Some Washington insiders are now betting the proposed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill may stall in the House but be reconsidered at a later date. If they’re right, it may not be all that bad. As Victor Gilinsky and I note in our The National Interest piece, “‘Fast Reactors’ Also Present a Fast Path to Nuclear Weapons,” the current bill funds several worrisome fast reactor commercialization programs.
These are listed under Energy Department’s “advanced reactor” program. Fast reactors produce tons of weapon-grade plutonium. Initially, they also will use uranium much more highly enriched than conventional nuclear fuel (i.e., to roughly 20 percent—the very figure the United States and other countries worry Iran enriching to as it brings Tehran quite close to making weapons-grade fuel). You would think this would be a technology the United States wouldn’t want to push or popularize.
Yet, under the proposed infrastructure bill, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, two of the world’s richest individuals, are slated to receive massive federal subsidies to commercialize their Natrium fast reactor. This program’s boosters (which include the Secretary of Energy, who touts it as the department’s flagship advanced reactor project), claim fast reactors will not only reduce carbon emissions, but make money. To hedge their bets, though, they are already talking about exporting them.
This is a weird way to save the planet. Fast reactors make tons of weapons-grade plutonium. Strategic Command’s Admiral Richard made this clear when he warned Congress that China’s “peaceful” fast reactors could easily bulk up Beijing’s nuclear weapons arsenal. India has gone further: It openly boasts its fast reactor is part of its nuclear weapons expansion program.
Washington has long discouraged nonweapons states from enriching uranium or reprocessing uranium. It’s a sound policy and why Victor and I argue Congress should line out proposed spending to commercialize or export fast reactors. If we are serious about promoting peaceful, economic electrical generation, we have to hope Congress will.
Sep 26, 2021
AUTHOR: Henry Sokolski and Victor Gilinsky
Henry Sokolski and Victor Gilinsky
The Energy Department’s choice for the leading reactor design for reviving nuclear power construction in the United States is so at odds with U.S. nonproliferation policy that it opens America to charges of rank hypocrisy. The Biden administration is proposing to use nuclear fuels that we are telling others—most immediately Iran—not to produce. It will make it difficult to gain the restraints the United States seeks to limit nations’ access to bomb-grade uranium and plutonium.
We are talking here about the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) enthusiastic support of TerraPower’s proposed Natrium “fast reactor” demonstration plant and similar fast reactor projects, which DOE has showered with grants and supports with department-funded enrichment, test reactor, and spent nuclear fuel recycling programs. TerraPower and DOE expect to build hundreds of fast reactors for domestic use and export.
To read the full article, click here.