Projects on Nuclear Energy and Global Governance, conducted at the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne

About the Projects

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 & Political Sciences, University of Melbourne; Research Assistants: Anthony Heath, Jenna Parker, Zhongzhou Peng 
  • Background 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, organizations, 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 organizations 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 workshop round-up by Jenna Parker, program, list of participants and key questions 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, analyzes the various roadblocks to strengthening it and makes proposals for how to proceed. 
  • The Survey A unique, comprehensive survey of all Asia-Pacific organizations 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 to  
  • Other Project Activities 
    • Presentation 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 by Trevor Findlay on ‘Asia-Pacific Nuclear Governance: Fragile, Fragmented but Fixable?’, 21 March 2017, at Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Acknowledgements · Funding for the project is 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, houses the project and provides administrative support.     

Nuclear Security: Ensuring an Effective Role for the IAEA After 2016

  • Project duration: June 2016 to June 2018   
  • Project Staff: Principal investigator: Dr Trevor Findlay, Senior Research Fellow, School of Social & Political Sciences, University of Melbourne; Research Assistants: Anthony Heath, Jenna Parker, Zhongzhou Peng  
  • Background In April 2016 the final biennial Nuclear Security Summit in a series of four was held in Washington DC. A key question looming over the meeting was how to ensure that the gains made by the summit process were sustained. A key role was envisaged for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), notably in an Action Plan that envisaged continuing initiatives for the summit participants to strengthen the Agency’s role. The IAEA, as the paramount multilateral body involved in nuclear governance, is a prime candidate for assuming much of the summits’ mantle. There is continuing debate, however, among its members about its existing nuclear security role and some opposition, notably from Russia. The Agency itself is often reluctant to take the initiative in expanding its activities. There is therefore a role for outsiders to monitor progress in implementing the summiteers’ Action Plan for the IAEA; observe the Agency’s own activities in response to both the ending of the summit process and the Action Plan; and to propose measures to enhance the IAEA’s contribution to nuclear security.   
  • Aim of the Project This project involves research and nuclear security community engagement designed to focus on ensuring that the IAEA, in the post-nuclear summit era, makes an effective contribution to advancing and sustaining nuclear security.    
  • Project deliverables
    The main planned deliverables are three publications and associated presentations: 
    • a policy brief presented at a non-governmental forum held in association with the final summit in Washington DC in April 2016 
    • a report on the summit outcome containing ideas for follow-up action in mid-2016, which was presented at the December 2016 IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security; and 
    • a final report on the project’s findings and ideas for further action and research to be published in November 2017 and presented at a side event during the IAEA Conference on Physical Protection in November 2017.    
  • Activities to date 
    • Project leader Dr Trevor Findlay participated in the NGO Nuclear Security Summit meeting on ‘Solutions for a Secure Nuclear Future’ in Washington DC from 30-31 March 2016. He gave a joint presentation with Jennifer Mackby of the Federation of American Scientists on strengthening the role of the IAEA in nuclear security; co-chaired the breakout group on the subject; and was the rapporteur to the conference plenary; the joint paper with Dr Mackby was published by the Partnership for Global Security on the conference website. 
    • Following the summit Dr Findlay wrote an OpEd for the Belfer Center website on the implications for the IAEA 
    • During his visit to the US for the summit Dr Findlay visited Harvard to discuss nuclear security with the Project on Managing the Atom (of which he remains an Associate) and gave a presentation on IAEA finance and budget which included a recommendation on funding nuclear security as part of the regular IAEA budget in the context of a grand IAEA budgetary bargain. 
    • In May 2016 Dr Findlay met in Sydney with Dr Robert Floyd, head of the Australian Safeguards Office, his colleague Craig Everton and a visiting IAEA inspector to discuss the outcome of the Washington summit and its implications for the IAEA. Australia was the coordinator on the summit’s IAEA Action Plan at the summit 
    • On 28 July Dr Findlay gave a talk on ‘Global Nuclear Governance and the Role of the IAEA’, including on nuclear security, at the University of Melbourne’s School of Social and Political Sciences’ Governance Cluster
    • From 26-30 September 2016 Dr Findlay attended the IAEA General Conference in Vienna, participating in side events on the nuclear security issue and gathering information and views on the Nuclear Security Contact Group, which met for the first time in the margins of the conference. He also met with the head of the IAEA’s International Nuclear Security Education Network (INSEN) to learn about its activities and toured the IAEA’s nuclear laboratories at Seibersdorf (which are equipped to undertake nuclear forensics in the event of a nuclear security incident) and the IAEA’s revamped Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) which would be activated in the event of a major nuclear or radiological incident. 
    • On 19 October Dr Findlay gave a presentation on ‘Global Nuclear Governance’, including the IAEA’s role in nuclear security, to the Victorian branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) in Melbourne to an audience of about 30  
    • From 5-9 December 2016 Dr Findlay attended the IAEA’s International Conference on Nuclear Security: Commitments and Actions in Vienna; he participated in a panel on ‘Perspectives on Implementing Obligations under International Instruments for Nuclear Security’ and presented a paper on ‘Managing the Global Nuclear Security Architecture after the Summits’ which was later published in the conference proceedings. He also participated in a workshop at the Vienna Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation on ‘Nuclear Security Centers of Excellence in Asia: Progress and the Way Forward’ and a meeting of the Nuclear Security Governance Experts Group (NSGEG).

      In addition the project has:
    • engaged with Australian government officials in Canberra and Vienna and with other delegations in Vienna with regard to on nuclear security developments at the IAEA, including the establishment of the Nuclear Security Contact Group by several summit participating countries;  
    • helped introduce the issue of nuclear security, and the potential role of the UN, to the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters for the first time (Dr Findlay is Chair of the Board for 2017).   
  • Outcomes of activities to date
    The outcome of these activities to date has been to raise awareness, at least among those who attended the NGO Summit and the IAEA Nuclear Security Conference, of the challenges faced by the IAEA in filling the shoes of the nuclear security summit. At the NGO Summit many in the audience of about 20 in the breakout group seemed unaware of the extent of existing IAEA activities in nuclear security and the difficulties, political, technical and financial, involved in expanding that role. There were thus indications that the subject was under-researched. At the Nuclear Security Conference the presentation provided novel information to many participants on the inaugural meeting of the new Nuclear Security Contact Group and the encouraging emergence of an industry body, the Nuclear Industry Steering Group on Security (NISGS).

    As usual in this type of project it is difficult to assess the policy implications. It is clearly helpful for the summit participants, the IAEA and other post-summit bodies to be aware that someone is monitoring their activities in detail and seeking to hold them to account (as far as the project is aware it is the only one of its kind). There was clearly, for instance, some surprise at the project’s revelation that the IAEA Action Plan produced by the summit was actually targeted at the summit participants in their role at the IAEA, not the IAEA Secretariat itself. In policy terms the project plays a useful role in interpreting the reality of decisions made about the IAEA’s role in nuclear security.

    Unfortunately, very little emerged from the December 2016 conference to indicate that the Agency is planning a major expansion of its role, but rather that it is taking a ‘consolidation’ approach. The Summit Action Plan for the IAEA was not mentioned by the IAEA Director-General, Mr Amano, at either the General Conference or the International Conference on Nuclear Security, nor was it mentioned in the final documents or resolutions emanating from either body. One positive development is that the IAEA is organizing a conference on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities in November 2017, partly in response to the entry into force in May 2016 of the Amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (rather than as an outcome of the 2016 Summit).

    On the substance of the issue, the project has had to adapt to the fact that so far the impact of the last summit on the IAEA has been largely undetectable. The only way that the Action Plan can have an impact on the IAEA from now on is if summit participants pursue it individually or collectively behind the scenes. The obvious vehicle is the Contact Group set up by a group of summit participants. Since this group did not exist when this project was envisaged, the project will now seek to follow and analyze its activities. It will do the same in respect of the new industry group, the NISGS, which also did not exist until the IAEA Nuclear Security Conference. Hence the governance landscape contemplated in the project proposal has changed considerably and the project will adapt accordingly.

    The project is also being forced to adapt to the reality of the new US administration of President Donald Trump. It is unclear at this stage whether the US will continue to play its traditional leadership role in nuclear security at the IAEA or even whether US funding of the IAEA will be cut back (which has been mooted in the US Congress for all UN-type organizations). Funding for the United States’ own national nuclear security efforts is to be cut significantly according to the Trump Administration’s preliminary budget (yet to be passed by Congress). It remains to be seen what affect this will have the IAEA’s role in nuclear security, but the project is keeping close watch on developments. More attention may have to be paid by other states like Australia, the Netherlands and South Korea to press forward progress on nuclear security in Vienna and elsewhere. 
  • Next Stages
    The next stages of the project involve: 
    • Continuing research on the impact of the end of the summit process on the IAEA, including following the developing role of the Contact Group and NISGS;  
    • Presentation of the research findings at a side-event during the November 2017 IAEA International Conference on Physical Protection. The conference will be mainly concerned with how to implement the newly amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) but which also will have a session on broader nuclear security governance; 
    • Development of the project webpage and posting of all of the publishable deliverables; 
    • Production of the final project study by mid-2018.     

Project Director

  • Dr Trevor Findlay is a Senior Research Fellow at the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. He is also chair of the United Nations Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters for 2017 and a member of the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (APLN).   

    Professor Findlay’s varied career has encompassed the diplomatic service, academia, the non-governmental sector and international organizations. He was a Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs at Harvard University from 2011 to 2015 and remains an Associate there with the Project on Managing the Atom. From 2005 to 2015 he was a tenured professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA) at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada and holder of the William and Jeanie Barton Chair in International Affairs. During that time he was also director of the Canadian Centre for Treaty Compliance and a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). He remains a Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus at Carleton.    

    Dr Findlay has a BA Honours from the University of Melbourne in political science and a Masters and PhD in international relations from the Australian National University (ANU). He spent 13 years in the Australian Foreign Service, with postings to Tokyo, Mexico City and Geneva. Specializing in disarmament, he represented Australia at the Conference on Disarmament, the UN Disarmament Commission and the First Committee of the UN General Assembly. He was subsequently Acting Director of the Peace Research Centre at the ANU for two years; project leader on peacekeeping and regional security at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI); and Executive Director of the London-based Verification Research Training & Information Centre (VERTIC) for 7 years.  

    Dr Findlay is widely published in the fields of nuclear disarmament and arms control, nuclear testing, nuclear safeguards, chemical and biological disarmament and peacekeeping. His current research focuses on nuclear governance, including nuclear security, nuclear safety and non-proliferation, both at the global level and in the Asia-Pacific region. His widely cited report, Unleashing the Nuclear Watchdog: Strengthening and Reform of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was published in 2012 by CIGI. Dr Findlay's most recent book is Nuclear Energy and Global Governance: Ensuring Safety, Security and Nonproliferation (London: Routledge, 2011). His studies for Harvard include: Beyond Nuclear Summitry: The Role of the IAEA in Nuclear Security Diplomacy after 2016 (March 2014); Proliferation Alert! The IAEA and Non-Compliance Reporting (October 2015) and What Price Nuclear Governance? Funding the IAEA (March 2016). He is currently completing a three-year study on safeguards culture for Harvard and is writing a book on the IAEA and nuclear crises.   


Dr Trevor Findlay
Senior Research Fellow, Department of Social and Political Sciences, Faculty of Arts
E474, John Medley Building, Grattan Street, The University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010 Australia

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Zhongzhou Peng

School of Social and Political Science, The University of Melbourne