Does “highly” enriched uranium make it easier to build more compact reactors?

It is easier to design and build compact nuclear reactors with uranium that has a higher fraction of U-235. The higher the U-235 content, the easier it is to overcome the effects of impurities in the coolant and cladding and the easier it is to overcome the inevitable effects of fission products that absorb neutrons. There is nothing secret about this fact; it is obvious from studying the history of nuclear reactor technology development. There are readily available examples related to university research reactors, the compact reactors built by the US Army, the Soviet era space reactors, and even the general knowledge that Rickover based his submarine reactors on highly enriched uranium – otherwise known as HEU.

HEU - High Efficiency Urinal

HEU – High Efficiency Urinal

High Efficiency Urinal

High Efficiency Urinal


Aside: This is a serious topic, so I want to lighten it up by sharing a photo that I took at a Veteran’s Administration hospital while I was going through my exit physicals from the US Navy. As an atomic advocate who knows how sensitive people can be about discussing HEU, and as a man who works hard to avoid acronyms, I was amused. End Aside.

One of the reasons that I decided to include the above aside with a humorous HEU sign is that I want to challenge you to think about the political and economic implications associated with the arbitrary definition of highly enriched uranium. According to the internationally accepted political definition, any uranium that contains 20% or more fissile uranium (U-235) is considered to be HEU. At that level, all kinds of material restrictions kick in. The world has spent enormous sums of money developing sophisticated new research reactor fuels in order to replace the simple aluminium clad fuels that were the basis for research reactors for the first three decades or so of the Atoms for Peace era.

The ostensible reason for the line at 20% is that anything greater makes it too easy for a dedicated weapons developer to build a functional explosive device. However, that limitation has also hampered or outright prevented a number of valuable technology innovations. In addition, it has successfully raised the barrier to entry for any nation that would like to develop its own profitable nuclear fuel manufacturing capability.

While it is obviously possible to build large functional reactors using lower enrichments, small reactor designers have to overcome a number of challenges to build a reactor that can reliably produce heat to serve a variable load. If a reactor designer wants to produce a system to serve isolated loads, they have to design something that can power its way through xenon transients during a reasonably chosen fuel lifetime. It is a less costly challenge to overcome with a higher concentration of fissile material that does not lose a large portion of the produced neutrons in absorption in fertile material.

Doing that with lower enrichments requires some design and material sophistication. I do not know the technical details as well as some people, but I understand that lower enriched fuels require cladding that has a tiny neutron cross section. One of the more popular choices has been extremely pure zirconium alloys; zirconium has a low affinity for absorbing valuable neutrons, but it is naturally contaminated with hafnium, a strong neutron absorber. Separating hafnium from zirconium is a well established technology, but the people who own the intellectual property chose not to share it. A nation that wants an independent capability has to develop it.

In the past few days, Iran has publicly admitted that it is interested in building smaller reactors that can power tankers and perhaps even reactors that are small enough to squeeze inside submarines. Though submarines are rightfully considered to be sophisticated systems and though they have been a technical challenge even for nations like Canada and Australia, Iran appears to have all of the right ingredients to be reasonably successful.

The country has been operating and maintaining submarines for at least 2 decades, it has a firm base of engineering talent (in the days of the Shah, the population of Iranians in US engineering programs was quite high), and it has a supportive government. Politicians need to remember that the United States, the Soviet Union, France and China all successfully developed nuclear powered submarines using 1950s vintage technology. (The UK did not independently develop its nuclear submarine technology.)

As an internationally isolated pariah, Iran also has a strong motive for developing what could be a powerful game changer – the ability to build smaller, load following nuclear power plants. From an economic power point of view, it is very difficult to embargo a country that has plenty of indigenous energy. It is very difficult to stop a nation from finding someone who is willing to engage in trade if it has ships that almost never need to be refueled or resupplied.

From a military point of view, compact nuclear reactors are valuable, especially considering Iran’s geographic location astride a key international trading route. However, nuclear powered submarines would allow an angered Iran to threaten to sink ships in almost any location around the world.

Continued demonization and isolation is a path that is likely to yield results that almost no one (other than arms suppliers) wants. Engagement and recognition of real world technical facts will be a more productive path towards a peaceful and prosperous world. I suspect that I have just opened myself to accusations of following a Neville Chamberlain path. Let me assure you that I am not an advocate of appeasement, but proving that point would take a lot more time than I have available this morning.

About Rod Adams

48 Responses to “Does “highly” enriched uranium make it easier to build more compact reactors?”

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  1. James Greenidge says:

    Always hated that term “Atoms For Peace”! Somehow it makes me picture a PC program of reforming Charles Manson into a Girl Scout leader for community service. No one talks about “TNT for Peace” or “Hammers For Peace” or “Knives For Peace”. Is nuclear energy so intrinsically evil that you gotta find SOME way and excuse to show it can do peaceful duty too?

    Just me.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  2. DV82XL says:

    First the current definition for HEU is ludicrous. 20% is simply too low and should be revised upward. The fact is that at the current level, the utility of many research reactors has been seriously compromised with no real gains in security by international agreements to limit fuel for these plants to the 20% limit. Not only does this impact the amount of science that can be done, but also the production of medical and industrial isotopes. More importantly high-flux neutrons produced by these reactors are used to test materials and assemblies used in new power reactor designs. Thus the development of Gen IV is adversely impacted as well.

    In any rational world, deployment of small HEU fuelled reactors would have been an obvious next step – the designs were well established and tested by militaries in marine applications, running up hundreds of thousands of hours of safe operation and operator experience. These could have moved quickly and smoothly into civilian service with very little effort or expense. This should have been the application of surplus HEU left over from the Cold War – a peace dividend if there ever was one. In my opinion it was to prevent this from happening more than any security issues that was the impetus of the programs to dilute HEU stocks to LEU fuel. The waste of SWUs by this downblending is sickening when one thinks of all the good it could have done.

    As for Iran, clearly that fight has been lost. Iran will become a major player in regional geopolitics eventually one way or the other, and every step taken to delay that day will harden their attitudes and make them more difficult to deal with. Iran is not like Iraq. It is a ancient an homogeneous nation, not as Iraq was, an artificial construct of post-colonial map making. An invasion of Iran will not benefit from internal tensions or widespread dislike of the central government that occurred in Iraq, and on top of which it is a much larger country with a much more disciplined armed force.

    Iran will develop nuclear weapons, regardless, and the response must be to allow Israel to do the same. MAD worked to maintain the status quo during the Cold War, as it now does between India and Pakistan: it will work in this case as well. The idea that the spread of nuclear weapons can be contained has proven to be an abject failure; it is time that the world faces this head on and adjusts its expectations in this regard. Continuing to pursue policies that are demonstrably ineffective for ideological reasons only means that the West’s influence in this matter will continue to wane which will lead to more, not less stability.

    Rob Gauthier

    • Joel Riddle says:

      “Allow Israel to do the same”?

      Isn’t Israel possessing nuclear arms a very poorly kept secret? Isn’t that a major reason that Iran maintains the posture that they have over the years?

      • DV82XL says:

        Israel’s stance on nuclear weapons is a strange one. Nuclear weapons serve as a deterrent only if any potential attacker knows for sure that they exist, and that there is the political will to use them. Israel has never needed to have a weapon for this purpose as clearly they enjoy protection under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Thus if they are packing nukes it would be for preemptive strike (first use) capability. They certainly like to give the impression that they do have this capability without saying so outright, and certainly they have the technical capacity to create and maintain an arsenal, but frankly I doubt that this is the case.

        A country the size of Israel can have a credible defensive nuclear capability (that is they could make invading them too difficult and expensive) with relatively few warheads and simple delivery systems. However a First Strike capability is altogether different and requires a much larger arsenal and several different delivery options. The short reason being that first use requires that you hit hard enough with the initial attack that your opponent has nothing left to strike back with. These are two very different things and it would be hard to hide the latter capability as completely as Israel is supposed to be doing.

        Rob Gauthier

  3. Arcs_n_Sparks says:

    Good article. Clearly HEU allows you to build compact cores, and have a longer life. I use to discuss with Matt Bunn the following proliferation-related question: which is worse, a sealed HEU core reactor with 20 year lifetime, or LEU in a reactor that that has to be opened on a frequent basis (with greater possibility of fuel mischief) to be refueled?

  4. Jeff S says:

    Rod,

    I don’t really want Iran to have nuclear subs or ships, either. I can understand why they would want them, but with Iran’s current government, the way they behave, the way they treat their own people, I want them to be vulnerable to embargoes, so that we as the International Community have some leverage left to apply pressure on their regime that isn’t outright war.

    I have no desire to go to war with Iran, but the present leadership of Iran is just a little bit insane, and more than a little bit tyrannical. They have brutally oppressed their own people, including murdering unarmed people for simply protesting the theft of the presidential election by the clerics. They appoint Ahmadinejad president – a man who denies the holocaust, who denies there are any homosexuals in Iran – even as they execute people for being homosexual. They kidnap college kids hiking near the border, and hold them for years in prison on trumped up charges of espionage. They attack boats outside of their territorial waters, and take prisoners. They support the regime of Bashar al Assad in Syria, who has for years been brutally cracking down on peaceful protestors, forcing the situation to turn into an armed civil war so that he can finally be “right” about cracking down on armed resistance.

    This is the government you want to have small reactors powered by HEU on submarines that can attacks other countries ships’ anywhere in the world? You have no problem with that?

    I suppose, as a former Navy Sub officer, you have a better perspective than me. Perhaps you are confident that the U.S. navy (along with the navies of our allies), can easily protect us from an Iranian nuclear sub fleet, because our subs and other navy assets are so far superior in their level of technology? Maybe that would even be correct.

    But, until there is a regime change in Iran, I’m very uncomfortable with them having good energy security, nuclear navy vessels, and possibly nuclear weapons. If you know something I don’t about why those aren’t really problems, I’m all ears.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Jeff S

      Iran has been subjected to a sustained trade embargo and disinformation campaign since before I graduated from college. The US supported Iraq in the eight year long war between the two countries even when it was known that Saddam was a bad actor who was using chemical weapons. Iran actually started its nuclear program when the rest of the world refused to do anything to help protect it from Saddam’s use of WMD.

      The “real politic” folks in DC thought it was okay because Saddam kept selling us oil. I think that the US government was still holding a grudge because Iranian students embarrassed the US by keeping embassy employees hostage for 444 days. As far as I know, all of those hostages were released. Iran’s legitimate beefs with the US actually date back to at least 1953 when Kermit Roosevelt led a successful coup against a legitimately elected leader named Mosaddeq at the request of the UK, which wanted to protect its control of Iranian oil through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

      I would not defend any country that actually did the things that Iran has been accused of doing, but I am not sure how much of the list that you provided is true and how much is the result of the demonization campaign. Remember, I was a military officer for nearly 30 years and have carried a military ID since I was 17 years old. I completed two tours at the US Naval Academy and have a diploma from the Naval War College. My MS is in Command, Control and Communications. Put all of that together with my degree in English with a senior project in satire and you can start to understand why I do not put that much trust in the media or in the government propaganda campaigns. I do not think we have been told the truth.

      You are correct about the risk of Iran having an independent nuclear energy capability. Any nation that does not want to be told what to do has a great deal of independence from domination if they have indigenous atomic power. I might not like the nation, but under the moral code that governs my behavior and my thought processes, I do not think we have the right to tell that nation what to do or what technology they have a right to use.

      It is kind of like Texans who are very polite because they know anyone they deal with might be carrying. I think it is high time that the United States started applying the golden rule to other nations. We should be contributing to global prosperity, not attempting to maintain an illegitimate global domination. It has always made me cringe to hear anyone call the US the world’s only superpower. How do you think that makes the citizens of all of the other nations in the world feel?

  5. Jeff S says:

    Let me just add, though, that as with other arguments about “proliferation”, I see no good reason why, at this point, we need to deny ourselves things like HEU and the benefits it brings. It doesn’t seem to logically follow that denying ourselves will present others like Iran from getting it, and it also doesn’t really seem to follow that taking a “moral highground” by not using it will have any persuasive effect on other nations not to pursue it.

  6. NickL says:

    The technical people I have talked to about the RERTR (Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors) program think that it probably does not affect security at U.S. reactors, but that it does impose a significant research limitation. I guess some policy people think that by holding ourselves (the U.S.) to this enrichment limitation we will have greater credibility in convincing other countries to do the same. That kind of policy argument may have some merit, but I also think there is zero chance that fuel for the HFIR (High Flux Isotope Reactor) or the ATR (Advanced Test Reactor) would be diverted for nefarious purposes. Their fuel is delivered under armed escort, and the reactors reside at government facilities behind layers of guards, guns, and gates. (I’m unfamiliar with the situation at most university reactors.) Perhaps a more nuanced approach is needed: reduce to LEU where HEU really isn’t necessary, but leave those secure flagship research reactors alone.

    • Joel Riddle says:

      I am a mechanical rather than nuclear engineer, but obtaining a high enough neutron flux to maintain the mission of being the “High Flux” Isotope Reactor would seem to be rather difficult (maybe even impossible) with a lower level of enrichment.

  7. Bill Hannahan says:

    Regarding this comment;

    “However, that limitation has also hampered or outright prevented a number of valuable technology innovations. In addition, it has successfully raised the barrier to entry for any nation that would like to develop its own profitable nuclear fuel manufacturing capability.”

    Rod, What innovations have been prevented?

    If high enrichment is good, why don’t power reactors use 19.999% enriched fuel instead of 5%. The answer is that high enrichment requires more mined uranium per kWh, leading to higher cost per kWh.

    Enrichment represents a very small fraction of the cost of a nuclear kWh, but it is also one of two easy paths to nuclear bombs (the other being simple unpressurized graphite moderated plutonium production reactors). For this reason enrichment should be limited to large stable countries, preferably those already having nuclear weapons, which welcome full UN oversight. In exchange for this, other countries should be guaranteed a supply of enriched uranium at competitive price, for an open civil nuclear energy program.

    The 20% number is not unreasonable.

    “for a crude, inefficient weapon 20% is sufficient (called weapon(s)-usable);[3][4] in theory even lower enrichment is sufficient, but then the critical mass for unmoderated fast neutrons rapidly increases, approaching infinity at 6% 235U.[5]”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enriched_uranium

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Bill Hannahan:

      If high enrichment is good, why don’t power reactors use 19.999% enriched fuel instead of 5%. The answer is that high enrichment requires more mined uranium per kWh, leading to higher cost per kWh.

      The real reason is that current fuel manufacturers have licenses that limit them to 5% enrichment. Obtaining a new license is not easy or cheap; neither is qualifying the new fuel or establishing the additional security required by law for higher enrichments. (Those laws are purely political, not technical.)

      Fuel manufacturers have little incentive to challenge the low enrichment rules because they like selling more fuel bundles. Higher enrichment allows longer intervals between refueling; refueling is expensive mainly due to the loss of production capability. Of course, utilities will tell you that they schedule refueling for times when they do not need the power anyway, but what that really means is that a different fuel supplier – probably one selling natural gas – gets to supply the market when nuclear plants are shut down.

      Someone will probably bring up the fact that refueling outages also provide the opportunity to conduct required inspections and maintenance, but there are ways to group those inspections differently that would allow longer operating intervals if there was not a need to swap or shuffle fuel bundles.

      High enrichments allow seed and blanket designs like the ones used in the last core of the Shippingport – the one that proved that it is possible to operate a breeding cycle with light water coolant.

      As you pointed out, enrichment is a lot cheaper today than it was when low enriched fuel was chosen. Yes, higher enrichments mean that we need to mine more uranium – so what? Uranium is cheap and readily available. It is not like we are actually throwing away the tails – they are stored in well known and monitored locations in a form that makes them available for future generations that will use logically designed reactors to turn those “tails” into valuable heat.

    • Brian Mays says:

      Bill wrote:

      If high enrichment is good, why don’t power reactors use 19.999% enriched fuel instead of 5%. The answer is that high enrichment requires more mined uranium per kWh, leading to higher cost per kWh.

      Not necessarily. It also depends on the amount of burnup that you’re able to get out of the fuel.

      Rod wrote:

      Fuel manufacturers have little incentive to challenge the low enrichment rules because they like selling more fuel bundles.

      Oh, I don’t know about that. If selling more fuel bundles was the real reason, why have fuel companies worked over the years to build better fuel that can go to higher burnups?

      This wouldn’t affect the fuel cycle length, but the fuel companies could make more money selling assemblies that are designed to go in for only two cycles instead of three, which is not uncommon today.

      I suspect the current standards for fuel enrichment have more to do with the expense and technical challenges of getting higher-enrichment fuel qualified and approved for the NRC for use. If you’re familiar with what has been going on with MOX fuel, you know what I mean. Currently, the DOE is the only party that I know of that is seriously interested (i.e., willing to spend money) into looking into alternative, higher-enrichment fuel for contemporary LWR’s.

      • Rod Adams says:

        @Brian

        Marginal improvements in burn-up are competitive advantages that improve sales and bottom line. Dramatic improvements would disrupt the entire market.

        Which do you think existing suppliers are most motivated to pursue?

        BTW – who has the most incentive to make it as difficult as possible to qualify new fuel designs? Do you really think that the AEC/NRC rules were developed without any industry input?

        In MBA classes, this technique of helping to write favorable regulations is called “raising the barrier to entry.” I’ve taken some of the classes, read some of the books and even sat in some of the strategic meetings for similar discussions.

        I am not trying to be critical; I am merely helping people to understand businessmen do not behave like typical engineers and scientists do. Yes, many businessmen have engineering or science backgrounds, but they generally have different motives by the time they work their way up the ladder and have attended business school.

        I’m a weird guy who has achieved a point on the Maslow hierarchy of needs that is comfortable enough. I do not intend to stop working, but I am not motivated to make a lot more money than I do already. I think I understand a little about the nature of those who sacrifice everything I think of as important for higher salaries, bigger bonuses, fancy suits and cars that they think impress more people.

        • Brian Mays says:

          BTW – who has the most incentive to make it as difficult as possible to qualify new fuel designs?

          Rod – But it’s a little bit more complicated than that. It’s not just regulatory rules that are in the way. There’s a lot of solid engineering work that must be done to develop decent fuel outside of the current envelope.

          To make good alternative fuel for a contemporary LWR, you need to do better than what has already been developed, which has about half a century of operating experience and incremental improvements behind it. Some of that experience and work you can take credit for and use in a revolutionary design, but most will not apply.

          Thus, there’s a lot of genuine R&D that must be done to develop and qualify a new fuel design. If I recall correctly, the company that you work for has not sold commercial nuclear fuel in the US market since it was split from what is now AREVA sometime around 1990. Here’s a nuclear industry secret that most people don’t know: the fuel-selling business is often a net loser year to year. This is why you never see a company that just sells nuclear fuel. If it wasn’t for the ability for the big companies like GE, Westinghouse, and AREVA to sell package deals that combine fuel and services (the real moneymaker), nobody could afford to be in the business unless the price of fuel increased rather significantly.

          Given this highly competitive, low-margin (and even negative-margin) business that these companies are in, do you really think that any one of them is going to embark, on their own, to start an expensive and highly risky program to develop a new high-enrichment fuel?

          Of course, businessmen do not behave like typical engineers and scientists do; they have to worry about going bankrupt.

    • Mike Greaves says:

      Bill,
      The phrase “weapons-usable” is bogus. They apply it to theoretical critical assemblies which no self-respecting weaponeer would ever attempt to use; the term itself is intended to be confused with “weapons-grade” (i.e. the real stuff). The real risk with 20% U-235 is that it can be enriched further; even with something like a calutron, which is what Iraq was trying to do back in 1990, if I recall. But then that requires lots of starting material…

      It is highly relevant, and rarely mentioned, that for NO enrichment level of uranium is the practical weapon core less than several times the minimum critical mass in a thermal spectrum. i.e. (1) PICK an enrichment (10%, 20%, 40%, 93% – your choice), (2) it would take *several* small research reactor cores to extract enough U to fabricate *one* respectable explosive. So unless a research reactor is both quite large and they grab the whole fresh core, it would take the bad guys multiple separate thefts to get anywhere.

      Recall that Little Boy took 52 kg of 90+% U-235; and most estimates say 15 kg of 90+% U-235 is needed for a weapon of similar power using a modern implosion assembly; and don’t assume that anyone without enormous resources could even attempt to develop the latter.

      I recall minimum critical masses being under 2 kg of U-235 for some small research reactors, and lots under 5 kg. TRIGA springs to mind. Even the powerful HFIR needs less than 10 kg. Power reactors, even small ones, will clearly need much more, but the current restrictions on research reactors and medical applications seem kind of silly.

      OTOH, what is the U-235 loading of a naval reactor or SMR core?
      Has to be 100′s of kg… More than a ton for bigger ones. A ton of U-235…

      For power reactor cores and quantities a restriction below 90% seems reasonable.
      My question would be: what happened to the MEU classification between 20% and 49.9% ?
      Anyone confirm that the old Soviet submarine fuel was only 40% U-235 ?
      Good luck building a decent and deliverable weapon on-the-sly with 40% U-235.
      You’d need lots.

  8. Bill Hannahan says:

    Rod, consider a thought experiment; someone discovers relatively simple inexpensive technology with a 100% probability of curing the common cold for anyone who uses it. The technology can also be used to develop a virus that is more contagious than the common cold and 100% fatal to anyone who contracts it.

    Do you think this technology should be;

    1… Made available to every human so that they can make their own cold medicine?

    2… Made available to every city so that they can make their own cold medicine?

    3… Made available to every country so that they can make their own cold medicine?

    4… Limited to a few very secure locations in stable democratic nations to make cold medicine for the world, at a reasonable price, under rigorous international supervision?

    5… Limited to the smallest possible number of humans and not used for any purpose?

    Rod, what is your choice and what is your reasoning?

    As more countries acquire enrichment technology, the probability of a U.S. city being destroyed without warning by a nuclear bomb of unverifiable source goes up. To me that is sufficient justification for the U.S. to use all resources available to prevent the proliferation of enrichment technology.

    Military force would be the very last resort. I would not try to attack hidden hardened targets; that is difficult and expensive to carry out and confirm effectiveness. I would shutdown the national grid until it agrees to dismantle its enrichment program under full UN supervision. If that nation’s leaders prefer to go back to the 18th century rather than give up enrichment, and if the citizens support that decision by not overthrowing their government, I would also support that decision.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Bill Hannahan

      A solution to the energy supply woes that have resulted in billions of early deaths due to dirty water, dirty air, and warfare over power resources is hardly comparable to a cure for the common cold.

      • Bill Hannahan says:

        Rod, I am truly surprised and disappointed that you chose to sidestep the principles illustrated in my example. If you have no questions for me and avoid my questions we cannot learn anything from each other. Don’t lower yourself to Bob A’s tactics.

        • Rod Adams says:

          @Bill Hannahan

          I did not choose to sidestep your principles. I rejected the notion that developing the independent capability to produce power that will last virtually forever is as trivial as curing the common cold. I also reject the idea that “stable democracies” have some kind of right – or even ability – to monopolize the use of nuclear energy.

          Sure, it is powerful stuff. There is no evidence, however, to indicate that Iran or any other nation actually wants to use nuclear weapons to kill anyone. If they want them at all, I strongly suspect that they will use them in exactly the same way that current nuclear powers have used them – as a way to ensure that they have a spot at the decision making table.

        • DV82XL says:

          “As more countries acquire enrichment technology, the probability of a U.S. city being destroyed without warning by a nuclear bomb of unverifiable source goes up. To me that is sufficient justification for the U.S. to use all resources available to prevent the proliferation of enrichment technology.”

          This statement alone demonstrates that you do not understand nuclear weapons, what they can and cannot do, or anything at all about the military aspects of this type of weapon.

          To start off with the belief that the function of nuclear weapons is to destroy cities is very dated and has not been true for some time. Smaller nations wish to hold tactical nuclear weapons that they can use deter invasion. Strategic nuclear weapons, the type that can threaten the U.S. by targeting populated areas are something very different and are not being developed because they are militarily useless. The short reason is that the U.S. could and would retaliate in such overwhelming force with its own warheads that the offending nation would no longer exist. Any state holding or contemplating the acquisition of nuclear weapons understands this.

          Blather about mad dictators is just that. Mad dictators become very rational once they have split atoms. Prior to the getting his own bomb, Mao was constantly calling for the U.S.S.R. to nuke America into rubble. But once he had his own weapons, the rhetoric stopped. The magnitude of what he had been demanding and what the implications were had sunk in. As well mad as they may be these dictators do not operate in a vacuum – they are surrounded by others that are not mad, and want to keep their on skin intact. As a result no nuclear weapon will ever be launched on a whim.

          The very last thing the nuclear debate needs is positions taken by those that still think we are back in the middle of the last century. The world has changed and nuclear doctrines have changed with it.

        • George Carty says:

          I think the real fear is “what if doomsday cultists get the Bomb”? In the specific case of Iran, Ahmadinejad’s rumored connections with the Hojjatieh Society add substance to this fear…

          • Rod Adams says:

            @George Carty

            Are you suggesting that we should base international relations on rumors and fear? Under the current Iranian government organization, Ahmadinejad would not have control over weapons systems; he must always answer to the Supreme Leader.

  9. Bill Hannahan says:

    @ DV82XL
    { This statement alone demonstrates that you do not understand nuclear weapons}

    I understand that nuclear weapons are sophisticated relatively compact devices designed to work reliably and effectively in a combat situation. Apparently you do not understand that while all nuclear weapons are nuclear bombs, not all nuclear bombs are nuclear weapons.

    You do not understand that I am not talking about nuclear weapons. I am talking about a very simple device that can be smuggled into the country to produce an act of terror that makes 9/11 pale in comparison. A device that may well not be traceable back to its source.

    { Mad dictators become very rational once they have split atoms.}

    Really? Mao is your evidence for this. Mao was not mad, he was smart. I surmise that you would have us give Charles Manson the biggest gun in the world and turn him loose. Having all that power would turn him into a nice responsible citizen, if you are right.

    How did your theory work out for the shooter in Aurora CO?

  10. Bill Hannahan says:

    @Rod Adams
    {I also reject the idea that “stable democracies” have some kind of right – or even ability – to monopolize the use of nuclear energy.}

    Rod, are you deliberately misstating my position or did you not read it carefully; specifically this.

    “In exchange for this,(a limited number of enrichment facilities in stable countries under international supervision) other countries should be guaranteed a supply of enriched uranium at competitive price, for an open civil nuclear energy program.”

    This is the exact opposite of your interpretation of my position on commercial nuclear power. For the record, my position on nuclear weapons is that their numbers should be reduced to zero.

    {I rejected the notion that developing the independent capability to produce power that will last virtually forever is as trivial as curing the common cold.}

    Rod, is this a deliberate insult or do you really believe that I believe that the two issues are equally important? You should understand that thought experiments do not have to be realistic or proportional to illustrate a point. On the chance that you did not understand this I will address your issue.

    Imagine that someone discovers relatively simple inexpensive technology to make a briefcase sized energy cell that is made from inexpensive commonly available materials for a few hundred dollars. It can produce 10,000 kW for over a year, and produces no radiation or harmful waste products. Obviously this technology can replace fossil fuel and nuclear power.

    While the cells themselves are reasonably safe, there is one step in the manufacturing process that can easily be used to produce explosive devices with a yield of over 100 kt.

    Do you think this step should be;

    1… Made available to every human so that they can make their own energy cells?

    2… Made available to every city so that they can make their own energy cells?

    3… Made available to every country so that they can make their own energy cells?

    4… Limited to a few very secure locations in stable democratic nations to make energy cells for the world, at a reasonable price, under rigorous international supervision?

    5… Limited to the smallest possible number of humans and not used for any purpose?

    Rod, what is your choice and what is your reasoning?

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Bill Hannahan

      Your thought exercise, now restated deserves a careful answer that I do not have time to give this morning. I promise to return.

      However, I will suggest that you spend just a little time looking up the Baruch Plan, offered up in the late 1940s to see what the world’s reaction has been to similar “guarantees” of access to just enough nuclear material to allow other countries to use as much nuclear energy as the controlling countries will allow.

      Update – here is a starting point link:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baruch_Plan

  11. Bill Hannahan says:

    @Mike Greaves
    Good points all Mike.

    I am not talking about a nuclear weapon.

    Consider an old cargo ship. The center hold is empty. The forward hold contains a massive steel reinforced concrete block containing a large hemisphere of 19% enriched uranium, barely sub critical, facing aft. The hold forward of that contains ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel mixture of the appropriate ratio. The aft holds contain a mirror image of this setup.

    The ship sails into a large densely populated harbor, perhaps one with a large LNG storage facility. The AMFO is set off driving the two blocks together at high velocity with a pulsed neutron generator set to fire as they make contact. What happens next?

    • DV82XL says:

      “You do not understand that I am not talking about nuclear weapons. I am talking about a very simple device that can be smuggled into the country to produce an act of terror that makes 9/11 pale in comparison. A device that may well not be traceable back to its source.”

      The “terrorist bomb” mime is yet another artifact of propaganda that vanishes under the glare of fact and logic. Again, those that invoke such at thing only demonstrate their ignorance of the mechanics of nuclear explosives.

      To start off with, any device powerful enough to ‘destroy a city’ (your words) and small enough to be smuggled into one without being detected would be a very sophisticated one indeed. The term ‘crude nuclear device’ that is bandied about in the press, often invoking the bomb that was used on Hiroshima, fail to point out that this was a very large device that was in fact a crew-served weapon requiring components installed just before it was dropped. While latter gun-type designs were more compact, they still required a significant support structure, and arming procedures before use. Furthermore, while the damage done to Hiroshima was extensive, the city was far from destroyed.

      Your ‘ship-as-a-bomb’ idea is simply without merit and fails any examination of the practical issues. Since the claim is an anonymous attack are we assume that this ship is not flagged? That it permitted to enter a harbor in that state without challenge? That it would necessarily escape being boarded by officials, and so on and so on.

      Oh and the probability that 19% will assemble to go supercritical and do so reliably is nonsense. The very size of the sub-critical pieces and the velocities that would be needed almost guarantee that they would smash themselves to bits before fissioning to any degree.

      Frankly this looks like something out of a bad movie, rather than some real threat.

      As for the idea that an attack of this nature would be untraceable, this begs the question of why? Any military action (or threat of military action) is done to meet some definable geopolitical goal. A random attack of the sort you are suggesting, where the perpetrator remains hidden, simply does not permit the attacker realize any gains. Ultimately they have to expose themselves to do so by making demands or threatening to do it again or the effort would be for naught. In other words: where would the leverage be from a truly anonymous attack?

      The above issue is only amplified by the fact that any explosive nuclear device represents a considerable investment in time and treasure to the nation that manufactures one. To assume then that they would deploy one for what boils down to making mischief, simply beggars the imagination and is hardly a reason to maintain a policy. One might as well try to halt the development of chemical industries, and medical research in other countries claiming they might be used to create the material for a surreptitious CBW attack that would be untraceable. It simply doesn’t make sense.

      Your arguments invoking Charles Manson et. al. are the worst kind of sophistry. None of them lead counties, thus any comparison with the classic ‘mad dictator’ (itself largely a caricature of propaganda) is without foundation. The fact remains that in every case where a country has obtained nuclear weapons, the level of bellicosity has dropped precipitously as the strategic implications of these weapons sinks in. This is also the reason we will never see any nation give a sub/extra-national group such a weapon, or the makings, or permit them to build one in country. The idea that such a device would be in the possession of those not under direct control is unthinkable.

      Rob Gauthier

  12. Robert Steinhaus says:

    Thorium LFTRs do not require emerging nuclear states master the technology of enrichment, although some fissile (around 400kg per 1Gwe for a high-flux density core) is required to start the reactor. Proof of principle of LFTRs has been provided (ORNL MSRE), but a commercial implementation in hardware does not yet exist (Go Flibe Energy).

    It is actually very difficult to extract weapons grade materials from Thorium LFTRs (as it is difficult to obtain weapons grade plutonium from yanking fuel assemblies from operating LWRs or SFRs and reprocessing them).

    Once a LFTR is started on its reduced charge of fissile (1/12th the fissile required to start a typical LWR of the same size) from that point on only cheap, weapons useless, unenriched Thorium is required as fuel and only weapons useless fission products (with virtually no Pu-239) is produced as “waste”.

    Commercialization of Thorium LFTR fluid fuel technology could be more effective in providing for the needs of emerging Arab states like Iran with significantly less risk of weapons diversion.

    • DV82XL says:

      First Iran is not an Arab state, it is an Islamic one for sure, but it is definitely not Arab.

      Secondly the fantasy that any state is in a position to dictate what technology another sovereign state may or may not use, is naive at the very least.

      Thirdly, minor states look to acquire nuclear weapons for defensive purposes, as these are the only weapon that they can afford that will prevent an invasion by a Great
      Power.

      Lastly again with the LFTR can solve nuclear power’s problems: the implication being that current designs are the reason that these issues exist. A state with reasons to develop nuclear weapons will do so regardless of what type of nuclear power generation it has. India which mostly used pressurized heavy water reactors that do not need enriched fuel, yet they were not inhibited from mounting a very successful nuclear weapons program. The two issues of power generation and weaponry are just not linked as some would like to imagine.

  13. Bill Hannahan says:

    @DV8XL

    {this (the Hiroshima bomb) was a very large device that was in fact a crew-served weapon requiring components installed just before it was dropped}

    Wrong on all counts. It was actually smaller and lighter than the far more sophisticated bomb used at Nagasaki. It could be transported in a rental truck.

    The decision to install key components in flight was a choice made by the weapon specialist to protect people in the event of a takeoff accident, not a requirement for detonation. Terrorists do not worry about such things as much.

    {Since the claim is an anonymous attack are we assume that this ship is not flagged? That it permitted to enter a harbor in that state without challenge? That it would necessarily escape being boarded by officials, and so on and so on.}

    You obviously think all terrorists are idiots. Some are very smart and college educated. The ship would look completely normal. It would be flagged, a look into the holds would give the appearance of a full load of routine cargo, it would be ballasted to the correct water line, etc. If it is customary to use a harbor pilot they would welcome the pilot on board and engage him in friendly conversation. All would appear normal until the ship is within the harbor close to its final destination, perhaps a pier where one or more cruise ships or a nuclear powered aircraft carrier are loading for departure.

    {Oh and the probability that 19% will assemble to go supercritical and do so reliably is nonsense. The very size of the sub-critical pieces and the velocities that would be needed almost guarantee that they would smash themselves to bits before fissioning to any degree. Frankly this looks like something out of a bad movie, rather than some real threat.}

    Now you are just making stuff up. We are talking about less than 2,000 kg of uranium, pieces with diameter in the neighborhood of 50 cm. A more likely failure mode is premature ignition from spontaneous fission neutrons resulting in reduced yield. 19% is a low limit, reliability can be enhanced by going to higher enrichment, this is not a military weapon requiring very high reliability.

    In the Hiroshima weapon the available acceleration distance was a few feet. In a ship it could be over a hundred feet. Very high velocities are possible with moderate acceleration rates. The propeller shaft from an old supertanker could be used as a gun tube.

    {A random attack of the sort you are suggesting, where the perpetrator remains hidden, simply does not permit the attacker realize any gains}

    What were the perceived gains from the 9/11 attack? Every time they see us taking off our shoes at an airport is a win for them. The enormous expenditure on security, the loss of freedom and privacy are all wins for them.

    {… we will never see any nation give a sub/extra-national group such a weapon… The idea that such a device would be in the possession of those not under direct control is unthinkable.}

    So, you are supremely confident that if there were nuclear weapons locked up in dozens of small countries around the world, they would receive the same level of security as those in the U.S. There would not be one security officer or small group of guards willing to sell a few bombs to a terrorist group to be used against the U.S. in exchange for several million dollars and new identities. I am not confident of that.

  14. DV82XL says:

    On of the more tiresome aspects of being a regular commenter on pronuclear blogs is that one constantly needs to rehash subjects that have been dealt with over and over again as some new individual drags the same tired arguments up. I miss the old days when one could simply point these folks to a well-ordered FAC and they ignore them. Nevertheless: once more into the breach…

    First Mr. Hannahan, please understand that your grasp of the fundamentals of this topic are both deeply flawed and very incomplete. This is not an insult, but a statement of fact. If you really wish to hold a considered opinion on this subject, you need to research it in far more depth than you have. If and when you do, you will see that much of what you now believe is simply wrong and is the product of extrapolation from misinformation of the sort that bandied about by antinuclear groups and has been given the veneer of respectability because it has been repeated in popular media.

    Now to deal with your counter points in order:

    Yes Little Boy was smaller than Fat Man – so what? The fact remains that it was a large complex device and represented a considerable amount of engineering and resources to build and it is very economical with the truth when the press refers to it a “crude” gun-type device. Indeed later refinements of the design made for a more compact unit. But there was nothing ‘crude’ about Little Boy itself, and the implication that a functioning one can be cobbled together by anyone with access to a few kilos of HEU is patently false.

    Making such a device requires a complex industrial and engineering infrastructure that would need inputs from a wide spectrum of skills and knowledge, specialized equipment, and that is not taking into account the many places that things could go wrong, and likely will in a project of this magnitude. The idea that this could be done by a subnational group, surreptitiously is ludicrous on its face.

    The term ‘a flagged ship’ means one with a registered some place and which can be traced thus forfeiting the anonymity that you are claiming possible.

    Clearly you have never worked with uranium. I have in the form of DU used as aircraft trim weights, and I ca tell you that this is very difficult material to work with. It has very poor, machinability, it is almost impossible to forge in its pure state, and requires high tech equipment and special procedures to cast. It is very likely a 1000kg block, even if it was an aggregate made of smaller chunks would disintegrate under the force of acceleration in the type of devise you are suggesting. At any rate the idea still is without merit. Any actor thinking of building such a fireship would be quickly dissuaded by the experts that would need to be consulted for the project who would point out the likelihood of failure is far too high for the effort. If you want to contend otherwise, you will need to demonstrate the possibility with facts and figures – assertions of plausibility based on your fertile imagination are just not enough.

    The 9/11 attack was a was driven by the objective to change American foreign policy with respect to Israel, as well as to end the continued presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War. These were the stated objectives of the group that claimed responsibility for the action. This action was not by any means anonymous, nor was it to cause an enormous expenditure on security, the loss of freedom and privacy as an end in and of itself because ‘they hate our freedoms’ or some such nonsense. In other words it was perpetrated in an attempt to bring about a specific set of geopolitical goals.

    That it failed miserably in that objective is not germane beyond the fact that this too will be taken into account by another potential enemy and may serve to dissuade them as clearly the U.S. does not respond well to these sorts of actions (from the attackers’ point of view.) For that reason alone the U.S. is probably safer from this sort of asymmetrical warfare than it was before the September attacks.

    Again the idea that the government of any country going to the expense of creating a nuclear arsenal with all the support structure that fall under the heading of ‘nuclear weapons complex’ which includes the maintenance and delivery infrastructure would then treat these as if they were a box of grenades simply doesn’t fly. As well as PAL, triggers are stored separately from the body of the weapon along with other safeguards primarily because in these small nations (like Pakistan) the government trusts their own military and its officer corps far less than we do ours in the West. The people at the top understand the implications to their own political (and physical) survival should they lose control of an asset like a nuclear weapon. Note that at no time in the darkest hours of the fall of the U.S.S.R. did those in power permit nuclear warheads, or fissile material reaching the Black Market. The protagonists on all sides during that period didn’t agree on much, but on that subject there were of one mind.

    But the bottom line of course is that the record shows that there is nothing much that can be done short of overt military action that will stop a state from building nuclear weapons if it has a mind to. Since that seems to be the case, why inhibit the development of nuclear power as its presence doesn’t seem to make much difference to the proliferation issue?

  15. Bill Hannahan says:

    @DV8XL
    { please understand that your grasp of the fundamentals of this topic are both deeply flawed and very incomplete.}

    A totally unsubstantiated assertion, most likely in hopes of covering your own lack of knowledge.

    {The fact remains that it (the Hiroshima bomb) was a large complex device}

    Compared to what, a washing machine? The basic components of the gun tube and fissile material were made of high quality materials machined to careful tolerances, and it had somewhat sophisticated triggering devices, but the concept is very simple.

    2.5 years from Perl Harbor, most spent on research and design, most of which is on the internet, and publicly available highly accurate nuclear computer codes now.

    {… the implication that a functioning one can be cobbled together by anyone with access to a few kilos of HEU is patently false}

    This is a good example of your lack of knowledge. The fact is that simply dropping an appropriately sized and shaped piece of highly enriched uranium onto another appropriately sized and shaped piece can produce an explosion of several kilotons. This is why the enrichment process is the only difficult bottleneck in bomb making.

    {Making such a device requires a complex industrial and engineering infrastructure that would need inputs from a wide spectrum of skills and knowledge, specialized equipment, and that is not taking into account the many places that things could go wrong, and likely will in a project of this magnitude. The idea that this could be done by a subnational group, surreptitiously is ludicrous on its face.}

    An obvious strawman argument. I never said a terrorist group could manufacture a nuclear weapon. I also explicitly stated that I was not talking about a military weapon, yet you continue to insist that I am.

    {It (uranium) has very poor, machinability, it is almost impossible to forge in its pure state} and requires high tech equipment and special procedures to cast. It is very likely a 1000kg block, even if it was an aggregate made of smaller chunks would disintegrate under the force of acceleration in the type of devise you are suggesting.}

    Only an idiot would use pure uranium, it is alloyed with small amounts of other metals to give good mechanical properties. Sandia’s fast burst reactors used molybdenum to make it resistant to the enormous stress of being pulsed to several GW. Nuclear cannon shells reliably survive much higher acceleration rates than this device requires.

    {If you want to contend otherwise, you will need to demonstrate the possibility with facts and figures}

    None of which you provide to back up your claims.

    { why inhibit the development of nuclear power as its presence doesn’t seem to make much difference to the proliferation issue?}

    Providing all nations with guaranteed access to enrichment for commercial nuclear power at a price far lower that that of developing domestic capacity, particularly in bunkers deep underground, promotes nuclear power while making nuclear terrorism less likely.

    • DV82XL says:

      “The fact is that simply dropping an appropriately sized and shaped piece of highly enriched uranium onto another appropriately sized and shaped piece can produce an explosion of several kilotons. “

      I rest my case.

      I will no longer waste my time trying to straighten out this ignoramus.

      • Rod Adams says:

        @DV82XL and Bill Hannahan

        I think it is time to go to your separate corners. It is possible for people who are both deeply knowledgeable about the same subject to hold wildly differing opinions. We can all benefit by reading the arguments from each side.

        It is rarely effective argument to get into name calling and it is not as informative for those of us who are reading along.

        • DV82XL says:

          Oh I have already walked away. There are no grounds for fruitful discourse on this matter when it is clear that one party has drank the antinuclear Kool-Aid as deeply as Mr. Hannahan has, which seems to make one incapable of separating the differences between plausible, possible and practical.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Bill

      My question about your plan is “who provides the guarantee?”

      Though I am not Iranian I have always tried to be able to put myself in other people’s shoes. It helps me to know my family history and understand how poor they were, even though they were bright and hard working. The status only changed as a result of the incredible team effort of WWII with its rewards to the troops of access to a college education and the economic dynamism of the post-war, cheap energy era.

      How trusting do you think an Iranian citizen should be of the “international community”? Please remember the record of performance so far and the history of using economic warfare to force actions on others.

      Why should any nation trust that they would be given an ample supply of enriched fuel to keep their reactors running and to do some experimentation so that they can make those reactors even better?

      If the international community made those “guarantees” my guess is that they would keep excruciatingly tight control over the material and require tens to hundreds of pages of inventory records and justifications for every order.

      Those who are in control do not relish the idea of losing control. That means those of use who were not born near the top have to work hard to snatch as much control over our own lives as possible.

  16. Bill Hannahan says:

    @DV82XL {I rest my case}

    You asked for evidence, I give you Dr Robert Jefferson, a brilliant nuclear engineer at Sandia Labs who helped design the Sandia Fast Burst Reactors, made of highly enriched uranium metal, operated on the same physics as the Hiroshima bomb. Dr Jefferson was one of my instructors, and gave us the enormous privilege of running experiments on Sandia’s fast neutron and epithermal pulsed reactors.

    Operating this type of reactor in fast burst mode is very unforgiving of mistakes. The reactor is started at low power to get the exact control rod position for the critical condition, k=1. The reactor is split in two large pieces to shut it down and allow neutron producing fission products to decay. Two or three people independently calculate the control rod position to put the reactor in the super prompt critical region so as to produce a large burst of energy without destroying the reactor. If all agree the control rods are moved to the new position.

    The energy yield vs. reactivity curve is very steep in the super prompt critical region. Operators acknowledged that a big error could result in a mushroom cloud.

    The design team assumed that spontaneous fission neutrons would start the reactor as soon as it was assembled in a superprompt critical condition (using compressed air or nitrogen as I recall). To their surprise there were delays of several seconds ranging up to over a minute. They had neutron detectors driving speakers in the control room and could hear fission chains start to build up and then decay away. They wondered if there calculations were in error, then suddenly BANG, it went off. Small numbers of neutrons do not always follow the calculus of a fluid flux. They added a neutron source and the delays were eliminated.

    High velocity is required in a weapon that must be reliable, even on a battlefield that may have a neutron presence from previous nuclear weapon use, but is not required for a simple terror bomb. The statement you find unbelievable is true.

    Getting back to the often repeated 7/28 cornerstone of your argument.

    {Mad dictators become very rational once they have split atoms.}

    The FDA requires testing of new drugs in hundreds of people to get the statistics needed to verify safety and efficacy. Even so, when the drugs are approved for use in large numbers adverse side effects sometimes show up.

    To get the high quality statistics to verify your claim with high confidence, we need a list of about 1,000 mad dictators who have controlled nuclear weapons for decades and organized a peaceful transition to the next dictator. I will give you Kim Jong Il. Give us 999 more examples.

  17. Bill Hannahan says:

    @Rod
    {Why should any nation trust that they would be given an ample supply of enriched fuel to keep their reactors running and to do some experimentation so that they can make those reactors even better?}

    Rod, consider the large countries that have nuclear weapons, France, Russia, China, England, U.S. Ideally all of them would have private sector enrichment companies competing for the world’s enrichment needs under IAEA supervision. Those countries would welcome the income from that business.

    What would a country have to do to convince all five nations to cut off profitable sales of enrichment service to that country at the same time? Consider that Russia is still meeting weapons sales commitments to Syria. Any country that can P.O. all five sources enough to cut off a profitable enrichment deal probably should not have enrichment capacity.

    Given the low cost / kWh of nuclear fuel, any country can store years of fuel. Unified embargoes would have to be maintained for years to have significant bite. Cut off oil gas or food and it has a quick impact. Uranium enrichment is the worst commodity to embargo.

    {If the international community made those “guarantees” my guess is that they would keep excruciatingly tight control over the material}

    careful record keeping is normal in international sales of oil gas steel cars etc. I see no reason for excessive supervision unless there is evidence that a country is trying to divert material.

    {and require tens to hundreds of pages of inventory records and justifications for every order}

    What would be on all those pages? Kg of material and % enriched is all that is needed for each delivery.

    If you insist on perfection I cannot satisfy you Rod. Would you abolish drunk driving laws because some people still drive drunk?

    Still waiting for your answer to the thought experiment.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Bill

      What evidence do you have that enrichment monopolists would allow any country to store a multi-year inventory?

      What evidence do you have that enrichment is a profitable business operated by private enterprise?

      The excessive inventory requirements that I referred to are not imposed for any logical reason; they are imposed to increase the cost of using nuclear energy. Most of them can be traced – with some difficulty – to pressure from nuclear energy competitors that supply other kinds of fuel or energy products.

      I do not insist on perfection; but I insist on a realistic approach that is based on understanding some of the fundamental drivers that govern international relations among ever flawed human beings.

      There is no evidence that suggests that the US is a reliable supplier; we have used economic warfare dozens to hundreds of times in the past 50 years to try to force others to do our bidding. We have a pretty fair record of convincing the permanent members of the US Security Council – those five original weapons states that you mentioned – to go along with our program. Looking at history from an Iranian point of view, I see no reason to trust the international community to be a reliable supplier of the necessary materials that would enable a dynamic, competitive nuclear energy capability that could provide enough electricity at home to allow a dramatic increase in the availability of petroleum for export purposes.

  18. Bill Hannahan says:

    @DV82XL
    {…it is clear that one party has drank the antinuclear Kool-Aid as deeply as Mr. Hannahan has….. Because I am a regular here and I respect Rod I will heed his request to disengage with you}

    I don’t think Rod wanted to stop the technical discussion, only the name calling. Clearly you do not respect him enough to do that.

    • DV82XL says:

      I am sure Rod is grateful to you for taking the time to tell me what he wants, and for offering your judgement on what level of respect I show towards him.

  19. Bill Hannahan says:

    @Rod
    {What evidence do you have that enrichment monopolists would allow any country to store a multi-year inventory?}

    You are quite the pessimist Rod. Who are these “enrichment monopolists” who can manipulate international policy of five large nations and the U.N?

    The U.S. has been dependent on foreign oil and foreign enrichment for decades. If I had the power to make us self sufficient in one of those I would pick oil, because it would eliminate the enormous cash flow out of the country and our dependence on non friendly nations. Which would you eliminate Rod?

    {What evidence do you have that enrichment is a profitable business operated by private enterprise?}

    I see that as a trend in the future as nuclear power expands. When government competes with the private sector the government usually looses money.

    {Looking at history from an Iranian point of view, I see no reason to trust the international community to be a reliable supplier}

    Looking at history from my point of view, I see no reason to trust Iran with secret underground enrichment facilities.

    If we leave our descendants a world littered with secret enrichment facilities, plutonium production reactors and hidden nuclear weapons programs, I do not believe they will be thanking us, and I do not believe that is the best way to promote the peaceful use of nuclear power.

    Rod, you are very good at asking questions, how about answering some.

    1… What innovations have been prevented (by the 20% limit)?

    2… Rod, what is your choice (in the thought experiment) and what is your reasoning?

    3… What would a country have to do to convince all five nations to cut off profitable sales of enrichment service to that country at the same time?

    4… What would be on all those (tens to hundreds of) pages?

    5… Would you abolish drunk driving laws because some people still drive drunk?

    6… Who are these “enrichment monopolists” who can manipulate international policy of five large nations and the U.N?

    7… If you could only eliminate one, which (oil or enrichment imports to the U.S.) would you eliminate Rod.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Bill

      1. 20% limit on enrichment makes it very difficult to build high flux test reactors. It makes it harder to build small reactors. It complicates operations and adds cost at existing research reactors.

      2.

      3. Are you kidding me? The Security Council (comprising the five nations in your list) has regularly embargoed all kinds of products and services to countries they do not like – even when that country has done nothing but appear to be threatening.

      4. I don’t know. I do know that the Standard Review Plan for a Part 52 license application is 5,200 pages long. A power reactor license might run to 20,000 pages. Take a look through some of the documents on ADAMS and you will see just how good the nuclear world is at requiring lengthy and valueless documentation.

      5. I would not abolish drunk driving laws, but I certainly do not support attempts to reduce blood alcohol limits to a level so low that you can violate the law after a single drink. That is the case that is happening today in some states. I also think it is completely absurd to have a drinking age of 21, in the hopes of protecting younger people from drinking and driving.

      6. Areva, URENCO, Rosatomprom. Put those three companies together, all of which are owned by governments and you have most of the enrichment capability of the world outside of China. They are all members of an existing club that you might have heard of called the Nuclear Supplier’s Group that regularly manipulates international policy with regard to who is allowed to purchase nuclear related goods and services.

      7. I would pick nuclear energy and its associated enrichment enterprise. With nuclear energy, we can economically and cleanly convert coal and natural gas into the liquid fuels that we will need for those few applications that nuclear is incapable of supplying directly. It is a fantasy to imagine that the US can be self sufficient in oil. That train left the station in 1970 after we surpassed Hulbert’s peak.

  20. John Englert says:

    In a related story, the DoD, DOE, and DHS conducted a Nuclear forensics exercise as part of a response to the detonation of an Improvised Nuclear Device.

    • Bill Hannahan says:

      John, the problem is that when dozens of countries are using the same technology there will be no unique fingerprint to identify the source.

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