Book Review of “Global Nuclear Developments: Insights from a Former IAEA Nuclear Inspector

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Book Review of “Global Nuclear Developments: Insights from a
Former IAEA Nuclear Inspector” by Pantelis F antelis F. Ikonomou . Ikonomou
Arjun Banerjee
University of Tennessee Knoxville
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Recommended Citation
Banerjee, Arjun (2021) “Book Review of “Global Nuclear Developments: Insights from a Former IAEA
Nuclear Inspector” by Pantelis F. Ikonomou,” International Journal of Nuclear Security: Vol. 7: No. 1, Article
Available at:

Springer, 2020, 240 pages, ISBN 9783030469962 (hardcover) | ISBN 9783030469979
(epub), Price: $99.99 (hardcover) | $79.99 (Kindle).
Reviewed by Arjun Banerjee
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
With a touching dedication to his grandchildren “in the hope that they will live in a world
free of nuclear weapons,” a sentiment shared by numerous professionals working in the
nuclear security and disarmament circuits, Pantelis F. Ikonomou sets the perfect stage for
what is to follow in this excellent work. The author brings in his career-long expertise from
important and sensitive programs, projects, and missions he has served in with the mother of
all nuclear 3S (safety, safeguards, and security) organizations, the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA).

Ikonomou tries to answer certain big, and somewhat normative, questions in his book,
questions such as “are nuclear weapons a ground-breaking choice for achieving a balance of
horror, also called ‘deterrent’, or are they a fatal irrationalism and the last human error? Do
they represent the most dangerous human ‘success’? Are they the evidence of scientific
rationality or of political absurdity?” (5). Ikonomou also covers a lot of ground in this book
and keeps the reader continually hooked with personal anecdotes from his life. For instance,
he narrates an interesting story of a certain Roger Richter he knew from around the time the
Israeli strike on the Iraqi Osirak reactor occurred (1981). Richter worked with the IAEA but
at the time produced official statements that contradicted the then-Director-General of the
IAEA, which led to serious controversies. Further, he casts much-needed light on the way
certain countries tend to apply pressure to the organization and gives the reader the sense that
“there is a lot of politics involved” (50) in an international organization such as the IAEA.

These personal, grounded stories make it far easier for a layperson to connect with this book,
as the writing clearly conveys the sense that the creation of nuclear weapons was a colossal
political fallacy despite being a tremendous scientific achievement. His treasure trove of
experiences is noticeable from his writing, and they add an extra dimension to the book that
make it at the same time more interesting as well as more enriching (pun intended), allowing
the book to transcend what otherwise may have turned out as merely a useful guide for
beginners in the field of nuclear security.
The formatting and chapter organization of the book are clean and flow logically and
smoothly. They cover the most important global flashpoints/areas of concern when it comes
to the IAEA’s work. The nuclear program development connection between Libya, China,
and Pakistan is presented with interesting facts. Moreover, the links between the current
nuclear weapons-holding states are pointed out poignantly by the author – viz., how they
happened to develop their weapons.

The author weaves a clear mental spiderweb of
connections for the reader. Ikonomou also provides a good balance of technical as well as
historical and political aspects of nuclear security and the IAEA’s work. Useful annexures at
Banerjee: Book Review of “Global Nuclear Developments: Insights from a Form
International Journal of Nuclear Security, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2021
the end contain charts and tables on the status of nuclear arsenals of countries as of 2019, the
text of a 1939 letter from Einstein to the then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a global
overview of power reactors and global nuclear shares, and so on.

Ikonomou’s writing is lucid and easy to understand despite his first language being clearly
not English. While this book was originally written in Greek, it is indeed useful to the
English-speaking world at large to have the same insights in a language they understand to
cater to a far wider audience beyond just Greece. However, one would find a few minor typos
through the book, e.g., in the Acknowledgements section – the author refers to Mohammad
ElBaradei’s book “expressing in stark terms his [g]uest (sic) for peace”, or in the Introduction
chapter, the famous Lise Meitner happens to be spelt as “Lisa” Meitner. Some of the USArelated terminology is a tad off the mark – there is officially no “US Minister of Foreign
Affairs” (MoFA) position; rather, the equivalent of a MoFA that exists in many countries is
known in the US as the Secretary of State (28).
The author also seems to believe that a resolution to the North Korean nuclear crises can only
happen if the U.S. and North Korea indeed sit down and rationally thrash out their differences
together. While there exists now, to my mind, a razor-thin possibility with the new U.S.
Government in power for that to occur, it seemed quite ironic to think about at the time of the
book’s publication, at least with the then-existing political dispensation, to even imagine
these two countries doing so with their respective leaders perceived globally as two of the
most irrational to be in power.

Ikonomou’s solid work ties up his whole narrative into a well thought out conclusion. The
author provides an interesting glimpse into the future in the concluding pages of a tetra-polar
alliance of nuclear powers – which, according to the author, are the USA and UK plus;
Russia and India plus; China, Pakistan, and the DPRK plus; and France and Israel plus. What
this signifies is the cementing of new foundations on which new nuclear power alliances are
being forged – that is, a structure dominated by four pillars and backed by peripheral states
“strategically selected by criteria of history, current pragmatism or future necessity” (153).
This is not a bad thing, he observes, and might in fact “allow the temporary de-escalation of
the current nuclear race and weapons’ ‘modernization’, making possible the creation of a
global climate of stability and trust.”

Ultimately, Ikonomou humbly poses a few thought-provoking, even moving, questions to the
two nuclear superpowers – Russia and the USA – as to why they revive in full consciousness
a nuclear race thirty years after the Cold War has ended, or why are they taking steps that
disregard the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which those very countries have been
instrumental in drafting, thereby essentially and paradoxically undermining the global
nonproliferation regime?

No doubt, that committed crusaders against nuclear weapons such as Ikonomou are needed in
today’s world. One can only hope that they can get their strong message for nuclear
disarmament across to the powers that be before it is too late.



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