Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Avoiding Atomic Armageddon:Why Britain should not export nuclear technology

The esteemed nuclear guru, the late Dr Alvin Weinberg, wrote in Science magazine four decades ago:


We nuclear people have made a Faustian bargain with society. On the one hand, we offer -- in the catalytic nuclear burner (breeder reactor) -- an inexhaustable source of energy. Even in the short range, when we use ordinary reactors, we offer energy that is cheaper than energy from fossil fuel. Moreover, this source of energy, when properly handled, is almost nonpolluting. . . .


But the price that we demand of society for this magical energy source is both a vigilance and a longevity of our social institutions that we are quite unaccustomed to. In a way, all of this was anticipated during the old debates over nuclear weapons. . . . . In a sense, we have established a military priesthood which guards against inadvertent use of nuclear weapons, which maintains what a priori seems to be a precarious balance between readiness to go to war and vigilance against human errors that would precipitate war . . .


It seems to me (and in this I repeat some views expressed very well by Atomic Energy Commissioner Wilfred Johnson) that peaceful nuclear energy probably will make demands of the same sort on our society, and possibly of even longer duration.”

[Weinberg, Alvin; "Social Institutions and Nuclear Energy", Science, 7 July 1972, p33]


Yesterday in Parliament, MPs discussed the latest mad action by the North Korean leadership, the execution by machine gun of Jang Sung-taek, the second most senior  politician in North Korea, who was also the uncle of the President, Kim Jong-un.


(Hansard, 16 December 2013 : Column 477-84; http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm131216/debtext/131216-0001.htm#1312161000017)


But Britain's role in providing the basis for the North Korean nuclear programme got no airing It should have




Britain’s early unintended export of nuclear proliferation

In the same year the IAEA was founded, the UK made one of its first forays into international nuclear trade, with Iraq, and [with] the opening Baghdad Pact Nuclear Centre on 31 March 1957. It was part of the UK’s own Atoms for Peace efforts.

According to a Parliamentary reply by Michel Heseltine in December 1992, “Iraq ceased to participate in the activities of the training centre when it was transferred to Tehran following the revolution in Iraq in 1959.”

In light of subsequent geo-political history in the region, that was out of the atomic frying pan, into the nuclear fire!

Around this time Britain also sold a single Magnox nuclear plant each to Japan and to Italy respectively.

It is also arguable that the British Magnox nuclear plant design – which after all was primarily built as a military plutonium production factory – provided the blueprint for the North Korean military plutonium production programme too!

Here is what a Conservative minister, Douglas Hogg – later infamous for his moat – told former Labour MP, Llew Smith, in a written parliamentary reply on  25 May 1994:

“We do not know whether North Korea has drawn on plans of British reactors in the production of its own reactors. North Korea possesses a graphite moderated reactor which, while much smaller, has generic similarities to the reactors operated by British Nuclear Fuels plc. However, design information of these British reactors is not classified and has appeared in technical journals.”

North Korea’s other method of producing its enriched uranium nuclear explosives, via its uranium enrichment plant, also originated from the UK. The blueprints were stolen by Pakistani scientist, Dr A.Q.Khan, from the URENCO enrichment plant  (one third owned by the UK) in Holland in the early 1970s. Pakistan subsequently sold the technology to Iran, who later exchanged  for North Korean Nodong missiles.

A technical delegation from the A Q Khan Research Labs visited Pyongyang in  the summer of 1996. The secret enrichment plant was said to be based in caves near Kumch’ang-ni, 100 miles north of Pyonyang, some thirty miles north west of the plutonium production reactor at Yongbon. Defectors have located the plant at Yongjo-ri, Taechon, Mount Chonma or Ha’gap 20 miles northeast of Yongbon-kun, where US satellite photos showed tunnel entrances  being built

Hwang Jang-yop, a former aid to President Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of the current North Korean President, who became the highest ranking North Korean official to defect when he fled in 1997, revealed details  to Western intelligence investigators. ( source p.281 of  “Deception: Pakistan, The United States, and the Global Weapons Conspiracy, Atlantic Books, 2007, by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark).

So the UK’s proud nuclear export record involves provision of support to both Iraq and Iran, and indirectly to North Korea.

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