Nuclear Power - Nuclear Proliferation

Nuclear Proliferation

Many technologies and materials associated with the creation of a nuclear power program have a dual-use capability, in that they can be used to make nuclear weapons if a country chooses to do so. When this happens a nuclear power program can become a route leading to the atomic bomb or a public annex to a secret bomb program. The crisis over Iran's nuclear activities is a case in point.

A fundamental goal for American and global security is to minimize the nuclear proliferation risks associated with the expansion of nuclear power. If this development is "poorly managed or efforts to contain risks are unsuccessful, the nuclear future will be dangerous".

A "number of high-ranking officials, even within the United Nations, have argued that they can do little to stop states using nuclear reactors to produce nuclear weapons". A 2009 United Nations report said that:

The revival of interest in nuclear power could result in the worldwide dissemination of uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing technologies, which present obvious risks of proliferation as these technologies can produce fissile materials that are directly usable in nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, one factor influencing the support of reactors is due to the appeal that reactors have at reducing Nuclear weapons arsenals through the Megatons to Megawatts Program, a program which has thus far eliminated 425 metric tons of highly enriched uranium, the equivalent of 17,000 nuclear warheads, by converting it into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors, and is the single most successful non-proliferation program to date.

Anti-Nuclear weapon advocates, such as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists want to see the Megatons to Megawatts Program not only continue but be expanded, The program appeals to anti-Nuclear weapon advocates as it provides a financial incentive for countries with vast quantities of Nuclear weapons, like Russia, to dismantle their arsenal and sell the fissile fuel contained within to operators of Nuclear reactors.

The Megatons to Megawatts Program has been hailed as a major success by anti-nuclear weapon advocates as it has largely been the driving force behind the sharp reduction in the quantity of Nuclear Weapons worldwide since the cold war ended. However without an increase in Nuclear reactors and greater demand for fissile fuel, the cost of dismantling and downblending has dissuaded Russia from continuing their disarmament. Currently, according to Harvard professor Matthew Bunn: The Russians are not remotely interested in extending the program beyond 2013. We've managed to set it up in a way that costs them more and profits them less than them just making new low-enriched uranium for reactors from scratch. But there are other ways to set it up that would be very profitable for them and would also serve some of their strategic interests in boosting their nuclear exports.

As there are currently thiry one countries that have Civil Nuclear power plants, with only nine of which with Nuclear weapons it confirms that Nuclear weapons manufacture, generally, does not always follow the construction of civilian nuclear reactors. In contrast, almost every Nuclear weapons state began producing weapons first and not commercial Nuclear power plants. Together with the fact that commercial nuclear reactors are the most successful non-proliferation agent to date. The suggested link between reactors and proliferation is, although complex, with the Megatons to Megawatts Program the trend has been towards acting not as a proliferation risk, but on balance as a non-proliferation benefit.

A possible alternative to reactors that rely on Uranium-235 as the fissile material is reactor designs based on the thorium fuel cycle. Because the 233U produced in thorium fuels is inevitably contaminated with 232U, thorium-based used nuclear fuel possesses inherent proliferation resistance.

Furthermore there are many Nuclear weapon designs that do not require any reactor produced materials at all, meaning that if a state is motivated to produce weapons it does not necessarily have to go through the high profile process of constructing Nuclear power reactors or indeed production reactors. For example, the enriched Uranium necessary for the first primitive Nuclear weapon, designated Little Boy, did not require any appreciable reactor products, instead relying entirely on Uranium Enrichment technology.

Read more about this topic:  Nuclear Power

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