SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Interdependencies Between Civil and Military Nuclear Infrastructures Revealed

New research by Professor Stirling and Dr Johnstone, at SPRU, presents a global picture of industrial interdependencies between civil and military nuclear infrastructure.

In an analysis of associations between international patterns in the distribution of nuclear weapons capabilities, nuclear submarine infrastructures, regional military power status, and intensities of attachment to civil nuclear power, they find that nuclear weapon states remain the main proponents of nuclear power programs. The research appeared for the first time in the World Nuclear Industry Report 2018 (launched at Chatham House on 4 September 2018).

The study, provided in full in SPRU Working Paper 2018-13 shows that whilst nuclear power is now increasingly recognised to be growing obsolescent as a low carbon energy source, due to an increasingly unfavourable economic and operational position of nuclear power, key military capabilities depend strongly on its maintenance.

Notably, against a backdrop of decline in the worldwide nuclear industry as a whole, plans for plant life-extension and nuclear new-build remain major areas of investment in a few specific countries. Intense attachments persist to projects like Hinkley Point C in the U.K., despite costs multiplying fivefold over original estimates, a series of still-unresolved technical difficulties and demands for escalating government financial concessions and guarantees.

With longstanding links well known around flows of special nuclear materials, evidence is also emerging in a number of leading military nuclear states for additional significant industrial interdependencies around capabilities for sustaining naval nuclear propulsion programs. As civil nuclear power declines in the U.S., a series of recent reports have emphasized the importance for the ‘nuclear navy’ of a continued national nuclear engineering base supported by policies to sustain the civil nuclear sector.

Furthermore, the U.K. Nuclear Industry Council’s “Nuclear Sector Deal” states that “the sector is committed to increasing the opportunities for transferability between civil and defense industries and generally increasing mobility to ensure resources are positioned at required locations” and that 18 percent of projected skills gaps can be met by “transferability and mobility”.

Revealing this dependency between civil and military nuclear capabilities may open a new window of opportunity for robust measures to reduce global military nuclear threats.

This issue is gaining international media coverage with an article in Deutsche Welle newspaper and the Economist ' More solar power hurts nuclear energy. But it also hurts itself'.