I usually write about an anniversary of Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace speech, given at the United Nations in 1953, every five years on the December 8 anniversary of the speech. However, the past year has been quite noteworthy for the atom, in large part due to the war in Ukraine and the growing recognition of the role nuclear energy can play in providing energy security and combatting climate change. At the same time, the specter of using nuclear weapons has again reared its head due to saber rattling from both Russia and North Korea. In short, the peaceful applications of the atom are more important than ever today, and the military applications are no less worrying.
In his speech, Eisenhower sought to turn the focus away from military applications of the atom to peaceful ones at a time where the peaceful use of the atom was in its infancy. Today, peaceful applications of the atom are a necessity to meet the pressing goals of climate and energy security. Indeed, many countries around the world are embracing or re-embracing nuclear energy for these reasons. To appreciate the key role of nuclear energy, consider the counterfactual of where the world would be today without the contribution of nuclear energy: there would be more carbon emissions and pollution, higher energy prices, and less secure energy supplies.
The issues of climate and energy security will be with us for a long time, but so will the peaceful uses of the atom, especially nuclear energy. Electing to build a nuclear reactor today can be thought of as a 100-year or more commitment, given the time it takes to license the reactor, build it, and operate it over the extended lifetimes that reactor licenses are receiving today. It may also be the case that nuclear reactors attain 100-year lifetimes, meaning a reactor that is planned today could be around to the middle of the next century.
At the same time we see the promise of expanded peaceful use of the atom, we are witnessing increasing threats concerning its military use. Russia is making not-so-veiled threats about using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, in addition to suggesting that the conflict could escalate into a full-scale nuclear war if sufficiently provoked. Not to be outdone, North Korea is ramping up both its testing and rhetoric with respect to nuclear weapons and delivery systems. In recognition of these developments and others, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved the hands of its Doomsday Clock to 90 seconds before midnight, the closest it has ever been.
Of great concern, Russia has taken over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine, the largest in Europe, and conducted military operations around this plant, creating the conditions for a serious accident. This situation, which continues to deteriorate, is the first time that a commercial nuclear power plant has been under attack militarily, marking a sad chapter in the Atoms for Peace movement. Ukraine is highly dependent on nuclear energy, and throughout the conflict, Ukrainian nuclear workers have sought to keep Ukraine’s plants operating despite wartime conditions. Support of these workers has been a major initiative of UxC during 2022, and one that will continue into 2023.
Jeff Combs is founder, owner, and Chairman of UxC, LLC (UxC) and is a leading expert in the nuclear fuel market, with over 45 years of experience providing economic analysis and forecasting for the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle. He has extensive and varied expertise, overseeing UxC market reports, providing strategic consulting to major commercial companies in the nuclear fuel industry, and advising governments and international organizations on market and policy issues. Under his management, UxC has grown to become the world’s pre-eminent nuclear fuel market information and analysis company, issuing reports and publishing prices for all front-end nuclear fuel markets. In 2007, UxC teamed with CME/NYMEX to introduce the world’s first uranium futures contract. That same year UxC began reporting on the backend of the fuel cycle. In 2018, Mr. Combs created the atompeace.org website to advance understanding of peaceful uses of the atom in today’s world. During his career, Mr. Combs has presented papers at a variety of nuclear industry and energy economics conferences throughout the world. In addition, he has had his work published in academic and public policy journals. Mr. Combs earned a bachelor's degree in Economics at the University of Virginia, where he also completed his doctoral course work in economics. He is a charter member of the International Association of Energy Economics and is a member of the American Nuclear Society.