Enrichment of uranium, production of plutonium - threats

Enrichment of uranium, production of plutonium - threats

Postby Oscar » Sun Jan 20, 2019 8:03 pm

Enrichment of uranium and production of plutonium are threats to the planet

Gordon Edwards <ccnr@web.ca> Date: 20/01/2019 17:36

CCNR is concerned about the geopolitics, not the technology of enriched uranium. As the Iranian experience demonstrates, uranium enrichment is a hot-button issue when it comes to nuclear weapons proliferation. If one envisages a nuclear-weapons-free world as a real possibility, how could one tolerate the continued operation of uranium enrichment plants in such a world? If Iran cannot be trusted today to have its own uranium enrichment technology then it seems to me that no one can be trusted in the final analysis, because there is no sufficient basis for trust that weapons-grade uranium will not be produced. Similar comments can be made about stockpiles of separated plutonium and the reprocessing technology that produces such stockpiles. See [ www.ccnr.org/non-prolif.html ].

Ironically, the CANDU reactor is one of the few commercial reactor technologies available that does not require any uranium enrichment. Theoretically, it would be possible to eliminate uranium enrichment altogether in the civilian nuclear power sector if CANDUs were the only reactor available for nuclear generated electricity. In fact, just as a thought experiment, it would be conceivable to have a world free of nuclear weapons without any uranium enrichment or plutonium separation, and still have nuclear generated electricity using CANDU reactors and a once-through fuel chain. In this way, no weapons-usable fissile materials — neither highly enriched uranium nor separated plutonium — would be readily available to anyone for the building of nuclear weapons. In such a world, any effort to enrich uranium or to separate plutonium would clearly telegraph a military motive and the world community could act, with timely warning, to thwart those military intentions.

For the Canadian Government to champion a whole new generation of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors that require enriched uranium or plutonium as fuel is moving in the exactly wrong direction, especially since success of such a venture will require spreading thousands of these devices all over the world, thereby creating an increased global demand for uranium enrichment and/or plutonium handling. It is inevitable that other countries will sooner or later demand the right to produce their own enriched uranium or to produce their own plutonium stockpiles, rather than depending on the nuclear ”fat cats” to monopolize the right to control energy supplies by restricting access to the fuel. A slippery slope.

The earth is in peril. There are lots of dire warnings about global warming and what we must do, as a species, to avert it or mitigate it. Climate scientists are leading the way in ringing the alarm bell loud and clear. They do what they can to make sure their voices are heard and that humanity is alerted.

Nuclear annihilation is also a global threat, but nuclear scientists are generally as quiet as little mice on that topic. There is no expressed sense of urgency — especially not from nuclear industry people -- regarding the absolute need of getting rid of all nuclear weapons arsenals. Our nuclear scientists sit back and watch Iran and North Korea being portrayed as international pariahs and criminals for even thinking of nuclear weapons, while India, Pakistan and Israel are regarded as good guys and loyal allies who can surely be trusted with the fate of the earth no matter what regime may eventually come to power. Meanwhile, the five permanent members of the UN bask in the glow of their own nuclear weapons arsenals, a situation that no one in the nuclear industry seems willing to challenge.

As long as our nuclear scientists spend their efforts defending and promoting nuclear technology and hatching plans to build thousands of more nuclear reactors, enriching more and more uranium, and producing ever-increasing stockpiles of plutonium, without addressing the urgent need to create a world free of nuclear weapons, I don't see much hope. Our nuclear scientists seem more interested in capitalizing on the climate change crisis to expand their own industry, rather than sounding the alarm to humanity over extremely dangerous trends in nuclear weaponry.

To the best of my knowledge, neither the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) nor the Canadian Nuclear Society (CNS) nor any other organization of nuclear industry scientists have ever said “boo” about nuclear weapons. They were totally silent when India and Pakistan detonated nine or ten nuclear weapons in a matter of weeks. They have never commented on NATO’s problematic nuclear weapons policies. They say nothing about the trillion-dollar modernization of nuclear weapons systems, nor about the ripping up of nuclear weapons agreements like the ABM Treaty, the INF Treaty, or even the Iran deal. It’s as if these things are of no concern to them and have nothing to do with the business they are in, nor do they seem to feel any responsibility as privileged and highly educated members of society to speak out about the dangers to the entire planet.

It is rare when top-notch, highly prestigious scientists take the trouble to sound the alarm loud and clear on this subject. Two admirable example of such warnings are (1) the Flowers Report of 1976, written by Sir Brian Flowers, an eminent nuclear physicist who worked in both the civilian and military aspects of Britain’s nuclear establishment, and (2) the amazingly frank Granada TV Program of 1976 – transcript found at [ www.ccnr.org/Peaceful_Atom.html ].

For most it seems to be a case of "promotion uber alles". For example, the IAEA’s primary mandate is to promote and expand the use of nuclear technology worldwide, while a distinctly secondary consideration for the IAEA is to see that nuclear facilities and materials are not diverted to military use, “so far as it is able” to do so. (See the IAEA Statute at https://www.iaea.org/about/statute#a1-2 ). If our goal is only to “manage” the status quo, accepting the “right” of nuclear weapons states to maintain their nuclear arsenals, endorsing the “right" of NATO to adopt a “first-use-if-necessary” policy, and merely “managing” the proliferation of nuclear weapons, I cannot see any reason to think that the world can survive another 100 years.

The abolition of slavery in the USA would never have occurred if the status quo continued to be “respected", where some states are entitled to have slaves and others are not, and the only objective is to stop the expansion of slavery. No. First you abolish the slave trade, then you abolish slavery. That’s what gets the job done. Nothing else works.

With nuclear weapons, hypocrisy is the order of the day. The double standard is alive and well. NATO maintains that nuclear weapons are essential to its own security, thereby providing a perfect rationale for every nation in the world to acquire such weapons. As with the gun mentality in the USA, "the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a nuclear weapon is a good guy with a nuclear weapon". In fact, if every citizen has the right to bear arms, every citizen should perhaps have his own personal nuclear weapon. Why not? Then we will all be much more secure.

It is a fool’s paradise to think that surely no one would be so “irresponsible" as to use a technology that they have spent trillions of dollars on, and invested enormous amounts of intellectual effort, political will and elaborate infrastructure on for so many decades.

"Don’t be alarmed folks, it’s just a security system, that’s all it is." Sure. After all, those who should know, the nuclear scientists, don’t seem too perturbed. Quite complacent in fact.

Gordon Edwards, President
Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility
www.ccnr.org
Oscar
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