planes are in the air at the same time around the globe. Without such an international system, chaos would reign and tragic airline collisions would be common occurrences.
It has already been demonstrated that an international nuclear regulatory system is crucial. There have already been three nuclear power near-misses -- Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima, where it is estimated that close to 80,000 people will be dislocated from their homes and farms. If we do not learn from these events that nuclear disasters know no boundaries, it is inevitable that an even greater disaster will occur.
Partial measures will not increase the safety level of nuclear power facilities. Only a coordinated, global effort will provide individual nations, and the world as a whole, with an improved ability to prevent and withstand nuclear emergencies. Without such resources, nuclear power is playing with fire. Eventually, someone will get burned very badly.
Steve Brozak is president of WBB Securities, an independent broker-dealer and investment bank specializing in biotechnology, medical devices and pharmaceutical research. Henry Bassman is a Managing Director at WBB Securities.