Contradicting Arjun Makhijani’s claim about bombs from power reactors

On March 3, 2015, Arjun Makhijani testified in front of a committee of the Minnesota Senate. The committee was conducting an investigation on whether or not it should recommend lifting the state’s current moratorium on building new nuclear reactors. Here is the presentation that he prepared and delivered.

During his recorded testimony, Makhijani falsely stated that each of France’s nuclear power plants produces 30 bombs worth of plutonium every year. Senator Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake) questioned his assertion by stating that the process of converting reactor material into weapons was “not very straightforward.” She also said that she did not want the committee to get the impression that someone can just “go get a cask and make a bomb. It is not trivial…”

Aside: Senator Benson appears to both knowledgable about the topic and a master of understatement. End Aside.

Makhijani’s statement is false because he did not mention that the plutonium produced in commercial light water reactors — like the ones that France operates — is a mixture of isotopes that is less useful for making atomic bombs than the natural uranium that is distributed throughout the earth’s crust. He avoided mentioning that there is not a single nuclear weapon in any of the world’s existing inventory that was produced using plutonium produced in a commercial nuclear power plant.

No such weapon has ever been built or tested. Well-publicized claims of a 1962 vintage test of “reactor-grade” material are based on a test using material produced in a purposely dual purpose (electricity and weapons material) Magnox reactor.

Makhijani also incorrectly described France’s reactor-grade plutonium inventory as just “sitting around,” with the intended message that it is not well-protected and that it is not being put to beneficial use. He wants the committee to believe that the material is an ever-present environmental and nuclear weapons proliferation risk.

It is natural uranium, not plutonium that is just sitting around in uncontrolled, unprotected locations around the world. France is also using it’s reactor grade plutonium inventory by blending it with uranium to produce mixed oxide (MOX) fuel assemblies.

France also has rather flexible plans to eventually recycle used MOX assemblies into fuel for advanced reactors. There is no rush to lock in a technology choice or begin a system design process because it will take decades to accumulate enough used MOX inventory to enable an efficient manufacturing process.

Video rebuttal to Makhijani

Gordon McDowell is an independent filmmaker focuses his creative efforts on using his videography skills to effectively communicate accurate information about nuclear energy. His latest effort is a well-researched and carefully constructed takedown of Makhijani’s deliberately misleading testimony.

I’m not sure if the Minnesota Senate requires people to swear in before giving testimony, but it is my opinion that Makhijani’s March 3 testimony violates the oath I learned while watching Perry Mason reruns – he is not telling “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Anyone who has created finished videos involving numerous clips and juxtapositions will understand that Gordon invests a great deal of time and effort to build his informative and entertaining works. If you like Gordon’s results, you can become a Patron by visiting his Patreon account and making a per video pledge of support.

Antinuclear activism can be well compensated

Arjun Makhijani, earned his PhD in nuclear engineering earned with a concentration on nuclear fusion, not fission. He has been making his living for many years running a non-profit organization grandly named the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER).

Based on the organization’s publicly available IRS Form 990s the IEER seems to exist mainly to fund the research efforts of a single individual – Dr. Makhijani himself. In 2011, Makhijani’s $288,000 in compensation was 47% of the IEER’s $613,900 revenue. In 2012, his $103,000 in compensation was 38% of the IEER’s $271,400 revenue. In 2013, his $115,400 in compensation was 31% of his organization’s $366,000 in total revenue.

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