Nuclear Renaissance or The End of Nations ?Politics / GeoPolitics Sep 14, 2010 - 09:30 AM GMT
The Internet is a vast rumour mill and Internet-thinking can lead to paranoia and selfdelusion. This has infected the so-called "Nuclear debate" just like the Climate debate, the Peak oil debate, the Environment debate and other mix-and-muddle mass readership themes generated by political and corporate elites, put through the rumour mill, and sterilized.
Due to this, the real dimensions of the nuclear challenge - extending right up to removing all remaining credibility from the notion of "the nation state" - has been sidelined and lost in a maze of lesser conspiracy theories, like the long-running or nearly endless saga of the Iran nuclear affair. To tweak up the hysteria level every few months, we have Bomb Iran calls, tacky histrionics and tinsel debate, but the threat of nation states simply being no longer defensible because of current civil nuclear proliferation and the massive plans and programs to build new civil reactors, almost everywhere, never gets airtime.
Impassioned calls for Iran bombing are presented as the quick fix solution to nuclear weapons proliferation. In Iran's case, this would be a Doomsday Choice spilling long-lived radiation poisoning around the Gulf region, and further. It would also be a Doomsday Choice in any other country with large size reactors and extensive nuclear waste stores, uranium fuel fabricating plants and other parts of "the fuel cycle", that got bombed - for any reason at all.
Chernobyl 1986 is a key nuclear weapons proliferation date. It is at least as real as the Manhattan Project and the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 or Dr Abdul Qadr "Bombs R Us" Khan's two screwdriver turn A-bomb on which he started work in 1975, and the US led coalition's massive use of Depleted Uranium weapons in the Liberation of Kuwait, 1991.
To be sure, president Obama calls for nuclear disarmament and faster decommissioning of Russian and US atom bombs but the hidden agenda, here, is the massive undersupply of uranium for the world's reactor fleet. Decommissioning bombs releases atomic materials to feed US civil nuclear reactors - which supposedly received about 45% of their total fuel need from the "Megatons to Megawatts" source in 2009.
Taking bombs apart to get reactor fuel has a best-by date simply due to these sources of reactor fuel being limited. When or if we ran out of bombs to take apart it will be even more necessary to play with plutonium-generating Fast Breeder Reactors as a possible way out of the uranium fuel supply garrot.
The 2010-2020 decade marks the world's "Nuclear Renaissance" according to triumphal industry spokesmen. It may result in the construction of 200 - 250 new reactors, mostly in the Emerging countries. The countries signing up to the New Nuclear Miracle, which extends to its debt-linked financing, now range far and wide in the low and mid income South. They include Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and plenty others.
Plutonium production and proliferation risks can only rise. More than 75 of these Chernobyl-sized reactors would be built in 15 to 18, or more, low and mid-income countries with absolutely no previous experience of the atom. Many of them are exposed to civil war uprisings, are riven with religious and community conflicts, experience periodic food shortages, have water supply and power infrastructure breakdowns and blackouts, and have very troubled relations with their neighbours.
These countries, exactly like China and India, are however committing themselves to the same gleaming high-tech Quick Fix nuclear solution to power shortages, to keep their economies growing at record rates. This will vastly extend the Doomsday threat of large reactors being treated as sitting duck military targets in regional conflicts. This is over and apart from the risk of worst possible reactor accidents, such as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, and over and apart from nuclear waste and fuel enrichment security and pollution threats generated by surging reactor numbers.
Nuclear power is sold using a Cornucopian Universal Prosperity and Titanic Power Myth, but our main concern is simple: What happens when nuclear weapons proliferation includes massive Dirty Bomb targets and the massive potential of simply and cheaply turning nuclear wastes into deadly carcinogenic Depleted Uranium weapons ? To be sure, the nuclear sales lobby claims nuclear energy faces no shortage of uranium, is cheap and clean (low CO2), cuts oil dependence nearly to zero, improves energy security despite all or most of the uranium being imported, is high-tech, prestigious and modern. Above all, weapons proliferation is no risk - we have the NPT ! Even the risk of 'recycling' nuclear wastes to make the Poor Man's nuclear ordnance - Depleted Uranium weapons - is low or zero.
Like Obama, Sarkozy, Merkel and other leaders of the reactor building, uranium supplier, and nuclear service selling countries, the Nuclear Lobby claims nuclear power is totally separate and separable from weapons. It claims it is the quickest possible, most market friendly, and cheapest Fast Track to generating more power.
Reality dashes all of these illusions and self delusions. It reveals the risks, the hazards, the long-term costs, and the fragile "market friendly" reactor financing set-ups used by the socalled financial community to sell the atom to countries ranging from Bangladesh to Sudan and harnessing them with 50-year debts for their choice of hi-tech atomic trinkets.
Each new large-sized civil reactor is potentially a Chernobyl-type Dirty Bomb and each year will generate enough plutonium (about 50 kilograms) to make 5 Hiroshima-type and sized bombs, or 10 atom bombs of the same power using modern technology weapon design. Bomb technology dates back 65 years, has seriously evolved in 65 years, and is now almost ubiquitously available. Large sized reactors can also provide massive quantities of nuclear waste for cheaply produced and deadly carcinogenic Depleted Uranium weapons, recycling and value-adding to nuclear wastes, rather than face ever rising long term disposal costs for these unwanted side-products of the "nuclear miracle".
Nuclear reactors are massive Dirty Bomb targets. Reactor materials can be used to make atomic weapons. Nuclear waste can be quickly and cheaply used to make deadly carcinogenic Depleted Uranium weapons. The world's plutonium repositories, which contain hundreds of tons of plutonium extracted from civil reactors, are literal Doomsday Weapons.
THE END OF THE NATION STATE
Due to this sombre context, national security as we know it and with any real meaning no longer exists. Any country with large sized nuclear reactors is not defensible. Its has already positioned Weapons of Mass Destruction - for the enemy side - inside its national territory. When both belligerent nations have nuclear reactors, they have guaranteed and massive Mutually Assured Destruction.
When we take account of the full risks of the coming worldwide nuclear boom, the exploding number of civil reactor numbers, the full extent of fuel production and reprocessing, accumulated nuclear wastes, plutonium production and storage, and the spiralling amounts of 'new' nuclear waste being produced each day, the nation state itself has no remaining signification or meaning. Its civil nuclear reactors are the "softest" and easiest targets for conventional military attack - with guaranteed devastating sequels.
The nation state's "prerogative" of making war, for example in Afghanistan and Iraq is no longer feasible or defensible - but is this known to politicians and the public ? Do they want to know this ? What is the level of debate on this subject ?
By Andrew McKillop
Project Director, GSO Consulting Associates
Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights
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