Project on Cultivating Better Asia-Pacific Nuclear Governance

Project duration

June 2016 - December 2017

Project staff

Principal investigator: Dr Trevor Findlay, Senior Research Fellow, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne
Research Assistants: Anthony Heath, Jenna Parker, Zhongzhou Peng


The Carnegie Corporation of New York


Nuclear governance in the Asia-Pacific region is currently ad hoc, patchy and largely uncoordinated. This is unsustainable given that economic growth across the Asia-Pacific is leading to greater use of nuclear materials and radioactive sources and in some countries a renewed interest in nuclear energy for electricity generation. For the legacy nuclear energy programs in Northeast Asia the problem of nuclear waste and spent fuel is being poorly addressed. Continuing reprocessing and enrichment programs will produce more waste and nuclear transport. Small island states in the South Pacific are vulnerable to trafficking and other illicit activities.

Although there have been many attempts over the years to strengthen nuclear governance in the region, these invariably encounter roadblocks that stymie real progress and often result in cosmetic or temporary changes. Some of these blockages are strategic (notably the fraught relationship between Japan and its neighbours), some are cultural (differing attitudes towards governance and regulation) and some are technical (the vastly different nuclear capacities, plans and interests of states).

But mostly the lack of progress is due to a lack of political support for strengthening governance due to concerns about protecting states’ sovereignty and economic interests. In some cases this is compounded by a lack of awareness of the threat of nuclear terrorism and other risks associated with the use of nuclear energy. There has been little policy-oriented research on Asia-Pacific nuclear governance that is comprehensive – covering safety, safeguards, security and peaceful uses – and which seeks to identify systematically what the roadblocks to progress are and how these might be removed. This project sought to begin filling this gap.

Goals of the project

  1. Survey the current extent of Asia-Pacific nuclear governance – the existing treaties, organisations, arrangements, networks and norms – as well as the region’s place within and contribution to global nuclear governance
  2. Seek to understand the strategic, political, cultural, managerial and technical obstacles to strengthening regional nuclear governance
  3. Assess the current and future capacity of governments, industry, civil society and academia to enhance and manage nuclear governance in the region; and
  4. Propose ways in which regional nuclear governance might be strengthened

Research methods

  1. Examine existing documentation and literature
  2. Engage with existing regional networks
  3. Consult widely with regional nuclear stakeholder states and relevant international organisations like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); and
  4. Convene a regional workshop to engender ideas for building regional nuclear governance

The workshop

The workshop was convened in cooperation with the Energy Studies Institute at the National University of Singapore on 9 March 2017, involving some 20 regional and extra-regional experts. See the workshop round-up (180kb Word docx) by Jenna Parker, program (230kb pdf), list of participants (80kb pdf) and key questions (80kb pdf) tackled.

The report

A two-part research report (part I; part II), Asia-Pacific Nuclear Governance Architecture and How to Strengthen It by Trevor Findlay, was published in June 2017 by the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (APLN). The report sets out the issues, surveys the existing nuclear governance system that applies in the Asia-Pacific, analyses the various roadblocks to strengthening it and makes proposals for how to proceed.

The survey

A unique, comprehensive survey (445kb pdf) of all Asia-Pacific organisations and arrangements involved in nuclear governance was launched in June 2017. It was compiled by Anthony Heath, Jenna Parker and Zhongzhou Peng. It will be continuously updated. We welcome comments and edit. Please email Zhongzhou Peng.

View the Survey

Other project activities

  • Presentation (950kb pdf) by Trevor Findlay on ‘Unleashing the Nuclear Watchdog: Strengthening and Reform of the IAEA’, Energy Studies Institute, National University of Singapore, 16 November 2016
  • Presentation by Trevor Findlay on ‘Asia-Pacific Nuclear Governance’, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  • Presentation (560kb pdf) by Trevor Findlay on ‘Asia-Pacific Nuclear Governance: Fragile, Fragmented but Fixable?’, 21 March 2017, at Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University


Funding for the project was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The Energy Studies Institute, National University of Singapore, co-sponsored the 9 March workshop.

The School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, housed the project and provides administrative support.