James Joyner points out that the IAEA is receiving this year’s Nobel Peace Prize because of its opposition to the Bush Administration, while having failed in its stated mission to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Hardly an improvement about past laureates like Jimmy Carter or Yasser Arafat.
Environmental groups aren’t happy either. Last month Greenpeace accused the IAEA of being a front group for the nuclear industry, downplaying the consequences of Chernobyl:
Greenpeace accused the International Atomic Energy Agency of deliberately trying to down play the death toll of the Chernobyl accident as part of the nuclear industry’s continued attempt to portray itself as an acceptable future energy source. During a two-day conference in Vienna, the Agency presented a report claiming that ultimately some 4,000 deaths can be expected as a result of the world’s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986. According to the IAEA “fewer than 50 deaths had been directly attributed to radiation from the disaster,” to date. The IAEA study does not cover all of the populations affected by Chernobyl fall-out but merely considers those who received a high radiation dose in the immediate wake of the accident – namely those ‘liquidators’ drafted in to carry out the immediate clean up of the site.
“It is appalling that the IAEA is whitewashing the impacts of one of the most serious industrial accident in human history. It is a deliberate attempt to minimize the risks of nuclear power in order to free the way for new reactor construction,” said Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner.
I’m no fan of Greenpeace, nor am I opposed to the use of nuclear energy – strong doubts about breeder reactors aside – but this is a fair point. The IAEA isn’t so much a watchdog, but indeed a lobby for the use of nuclear energy. It would be highly unrealistic to expect that its members are unaffected by commercial considerations. This goes both for the investigation of nuclear accidents, and indeed the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.
Keeping that in mind, reaction of Greenpeace to the Nobel Peace Prize for the IAEA isn’t exactly surprising:
Who won the Peace Prize? Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?
Oslo, Norway — The Nobel Peace Prize, founded on a fortune made from explosives, has gone to the agency whose job it is to promote nuclear power without promoting nuclear weapons, and the man who heads it. Anybody with that job probably deserves some kind of prize.
Mohammed ElBaradei is the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), both winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
The agency is tasked with policing the spread of nuclear weapons at the same time it is charged with promoting the very technologies and materials used to make nuclear weapons.
It’s a job worthy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
We hope that this award will spark a new discussion around the fundamental contradiction of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s dual role as nuclear policeman and nuclear salesman. Oly once that duality is removed can the IAEA truly focus on the pressing threat of the global spread of nuclear weapons technology, both civil and military.
The IAEA is more than just a mere ‘salesman’ for nuclear technology. The spread of this technology required intense lobbying and a lot of commitment by governments, which used the IAEA supposedly independent experts to gain credibility with their won citizens to get nuclear industry off the ground. Market forces alone would never have achieved that, for initial investments were huge, and back then nobody had an idea how and where secure final storage of nuclear wastecould be managed. The technocratic spirit of the 50s and 60s, and the general fascination with the idea of harnessing the power that previously had been used to destroy for peaceful purposes did the rest. The few who warned against the dangers of nuclear were dismissed as alarmists or even hysterics.
Modern reactor designs are much safer, and we know now how to safely store nuclear waste, but the fact remains that there is only a small step from the peaceful use of nuclear energy to its use for military purposes. The nonstop blather about peaceful use is nothing but a figleaf for the nuclear lobbyists. The fact remains that many, if not most, countries can’t be trusted with the technology, if only because of carelessness with fissionable materials or nuclear waste.