Late last week, Bill Gates’ TerraPower nuclear reactor corporation struck an agreement with the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industry to build a small, advanced modular fast power reactor in Wyoming. The nuclear plant, called Natrium, is touted as the path forward to save the planet from carbon emissions. TerraPower insists that the plant presents no nuclear weapons proliferation concerns. The company says it won’t fuel it with plutonium, a nuclear weapons explosive that is extracted or “reprocessed” from spent reactor fuel.
All this sounds good but, as Victor Gilinsky and I explain in a piece just published by Kyodo News, “US-Japan Fast Reactor Cooperation Raises Nuclear Security Issues,” it’s too good to be true.
The Natrium reactor is based on an earlier General Electric – Hitachi fast modular reactor known as the Prism. It, like the Natrium reactor, can be quickly switched to run on plutonium and produce or “breed” many bombs’ worth of the stuff. Roughly half of the plutonium it can produce moreover would be super-weapons-grade plutonium – i.e., of a purity beyond even what the United States uses in its nuclear weapons.
France, India, and China appreciate how militarily useful fast reactors are. France used a fast reactor to fuel its bombs. India is planning to do so and the Pentagon has determined that China will use its fast reactor program to make bombs as well. The proponents of fast modular reactors both here and in Japan downplay or ignore these points. That’s a mistake. As Victor Gilinsky and I have long argued, pushing the international commercialization of fast reactors not only makes no economic sense, it’s way dangerous.
February 3, 2022
Author: Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski
US-Japan Fast Reactor Cooperation Raises Nuclear Security Issues
By Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski
A Jan. 26 agreement to cooperate on fast nuclear reactor technology between the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. with American TerraPower LLC raises worrisome international security issues.
The agreement’s immediate goal is building a 350-megawatt nuclear plant, called Natrium, in the U.S. state of Wyoming, to demonstrate TerraPower’s technology.
Unlike fast reactor projects in the past, which were fueled with plutonium, a nuclear explosive, and that used “reprocessing,” or chemical separation to extract plutonium from spent or irradiated power reactor fuel, Natrium is to be fueled with uranium enriched to a level below that usable for weapons.
TerraPower says no “reprocessing,” or chemical separation will be involved, at least at this stage. That would seem to allay security concerns, but there is more to the story.
To read the full article click here.