Plutonium Reactors

Posted: 3rd October 2021

Victor Gilinsky & Henry Sokolski: ‘Fast Reactors’ Also Present a Fast

Path to Nuclear Weapons. New “fast reactors” promise sustainable nuclear
energy. They also pose serious proliferation risks because they can make
lots of plutonium. 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. TerraPower is obviously aware of
this history and the public relations landmine it creates for its
demonstration project. It insists its Natrium reactor will not use
plutonium as fuel or require reprocessing to extract it. The company’s
website says, “Both the demonstration plant and the first set of
commercial plants will run on high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU).”
HALEU is uranium enriched to just under the official definition of highly
enriched uranium, but well above the level of the uranium fuel used in
currently operating nuclear power plants. In enrichment terms, it is within
easy arm’s reach of bomb-grade uranium. It is exactly the stuff we demand
that Iran not produce, arguing that they don’t need it for power reactor
fuel. It’s also what we’ve been discouraging South Korea from getting
into (Seoul says it wants to enrich uranium to boost reactor exports and to
power a fleet of nuclear submarines).

 The National Interest 26th Sept 2021

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