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NTS Bulletin

NTS Bulletin May 2011 (Issue 1)

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Thorium The Way Forward for Safe, Affordable and Sustainable Nuclear Energy?

The problems caused by Japan’s recent nuclear power plant crisis have revived the debate on the future of nuclear energy. Discussions appear to be centred around the dilemma of whether or not to rely on nuclear technology as a viable long-term source of cheap energy. According to fierce opponents of nuclear power, the situation in Japan should serve as a trigger for a global drop in the use of nuclear energy. On the flipside, nuclear energy proponents argue that, in fact, the events that unfolded in Fukushima demonstrate that nuclear energy continues to be a safe source of energy that facilitates development, which consequently makes us more resistant to forces of nature such as earthquakes or tsunamis.

However, there is a third dimension to this debate which has recently piqued global interest. According to some scientists, nuclear energy has a future. However, it is not one that is rooted in uranium or plutonium. It has been argued that another metal, thorium, could be a much cheaper, cleaner and safer alternative to plutonium and uranium.

Thorium is a naturally occurring radioactive chemical element that is available in most rocks and soils, in quantities four times more than uranium. A thorium fuel cycle offers several potential advantages over a uranium fuel cycle, including the superior physical and nuclear properties of the fuel, enhanced proliferation resistance and reduced nuclear waste production. A tonne of thorium can reportedly produce as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3.5 million tonnes of coal.

These same scientists argue that the main reason for the limited interest in thorium thus far is that it cannot be used in the production of nuclear weapons, and that due to this, uranium and plutonium’s potential were given greater research priority, particularly during the Cold War era. This feature of thorium would certainly appeal to both sides of the current debate, and it is perhaps time for us to further explore this possibility.

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CLIMATE CHANGE, ENVIRONMENTAL SECURITY AND NATURAL DISASTERS

News & Commentaries

Selected Publications

This paper attempts to explore the implications of climate insecurities for the armed forces of the Asia-Pacific region. Although it does not provide a conclusive analysis of climate change impacts, it suggests that the region’s armed forces should take into account the various security implications in their policy formulations.

This paper attempts to examine countries’ vulnerability to climate change by developing three risks indicators: extreme weather events, sea level rise and agricultural productivity loss. It also looks at the implications for resources allocation. The paper concludes that all countries must be aware of the risks of climate change, some countries have to play a greater role in the control of carbon emissions and conventional divisions between countries should be avoided.

This report aims to provide relevant, high quality, internationally comparable statistics about development and the quality of people’s lives around the globe, revealing the progress made towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals. User-friendly data on environmental hazards, natural or man-made disasters and climate change are also included and made accessible to policymakers, development specialists, students and the public.

This working paper explores some of the key issues emerging around the effective financing of carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) demonstration projects in developing countries. It presents a series of options and recommendations to international policymakers and agencies working to support CCS development in a non-Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) context.

Events & Announcements

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ENERGY AND HUMAN SECURITY

News & Commentaries

Selected Publications

This policy brief highlights the importance of cooperation for guaranteeing energy security and points out that there exists a regime complex (a patchwork of loosely coupled rules, regulations and institutions that are overlapping and sometimes competing) instead of an integrated regime in East Asia. The brief argues that an energy-security regime complex may have advantages over an integrated regime as it provides building blocks for cooperation by being more adaptable, flexible and representative of the voices of small countries. These advantages can be exploited through stakeholder bargaining, multilateral pluralism and executive leadership.

This paper points out that effective energy governance is largely absent at both global and national levels and this would have serious consequences on other issues that are closely linked to energy. It identifies five issue areas that are interconnected with energy which would have to be addressed in order to improve global energy governance and emphasises that successful energy management requires a comprehensive approach.

Events & Announcements

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FOOD SECURITY

News & Commentaries

Selected Publications

This report is part of a monthly series of updates on global good prices, global food security trends and changes, and developments in food security such as early warning systems and region-specific news compiled by the FAO. This issue highlights changes in international cereal prices across Africa, Far East Asia, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Latin America and the Caribbean. 

This article reviews and compares two approaches to food security and their political and ecological implications. The first is the World Bank’s new ‘agriculture for development’ initiative which seeks to improve small-farmer productivity with new inputs, and their incorporation into global markets via value chains originating in industrial agriculture. The second is an alternative claim, originating in ‘food sovereignty’ politics, which demands small-farmer rights to develop bio-regionally specific agro-ecological methods and provision for local, rather than global, markets.

In this article, Brown explores the geopolitics of food with particular reference to inequitable distribution and access to resources; price surges and a lack of buffer for those most in need; the impacts of food insecurity on the environment, energy, and climate; increasing pressure on global agricultural production; and the growing and evolving demands for food from the developing world, especially Asia.

Events & Announcements

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HEALTH AND HUMAN SECURITY

News & Commentaries

Selected Publications

This document outlines the WHO’s new framework for the sharing of influenza viruses and for equitable access to the medical and technological benefits resultant from virus-sharing. The framework includes certain binding legal regimes for the WHO, national influenza laboratories worldwide and industry partners in both developed and developing countries that will strengthen future pandemic responses.

This article weighs in on the contemporary smallpox dilemma that will be debated at the upcoming World Health Assembly: whether and when to destroy the last remaining stocks of the smallpox virus, which are still stored in laboratories in Russia and the US more than 30 years after its successful eradication. It outlines the main arguments for and against destroying the remaining smallpox stocks, as well as the potential problems that may arise from either retaining or destroying the stocks, including irresponsible laboratory re-creation of the virus and research laboratory accidents causing an unintended smallpox outbreak.

This paper examines three natural disasters in Southeast Asia, namely the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, Cyclone Nargis in 2008 and the Pacific typhoons of 2009, focusing on their impacts on Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines respectively. It seeks to highlight the distinction between natural hazards and natural disasters, arguing that the occurrence of the former does not inevitably lead to the latter. Whether a disaster results is not only dependent on the intensity of the natural hazard itself, but more importantly, is contingent on pre-existing in-country response, rehabilitation and reconstruction conditions.

Events & Announcements

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You are free to publish this material in its entirety or only in part in your newspapers, wire services, internet-based information networks and newsletters and you may use the information in your radio-TV discussions or as a basis for discussion in different fora, provided full credit is given to the author(s) and the Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS). Kindly inform the publisher (NTS_Centre@ntu.edu.sg) and provide details of when and where the publication was used.

About the Centre:

The Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies was inaugurated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretary-General Dr Surin Pitsuwan in May 2008. The Centre maintains research in the fields of Food Security, Climate Change, Energy Security, Health Security as well as Internal and Cross-Border Conflict. It produces policy-relevant analyses aimed at furthering awareness and building capacity to address NTS issues and challenges in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. The Centre also provides a platform for scholars and policymakers within and outside Asia to discuss and analyse NTS issues in the region.

In 2009, the Centre was chosen by the MacArthur Foundation as a lead institution for the MacArthur Asia Security Initiative, to develop policy research capacity and recommend policies on the critical security challenges facing the Asia-Pacific.

The Centre is also a founding member and the Secretariat for the Consortium of Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies in Asia (NTS-Asia). More information on the Centre can be found at www.rsis.edu.sg/nts.


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