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Jun 25, 2020 The Energy Department's Dangerous Plutonium Dream
Late last month, the Department of Energy (DoE) again floated the idea of chemically extracting or "reprocessing" nuclear weapons explosive plutonium from spent fuel reactor fuel. Why? To keep up with Russia and China in building multi-billion dollar fast "advanced" reactor commercial demonstration programs that make current expensive nuclear electricity look dirt cheap.  But as Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski argue in "The Energy Department's Dangerous Plutonium Dream," published in The American Interest, following Moscow's and Beijing's command nuclear programs is a mistake. Russia and China are pushing fast reactors and reprocessing to "save" uranium left in spent reactor fuel, which they and DoE officials see as a resource that is being "wasted." This view, however, is like insisting that moonlight and ocean wave energy is going to "waste" because it has yet to be captured, while ignoring the fantastic costs needed to harness them. Uranium, in fact, is plentiful and dirt cheap. "Saving" it by reprocessing it and plutonium from spent fuel, on the ohter hand, is dangerous and extremely expensive.  Reprocessing and fast reactor proponents actually know this. That is why they are eager to internationalize commercial advanced fast reactor and fuel cycle demonstration projects. This includes exporting American spent reactor fuel to be reprocessed abroad in France, India, and even Japan. All of this will burn financial holes in our pockets and, if we are unlucky at all, help would be bomb makers. It surely is the wrong way to compete with Russia and China. 
Jun 03, 2020 Trouble ahead: Other countries can build military reactors free of safeguards
Earlier this year, the Defense Department kicked off a design competition for micro nuclear reactors that can be deployed with U.S. military forces overseas. Such reactors on U.S. military bases would not be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections because America is recognized to be a nuclear weapons state under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). What's worrisome, is that in principle, countries lacking nuclear weapons could build military reactors free of inspections as well. As Victor Gilinsky and I wrote in the attached Bulletin of Atomic Scientists piece, "Small military nuclear reactors: In need of global safeguards," the NPT does not prohibit non-weapon states from all military applications of nuclear energy--only those that involve nuclear explosives. IAEA safeguards agreements with these states actually include a provision that notes this possibility and excludes these activities from safeguards. To its credit, the IAEA views what is "peaceful" nuclear activity as broadly as possible in order to cover as many activities with safeguards as possible. But as former Brazilian ambassador Sergio Duarte who serves as president of the 2005 NPT Review Conference and chairman of the IAEA Board of Governors, recently noted, "There is no definition of 'peaceful uses' in any multilateral treaty on nonproliferation." Both South Korea and Iran have announced a desire to develop naval reactors that would entail building ground-based prototypes. If the U.S. promotes small reactors as a killer app, it's conceivable it will be giving other countries that lack nuclear weapons ideas. This is a prescription for mischief. The 2020 NPT Review Conference has been delayed until next year. Before it meets, it would be smart to clarify that non-weapons states' military reactors, naval or otherwise, need to be safeguarded no matter what.    
May 15, 2020 Bad Business: Pushing US Nuclear Exports
The nuclear industry and the Department of Energy (DOE) want to raid our wallets...again. This time, it’s not to save the planet, but supposedly to give industry a fighting chance against rising Russian and Chinese civilian nuclear export competition. As Victor Gilinsky and I warn in "The Nuclear Industry at the Feeding Trough," posted by The American Interest, the American taxpayer shouldn't buy this.  First, the Russian and Chinese nuclear industry is not as healthy or as influential as claimed. Second, the nuclear industry’s pleas (most recently trumpeted in DOE’s nuclear strategy report, “Restoring America’s Competitive Nuclear Energy Advantage”) presume an American commercial nuclear industry that no longer exists. Westinghouse, General Electric, and Combustion Engineering have sold themselves out to foreign partners and holding companies. US nuclear exports are no longer significant. Also, US nuclear electricity is now more expensive than gas-fired electricity, hydroelectric, and renewables.  Finally, what the industry is demanding in regulations to promote exports — a relaxed approach to nuclear nonproliferation controls — will actually undermine America's national security.   
Apr 27, 2020 Nuclear Power's New Achilles Heel: Resilience
With the Coronavirus crisis, nuclear power plants around the country have been requesting waivers from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to allow power plants staffs to work as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, the NRC has shifted their on-site safety inspections activities to on-line procedures wherever feasible. The men and women working at nuclear sites certainly deserve our support. That said, the crisis has revealed a new vulnerability regarding nuclear power. Industry insists nuclear power is critical to our national security and deserves special subsidies becasue it is far more resilient than its nonnuclear competitors. But as Victor Gilinsky and I point out in our most recent piece for The Bulwark, "The Hidden Nuclear Risk of the Pandemic," it's not. In fact, there are no more than a couple of dozen operators per plant. These are highly skilled personnel, licensed to operate an individual plant and cannot be substituted with operators from other plants. These individuals would stay at their posts as long as they could but having skeleton crew that is sick and fatigued operating or trying to shut the plant down is hardly optimal. Hydro, gas, or renewable electrical generators use far less staff to operate and are vastly more interchangeable. Nuclear power is not without its advantages. But when it comes to staffing, nuclear power demands constant access to scarce, highly trained staff. In this regard, it is anything but resillient.
Apr 21, 2020 Nuclear Test Ban: Don't Test, Don't Ratify, Don't Unsign
Late last week, the State Department caused a stir raising suspicions that the Chinese have been violating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). There were two immediate responses: Some wanted to unsign the treaty, which would clear the way to resume nuclear testing, others pushed back and doubled down on their earlier calls to ratify the treaty. As I make clear in the following analysis I wrote yesterday for The National Interest, neither camp's advice should be heeded. "The United States can't fully verify small nuclear test violations and should not ratify the treaty until it can, but for the same reason," I wrote, "it shouldn't unsign the treaty until it has clear proofs that it can publicly share." As for resuming nuclear testing, it would only further slow our nuclear modernization program and increase its already sky-high costs. On this last point, I share the insights of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's top nuclear weapons designers. "There is something here to irk everyone," I conclude. "Resuming nuclear testing is for chumps; unsigning or ratifying the treaty is for the flamboyant. For now, steering clear of all three is America's best course."
Apr 11, 2020 Iran Says It Does Not Want a Bomb: We Should Listen
While the world focuses its attention on battling the Coronavirus, Iran has made several provocative moves, including a threat to pull out of the NPT and build-up of low-enriched uranium. Many analysts have interpreted these actions as the opening moves in a sprint toward the bomb. Others interpret Iran as a state desperate for sanctions relief.  Which view is correct? This desperate. As John Spacapan argues in the attached The National Interest piece, "Why America Should Believe Iran When It Says It Doesn't Want Nuclear Weapons", Iran learned a lesson from the Arab Spring, and particularly the case of Libya, that contradicts the conventional wisdom on why enemies of the United States pursue, or don't pursue nuclear arms proliferation. In particular, the last decade has taught Tehran that dictators in the Middle East are far more likely to be killed or overthrown by their own people than by the United States. This suggests that when Iranian officials say they do not want to get a bomb, maybe we should listen. 
Mar 27, 2020 Nuclear Proliferation Treaty Troubles Remain Unaddressed Amid a Global Pandemic
Gustavo Zlauvinen of Argentina announced that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, scheduled to begin April 27, would be postponed, perhaps until next year. The question now is what should be done with the extra time.   In "Nuclear Proliferation Troubles Remain Unaddressed Amid a Global Pandemic," published by The National Interest, Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski make five recomendations. These include backing off the promotion of nuclear power, which 50 years ago seemed an economic imperitive, but is no longer. They also reccoment doing more to deter withdrawals from the treaty and making default enforcement of NPT and International Atomic Energy Agency violations more likely. Finally, they reccomend considering states outside of the treaty -- Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea -- to be members in noncompliance that could come into more compliance by incrementally reducing their own nuclear weapons-related holdings.    All of this may seem ambitious. But now we have more time to review the bidding. Surely, if we want to skirt the next slow moving (nuclear) Pearl Harbor, we should use it. 
Mar 13, 2020 China's Nuclear Arms Are a Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery
While our attention on China today is focused on the short-term challenge of tracking the Coronavirus, there is a long-term quandary that also deserves attention. It's China's military strategic intentions. Just what are they?  China experts have tracked Beijing's nuclear doctrine statements, their nuclear and long-range missile programs, and their space access and anti-satellite efforts. Some imterpret these developments as being malign; others chatacterize them as being defensive. Which view is more correct? We don't know. As Michael Mazza of the American Enterprise Institute and Henry Sokolski argue in the attached Foreign Policy piece, "China's Nuclear Arms Are a Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery," we need to find out. In specific, Washington should engage Beijing in new strategic capabilities dialogue (not unlike the sort the United States currently conducts with Russia). For reasons we spell out in the piece, this should come before any negotiations on specific arms limits either with China or with China and any other nation. 
Jan 17, 2020 The Little-Known Loophole in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
Iran threatened to pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) if Germany, France, and the UK refer Tehran to the United Nations (UN) Security Council for violating the Iran nuclear deal.  This announcement came on the heels of Turkish President Recep Erdogan's complaint September 24th to the UN General Assembly that the NPT's recognition of five nuclear weapons states was illegitimate. There should be no nucelar armed states, he argues, or all states, including Turkey, should be free to acquire them. Meanwhile, Mohammed Bin Salman has promised to get nuclear weapons if Iran did. All of this spells trouble.  As Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski explain in The National Interest, several days before Iran's foreign minister made his latest Iranian threat, the NPT allows states to withdraw from the treaty all to easily. Certainly, NPT member states did little or nothing when North Korea withdrew from the treaty in 2003. Only three years later, after Pyongyang exploded a nuclear weapon did the UN impose serious sanctions. This is a worry. Will the NPT, which turns 50 this year, suffer another withdrawal? If so, will it make it to 60? Late in 2018, Christopher Ford, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, said more needed to be done to deter further NPT withdrawals. We agreed and argue that this should be priority number one in the upcoming April five-year review of the NPT. 
Dec 14, 2019 America Must Dissuade China's Interest In Nuclear Arms
In all competitions there are winners and losers but in some competitions who benefits most and least can get hazy as the risks that the competition forces on both parties rise. A case in point is the slow nuclear race that China has begun to run against the United States and our closest Asian allies. Right now, Beijing has only several hundred nuclear warheads. But, the US Defense Intelligence Agency projects this arsenal will double by 2030. This is worrisome. In the attached The National Interest piece “America Must Dissuade China's Interest In Nuclear Arms,” Michael Mazza of The American Enterprise Institute and Henry Sokolski spell out what risks China's nuclear rise will run and how best to avoid them. As China’s nuclear weapons proficiency increases its arsenal will become more similar to our own. This, in turn, could encourage Beijing to toy with more aggressive nuclear use doctrines. Japan and South Korea are sure to be rattled. In the worst case, they could feel compelled to acquire nuclear weapons of their own. This would create dangerous uncertainties for both us and China. What should we do? Mike and I suggest three things. Piling up unnecessary nuclear kindling — uneconomical plutonium stockpiles and production plants as well enrichment capacity in excess of civilian demand — makes no sense. It should stop in China and Japan and not begin in South Korea or the United States. Meanwhile, the United States should focus its military modernization efforts on systems that would diminish the value of nuclear arms. These would include advanced space systems, long-rang precision strike weaponry, and submersible technologies. Developing these systems would encourage China to invest in nonnuclear naval and air defensive systems— weaponry incapable of doing direct harm to the US or our Asian allies.  
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founded in 1994 to promote a better understanding of strategic weapons proliferation issues. NPEC educates policymakers, journalists,
and university professors about proliferation threats and possible new policies and measures to meet them.
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