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.

South Australian senator believes there’s value in “nuclear waste”

South_Australia

South Australian Sen. Sean Edwards sees economic opportunity for his state by taking advantage of other countries’ irrational fear of radioactive materials. He wants to turn what some call “waste” into wealth. He and his staff recognize that there are tens of billions of dollars set aside in government budgets around the world for safe […]

Read more »

Today Show cheers nuclear power by chanting “Go Nuke!”

Before readers get too excited, I need to acknowledge that the Today Show in the below video is broadcast from Sydney, Australia, not New York City. However, it is still kind of exciting to have a TV newscaster chanting “Go Nuke!” The broadcaster’s excitement is based on an announcement by Liberal Party Senator Sean Edwards […]

Read more »

How do metal alloy fuel fast reactors respond to rapid reactivity insertion events?

Update: (Posted Feb 21, 2015 at 7:22) The title has been modified after initial discussion indicated it was incomplete. Other related updates are in blue font. Fast neutron spectrum reactors offer one answer to the trump question that is often used to halt informative discussions about using more atomic energy to reduce our excessive dependence […]

Read more »

Proving a Negative – Why Modern Used Nuclear Fuel Cannot Be Used to Make a Weapon

Editor’s note: This post was first published on Jul 24, 2010. While working on a new post involving the use of fast spectrum reactors to address many important society challenges, I thought it would be worthwhile to share this important background piece to let you start thinking about some of the misinformation you might have […]

Read more »

Slowly accelerate fast reactor development

In one corner are people who are certain that breeder reactors that can effectively use the earth’s massive supply of fertile isotopes — thorium and uranium 238 — should be pursued as rapidly as possible with the assistance of prioritized government funding. In the other corner are people who are just as certain that those […]

Read more »

Russia continues sustained fast breeder reactor effort

On June 26, 2014, the 60th anniversary of the start of the 5 MWe Obninsk reactor that was the first reactor in the world to routinely supply electricity to a commercial power grid, Russia started up the latest in a series of sodium-cooled fast reactors, the BN-800. This new nuclear plant is an evolutionary refinement […]

Read more »

Future of energy must include nuclear

On Monday, Feb 24, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) unveiled its Future of Energy advertising campaign with a press conference at the National Press Club. The campaign will stress four major aspects of nuclear energy that are not as well understood as they should be. It will talk about the importance of nuclear energy in […]

Read more »

Spamming NRDC about recycling used nuclear fuel

The following tweet led me to an interesting tale about the history of recycling. #Recycling seems like a relatively modern phenomenon. Instead, it has deep roots. http://t.co/5NqweNZVkb via @OnEarthMag — NRDC (@NRDC) January 4, 2014 After reading the article, I composed the following comment, taking care to ensure that it followed the rules for civil […]

Read more »

Fantasy Crossfire debate: Ed Lyman versus Rod Adams on fast breeder reactors

CNN has done a masterful job of seizing the opportunity provided by Robert Stone’s thought-provoking Pandora’s Promise to generate a passionate discussion about the use of nuclear energy — a vitally important topic — at a critical time in American history. The decision makers at that somewhat fading network should be congratulated. Of course, generating […]

Read more »

Hydrocarbon-fueled establishment hates idea of plutonium economy

In the above clip from a recent interview on CNN’s Piers Morgan, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. describes how Pandora’s Promise advocates that canceling the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) project in 1994 was a mistake. RFK Jr., a man from an iconic family that has been a part of the US moneyed Establishment for the better […]

Read more »