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Analysis of the 2010 Nuclear Summit and the obsession with highly enriched uranium

Guest post by DV82XL. He is a Canadian chemist and materials scientist (and regular, valued commenter on BNC).

In the biggest gathering of world leaders short of the one that formed the United Nations, leaders from almost 50 states and other related organizations came to Washington, D.C., this week as part of the Nuclear Security Summit. The host, US President Barack Obama said the joint action plan agreed at a summit in Washington would make a real contribution to a safer world. The plan calls for every nation to act to keep material out of terrorists’ hands. This meeting and the action plan it created is a thinly veiled attempt to concentrate power in the hands of those that currently enjoy it.

First let’s make one thing very clear: a subnational group (terrorists) cannot and never will be able to manufacture a nuclear weapon. This is true even if they were handed weapons-grade fissile material up front. Whatever the reasons for this drive to strip every last gram of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from every country in the world that is not one of the existing nuclear weapon states (NWS) ‘terrorists’ stealing this material to fabricate a weapon, is not one of them. HEU is treated by all countries that own it as if it were more valuable than gold, a critical mass worth of HEU represents a huge investment to a country who acquired it for a purpose, and as part of a program, the fact remains that this stuff is controlled and accounted for very closely, which is why it has never showed up on the black market.

Let’s examine the first contention. While it is true a gun-assembled HEU uranium bomb is conceptually simple, building one that will work, is not and requires more resources than an extranational group can muster. A careful review of the facts suggests that there are technical obstacles to such an attack that are insuperable, and there is no evidence that any terrorist group currently possesses the expertise necessary for a nuclear effort. Claims that this is possible glosses over the difficulty of finding the kinds of highly qualified experts such a project would need and omits real consideration of at least a dozen points in the process where something could, and very likely would, go wrong that would bring the whole project to an end.

But let’s take it one step further. Any terrorist group that decided it wanted a nuclear weapon would first reason that the easiest way would be to steal or buy a device from a nuclear weapons state. They are quickly disabused of this idea because it is impossible for them to do so. Why do we know this? Because it hasn’t happened. If it was that easy there would be no running planes into buildings; there would already be a radioactive crater in Manhattan.

So they are left with building one. Now they have three issues: HEU which is no easer to obtain than a complete device, finding people that know what to do with it, (and are willing to cooperate) and setting up some place on Earth where the host government won’t have instant diarrhoea at the thought of a group they had no control of holding a nuclear device inside their borders.

Looking at it like this, the terrorists can see that it would require a very unlikely series of events and a great deal of effort, and pressed for information, any high school physics teacher will tell them there are no guarantees the damned thing will work. Result, scrap Plan A and go to Plan B: Hijack four widebody aircraft…

Fretting about “loose nukes” has been a popular topic of discussion in anti-proliferation circles, but a solid decade of this hand-wringing about terrorists’ hypothetical nuclear weapons has revealed no new evidence that any such group is any nearer to realizing this ambition,

So why then is everyone getting their shirts in a knot over this? There is a real concern that the world is standing on the cusp of a nuclear proliferation cascade, and the current NWS want to reduce the possibility that any other nation will acquire these weapons. It’s not terrorists stealing Chile’s HEU that is the worry; it’s that somewhere down the road the State of Chile may decide it needs a weapon.

At the root of this thinking is the Bush era, Pentagon commissioned study that argued climate change could lower nuclear security possibly even leading to war. The issue was not just the spread of nuclear weapons. The issue was the spread of nuclear weapons in the context of a global environment more conducive to conflict and strife, following on from a lowering in the world’s carrying capacity.

The report explored how such an abrupt climate change scenario could potentially destabilize the geo-political environment, leading to skirmishes, battles, and even war provoked by resource constraints such as: food shortages due to decreases in net global agricultural production, decreased availability and quality of fresh water and disrupted access to energy supplies .

These the report argued, could cause tensions to mount around the world, which would lead to the adoption of one of two fundamental strategies: Nations with the resources to do so may build virtual fortresses around their countries, preserving resources for themselves. Less fortunate nations especially those with ancient enmities with their neighbours, may initiate struggles for access to food, clean water, or energy. Unlikely alliances could be formed as defence priorities shift and the goal is resources for survival rather than religion, ideology, or national honour.

Clearly it is believed by the current NWS that within this context, a tipping point leading to a proliferation cascade is a real possibility. This is the unstated underlying reason for the rush to secure as much HEU from around the world as possible, and will be the driving force to push through a fissile materials treaty in the near future. However this path is not without its consequences, nor is it as pure in its motivations as it might seem.

There are few things as desperately misunderstood as nuclear weapons, and their place in the broader geopolitical picture. This is in general due to the fact that public perceptions about this weapon system are a product of Cold War propaganda, and their treatment in fiction, both on the page and on the screen. These ideas persist even though the devices, the doctrines, and the world itself have changed radically since those times.

Most believe that the military role of nuclear weapons is to destroy cities. This is understandable, since that was what the only two used in war did. Indeed at the beginning this was the role of these weapons because with the crude technology of the day, a city was the smallest high-value target that a bomber or an ICBM could reliably acquire. Once this process of targeting each other’s cities between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. started, a stalemate swiftly developed, even though it became clear to both players rather early on, that the usefulness of this strategy had passed.

What was realized was that the real military value of nuclear weaponry was in a tactical role. Low yield nukes, delivered by medium –range missiles, or attack aircraft were the ideal way to prevent any large scale manoeuvres, (like a massed column of armour) or a sea-born invasion from occurring, and that any attempt to carry out operations on a wide, dispersed front, could be countered easily by defence-in-depth tactics. Thus the real nuclear stand-off was between the word’s military powers, rather than by threatening dense civilian populations.

This situation persists to the present. The fact is that no nuclear power would consider an attack another because they could not follow it up with an invasion and there would likely be a counterstrike. As well, no nuclear power would prosecute a nuclear attack on a non-weapons state, without risking becoming an international pariah, and again with the risk of enduring reprisals in kind. Thus nuclear weapons ultimately stand as defensive assets, almost useless in an offensive role. And indeed this is reflected in both the designs and doctrines of these systems in the smaller NWS.

This brings us back around to the current nuclear summit and the obsession with weapons-grade uranium and plutonium in the hands of smaller states, and the threat of climate change. If the role of nuclear weapons is seen by smaller powers as a military tool to counter large conventional forces mounting an invasion, or even to counter the projection of might from something like a carrier task force, this renders conventional military power useless as a threat. The current members of the NWS club are also field large conventional forces as well, and several have shown no compunction in using them to further diplomatic or economic ends. The possibility of having those forces rendered useless by a major round of proliferation, particularly in regions where they currently exercise domination and especially in the event that climate change alters the relative value of those same regions, is obviously unpalatable. In short, this is not about keeping the peace, but maintaining the status quo in the international power structure.

There is a price to pay for this however. Putting an end to commercial use of HEU is going to cause problems of its own and these are not insignificant. In fact several countries are balking at the prospect and have said as much at the summit. Reading between the lines, it is also clear that their intransigence will be addressed at the G8 meeting later this year.

The two most widespread uses of HEU are as research reactor fuel and as targets for the production of medical and industrial isotopes. While few in number, test reactors, used for experimental fuel development for NPP, also need to be very powerful, and thus need enriched fuel. In addition to research and test reactors, there are also critical assemblies, subcritical assemblies, and pulse reactors that use fuels containing HEU. Critical and subcritical assemblies, for example, are typically used for either basic physics experimentation or to model the properties of proposed reactor cores, while pulsed reactors, are used to produce short, intensive power and radiation impacts.

High energy neutron beams can be used for some sorts of radiotherapy and for imaging very dense materials, an application of use to several industries. All this will end except in those places under the control of the governments of the NWS. Arguments that most of these applications can be redesigned to use low flux radiation are specious, as the throughput of these processes is sharply reduced. The NRU reactor, in its day could supply much of the world with medical isotopes, when it restarts, using LEU targets, it will supply Canadian needs only.

In short, activities that depend on high flux neutrons, in medicine, industry, and research, will be the private domain of those states that deploy nuclear weapons. This includes the development of nuclear energy, and power reactor design, which requires access to high flux neutrons to qualify material and assemblies, essentially closing the door on any further competition, (as well as the end of CANDU development) putting the NWS in virtual control of nuclear energy all over the globe, further extending their economic hegemony for the foreseeable future.

This is the real story here. The facts are all in front of us, and available to anyone who wishes to explore them. They are not that complex, and the geopolitical, economic and military ramifications of nuclear technology, and the impact of policy on them, are surprisingly simple to understand by anyone that takes the time to background themselves in these topics. I encourage everyone to do so as I believe you will draw the same conclusions I have in these matters.

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By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

166 replies on “Analysis of the 2010 Nuclear Summit and the obsession with highly enriched uranium”

Douglas Wise, on 18 April 2010 at 19.22 Said:

DV82XL:

Your last couple of posts are interesting. You style yourself as a rational pragmatist, seeing matters through the lens of Realpolitik. As such, you state that you’re afraid that you cannot see my ideas working.

Doug, I was responding to this from you prior:

One response might be to disarm and set up something akin to Tom Blees’ GREAT. My own initial response to it was highly negative, but I have seriously begun to wonder whether some sort of international control authority might not, after all, be necessary. Such would have to be established and prove its authority as a precondition of giving up all nuclear weapons and it would also need to be demonstrated that the international authority would own all enrichment and reprocessing capabilities. I accept that it sounds like idealistic pie in the sky but does that necessarily have to be the case?

I don’t see these as idealistic solutions, as much as I see them as unworkable ones. This type of thinking is behind these fuel-bank schemes that are in vogue at the moment, and again they are being see by the lesser powers as an attempt by the great powers to control access to energy. If this isn’t an echo of the British salt monopoly in India in the days of the Raj I don’t know what is. The developing world properly sees this as another round of White Man’s Burden benevolence that they have had more than enough of.

And again with any ‘down to zero’ nuclear disarmament – it is just not going to happen. The problem of verification alone, is in practical and political terms is impossibly difficult to implement, never mind plenty of other issues of similar weight that would need resolution.

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Charles Barton:

I think you understood me, quite probably because I didn’t express myself clearly.

I was not trying to suggest that the construction of Gen 4 NPPs should be conditional on total disarmament. I was trying to offer the opinion that disarmament might be facilitated (proliferation risks reduced) by switching from Generation 3 to 4 but only with international oversight. However, DV82XL has pointed out that , however good the oversight, he doesn’t think it would be sufficient to detect the surreptitious construction of nuclear weapons. I have absolutely no basis to disagree because I lack the technical knowledge that you and he have.

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Charles Barton:

The effects of a couple of whiskies led to a cock up in my first sentence. Please replace understood with misunderstood.

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DV82XL:

Sorry for having sent a defective link which I should have checked first. I can’t even use the whisky as an excuse because it preceded my having imbibed.

Could I prevail upon you to try http://www.pugwash.org.uk . Having found it, you should quickly be able to find the Report of Working Group on the Management of Separated Plutonium in the UK. From there, you can click on a PowerPoint presentation by Dr Christopher Watson. It is very concise and readable and I would really value your opinion.

Briefly, they consider 3 options: Do nothing, dispose of by irreversible burial or burn in MOX or Gen 4 plants. They consider pros and cons of each approach and discuss terrorist and other risks and potential benefits.

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Douglas Wise – I read the British Pugwash report and it is not that bad a document. It does address the options for dealing with Pu stocks, and by extension HEU inventories. I would prefer to see surplus fissionable material burned, and burned in a hard-spectrum reactor making electricity, than see it denatured and/or buried. The report though, does not really deal with the assumptions that underlie this debate, which is that this material represents a clear danger of facilitating the proliferation of nuclear weapon.

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A much bigger issue, that is being ignored, is that the development of new classes of Nuclear Weapons will likely occur in the near future. This will effectively separate Fissile Materials from Nuclear Weapons development, so extreme controls on enriched uranium, plutonium & uranium enrichment will not deter Nuclear Proliferation.

I don’t believe the DOE is spending over $2B on the NIF & the Z machine, just for the Nuclear Weapons stockpile stewardship, a dubious value. And it certainly isn’t spending it for Energy research. That leaves pure Fusion Weapons research. It is commonly believed that:

“…possible to conceive of a crude, deliverable, pure fusion weapon, using only current day, unclassified technology. The weapon design[1] weighs approximately 3 tonnes, and might have a total yield of approximately 3 tonnes of TNT. The proposed design uses a large explosively pumped flux compression generator to produce the high power density required to ignite the fusion fuel. From the point of view of explosive damage, such a weapon would have no clear advantages over a conventional explosive, but the massive neutron flux could deliver a lethal dose of radiation to humans within a 500m radius…”

Magnetized Target Fusion:

Click to access fusion_mtf.pdf

Explosively Pumped Flux Compression Generator:

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

Antimatter production and Antimatter Trigged Fusion Weapons:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/10/04/MNGM393GPK1.DTL

http://nextbigfuture.com/2010/03/superconductor-and-antimatter-bootstrap.html#disqus_thread

Click to access Edwards_Kenneth.pdf

Fourth Generation Weapons:

http://whyfiles.org/167new_nukes/3.html

Pure Fusion Weapons may be easier than Fusion Power generation:

http://www.ieer.org/reports/fusion/chap4.html

Friedwardt Winterberg on other possible ways to initiate Fusion:

Click to access 0906.0740.pdf

Pure Fusion Weapons are an inevitable development. And the United States has NO CHOICE but to develop them. Because it is the only way to know what other nations could be doing and might achieve. Once it is determined what can be done, then efforts can be undertaken to control the proliferation of that type of weapon, by watching what equipment suspect nations are acquiring. Deployment of fourth generation weapons is another issue – and that may not have to be done.

Here’s a nasty idea. Lighting up Jupiter with a Nuclear Weapon:

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Warren Heath – At the moment and for the foreseeable future, pure fusion weapons are an unlikely development. Research into these has been on going since the beginning, (EPFCG is from the Fifties) and very little headway has been made. The reason is because fusion is hard.

Consider that Teller–Ulam design uses a fission explosive to generate enough energy to light the fusion process. This is the magnitude of the radiation implosion needed to start this reaction. Trafficking in those sorts of energy densities without using fission is proving problematic.

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DV82XL, I don’t agree. There have been orders of magnitude improvement in the much needed computer power to model ICF, the physics of ICF, ultra-capacitors and high power compact electronics.

None other than Hans Bethe, warned about the possibility of Pure Fusion weapons being developed back in 1997, in a letter to Clinton. And I still see no other justification for the $3B being invested into the NIF, Z-pinch & MTF by the DOE, which has given zero funding to very promising Fusion Energy projects like Focus Fusion and Robert Bussard’s IEC fusion, than to understand the complex physics of ICF, relevant as an initiator of Pure Fusion Weapons.

An example of the technology improvement is that the cost of neutrons have dropped by seven orders of magnitude since 1965:

And anti-matter triggered weapons, are certainly feasible if the anti-matter can be produced and contained, and looks apparent that it can be done, although likely a decade or two away.

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The NIF, Z-pinch & MTF were funded and are in fact being used to qualify the current stockpile of nuclear weapons without resorting to testing.

One of the unstated problems with nuclear weapons is that they are not that reliable due to ageing and other issues. In fact this was the major reasons that the US and the USSR maintained such huge arsenals. US policy was to be able to drop a nuclear bomb on every Soviet town and city forty times over, this was not because of a desire to ‘pound it to rubble, then pound the rubble’ as they claimed, but instead was a reflection of the reliability of the weapons themselves.

Regular testing was crucial to the process of holding nuclear weapons, because it was about the only way to get some idea of just how reliable the arsenal was. The various Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaties, have made this impossible, and in the views of many raised the danger level rather tan lowered it.

The work around is the Science Based Stockpile Stewardship Program in the States which these facilities mentioned will be used for.

Antimatter triggered weapons are more likely to centuries away than two decades. You guys are trivializing some very difficult science that is involved with both pure fusion and antimatter physics. These things are a long way away.

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I would agree with DV82XL on antimatter triggers. I suspect that by the time they can work out how to produce and stabilise a few nanograms of antimatter, they’ll be sufficiently close to stabilising enough to actually make a complete antimatter weapon, and dispense with the relatively inefficient fusion process completely. Why convert a tiny fraction of the matter to energy (fission, fusion) when you could potentially convert it all? (matter/anti-matter)

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I’ve heard the story of weapons stewardship and the NIF, but insiders claim that is B.S. The DOE has also claimed it is for Commercial Fusion Energy Research – also B.S.

The Air Force is funding Edward’s Positron method of anti-matter storage, and went so far as imposing a gag order on his research. Anit-matter being only one of many methods of initiating a pure fusion weapon. The Next Big Future link shows how economical it would be to collect anti-matter in orbit:

“….Nuclear fusion or any larger power source that can be put into space combined with superconductors will enable antimatter production that can be 100,000 to one million times more effient in terms of cost than earth based systems…”

“… A $50-100 million system with 200 KW of power using current (or conservatively within four year technology) could produce several micrograms of antimatter each year…”

One micro-gram of anti-hydrogen being sufficient to trigger a pure fusion weapon.

http://nextbigfuture.com/2010/03/superconductor-and-antimatter-bootstrap.html

And there are several other methods discussed in the Winterberg article. It is naive to believe that ALL such methods are doomed to failure. It is a believed that a crude pure fusion weapon is already possible, although inferior to fission triggered weapons. It is entirely possible that China, Russia or the U.S. have already developed pure fusion weapons – we wouldn’t hear about it.

from:

Click to access Barnaby%20-%20The%20grim%20reality%20-%20the%20current%20nuclear%20situation.pdf

“…Tomorrow’s thermonuclear weapons will probably not rely on a nuclear-fission trigger to provide the conditions needed for nuclear fusion… use new types of very powerful conventional high explosives,.. temperature high enough to allow the fusion of hydrogen nuclei to take place. … Scientists have already achieved some nuclear fusion using currently-available high explosives … In the not too distant future, explosives powerful enough for use in militarily useful pure-fusion weapons will almost certainly be developed. Looking a decade or two ahead, nuclear-fusion weapons may be triggered by laser beams or by anti-matter, such as anti-protons. …Gsponer and Hurni calculate that the annihilation energy produced by only a millionth of a gram of anti-protons would be enough to trigger a large thermonuclear explosion…”

“…Key scientific instruments for the development of the next generation of nuclear weapons are inertial confinement fusion devices. Two large ones are planned the National Ignition Facility or (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California in the USA, and the Laser Megajoule (LMJ) facility at Bordeaux, in France. The results from the NIF could help nuclear-weapon scientists to develop a laser-triggered pure-fusion bomb using miniaturised high-intensity lasers. And experiments on the production of anti-matter are planned with the laser beams, which are likely to produce anti-protons much more efficiently than the large particle accelerators currently used for this purpose…”

“…The NIF scientific programme also includes research on metallic hydrogen. Above a certain pressure, hydrogen may be converted from a gas into a solid metallic state at room temperature. Metallic hydrogen may be 30 or so times more explosive than the….best conventional high explosives. It is described as “possibly the most powerful chemical explosive conceivable”. Metallic hydrogen clearly has the potential to be used in the triggers of pure-fusion weapons…”

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Antimatter weapons and pure fusion weapons are currently the stuff of science fiction. Yes these are large instruments they have built, for exploring high-energy regimes and Stockpile Stewardship is just one of the missions that these installations will be used for.

The Americans have stated that the U.S. does not have and is not developing a pure fusion weapon. If they were it would be in violation of most if not all of the current nuclear arms control treaties it is a party to.

Short of anything other than hearsay and anecdotal evidence, I find this line of inquiry speculative and sterile, and I will not be participating further in the discussion of this subject.

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I have only one thing to add to the above. Apart, in my opinion, that it’s wrong as a matter of fact, trying to simultaneously sell the public on the idea that nuclear power is desirable and that nuclear weapons are good for humanity simply won’t fly.

Selling the publicv on nuclear power as “clean” is a hard enough job as it is, despite the fact that it is a lot cleaner than everything else. Getting cast, at best, as people who are keen on nuclear weapons would make it impossible for us to have a serious conversation about the advantages of nuclear power and would therefore be an enormous own goal. We need to separate these two issues completely in the public mind and to argue that in fact, nuclear power can be one of the vehicles for decommissioning such weapons.

Finrod and DV8 might believe they are on good ground, and obviously I strongly disagree, but this is at best, an academic argument where we need to be focused on practical things.

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Ewen,

I agree we should separate the arguments about the civil and military uses of nuclear energy. We are not arguing to prevent our civil use of fossil fuel on the grounds that they are also used by the military. So why do we try to justify stopping civil nuclear on the basis that the militarty also uses nuclear energy for weapons.

In fact, fossil fuels are absolutely essential to the military. Without them we’d be reduced to using sailing ships and spears. But no one is taliking about stopping the military using fossil fuels.

Ewen, you said:
Apart, in my opinion, that it’s wrong as a matter of fact, trying to simultaneously sell the public on the idea that nuclear power is desirable and that nuclear weapons are good for humanity simply won’t fly.

I agree with this statement. However, can you see the parallel between your statement and this:

Apart, … that it’s wrong … trying to simultaneously sell the public on the idea that we should raise the cost of electricity while offering no practical solution for reducing GHG emissions from electricity generation.

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Douglas Wise, My analysis has lead me to conclude the following:
1. The only viable form of cost effective large scale post-carbon energy production will be from Generation IV breeders.
2. In order to supply global energy demands from generation IV breeder technology, all possible sources of fissionable materials must be tapped including nuclear weapons stockpiles.
3. Future energy demands will be incompatible with maintaining nuclear weapons stockpiles.
4. The global spread of Generation IV nuclear energy technology would in the short run lead to economic and political conditions that would make war less likely, therefore lessening the demand for nuclear weapons stockpiles.

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Warren Heath, I confess considerable ignorance about fusion weapon design, but it is my understanding that most of the bang from fusion weapons actually comes from the fission of plutonium and/or uranium, with fusion adding high energy neutrons, that greatly enhance the efficiency of the fission part of the reaction.

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Peter drew an analogy claiming that my position could be phrased as follows:

trying to simultaneously sell the public on the idea that we should raise the cost of electricity while offering no practical solution for reducing GHG emissions from electricity generation

I don’t see that this is what I’ve been claiming. Internalising isn’t “raising the cost” — it is making the cost transparent. And as you know, I agree that nuclear power is the most significant thing we could do to reduce GHG emissions at low cost.

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Ewen,

You have said many times that

Internalising isn’t “raising the cost” — it is making the cost transparent.

This statement rreally is nonsense in the context of the CPRS and electricity. If we add a CPRS we raise the cost of electricity. Virtually no one is disputing that. What is important is that we are being highly selective about what externalities we want to internalise. That is an example of picking winners.

Furthermore, our trading partners and competitors are not ready to implement an ETS, so if we do it will disadvantage Australia. But, perhaps more importantly, do you really think that the developing countries are going to take any notice of such an academic argument. No!. They are going to build the least cost electricity system. If that burns coal, that is what they will build.

If we want to help to cut GHG emissions world wide, we need to do all we can to contribute to reducing the cost of clean electricity.

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Nuclear weapons are simply a current fact of life. The public doesn’t have to like them or need to be sold on them, they just are. However when the public’s fear of them is used as leverage to enact policies that are detrimental to the wider adoption of nuclear energy, there is a need to set the record straight. This is what I was attempting to do here, rather than extolling the virtues of nuclear weapons per se.

Also it is important to show that nuclear power is not an incubus for nuclear weapons, which is one of the millstones that we carry. What I also try to do is show that the decision to acquire nuclear weapons is a great deal more grave that those pursuing them are often given credit for, and that this process is disconnected with any decision to build nuclear power stations.

Finally I want to show that the dream of total nuclear disarmament is impossible outside the establishment of one word government, something we seem to be drifting towards slowly, but so slowly that it cannot form the bases of any serious move to eliminate these weapons at the current stage.

The harsh reality is that we will have to accommodate nuclear weapons for some time to come, and while they are arguably the most dangerous things produced by the hand of man, there is now a body of history that demonstrates that they do reduce the threat of a World War simply because they are so appalling.

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Charles, I believe you are correct, about ½ of the energy (and most of the radioactive fallout) from a modern H-bomb, comes from a depleted uranium secondary.

Pure fusion weapons are certainly not science fiction, since a crude, deliverable EPFCG/MTF weapon can be built already. Anti-matter triggered weapons are undoubtedly well into the future. The time to develop them largely determined by the amount of funding anti-matter production & storage is given.

The point of this argument is not whether or not pure fusion weapons are better than fission weapons, but that extreme controls on fissile materials would not stop nuclear proliferation, if nations can simply turn to pure fusion weapons development, even if they are an inferior weapon.

However, pure fusion weapons would have advantages. One being they could be smuggled much more easily, without the radioactive fissile core. Another being they could be made much lower yield than fission weapons. They could be built without the highly vulnerable & detectable Plutonium Breeder Reactor or the Uranium Enrichment facility. And tested without being detected, disguised as a conventional explosion. They also would be desired by the military in order to avoid the large collateral damage that inevitably comes with fission weapons due to the large radioactive fallout – which causes most fatalities. An example would be, if Iran supplied Hezbollah with a nuclear weapon, which was detonated in the USA, and the gov’t decided to respond with nuclear weapons to destroy Iran’s military infrastructure – especially buried nuclear weapons facilities – then use of pure fusion weapons would allow destruction of all military infrastructure without the inevitable huge civilian death toll due to radioactive fallout from fission weapons.

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“The two most widespread uses of HEU are as research reactor fuel and as targets for the production of medical and industrial isotopes.”

I completely disagree. The three most widespread uses of HEU are: use in nuclear weapons; being downblended with natural or depleted uranium to make LEU; and use in submarines and nuclear powered ice-breakers.

Downblending HEU (that was previously in nuclear weapons) to fuel reactors is extremely important, it makes up for most of the shortfall in ‘primary uranium production’, and keeps the price of uranium down to reasonable levels. The shortfall in primary uranium production means that we will not return to cold war levels nuclear arsenals, it is a very good thing.

There is also no reasonable reason why it makes sense to have HEU-powered icebreakers.

HEU is a problem for similar reason that climate change is a problem- there is a “potentially unlimited downside exposure”, which has a dramatic effect on expected utility. See Weitzman’s recent papers if you want to understand the economic and decision theoretic implictaions.

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Peter Wood – you are quite right, I was thinking largely of those applications that will be most impacted by the clawback of HEU from civil applications. I had not considered military in my analysis.

At any rate downblending may be a use of HEU but it is hardly an application per se of the material. As well while this source has depressed uranium production, it will not last especially if more reactors are built.

At the risk of repeating myself, history shows that the decision to build nuclear weapons is not made on the bases of available material. nation embarking on a program do so because they identified a need that outweighs both the considerable expense and effort, and international pressure such a project entails.

Trivializing proliferation as if it were simply a problem of fissile material availability is to ignore the real issues In fact it seems that this emphasis is being used to hid the real reasons proliferation occurs.

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@ Charles,
Don’t style yourself as the one who has not been answered here. You only asked your non-proliferation questions in an effort to avoid addressing the quote from my blog which shows that I do find Barry’s arguments convincing. You called me an “anti-nuclear activist” and I was merely responding to that. You don’t have the integrity to admit people can actually accept nuclear power without being for nuclear bombs.

I find WMD’s completely incompatible with “Just War” theory. Images of burnt children running after a Napalm strike in Vietnam are nothing compared to the civilian ‘collateral damage’ of a nuclear exchange. Just wars are meant to be about targeting the enemy military, not their populations!

So how do we deal with proliferation? (And global warming, overpopulation, poverty, social injustice, failed states, global pandemics, global water crisis, everything…)
I already answered that, but again you can’t be bothered reading my answers. If you bothered clicking on the link I supplied you would see just how far down the Rabbit Hole my idealism goes… and yet given the EU’s rise to power, I actually think this is achievable.
http://www.worldvotenow.com/

I’ll not bother answering your interrogation if you will not read my replies.

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Oh and Charles, to prove I actually read YOUR posts I thought you raised some very good points here… except I’m not sure about point 3. As DV8 said above, history shows that the decision to build nuclear weapons is not made on the bases of available material. nation embarking on a program do so because they identified a need that outweighs both the considerable expense and effort, and international pressure such a project entails.

Douglas Wise, My analysis has lead me to conclude the following:
1. The only viable form of cost effective large scale post-carbon energy production will be from Generation IV breeders.
2. In order to supply global energy demands from generation IV breeder technology, all possible sources of fissionable materials must be tapped including nuclear weapons stockpiles.
3. Future energy demands will be incompatible with maintaining nuclear weapons stockpiles.
4. The global spread of Generation IV nuclear energy technology would in the short run lead to economic and political conditions that would make war less likely, therefore lessening the demand for nuclear weapons stockpiles.

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A little more info on antimatter triggered weapons, for those who are interested. Another approach being antimatter intitiated fission in easily obtained U238 or depleted uranium, causing fusion in a lithium-deuteride fuel. By this method on the order of 10 nanograms of antimatter are needed as a trigger. Or an electromagnetic neutron source could be used.

Another way rogue states, could bypass fissile materials controls and a way that Nuclear Weapon States could make & test 4th generation weapons without violating current Nuclear Arms control treaties.

Antimatter weapons:

http://cui.unige.ch/isi/sscr/phys/anti-BPP-3.html

Antiprotons as drivers for Inertial Confinement Fusion:

Click to access Perkins-Ort-Tabak.pdf

The physics of antimatter induced fusion and thermonuclear explosions:

Click to access 0507114v2.pdf

Brief description of antimatter catalyzed fission-fusion:

http://www.economicexpert.com/a/Antimatter:catalyzed:nuclear:pulse:propulsion.html

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Peter said (again)

we add a CPRS we raise the cost of electricity.

This is the nub of your blindspot, as I see it Peter. For you the cost of electricity starts and ends with the invoice amount. For me it includes the imposts on the public more generally — i.e. the loss of quality life years and human amenity, the longeterm structural costs of the associated climate change, the conserquences of price-shock inflation as perceived resource depletion approaches and doubtless several other things. You seem to accept that externalities such as these exist, but keep excluding them from the cost.

Indeed, precisely because you do recongnise these subsidies from the commons, you propose a new subsidy to nuclear to allow it to compete with subsidised fossil fuels. For you, because coal is cheaper because it is allowed to harm the public and so you conclude that nuclear should be allowed to be less safe so it can compete. Race to the bottom is apparently your policy. Now you have two non-transparent costs where before there was but one.

It’s hard to say why the obviously better alternative isn’t your policy — remvove the life-destroying subsidy to coal by monetising or internalising what is externalised and then you don’t need to make nuclear power less safe.

Perhaps this is what happens when one has a blindspot., but it seems to me that subsidising behaviour that we wish to constrain is poor policy, especially when the subsidy materially subverts the wellbeing of non-consenting humans.

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Ewen you keep repeating:

“CPRS does not raise the cost of electricity it just shifts the costs”

And this is the nub of your blind spot. You are being idealistic and avoiding reality. You seem to skip over or ignore most of my posts that explain the problem with internalising external cost. And you are fixated by just one externality. By doing so you are ‘picking winners’ – equivalent to picking renewables or banning nuclear. You also ignore the negative consequence of raising the cost of electricity. You are avoiding the key issues and keep repeating your statement that CPRS will not raise the cost of electricity.

You said:

you propose a new subsidy to nuclear to allow it to compete with subsidised fossil fuels.

No. I am proposing removing ALL distortions that affect all electricity generation, transmission and distribution. However, since I expect it will take too long to remove all, I advocate we need to assist nuclear through the early stages of implementation in Australia while we remove the impediments. The impediments have grown through 40 years of anti-nuclear policies demanded by a mis-informed public and fanned by politics for electoral advantage. Because of this, the commons will need to carry part of this cost while the distorting imposts are removed. The precedent for this has been set many times such as by mandating and subsidising renewables by up to ten times the cost of the competition.

You state that I say:

nuclear should be allowed to be less safe so it can compete.

Let’s be clear. I am not saying that nuclear should be less safe than coal. I am saying it is not rational to require that nuclear must be 10 to 100 times safer than coal if, by demanding such high levels of safety, we raise the cost so high that we exclude having nuclear at all. That is the current situation. That is the message I am trying to get across. I cannot understand why you cannot understand it. Perhaps it is just a blind spot, or perhaps it is ideology.

Ewen, I think it is you that has the blind spot. I think you are so tied into the Green Party’s ideology and politics that whatever they say you will agree with their policy, no matter what.

You accuse me of repeating myself, but you continually repeat that adding a CPRS will not raise the cost of electricity. That is total nonsense, no matter how you try to twist it or justify it. And the costs to humanity of doing so are high. I believe it is exactly the wrong way to reduce the world’s CO2 emissions.

I expect there is little point us continuing this discussion because I get the impression you are not prepared to address the central issues, or you are choosing to sidestep them.

It’s hard to say why the obviously better alternative isn’t your policy

The ‘obviously better policy’ is exactly what I am advocating. But your ‘blind spot’ is preventing you from seeing it.

remove the life-destroying subsidy to coal by monetising or internalising what is externalised and then you don’t need to make nuclear power less safe.

There is a lot wrong with this emotive statement. First it is emotive, not rational. Second, a tax on GHG is not a tax on the ‘life destroying’ polutants. Third, a tax that raises the cost of electricity has ‘life destroying’ consequrences of its own as discussed by me, DV82XL and others on the previous thread. Fourth, removing all imposts to nuclear, as I propose, will remove the subsidies for coal, gas and renewables and all the other impediments to a ‘level playing field’. To the extent practicable, externalities of all electricity generation technologies will be internalised. Coal and gas will be displaced by the lower cost nuclear. You will have all you want (except an extra tax on electricity). You will have low cost electricity, and all the life saving benefits that brings to humanity. You will have higher safety than we have now. What else do you want – other than Green Party in power?

I suggest you take off you dark-Green glasses and remove your blind spot.

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Peter

You state that I say:

CPRS does not raise the cost of electricity it just shifts the costs

You misstate here. I said that it makes the costs more transparent. Let us have this at least accurate.

You seem to skip over or ignore most of my posts that explain the problem with internalising external cost.

Apart from claims by you that internalisation is worthwhile but impracticable, you don’t deal in detail with this at all. You say there is a problem but you don’t explain how. It seems utterly simple.

you are fixated by just one externality

No I’m not. As I suggested above, I’d like all externalities to be included and not just for energy either. Of course, there should be no double dipping.

So for example, the cost of remediating a coal or zinc or bauxite or copper or uranium mine site to something like its original condition or a place fit for human occupation when it is retired ought to be included in the cost, based on RARs with a balloon payment if they underestimate. Emissions of lead or other toxics like mercury should be charged at the rate required to clean up or move people out of the footprint and remediate. Freighted coal would have to be covered etc …

In denying you propose a new subsidy, you say

the commons will need to carry part of this cost while the distorting imposts are removed

which is a strange way of refuting the claim.

The precedent for this has been set many times such as by mandating and subsidising renewables by up to ten times the cost of the competition.

Which is utterly wrong and something I oppose. Let’s get rid of that. As bad as this policy is though it can’t possibly harm nuclear because it still isn’t enough.

Let’s be clear. I am not saying that nuclear should be less safe than coal.

Unpicked you are saying it ought to be allowed to be as unsafe as coal. Since this level of “safety” is radically inconsistent with human wellbeing, you are not arguing for any improvement at all. If nuclear is not safer than coal, most of the advantage vanishes.

I am saying it is not rational to require that nuclear must be 10 to 100 times safer than coal if, by demanding such high levels of safety, we raise the cost so high that we exclude having nuclear at all

Moot. The current standards in current plants make it two-to-three times the subsidised cost of coal. Getting rid of some of the requirements and procedures for getting plants started that contribute nothing measurable to safety would reduce this gap yet further. So would tuidying up the immensely arcane approval process. If coal substantially internalises it will be at least 2-3 times the cost of nuclear and probably more.

I think you are so tied into the Green Party’s ideology and politics that whatever they say you will agree with their policy, no matter what.

No you don’t. You said above that you commended me for taking up the cause. You have a short memory it seems. Where exactly does my advocacy for nuclear power fit into contemporary “green party ideology”?

If the Greens agreed with me, we would not be having this discussion. Nuclear power would be on track for development today. They don’t as yet and that is one of the problems.

You say that describing the current subsidy to coal as “life-destroying” is emotive rather than rational, but it is based on evidence. We are artificially lowering the cost of a substance that is currently killing people in large numbers and prejudicing the prospects of another technology that would not do this — nuclear power. That is a perfectly reasonable inference.

a tax on GHG is not a tax on the ‘life destroying’ pollutants

Of course it is. Do you deny that anthropogenic GHG emissions prejudice the life chances of humans? You can’t deny that, surely? Though as I said, I ultimately favour an ETS not a tax on GHGs, though I would settle for a tax as an interim measure.

Third, a tax that raises the cost of electricity has ‘life destroying’ consequences of its own as discussed by me

Again, this is moot. Nuclear, properly rolled out would not produce output at an invoice price greatly more expensive than coal does now, and if one wanted to do so, one could subsidise the socially disadvantaged buyers of the output with the some of the proceeds of general revenue . One could take this out of the savings in health from shutting down coal.

You are the one who needs to remove his glasses — tinted dark brown ….

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eclipsenow, At present both the united States and Russia maintain far larger stockpiles of nuclear weapons and weaponizable nuclear materials, than their current military doctrines require. These stockpiles are maintained because there is at present no motive other than distaste for nuclear weapons for eliminating them.

My argument for number 3, is that if there is a practical 9as opposed to an ideologically based) constituency for the dismantling of nuclear stockpiles, it would be a whole lot more likely to take place. There would be a conflict between the demand for energy in a post-carbon society, and the demand to maintain nuclear weapons. The demand for energy could lead to a reevaluation of the stockpile, both of its size, and its necessity. This might be considered the plowshare approach (And they will beat their swords into plowshares.). Nations with the ability to meet their own energy needs will be more secure than nations that can’t. Hense a policy of maintaining nuclear stockpiles in the face of unmet energy demands, might be seen as subverting national security.

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Ewen Laver, @ 20 April 2010 at 13.57 you said

Peter

You state that I say:

CPRS does not raise the cost of electricity it just shifts the costs
You misstate here. I said that it makes the costs more transparent. Let us have this at least accurate.

That’s pretty cheeky. I refer you to this comment:
https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/04/01/nuclear-century-cbg/#comment-53374:

Ewen Laver, on 8 April 2010 at 11.58 Said:

And of course Matt, Peter Lang, despite repeatedly being corrected on this, continues to utter an entirely false premise — which is that a price on carbon dioxide emissions will raise the cost of electricity. Done properly, it merely shifts the cost factors from one column to another.

Clearly you are talking idealistic nonsense and don’t even remember what you have said. I don’t see much point in us continuing this discussion.

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Peter suggested that

it merely shifts the cost factors from one column to another {emphasis added}

means the same thing as

it just shifts the costs

Perhaps Peter is right to conclude discussion with him is pointless. Seemingly, he lacks the ability to distinguish subtlety in text.

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I’m late on this but I see my name in a quote above on the internalisation of costs. Reading further up i must admit to being surprised to see a desire to internalise costs as some sort of deep green ideological fixation. I’m surprised because our old economic lecturer taught be about internalisation of costs and lampooned deep greens at most opoprtunities down to point by point explanation why John Lennon’s “Imagine” was a pipe dream and totally undesirable from an economic POV.

It is an interesting debate to watch unravel, but for the life of me I can’t see why the unreasonable impediments to nuclear can’t be removed AND a price put on carbon… at the end of it all you’ll get nuclear power cheap providing power.

Also – my take on a carbon price not increasing electricity costs wildly is because it WILL drive a lot of short term decisions to a lower energy use alternative. So a unit price of energy may go up but the net energy use will come down.

I know there are a lot of great points made by Peter, at the core I find a distinct similarity to the more rabid skeptics I regularly engage (for my sins) at Joann Nova’s site, essentially equating action to deal with CO2 as some sort of sentence to the planet’s population to live in poverty. I just don’t see it, sorry.

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Barry Brook, on 20 April 2010 at 20.50 Said:

Robert Merkel has a write-up on this topic at Lavartus Prodeo now – DV82XL, you may wish to respond, as your guest post is mentioned!

I posted a response there as did John Morgan, using similar logic.

It occurs to me that the current attitudes about stopping proliferation by controlling HEU supplies, has several depressing parallels with the abject failure of the attempt to control the use of narcotics by attacking the supply of those.

Nether seems to recognize that sufficient demand will find a way to be supplied, and both fail to address the underlying issues that drive the demand in the first place. Ultimately just as marijuana and heroin are being kept from those with a legitimate need, the development of nuclear power will be restricted by these new uranium policies.

Shallow thinking and unwarranted fear strikes again.

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Just so Matt (above).

On the driving lower energy demand this is obviously not going to apply in the developing world because there on the whole, energy use is non-discretionary, and of course they too would want to participate more actively in trade than they currently do.

As I implied though, ceteris paribus does not apply. If the cost of energy does increase in real terms, it is possible to compensate the buyers in ways that 100% mitigate this cost and allow them to continue buying it. Transfer payment systems are good at doing this.

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As I implied though, ceteris paribus does not apply. If the cost of energy does increase in real terms, it is possible to compensate the buyers in ways that 100% mitigate this cost and allow them to continue buying it. Transfer payment systems are good at doing this.
I find the whole CPRS (as the proposal in Australia stands at the moment) an annoying farce.

1. The coal companies have had some heavy lobbying tinker with this beast, and have had their right to pollute guaranteed for the next 20 years or so. (From memory, or is it 25?)

2. Not only that, they get carbon permits. They can SELL these for profit, when you and I are being charged for our carbon.

3. Administratively it’s a mess. Why do we need to add all those administration costs, accounting issues, public service meddling and public servants to monitor the whole thing?

4. If the world’s governments were serious about carbon, why not legislate an outright ban on any new coal power station anywhere, and then peak oil and peak gas would eventually start cutting emissions for us. There could also be legislation that all coal plants must be closed within 25 years.

Then the marketplace would be desperate to get the relevant engineering advice, and sort out this ‘baseload power from renewables’ V nuclear cost debate once and for all.

5. It won’t happen that way because the coal companies have too much money and influence and can hire the trickiest lobbyists.

6. Yet despite there being no Federal legislation to this effect in the USA, the State governments seem to be bowing to pressure from green lobbyists and many proposed coal plants have been cancelled.

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eclipsenow, could you give examples for your point 6? How was effective pressure applied? How did those states meet the energy gap that would have resulted? Is there a model here for opposing coal developments, especially given the new coal plants NSW is planning to build?

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John D Morgan, on 21 April 2010 at 9.18 — The energy gap is partly being met by wind power and mostly by CCGTs. Natgas is thought to remain rathr inexpensive for several more decades in the USA due to the ability to tap deep shale natgas.

Some of the pressure has be brought by ponting out the serious health conequences of coal bunring. I don’t have any details.

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Ewen,

No, the your assertions don’t stand. I’ve rejected them and explained why repeatedly. We’ve been over the same ground many times. You seem to be stuck in an idealistic, academic belief about extrernalities. You seem to totally ignore the overwhelming benefits of cheap electricity. You don’t seem to ba able to see the big picture and benefit up the advantages of cheap electricity compared with the damages. I’ve explained too many times what is wrong with your arguments. You just don’t seem to be able to grasp the balance, or can’t afford to. Mind shut. No point in me trying to discuss this particular subject with you any further.

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Eclipse … your post is a mess. Putting aside the fact that I don’t support the CPRS as currently configured …

why not legislate an outright ban on any new coal power station anywhere, and then peak oil and peak gas would eventually start cutting emissions for us

I don’t see the connection. Are you saying that because the current ones will be less efficient than the new ones would be that we will deplete resoruces more quickly? What would stop existing coal burners simply adding to the capacity of their plants?

If you want to go the regulatory approach you could simply set out a timeline for life-cycle emissions that over the next 10, 15 or 20 years required a year on year reduction of emissions of all nominated pollutants per unit of output and which required all products landing on the docks to meet that standard or suffer a tariff or a quota. Far simpler.

Personally, I find the carbon cap and trade to be simpler. You set a declining cap and allow those doing business to buy quotas. If they improve by being especially sagacious in their arrangements then they are rewarded by being able to sell their surplus, effectively funding the changes. That way they don’t have to risk a loss by overdoing innovation — so they are more likely to risk erring on the high side. They are also likely to resist whiteanting of the standards for compliance since this would reduce the value of their assets. That’s a pretty big wedge.

If they prefer to run risks of falling short and think this would be something they can live with then they pay a penalty in having to buy credits from those who have overfullfilled, or being fined. Again, the revenue can be used to remediate or underpin new cleaner technology.

This structure constrains future governments from subverting the system.

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Quite right DV8 …

This is what Peter always says when his arguments are shown to be specious handwaving. He knows his position is based on a cultural preference for the rights of dirty industry, but he is in denial because he wants to pay lip service to reality.

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Matt

It is an interesting debate to watch unravel, but for the life of me I can’t see why the unreasonable impediments to nuclear can’t be removed AND a price put on carbon.

Theoretically, we can have both a price on carbon AND remove the impediments on nuclear. But if we begin with the price on carbon before we deal with the impediments to nuclear, we will never really address the impediments to nuclear – or at least it will take a very long time to reduce the impediments). They will simply be swept under the carpet. Ewen’s argument demonstrates why this would be the case. He wants nuclear to be at least 10 to 100 times safer than other industries. This is just one example that demonstrates we will not remove the impediments if we do not address the key problem – the impediments to nuclear – before we cover up the issue by putting a price on carbon.

Furthermore, raising the cost of electricity will slow the rate of roll out of electricity and the rate that clean electricity displaces fossil fuels for heat and transport. So the rate that world emissions will be reduced will be slower not faster if we raise the cost of electricity. What we do to the cost of electricity in the developed countries affects the cost of electricity everywhere. The excessive restrictions imposed on nuclear everywhere, through the IAEA, demonstrates this

For some reason, many people are totally fixated on the idea that raising the cost of electricity in the developed countries is going to reduce world emissions faster than by reducing the cost of clean electricity. This is wrong.

at the end of it all you’ll get nuclear power cheap providing power

No we wont. No if we don’t tackle imposts on nuclear. The debate on this thread has demonstrated, unequivocally, that even nuclear supporters are not prepared to face up to this issue. The discussion on this thread has demonstrated the extent people will go to to avoid the issue. Ewen and Douglas Wis for example do not want to talk about it. All they want to discuss in ETS and carbon taxes. This discussion is a window to what is going on in the wider community. It makes it pretty clear to me, that the matter of the impediments to nuclear cannot be discussed, not even by people who proclaim they support nuclear.

Also – my take on a carbon price not increasing electricity costs wildly is because it WILL drive a lot of short term decisions to a lower energy use alternative.

This statement is too simplistic. There will be some reduction due to efficiency gains but these will be swamped by a number of other factors. Despite what enthusiasts argue, the viable efficiency gains are far less than the advocates would have us believe. The ‘pink bats’ insulation program was supposed to target the ‘low hanging fruit’ – residential energy efficiency. However, this program is calculated to reduce emissions at a cost of $200/tonne CO2 avoided (that is very high). This is an example of how different the theory is from practice. Another example: I’ve just received a report showing how emissions have increased in Texas due to their wind energy program. Many of the schemes being promoted by the idealists do not make sense. The ‘hard heads’ have been saying this for a long time, at least 20 years, but the idealistic enthusiasts don’t accept the advice. There are many such examples: anti nuclear, pro bio fuels, there is no end to the list of such schemes we’ve been pushed into.

So a unit price of energy may go up but the net energy use will come down.

For a doubling in the cost of electricity sent out from the power station electricity consumption, and emissions, might reduce a little.

As long as we want to focus on increasing the cost of dirty electricity instead of focusing on reducing the cost of clean electricity, we will continue as we have for the past 20 + years. That is, a lot of talk and little progress.

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@ Ewen:
What would stop existing coal burners simply adding to the capacity of their plants?
The legislation would. No new coal plants OR upgrades.

Mate, if you find Cap N trade easy, you’ve got one up on me. How on earth will we measure it? What kind of ‘carbon police’ are you going to have to pay to ensure compliance? What kind of funky bookkeeping are people and businesses going to have to install? If I buy items from China, are the embedded energy / Co2 emissions counted there, or here? What if I’m buying goods from a country that have not signed up? Do I have to pay a tax if I fart, or are my annual methane emissions already counted into a budget? ;-)

Basically, what are you proposing we measure, who is going to measure it, at what point are they going to measure it (so that it is not double or triple counted and charged multiple times), and how much is all of this going to COST to ‘bill’ carbon to the appropriate polluters?

SIMPLE??? REALLY? Pull the other one, it plays jingle bells.

How about just banning an increase in pollution at the source (coal)?

How about legislating no upgrades?

How about no retrofitting to extend the life of existing coal plant?

How about mandating that coal plants be shut down as they age?

How about all new coal plants must be retired within 25 years? (And maybe with some compensation if the government just chopped the expected life of the investment in half. I could live with that! At least I’d see the government DOING something about global warming!)

Yours is a recipe for confusion, obfuscation, procrastination, and inaction… that *might* have *some* impacts… but generally comes at an enormous efficiency cost in terms of extra societal paper work and administration.

Mine is KISS… Keep It Simple & Stupid. It’s so dumb and visible and outrageously challenging that it will never happen, the coal polluters would never allow it. But they all LOVE your way and with good reason.

And now I’m bored, because this has become another debate between arm-chair generals debating angels on a pinhead, and no one here (except maybe Barry) is actually DOING anything regarding representations to government or running activist groups.

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Eclipse tried:

How on earth will we measure it?

Samples wherever there is output to the atmosphere. Modelling of rates of oxidation of input materials.

If I buy items from China, are the embedded energy / Co2 emissions counted there, or here?

They should be. We do a provenance trace using the best available data, erring on the high side if it is doubtful and impose a charge. If they don’t like it we sit down with them and audit more precisely.

Do I have to pay a tax if I fart,

Silly … of course not. We are discussing industrial processes.

how much is all of this going to COST to ‘bill’ carbon to the appropriate polluters?

It costs what it costys. You’re not Abbott are you?

It’s so dumb and visible and outrageously challenging that it will never happen, the coal polluters would never allow it.

Then you admit you are just venting. If you are right your proposal is not practicable and yet you prefer it to mine. That says much.

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Douglas Wise, on 25 April 2010 at 18.41 Said:

DV82XL:

I hope this is an appropriate thread to ask you the following:

You have persuaded me beyond reasonable doubt that exported materials from civil nuclear plants are less than ideal sources as starting material for nuclear weapons production. I also understand that imported material in the form of uranium, enriched to usually no more than 5%, or PUREX material could be used but that there are better start points for proliferating weapons, even if the activity had to be limited to clandestine operation.

You further argue that, even by starting with HEU, it wouldn’t be that simple for a terrorist to make a proper weapon (though some others disagree). The best they could do is to make a dirty bomb.

My question is as follows: I am a terrorist wishing to induce panic and economic disruption. I have decided that I can’t realistically get my hands on any HEU source. I appreciate that a dirty bomb won’t cause a huge amount of physical or long lasting damage or kill that many more people than bog standard explosives. However, if I wrap my explosive round some radio active material and detonate it in a vital city area, I’m reckoning that it will create much more publicity and panic. I appreciate that, maybe, if the public knew as much as I did about my bomb’s potential, there would be less panic. However, they don’t. Because of the difficulties I forsee in getting any HEU, I have decided to source some LEU or P for my purpose. What would you recommend? I have been thinking, myself, that material on its way to or from reprocessing would be much better than initial LEU input material. Am I right? If so, why do some pro nuclear pundits so readily dismiss terrorist threats? We terrorists don’t necessarily wish to make big bombs when we’d be quite content to spread as much radioactivity around as we could. I have even been wondering about the potential of pyroprocessed material that I have been reading about. It seems that it is so radioctive that nobody without suitable kit could get close enough to steal it without frying. Sounds good to me. I have some kids under my control who would be more than pleased to die in the cause. Perhaps I could wrap them up with something to prevent them from frying too fast so they’d have time to place their bomb in an appropriate city with a lump of pyroprocessed fuel on top. In fact, if a few fried on the way to the drop point and only one or two got through, it would do wonders for the panic rating.

I trust you appreciate that I favour the devil’s advocate role, so please don’t shop me for incitement. I am merely suggesting that Obama’s concerns over terrorists and nuclear material may be less unrealistic than you suppose. I was talking the other day to someone who was quite senior in our diplomatic service and used to have access to intelligence sources. One such had informed him that use of dirty bombs was almost an inevitability. This being the case, it would be useful to understand the degree of real damage they might cause. Perhaps the public should be enlightened in the hope of the avoidance of too much hysteria if one goes off. As one who feels the only real hope for a pleasant future for our progeny rests with widespread deployment of civil nuclear power, I shudder to think of the extent to which such a programme could be harmed by the explosion of a dirty bomb.

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IMHO radiation dispersal devices (RDD) are a non threat.

These devices were looked into by the weapons design community in the late 40’s and early 50’s and they were deemed ineffective both in terms of making a deployable device or taking any particular steps to defend against them.

The U.S. military Radioactive Subcommittee estimated that a bomb carrying 10,000 curies (enough to contaminate 250,000 square feet of open fields—approximately 5.7 acres) would require 310 pounds of lead to protect those handling the device. In addition, the radioactive material would have to be ground to a dust of 5-micron-size particles and then mixed with an inactive solid material to enhance dispersion and increase the inhalation hazard. Lastly, the effects would be highly dependent on local weather conditions and terrain.

These early experiments showed that cities, or build-up areas, would require “something approaching 100 times greater concentration” because structures would absorb a large fraction of the radiation. As a result of these early studies, the U.S. government concluded that RDDs were not a “militarily useful weapon.”

[as an aside: the term ‘dirty bomb’ at that time was used to denote what is now called an enhanced radiation weapon or salted bomb. This should not be confused with radiation dispersal weapons which are under discussion here. The terms are not interchangeable]

The British did tests in Australia of RDDs during Operation Rats at the Maralinga Test Site. 125 devises were exploded between 1956 and 1960. Results were disappointing, in fact more radiation was dispersed in the Operation Vixen tests which investigated what would happen to a nuclear device if it were in a fire that were also done at the time.

In short, construction and use of a physically effective RDD is more difficult than popularly assumed. Terrorist groups would have to overcome significant technical difficulties to construct and effectively deliver an RDD on target. While it is possible for a subnational group to acquire materials for an RDD, it is difficult to assemble enough highly radioactive material to produce mass casualties or to achieve wide area denial.

Even if a sufficient amount of the right material can be acquired, the handling of high emitting radioactive substances becomes very difficult due in part to the heat generated by large quantities of such material and the extreme exposure hazard from the intensity of the radiation. These substances require heavy shielding to protect handlers from overexposure and death.

While it is true that almost any use of an RDD could have a tremendous psychological—and therefore political—impact, acquiring a sufficient amount of highly radioactive material, constructing the device without overexposure to radiation in the process, effectively delivering the device on target, and achieving the necessary contamination in the target area are tasks beyond the capability of most non-state actors. Research and experimentation over 50-plus years indicate that RDDs are not simple weapons, notwithstanding popular perception.

I am not saying that there should be no border checks for radioactive material, if for no other reason than checking for illegal disposal or poor shielding of legitimate shipments.

Having said that, my concern is that by treating the possibility of a RDD as a serious terrorist threat we are creating a tempest in a teapot that does not serve the public by creating unnecessary uncertainty and perpetuates the public’s irrational fear of all things nuclear.

Under these conditions someone could in theory grind-up a few pounds of thorium laced gas mantles into dust, (easy once they are burnt) scatter them over an area like a playground, set off a small explosive device, and claim they have used a RDD.

This scenario would be just as effective in causing panic as the real thing. The only defense against psychological warfare is education before the fact, and much of the treatment that this ‘threat’ gets in the press and with the security apparatus is doing just the opposite by lending credence to the possibility.

The simple truth is that RDDs are not simple weapons, they are not easy to make, they are not the ‘poor man’s A-bomb’ (as I have seen them described) and they are not a credible threat if we don’t lay the groundwork by behaving as if they were to the public.

Anyone contemplating a devices will do some research and come up with same information I did here. The Izmailovo Park device that Chechen rebels planted in a park in Moscow was not exploded for the very good reason that it would not have been effective in dispersing the material. A team would have been sent in with Geiger counters, swept the area, picked up the few chunks and that would be that, and the group that planted the device knew it that’s why they gave it up to the press. It was much more effective a propaganda tool as an unknown potential than it would have been if it were detonated.

To create any sort of contamination over any area requires a great deal of material. This was established without a doubt by the Maralinga Range tests; it will take more than gutting the source from a Therac-25 to make any sort of impact because fine dispersal of an agent via explosion is not a trivial task. At best you would have a few chunks to deal with. Remediation of the area would be a snap.

This whole issue is a bogyman that doesn’t really exist.

It’s just not that easy to process source material into a dispensable medium to begin with, and anyone that tried with 200,000 curies of anything (especially a gamma emitter) without special equipment is a dead person before they are finished. Dispersing it as a dust is not that easy; the physics of powders is very complex and varies with the material.

The Litvinenko hit is not germane to this discussion. It was carried out by a large state-sponsored agency, with access to unlimited technical support.

This whole fantasy is rooted in the mistaken belief that these are crude devices that can be slapped together by anyone with access to a source, some C3, and a grudge. This is just far, far from the truth.

Until some time after the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks, regulation of radioactive sources was geared towards ensuring the safe use of the material by people and organizations presumed to be acting without malice. In that earlier and less fearful era, inspections of facilities designed to hold moderate to large sources, such as those used in industrial radiography or radiotherapy, rarely took place until at least six months after a license was issued and the source shipped. Little information was required beyond a facility layout and a radiation safety plan aimed at preventing accidents and ensuring safety.

However after the 2001 attacks steps have been taken against deliberate attempts to steal or divert radioactive material for malevolent uses that play a significant role in radiation safety programs. Consequently those types of sources have become much harder to divert than they were in the past, and this is a good thing because incidents like the one at Goiânia are just unacceptable.

However the Dirty bombs does illustrate one other thing about the dispersal of radiotoxic materials: it took many people to many days to spread the contamination as far as it was, including the activities of poorly trained clean up crews who did as much to make the problem worse as they did to help. Still the death toll from this accident only amounted to 28 people suffering radiation burns and five people dead, including three men, one woman, and one child. Yes many more were exposed but as always in cases like this how many will have their lives shortened if any, is not really known.

Yet this incident is brought up in the literature over and over as an illustration of what a RDD attack would be like and as demonstration of the possibility of one. This flies in face of decades of proper research and experimental evidence that has been gathered and analyzed by at least three separate nations already available.

If anything the two worst radiation accidents, the Goiânia tragedy,an incident of radioactive contamination in central Brazil that killed several people and injured many others. when an old radiation source was scavenged from an abandoned hospital and stripped for scrap, and the 1984 Juarez, Mexico melting of 60Co as scrap steel (from an abandoned and stolen radiotherapy source), were impetus for establishing tighter controls on these materials, and a wake-up call to those governments that had taken a less focused interest in these things in the past. In short making it less likely that these sources could be turned into RDDs.

The dirty bomb has been portrayed by the press as an extraordinary weapon that would kill thousands of people, and in the process, they made the hidden enemy even more terrifying. But in reality, the threat of a dirty bomb is yet another illusion. All studies of such a possible weapon have concluded that the radiation spread in this way would not kill anybody because the radioactive material would be so dispersed, and, (providing the area was cleaned promptly), the long-term effects would be negligible. In the past, the American, British and the Iraqi military tested such devices and both concluded that they were completely ineffectual weapons for this very reason.

It is doubtful that one would kill anybody by radiation exposure and I think you’ll have trouble finding a serious report that would claim otherwise. The U.S. Department of Energy set up such a test and they actually measured what happened, and the resulting measurements were extremely low. They calculated that the most exposed individual would get a fairly high dose—not life-threatening, but fairly high—and checking into how the calculation was done you find they assumed that after the attack, no one moves for one year.

One year.

Now, that’s ridiculous.

The truth is the danger from radioactivity from this sort of device is basically next to nothing. The danger from panic however, is horrendous. That’s where the irony comes. Instead of the government saying, “Look, this is not a serious weapon; the serious danger of this is the panic that would ensue, and there is no reason for panic, they give credence to this nonsense by taking it too seriously themselves.

This also holds for chemical and biological weapons CBW.

This whole concept centers around the belief that somehow these are crude weapons that are within the technical grasp of a terrorist. The truth is that these are not that easy to fabricate and deploy effectively. Examples of attempts like the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway show, that while there are casualties they are very small for the effort.

There was a good reason that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were selected as targets, and aircraft were used as a weapon – it was a very simple mission that did not rely on iffy technology and ideal conditions to execute. If there are further attacks on U.S. soil similar targets and similar weapons of opportunity will be used.

Cs-137, Sr-90, Co-60 may find there way into the wrong hands, but these are very powerful emitters would likely kill anyone working with it long before they could make trouble. As for the polonium hit, that was carried out by professionals, with the full backing of a State apparatus; it cannot be used as an example of what a terrorist could do.

In the end, while this sort of attack plays well in the press and leverages the irrational fear of radiation and nuclear weapons that festers in the public’s imagination, the possibilities of such an attack are effectively nil, yet anyone that flies on a regular bases knows that despite efforts to the contrary, it would still be posible to pull off another 9-11. I would be way more concerned about that

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DV82XL:

Very many thanks for such an informative and thorough response.

It leads me to conclude that the risks of nuclear terrorism are largely inconsequential from a physical standpoint but still have the potential to elicit profound fear in the minds of those who lack the technical knowledge to make an informed judgement.

Furthermore, this lack of knowledge, with its consequent engendered fear, represents a serious obstacle to rapid progress towards rapid civil nuclear power deployment. Clearly, therefore, it is unsurprising that you expressed irritation that Obama was apparently over-hyping the terrorist threat.

I believe that you then developed the conspiracy theory that Obama’s real motives were different from those that he was actually giving voice to. This presupposes that he must have been aware of the facts that you alluded to above, that there were no alternative points of view and that, in consequence, he must have been disseminating false information. There are, of course, three other possibilities:
1) There are nuclear terrorist threats that you are unaware of.
2) There are terrorist threats that you are aware of but conclude should not be discussed in a public forum.
3) The President was misled (deliberately or through ignorance) by his advisors.

I would prefer to believe 3). I am fairly sure that, as well as many members of the public, there are plenty of “establishment figures” (political, diplomatic and military) who do genuinely believe that the threat of nuclear terrorism is very real. These people may well be lacking in appropriate technical expertise but, presumably, the misinformation comes from somewhere. It seems that there are plenty of so-called nuclear scientists who are dedicated to limiting the use of nuclear power (for whatever reason) and some of them may be in a position to brief government advisors on science issues.

Regardless of the above musings, you presumably agree that fear, based on ignorance, is more important than genuine damage when it comes to consideration of the nuclear terrorist threat. What, in your judgement, is the best way to deal with this? You point out that a government that actually initiates discussion of the subject risks raising public fears by the very act of attempting to allay them. However, we now have a government leader who is not allaying but hyping. How can such misinformation (assuming it is such) be undone? You can’t do it single handedly on what can be perceived as a pro nuclear blog so what would you recommend as a way forward?

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Douglas Wise, on 26 April 2010 at 18.11 Said:

“Regardless of the above musings, you presumably agree that fear, based on ignorance, is more important than genuine damage when it comes to consideration of the nuclear terrorist threat. What, in your judgement, is the best way to deal with this? You point out that a government that actually initiates discussion of the subject risks raising public fears by the very act of attempting to allay them. However, we now have a government leader who is not allaying but hyping. How can such misinformation (assuming it is such) be undone? You can’t do it single handedly on what can be perceived as a pro nuclear blog so what would you recommend as a way forward?”

It is my considered opinion that this whole farce is yet a further attempt to maintain the geopolitical status quo. As such I do not think it can be changed, but it can be challenged.

Many polls are now showing that there is growing support for nuclear energy just about everywhere, this despite attempts by antinuclear supporters to the contrary. It would seem that the public is nether as ignorant of the issues or as fearful as we have been led to believe. In fact much of the official worry about a panicked public is little more than a handy trope that implies that while the listener may be sophisticated enough to understand the risk, everyone else is not.

Our real challenge is to find what it was that started turning people over to nuclear power in the face of all the negative propaganda that the topic is laboring under, and try and amplify that effect. This rather than dance to the tune of the antinuclear sides dissemination and mendacity. We are letting them set battlegrounds of their choosing, rather than ours; we should try and force it the other way.

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DV82XL

This rather than dance to the tune of the antinuclear sides dissemination and mendacity. We are letting them set battlegrounds of their choosing, rather than ours; we should try and force it the other way.

Here! here! to that approach.

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DV82XL:

Thanks for your insight. As far as the UK is concerned, the pendulum certainly appears to have swung strongly in support of nuclear power.

When I advocate the importance of nuclear power to all my acquaintances, they tend to look at me pityingly and wonder why I feel the need to state the obvious. These are not people who necessarily worry over peak oil or climate change and most will never have heard of the closed fuel cycle or Gen 4 reactors. They do, however, worry over energy security and tend to be contemptuous of wind. While this may be a reflection merely of those with whom I tend to associate, I don’t think this is entirely the case.

In our current election debates, both conservatives and socialists are pro nuclear. Only the liberals are against and they claim that this is not a principled objection but one taken on the basis of cost and time to deploy (both false but allowing for the possibility of a change in stance).

Perhaps it’s only Germany and Australia that need to catch up!

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Dougla Wise,

Perhaps it’s only Germany and Australia that need to catch up!

On this point I am in total agreement with you.

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Why the obcession over nukes? They’re becoming heavily obsolete with “proliferation” of other technologies.

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