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by Haider Rizvi

The New Nuclear Wars

(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- Concerned about the enormous risks that nuclear technology poses to the environment and the questionable role it has played in heightening political conflicts, some leading European politicians are suggesting that the time has come for the United Nations to stop promoting nuclear technology as an effective tool to meet the world's growing energy demands.

Key European leaders who once served their countries as environment ministers are urging UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to reform the mandate of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which they consider to be "outdated and conflicting."

"The task of nuclear arms proliferation seems to be growing rapidly," said Satu Sassi, a member of the European Parliament and former Finish environment minister, in a statement. "To be able to function effectively, the IAEA should end its schizophrenic role."

Established in 1957, the Vienna-based UN agency is tasked with inspecting nuclear facilities worldwide to make sure they are not used for military purposes. But, paradoxically, its mandate allows it to promote "secure, safe and peaceful" nuclear power technology.

Hassi and others hold the view that the IAEA cannot effectively prevent nuclear arms proliferation when, at the same time, it also encourages nations to acquire nuclear power technology, which can also produce material for bombs.

"By deliberately ignoring the interlink between civil and military nukes, the IAEA contributes to the proliferation of fissile material," notes Dominique Voynet, a former French environment minister, who also wants her own country to reform its nuclear policy.

Recently, Hassi and Voynet sent a letter to Annan telling him that the current crisis over Iran's nuclear program, which raises grave concerns within the international community, is "a timely reminder of the contradictory remit of the IAEA."

The IAEA is currently engaged in efforts to verify whether Iran is in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as a result of international pressure. The United States and some European nations accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, while Tehran claims that its nuclear program is aimed solely at generating electricity.

The letter, which was also signed by eight other former European environment ministers, says the IAEA has proved "impotent" in preventing the conversion of other "peaceful" nuclear programs into weapons manufacturing in countries such as India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Describing the nuclear technology as "dangerous and destabilizing," the former environment ministers say they want the agency to abandon its "dual role" of both "nuclear salesman and referee of a commercial industry that creates the world's most expensive form of electricity with a radioactive legacy that lasts for hundreds of thousands of years."

Aside from concern over proliferation of weapons, the letter also draws the world body's attention to the health and environmental impacts of the radiation produced by the use of nuclear technology.

"Nuclear power is no longer necessary," they emphasise in the letter. "We have now numerous renewable technologies available to guarantee the right to safe, clean and cheap energy."

The demand for changes in the IAEA's mandate comes at a time when the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster is approaching. The explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine on Apr. 26, 1986 was the world's worst nuclear accident.

The IAEA estimates that 4,000 to 9,000 people are still expected to die from cancer caused by the Chernobyl accident. But independent scientists say the death toll is even higher.

A study released by the environmental group Greenpeace this week concludes that over 250,000 cancers and nearly 100,000 fatal cancers are likely to be caused by the accident that took place 20 years ago.

The study, entitled "Chernobyl Catastrophe Consequences on Human Health," is the outcome of research by more than 52 scientists from around the world. It shows that the Chernobyl radiation has not only caused cancer but a variety of other diseases, including leukemia and heart problems.

The environmental group has accused the IAEA of trying to "whitewash" the impacts of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, considered to be the most devastating of its kind in human history.

"Denying the real implications is not only insulting to the thousands of victims, but it also leads to dangerous recommendations and the relocation of people in contaminated areas," said Ivan Blokov of Greenpeace in a statement.

About seven million people are still living in areas contaminated by the Chernobyl accident, according to Greenpeace, which fully endorses the former ministers' demand for changes in the IAEA mandate to put an end to the use of nuclear technology.

"The IAEA cannot remain as the world's nuclear watchdog if it cannot at least admit that nuclear power is responsible for the impact on those whose life it scarred forever," Blokov added.

Meanwhile, in addition to being critical of the IAEA's role, the European leaders who wrote the letter to Annan have also taken to task the countries involved in commercial trade deals involving nuclear technology.

"France must end its sales policy of nuclear materials and technologies to whomever is willing to pay," said Voynet, the former French environment minister. "This trade jeopardises world peace."

Other former environment ministers who endorsed the letter voicing concern over the IAEA stance on nuclear technology include those from Russia, Ukraine, Belaruse, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Britain.

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Albion Monitor   April 19, 2006   (

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