Posted: 22nd July 2021
The principal reason for preferring fast reactors, historically the only reason, is to gain the
ability to breed plutonium. Thus, the reactor would make and reuse massive
quantities of material that could also be used as nuclear explosives in
warheads. Chris Levesque, TerraPower’s CEO, told a March 25 Senate Energy
Committee hearing that the Natrium would be fueled with uranium enriched to
20 percent U-235 rather than explosive plutonium. But will that remain the
preferred fuel if the Natrium reactor takes off and is offered for export?
Currently, only a handful of nations can make 20 percent enriched uranium.
It’s hard to believe that foreign customers will want to be tied to a
U.S. supply of this fuel. If they want another source for 20 percent fuel,
will the United States go along with foreign enrichers offering it? We
currently oppose Iran producing it on grounds that such material is too
close to bomb-grade uranium. In a 1976 statement on nuclear policy,
President Gerald Ford said the United States would not act in its civilian
program in a way contrary to what we ask of others. Has this level of
consistency and respect for others gone by the boards? Presidents Gerald
Ford and Jimmy Carter made it U.S. policy to discourage commercializing of
plutonium-fueled reactors. Ford’s words bear repeating: In 1976, he
announced that the United States wouldn’t support reliance on plutonium
fuel and associated reprocessing of spent fuel until “the world community
can effectively overcome the associated risks of proliferation.” Fast
reactors like TerraPower’s Natrium don’t meet this test.
National Interest 20th July 2021