Nuclear Industry Subsidies Part III: The Military Connection
- Posted on July 1, 2011
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Although Doug Koplow frequently makes many factual and logical errors in his report “Nuclear Power: Still not viable without subsidises,” he is sometimes on the right track. He correctly acknowledges military involvement with the United States Nuclear program as creating problems for the Civilian Nuclear power industry. Koplow quotes
Sharon Squassoni, director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the “dual-use [civilian and military] nature of nuclear technology is unavoidable. For the five nuclear-weapons states, commercial nuclear power was a spinoff from weapons programs; for later proliferates, the civilian sector has served as a convenient avenue and cover for weapons programs” (Squassoni 2009a). By artificially accelerating the expansion of civilian programs, subsidies to nuclear technology and fuel-cycle services worldwide exacerbate the already challenging problems of weapons proliferation. To date, the negative externality of proliferation has not been reflected in the economics of civilian reactors.
In fact there have been several attempts to serve military interests with ostensibly civilian oriented nuclear R&D programs. In other instances scientists diverted military programs to civilian purposes. The ORNL report, AN ACCOUNT OF OAK RIDGE NATIONAL LABORATORY’S THIRTEEN NUCLEAR REACTORS, by Murray W. Rosenthal demonstrates examples of both tedencies at ORNL. For example the ORNL gas cooled reactor was an attempted replication of the British dual purpose Magnox reactors.
The British wanted to produce plutonium for bombs and simultaneously generate nuclear power, and the 50 MW(e) Calder Hall power plants that they built used dual-purpose reactors that could do both. The British did not yet have enriched uranium and had no domestic source of helium, so the Calder Hall reactors were restricted to natural uranium and used carbon dioxide as the coolant. The metal fuel was clad in a magnesium alloy called Magnox, and from that they came to be called Magnox reactors. The Calder Hall reactors were the first to supply commercial amounts of power to a utility grid.
The dual-purpose Magnox reactors were followed in the United Kingdom by larger gas-cooled power reactors. They were still cooled with carbon dioxide but used low-enriched uranium in stainless-steel-clad UO2 fuel elements that enabled higher temperatures and thus higher thermal efficiency.
The British attempt to kill two birds with one stone was much admired by some members of the United States Congress who probably thought the British approach would save money. In fact, the Magnox reactors produced plutonium of an inferior quality. British and American weapons testing involving the use of Magnox plutonium’s, proved so disappointing that work on the Oak Ridge gas cooled reactor was terminated before the reactor could be tested. This was unfortunate because the gas cooled reactor was probably safer than conventional water cooled reactors.
The Air Force was pleased with the performance of the ARE and brought Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Company aboard to develop the indirect cycle power plant. ORNL began the design of a compact 60 MW reactor. And in spite of growing skepticism about success and the recognition that missiles might substitute for bombers, industrial and political support kept the national program going. But it was killed in March 1961 soon after John Kennedy took office.
Thus ORNL’s ANP program came to an end, but in its 12-year run, it greatly expanded knowledge of the chemistry and technology of molten salts and made advances in materials, shield design, and other areas that enlarged the Laboratory’s ability to undertake new projects.
commercial nuclear power was a spinoff from weapons programs;
is undoubtedly true, but the statement
the civilian sector has served as a convenient avenue and cover for weapons programs
is quite problematic. Many of the dual purpose technologies proved quite useless for military purposes, and in other instances development of military technologies for civilian purposes proved quite expensive as well as militarily useless.
By artificially accelerating the expansion of civilian programs, subsidies to nuclear technology and fuel-cycle services worldwide exacerbate the already challenging problems of weapons proliferation.
is more than questionable. The fact is that with the exception of India, nuclear power programs played no role in the development of nuclear weapons, and India should have never been excluded from the original nuclear arrangement. It is absurd to suggest that cost related to nuclear proliferation and its prevention somehow represent a subsidy to the nuclear power industry. The global spread of nuclear technology has not lead to nuclear proliferation. Most nations which have developed nuclear weapons without authorization by anti-proliferation treaties, have done so without possessing civilian nuclear power industries. Knowledge of nuclear weapons technology is sufficient to start a nuclear weapons program, and that knowledge can be found in physics and physics and engineering text books. South Africa demonstrated that a limited number of nuclear weapons could be built from scratch very cheaply. The nuclear proliferation problem will not go away, or lessen even if there are no civilian power reactors, as long as there are physic and engineering textbooks.
Koplow boasts of his many reviewers,
We are grateful to the following people for reviewing versions of this paper: Michele Boyd (Physicians for Social Responsibility), Peter Bradford (University of Vermont Law School), Simon Carroll (Swedish Biodiversity Centre and Member, Nuclear Liabilities Financing Assurance Board, UK), Mark Cooper (University of Vermont Law School), Robert Cowin (UCS), Antony Frogatt (Chatham House), Ken Green (American Enterprise Institute), Autumn Hanna (Taxpayers for Common Sense), Dusty Horwitt (Environmental Working Group), Stan Kaplan (U.S. Congressional Research Service), Amory Lovins (Rocky Mountain Institute), Ed Lyman (UCS), Arjun Makhijani (Institute for Energy and Environmental Research), Alan Nogee (UCS), Doug Norlen (Pacific Environment and ECA Watch), Marcus Peacock (Pew Charitable Trusts/Subsidyscope), Mycle Schneider (Mycle Schneider Consulting), Henry Sokolski (Nonproliferation Policy Education Project), Sharon Squassoni (Center for Strategic and International Studies), and Steve Thomas (University of Greenwich Business School).