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It's Just Business, Nothing Personal

Way back in March 1979, there was this little incident at Three Mile Island that shook up the nuclear technology business in the United States. After a dry spell of nearly 40 years, we may see the start of nuclear reactor construction in the

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Way back in March 1979, there was this little incident at Three Mile Island that shook up the nuclear technology business in the United States. After a dry spell of nearly 40 years, we may see the start of nuclear reactor construction in the United States. However, the lack of any real discussions on nuclear energy policy and the ever-present fearmongering over (other country's) nuclear weapons has combined to create a myopic "for me but not for thee" drill for the US government. I submit these two stories for your review.

The first one is about Russia's keen interest in generating some foreign currency by helping other countries build nuclear power plants. Now when the customer in mind is Europe, that's okay, but Venezuela's desire to buy nuclear technology from Russia is just hitting a sore spot. Who really cared about Chernobyl, anyway? That was old tech.

“I don’t know who will shudder at this,” Mr. Medvedev said at a meeting with Mr. Chávez, coyly noting the possibility of American concerns about transferring nuclear technology to Mr. Chávez’s government, which has long been at odds with the United States. Venezuela, like Iran, is brimming with energy from oil and natural gas, possibly raising concerns about its motives.

“The president said there will be countries in which this will provoke different emotions, but I want to say specially that our intentions are absolutely pure and open,” Mr. Medvedev said.
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Mr. Medvedev said Friday that Russia would help Venezuela build “an entire range of energy opportunities.” He added that “even such an oil- and gas-rich country as Venezuela needs new sources of energy.”

And meanwhile, our good friend China is busy traveling to Iran to make some deals on missile technology and centrifuges. What economic sanctions? Iran's just another customer in need of goods.

The U.S. official did not name any of the Chinese companies or say how many were on the list. But he told the Post that U.S. intelligence believes several Chinese companies and banks were involved in providing restricted technology to Iran, mostly for its missile program.

A second official, also speaking anonymously, told the Post that Chinese companies had been discovered selling Iran material that could be used to make better centrifuges. Those are used to enrich uranium that could be used in a nuclear device.

I've watched some chatter among the defense community, and it's not surprising to see that the opinion that seems to dominate is "well, we need to build more Navy ships and long-range strike aircraft, because we just can't afford to have Venezuela and Iran with nuclear weapons. The US government role as the pre-eminent superpower will be over unless we do something, and anyone who disagrees is an isolationist. Or commie-sympathizer."

Okay, maybe I made up the "commie-sympathizer" part. But it strikes me that our defense community in particular, and the US government in general (even with a Democratic administration) has been unable to develop any effective policy regarding nuclear technology. The previous administration's bone-headed agreement to provide nuclear technology and equipment to the Indian government, despite its failure to sign on to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Agreement, has really set a bad precedent. Now, there are numerous nations who want nuclear technology for whatever reason (rising fossil fuel costs, climate change, whatever), and the United States is unable to articulate a policy other than "but Teh Terrorists will get nukes!!"

This is not a good thing. We need sane discussions on the development of nuclear energy in emerging nations, and simultaneously we have to come to grips that the other major powers - Russia and China in particular, but also France, England, Germany, India, and Brazil - are hungry for foreign investments and will use their advanced technology to generate business. The US government's record over the past ten years has pretty much shattered the idea of its being an impartial leader of the free world, and now we have to deal with that new reality.

A global economy, shrinking resources, and continued growth of the world population will result in a more complex and dangerous world. If the US government can't figure out how to advance its international agenda without a military solution as the only option, then it's going to lose out to other nations' desire to make deals and sell goods to whomever is buying. It's just business, nothing personal.

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