Posts Tagged weapons
I awoke this morning to news reports that North Korea has once again resumed their production of plutonium for nuclear weapons. I suspect that’s no real surprise to anyone who pays attention to such things. After all, they threw IAEA inspectors out this spring and told the world of their plans.
All of the major news outlets carried the story, and virtually every one reported that the North Koreans obtained the plutonium by reprocessing spent fuel from their nuclear plant. The term “nuclear plant” in this instance refers to their small 5 MW test reactor, NOT a nuclear power plant designed to produce energy for industrial use or electricity generation.
Nuclear reactors come in many sizes and shapes; test and training reactors at universities, research reactors for government and industry, reactors used to produce medical isotopes, reactors inside nuclear power plants, and reactors designed to produce weapons materials. Each type is uniquely suited for its purpose, and usable weapons-grade plutonium is not produced by accident. It can only be obtained by reprocessing a unique kind of nuclear fuel from a reactor is operated a very specific way. In episode 77 of “This Week in Nuclear” I explained the details of why this is true, so go back and take a look if you’d like the details.
These are critically important differences. Imprecise reporting like this leads to misunderstanding on a broad scale. There is a huge misperception in the general population and among many otherwise well-informed policy makers that nuclear power plants can explode like atomic bombs, and that rogue nations could use their commercial nuclear power plants to kick start weapons programs. Both of these are wrong, and these misunderstandings are used to stoke anti-nuclear sentiments. In the end, failing to understand these differences can contribute to policy decisions and regulations that could deprive society of the benefits of nuclear energy.
Here’s what you need to remember: Used fuel from commercial nuclear power plants can not be used to make atomic bombs. No nation has ever created a nuclear weapon from spent fuel that came from a commercial nuclear power plant.
I have a family member that I love dearly and have an infinite amount of respect for. She is a fantastic mother, a caring person, respected in her chosen profession, and a good friend. She would do anything she could to help someone in need. When we first met she was strongly opposed to nuclear energy. Over the years we have discussed it from time to time and I’ve had some influence on her perspective. She’s not totally won over yet, but we’re making progress. Not too long ago she asked me, “But what about the waste? That really worries me!” She really didn’t believe me when I said “There’s no such thing as a nuclear waste problem. That’s nothing but a myth.” Read the rest of this entry »
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue regulations making it a Federal crime to introduce explosives into facilities and installations containing nuclear materials. The new rules go into affect in April 2010 and specify fines of up to $5,000 and jail time up to one year for anyone who “willfully” introduces firearms or explosives into a facility regulated by the NRC. The new rule authorizes the FBI and other federal agencies to investigate and prosecute the cases.
On the surface it seems like a good idea, right? Unfortunately, it’s yet another example of regulation without added safety benefit. Anyone who has ever been in a nuclear facility knows it is illegal to bring weapons and firearms through the gate. There are already signs posted, and violators of the rules could already be charged and prosecuted under state laws. According to the NRC, there have been occasions where workers or vendors accidentally brought weapons on site, but never intentionally or with intent to do harm, so I have to wonder what problem they are trying to fix?
News outlets around the world were buzzing last week when Iran announced in a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it has built a second nuclear fuel enrichment facility deep under a mountain near the city of Qom. The UN security council appeared outraged and the US government claimed it has known of the facility for “some time.”
There continues to be deep disagreement between Iran and the UN Security Council about the Islamic Republic’s intentions and their responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Iran claims they are following the rules to the letter: they notified the IAEA about the facility 180 days before it is scheduled to go into operation, precisely as required by their agreement with the IAEA. President Obama on the other hand, stated Iran is “breaking the rules all nations must follow.,” and other members of the Security Council seem to agree. They cite a later UN provision that requires Iran to notify them before building any such facility.
Herein lies the problem: there are TWO SETS OF RULES! Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been enjoying the recent rash of pro-nuclear editorials in newspapers and other traditional media over the last several months. I think this is a sign that momentum is building for transition from passive public support to a more active, vocal cry for more nuclear in our energy mix.
Here are some examples:
On the comparison of nuclear power plants to atomic bombs
A nuclear power plant is a radically different machine, designed with great care to convert nuclear fission into steady power over a period of years. You couldn’t turn a nuclear reactor into a bomb any more easily than you could power your house with a hand grenade.