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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”

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.

Come on Barry, that’s a bit Post-Hoc-Ergo-Propter-Hoc isn’t?

“After, therefore because of it.”

Planes in 9/11, therefore nukes never. I’m not sure why the second half of that sentence applies? Yes it is difficult, but impossible?
It sounds a bit like special pleading.

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eclipsenow – Even during the fall of the U.S.S.R., with several secession states suddenly finding themselves in control of nuclear warheads, and rise of organized criminal enterprises in that region, no nuclear weapons made it to the black market. The reason is that these things are as valuable as they are dangerous – they represent a huge investment by the state that built them, and they are treated as such. Not only are they valuable as weapons, but they also are high-value bargaining chips, and they are treated as such by those that own them.

There is as the fact that all nuclear warheads have a ‘best before’ date after which they need to be serviced by an organization equipped to do so, and unless deployed to operational status, are not fully assembled while stored. This would make theft of a full working device very difficult, and using it almost impossible.

Diversion of existing nuclear weapons, in working condition, to the hands of a subnational group is just not a credible threat.

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DV82XL,

Thank you for this enlightening contribution. I am confident your assessment is correct. However, I wonder what is the best way to proceed from here. Are there just two options or is ther some other option. The two options I see are:

1. only the existing nuclear weapons states can posesss HEU; OR

2. continued increase in the number of states that have nuclear weapons, with the number of states that possess nuclear weapons increasing at an accelerating rate.

Are there other practicable alternatives? What are they?

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When I noticed US Energy Secretary Chu sitting behind Obama I wondered if this summit was really to soften public opinion about greater shipments of LEU. Later that would include start charges for Gen IV reactors and movement of nuclear batteries. I suspect Chu has told Obama the US must increase nuclear generation capacity and the public needs greater assurance on handling of civilian nuclear material. The necessary first step is going through the motions on military grade material.

I think they said there will be 90 tonnes of plutonium made available. What happens to that?

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Peter Lang – Nuclear warheads are too precious to give away or to sell, too precious to “waste” killing people when they could, held in reserve, make the United States, or Russia, or any other nation, hesitant to consider military action. What nuclear weapons have been used for, effectively, for 60 years has neither been on the battlefield nor on populations; they have been used for influence.

Even from a terrorist’s perspective, the most effective use of a nuclear bomb, (in the highly unlikely event one of these groups acquired one) would be for influence. Possessing a nuclear device, if they could demonstrate possession, (and there are ways they could) without detonating it would give them something of the status of a nation. Threatening to use it, may appeal to them more than expending it in a destructive act. Even they may consider destroying large numbers of people and structures less satisfying than keeping a major nation at bay.

When last we saw a world without nuclear weapons, human beings were killing each other with such feverish efficiency that they couldn’t keep track of the victims to the nearest 15 million. Over three decades of industrialized war, the planet had averaged around three million dead per year. Many wars, small and large, have been fought since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However the Major Powers found ways to get along because the cost of armed conflict between them has become unthinkably high.

The bald fact is a world with nuclear weapons in it is a frighting place to think about. The industrialized world without nuclear weapons was a scary place for real.

Instead of fantasies about a nuke-free planet where formerly bloodthirsty humans live together in peace, what the world needs is a safer, more stable nuclear umbrella. That probably means more nations with nuclear weapons, holding for their own defence. It’s interesting to note that aggressive politicians tend to turn into tame sane cautious ones as soon as they split atoms. Whatever their motivations and intents prior, the strategic facts surrounding nuclear weapons dictate that warmongering leaders become peace-loving ones very quickly.

I know this is not a popular view, however it would seem that history reflects this interpretation more than it does the non-proliferation/nuclear disarmament rhetoric that has been driving current opinion on this subject.

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Related to this topic, here is an article sent to me by SCGI’s Dan Meneley, which he wrote back in 1977. Still relevant today… (8 pages)

NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND NUCLEAR REACTORS
by
D.A. Meneley
Comment on the Title: The title reflects one of the current problems of the electric power industry. Despite the fact that weapons and reactors have nothing in common there is a ready emotional association between them, at least partly because of the common adjective “nuclear”. The undeniable terrors of nuclear weapons are thereby transferred to nuclear power reactors and are used by those unalterably opposed to installation of facilities whose sole purpose is the production of electricity. It is necessary to examine the actual relationship between nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons in some detail, to reduce the emotional impact that clouds reason, and to attempt to see what influence (if any) the development of this source of electric power might have on the proliferation and possible use of nuclear weapons in the future.

ABSTRACT
This report addresses the tenuous link between nuclear power reactor development and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, particularly with respect to possible terrorist exploitation. Arguments are presented that contradict the popular image of nuclear weaponry as a “basement project”.

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DV8 wrote:

what the world needs is a safer, more stable nuclear umbrella. That probably means more nations with nuclear weapons, holding for their own defence.

I simply can’t agree. I’d far prefer to take my chances in a world where all nuclear weapons had been decommissioned and their radioactive materiel had been applied to peaceable purpose. Ideally, there would be no battlefield weapons at all, but one supposes that that really is utopian.

The problem with your analysis is that while it might have held for WW1 had they had nukes and delivery systems, (though this is far from certain, had the Nazis or the Soviets had them in the first months of Operation Barbarossa I shudder to think what would have happened. It’s also clear that at least some in the Pentagon in 1962 favoured using them as they had the tactical advantage.

And are we really sure that Israel or Pakistan won’t ever use them? Pakistan threatened just that in 1999 over Kashmir.

I simply don’t trust the state any state with such weapons.

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If no state had nuclear weapons or the systems to deliver them they’d have even less room to manoeuvre.

Recent experience in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that even when a big power goes up against a small and decrepit one, the results are not good for the big power. Everybody loses. This in a way is the strongest argument for nuclear devices. Had Saddam or Mullah Omar really been thought to have them (but not had them), maybe there wouldn’t be such a mess.

So it is even less likely that one large power could hope to subdue another large power, in the way that the Germans tried between 1939-45. The US failed to subdue Vietnam. Japan failed to subdue China. The US of course would have subdued Japan even without the bomb, but for political reasons, chose to use it.

Today, the trade and institutional restraints make a new conflagration with conventional weapons on a large scale unthinkable. Nukes are the one shot in the locker.

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If no state had nuclear weapons or the systems to deliver them they’d have even less room to manoeuvre.

No Ewen, they’d have more. Specifically, they could wage a conventional war between the Great Powers (whoever they are) of the day which would be unthinkable if those states possessed nuclear weapons. The existence of nuclear weapons forces restraint.

Today, the trade and institutional restraints make a new conflagration with conventional weapons on a large scale unthinkable. Nukes are the one shot in the locker.

The existence of nuclear weapons has made it unthinkable, so we have institutions which reflect that reality. Remove that, and we’d see the next world war within a generation.

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Thanks for interesting article.

The main declaratory nuclear issue from USA is Iran acquiring one. In one sense Iran is a failed state, they can’t conduct a democratic election. I don’t see a big difference between a nation state such as Iran or North Korea and a terrorist organisation, ie. they exert systematic terror against their own populations. If Iran did acquire one can we rule out the possibility that they would pass it onto Al Qaeda for use against Israel, for example? Perhaps not but it is a worry.

This scenario is of more concern to me at the moment then the future climate change scenario. btw I searched for the Bush study mentioned by DV82XL, here it is:
National Security and the Threat of Climate Change (pdf 35pp). I haven’t read it yet.

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@Ewen Laver:

counterfactual historical speculation is tangential to this thread but you write that you “shudder” to think what would have happened had the Nazis or Soviets had nuclear weapons in the first months of Operation Barbarossa. Berlin’s racial extermination and sujugation plans for what was to happen to the USSR sub-humans after Wehrmacht victory are documented, however.

There has often been a post-1945 tendency in states within the US orbit, especially in self-interested circles that believe in the essential benevolence of all means of capital accumulation, to hold to the theory of totalitarianism, viz. Stalin=Hitler. In AU, as you will be aware, Tories who more than a sneaking regard for Adolf invariably claim “that the Germans were just fighting (sic) for their country.”

When I was at school, total Soviet population losses in WW2 were said to be below 20m; that figure has now been revised to 27m.

Prima facie and from a Soviet standpoint of minimising harm to a civilian population, use of nuclear weapons on the advancing Wehrmacht might well have reduced that figure.

In your later post at 1629h you seem to be using the term “subdue”, a term used in conventional international warfare, to apply to Nazi policy. However, the comparison of life as lived under Nazi occupation in western and eastern Europe respectively reveals the exterminatory nature of what you call “subdue.” Hence the conflicts of the US, Japan, China, Vietnam are inappropriate comparisons.

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Turning the HEU issue into a shibboleth is not a good idea. The most likely way HEU is going to pass into the hands of terrorists is for a nuclear armed state to break down. In that case, HEU might be given or sold to terrorists. But what the terrorists would prefer in those circumstances would be nuclear weapons drawn from existing stockpiles. An existing nuclear weapon is just going to ne so much more reliable, than a made from scratch, untested, crude nuclear weapon, made by terrorists in some jungle lab. It would be far better, in the eyes of our terrorists, to acquire say, a warhead made in Pakistan, and built by following a detailed design and manufacturing instructions to a pre-tested warhead, acquired by Pakistan from China. Not that China would ever sell or give Pakistan details on how to build a nuclear weapon, of course. And not that any member of the Pakistani military would ever have the slightest sympathy with the goals and methods of terrorists, of if such a person did exist, would have access to the Pakistani stockpile of nuclear weapons.

The HEU shibboleth is likely to bite the future of nuclear power. The preferred fuel for LFTRs is pure U-233. It is possible to denature the core U-233 with U-238, but this would have some undesirable consequences, including the production of plutonium.

Would building LFTRs in nuclear armed nations lead to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists? I would argue that LFTR construction in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, India, Brazil. Mexico, Canada, Poland, etc., would not increase the likelihood that terrorists will acquire nuclear weapons. But if we don’t have anything to worry about, a whole class of academic experts would be out of their jobs.

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@Barry Brook – Very valid observations by Dan Meneley, suspicions that NPP are latent bomb factories, and visions of them going up in mushroom clouds is very much a part of public perceptions, exacerbated of course by antinuke mendacity. Overcoming it has been one of the hardest parts of the process. In some regards both TMI and Chernobyl have helped a bit by showing what real accidents look like, and while they are still PR problems in their own right, they at least give us something to point to.

@Ewen Laver – Your attitude still stems from the perception of nuclear weapons as offensive, rather than defensive assets. A close examination of both history and fact shows that despite bellicose noises to the contrary, every nuclear state does maintain a de fato No First Use (NFU) doctrine.

quoting freely from Stuart Slade’s The Nuclear Game – An Essay on Nuclear Policy :

The reasons are simple: When a country first acquires nuclear weapons it does so out of a very accurate perception that possession of nukes fundamentally changes it relationships with other powers. What nuclear weapons buy for a New Nuclear Power (NNP) is the fact that once the country in question has nuclear weapons, it cannot be beaten. It can be defeated, that is it can be prevented from achieving certain goals or stopped from following certain courses of action, but it cannot be beaten. It will never have enemy tanks moving down the streets of its capital, it will never have its national treasures looted and its citizens forced into servitude. The enemy will be destroyed by nuclear attack first. A potential enemy knows that so will not push the situation to the point where our NNP is on the verge of being beaten. In effect, the effect of acquiring nuclear weapons is that the owning country has set limits on any conflict in which it is involved. This is such an immensely attractive option that states find it irresistible.

Only later do they realize the problem. Nuclear weapons are so immensely destructive that they mean a country can be totally destroyed by their use. Although our NNP cannot be beaten by an enemy it can be destroyed by that enemy. Although a beaten country can pick itself up and recover, the chances of a country devastated by nuclear strikes doing the same are virtually non-existent.

With that appreciation of strategic paralysis comes an even worse problem. A non-nuclear country has a wide range of options for its forces. Although its actions may incur a risk of being beaten they do not court destruction. Thus, a non-nuclear nation can afford to take risks of a calculated nature. However,a nuclear-equipped nation has to consider the risk that actions by its conventional forces will lead to a situation where it may have to use its nuclear forces with the resulting holocaust. Therefore, not only are its strategic nuclear options restricted by its possession of nuclear weapons, so are its tactical and operational options. So we add tactical and operational paralysis to the strategic variety. This is why we see such a tremendous emphasis on the mechanics of decision making in nuclear powers. Every decision has to be thought through, not for one step or the step after but for six, seven or eight steps down the line. So, the direct effects of nuclear weapons in a nation’s hands is to make that nation extremely cautious. They spend much time studying situations, working out the implications of such situations, what the likely results of certain policy options are.

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Let me quote Carey Sublette’s nuclear weapons FAQ:

Clearly the most serious scenario is if weapons-grade HEU can be obtained by a terrorist group. Due to the very low neutron emission rate, very low technology can produce a substantial probability of full insertion and high yield detonation.

A weapon constructed from 40 kg of 93.5% HEU, with a 10 cm tungsten carbide reflector would produce a full yield of >10 kt. The required assembly time for a 50% chance of complete assembly is some 48 milliseconds, equal to a velocity of only 9 m/sec. This can be achieved by simply dropping the bullet 4.4 meters! Crude gun-type arrangements, along the lines of the IRA’s makeshift mortars could easily achieve velocities of 100 m/sec or more.

Sounds like a pretty trivial engineering problem to me once assuming sufficient HEU.

On that basis, it seems to me that HEU in the hands of terrorists does constitute a very credible threat that it would be turned into an effective bomb, and therefore very considerable efforts to restrict its availability are justified.

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@Robert Merkel – this is the sort of half-truths that have plagued this debate from the beginning. The very passage you quote is typical in that it dwells on the issue of assembly time, implying that this is the critical element that must be mastered. It is not, nor has it ever been. In fact that part IS trivial, what is not is a host of other parameters that must be met.

Consider Little Boy, (which seems to be the standard in this debate) this was a very large device, and it was crew-served, requiring a trigger installed seconds before it was dropped. If these types of devices are so simple to make, why then were the earliest models made by the major powers so large and complex. Certainly their nuclear weapons complexes, stocked with some of the best minds available, and the resources of a state at their disposal could have done better than what is being suggested can be done by a clandestine group of guerrilla fighters working in difficult conditions.

This is what I mean when I wrote that much of what is being assumed on this subject is at odds with history and fact. Little in these terrorist-with-a-nuke scenarios adds up when examined closely.

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DV2XL:

I actually think that a terrorist construction of such a weapon is plausible – IF 60 kg of HEU was just handed to them on a platter.

A HEU gun-type bomb is a very different thing in practice to a plutonium implosion bomb, which isn’t plausible for terrorists to make.

Nobody is saying that such a weapon would be small or lightweight – but it could be assembled pretty easily if you had the HEU, and would be vehicle-transportable.

Having an initiator neutron source is not plausible for terrorists – but you would still get some nuclear yield without one.

The Little Boy bomb was large – but it wasn’t really complex.

The reason why that bomb was only fully assembled at the last minute while on the plane to Hiroshima is that a bomb like that, with the HEU installed and with the chemical explosive propellant loaded, is dangerously susceptible to accidental detonation – which would give the full nuclear yield.

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Luke Weston – “Plausible” is one of the most misused words in the greater nuclear debate.

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010. defines the word three ways:

1 : superficially fair, reasonable, but often specious

2 : superficially pleasing or persuasive

3 : appearing worthy of belief

Most plausibility arguments for this or that, in the nuclear domain tend to project the term as sense 3, but upon closer inspection it is valid only as sense 1. This is the case here.

“Not complex,” is another misinterpreted term. It does not mean crude. While a uranium gun-type device is conceptually simple, it has very high tolerances, and requires both precise timing, fine adjustment of the propellant and detailed measurements of the fissile load to work with any degree of reliability.

All one has to do is look at the magnitude of effort required to build the first Russian, British, and French bombs, even with information begged, borrowed or stolen from the Americans, and state-level resources, to realize that this is a project outside the scope of any subnational group.

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DV82XL: As you know perfectly well, the first bombs tested by the United States, UK and the USSR were plutonium-based implosion weapon designs, which tells us nothing about the difficulty of building a HEU-based gun device.

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As you know perfectly well, the first bombs tested by the United States, UK and the USSR were plutonium-based implosion weapon designs, which tells us nothing about the difficulty of building a HEU-based gun device.

What do you think the Hiroshima bomb was?

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OK Robert Merkel – Then rather look at the effort required by South Africa which developed and built a small arsenal of gun-type fission weapons in the 1980s. The point being that it still took the resources of a State to proceed with this kind of programme.

At any rate it would seem that theWashington Times agrees with me. In an article entitled Obama admin hyping terrorist nuclear risk it states that a senior U.S. intelligence official dismissed the administration’s assertion that the threat of nuclear terrorism is growing. The official went on to say the administration appears to be inflating the danger in ways similar to what critics of the Bush administration charged with regard to Iraq: hyping intelligence to support its policies.

As well, the latest CIA report to Congress on arms proliferation suggested that the threat from nuclear terrorism had actually diminished.

That’s rather damning I’d say

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Scientific American raises the issue of commercial viability of breeder reactors…

http://tinyurl.com/y29kown

“If we build 200 to 400 more reactors, then it’s definitely only 100 years of supply,” argues Hanson, whose company is the largest supplier of uranium fuel in the world. “Would you build a nuclear power plant with a 60-year lifetime with only 100 years of supply? I wouldn’t if I was an investor.”

Nevertheless, Areva has also sold all its mining operations in the U.S. “The U.S. is the most unfriendly place on Earth for mining,” Hanson says. “The grades [of uranium] are not high enough to make it worthwhile.”

But even low-grade uranium is cheaper to work with than reprocessing, according to critics such as physicist Frank von Hippel of Princeton University. “Recycling and reprocessing don’t buy you much in terms of uranium resource savings unless you go to breeders, which have not succeeded commercially.”

As von Hippel notes, to really take advantage of reprocessed fuel requires a new type of nuclear reactor: so-called fast breeder reactors that essentially create, or breed, their own fuel. There is only one problem: commercial versions of such reactors have not worked despite efforts for at least 60 years to improve them. “We have spent $100 billion trying to make them commercial and they still have safety, proliferation and cost issues,” says physicist Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. And Hanson agrees: “Fast reactors are not ready for prime time.”

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Oh, and here’s another nasty little fact I didn’t know about reprocessing….

“But reprocessing can end up producing more waste. According to the DOE, reprocessing spent fuel ends up increasing the total cumulative volume of nuclear waste by more than six times—thanks to more materials being contaminated with plutonium—from a little less than 74,000 cubic meters destined for some form of repository to nearly 460,000 cubic meters. Reprocessing also results in radioactive liquid waste: the French reprocessing plant in La Hague discharges 100 million liters of liquid waste (pdf) into the English Channel each year. “They have polluted the ocean all the way to the Arctic,” Makhijani says. “Eleven western European countries have asked them to stop reprocessing.””

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OK, so he wrote about renewables.

Rather than further character attacks (which I find just so boring and predictable on this blog lately), do you have links to a paper that proves his basic assertions wrong? I’m tired of being told “He’s not a guru you should listen to — try my guru instead!” Instead try Barry’s response to Mark Diesendorf during their great debate:

“How about answering the arguments?”

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Finrod said

The existence of nuclear weapons has made it unthinkable,

You assert that but I don’t see that it is. Certainly, for rational people, it ought to be unthinkable but not all people who run states are rational in the sense that most civilised people would understand the term. It’s hard to imagine for example, that the Bush administration was restrained from using small scale tactical nuclear weapons against Afghanistan or Iraq by the thought that other states would attack them with nukes (or any other weapon). They probably were aware that within America, such an approach would have been seen as barbaric even by many conservatives and have stripped the “war on terror” of all moral legitimacy.

We have seen recently though how a fairly minor ripple in trade settings can have very serious consequences for employment and this certainly would apply to any conflagration that got close to a point where deploying nuclear weapons was discussed. The world in 1939 was not nearly so interconnected as it is now. Even then, the Axis view that it could essentially sustain itself economically while fighting a war against the US and Britain and cut off from major energy sources such as coal and oil and the hard currency to buy the many things not produced within its borders was wrong. Now it would be bizarre. Minor skirmishes are viable, but even a less minor one — the war against Indochina for example — was seriously debilitating.

This, rather than possession of nukes, was the primary constraint. It’s hard to escape the idea that the driving force behind the acquisition is the domestic political value associated with being able to claim, that pace Vishnu: Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

That kind of godlike power attracts even more majesty to office than does painting your head of government building white and making it look like a palace fit for a god. Let’s face it, it you can’t claim the power to murder people in large numbers in a short space of time, need anyone take you seriously? And if you decline on the basis that it is “simply too terrible to contemplate?” are we not all supposed to applaud your humanity and reason?

Paraphrasing what DV82XL said:

that the consequence of nuclear weapons in the arsenal imposes a calculus that constrains military action

That may well be so, at least in some cases, yet we must set this risk against very serious possibility of someone deciding to call the other’s bluff. If, for argument’s sake, China with the necessary delivery systems attacked Japan and/or Taiwan with nukes, would the US nuclear capability be deployed? Probably not. Yet if the Chinese themselves figured that this would be the response their nukes would be offensive or gain them leverage.

The other point is this: there simply isn’t any good tactical reason to respond to a nuclear attack with retaliatory nuclear weapons. Politically, the impulse would be near irresistible but it only gets worse from there. So it only takes one somewhat unhinged ruling group to think they can sail a little closer to the wind than previously for a devastating set of consequences to follow. That’s a downside risk I don’t fancy, given that I regard other constraints as being more likely to restrain serious wars between the major powers.

Peter Lalor said:

Prima facie and from a Soviet standpoint of minimising harm to a civilian population, use of nuclear weapons on the advancing Wehrmacht might well have reduced that figure

That may well be so, but you’re abstracting. Stalin, like Hitler was clearly by 1941, a psychopath. Here was a man who said one death is a tragedy … a million deaths is a statistic. There can be absolutely no telling what he would have done with such power at his disposal — so there was a completely open-ended downside risk. Had he possessed the weapon and had Hitler known, it’s doubtful indeed that Hitler would have even ordered Operation Barbarossa. His focus would have been on acquiring the technology. In the interim, he’d probably have focused on strengthening his hand in Europe, which, with hindsight, would almost certainly have better served the longevity of fascism. Not a good result in my opinion.

The megadeaths in WW2 were a terrible price to pay for the human system failures that led to the rise of Hitler and Stalin. It’s what happens when we humans get stuff really wrong. Really, this failure’s genesis was in the breakdown of the system which controlled Europe up to 1914 and thus set up the ducks for the Russian Revolution, worldwide depression and WW2.

I’m not sure what point you make when you chide me for using the term “subdue”. I was thinking of colonisation or vassal state configurations when I used the term.

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DV8
You’re being slippery and inconsistent.

From the article again…
“”We have spent $100 billion trying to make them commercial and they still have safety, proliferation and cost issues,”

Tell me, at what point of expense do we walk away from R&D into renewables? 100 billion? What’s the research budget into renewables up to in the USA hey? Sounds to me like a LOT more attention and money has been put into commercialising fast breeders, and they have still failed!

This is exactly your rationale against further R&D into renewables. We shouldn’t bother with further R&D into renewables because we’ve already spent so much and they haven’t delivered the goods (according to you anyway).

I’d love to see what 100 billion could do for wind & storage. Oh, and again for geothermal. And again for solar thermal. Have all renewable energy systems COMBINED had as much R&D funding as this one nuclear technology of breeder reactors?

DV8, if not at $100 billion, at what point do we pull the plug on wasting more money into an industry that just does not seem commercially viable? Try being consistent for a change!

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Rather than further character attacks (which I find just so boring and predictable on this blog lately), do you have links to a paper that proves his basic assertions wrong?

Character attacks? Because I said he told lies about energy systems in support of renewables and in opposition to nuclear power? When you’re prognosticating on energy systems, that’s a damn serious character flaw, and needs to be brought to general attention.

Anyhow, there were a number of posts on the subject on this blog, although I don’t recall which thread. Just have a hunt around for comments shortly after the study was released. There’ll be plenty of stuff there.

Nevertheless, Areva has also sold all its mining operations in the U.S. “The U.S. is the most unfriendly place on Earth for mining,” Hanson says. “The grades [of uranium] are not high enough to make it worthwhile.”

Of ,course it’ll be uneconomical for the U miners if they’re spending more than their rivals to extract a given amount from poorer grades of ore. That doesn’t mean that it’s uneconomical for utilities to operate power plants with U from lower grade ores, just that there’s no point spending more than you have to until it becomes necessary. Fuel costs are a small portion of the operating costs of a NPP.

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@Ewen Laver:
You assert that but I don’t see that it is. Certainly, for rational people, it ought to be unthinkable but not all people who run states are rational in the sense that most civilised people would understand the term.

The leaders of ‘rogue states’ tend to be far more pragmatic in relation to their long-term personal interests than their propaganda and doctrinal justifications would suggest.

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Well, DV8, I’m glad you came back with so much information as to R&D for various energy types and proved that breeders have been drastically under-funded compared to all the trillions put into renewable R&D! Well done! ;-)

So I guess I’m left with NO ACTUAL INFORMATION rebutting the SCIAM points on breeder expense, and am left with their word as the last word. Well done all.

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eclipsenow, if you listen to armchair judges like von Hippel from Princeton, then they’ll tell you “We have spent $100 billion trying to make them commercial and they still have safety, proliferation and cost issues”. If you listen to the folks from Argonne National Labs who actually worked on the R&D, they’ll you that safety and proliferation issues of designs like the EBR-II vs oxide-fuelled variants are essentially solved (refer to 1986 tests, pyroprocessing). I’ll leave it to you to judge which source is more credible on these matters of engineering and physics. As to costs, there are plenty of reasons to suspect a design like the S-PRISM will be cost effective, but let’s build an IFR and find out.

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Ewen Laver – We cannot stuff this demon back into Pandora’s Box. Attempts to do so can be shown to be futile. ‘Going to zero’, as the antinuclear weapon cognoscenti put it, is a deceptively simple notion; just about everyone who knows nuclear weapons agrees it would be wickedly difficult to achieve.

That’s because it would require a sea change in a dizzying array of defence matters, ranging from core strategic policies to highly technical weapons programs. To fully grasp the political and military implications, consider what would have been involved had the great powers of the 19th century decided to abolish gunpowder.

Past efforts have foundered. A 1946 plan named after the American financier Bernard Baruch died partly because its scheme to have a powerful international agency control nuclear technology required the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to give up their veto power on some nuclear matters. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, 41 years old now, has proved ineffectual in moving the world toward nuclear disarmament.

Even if arsenals are reduced to zero scientific and engineering knowledge cannot be expunged from mankind’s memory, the potential to build weapons will always exist.

Nuclear conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union was a prospect so harrowing that American and Soviet leaders recognized it was untenable, even as they planned for Armageddon. They possessed some 70,000 nuclear warheads between them in the 1980s, but the weapons were under firm control and neither side dared risk the retaliation that a first strike would draw. The balance of terror, in effect, neutralized nuclear weapons.

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“We have seen recently though how a fairly minor ripple in trade settings can have very serious consequences for employment and this certainly would apply to any conflagration that got close to a point where deploying nuclear weapons was discussed. The world in 1939 was not nearly so interconnected as it is now. Even then, the Axis view that it could essentially sustain itself economically while fighting a war against the US and Britain and cut off from major energy sources such as coal and oil and the hard currency to buy the many things not produced within its borders was wrong. Now it would be bizarre. Minor skirmishes are viable, but even a less minor one — the war against Indochina for example — was seriously debilitating.”

In the world of 1939 several power blocks (the British Empire, isolationist USA, Nazi Germany with its virtual barter system among eastern European states, the deeply isolated USSR…) had spent a decade drifting into protectionism and autarchy. This was in contrast to the globalist policies in force during the Pax Britannica of 1815-1914. Pax Britannica and Pax Atomica both resulted from the implicit threat of overwhelming force capable of negating the defences of most or all Great Powers. When that condition exists, Great Power worlds are virtually non-existent. When it does not, endemic Great Power wars are the norm. Integrated global institutions can and will break down in a multi-polar world without dominating threat such as nuclear weapons.

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As you know perfectly well, the first bombs tested by the United States, UK and the USSR were plutonium-based implosion weapon designs …

What do you think the Hiroshima bomb was?

It was the first 235-U bomb, and it never had a test as such. The first use was the test. I have read that the reason they believed they could proceed without a test was the absence of any neutron-emitting isotope like segrium, aka plutonium-240. Is that not true?

(How fire can be domesticated)

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GRLC, I understand that to be the case, but there was another reason Little Boy was not ‘just-in-case’ tested. That was it was such a damnable hard job to get the super-enriched U in sufficient quantities (some 65 kg from memory) using their diffusion method. With Trinity by comparison, they wanted to make sure the timing of their radial compressive explosives would actually work, and Hanford was doing a decent job by then at breeding more Pu.

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We do have an historical precedent DV8. During the Tokugawa era in Japan, guns were progressively abolished as the ruling elite decided that they gave the lower orders just a little bit too much comeback. Until the Americans showed upo, the policy was effective.

More seriously though, you are right — the genie (in this case technical know how) can’t be put back into the bottle, which is not at all the same thing as saying that we can’t ignore the existence of the genie. We also know how to make devastating chemical and biological weapons (which could probably do even more harm to long term human interests than nuclear weapons deployment) but as far as I am aware, the major powers and even most of the minor ones don’t keep them in a state of readiness to frighten each other.

I’m rather glad they don’t.

The broader question is this: If tomorrow the USA unilaterally said: we’re out of the nuclear weapons game. As of today we begin decommissioning all nuclear weapons and by 2020 there will be no such devices in any state of readiness within our jurisdiction — would they be worse off in absolute or relative terms? Nope. They can still deliver plenty enough deadly force at a distance to have a credible deterrent and they have a compelling argument to insist others do likewise, whether they ultimately do or not.. They could insist that states like Pakistan and India and Israel also eschew such weapons which would be a big contribution to a safer world.

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Ewen Laver – Go back and read what I wrote above about the role of tactical nuclear weapons. Conventional forces, no matter how large or well equipped cannot prosecute a successful attack against nuclear bombs. It is how the Red Army was held back in Europe for many decades by a force that was a fraction of their size.

Nuclear weapons are attractive to smaller states because they are a very inexpensive way to keep from being invaded. That’s the only reason they want them. Don’t buy into the propaganda that they want to nuke London or New York, that is not a creditable threat from some nation like Union of Myanmar (who may be the next to arm with nukes) or Iran, that’s just BS fed to the masses.

You are still working from flawed assumptions, please look deeper into things and you will see that the real picture is very different than what we have been taught to believe.

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DV8 wrote:
“The balance of terror, in effect, neutralized nuclear weapons.”
Post-Hoc again DV8. A documentary “Countdown to Zero” is coming out soon, by the people who made “Inconvenient Truth”. It documents how WW3 was only avoided by sheer chance on a number of occasions.

Computer war-game tapes being loaded and mistaken for the real thing, Russian subs with communications problems unable to receive instructions from command voting 2 to 1 not to nuke America, and a dozen other crisis scenarios have played out without the public’s knowledge.

Hopefully after this documentary the general public will not be as relaxed about the potential for disaster as you are. Pro-nuclear advocates will need to contend with a public much more informed about these matters. The documentary apparently lists far more events than the following wiki.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ww3#Greatest_threats

During the Suez Crisis of 1956, Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin sent a note to British Prime Minister Anthony Eden warning that “if this war is not stopped it carries the danger of turning into a third world war.”[1]
The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 is generally thought to be the historical point at which the risk of World War III was closest[citation needed], but there have been other events that historians have listed as close calls to World War III.
On 26 September 1983, only 25 days after the downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007, a Soviet early warning station under the command of Stanislav Petrov falsely detected five inbound intercontinental ballistic missiles. Petrov correctly assessed the situation as a false alarm, and hence did not report his finding to his superiors. Petrov’s action likely prevented World War III, as the Soviet policy at that time was immediate nuclear response upon discovering inbound ballistic missiles.[2]
During Able Archer 83, a ten-day NATO command post exercise starting on November 2, 1983, the Soviets readied their nuclear forces and placed air units in East Germany and Poland on alert. Many historians believe this exercise was a close call to a start to World War III.[3]
On 12 – 26 June 1999, Russian and NATO forces had a standoff over the Pristina Airport in Kosovo. In response, NATO commander Wesley Clark demanded that British General Sir Mike Jackson storm the airport with paratroopers. Jackson is reported to have replied, “I’m not going to start the Third World War for you”.[4]
CIA original operative, Miles Copeland, claimed that in the future, World War Three will kick off when “Soviet Russia” dupes the United States and Israel into waging a self-destructive war with the Muslim/Arab world[5].

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Wikipedia and antinuke propaganda – really son is that the best you can do?

You have already established with your breathless ‘Black Swan’ sightings that you lack the capacity to weight what you read critically, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that you wouldn’t be capable of treating this topic any differently.

I know you are going to think I am just insulting you rather than addressing your concerns, but you show no analytical thought with these posts. Ewen Laver, who I almost never agree with, at least presents a considered POV, you just find the first contrary reference, and throw it in my face like a challenge, but without bothering to examine it yourself beforehand. I’m not here to do your reading for you, and then explain it back.

Marshal proper arguments and I will engage with you – presumptuously flinging poorly researched references at me demanding I answer them as if they were credible, and you will get silence.

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Gosh DV8 … I thought we mostly agreed …

I am wondering if you could clear something up for me though. Is it your opinion that the practical security of the United States or its apparent allies would be prejudiced if they didn’t have deployable nuclear weapons?

I can see why smaller states like North Korea, Israel, Iran and so forth might think such weapons would be handy. As I said above:

Had Saddam or Mullah Omar really been thought to have them (but not had them), maybe there wouldn’t be such a mess

But the US? The UK? France? Russia? That simply has to be wrong

I’d just like to see if we can establish more precisely why you seem so exercised by the value of nuclear weapons in the hands of large otherwise well-armed states.

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Ewen Laver – Of course there is no reason for them to maintain huge arsenals of the things, which is why the States and Russia are happy to dial them back. However they also need nuclear weapons to act as a deterrent to any one that could offer them a similar threat, if their conventional forces can’t attack another nuclear armed country.

The question you should be asking is why keep a large conventional force on the payroll in a world with nuclear weapons.

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DV8,
Kim Beazley, our former Defence minister, has addressed the Lowy institute over various crisis during the 80’s with extreme concern.
More recently our former Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, has presented an 80 minute talk at the University of Queensland explaining how to motivate international action on these matters, especially in the context of disarmament.

When it comes to nuclear disarmament, solutions to international conflict, even bringing a halt to mass atrocities, the lament is often a lack of ‘political will’. So how do you turn ideas into action in international decision-making? That’s the topic of the University of Queensland Centenary Oration delivered by Gareth Evans.

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/bigideas/stories/2010/2862453.htm
If you have half an ounce of integrity you’ll listen to this podcast, and then watch the movie when it comes out, and try and respond here.

Try and address the FACTS, as right now your own lack of concern appears to derive from the certainty of dogma. You sound like an inflexible old man too tired to be bothered by the details of history.

A new groundswell of information and alarm over these matters is coming. I’ll enjoy the ‘fallout’ as dogmatists such as yourself have to deal with the reality of history.

Your boring, predictable routine of sneering without substance will simply not suffice as the general public become more aware of the dangers these weapons pose and the catastrophes we’ve only narrowly avoided.

I cheer on your patronising blasé attitude — it will just do ‘your pro-WMD cause’ so much more damage. Good luck with that. ;-)

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DV82XL:

I wonder whether you could answer a few technical questions relating to the subject of your post?

1) I find your view to be reassuring and reasonably convincing that terrorists are extremely unlikely to be able to create a nuclear bomb. However, whether he really believes it or not, Obama has expressed the view that terrorists DO represent a nuclear threat. This expression has potentially important political consequences. To the extent that these may impact adversely on the rapid deployment of civil nuclear power, it becomes more important to emphasise that any threat that does exist can only come from theft of already assembled weapons or, less likely, of highly enriched uranium. As these would be neither available nor assessible from NPPs, it seems to me that it would be better to emphasise this point than to rule out the terrorist threat altogether. Do you agree or have I somehow got the wrong end of the technical stick?

2) If terrorists were to construct nuclear devices (rather than steal prefabricated weapons), what is the likely scale of damage they could do? My guess, only informed by fairly superficial reading, is that, at worst, it would be unlikely to be more than ten times worse than the consequences of the Twin Towers. However, were they to detonate a few pre-made atomic bombs, I would guess that they could obviously do at least one hundred times more damage than that caused by their earlier attack on New York. It seems to me, on the basis of risk analysis, that even this is trivial compared to threat to civilisation posed by AGW. As one who believes that civil nuclear power is the only realistic prospect that we have for escaping this threat, I confess to being fairly laid back about terrorists and nuclear weapons/devices. In your opinion, am I correct to be so?

3) To the extent that nuclear war has the potential to do anything like as much damage as AGW, I think one has to think nuclear winter. Can you comment upon the numbers and types of weapons that would have to be exploded to create effects that mimic the consequences of super volcanos? I have read that as few as 50, exploded over cities, might do the trick. Is this likely? Would these have to be thermonuclear as opposed to atomic weapons? If so, how much more difficult is it to construct the former once one has acquired the technical knowhow to create the latter?

To the extent that a proliferation risk is real, and I don’t think it can be entirely dismissed, it depends upon the spread of necessary skills and knowledge and the financial ability to put them to use. Rapid and widespread deployment of civil nuclear power is almost bound to equip an increasing number of nations with these knowledge and skills bases and thus increase their potential to make nuclear weapons. This is a totally distinct argument from suggesting that the presence of NPPs themselves increase the pre-existing risk through their ability directly to provide weapons material. Nevertheless, their presence may be sufficient to compound difficulties of international overseers in detecting weapons activity. Should you consider that the points made in this paragraph have any validity, what would be your own suggestion for addressing this enhanced proliferation risk? In particular, do you think different approaches to enrichment and reprocessing (in particular, pyroprocessing) offer any benefits?

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Hi Douglas,
re: /3

There’s a SCIAM article (you have to buy to read the main text)

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=local-nuclear-war

The wiki says:

“Potential consequences of a regional nuclear war

A study presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in December 2006 asserted that even a small-scale, regional nuclear war could produce as many direct fatalities as all of World War I and disrupt the global climate for a decade or more. In a regional nuclear conflict scenario in which two opposing nations in the subtropics each used 50 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons (ca. 15 kiloton each) on major populated centers, the researchers estimated fatalities from 2.6 million to 16.7 million per country. Also, as much as five million tons of soot would be released, which would produce a cooling of several degrees over large areas of North America and Eurasia, including most of the grain-growing regions. The cooling would last for years and could be “catastrophic” according to the researchers.[15]”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_war#Potential_consequences_of_a_regional_nuclear_war

This is from Science Daily, which has more detail… but the final paragraph is of great interest!

“”With the exchange of 100 15-kiloton weapons as posed in this scenario, the estimated quantities of smoke generated could lead to global climate anomalies exceeding any changes experienced in recorded history,” Robock said. “And that’s just 0.03 percent of the total explosive power of the current world nuclear arsenal.””

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061211090729.htm

The nuclear winter wiki summarily states that a full exchange of today’s weapons, about a third the total at the height of the Cold War, would cause:

“A global average surface cooling of –7°C to –8°C persists for years, and after a decade the cooling is still –4°C (Fig. 2). Considering that the global average cooling at the depth of the last ice age 18,000 yr ago was about –5°C, this would be a climate change unprecedented in speed and amplitude in the history of the human race. The temperature changes are largest over land … Cooling of more than –20°C occurs over large areas of North America and of more than –30°C over much of Eurasia, including all agricultural regions.”

But laugh it up, because DV8 simplifies terrorist access to nukes as unlikely because, after all, why they didn’t use them in 9/11? So don’t worry be happy! Nuclear weapons are almost as good as nuclear power! Anything with “nuke” in it appears sacrosanct.

DV8, your analysis in the opening post was somewhat comforting, but does not eliminate the possibility. All you have done is lower the range of possibilities in my mind, not limit it to zero which is what you seem to think you have proved which I find deplorably deceitful. Some of the arguments were outright simplistic.

Go back to the science of nuclear power, because your arguments over sociological and political possibility are just not as watertight and don’t carry the weight of experience and analysis in these matters.

And Barry? Please reconsider letting someone submit articles written so far outside their ‘field’. That article was a poorly written propaganda piece by someone that seems to love WMD’s. It was largely an opinion piece with a tiny bit of politics thrown in. Poor form for this blog, really.

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eclipsenow, My review of renewable storage systems suggests, that molten salt storage with a solar thermal heat source would be the most cost effective renewable storage system, but that if you want to heat molten salts for storage, a molten salt reactor would be a far more cost effective source of storable molten salt than a solar thermal plant would be. You cannot escape the rational for nuclear power, by claiming that energy storage research would lead to a superior, more cost effective renewable alternative to nuclear power.

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DV82XL, South Africa completed their bomb design well before they had the fissile material available.

Their design was also reliable with 80% enriched uranium. Not only does this make the critical mass higher and reduce the yield, but as I understand it the spontaneous fission rate of U-238 is higher than U-235, so the minimum insertion speed for a reliable bomb using lower-enriched uranium is therefore higher (though calculating how much higher is well beyond the limits of my knowledge).

At the risk of again arguing from authority, may I quote Luis Alvarez?

“With modern weapons-grade uranium, the background neutron rate is so low that terrorists, if they had such material, would have a good chance of setting off a high-yield explosion simply by dropping one half of the material onto the other half. Most people seem unaware that if separated U-235 is at hand, it’s a trivial job to set off a nuclear explosion, whereas if only plutonium is available, making it explode is the most difficult technical job I know.”

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@ Eclipse Now: I agree that certain rules of scientific or academic discourse are having a coach and four driven through them on BNC at this juncture.

I also agree with your observation on DV and WMDs, a topic which he floated on the current Open Thread. He got no takers for it at the time bar myself, pronounced himself correspondingly insulted and withdrew (loc.cit.)

There are good reasons why peer review and referees exist. But more to the current point is what I described some weeks ago as a certain magisterially ex cathedra stance on the part of the gentleman.

Thus I do not think it is acceptable to write on topics covering half a century of various types of history without sourcing what one says and then to graciously advise readers to “background themselves.” Because science rests on the reproducibility of results and transparency of experimental design.

In other words, without knowledge of which primary and secondary sources (terms used as the historian uses them) were used on site in Quebec, the outcomes desired are not likely to be replicated, if one views his injunction to BNC readers as a sort of experimental design.

Note to natural scientistson this blog: unsourced screeds get short shrift in the social sciences for good reason, irrespective of whether “the facts are surprisingly simple to understand” (quote).

However, the gentleman in question has drawn at least 2 long bows on previous occasions, viz.. 1 that most anti-nuclear activity is a front for fossil fuel interests 2. that the anti-proliferation bureaucracy is only in it for the money (I am quoting from memory on 2., but I believe that was the gist). So his current post is not a new departure.

None of the above is to be construed as addressing the fraudulence or otherwise of the War on Terror.

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It follows from the above that anti-nuclear activists are inadvertently increasing the power of states with nuclear weapons, and thus increasing the incentive for other states to have nuclear weapons. By confusing the issues between nuclear power and nuclear weapons these activists are also preventing any viable solution to the threat of catastrophic climate change.

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Douglas Wise –

Your first point. Yes that has been my position on the matter for some time, elsewhere I have written at length on the need for the pronuclear community to emphasize the fact that nuclear power and nuclear weapons are separate matters that have little to do with each other.

Your second point. I would think that if some subnational actor managed to lash something together that looked like it might be a device, their best strategy would be to announce its existence and hold it in reserve. Because, in the end the chances of it being a fizzle is very high and a great deal of effort would have been wasted. A nuclear weapon’s primary value is as a threat, this would hold for terrorists as well. Thus I do think the actual destructive potential of such a device would be of secondary importance.

Your third point. The ‘nuclear Winter’ hypothesis has yet to firm up sufficiently to give any reliable numbers of thermonuclear explosions required or the time-frame they would have to happen in for me to hold an opinion.

I would note however that this is based on the supposition that any nuclear attack would necessarily become a full exchange with all Powers launching all their weapons. This is again an outmoded idea based on strategic thinking in vogue in the Sixties. Nuclear planning and doctrines have moved forward and this sort of battle between two superpowers is now very unlikely.

Robert Merkel – statements like i“if they had such material, would have a good chance of setting off a high-yield explosion simply by dropping one half of the material onto the other half.” are exaggerations and I am sure Prof. Alvarez meant is as such.

Nevertheless he is trivializing the technical task of making this type of weapon and having it function reliably. At the risk of repeating myself, this is not out of reach for a state (or perhaps an institution like the University of California, Berkeley where Alvarez spent his career) but it is not a task that any terrorist is up to.

Peter Lalor – I was not under the impression that BNC had the same standards as an academic journal, it would seem too that the owner of this site didn’t get the memo ether. If it wasn’t clear from context, this was an opinion piece on the 2010 Nuclear Summit and the emphasis placed on HEU at that meeting.

In the thirty-five years or so that I have been reading them, even the academic journals allow more latitude in their editorial submissions than they do for articles.

One of the reasons I ask people to look into these matters themselves is that most of the people I interact with on this subject properly take a very jaundiced view of what they see on the web, and indeed supporting documents for just about anything, no matter how bizarre can be found with all the outward trappings of a scientific paper.

Understanding this matter of nuclear weapons however, requires some deeper background in the technical fundamentals of the subject and the military doctrines attached to them to reveal just how out of sync common understanding and the political rhetoric are with reality. What I wish people like you and others here with the intellect to do so, is go through the same journey I did, because that is the only way you will be convinced.

If anyone wishes to start someplace I can suggest the essay on nuclear policy making The Nuclear Game by Stuart Slade that I shamelessly quoited from up-thread.

http://homepage.mac.com/msb/163x/faqs/nuclear_warfare_101.html

http://homepage.mac.com/msb/163x/faqs/nuclear_warfare_102.html

http://homepage.mac.com/msb/163x/faqs/nuclear_warfare_103.html

Slade was a planner back in the days. You will find his observations enlightening, and a good departure point should you wish to pursue the topic further.

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And Barry? Please reconsider letting someone submit articles written so far outside their ‘field’. That article was a poorly written propaganda piece by someone that seems to love WMD’s. It was largely an opinion piece with a tiny bit of politics thrown in. Poor form for this blog, really.

Don’t lecture me on what I can/cannot put on BNC. This is a personal blog, not a formal technical journal, which has its own (often peculiar) set of constraining rules. Blogs are all about opinions. As to the degree with which they are supported, or not, that is up to the readers and commenters to decide themselves. No one forces them to read any of the postings, or make comments, or agree with what the post says. An ‘open science’ blog like BNC simply gives anyone an opportunity to read an opinion, and then judge/debate the merits or demerits of that argument with other like-minded people. On that basis, DV82XL’s post fits perfectly with the spirit and intention of BNC. I find it perplexing that you and Peter Lalor don’t seem to grasp this fairly simple (and near universal) premise on which blogs are based.

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Peter Lalor, on 16 April 2010 at 21.35 Said:

“However, the gentleman in question has drawn at least 2 long bows on previous occasions, viz.. 1 that most anti-nuclear activity is a front for fossil fuel interests 2. that the anti-proliferation bureaucracy is only in it for the money (I am quoting from memory on 2., but I believe that was the gist).”

The first is essentially correct. The antinuclear movement is a religion. This religion says that nuclear energy is “bad.” The definitions of good and bad are in the minds of the faithful. They are the useful idiots, if you will, of those who wish to continue the status quo of carbon-based fuels. The fossil fuel industry is using them to persuade the world that continued use of their products is mankind’s wisest course of action.

Wind and solar are stupid little toys; they will forever remain toys. They will never power an advanced civilization. They are a waste of our economic resources, our attention and our time.

The second is incomplete.

In my opinion, two parasitic cultures have grown around nuclear technology, both artifacts of Cold War paranoia: first is the radiation protection industry and professionals working in the field that depend on the continued acceptance of the the linear-non-threshold dose-response model, despite the fact that this model has been thoroughly discredited on multiple occasions.

The second is the nonproliferation organizations. This latter having no more of an evidentiary foundation than the former, but is similar in that a host of people depend on its assumptions for their jobs. The NPT has done nothing to stop the spread of weapons except in the minds of the functionaries of the bureaucratic apparatus it precipitated, but has created all sorts of onerous rules that have increased the administrative overhead of nuclear energy without doing one damned thing to slow proliferation

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Anti-Nuclear activists are like American Republicans, they know what they are against, but they are far from sure what they are really for. eclipsenow, tells us he is against nuclear war, and tells us how terrible it would be. Of that i have no doubt, but i haven’t the foggiest idea how he would go about preventing nuclear proliferation. Anyone who believes that they know how to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, should demonstrate that the solution would have prevented Pakistan from acquiring nuclear weapons if it solution had been in force. The Pakistan test would require that anyone who proposes a proliferation prevention policy give a detailed and reasonable answer to the question, that would describe how the solution would have applied to the known circumstances of Pakistani acquisition of nuclear weapons. If the an anti-proliferation policy would have prevented Pakistan from acquiring nuclear weapons, then it begins to have credibility. If the answer for Pakistan is satisfactory the questions should also be posed for the South Africa and the North Korea cases.

So far none of our anti-nuclear friends have offered to tackle the Pakistan test, and indeed have offered us nothing that suggests they have a serious interest in the actual spread of nuclear weapons. What they have a serious interest in is preventing the spread of nuclear power reactors.

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If no state had nuclear weapons or the systems to deliver them they’d have even less room to manoeuvre.

I don’t agree.

In a world without nuclear weapons it becomes thinkable to acquire and use nuclear weapons offensively.

Access to delivery systems will become far more ubiquitous and far cheaper as part of the drive towards cheaper access to space. See the flurry of private companies either trying or succeeding in accessing to sub-orbital space and LEO. There’s even a company trying to build a hydrogen gas cannon(no combustion, just heated hydrogen, most of which is recaptured and re-used) which can launch small payloads at 6-8 km/s; which is enough that you only need a small single state rocket to reach LEO. This gets rid of the slow and vulnerable boost-stage of a nuclear weapon and it has a lower bound launch cost of ~$100/kg payload, more realistically a few few hundred bucks.

The intended market is for launching small satellites and for transporting fuel into LEO. If you can build a fuel depot in LEO you can use it as a staging area for a permanent Moon base or manned mission to Mars.

Recent experience in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that even when a big power goes up against a small and decrepit one, the results are not good for the big power. Everybody loses.

No. Bush, Cheney and the rest of the neocons have done fairly well for themselves and were never at any real risk of death.

Nuclear weapons have this wonderful property no other weapon in the world has; they just as easily destroy the political elite of a country as they kill civilians or soldiers. In fact, the political elite is more likely to be targeted than civilians or soldiers are. Stalin killed almost everyone he ever worked with and instituted a system of slave labour camps which killed millions through not feeding or clothing them properly. You think he’d be bothered by killing tens of millions of his own people in a conventional war?

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Hi Douglas Wise,
are you comforted by DV8’s mere assertion that:

The ‘nuclear Winter’ hypothesis has yet to firm up sufficiently to give any reliable numbers of thermonuclear explosions required or the time-frame they would have to happen in for me to hold an opinion.
Wow. That’s won me over. He totally debunks the peer reviewed scientific papers I quoted! I guess in his mind, one assertion by DV8 overturns a dozen peer reviewed papers. ;-) Don’t worry, it’s not just you. This is just his style. Arrogant dismissal with a few words and nothing to back them up.

would note however that this is based on the supposition that any nuclear attack would necessarily become a full exchange with all Powers launching all their weapons.
And again, another of DV8’s favourite argument tactics, the straw-man! Dude, only 1 of the papers I quoted above mentioned an all-out attack for the ‘nuclear winter’ scenario. The other papers are about more limited exchanges of maybe 50 Hiroshima sized weapons, which would increase global dimming to the point where agriculture would be severely affected. Check out the papers I quote. Oh, and before you sneer at the wiki quotes, check the PAPERS they are based on.

@ Charles: I am against misinformation being spread around about the climate models based on smaller scale nuclear exchanges, and against simplistic analysis of the potential dangers of terrorist incidents that might set off such an exchange.

I am against over-enthusiastic proponents of nuclear power trying to downplay the risks of nuclear bombs because they are sick of this taint by association. Yet I agree with many here that the link between bombs and power supply needs to be unpacked in the public’s thinking, because some of the public’s perceived links are far too simplistic.

But what to do about nukes? Well, I’ve already recommended the talk by Gareth Evans on motivating action on international matters, and we’ll see what the movie “Countdown to Zero” achieves later in the year.

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@Barry — Bravo! for your response to the scold re: DV82XL’s interesting and thought-provoking post.

@eclipsenow — Are you certain you want to assign any credence to a ‘documentary’ that follows in the footsteps of “Inconvenient Truth”? When a British magistrate rules that nearly a dozen false statements need to be made known before viewing, at least in public schools to the students, that ought to give you enough reason to temper your enthusiasm for a similar project.

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eclipsenow – all I recall seeing is a link to an article in Scientific American and a news release on Science Daily and a Wikipedia from you. Where are these peer-reviewed papers you talk of?

Oh, here’s one: Nuclear winter: science and politics Published in Science and Public Policy, Vol. 15, No. 5, October 1988, pp. 321-334, the leading refereed, international journal on public policies for science.

Here’s the abstract:

Both science and politics have been involved in the debate over ‘nuclear winter’. Political interests seem to have influenced the degree of scientific attention to the nuclear winter effect, some of the assumptions underlying the models developed to study it, and the criticisms made of it. Conversely, nuclear winter results have been used as tools to promote particular stands on nuclear policy-making. In all this, most scientists involved with the studies have tried to define science as separate from politics. The debate raises in acute form the contradiction involved in science allegedly being objective and apolitical while at the same time it is intermeshed with policy disputes.

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I find eclipsenow’s contention that he is pro-nuclear and only wants to clarify a few things to be increasingly hollow. The tactic of endlessly recycling standard antinuclear agitprop which has been refuted a thousand times before is stock standard practice for anti-nukes. He’s played us well for quite a while now by saying something complimentary about nuclear power every couple of months or so. I hereby assert that eclipsenow is nothing more or less than a hard-core antinuke who knows exactly what he is doing.

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eclipsenow, I am against hysterical anti-nuclear activists who try to frighten people into opposition to nuclear power by claiming a far fetch connection between power reactors and a fantasy nuclear exchange between unnamed minor nuclear powers. Your concerns appear to be wholly, and utterly unfounded in reality. If you have any insights into how to prevent the actual sped and use of nuclear weapons, I will of course welcome the insights, but I have seen no evidence that you have actually devoted the slightest amount of time or effort into thinking through actual proliferation issues. You seem to regard the issue of proliferation as a weapon to be used against the practical use of nuclear power. Your concerns about proliferation are simply disingenuous.

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DocForesight

The British OFC simply said that the documentary AIT was polemical and that a number of minor errors of fact needed to be noted when showing it in schools. The thrust of AIT was not challenged.

Tempting as it may be to take a swing, this was the wrong tool to use.

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@ DV8 re: studies. How funny that you quote a study 22 years old, and yet ignore the wiki? That’s a bit childish really, and so easy to see through. Tell me, do the rest of your opinions on nuclear weapons come from studies and opinions from the last millennium? It certainly sounds like it.

“Using wikipedia for dummies”: Don’t just quote the wiki, but chase up the little numbers in the text. These refer to the sources, many of which are peer reviewed papers.
See DV8, there’s this amazing technology built into wikipedia. It’s a revolutionary concept we call footnotes. These you will be amazed to find links to the peer reviewed papers you seek, or at least more information on the studies to look up and / or buy. There are even studies from this millennium! So remember, the little numbers are very important.

Example.

Go to the wiki on nuclear winter.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_winter

2. See where it says the following:
“A study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research in July 2007[8], Nuclear winter revisited with a modern climate model and current nuclear arsenals: Still catastrophic consequences[9], used current climate models to look at the consequences of a global nuclear war involving most or all of the world’s current nuclear arsenals (which the authors described as being only about a third the size of the world’s arsenals twenty years earlier). The authors used a global circulation model, ModelE from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies”

The little 8 is what we call a footnote. As I said above, it is very important.
Click on it and it takes you to this link
http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2007/2006JD008235.shtml

5. Which tells us the citation is from…
Citation: Robock, A., L. Oman, and G. L. Stenchikov (2007), Nuclear winter revisited with a modern climate model and current nuclear arsenals: Still catastrophic consequences, J. Geophys. Res., 112, D13107, doi:10.1029/2006JD008235.
See that? A study from THIS millennium, all from following the little numbers! How amazing!

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@ Finrod
Can’t you conceive of a human being that might honestly be accepting* of nuclear power but against nuclear bombs?.

If you’re going to demand undying loyalty towards nukes as well as power plants, and inextricably tie them together, count me out. Oh, and good luck with that with demanding this from the general public as well! ;-)

* I say “Accepting of” as I accept the *possibility* of the need for nuclear power if the various “Black Swans” I’m watching do not perform as advertised.

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@ Charles: if you actually read what I was responding to, it is DV8’s love affair with the bomb which I do not share because I have thought long and hard about “Just war” theory. Unlike many here, I have actually spent some time in the army and had to think through my position on a number of military matters.

I was also responding in disgust to DV8’s dishonest characterisation of the recent geophysical models for nuclear winter.

If I’m trying something as childish as you suggest, why does my nuclear summary page state the following?

****

3. What about nuclear bombs?

* I hate the prospect of nuclear warfare, as the mid 1980’s standoff between the USSR and America added much to my teenage angst and probably affected my mental health back then.
* However, IFR’s don’t produce the right material for bombs.
* Yes if a country gets significantly advanced in their nuclear processing they could divert some material into making bombs. But which countries produce the most Co2? America, China, Japan, India, Europe, etc. Now, which countries already have either nuclear power or nuclear bombs? That would be the same list. The nuclear genie is already out of the bottle, so there is no use protesting against nuclear power on the basis of nuclear bombs as it is already too late.
* All you would be doing is protesting against the intensity of nuclear power spreading in those countries that already have bombs, and are already the biggest Co2 polluters. You would not be preventing the spread of the technology into significant new countries, as they already have it!
* So by all means campaign against nuclear bombs, but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, or in this case the solution to nuclear waste and ENORMOUS supplies of reliable baseload energy power that is clean, safe, and has a 500 year supply of fuel already mined and ready for use!
* Bombs have to be dealt with politically, where nuclear power can be dealt with both politically AND technically. (By only allowing reactors that can’t produce bomb material).
http://eclipsenow.wordpress.com/alternative-energy/nuclear/

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DV82XL:

Thank you for your response in #56302 and, in particular, for links to the Stuart Slade essays on nuclear planning and consequences of nuclear warfare.

I found three of Slade’s statements of great interest:

1) Air burst weapons have maximum immediate killing power but this will be very much less than most suppose. They are relatively clean in terms of producing less fall out. Ground bursts, however, are less efficient acute killers but have worse, chronic effects.
2) The concept of a limited nuclear exchange or flexible response is not considered credible because, once an exchange kicks off, the “One flies, they all fly” approach is more or less bound to apply.
3) Apropos the consequences of a full scale nuclear attack on the States, Slade stated the following: “Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about nuclear winter, that’s been largely discredited (the atmospheric models that were used were far too simplistic and the reality seems to be we may actually get a more temperate and less changeable climate out of things – somebody described it as a Nuclear Autumn”).

This led me to fantasise forward 50-90 years and envisage three scenarios:

A) BAU continues, ghgs mount, climate deteriorates, food and fresh water become limiting and there is widespread and escalating conflict. There is no time or money for remedial action so climate will continue to deteriorate and may “tip”. Most people will die and there will be mass extinctions of other species.
B) The scenario as in A till the start of conflict. However, this rapidly leads to widespread use of nuclear weapons. This abruptly ends large scale emissions of fossil fuels, culls the human population more acutely but less severely overall than in scenario A , may produce short term beneficial global dimming and will prevent onset of a climate tipping point being reached.
C) Rapid roll out of civil nuclear power allows stabilisation of climate, avoidance of major conflict, continued population growth for a few decades but, possibly, continuing reductions in biodiversity. Optimistically, one might hope for declining human populations and increasing room for other species from 2100 on.

Many will refuse to consider this thought experiment/fantasy or reject the assumptions made to support the three scenarios. For those who are prepared to acknowledge that they may have some basis in fact, I think, like me, they would conclude that scenario A gives the worst possible outcome and most would opt for C. (If non human species had self consciousness and a vote, I’d advise them to use it on option B).

My most dangerous assumption relates to the lack of likelihood of a nuclear winter. Perhaps climate modellers could examine this further, given the increasing sophistication of their models.

My tentative conclusion from all this is that proliferation concerns and their adverse effects on the rapid roll out of civil nuclear power are likely to prevent the most benign planetary outcome for mankind. To the extent that spread of civil nuclear power may lead to spread of nuclear weapons to more states, well and good. It might even lead to less conventional conflicts. If, eventually, conflicts become more likely, the use of nuclear weapons could, perversely, produce the least bad outcome. In the latter scenario, most nations would have limited nuclear arsenals and would most likely use them in air burst mode anyway, decreasing the likelihood of prolonged adverse climate change.

It follows that the best hope for mankind is to ensure that all nations have access to nuclear power and, if any wish to have nuclear weapons as well, don’t worry about it. Could any here who accept that AGW cannot effectively be mitigated by renewables please explain any flaws in my reasoning? Clearly, if you don’t believe in the potentially dire consequences of AGW or, if you think that renewables can effectively handle the upcoming problem, then my conclusion will prove unacceptable.

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eclipsenow:

I wrote my #56455 entry before having received your #56446. I will be interested to follow up your citation.

I fully accept that being anti nuclear weapons doesn’t necessarily make one anti civil nuclear power. I therefore don’t accept the thesis put forward by Finrod.

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eclipsenow:

I obviously haven’t had the chance to follow up in detail all the cites in the Wikipedia treatment of nuclear winter. However, I have read sufficient to convince me that my scenario B would probably be as bad as or worse than scenario A. I was also clearly wrong to think that airbursts would be less climate damaging than groundbursts just because they produce less fallout.

I think that this changed my thinking completely. Perhaps the most likely way to get rapid rollout of civil nuclear power would be for all nuclear club countries to get rid of their nuclear weapons asap and go from 3rd to 4th generation NPP as quickly as practicable. My reasoning for the volte face is not only because of the distinct possibility of a nuclear winter (plus ozone damage) but because, if things deteriorate and conflict becomes obligatory for national survival, the deterrent effect of owning nuclear weapons or facing them will become less effective. In other words, if one’s going to die anyway, one will be less concerned about a possible nuclear winter.

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@ Douglas Wise,
This led me to fantasise forward 50-90 years and envisage three scenarios:

A) BAU continues
It can’t. Senior American Military models have oil production down 10mbd by 2015.

Regards

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It might even lead to less conventional conflicts. If, eventually, conflicts become more likely, the use of nuclear weapons could, perversely, produce the least bad outcome
This is what my Dad and I were both considering yesterday. We were catching up after reading “The Economist’s” recommended novel on global warming called “Ultimatum” by Matthew Glass. It’s like West Wing meets the end of the world, and raises similar questions to the ones you are asking. (To those thinking through the implications… in the background of your mind, rather than in the front script of the novel.)

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if one’s going to die anyway, one will be less concerned about a possible nuclear winter.
Even with peak oil and global warming both bearing down on us fast, I hope that we can somehow avoid the top brass coming to this view. It’s possible, but hopefully not inevitable.

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If you look what I said up thread, you will find that I wrote that I do not hold an opinion on the issue of Nuclear Winter because the science has yet to firm up. This is a highly politicly charged subject, much like Global Warming BUT without much in the way of hard data to back its contentions. This sort of science is a very poor bases for making long-term decisions.

At any rate, the climate impacts of a regional exchange, would be of secondary importance to the warring parties, who’s immediate concern would be the casualties and damage inflicted, and this is what creates the deterrence. If India and Pakistan are now incapable of fighting a regional war of the sort that Iraq and Iran engaged in because of the mutually understood risk of it escalating to nuclear, then these weapons are doing their job.

Nuclear weapons are not going away ever. The mechanics of assuring that no country could or would make these weapons surreptitiously, or develop a so called breakout capacity, will just not be palatable anywhere because of the loss of sovereignty that would be required. Nuclear weapons are just a fact of geopolitics and they cannot be wished away, nor given the consequences should they. They are the reason I did not (nor will my son have to) fight in a world war, as my father and grandfather did.

In 1960, the British novelist C. P. Snow said on the front page of The New York Times that unless the nuclear powers drastically reduced their armaments, thermonuclear warfare within the decade was a “mathematical certainty.” Nobody appeared to think of Snow’s statement as extravagant.

We now have that “mathematical certainty” compounded more than four times, and no nuclear war. In September 1964, then US President L.B. Johnson said publicly, “Make no mistake, there is no such thing as a conventional nuclear weapon. For 19 peril-filled years no nation has loosed the atom against another. To do so now is a political decision of the highest order.” It would appear that even then it was realized that the rules of international conflict had changed, and that the world’s political leadership were sharply aware of it.

Nuclear warheads are too precious to give away or to sell, too precious to “waste” killing people when they can, held in reserve, make any other nation, hesitant to consider military action. What nuclear weapons have been used for, effectively, for 60 years has neither been on the battlefield nor on populations; they have been used for influence. That influence has gotten the unfortunate name of deterrence when in fact the other side of that coin is that nations facing the possibility of a nuclear exchange now talk. So while military action may be deterred, diplomacy, negotiation and compromise are enabled.

Consider Paul Kennedy’s great work, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1987). From the Introduction:

“The relative strengths of the leading nations in world affairs never remain constant, principally because of the uneven rate of growth among different societies … It sounds crudely mercantilistic to express it this way, but wealth is usually needed to underpin military power … If, however, too large a proportion of the state’s resources is diverted from wealth creation and allocated instead to military purposes, then that is likely to lead to a weakening of national power over the longer term.

In the same way, if a state overextends itself strategically — by, say, the conquest of extensive territories or the waging of costly wars — it runs the risk that the potential benefits from external expansion may be outweighed by the great expense of it all — a dilemma which becomes acute if the nation concerned has entered a period of relative economic decline.

Some in the developing world are suspicious that the conservative abolitionists want to shut down the nuclear club at the very moment when new nations on the block are on the brink of joining it. In a world where the United States accounts for one-half of all military spending worldwide and where even a small cache of nuclear weapons offers an insurance policy against U.S. military attack, some wonder whether the conservative abolitionists aren’t executing a change in tactics in continued pursuit of U.S. military dominance rather than, as they claim, a visionary campaign for a better world.

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@Douglas Wise:
I fully accept that being anti nuclear weapons doesn’t necessarily make one anti civil nuclear power. I therefore don’t accept the thesis put forward by Finrod.

Which one?

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@ Finrod
Can’t you conceive of a human being that might honestly be accepting* of nuclear power but against nuclear bombs?.

If you’re going to demand undying loyalty towards nukes as well as power plants, and inextricably tie them together, count me out. Oh, and good luck with that with demanding this from the general public as well! ;-)

Where have I EVER claimed such a thing? Try reading for comprehension.

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The push for complete nuclear disarmament is a laudable-sounding aim on the face of it, The trouble is that many who espouse it don’t seem to consider that soveriegn nation-states are genuine biological entities in their own right, and as such are just as much subject to the principles of evolution as any other kind of biological entity, and like other biological entities, their historical development and likely options for future development cannot be properly understood without reference to those principles. Strategists who advise winding back nuke levels to some hundreds of weapons each per Great Power understand this. Advisors pushing for zero nukes worldwide either do not understand this, or they do, but have a hidden agenda.

I think a world full of sovereign nation-states all piously claiming to be nuke-free but many with the expertise to undertake a nuclear weapons development program would be just about the most dangerous world imaginable. Far more dangerous than the situation either now, or at the height of the cold war.

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I was referring to your post #56406 which I considered unwarranted.

For some reason I cannot see those post reference numbers. Are you talking about the post where I expressed the view that EN is an antinuke activist?

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The holy grail in nuclear power is a thorium reactor, especially an accelerator driven system.

Thorium is far less radioactive, can’t go critical, can’t be used as a dirty bomb, and is much more plentiful. The reactor costs about 1/4 as much to build, costs far less to operate, and can be scaled down to provide electricity for a small city. A thorium reactor doesn’t generate any where near the toxic wastes and can actually be used as a garbage disposer for plutonium.

A thorium reactor can produce electricity much cheaper than CO2 belching coal plants, far cheaper than HEU nuclear power plants, and almost as cheap as large hydro electric plants.

India will have a commercial thorium reactor on line next year. The US? Ooops, I forgot, GE doesn’t make them.

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eclipsenow, what strikes me about your argument with DV82XL is the extent to which it amounts to quibbling. You argue, in effect that something awful might of happened during the cold war but didn’t, and that their might be a future nuclear exchange, and that would be terrible. These are counterfactual arguments. Historians would probably disagree about how close to nuclear war we got during the cold war, as well as the extent which the existence of nuclear weapons prevented the cold war from becoming an all out conflict. A counterfactual argument about the likelihood of a cold war nuclear conflict, simply leads you into a big argument.

Secondly, we have no way to assess the likelihood of a future nuclear exchange between undesignated countries. Since we don’t have enough information, we cannot tell if your point is plausible.

Why do you make such problematic arguments? Surely they are not related about question about proliferation. We need to ask, “Can we really prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, given what we now know about that spread?” If we can’t answer “no,” and many proliferation researchers think it is, “what can we do to prevent their use?”

These are the important questions about proliferation. Unless you can figure out a surefire method of making North Korea or Iran give up their nuclear weapons program, you are no offering a solution to the problem of proliferation. Quibbling about what might have happen during the cold war, or recounting the indirect damages caused by an theoretical nuclear exchange offers us no help in resolving the proliferation problem. And if we cannot resolve those problems, we will not have nuclear disarmament.

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Finrod:

Yes to # 56492.

Re # 56490: Nations (social humans) are not to be likened to individual biological entities in the same way that ant colonies might more legitimately be. There is no particularly defined or predictable national character. Think Russia or China and how different types of ruling elites have changed “national” behaviour. Thus, I don’t think your analogy advances the debate. I do accept, however, that idealism is often unrealistic and that the path to hell often paved with good intentions.

I am not necessarily in favour of total nuclear disarmament at the present time. However, it remains the case that AGW demands global solutions, which, in turn, probably means nuclear power, assessible to most nations. If one accepts this and that the only way of achieving it can be demonstrated to be through full nuclear disarmament under stringent international control, then we both might agree that it would be the sensible thing to do, regardless of any misgivings we might have. You may not accept this hypothetical. However, you can no doubt appreciate that non nuclear nations discern unfairness in the present situation, something to which DV82XL has been attesting. What would be your response to their possible feelings of grievance? 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?

DV82XL:

I was in no way attempting to suggest that you were other than open minded on the issue of nuclear winter. I am also in agreement with you that nuclear weapons may have been instrumental in sparing ourselves and our sons from the necessity of fighting a world war. (In my youth, I even used to go demonstrating against CND demonstrators.) However, I am now more concerned about the prospects for our grandchildren. I believe peak oil and AGW are game changers and may require us to rethink the nuclear strategy that has served us so well in the past. Mind you, I don’t profess to know what changes could or should be made. I’m just thinking aloud and hoping to pick up other thoughts and ideas along the way.

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Charles Barton:

Your anti proliferation test is to ask how it could have been used in the case of Pakistan. Good question.

How about 4th generation nuclear power (IFR and LFTR to follow asap) with costs shared between existing nuclear club countries but technology to be assessible for use by others, nuclear disarmament and something along the lines of GREAT?

That’s my starter. Perhaps you could kick it into touch or refine it?

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Yes to # 56492.

Then it will probably come as little suprise to you that I completely reject your criticism. For a start, never at any point have I stated that support for nuclear power must go hand in hand with support for nuclear weapons. I recognise that it does not, possibly even for a majority of pro-nuclear advocates. Eclipsenow attempted to attribute that POV to me, falsely. You have swallowed his assertion.

My contention that he is a closet antinuke is not based on his response to this thread in particular. It comes from an observation of his form in just about every thread he’s commented on. I actually recently counseled patience with him based on his previous expressions of support. I am now of the opinion that this was a mistake on my part, and it is my duty to publicly state this as part of my effort to correct my mistake.

Re # 56490: Nations (social humans) are not to be likened to individual biological entities in the same way that ant colonies might more legitimately be.

I disagree. Biological entities come in many varieties. The nation-state is one of the latest general categories of biological entity to emerge on this planet. They have their own set of interests and imperatives which define and restrict their behavioural range.

There is no particularly defined or predictable national character. Think Russia or China and how different types of ruling elites have changed “national” behaviour. Thus, I don’t think your analogy advances the debate.

The analogy is not dependent on the national character of any particular state. The elite of a given nation may act rationally or not in the face of events. The ones which act irrationally are subject to Darwinian pressures to change or die. Given this is the case, I asset that not only does the analogy indeed advance the debate, it should be considered as central to it.

I do accept, however, that idealism is often unrealistic and that the path to hell often paved with good intentions.

There’s something we can agree on.

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Douglas Wise – I consider myself a rational pragmatist and as such I am forced to evaluate ideas like the ones you are suggesting above through the lens of Realpolitik, and I am afraid I cannot see them working.

It should be abundantly clear by now that much of what we are being fed on the subject of nuclear weapons in the hands of secondary states is little more than propaganda. The Great Powers today are operating mercantile empires today, very much as they have in the past. Political correctness demands that they frame themselves and their actions in this domain as anything but imperial, but stripped of this façade, little but the names have changed.

Korea, Vietnam and now the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were and are in the end just dirty little colonial wars of the sort that were fought by the great powers of the 19th century. More to the point, they were and are being fought for the same reasons – access to natural resources, access to markets, and general economic domination. Any other interpretation is desperately naïve.

The one thing that can bring this hegemony to an end for most nations is nuclear weapons because it limits the scope of the pressure that any other country can put on them. True, it also limits the scope of their own actions, as described by Slade in the links I posted up thread, but for almost all that will be seen as a small price to pay.

Although they will claim it is anything but, this is at the root of the great power’s concerns over proliferation. It was the driving force behind the NPT and it is the driving force behind the current efforts.

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@ Finrod and Charles,
so much ducking and weaving, so little credibility. Finrod’s getting all precious about my accusing him of demanding that love nukes as well as nuclear power. Well, *he’s* the one dealing out character attacks that appear, at face value, to be so precious about nukes that if one does not love them, you’re an anti-nuclear power activist as well!

Go figure.

This thread is a worn out soapbox for political and geographical hacks when it could have been so much more. It could have rehashed Barry’s old arguments against the old charge of “Nuclear power = Nuclear weapons”. I was so convinced by Barry’s podcast arguments that I plastered them across my blog.

Instead, this thread seems to not be so much pointing out the lack of distinction between nuclear power and nuclear bombs, and clarifying the safeguards against further proliferation risks, but taking up the cause of nuclear bombs themselves. And if someone objects, they are an anti-nuclear power activist! Now there’s some delusional conspiracy theory thinking for you!

Well DV8, Finrod, and Charles, my precious little tyrants, this has become utterly fruitless, boring, and quite pathetic. Ta ta for now.

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Dv8, I just caught some of your last posts.

Go do sociology 101 OK? You might be technically educated, but you seem to be projecting various ‘technical laws’ of the natural world onto the political and sociological sphere and it *just doesn’t work like that*.

Anyone with even a basic understanding of history and sociology can see that paranoid leaders can warp the destiny of entire nations. With nuclear weapons, they can warp the destiny of entire planets!

None of your ‘laws’ of geopolitics are actually ‘laws’ the way you seem to understand them. They are generalisations of how it works *most* of the time, not foolproof ‘laws’ of how national behaviour will work every time.

(You seem to argue that nuclear war is so unthinkable no one would ever consider it, but need I remind you that the bomb *has* already been dropped on 2 cities).

So while you prattle on about Realpolitik like some armchair general concerned about how the world SHOULD BE!…. (I can hear you slamming the arm of your couch!) the general public are concerned about the *one* time these generalisations *don’t work*. And this meme will continue to develop as the ‘near misses’ continue to be revealed in speech after speech, and especially in the documentary later this year. Are we getting it yet?

Over and out.

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so much ducking and weaving, so little credibility. Finrod’s getting all precious about my accusing him of demanding that love nukes as well as nuclear power. Well, *he’s* the one dealing out character attacks that appear, at face value, to be so precious about nukes that if one does not love them, you’re an anti-nuclear power activist as well!

“Appears at face value…”. Like I said, try reading for comprehension.

In the real world there are many states which have pursued nuclear power without developing nuclear weapons. The decision to develope nuclear weapons is generally one of percieved grave national strategic necessity (whether that perception is correct or not). In order for Pax Atomica to work it is only necessary that the leading state in each globally significant alliance possess them. Individual smaller states can also avail themselves of the deterrence offered by such weapons, but it’s very costly economically and diplomatically, so it’s not the sort of thing a small player will do unless it’s seen as an absolute survival priority.

If I am mistaken and you are not in fact a closet antinuke, then I do not apologise, because you have no one but yourself to blame. Your behaviour has been exactly that of a typical antinuke apart from the occasional mild expression of support of the kind which might be interpreted as protective coloration. Even if you are not an antinuke, you frankly might as well be, and you might as well be treated as such.

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Traditionally, thinking about proliferation has been dominated by the point of view that in
international anarchy the ‘‘absolute weapon’’ is so obviously beneficial for states that only supply-side factors such as the lack of enriched uranium can (temporarily) hold them
back. Furthermore, states
that acquire the bomb may be buying themselves problems as well as opportunities; but if
a state is faced with existential threats and cannot rely on the help of a nuclear-armed ally,
given sufficient means it will have to ignore the potential difficulties and go nuclear itself.

This is because at the very core of Realpolitik lies the notion that friends today may become enemies tomorrow and a nuclear war would be over quickly, while
nuclear weapons take a long time to develop and deploy. Thus, the dominant strategy of
states is to go for the bomb as soon as they can and thus avoid any unpleasant surprises. President
Charles de Gaulle’s pointed declaration that France’s force de frappe was directed not only
toward the east but tous azimuts (in all directions) was textbook in this regard, as was his observation that as good a friend as America was, it could not be expected to sacrifice New York, to save Paris.

This standard take on proliferation, is straightforward and intuitive. But predictions of a ‘nuclear-armed world,’ made consistently since at least the advent of the French bomb in 1960, have just as consistently turned out to be wrong. Only about one-fifth of the states that could have built nuclear weapons by now have in fact done so; and this big gap between potential and actual nuclear weapon states hardly developed yesterday. Moreover, the pace of proliferation has been essentially unchanged since the 1950s. This stability has endured despite multiple and major shocks to the nonproliferation norm. No wonder William Arkin has dubbed the study of proliferation “the sky-is-still-falling profession.” Predictions of widespread nuclear proliferation have consistently been wrong, yet public opinion and policy decisions continue to be based on these demonstrably false theories.

This whole idea that proliferation is some sort of accident waiting to happen, and that unchecked will lead to a domino effect is pure fantasy based on the over-active imaginations of Cold War strategists like Herman Kahn. The issue of weapons proliferation seems to be locked in theories first put forward by him in the 1960’s; theories which events since that time have proven overly pessimistic. Even if the question of supplying weapon-grade fissile material is removed, it still requires a sizeable technological infrastructure and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars to make a weapon. The costs of a more ambitious program aimed at producing a militarily significant number of weapons can easily run into the billions of dollars, No country embarks on such a project lightly.

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For what it’s worth I’m for total absolute disarmament by *any* country with nuclear weapons right now. I support converting bomb making HEU and Pu into fuel (as the US and Russia are doing now). I’m for banning research into nuclear weapons and all funds for such R&D should be channeled into Gen IV nuclear R&D/Deployment and credit to build Gen III LWRs.

[I saw Fail Safe when I was about 13 and it freeked me the f**k out. The line about a 50 megaton H bomb on NYC causing houses in Ossning, NY to catch fire really got to me. I lived halfway between NY and Ossning.]

I do agree with the author, however, that the whole nuclear energy-equals-nuclear WMD is FUD and very unfounded FUD at that. Any state desiring nuclear weapons will go about and do so with or without commercial nuclear energy (and this has happened already with the case of Pakistan, Israel and N. Korea).

So the author is correct that the whole argument is fake.

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For what it’s worth I’m for total conversion of lead into gold.
We’ll all be rich.
Let’s try to be realistic shall we?
The big issue is carbon free power to provide for 7 billion or more people.
How do we get to that.
Focus.

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@ Lawrence
I agree that the focus should be on carbon free power via nuclear weapons… oh, what was that? Weapons don’t supply abundant clean power? Oh, sorry, this thread has me so confused as to what this blog is actually meant to be about. ;-)

(I’m only visiting this thread again as sheer morbid curiosity forced me to check whether Finrod had the integrity to admit he had been wrong about my intentions. Sadly, no integrity there. I never expected anything from DV8 except pompous armchair diatribes).

@ David Walters:
Don’t give up the fight mate. Inconceivable and impossible things have happened before. This may end up being the mechanism for disarming most of our nukes.*

They claim it could happen within the next 12 to 15 years. We shall see.
http://www.worldvotenow.com/

* Disclaimer: Even I would want to keep a few nukes handy, positioned around the globe and deep space for the occasional “Near Earth Object” emergency, but that’s about it.

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Substidue the nuclear weapons for non nuclear EMP weapons…
All the positive effects without the radiation and we could still bomb the planet back into the stoneage.

If Irak had nukes back then they would have tested it over the Kurds.

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(I’m only visiting this thread again as sheer morbid curiosity forced me to check whether Finrod had the integrity to admit he had been wrong about my intentions. Sadly, no integrity there.

Sigh. I just know I shouldn’t bite, but… no integrity? Really? What do you think integrity actually is, and in what manner do you think I lack it?

Anyhow, I’ll just pause to note that EN has the same MO as Steven Gloor. Early on Gloor pronounced condittional support for LFTR because of its percieved ability to burn up nuclear wastes we’d already produced.

But enough of this. I’ve publicly stated my position. I see no reason whatsoever to renounce it, or indeed to say any more about it.

Substidue the nuclear weapons for non nuclear EMP weapons…
All the positive effects without the radiation and we could still bomb the planet back into the stoneage.

You’re missing the point, Heavyweather. Military equipment can be hardened against EMP, and the main tactical value of nuclear weapons is the ability to destroy massed armour on sea and land. They do this by force of explosion and extreme heat. EMP is a minor effect.

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eclipsenow, who is ducking and weaving? I have challenged you to demonstrate your that you are serious about preventing nuclear proliferation. You can do so, by showing that there are practical means to prevent non-nuclear armed nations from acquiring nuclear weapons. I have offered as a test a challenge to you to demonstrate that there are practical means which if applied to Pakistan, South Africa and North Korea, would have prevented them from acquiring nuclear weapons. You ignored my challenge. I picked out those three countries, because each developed nuclear weapons programs, without having a serious civilian nuclear power program. Each chose to access fissionable materials, by using fairly simple technology. Technology that could be used by nations which are not industrially or technologically advanced.

South Africa developed its own unique uranium enrichment technology with out spending a great deal of money. Pakistan was able to obtain stolen plans to enrichment centrifuges, and using a criminal ring, was able to obtains the parts required to build such devices. North Korea obtained the design of a reactor that had originally designed to produce weaponizable plutonium by the United Kingdom. After testing devices mad with the plutonium, the British determined that plutonium produced by the reactor would not be useful for military purposes, and eventually declassified the reactor plans.

Not only have the North Koreans produced plutonium with this reactor, they appear to have offered the technology to Syria. We don’t know if the North Koreans have produced a militarily useful nuclear weapon, but we should not assume that they have failed too. The challenge for people who are serious about preventing the spread of nuclear technology, would seem to be the identification of reliable ways to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons technologies by routes that already been used to produce illegal nuclear proliferation.

if it is impossible to block successful proliferation routes, what is the point of offering further policies to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by other routes? “eclipsenow,” you have not answered this question.

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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.

First, I haven’t any very fixed ideas on this subject – I’m still endeavouring to form a fixed opinion. However, that opinion can only really satisfy me were I to be in possession of all the facts that I would like to be appraised of. As an example, the question of nuclear winter strikes me as significant. If it can’t happen, I’d consider that proliferation would, on balance, be a good thing. If it can, or one cannot rule out that it can’t, then I’d lean towards an opposite view. The current half way house – with some nations possessing nuclear weapons and others not – is not necessarily a good thing, even from the Realpolitik viewpoint of the presently “Great Powers”.

I believe that it might be in the interests of the United States and Europe, for example, to dismantle their nuclear arsenals in a race for leadership in civil nuclear power. They could simultaneously take on the mantle of moral superiority. Nuclear arsenals, as you say, are very expensive to maintain. The United States and Europe are in very poor financial shape. Another, more important, point to factor in, even if deciding matters through the lens of Realpolitik, is that one’s national interest is ill served by sitting back and allowing China and India to achieve global economic hegemony while simultaneously allowing them to swamp one’s own (as well as their own) citizens with CO2. I do accept that, from the perspective of the States, their example in emissions reduction gives one little hope that this approach can or will be followed.

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Finrod.
Nukes have been used against people.
I do not see how infrastructure could be hardened against EMPs.
You can`t protect radio equipment. Communication would be dead.
The damage would be horrific.
You don`t burn to death but you are disabled permanently.

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Finrod.
Nukes have been used against people.

Yep.

I do not see how infrastructure could be hardened against EMPs.
You can`t protect radio equipment. Communication would be dead.
The damage would be horrific.
You don`t burn to death but you are disabled permanently.

The military establishments of the East and West have been aware of this phenomenon since the early days of their nuclear weapons development programs. They devised countermeasures early on.

The prime value of nuclear weapons is in knocking out great numbers of the enemy military. They don’t rely on EMP for this, and would fail if they did.

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Douglas Wise, I have actually given considerable thought to proliferation issues posed by Generation IV reactors. The problem is complex. Given the low cost, relatively low technology, and not easy to prevent routes available to would be proliferators, the problem is very complex. One option is to assess total proliferation risks given the accessible touts, and then access if a a generation IV technology adds to that risk. There is a gap between conception and probability that needs to be addressed. It may be easy to imagine using a LFTR or IFR to produce weapons grade fissionable material, but how likely is it that this would happen? And if a would be proliferator had a LFTR or an IFR in her hands, would that make it more likely that she would choose to develop nuclear weapons, than if the would be proliferator only had the low cost, simple technology options?

My own suspicion is that even if a would be proliferator had LFTRs and/or IFRs, she would still prefer to use a cheap and reliable method. If you cannot control the cheap and reliable methods, what is the point of imposing proliferation prevention requirements on Generation IV nuclear technology? This is why I want to know how eclipsenow, would prevent proliferation by the cheap and reliable methods. If he can’t do that, what is the point of making the proliferation potential of Generation IV reactors an issue?

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