World energy demand is rising dramatically, particularly in developing countries. World energy consumption is expected to increase 40% to 50% by the year 2010. Nuclear is at present the only viable proven technology that can meet rising energy demand without producing the greenhouse gases that threaten the future of our planet. Over the next few years, China and India will develop significant nuclear capacity. Smaller developing countries are compelled to follow suit in order to respond to the energy needs of their citizens Energy . According to surveys, compared with the current rate of 19% of the world's electricity generated by nuclear power plants, by the year 2030 that amount will increase to about 27%. In the United States, the world's largest single emitter of carbon dioxide, accounting for 23 percent of energy-related carbon emissions worldwide[1], the Bush Administration has been talking about a nuclear power renaissance. President George W. Bush in his speech on energy policy in April 2005 placed a high priority on nuclear energy, which he described as "one of the safest, cleanest sources of power in the world." [2] Meantime, the US nuclear industry has been calling for construction of 50 nuclear power plants by 2020.

The future role of nuclear energy has also been highlighted by the IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradei. On the eve of a major conference on nuclear energy in Moscow he said: "The more we look to the future, the more we can expect countries to be considering the potential benefits that expanding nuclear power has to offer for the global environment and for economic growth." [3]

Under these circumstances, the critics of Iran's nuclear energy program argue that, due to its vast oil and gas reserves, Iran does not need nuclear energy. Yet, they ignore the fact that Great Britain, Canada, and Russia, all oil exporters, rely on nuclear energy for a significant portion of their electricity needs.

New Challenges to the Non-proliferation

The nuclear proliferation is becoming a major concern for international security. On the one hand, as noted above, there is a rapid growth in global energy demand especially for non carbon based energies like nuclear energy. On the other hand, there are serious concerns about the possibility of diversion of nuclear materials to weapon production. The nuclear test by North Korea on October 9 shocked the international community. North Korea's announcement for testing its nuclear weapon came out when negotiations with Iran about its nuclear activities ran into a deadlock over the demand to Iran to stop the enrichment. For long, the critics of Iran's nuclear program have claimed that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Lacking any convincing evidence, they argue that since Iran like North Korea is threatened by the United States, in order to protect herself against an assault by the Americans she is following the path of North Korea in turning into nuclear. They believe that Iran might follow" North Korea model", because U.S. went into Iraq and beat back Saddam, and has treated North Korea differently, because North Korea has a bomb and Iran facing the similar threats from Americans would be compelled to follow that model. [4]

Despite those allegations, Iran insists that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes. Iran also maintains that its nuclear program is totally in accordance with the provisions of the Non–Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and under the full safeguards supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Notably, the IAEA on several occasions in the course of its continuous monitoring of Iranian nuclear facilities has confirmed that it had not found any diversions in Iran's nuclear activities. With Iran being checked out of the list the looming question is which country is to be next in testing nuclear weapons after North Korea?

For some time there were speculations about a possible nuclear test by North Korea. The impact of this test on the global and regional geopolitics as well on the current trends of nuclear proliferation caused great concerns in different parts of the world especially in East Asia. The reactions of the countries in this region to the North Korean nuclear test especially those that have the capability or have shown some inclination in the past to become nuclear have been closely monitored. For that matter, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have been under the focus of international attention.

Japan's desire to enhance its energy security has increased its reliance on nuclear power generation. By raising its reliance on nuclear-generated electricity, Japan is also hoping to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions. Japan's current 10-year energy plan, approved in March 2002, calls for the expansion of nuclear generation by about 30% by 2011. This is expected to entail the construction of 9 to 12 new nuclear power plants, with 17.5 GW in new nuclear generating capacity. Furthermore, Japanese government plans to offer subsidies for nuclear power plant construction, to offset expected cost-cutting pressures on utilities due to deregulation, which might lead to increased reliance on fossil fuels for electricity generation. Japan currently has 51 reactors with an installed capacity of 45 GW. Thus, Japan ranks third worldwide in installed nuclear capacity, after the United States and France. Meanwhile, Japan's very advanced nuclear industry has provided a latent capability to develop nuclear weapons. By the year 2000 Japan had an inventory of about 55 tones of separated reactor grade plutonium. That amount is enough plutonium to manufacture about 10,000 nuclear warheads, more than the combined nominal arsenals of the U.S. and Russia under the START II agreement.

South Korea has an extensive nuclear energy infrastructure, and South Korean officials have long expressed an interest in establishing an independent fuel cycle capability. This desire has had serious implications because South Korea had a nuclear weapons program in the past, and suspicions could have implications for nonproliferation efforts targeted at North Korea. South Korea started to research nuclear weapons in the 1970s, supposedly halted its program by the early 1980s as a result of U.S. pressure. But following the news break about a covert nuclear research activities, in September 2004, the South Korean government claimed that the uranium enrichment experiments were "isolated, laboratory-scale scientific experiments conducted at the initiative of a small number of scientists.[5]

Some 35% of Taiwan's energy supply is powered by nuclear generation of electricity. That ensures a large supply of uranium for reprocessing. It also has a large nuclear research capability; the expertise on nuclear weapons and missiles. Taiwan, which had a nuclear weapons program in the late 1970s and early 1980s, gave it up in response to U.S. pressure. But, Taiwan still has a fairly active nuclear industry and a lot of talented nuclear scientists. In October 1982, Taiwanese President Chiang Ching-kuo claimed that in 1978 Taiwan had the capability to make nuclear weapons but decided against it. However, Taiwan continues the strategy of nuclear ambiguity, apparently to reap the potential benefits in reminding the Americans and Chinese of its nuclear option. [6]

Double Standards

Besides North Korea several other countries in the past have been caught conducting secret and potentially weapons-related experiments. But at least in the cases of the US allies the IAEA have settled for delivering a light warning, there was no continued speculation about the existence of "secret" nuclear intentions, and there were no demands that they abandon nuclear technology permanently, as is demanded of Iran.

Israel, a close US ally is a special case study. Israel neither admits nor denies having atomic weapons under a policy of "strategic ambiguity", but most experts believe it has about 200 nuclear warheads. It was first Mordechai Vanunu an Israeli nuclear technician who revealed that Israel assembled hydrogen and neutron bombs at its Dimona nuclear reactor. Many state parties to the NPT have repeatedly and during Revision Conferences of the NPT have called for Israel to join the NPT and place its nuclear facilities under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In fact the conference’s 1995 resolution on the Middle East was a key factor in securing Egyptian accession to the treaty's indefinite extension. The 2000 document mentions Israel by name for the first time, but Israel enjoyed the protection of America and the conference did not sanction further action to encourage Israel's NPT membership.

Recently, at a little-reported session of the International Atomic Energy Agency in September, 2006 the US and its allies joined together to block an Arab-Iranian resolution calling for Israel to join the NPT, and for the Middle East to be declared a nuclear-free zone. Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Abul Gheit, commented that : "For developing and Arab countries to comprehend the concern Western powers express over the Iranian nuclear issue, these Western powers have to convince everyone that they adhere to all that is lawful, and not pick sides." He said that countries should express the same level of interest in the Israeli nuclear threat as they do in other non-proliferation cases, and described Israel's nuclear program as a "direct challenge" to the NPT regime.[7]

In the past 36 years the task of safe-guarding the peaceful use of nuclear technologies has been assigned to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which also acts as the arm of the NPT. Major changes in the international environment and advancement of new technologies have made it necessary for some time for review and adjustment of the provisions and rules governing the non-proliferation regime. However, opportunities were missed on several occasions during the NPT’s regular review conferences in the past.

Distinctively, the question of nuclear non-proliferation is now challenged by three main developments; first, a worldwide quest for new resources of energy that has prompted growing demands for nuclear energy. Second, the persistent policies of nuclear power states on maintaining and deploying nuclear weapons as a mean for furthering their interests and imposing their policies. Third, serious damage has been inflicted upon the credibility of the present nuclear non-proliferation regime preserved in the NPT.

Broadening the Worldview

In the aftermath of September 11, the international relation is overwhelmingly shadowed by the fight against terrorism. In a new antagonistic worldview and in the name of "good battling evil", the world is divided into two blocs, as was possible in the Cold War. The obsession to justify any transgression in the name of “the fight against terrorism” inclines to alter this campaign in to a politico- religious realm, with much wider ramification as a "clash of civilizations". Evidently, in an antagonistic atmosphere it becomes difficult to establish any meaningful dialogue between opposing parties to address key issues such as the growing demand for nuclear energy or other important international security questions which relates to the nuclear non-proliferation.

Apparently, to overcome their failing, some western powers are seizing this opportunity to revise some of the basic commitments in the NPT by setting ad hoc rules that in the view of other members of the Treaty namely non-aligned countries is considered as a deviation from the spirit of the NPT and infringes upon their inherent rights for peaceful uses of nuclear technology stipulated in the article IV of the NPT. In that endeavor they are planning to override the foundation of the NPT by imposing restrictions on the production of nuclear fuel by other countries except a few chosen countries that already have and enjoy the nuclear enrichment capacity.

The establishment of a nuclear fuel bank by a handful of countries that have uranium enrichment facilities, while restricting others to develop their own indigenous enrichment facilities has been considered as a move to deprive countries that potentially have the capacity to develop their own enrichment facilities or for those who wish to have one in the future. That scheme is considered by some countries like Iran as another evidence for establishment of a biased system of “Nuclear Apartheid”. Thus, the case of Iran’s nuclear program is considered to be highlighted for the purpose of justifying the new restrictions imposing on nuclear fuel cycle activities. A closer look at the demands set forth by the European negotiators with the backing of the United States in their talks with Iran, reveals that there are clear intentions on their part to revise and change some of the pivotal bargains in the NPT where it relates to the rights of non nuclear weapon states to produce their own nuclear fuel, though it would be carried out within the full scope of the safeguards of the IAEA. Indeed, the NPT explicitly seeks to make nuclear technology available to non-nuclear-weapon states. The preamble to the NPT affirms that "the benefits of peaceful applications of nuclear technology…should be available for peaceful purposes to all Parties of the Treaty." Article IV of the NPT describes this as an "inalienable right" to all nuclear fuel-cycle technologies including "the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information." Article IV was an essential provision in the "Grand Bargain" that convinced key non-nuclear-weapon states to accept the nuclear constraints of the NPT and has helped foster the near universal acceptance of the pact.

Looking to the Future

After the North Korean nuclear test the present non-proliferation regime faces an unprecedented challenge. In this tenuous period it is imperative to address the crucial issues that challenge the present non-proliferation regime. These issues are clustered around two main trends. First, there is a growing demand for nuclear energy; and second, there is a risk involving application of nuclear technology for military purposes. To counter new moves in nuclear proliferation and to facilitate harnessing peaceful nuclear energy, a new approach to this question seems to be in order.

First, decisive measures should be adopted to revitalize and restore the eroded credibility of the NPT. The following are some of those necessary steps:

- The nuclear weapon states that are not party to the NPT should be encouraged to join the Treaty through incentives and if necessary through pressure.

- The nuclear power states in the NPT should honor their commitments under the article VI of the Treaty, for attainment of the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. As a first step they should refrain from use or threat of use of nuclear weapons and to take necessary measures in good faith for the revision of their military doctrines that would guarantee non use of nuclear weapons.

- To uphold the NPT other parallel institutions that overlap the functions of this Treaty should be abandoned.

- The approach of nuclear powers especially the United States toward the nuclear proliferation needs to be revised and an evenhanded treatment of the issue are necessary.

Second, to respond to the world wide growing demand for nuclear energy, an international organ that would administer different aspects of the energy security with a vision for the future world energy demands should be established. Meantime, technological innovations in energy field should be encouraged with the aim of reaching solutions for endemic problems. It seems imperative to expedite the efforts for the introduction of fourth generation of nuclear power plants that can achieve both higher safety standards and would provide a solution to the problem of diversion of nuclear material to weapon usage. Also, there is a need for a more vigorous research effort in the area of fusion technology. As asserted above, these endeavors may become more successful once it is based on a global platform bringing together all available talents and resources world wide and by welcoming participation of all countries having interests in the development of these technologies.