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Nuclear Power, National Security And The Dirty Bomb

Personal_Finance / Nuclear Power Nov 12, 2013 - 12:06 PM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


Although severely damaged by the world public opinion fallout from the Fukushima disaster, the nuclear industry continues to claim nuclear power is the low carbon, oil saving energy of the future. Taking the lifetime of the civil nuclear power industry as starting in the late 1950s, however, it has already had a long period through the 1980s and 1990s when world reactor orders and completions were often zero per year. Public confidence is weak.

The recent so-called Nuclear Renaissance, based on recentering reactor sales to developing and emerging countries of the South, featured the hard sell of Chernobyl- and Fukushima-sized power reactors to countries that are often unstable and fragile. This was symbolized by Nicolas Sarkozy's attempt at making French reactor sales to Libya's colonel Gaddafi in
2007, offloading as many as two 1970s-vintage reactors for reassembly in Libya, and recycling petrodollar billions.

The global security risks of this strategy are hard to exaggerate, but since business is business they are almost totally ignored, except and only in specific cases like Iran.

For reasons including the financial plight of nuclear corporations, none of which could exist without state aid from taxpayers and by corporate debt, the nuclear hard sell in the South by presidents, prime ministers and corporate leaders was intense. The challenge to this strategy is that if it is reactivated, and if it succeeded – it will create massive security hazards for the entire world.

This threat is brushed away by the schizophrenic cop-out that nuclear weapons and reactors are totally different and separate. The rationale continues with the stupid notion that terrorists and nuclear blackmailers will only seek to obtain nuclear materials, like nuclear wastes, and will only make small-sized Dirty Bombs. No deliberate attack will ever be made against civil power reactors.

In reality, any big reactor is a giant dirty bomb. This is totally rejected by the world's deciders.

The same president Nicolas Sarkozy, not long after his sales attempt in the direction of Libya failed, had this to say at the UN General Assembly, September 24, 2007: "France is ready to aid all countries who want civil nuclear power...There is no energy future for Western countries, or for Asian countries without access to it"

Until the Fukushima disaster and the new upsurge of public awareness and concern on nuclear power, these distorted tendentious sales pitches disguised as “helping the world” might have been taken as simply due to elite ignorance. These sales pitches could be treated and seen as similar to selling weapons, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, toxic industrial chemicals and any other gray product with security concerns but of high value, to newly prosperous and bankable emerging and developing countries. The range of countries targeted by the Nuclear Renaissance sales drive has ranged from Ghana and Sudan to Mongolia, Bangladesh, Vietnam and all the Arab Gulf states - but in Libya's case Sarkozy found out this sales prospect was on hold or cancelled.

Treating nuclear power like “regular” dangerous and toxic industries, which produce materials that can be used as weapons of mass destruction, or as their precursors, is a deadly error. While the “regular” dangerous industries can enable the production of mass destruction weapons, nuclear power is in a risk class of its own.

Since Fukushima, many experts have underlined the simply fantastic radiation risks each and every reactor site represents, often located quite close to urban areas or in regions of quality farmland critical to national food security.

The information is freely available. Taking only the reactor cores of industry standard reactors, and ignoring spent fuel rod cooling ponds, fuel stores and ancillary equipment containing highly radioactive materials, the total radiation inventory of a single industry standard 900 MW PWR/LWR can be more than 200 times the radiation release of the Hiroshima atom bomb.

Where the site has a multi-reactor complex with spent fuel storage ponds and wastes stored on site, like Fukushima, the inventory soars to thousands of times the radiation released by the Hiroshima bomb. Estimates for the total radiological inventory of the Fukushima site extend to about 14 000 times the radiation released by the Hiroshima atom bomb.

The bomb-equivalence of the world's presently operating 436 civil reactor Doomsday Machines is therefore calculable - and extreme. It dwarfs the combined radiological inventory of all warheads held by all nuclear-armed powers, both the 5 declared-nuclear UN Security Council powers, and the world's present 4 non-declared nuclear weapons states.

We can note that like most things concerning nuclear power, this stupefying fact is both old and new, both antiquated and modern. At one and the same time this shifts us back to the Cold War days of overkill, and fast forwards us to the War on Terror and its coming blowback of asymmetric terror warfare. But the most important is simple.

Any state or nation with large-sized nuclear reactors has no national security.

At their peak-size in the mid-1980s, the nuclear arsenals of the USA and USSR each held about  15 000 - 20 000 Hiroshima-size nuclear warheads of about 15 - 20 kilotons TNT equivalent each. Taking account of their civil reactor arsenals of today, and the civil reactors located in the other 29 countries presently using nuclear power, any kind of prolonged war, including civil war, is impossible within or between these countries.

Inside these countries, any prolonged civil disturbance – even that due to extreme weather events like the recent Philippines typhoon – can make Nuclear Armageddon sure and certain.

Simply taking the plutonium output of today's world reactor fleet, its 436 industry standard 900 MW reactors produce about 36 tons of plutonium every year, enough to build about 4000 - 5000 Hiroshima-size bombs. Every year.

The “plutonium threat” however ignores the radioactive uranium, zirconium, cesium, and other deadly atomic materials also produced, every year, in these civil reactors. Taking account of total bomb-equivalent material “brewing”, the world's present civil reactor fleet is producing the equivalent in radiation of anywhere up to 10 000 Hiroshima-size bombs, every year.

The Doomsday Machines were never designed, or even thought of as anything but civil.

So-called military reactors - usually small high neutron reactors able to rapidly produce plutonium – are themselves rarely located underground or given hard-shell protection against enemy attack. The vast stores of ready-made radioactive materials at each and every civil reactor, with thousands of times the radioactive damage potential of the Hiroshima bomb, are the more logical ultimate targets for any kind of major conflict.

To be sure, neither Chernobyl nor Fukushima needed military attack to release their massive quantities of deadly radiation, but strangely there is almost no public debate on the subject of the huge quantities of Dirty Bombs which exist, today, in the shape of large civil reactors.
Conversely, public media allows us hear about the subject of nuclear proliferation, which is obsessionally discussed, but is only focused on how to prevent explosive nuclear devices from "falling into the wrong hands". Notably Iranian hands.

This narrow-focus politically correct obsession is given regular and massive media cover and is also addressed by longstanding high-level conference series. But no concerted effort goes to ensuring total security for the world's existing civil nuclear plants, upstream uranium production and fuel fabrication, fuel rod supply and transport, downstream waste processing and storage. The reason is in fact very simple: the costs would be horrendous, if it was indeed possible to shield all these plants from any kind of attack, conventional or unconventional.

This would need total 24/7 air cover, anti-missile and anti-aircraft  protection, and large physical exclusion zones around every single reactor and major nuclear site. This cannot be provided. Any country with large reactors and related installations has no national security.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2013 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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