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  1. Thanks for the post, Rod!
    As a blogger, I don’t like the fact that bloggers are probably excluded. But I can understand it. Everyone can say they are a blogger. The press conference might turn out to be “intervenor meeting part 2” if bloggers are included. You do want to give the media a chance to ask questions (the purpose of a press conference.)
    There’s no system for credentials for bloggers, and that’s a problem that extends way beyond this meeting.

  2. Without doing any further research so far, I’m a bit confused as to the nature of this meeting? Is this part of normal protocol for the NRC or is this an PR excursion? Are things going to be said on record?
    If it is just some type of field trip are there rules for that too or are they just making them up as they go along? “Citizen volunteer groups” could cover a wide range of people but only the ones they like, perhaps even some bloggers in that mix.
    Anyone is free to blog about whatever whenever so they might as well exclude everyone as Meredith says.

  3. Are they complying with the Sunshine Act requirements and specifically the NRC rules on steps necessary to comply with the act? A “Meeting” MUST be posted in the Federal Register, and local papers.
    When in DC, we were not allowed to “visit” with NRC commissioners other than a very short “drop in” visit with only one commissioner and one utility person at a time. The NRC “rules” may have changed since then but not much (I would hope.) Some of these links may help.
    http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2002/janqtr/pdf/10cfr9.101.pdf
    Here is an OIG report on their short comings.
    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/insp-gen/…/oig-10-a-14.pdf
    Also, Google ” An interpretive guide to the Government in the Sunshine Act, By Richard K. Berg”

  4. A little off topic here Rod, but I couldn’t help but pass along this nugget of misinformation from the New York Times:
    <blockquote>The plutonium that results from reprocessing spent fuel can power nuclear reactors

    1. Steve – making weapons from reactor grade plutonium is virtually impossible. What is actually impossible is for the same plutonium to be used in BOTH reactors and weapons; the use is mutually exclusive. If an available quantity of material is put into a reactor and used to generate power, it cannot be used inside a weapon at the same time.
      It thus follows logically that anyone who is fearful of nuclear weapons should be encouraging all out efforts to put as much potential weapons material as possible into reactors where it can be gradually destroyed while producing voluminous emission free energy.
      If anyone opposes this solution, they should be willing to demonstrate a better way to destroy nuclear materials so they can never be used in a weapon.

  5. Hi people. I have to blog about this, but that won’t be until tomorrow, probably. So I just want to add this to the discussion. Bob Stannard is “The People’s Lobbyist”, a full-time employee of Citizen’s Action Network (a big anti-nuke group rung by Deb Katz. Actually, there are two groups, Citizen’s Action and Citizen’s Awareness, but only the tax office can tell them apart.)
    Brattleboro reformer article published before the happened this a.m.
    http://www.reformer.com/localnews/ci_15509606
    The interesting thing is the letters. There’s the usual trash, BUT…. this one from Bob Stannard
    I just returned from this meeting and perhaps I could offer some insight. First, I am the lobbyist for VCAN so all you pro-folks out there hold your fire a minute.
    This meeting was called by Jaczko. He called Rep. Edwards declaring that HE wanted to meet with the various groups in attendance today. He could just as easily picked up the phone and called Brad Ferland but he didn’t. This was all Jaczko’s call. Ferland and his group wanted to hijack the meeting and I can understand why. The meeting didn’t bode well for Entergy. There was a lot of very good dialog and information that came out of this meeting.
    I would suggest that if VtEP would like to meet with Jaczko reach out to him; don’t try to hijack HIS meeting.

  6. The Sunshine Law only applies to meetings of the NRC, i.e. meetngs at which a quorum of commissioners are present. I imagine Chairman Jaczko has met more than once with representatives of Entergy without opponents of nuclear power being present. Good fo him if he’s seeking to balance his calendar a bit.
    As to reactor grade plutonium and nuclear weapons, here’s what Victor Gilinsky, former NRC Commissioner and director of the Physical Sciences Department at the RAND Corporation wrote on the subject some years ago:
    “There is an old notion, recently revived in certain quarters, that so-called ‘reactor-grade’ plutonium [ produced by the normal operation of power reactors ] is not suitable to the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
    The floating of this idea is perhaps a natural move by those who want to exclude plutonium from strict controls. The obvious intention here is to create the impression that there is nothing to fear from separated plutonium derived from commercial power plants. This is not true.
    As far as reactor-grade plutonium is concerned, the fact is that it is possible to use this material for nuclear warheads at all levels of technical sophistication. . . . Whatever we might once have thought, we now know that even simple designs, albeit with some uncertainties in yield, can serve as effective, highly powerful weapons — reliably in the kiloton range.

    1. Peter – sorry to ask this in such an aggressive manner, but what does a former position as an NRC Commissioner have to do with knowledge about nuclear weapons? The NRC has NEVER had any responsibility for regulating or evaluating weapons related technology.
      That was not true of the Atomic Energy Commission, but that organization was replaced before I started high school.

    2. Peter – the Inspector General’s report clearly indicates that one of the areas that needs improvement is the definition of a “meeting”. As far as I can tell, the event that Jaczko held was a meeting. As a lawyer, I am sure that you are well versed in the fact that the American system is an adversarial one in which both parties have the opportunity to state their cases with an independent decision rendered by either a judge or jury. Since neither you nor I is independent in this case, we are both free to state our cases, but you are not free to assert – without contention that you are correct.

    3. As usual, “Peter Bradford” demonstrates why he was not competent to be an NRC Commissioner a generation ago, yet he persists by reinforcing why he is not qualified to comment on contemporary nuclear issues.
      It’s sad, really.
      Nevertheless, I’m sure that he is well paid by various anti-nuclear/environmental groups to offer his opinion from time to time.
      Must provide a good retirement income.
      Of course, he is not alone. He cites Victor Gilinsky. It’s funny when one failed NRC Commissioner from a bygone era cites another failed NRC Commissioner from a bygone era to support his dubious claims.
      How low can you go?
      Hey, Bradford, it’s 2010. Do you have any non-fossils to back you up? Something fresher than the Jurassic period would be nice.

    4. Peter – If it only applies to “commissioners” then why were meetings with non-executive NEI Senior engineers (non-executive), Utility engineers/supervisors (non-executive) and NRC senior engineers (non-executive) all “Shollied” (posted in the Federal Register) and attended by the typical NRC media watchers? Someone is confused! I have attended/participated in many of these meetings.
      The meeting of the NRC regional managers and senior plant officials are also “Shollied” (posted in the Federal Register). Are you telling me, we (the nuclear utilities) don’t have to do this – when the NRC regional manager is telling us we have to? Do a search of the FR, I am sure you will find a few in the last few weeks.

      1. A search on BING came up with several hits on the “meeting” posted on the 13th of July. So, they complied with the rules but also kept it quiet – more transparency.

  7. First, the Susnshine Law’s definition of meeting isn’t a matter of opinion. It’s written down. You can each look it up. You’ll find that it applies to quorums of multimember agencies, like the NRC, FERC or the FCC. Agencies may also have openness policies that apply to other types of meetings.
    Second, below is the bio from Victor Gilinsky’s CalTech distinguished alumni award. You can decide for yourselves whether he’s likely to know what he’s writing about with regard to reactor grade plutonium. Or you can do your own research on the subject. The literature has been declassified for many years. Or you can be emulate Brian Mays. Lots to admire there.
    Victor Gilinsky received his BS in engineering from Cornell University in 1956 and his PhD in physics from Caltech in 1961. He joined the Rand Corporation that same year, and dealt there with a variety of technical and public policy issues, eventually becoming the head of Rand

    1. Peter – the information that you have posted about Victor Gilinsky still says nothing about any assignment or education that indicates detailed knowledge of the technical requirements of the materials used for nuclear weapons. So he has a degree in “engineering” and one in “physics” and he worked for RAND on “various technical issues”. He also served as a commissioner on the NRC and had to make determinations about what is essentially a legal review to determine if the materials met certain criteria established by lawyers and politicians, not by experts in the design of weapons that can be reliably stored and delivered. You are correct, there are few NRC commissioners who have served after 1975 who will say that reactor grade plutonium is not potentially useful to a weapons designer – they have all been told by the law that it is.
      However, I would lay down a fair bet that there are commissioners who served before 1975 who actually know something about the engineering and science who would disagree. The problem is not that the science changed, but that the human written law changed. The other challenge I have in proving you wrong is that Glenn Seaborg and other technically competent scientists who served on the NRC before the stupid law change led by a president who falsely claimed to have been a nuclear engineer are no longer available for comment.
      He might very well have some knowledge of what other people have told him about whether or not any grade of plutonium, even one that has been produced in commercial nuclear reactors during a 4-5 year residence time, can be used for the purpose of making weapons.
      The fact of the matter is that reactor grade plutonium simply has too many complicating isotopes for anyone who really knows much about weapons to believe it would be useful as a base material. Any design TEAM – and it would take a substantial team, not an individual or tiny group – who even has the potential to maybe figure out a way to configure it to explode would also be able to produce weapons much more easily with far more readily available material. Those nations that have actually produced weapons have done so using either uranium enrichment or by building a reactor that they can use to lightly irradiate natural uranium and then extract the much simpler mixture of plutonium isotopes.
      The often repeated assertion that reactor grade plutonium is a useful weapons material is part of an overall plan to restrict the use of nuclear energy. The most logical reason for doing that is to ensure the continued wealth and power that comes from selling fossil fuels. Only nuclear fission energy has proven that it competes NOW with fossil fuels, and beats them in enough markets to make a substantial difference in their sales volume and sales prices. The world’s commercial reactors produce as much energy every day as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Nigeria put together. Just think how expensive both transportation fuels and electricity would be today if we did not have those machines humming away and pumping out the reliable “juice” that they do.
      You may deny it to your grave, but by fighting nuclear energy you are making people who sell fossil fuels even richer and more powerful than they already are. Don’t feel alone if you disagree with me, even some of my colleagues who favor nuclear energy cannot seem to believe that coal, oil and gas guys benefit by keeping fission as restricted as possible. Heck, even guys like John Rowe make more money when fission is restricted, as long as HIS company gets to keep operating the reactors that they currently operate.

  8. This is astonishing. Absolutley nothng of importance as to whether “reactor grade” plutonium can be used to make a nuclear weapon depends on Victor Gilinsky’s education, on my views or on the content of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978.
    Gilinsky’s 2005 paper on this subject, written with Marvin Miller and Harmon Hubbard, is at http://www.npolicy.org/node/886. Far from depending on Gilinsky’s own conclusions, it states, “the notion gained currency that the plutonium in such fuel, “reactor-grade” plutonium was not usable at all for bombs. The Ford administration felt compelled to brief foreign nuclear leaders to correct this view and arranged for Dr. Robert Selden of the Livermore laboratory to present the material. [34] Selden’s summary slide stated: “Reactor grade plutonium is an entirely credible fissile material for nuclear explosives.”[35]”.
    Does anyone really think that the Ford Administration and Dr. Selden were part of “an overall plan to restrict the use of nuclear energy”.
    Later, the paper also states, “The subject of illegal construction of nuclear explosives was earlier reviewed in technical detail by J. Carson Mark, late T-Division head at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), in a 1990 report. [41] He concluded that the difficulties encountered in using reactor-grade plutonium for explosive fabrication differ only in degree, but not in kind, from the problems in using weapon grade plutonium”.
    The paper also notes that, as long as the reactor operator is cooperating with the bomb maker, the mixture of the two plutonium isotopes in the spent fuel can be varied to favor weapons needs at the expense of power production.
    Many others with extensive backgrounds in nuclear weapons design have spoken and written to the same effect as Gilinsky and hi coauthors. To try to argue this point on ad hominem speculation about people’s education and motives wastes the time of readers. Those to whom the truth matters needn’t take my word either. They can do the research. It’s no longer a hard trail to follow.

    1. Peter – yes, I do believe that there were certain influential members of the Ford Administration – especially Dick Cheney – who were part of an overall plan to restrict the use of nuclear energy. He is “Mr. Hydrocarbon” and the people who have the most financial stake in slowing down the deployment of nuclear energy are the people who make money by selling the competitive fuels. People who make their living or have significant financial stakes in the hydrocarbon industries have a logical, if still greedy, reason for hating nuclear energy – it takes away markets they consider to be theirs.
      Any Administration that willingly accedes to the destruction of the Atomic Energy Commission and its replacement with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission – which has never issued a construction license – and an aimless wandering organization that was supposed to continue promoting and developing nuclear energy could not have been very supportive of the technology.
      I will agree that if the reactor operator is cooperating with the bomb maker, you can produce nuclear weapons useful material in almost any kind of critical reactor. There is a HUGE difference between that statement and the notion that used commercial nuclear fuel is useful. The way that a cooperative reactor operator can produce weapons useful fuel is to operate the reactor intermittently and uneconomically, taking at least some portion of the fuel out after light irradiation. In a light water reactor, that is not an easy task because it requires taking off the tightly bolted and very heavy head and engaging in very easily detectable operations.
      If the reactor has been operated in a typical commercial manner where as much energy as possible is extracted between shutdowns, the isotope mix is way too complex to use.
      In other words, recycling the used material sitting in fuel pools with known irradiation history is not a weapons risk, ESPECIALLY when the process is done in a controlled environment in the United States or another country with good safeguards.
      Though I hope that there might be some comments added here by people with more expertise on this matter than I have, the J. Carson Mark paper that you cite talks about the ability to make an “explosion” from reactor grade materials, not the ability to make a “weapon” from that material. There is a key difference between the two words and Mark himself included the definition of a weapon in his paper as

  9. Peter Bradford, Carson Marks never claimed that RGP is weaponizable, only that explosive devices could be built from it. The fact that no one has ever built a nuclear weapon from RGP, should be sufficient to cast doubt on concerns about weapons use.

  10. Based on all the information I have received, it appears that reactor grade plutonium would produce design issues so great to the proper operation of a nuclear weapon that it would be easier to build a weapons breeder than to try to make it work. The heat generated alone from a core of reactor grade plutonium would be almost as much as a 100 watt lightbulb. That’s quite excessive when you consider it has to be wrapped in explosive lenses and air gaps. It would get very hot! Perhaps that issue could be addressed by providing some active cooling mechanism, but it would certainly increase the complexity of the weapon.
    Even high grade plutonium is not the easiest stuff to work with. In addition to being highly radioactive, it has a tendency to catch fire, it is difficult to machine, it’s super-dense, brittle and over time it self-irradiates and can degrade its own physical properties. A whole slew of special technologies and methods needed to be developed at Hanford and Rocky Flats to just deal with this.
    Then the big issue – pre-initiation. Even with high grade plutonium getting proper fission initiation in a plutonium bomb is an engineering challenge. Based on the information known from the Totem series of tests and some of the subcritical experiments, we know that even lower grades of what is considered weapons grade plutonium complicates the design and reduces the yield and reliability. The British gave up on the possibility of using lower grades due to their results.
    Assuming this could be done, it would be so difficult and full of compromise, I have to ask again – why not just build a weapons reactor? It’d be the easier way to do it.
    Now a very important point:

    Does anyone really think that the Ford Administration and Dr. Selden were part of “an overall plan to restrict the use of nuclear energy”.
    Later, the paper also states, “The subject of illegal construction of nuclear explosives was earlier reviewed in technical detail by J. Carson Mark, late T-Division head at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), in a 1990 report. [41] He concluded that the difficulties encountered in using reactor-grade plutonium for explosive fabrication differ only in degree, but not in kind, from the problems in using weapon grade plutonium”.
    The paper also notes that, as long as the reactor operator is cooperating with the bomb maker, the mixture of the two plutonium isotopes in the spent fuel can be varied to favor weapons needs at the expense of power production.

    Yes, this is certainly true. A light water reactor could be used to produce weapons grade plutonium by modifying the fuel cycle. Basically, you just need to pass a larger volume of fuel through it using a much shorter cycle and extremely low burnup. However, for this purpose, light water PWR’s are extremely poorly suited. All weapons production reactors have used a fueling cycle where small targets for irradiation could be cycled through at short intervals. The uranium targets are pushed through the reactor, spending a period of a couple months at the most in the reactor before being collected to cool and then be processed.
    A PWR does not work like that. The fuel rods are in big bundles and to replace them the whole reactor must be shut down, allowed to cool and depressurize and then the lid has to be unbolted and removed. The fuel bundles can then be shuffled or replaced and the lid then replaced, then the procedure to restart the reactor can begin. This process takes a good couple of weeks or more. It’s not such a big deal when the reactor is only refueled every year or less, but if you’re talking about doing this every two or three months, it’s going to get very cumbersome and it turns out to be a damn slow way to make weapons grade plutonium.
    At this point, if you’ve gone this far in trying to build a weapon, the clandestine nature of your project is going to be shot to hell. The world is likely to notice that your reactor keeps getting shut down multiple times a year and that you’re fabricating and reprocessing several times the volume of fuel that such a reactor would ever require. It’s not exactly a low-profile way of doing it.
    Which of course, begs the question again: Why not just do it the comparatively easy way and make a reactor out of graphite blocks with channels in them. Considering the fact that this is not beyond the capabilities of any nation state and would eliminate all the difficulties, I think it’s safe to say that it’s the more realistic road to take.

  11. Peter Bradford, anti-nuclear advocates have lied about what J. Carson Marks said about RGP weaponizability for a long time. In the first place Marks had a well thought out definition of what constituted weaponizability. He stated that RGP did not fulfill his criteria for weaponizability. That should be the end of the story, but self proclaimed experts like you don’t know the difference between a weapon and a divice.
    If, as you claim, RGP is weaponizable,who has RGP weapons? There is certainly enough RGP around. Where are the RGP weapons?

  12. If the argument of the anti-nukes that RGP can be used as WGP is based on the scenario described above by drbuzz0, then it is a particularly dishonest and disingenuous argument. No doubt the reason NPPs have never been used in this manner is because the cover of the covert weapons program would be blown almost immediately by the very nature of the operation. It would be far easier just to build a graphite pile openly to begin with, which is exactly what North Korea in fact did.
    I’ve been aware of this difficulty in manufacturing WGP from PWRs for ages, and I never once connected it with the anti-nuke claim that RGP could be used in a practical nuclear weapon because of the patent absurdity of the scenario. I guess I should have realised I was dealing with anti-nukes.

      1. Thanks Dave. I’m gradually getting there. I was discharged from hospital about s week ago, just hanging out and recovering at home now. Still not 100%, but I’ll get there.

  13. All things are remotely POSSIBLE; this does not mean they are likely. Or even feasible.
    Someone could theoretically make a nuclear device using plutonium culled from commercial fuel, indeed, it might be theoretically possible to do so.
    Someone could theoretically make a nuclear device using trace quantities of Pu-242 extracted from soil; there are a few femtograms per cubic meter out there. (I expect calls from the anti-nuclear movement to ban soil shortly.) Theoretically, tomorrow, the moon could crash into the Earth. That doesn’t mean that it’s likely. In fact, it’s very unlikely. So unlikely that it is not credible. Also, theoretically, the zombie apocalypse could happen tomorrow (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zombie_apocalypse). That doesn’t mean you need to sharpen your crowbar and fuel your chainsaw.
    To echo Charles’ question: If reactor grade plutonium is such a proliferation problem, where are the RGP weapons?

  14. I wonder how much a terrorist cares whether his bomb (or weapon or explosive) produces a mere fizzle yield of a kiloton or two in the middle of a major city.
    Here’s what Dick Garwin – credited by Edward Teller with a key role in the design of the first thermonuclear bomb – wrote about reactor grade plutonium in his 2001 book Megawatts and Megatons (with Georges Charpak) “Each power reactor manufactured and sold today, with electrical output typically in the neighborhood of a gigawatt, produces every week or so the the quantity of plutonium sufficient for a bomb….The mixture of plutonium isotopes is not optimal for weapons….The major problem is that the much larger amount of plutonium-240 than in weapons grade plutonium makes the implosion system very likely to preinitiate – and when it does so, it lowers the yield of the simplest system to as little as 2000 tons of explosive, in contrast to a design yield of 20,000 tons (which would still be achieved a portion of the time). Furthermore, more advanced concepts can reduce the penalty”.
    So a terrorist or a nation working only with reactor grade plutonium, i.e. no cooperation with the reactor operator, could only be sure of a yield between 2,000 and 20,000 kilotons. A big difference to be sure, but even the fizzle yield would do a satisfactory amount of damage.

    1. Peter Bradford
      1. A sub-national organisation would find it virtually impossible to manufacture an explosive device from RGP. The technical skill needed to overcome the many problems of working with RGP is so great that only a major nation with a huge nuclear weapons program, such as one of the superpowers during the height of the cold war, would even contemplate it. The required technical skill is far beyond anything a terrorist organisation, or even an average nation, could deploy.
      2. You have completely ignored the distinction between an explosive device and a practical weapon. This matter is so important to the proper assessment of the risk from proliferation that your refusal to acknowledge the issue can only be interpreted as a desperate attempt to continue the FUD surrounding this matter. In short, you are lying by omission in a disgusting attempt to slow down or halt the spread of the most beneficial technology for power generation ever devised.

    2. Peter – though I am no expert, I know a bit about weapons. (29 years of naval service plus a stint as a weapons system instructor at the Naval Academy.)
      You are right, a terrorist does not really care whether his bomb produces a kiloton or a megaton. Both would be seriously damaging. However, anyone who wants to use a weapon of any kind – even a terrorist – wants to be able to control when and where the device explodes. The problem with reactor grade material is not just that it may produce a fizzle after the initiation signal is sent, but it has a high probability of producing that fizzle at a time and place that is controlled by random chance, not by the operator.
      Even suicide bombers like to have enough control over their devices so that they pick the time when they explode. That is especially true when you involve an entire team, most of whom have no desire to kill themselves without making a big impact.
      The point that most of us are trying to make here is that there are far easier ways to make a weapon – even a nuclear weapon – than trying to divert plutonium that has been produced in a commercial nuclear power plant operating in a normally economical manner. The entire effort to convince the world otherwise appears to me – suspicious man that I am – to be part of an effort to restrict the use of nuclear energy.
      There is plenty of motive in the world for that effort – nuclear energy threatens the wealth and power of people associated with the world’s largest business that has generated the most concentrated wealth the world has ever seen – selling massive quantities of fossil fuels. There is also means and opportunity for the people who want to protect their market share to work hard to scare the devil out of many people. The challenge those folks now face is the old saw – you can fool some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
      Some of us have figured out the truth and now have the ability to share that truth with others. Many people in the nuclear non-proliferation community are actually adamantly opposed to the expansion of nuclear energy for a different reason than the one that they use in public. Are you one of the closet fossil fuel pushers?

    3. What critical steps would any terrorist have to do? Just to get the fuel rods…
      A. Assault or infiltrate spent fuel facility with sufficiently shielded container for transport.
      B. Lift multi-ton concrete and lead cask lid.
      C. Remove spent fuel IN AIR without lethally irradiating self.
      D. Place fuel rods in shielded container without irradiating self.
      E. Maintain criticality safety within container.
      F. Haul container out through perimeter (either prior to the second wave of elite guards responding or the first wave of guards detecting.)
      G. Load fuel rod containment onto transport. How long are fuel rods, anyway? A tractor trailer ought to do it, I bet.
      This is already impossible for terrorists, even prior to getting into the fun stuff with tributyl phosphate, pure nitric acid, and kerosene. Half of the country would be looking to stop them if they even managed to get fuel rods off the site! Even if they stole them from a Third World country, there’s still the nearly impossible task of procuring the chemicals and applying them appropriately without blowing oneself up or irradiating themselves. Then you’ve got a ridiculous amount of other steps like metalworking using a pyrophoric material, heat dissipation management, fabrication of precise high explosives, getting the timing right…it’s not something possible without the power and the protection of a sovereign state that is somewhat industrialized and somewhat capable of protecting it’s own internal security behind you.
      You need a state to make a nuclear weapon from plutonium; claiming terrorists can manufacture plutonium-based nukes from spent nuclear fuel is a flight of absolutely absurd fantasy that is ridiculous. Claiming that any rational state would raid civilian spent fuel to build nukes that probably won’t even work right prior to exhausting all other possible alternatives is not very rational either.
      Spent fuel sits around in thick concrete casks. It sits there. And sits there. And sits there. It threatens no one. Nor does reprocessing, under transparent management, reasonable international inspection, and reasonable, common-sense regulation similar to any other process chemical facility.
      Which is more likely: that these concerns over fuel-grade plutonium are legitimate or they are really just a last-ditch retrograde attempt by the anti-nuclear movement to convince the Blue Ribbon Panel that somehow spent fuel is a security threat?

      1. Excellent reply,
        There is one thing I would add. It takes hours to get to the spent fuel once it is in storage. Each canister is welded shut requiring hours to remove the lid, even with a plasma torch. Even with the proper equipment staged (150-300 ton mobile crane, specially designed lead lined transfer cask of which there are a limited number in the world, specially designed heavy haul trailer, specialty lift fixtures, etc. etc etc.) and trained operators ready to go, the fuel can not be removed in less then 12 hours.
        So by the time a terrorist group has performed Steps A-E (which would be impossible except in some horribly written spy novel or made-for-television movie produced by anti-nuclear types ), the National Gaurd, military or other paramilitary forces (if in another country such as France or Germany) would have the terrorists contained. In actuality, the responding military forces would be in a positon to view their bodies which would already be showing extreme signs of radiation bombardment since once the canister lid welds are removed in AIR the streaming radiation field is lethal.
        Also considering the time it takes to get to the fuel, our own emergency response forces would have time to moblize pretty much anywhere in the globe to contain the threat of terrorists trying to remove spent fuel from a facility.

    4. Peter – It is no wonder that the US is no longer leading the world in technology. It utterly amazes me that you were a NRC commissioner. Your comprehension of practical knowledge is nonexistent! And you are appointed to a board that controls the future of the US. Have you ever held REAL plutonium (not those mock souvenir pellets)? Have you ever been near a REAL, freshly, exposed fuel rod? NRC Commissioners with your ideology have set back the US further than TMI and Chernobyl has. The giants of nuclear innovation and design are no longer in the US, read the industry magazines. Virtually all of the replacement/new reactor vessels, heads, and steam generators come from China, Japan, Korea, or other off shore manufactures. China will soon have more nuclear reactors than the US. 20 years ago I turned down a job building a reactor in Korea, they needed the US to build them then – soon they (or China) will be building them in the US, or will we be relying on the new technology – WIND?
      Rather than repeating other comments by someone else that also has no practical knowledge of how to build an explosive device from RGP, and is only prophesying the possibilities without consideration of real life, PLEASE explain to me (the blog) how all of the impediments listed by “katana0182” can be overcome. For ballpark calculations, an irradiated in-core detector (1/2 in diameter X 2 in length) gives off 4 thousand (4000) RAD at 3 meters after one fuel cycle. The entire reactor building was evacuated for replacement, even though the detector was, remotely, placed in a 18in diameter lead “pig.” I no longer remember the dose rate for fuel rods, in air, but they must be several orders of magnitude greater. Even with 25 feet of water there is a limited “stay time” when replacing spent fuel.

      1. I did a cursory Google search of ‘rad flux spent fuel eoc lwr’, nobody gave me a clear number, but LANL did some research as to what sort of neutron detectors would be necessary to give an accurate count in the intense gamma flux of freshly used fuel.
        Apparently, the gammas coming off the used fuel underwater were so intense that they had to use a Boron-10 fusion chamber inside a thick lead-lined container, which could handle up to 10e5 gamma rads per hour and give an accurate neutron count. That 10e5 rad/hour figure, of course, does not include the neutron flux, which strikes for decimating damage of 10 rem per 1 rad neutronic.
        At flux levels like those, “distance” and “shielding” only get you so far, and the only thing you have left is “time”, and precious little of that.
        Any terrorist stupid enough to try to move spent fuel…well, as the old song goes…”‘Relax’, said the nightman, ‘we are prepared to receive… You can check in any time you like…'”

  15. Peter you are telling us a fairy story about terrorists getting a hold of RGP and building a bomb with it. In addition to heat and radiation, plutonium is highly flammable, and can catch fire due to spontaneous combustion. Even experienced workers using equipment designed by experts, have had problems with plutonium fires:
    http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/rf/1957fire.htm
    http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/rf/1969fire.htm
    You want us to believe that terrorist posses the skill set and the equipment to work with Plutonium? Get real.
    The sort of terrorist who could design and build a RGP device – not weapon – would most likely a member of the Los Alamos test design team, and having access to Los Alamos type facilities would undoubtedly make the terrorists’ project more likely to have a successful outcome.

  16. The real point is not that converting RGP into a weapon is impossible. It’s that it’s a far harder approach than many (if not all) others that are available. Any approach that is significantly harder than covertly digging up raw uranium ore and enriching it to weapons grade does not qualify as a proliferation risk, period. Stealing spent fuel from a reactor facility, without being noticed or caught, and then covertly processing it into weapons useable material is clearly such a (more difficult) approach.
    Nuclear power converts uranium ore into something even less weapons usable (spent fuel). Thus, nuclear plants are not a proliferation risk, period. Fuel cycle (i.e., enrichment and reprocessing facilities) may be a different story, but reactors are clearly not a risk. It MAY be a good idea to limit the spread of fuel cycle facilities all over the developing world. For reactors, however, even that isn’t true (from a proliferation prospective, at least).

  17. Remember that this discussion began with Rod’s stating that making a weapon from RGP is “next to impossible”. Perhaps we’ve now established that it isn’t, unless one insists that terrorists (or rogue nations with terrorist connections), define “weapon” in the specialized sense that some commenters on this blog have done. And also define away situations in which the bombmaker and the reactor operator are cooperating as to the grade of plutonium that comes out of the reactor, as they have done before. Those who have made the point that there are easier ways are certainly right in many circumstances, perhaps not all. One last piece of advice though – if such a 2kt “explosion” ever does take place in a city, don’t blog about how it doesn’t count because it wasn’t really a weapon.
    Two other matters for Rod 1) Are you really saying that the NRC never issued a construction permit? I don’t have the records at my fingertips or time to look them up right now, but from memory I’m sure that the NRC issued several after its 1975 formation, half a dozen at least but probably more. Probably not many led to completed plants. Perhaps that’s what you meant. 2) No, I’m not a closet oil guy (and – given Bush Administration support for new nuclear – it seems a stretch for you to have put Cheney in that category either). I did write a book about oil refineries and the coast of Miane back in the 1970s. The oil industry appreciated it about as much as most of you appreciate my writing today. If pressed, some might even assert with equal validity that my anti-oil biases are the reason the U.S. hasn’t built a new oil refienry since the book came out.
    Then there’s Rich and his “NRC commissioners with your ideology”. You are clueless about my ideology, and – more importantly – NRC commissioners between 1981 and 2008 were appointed by Presidents named Reagan, Bush twice and Clinton. With the exception of the current chair, none (including Obama’s three) were opposed by NEI or its predecessors. Most (perhaps all?) of Clinton’s appointees were reappointed by Bush, and Clinton’s chair served on as chair under Bush. The appointment of most of these commissioners were actively supported by NEI. Several went on to serve on the boards of nuclear licensees. You are seriously asking us to believe that this group has been masterminding an antinuclear conspiracy for 30 years? Or that I was so clever between 1977 and 1982 that they’ve been unable to straighten out the regulatory process ever since. Such dekusions, in which you are far from alone, are more harmful to nuclear power than Ralph Nader.

    1. Peter – “Between 1975 and 1983, 430 suits were brought against the NRC, leading to 2,349 proposed rules and regulations–each of which required an industry response. The additional and unexpected controls created industry

      1. Rich,
        The Spencer sentence makes no sense. Law suits don’t lead to new regulations unless the NRC loses (perhaps not even then), and the NRC certainly did not lose 430 lawsuits in those years. I doubt that it lost a dozen.
        What does lead to new regulations are events, events that show that adequate protection of the public (or worker) health and safety is in question despite prior belief that the protection was adequate. In the rapidly growing nuclear industry of that era, operating experience produced a number of such events, including the Brown’s Ferry Fire, fuel cladding failures, pipe cracking and TMI. The TMI Action Plan was promulgated by a commission consisting of Joe Hendrie, Dick Kennedy, John Ahearne, Vidtor Gilinsky and me. Hendrie and Ahearne later served on the boards of nuclear utilities. Kennedy was appointed under secretary for management in the Reagan State Department. The TMI action plan was actually implemented by a commission majority of Reagan appointees.
        Most utility plant delays and cancellations had at least as much to do with double digit interest rates, falling demand and falling fuel prices as they did with the impact of the new regulations, which – as you can see – were not the product of a crew of antinuclear activists in any case. For an impartial account of how operating experience impacted nuclear costs in the mid-1970s, have a look a “Light Water: How the Nuclear Dream Dissolved” by Irwin Bupp and Jean Claude Derian.

      2. The more I think about the Spencer sentence, the odder it gets. I don’t think the NRC has 2,349 rules and regulations, to say nothing of that many changes. Spencer is a conscientious fellow, but he has something wrong here. Perhaps he is counting the routine action that the NRC took upon becoming operational in 1975, adopting all of the rules and regulations of the AEC pertaining to reactor safety. Perhaps he is counting not just rules but reg guides, tech specs, and the Standard Review Plan. Certainly he is including the significant number of rules adopted at industry’s request like, for example, today’s licenses for generic designs which are done through rulemaking so that they may be applied to individual licensing proceedings without further review. The S-3 Table on fuel cycle impacts is one such rule from the 1970s

    2. @Peter
      given Bush Administration support for new nuclear – it seems a stretch for you to have put Cheney in that category either
      Given Bush Administration support for new nuclear, why wasn’t there a single construction start during the 8 years he was in office? For that matter, if support for nuclear energy was a “conservative versus liberal” matter of political ideology, why wasn’t there a single new plant started during the 12 years of Reagan/Bush I?
      You might not believe this, but I am a liberal who believes in a strong public education system, basic universal health care, and effective labor unions.
      Politically speaking, I have observed that those whose bread is buttered by a continuation of the fossil fuel enabled establishment tend to effectively oppose nuclear energy developments – even if they “talk a good game” and support nuclear “research” or subsidies for what appear to be nuclear related projects but which do not result in any power reaching the grid. “Research” does not take anyone’s market share or reduce sales prices like actual new power supplies do.
      As a former CEO of Haliburton, Cheney certainly falls into the category of a full fledged member of the hydrocarbon establishment.
      Going back to the proliferation argument – my point has been that producing weapons by somehow diverting reactor grade plutonium from a safeguarded facility is probably the hardest possible course of action for someone who wants a nuclear weapon. Given the difficulty of that challenge, the ONLY reason I can see for someone being adamantly opposed to used fuel recycling in the United States is that they are fundamentally opposed to the use of nuclear energy and want to see the process choked down by “the waste issue” since they are working hard to prevent implementation of a reasonable solution.
      The cost issue is not as large as some imply. According to a 2003 study prepared by a group that really dislikes the idea of recycling (Harvard’s Belfer Center) the excess cost would be on the order of just 0.13 cents per kilowatt hour.
      http://dl.dropbox.com/u/390139/ifr/Harvard%20Report%20on%20Reprocessing.pdf
      That number includes some pessimistic assumptions, but in a nation where the average wholesale price of electricity is on the order of 8 cents per kilowatt hour, it seems like a minor additional cost if it helps to address “the waste issue”. Besides, a mere 25 cents per million BTU increase in the price of natural gas increases the cost of generating electricity by the same amount of money for people using gas fired generation. The daily variations in natural gas prices are often that large.
      Interestingly enough – the executive summary of the study that provided the rather acceptable cost figure included this quote:
      While some analysts have argued in recent years that the costs of reprocessing and direct disposal are similar, and that reprocessing will soon be the more cost-effective approach as uranium prices increase, the data and analyses presented in this report demonstrate that the margin between the cost of reprocessing and recycling and that of direct disposal is wide, and is likely to persist for many decades to come.
      I supported busy executives as a staff officer for about 9 years. Many times they would never read deeper than the executive summaries, so that kind of verbiage often makes more of an impact than the actual numbers. I wonder who wrote the summary and what interests they were working to protect.

  18. Peter Bradford, your hasty dismissal of the several serious problems we have raised concerning your weaponisable RGP allegations speaks for itself. You have no real case to make in that matter, and your continued attempts to push this last-ditch anti-nuclear position renders your denial of being an agent of anti-nuclear interests laughable.

  19. Peter Bradford, i am using the definition of Nuclear weapon given by J. Carson Marks in 1990. Is it your position that J. Carson Marks did not know what a nuclear weapon is? or is it your position that J. Carson Marks defined nuclear weapons in a specialized way, but you, with your superior expertise can are correcting his mistake?

  20. Sneering is easier than thinking, like cynicism comes easier than knowledge.
    Here is a more extensive quotation from the Mark (no “s”) paper (http://www.nci.org/NEW/NT/rgpu-mark-90.pdf). Readers can judge for themselves whether I have misused it:
    1. Taking weapon” to signify an object suitable for stockpile by a military organization, then heavily irradiated reactor plutonium would not be attractive for an arsenal of pure fission devices. For that purpose one would wish to have a set of warheads with a reliable known yield. One would also wish to have objects which could be turned out in a production-line fashion. However, for a terrorist organization acting alone or on behalf of a rogue state, with interests focused on the possible use of one, or a very few, devices, these considerations might be weighed quite differently. In addition, radiation exposures associated with fabrication which might be unacceptable for a sustained activity might not be troublesome for a one-shot operation.
    2. It has been suggested that the fact that the U.S. appears to have made only one experiment using reactor–grade plutonium and has not chosen to adopt it for regular weapons production indicates that such material is of little worth. That is not the correct interpretation. There is, of course, no question but that weapons-grade material is preferable from a design standpoint; and if, as for the U.S., one has the option and is paying for the plutonium anyway, one chooses the most advantageous. So would the terrorist if he had a choice. But if he can’t get weapons-grade material he would take whatever he can get, should any be open to him.
    3. The technical problems confronting a terrorist organization considering the use of reactor-grade plutonium are not different in kind from those involved in using weapons-grade plutonium, but only in degree. For example, it is of great importance to avoid the inhalation of plutonium dust or vapor; but the provisions which would be adequate for weapons- grade material would require little, if any, modification to be acceptable for reactor-grade material. The hazards and difficulties associated with assembling a device would be less if highly enriched uranium were used.
    4. The method of coping with the problems and difficulties of making an explosive device with reactor-grade plutonium is entirely in the hands of the terrorist organiza tion. The information necessary to meet the needs is available, and can be assembled by a properly chosen team of specialists. It cannot be said whether or not they would conclude that the effort involved is within their reach, or “worthwhile”, since that depends on many factors known only to them.”
    Those who reject or define away the inconvenient conclusions stated by experts of the caliber of Mark, Garwin, Selden, Gilinsky and Ted Taylor probably won’t be much swayed by the fact that the U.S. and and at least one other country have successfully tested weapons made from “reactor grade” plutonium.
    Here’s what DOE had to say in one publication “At the lowest level of sophistication, a potential proliferating state or subnational group using designs and technologies no more sophisticated than those used in first-generation nuclear weapons could build a nuclear weapon from reactor-grade plutonium that would have an assured, reliable yield of one or a few kilotons (and a probable yield significantly higher than that).
    At the other end of the spectrum, advanced nuclear weapon states such as the United States and Russia, using modern designs, could produce weapons from reactor-grade plutonium having reliable explosive yields, weight, and other characteristics generally comparable to those of weapons made from weapons-grade plutonium.”
    I’ll be out of internet range for a while now. Don’t miss me too much, and don’t misinterpret my silence.

  21. Peter Your quot from Carson Mark, makes the problem clear. RGP does not pose a proliferation risk. Mark was aware of the difficulties and dangers of building plutonium devices, What Mark is saying is that if terrorists possessed the human and material resources of a Los Alamos in 1945, they could build a plutonium based explosive device. But since such a device would not have an assured shelf life it would have to be used immediately. But if terrorists possessed Los Alamos type resources, they might well chose alternative routes to nuclear weapons development. In addition Los Alamos type resources would not assure their safety, and the terrorist attempt to build a RGP device might well end with a Rocky Flats plutonium fire.
    The notion that RGO can be used to produce military weapons is nothing more than a myth created by self styled proliferation experts like you. If you can’t store it, you can’t use it. Therefor proliferation via RGP is a waste of effort. The fact that no nation has ever taken advantage of the abundantly avaliable stockpiles of RGP to build weapons, should be strong proof of its military uselessness.
    The case for terrorist built RGP devices is also flawed to the point of absurdity. First the route that terrorist would take to acquire RGP would present significant challenges. In addition, the construction of such a device would require nation-state type human and technical resources.
    Finally Mark tells you that “The hazards and difficulties associated with assembling a device would be less if highly enriched uranium were used. ” That is he is saying, if you think that terrorist want RGP devices, you are barking up the wrong tree. They want U-235 based devices.
    Finally if as Mark allowed, it is conceivable that a terrorist group could build a PGP device, what else could they do? What sorts of terror weapons could they produce with a comprable effort? Would those weapons be more or less useful to the terrorist. Which of the projects are they most likely to chose, and would the global stockpile of RGP really increase the likelihood that they would choose to construct a RGP device for terror purposes?

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