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  • Proliferation? That horse has bolted.

    Posted by Shannon Love on September 4th, 2010 (All posts by )

    Steven Den Beste worries that solving our energy problem with small thorium reactors will lead to nuclear proliferation.

    I disagree but I don’t do so based on the technical specifics of thorium reactors. I would argue that stopping nuclear proliferation has nothing to do with the non-military use or non-use of any particular technology.

    So how do we stop nuclear proliferation? The answer is simple: We can’t.

    When people talk about stopping proliferation, they forget one key fact: Nuclear weapons technology is 60 years old. You can’t stop countries from recreating a 60-year-old technology.

    It’s immediately obvious that as technology in general progresses, it become easier to implement any particular technology. Technologies like computers, radar, jets, antibiotics, pesticides, etc. that were super expensive and complicated cutting-edge technology in 1945 today are so cheap and ubiquitous we don’t see them as anything special.

    Nuclear technology has undergone the same evolution. In 1945 creating nuclear weapons required bleeding-edge physics and a massive industrial base. For example, one of the major bottlenecks was the lack of enough skilled machinists to create all the high-tolerance components of the bombs, reactors and separators. Today, however, all the physics and all the tools are old hat. The physics is widely understood and a $500,000 computer-controlled lathe can crank out WWII-era levels of tolerance at the touch of a button.

    Imagine trying to stop a contemporary country from building the equivalent of WWII-era computers, radars, jets, antibiotics, chemical weapons, etc. You simply couldn’t do it without bombing them back to a pre-industrial tech base and keeping them there.

    Even if we could stop countries from using a 60-year-old technology today, how long could we keep it up? Every year that goes by means that building nukes gets cheaper and easier. In 2045, are we seriously going to be able to prevent anyone from building a 100-year-old weapon?

    Today, any country that has the barest industrial base and wants nuclear weapons can build them. Countries like Brazil and South Africa got right to the point of having nuclear weapons 30 years ago, but decided to back off of their own accord. When improvised and chaotic countries like Pakistan and North Korea have nukes, you know the proliferation horse has long since bolted and it is too late to close the barn door.

    We can no longer stop proliferation by any means other than direct military action. The use by anyone of thorium or other types of reactors to provide life-saving energy for the world will have zero effect on the spread of nuclear weapons. We desperately need abundant, cheap and low-environmental-impact energy to maintain and raise the standard of living across the world. Nuclear power can provide that.

    We need to stop talking and thinking about proliferation like it is 1955. We need to acknowledge that nuclear technology is no longer a high technology that we can restrict to only the most advanced and powerful nations. Doing so provides no benefit and causes a lot of harm.

     

    23 Responses to “Proliferation? That horse has bolted.”

    1. Joseph Somsel Says:

      I’m one nuclear engineer is who completely befuddled by all this talk of thorium reactors.

      There is NOTHING a reactor fueled with thorium can do that a uranium or plutonium fueled reactor can’t do. In fact, the fuel cycle is more difficult.

      We have PLENTY of uranium already although I’ll admit we have even more thorium – fuel supply is not the issue.

      I suspect that the belief that thorium reactors are some sort of panacea for our energy problems is either disinformation/disctraction or just the right-wing equivalent of solar cells and wind mills, in other words, a self-delusional escape from facing hard choices.

      The basic problem is NOT technical but remains political. The latter are the more intractable.

    2. Ric Locke Says:

      The best argument that the thorium cycle is resistant to proliferation comes indirectly from the original developers of nuclear power. They wanted bombs, they wanted them as soon as possible, and they selected the fuel cycle that would yield explosive versions as soon as possible — which wasn’t thorium.

      If the new, accelerator-based technology works (a bigger “if” than may be first apparent) there will be one more attractive feature to the thorium cycle that, contra Mr. Somsel, no uranium reactor can match: a core that never contains a critical mass. A uranium reactor requires control rods (yes, oversimplified) that poison the reaction and shut it down if it gets out of control, and those are mechanical components that can fail. If the neutrons causing fission come from outside rather than other parts of the core, shutting down the accelerator shuts the reactor down (or materially reduces its output). This strikes me as a Good Thing.

      But the advantages are, as stated, political. Environmentalists have painted themselves into a corner in which they are obliged to demand that we become poorer, because they have so demonized nuclear power that demonizing fossil fuels as well leaves no way to keep warm or run industry. If the thorium cycle is, or can be, a fig leaf that allows the Greens to back off — “ah, well, we’re against uranium and plutonium power ’cause it makes bombs; thorium doesn’t so it’s OK” — it will be to everyone’s advantage, whether or not the statement is literally true in an absolute sense.

      CO2 is pretty nearly irrelevant. It simply doesn’t make sense to burn all the good lubricants and plastics feedstocks in order to stay warm, even if the result of that was oxygen and clean water, and coal makes a mess before, during, and after use as fuel. Transportation requires liquid fuel (no, electrics won’t make a dent; not enough energy density, and overcoming that would create an horrific safety problem). Carry the baseload on nuclear reactors, including electrifying the railroads where practical; other transportation fuels would be produced by reforming methane into liquids with high hydrogen content using the abundant energy from reactors. Result: minimum pollution of all types, and near-zero dependence on foreign sources. If the Greens can be talked (or suckered) into a face-saving withdrawal from absolutism, the future could be bright all round.

      Regards,
      Ric

    3. TMLutas Says:

      You are incorrect, at least theoretically even while it is incredibly unlikely that the US will take the measures needed to stop it. The biggest successful arms control measure of this nature was the Japanese elimination of guns. To replicate this success, you start with a world-wide government. This would be formed by the dominant military power, the US. All nuclear scientists capable of creating a nuclear weapon would be forced to live in one city and make nukes only for the government. All nuclear weapons would be under the control of the government. The ruling class would have the right to kill with impunity.

      In such a world, you could stuff the genie back in the bottle. It’s the only way that it’s been done. It would be a horrific dystopia that I utterly reject. But that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be done.

    4. Shannon Love Says:

      TMLutas,

      Such a course of action was suggested at the end of WWII. Many thought that the UN would serve such a purpose with America and Britain serving as the enforcers. Unfortunately, Stalin and the Soviet Union survived the war and someone got the bright idea to let him become a founding member of the UN and have one of the five permanent seats on the security council.

      In 1940, Robert Heinlien published Solution Unsatisfactory in which the US invents a radiological dust weapon and uses it to end WWII. Then they fight a brief war with the Soviets. This leads to an Atomic Pax, in which a world wide military prevents the development of any air power or nuclear weapons.

      He also wrote Blow Ups Happend in 1940 which concerned the use of an accelerator moderated reactor.

    5. Ric Locke Says:

      Shannon,

      If you don’t know it, you should also read Rocket Ship Galileo, in which the protagonists build an atomic-powered spaceship by swapping the rocket engines on a surplus “mail rocket” for an atomic reactor fueled with thorium, which one of the characters can get freely because he’s a U.N. licensed atomic scientist.

      Really, though, the story is most notable for the picture it paints, of an America in which a bunch of high-schoolers can build high explosive model rockets without constant supervision from OSHA, CPS, EPA, and the rest of the alphabet. Modern readers find it impossible to believe, but that’s the United States I was born and raised in, and I’m damned sick of this bearded-Spock timeline, don’t know how I got here (I walk around horses all the time; it does no good) and want to go home.

      Regards,
      Ric

    6. Mrs. Davis Says:

      The biggest successful arms control measure of this nature was the Japanese elimination of guns.

      And that lasted as long as the remote location of the homogenous Japanese allowed them to remain apart from the progress of the rest of the heterogeneous world. One world government is a chimera. It is like saying the Europeans could have found a way to co-inhabit America without conquering the natives. Nice idea. Doesn’t happen.

      I would suggest that the more realistic and successful arms control measure was the Cold War.

      We need to acknowledge that nuclear technology is no longer a high technology that we can restrict to only the most advanced and powerful nations.

      And having done so, we need to acknowledge that we have to learn how to conduct a war involving nuclear weapons. Learning from our success with MAD in the Cold War, the United States should make clear to every person in the world that the use of nuclear weapons will result in the utter and complete destruction, of the leadership, society, nation, or culture sponsoring their use in any manner whatsoever. Because this is what will happen when the first American city is nuked. And I should not be surprised if that were to happen within 10 years if we continue down the naive path we have trod.

    7. Helian Says:

      I’m in favor of thorium reactors if they’re done right, and they can be done right, but Den Beste is right about their potential danger as proliferants. That is particularly true in the case of Rubbia’s subcrits, for reasons I explain on my blog (scroll down, or Google “Helian Rubbia”).

      When people talk about stopping proliferation, they forget one key fact: Nuclear weapons technology is 60 years old. You can’t stop countries from recreating a 60 year old technology.

      You’re missing the point. From a terrorists point of view, it’s easy to make a bomb now, but it was almost as easy in 1945. Here’s how you do it. Acquire two subcritical chunks of Special Nuclear Material (SNM) large enough to make a critical mass when combined. Take them to the center of a large city. Drop one on top of the other. That’s it. It’s not exactly high tech, is it? The resulting critical mass may not explode, but it will make a radioactive mess that might well represent a more effective weapon from a terrorist’s point of view than a Hiroshima-style nuke. Want a bigger mess, and perhaps an explosion? Smack the two pieces together with a strong spring, or perhaps a crude gun. That’s all there is to the “high technology” of nuclear weapons. The real danger is that bad actors will get their hands on enough SNM to put together a critical mass, and that has always been the real danger. If we implement Rubbia’s idea, that danger will be greatly increased.

      The two types of SNM used in WWII were uranium 235 and plutonium 239. Less Pu239 is needed to make a bomb than U235, but Pu spontaneously emits neutrons, so it can’t be used in simple gun-type bombs like the one that destroyed Hiroshima. The U233 that’s produced in thorium reactors is better than either one of them from a terrorist’s point of view. It has a much smaller critical mass than U235, but can still be used in gun-type devices. In conventional thorium breeders it would come mixed with U232, a highly radioactive source of gamma rays. Rubbia’s subcrits could easily be modified to make U233 with so little U232 that handling the material and fabricating it into a weapon would be no problem.

      You don’t have to be a nuclear engineer to understand these things. The relevant information is all out there on the web.

    8. Trent Telenko Says:

      Recent history sshows that the “gun type” enriched uranium A-bomb as the major secret nuclear proliferation threat. Both Iraq’s secret Calutron using nuclear program and South Africa’s successful program used gun type enriched uranium bomb designs.

      South Africa under its past white-minority governments built seven gun type atomic bombs in ten years enriching 320 kg of HEU for $250 million using no more than 300 people at peak to build them. Their bombs weighed 2,000 pounds each and were scaled for carriage by Buccaneer strike aircraft.

      Iran is not as technologically sophisticated as South Africa was, but South Africa did not have the use of the A.Q. Khan/North Korean/Chinese nuclear black market either.

      See:

      The Iraqi Secret Calutron:
      http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/iraq/gulflink/cia/960506/65579_01.htm

      South Africa’s successful Nuclear Weapon Program
      http://www.cns.miis.edu/research/safrica/index.htm

      More on South Africa’s successful Nuclear Weapon Program
      http://www.thebulletin.org/article.php?art_ofn=ja94albright

      If you start from the assumption that Iran is an emerging nuclear power with nuclear tipped long range ballistic delivery systems, and an irrational regime holding the trigger, which I do. The question becomes “How do you change the regime with the minimal number of casualties?”

      You most emphatically do not rattle sabers and warn them you are coming (as Israel has and the Bush Administration was doing prior to 2006), then bomb them and hope the CIA’s Keystone Kop covert arm can actually pull off an Iranian revolution.

      Let alone try and hold a successful revolution where the Mullahs don’t have time to pull a nuclear Sampson Option with ballistic missiles or terrorist delivery systems.

      To put it another way:

      “If you’re going to shoot, SHOOT! – Don’t Talk! – Tuco in “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly.”

    9. Paul Milenkovic Says:

      “The question becomes “How do you change the regime with the minimal number of casualties?””

      The Iraq and other experiences raise a more important question. Who replaces the regime, and does that replacement have the popular support to take on both the “White Russian” holdouts from the regime that got changed along with the Bolsheviki who want to hijack the revolt?

      In Iraq, we have demonstrated the military power to “change the regime” and even the tenacity to “fight the insurgency”, although at immense cost in terms of losing popular support at home, but the ultimate question is whether the new government can maintain support of its people, fight the holdouts, and not turn corrupt of tyrannical.

    10. Shannon Love Says:

      Heilian,

      The real danger is that bad actors will get their hands on enough SNM to put together a critical mass, and that has always been the real danger. If we implement Rubbia’s idea, that danger will be greatly increased.

      Yes, well, that’s like saying “the real danger is that bad actors will get their hands on an actual bomb.” Getting enough uranium with the proper ratio of isotopes and in the proper metallic form for even a self-detonating radiological weapon is a non-trivial task. Yes, uranium bombs are easy to build once you’ve processed the uranium but that is like saying a computer is easy to build once someone else builds the logic board, power supply etc.

      It’s nonsense to say that any and all reactors increase the risk of rouge nukes because the intermediate steps between the fuel and the bomb is the really, really hard part. That is why weapons reactors are utterly distinct from power reactors and easy to identify as such. You don’t even need a reactor. Just put a pile of uranium ore in front of Farnsworth fuser and come back in a few months and you’ll have a big pile of highly active isotopes, many of them useful for weapons. Good luck separating them all out, however.

      Radiological weapons are not that frightening because there are cheaper and easier ways to kill large numbers of people and to contaminate large ares. The Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan made enough sarin nerve gas to literally wipe out Tokyo. They did in a 30ft Quonset hut for under one million dollars.

      A lot of existing designs do make it easier to create weapons than necessary because the reactors are based on the original weapons reactors. Anything we do to increase the steps required to turn fuel into weapons significantly, by orders of magnitude, reduces the chances the materials will ever be weaponized.

    11. Scott Eudaley Says:

      Shannon’s analysis is excellent. With a machine shop and the proper nuclear materials, a crude gun-type bomb can be constructed in a couple of months with only modest technical skills. The yield may be nowhere near the theoretical maximum, but it would still destroy a significant portion of any major city.

      But the advantages are, as stated, political. Environmentalists have painted themselves into a corner in which they are obliged to demand that we become poorer, because they have so demonized nuclear power that demonizing fossil fuels as well leaves no way to keep warm or run industry. If the thorium cycle is, or can be, a fig leaf that allows the Greens to back off — “ah, well, we’re against uranium and plutonium power ’cause it makes bombs; thorium doesn’t so it’s OK” — it will be to everyone’s advantage, whether or not the statement is literally true in an absolute sense.

      Nonsense. When will you people learn that the environmentalist opposition to any form of large-scale energy production is precisely so that we become poorer? They understand, in a way the average citizen does not, the critical role large-scale energy production takes in any advanced civilization. Their objections, couched in technical terms about pollution, global warming or the like, are mere pretense. They hate humanity. By our very nature, we are sinful destroyers of pristine nature and that must be stopped at all costs. They want us to be poorer. That is their goal. Stopping all energy production is only a means to that end.

      If we magically woke up tomorrow with a fully “green” energy system, with say windmills, geothermal and solar power, I can guarantee you that their tune would change dramatically. Windmills kill birds by the millions. Can’t have that. Geothermal is disrupting the earth’s crust. Can’t have that. Solar power is destroying the deserts and requires highly toxic industrial processes. Can’t have that. Their goal is the end of civilization, not the protection of the environment. You can’t trick them somehow into doing the right thing. The only way to deal with them is confront them head on.

      Helian’s technical analysis is spot-on. Thorium is no panacea for the proliferation issue.

      And having done so, we need to acknowledge that we have to learn how to conduct a war involving nuclear weapons. Learning from our success with MAD in the Cold War, the United States should make clear to every person in the world that the use of nuclear weapons will result in the utter and complete destruction, of the leadership, society, nation, or culture sponsoring their use in any manner whatsoever. Because this is what will happen when the first American city is nuked. And I should not be surprised if that were to happen within 10 years if we continue down the naive path we have trod.

      I made a prediction in March of 2008, that if Obama were elected and he served a full eight years, the world’s first exchange between nuclear armed opponents would happen on his watch. While I wasn’t sure McCain would be able to stop the drift toward Armageddon, I was and remain absolutely convinced that Obama’s fecklessness and weakness on the international stage will lead to disaster. You are absolutely right when it comes to what we ought to do about proliferation. Unfortunately, Obama has done just the opposite. Now, it is not clear what the US would do if one of our cities were nuked. I don’t think anyone really believes that Obama would do what you suggest were that to happen. When the civilized are weak and unsure, the barbarians will attack.

    12. Scott Eudaley Says:

      A further comment on thorium and the proliferation issue. Let me preface this by noting that I am not a chemist, so I would appreciate any actual chemists to check my thesis.

      One of the difficulties in developing a nuclear weapon is obviously the need to acquire a critical mass of suitable fissile material. While uranium is relatively prevalent in nature, it requires a rather difficult process of enrichment to separate the various isotopes. Separating isotopes is not and can not be a chemical process. All isotopes are chemically identical. Essentially, enrichment involves mechanical processes based on the tiny differences in the atomic weights of the isotopes. Such processes are expensive, difficult and time-consuming. So, even though uranium is comparatively easy to get, it is not necessarily easy to get enough enriched uranium suitable for a bomb.

      On the other hand, separating plutonium from uranium can be done chemically, since they are, in fact, different chemicals with different chemical properties. That is much easier. And plutonium can be relatively easily produced, as a by-product, in a uranium reactor. It is often easier to do low-level uranium enrichment (enough to use in a power reactor), then chemically separate the resulting plutonium from the uranium. Thus, it is easy to see why the Iranians are so interested in power reactors.

      As Helian noted, fissile uranium is a by-product of thorium reactions. I am not a chemist, so I don’t know how difficult it would be to chemically separate thorium from uranium, but I’d be willing to bet that it would be far easier and cheaper than an uranium enrichment process. It is entirely possible that thorium reactors could be far more dangerous vis a vis proliferation than existing power reactors, if the chemistry is easier.

    13. Ric Locke Says:

      Mr. Eudaley,

      I’m not talking about the leaders, movers, and shakers of the Green movement — they are, as you say, dedicated anti-humanists and cannot be shaken; the example of Stewart Brand alone is enough for that.

      The target is the second tier and lower, the people who find the arguments convincing but don’t go any farther with the logic (i.e., that they themselves are also for the chop) and the people who go along out of genuine worry and concern over misrepresented facts, largely from the same influence that produces “celebrities” and hula hoops. There are a lot of them; in fact they comprise the vast majority of support the genuine wackos can call on.

      If thorium were marketed to those people as a less-dangerous alternative, which would have to include “one big plant” deployment to make monitoring of byproducts like U233 possible and credible, enough support might be pried away from the watermelons to remove their stranglehold on progress, as opposed to Progress. Note that I don’t say easy; I say possible.

      Regards,
      Ric

    14. TMLutas Says:

      I’m very surprised that nobody seems to have picked up on the most important part of the necessary action to end nuclear weapons, the right of the ruling class to kill with impunity. Unless the general population is socialized that if they step out of line, they will be killed, some form of rebellion will happen and the nuclear scientists who are partisans of that cause will make a bomb.

      Shannon Love – One world government without the terror capability equivalent to the samurai’s “kill and depart” rights just won’t work. The ability to print out a nuke is going to arrive well before mid-century. The world has too many remote, sparsely populated zones where manufacturing could take place.

      Mrs. Davis – During the Cold War, we moved from uranium fission bombs to hydrogen bombs and expanded the nuclear club considerably. I can’t really see how that’s a successful case of avoiding proliferation. At best it slowed it down.

    15. Mrs. Davis Says:

      TMLutas,

      The Japanese example was one of the “biggest successful arms control measure of this nature” not an example of avoiding proliferation. They did stuff the genie back in the bottle for a while, but not forever. As a result, English, not Japanese is the new world language.

      The opportunity to halt proliferation disappeared in 1994 when we failed to bomb North Korea forward into the stone age and that failure was reinforced by our failure to do anything significant about proliferation in the Middle East. As a result, I agree with Shannon that the cat is out of the bag and the technology will become available to any state interested in pursuing it. We have lost the opportunity for non-proliferation.

      Given that proliferation will occur, at some time and place, perhaps now unsuspected, the cold war demonstrates that it is possible to allow proliferation yet restrain use.

      It is time to consider a war fighting strategy and the complimentary diplomatic strategies, private and public that will restrain use by proliferators. I agree with Mr. Eudaley that our current supine strategy invites attack.

    16. Helian Says:

      Shannon,

      Yes, well, that’s like saying “the real danger is that bad actors will get their hands on an actual bomb.” Getting enough uranium with the proper ratio of isotopes and in the proper metallic form for even a self-detonating radiological weapon is a non-trivial task. Yes, uranium bombs are easy to build once you’ve processed the uranium but that is like saying a computer is easy to build once someone else builds the logic board, power supply etc.

      If accelerators of the type Rubbia wants to build become easily available, getting enough of the right kind of uranium will become a lot less “non-trivial.” It will be possible to produce uranium that is virtually pure U233. There will be no need to separate it from other isotopes, because the amounts of other isotopes present will be too small to matter.

      It’s nonsense to say that any and all reactors increase the risk of rouge nukes because the intermediate steps between the fuel and the bomb is the really, really hard part. That is why weapons reactors are utterly distinct from power reactors and easy to identify as such. You don’t even need a reactor. Just put a pile of uranium ore in front of Farnsworth fuser and come back in a few months and you’ll have a big pile of highly active isotopes, many of them useful for weapons. Good luck separating them all out, however.

      I didn’t say that all reactors increase the risk of rogue nukes. I limited my remarks specifically to the type of subcritical reactors Rubbia proposes. Farnsworth fusers are, indeed, good sources of neutrons, but at fluxes orders of magnitude less than would be generated by one of Rubbia’s accelerators. The material irradiated would not be uranium, but thorium. The U233 could be separated chemically at any convenient time using methods that anyone can look up in a 1930’s chemistry book. For example, dissolve the mass in nitric acid and precipitate the uranium out with ammonium or sodium hydroxide. There are several convenient ways to reduce the resulting oxides to uranium metal, none of them requiring complex materials or processes. The pure metal can then be melted in any gold or silver refining furnace and cast into any form desired. Don’t try this at home, kids.

      Radiological weapons are not that frightening because there are cheaper and easier ways to kill large numbers of people and to contaminate large ares. The Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan made enough sarin nerve gas to literally wipe out Tokyo. They did in a 30ft Quonset hut for under one million dollars.

      The amount of radiation released by a critical mass would be orders of magnitude greater than that from any conventional dirty bomb, and the shock effect would be much greater. It may well be that terrorists would prefer to do psychological and economic damage rather than killing people for propaganda reasons. If they disagree, they could just make a bomb instead. After all, you claim above that, with enough SNM, it’s easy.

      A lot of existing designs do make it easier to create weapons than necessary because the reactors are based on the original weapons reactors. Anything we do to increase the steps required to turn fuel into weapons significantly, by orders of magnitude, reduces the chances the materials will ever be weaponized.

      That’s exactly the point I was trying to make. It is not easy to build a conventional reactor, hide it, and then separate SNM from the radioactive core. Thorium breeders could be built with depleted uranium in the fuel elements, making it virtually impossible for terrorists to separate the U233. U232 would also be a much bigger problem. Rubbia’s accelerators would throw all these advantages away. Loose nukes are a terrible danger as it is. Let’s not make it a whole lot easier for our enemies to get them.

    17. Robert Schwartz Says:

      “Why You Can’t Build a Bomb From Spent Fuel”

      http://depletedcranium.com/why-you-cant-build-a-bomb-from-spent-fuel/

    18. Ric Locke Says:

      So, to summarize the comment thread:

      The currently-used nuclear fuel cycle is optimum, and introduction of new versions must conform to existing practice, for many reasons.

      Right?

      And, since the Greens already have their arguments, lawyers, and protesters in place for effective operations countering emplacement of reactors for power generation using the current fuel cycle, the net result is that no nuclear power stations will be built.

      Glad that’s settled. It means I can stop worrying about it and start digging a hole in the ground to live in.

      Regards,
      Ric

    19. Shannon Love Says:

      Helian,

      If accelerators of the type Rubbia wants to build become easily available, getting enough of the right kind of uranium will become a lot less “non-trivial.” It will be possible to produce uranium that is virtually pure U233. There will be no need to separate it from other isotopes, because the amounts of other isotopes present will be too small to matter.

      I seriously doubt that. There always seems to be a serious practical hitch in all these weapon’s material chains. However, even if it is true, so what? See this is your problem:

      Let’s not make it a whole lot easier for our enemies to get them.

      Nothing we do or do not do will make it easier or harder for our enemies to get nuclear technology because the technology is so very old. If someone wants a weapon bad enough, they can get it right here and now. Limiting our choices of nuclear power technology does nothing. Hell, we’ve practically shut down civilian nuclear power for 30 years in the US. How much did that slow nuclear proliferation. Zippo.

      There is simply no reason to alter our plans for civilian nuclear power out of any fears of proliferation or misuse because nothing we can do will materially affect the bad guys access to weapons materials.

    20. TMLutas Says:

      Mrs. Davies – They stuffed the gun genie back in the bottle for several centuries. Objectively speaking, nobody’s ever come close to that record. It’s unlikely that anybody’s ever going to do it again because of the horrific nature of the repressive measures necessary to accomplish such a wrenching transformation of society. You should understand that the point of my bringing it up is to knock in the head efforts at nonproliferation that aren’t going to work. There are two routes to nonproliferation at this point, the terrible dystopia that I’m talking about and the creation of a world where the vast majority enter the global middle class and self-police so that those who are marginalized are unable to revenge themselves on the system by blowing nukes in the middle of cities. That’s why I’m still a fan of Tom Barnett even though his limitations make my teeth grind.

      Ric Locke – No, not at all. My point in participating in this is that there are dead ends in terms of nonproliferation approaches and that we should avoid the dead ends. The nuclear fuel cycle is going to change and develop. It’s only a question of how and when.

    21. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Shannon: the argument you make is correct, but it goes even farther. BO’s goal of a nuclear weapon free world is just plain nonsense. The only way to make the world nuclear free would be to burn all of the books of mathematics and science, and ban the study of those subjects. The simple knowledge that such a thing was once done would be enough to allow someone to do it again. The study of history would also have to be banned. If you are sufficiently cynical, you could think that the real goal of the anti-nuclear crowd is universal ignorance.

    22. Joseph Somsel Says:

      While an interesting topic, thorium reactors remain speculative and a LONG way off.

      There is no commercial interest that I’m aware of in this fuel cycle and there will be no commercial need for generations. Maybe for people who eat off their research grants it has merit as a study topic or for updated science fiction writers.

      My recommendation for any conservative interested in energy policy is to focus on the reactor projects at hand and our regulatory schemes that retard building real reactors to meet real needs.

    23. Shannon Love Says:

      Joseph Somsel,

      While an interesting topic, thorium reactors remain speculative and a LONG way off

      I agree. I just don’t think we should close off avenues of research out of fears of proliferation. Proliferation should be a very minor concern when trying to decide how to use any nuclear technology. After all, we don’t restrict research into chemicals out of fear someone will use the research to make nerve gas and we don’t restrict microbial research out of fear of biological weapons.

      There was a brief window of roughly 20 years from 1945-1965 when the conditions of the Cold War allowed the free developed nations and the Communist to determine who had nuclear technology. However, that boat has sailed.