Last week, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s CEO came out in favor of advanced reactors and establishing commercial spent reactor fuel reprocessing to fuel them. Plutonium chemically stripped out from spent reactor fuel can be used to power new, planned fast reactors that the industry is eager to export. All of this sounds exciting. But there’s a problem: Plutonium is a nuclear weapons explosive.
Many in industry believe this is not true; they insist power reactor plutonium can’t be used to make effective bombs. That, however, is dead wrong. It’s why we’re so nervous about Saudi Arabia’s “peaceful” nuclear power aspirations and why President Ford blocked America’s commercial use of plutonium in 1976.
Dr. Bruce Goodwin of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is the nation’s leading nuclear weapons design expert regarding plutonium. He recently offered an updated version of a 1975 lecture that his mentor, weapons designer Robert Selden, gave to the Atomic Industrial Forum and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors. This brief leaves no doubt that reactor-grade plutonium can be used to make effective nuclear weapons (in fact, the United States tested such a weapon in 1962). It’s also why the United States should stay clear of commercializing such fuel.
Below are videos of his guest presentation to NPEC’s Public Policy Fellowship course, “The Fundamentals of Civil and Military Nuclear Policy.”
An inconvenient truth: Power reactor plutonium is quite explosive
By Bruce Goodwin
Nuclear industries lie: Reactor plutonium can’t be made into bombs
Weapons-grade vs. reactor-grade plutonium: Definitions
Why and how reactor plutonium can make effective nuclear weapons
The hazards of handling reactor-grade plutonium are manageable
Reactor-grade plutonium and the “problem” of preignition
Conclusion: Reactor-grade plutonium is a reliable nuclear explosive