The prospects for, and viability of, possible multilateral arrangements for the nuclear fuel cycle are typically discussed in the context of preventing the further spread of sensitive nuclear technologies and, ultimately, of nuclear weapons, while enabling a possible global expansion of nuclear energy. In the context of nuclear disarmament, another dimension is at least equally important: What is a better or necessary structure of the nuclear fuel cycle in a world free of nuclear weapons?
As the distinction between nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states gradually becomes less relevant in a disarming world, modified or new frameworks that inherently rely on a separation of supplier and consumer states are much less sustainable than they already are today. More appealing are proposals that envision multinational ownership and control of plants on a basis in which all partners have equal status. They have not received much traction because they challenge key aspects of the present international system of states’ rights and privileges, and may therefore be considered unrealistic in the short-term, but could serve as important precedents for a world preparing for nuclear disarmament. The priority of the debate should therefore be on joint ownership of nuclear fuel cycle plants; this article lays out a roadmap that could help making progress in that direction.