Friday, 29 December 2017

The US truck driver who built a nuclear bomb

I have long argued that exporting   nuclear energy technology is dangerous for international security: this new article gives some very frightening reasons why I am right!

National Security

North Korea Designed A Nuke. So Did This Truck Driver

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/570806064/573464391" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


John Coster-Mullen has reverse-engineered America's first nuclear weapons and has self-published a book on his findings. Meredith Rizzo/NPR hide caption
toggle caption
Meredith Rizzo/NPR
John Coster-Mullen has reverse-engineered America's first nuclear weapons and has self-published a book on his findings.
Meredith Rizzo/NPR
This year, deep inside a mountain, North Korea detonated a giant nuclear bomb.
The weapon was powerful; at least 10 times more destructive than the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. The North claimed it was an advanced, thermonuclear design. The test came just months after a report that some intelligence officials believed North Korea had successfully "miniaturized" some of its nukes in order to fit them on top of missiles.
The apparently rapid progress alarmed politicians and pundits, and it worried average Americans, many of whom hadn't thought much about nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War.
But a 71-year-old truck driver named John Coster-Mullen wasn't surprised. Nuclear weapons are not particularly "hard" to design and build, he says. "Compared to what they do in manufacturing today for making a light bulb, these are simple. They really are," he says.
Coster-Mullen is an unlikely judge of North Korea's nuclear progress. He works nights for a major trucking firm, delivering merchandise to big box stores. Before that, he worked as a photographer. He never graduated from college.
But for the past 24 years, he has had an extraordinary hobby. He has carefully re-created detailed designs of America's very first nuclear weapons: Little Boy, the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, and Fat Man, the one that fell on Nagasaki.
The self-published Atom Bombs: The Top Secret Inside Story of Little Boy and Fat Man compiles research, drawings and archival photos of the Fat Man and Little Boy bombs. Meredith Rizzo/NPR hide caption
toggle caption
Meredith Rizzo/NPR
The self-published Atom Bombs: The Top Secret Inside Story of Little Boy and Fat Man compiles research, drawings and archival photos of the Fat Man and Little Boy bombs.
Meredith Rizzo/NPR
Atomic minutiae
On the day we meet, Coster-Mullen is wearing a rumpled suit jacket with a patterned atomic tie. His unbroken way of speaking is cluttered with minute details of the bomb: The threading on Little Boy's nose cone (it was two threads per inch); the gold foil used at the center of the Fat Man design (physicists debated for hours about how many thin sheets to use).
It would be easy to write him off as an eccentric, but experts do not. "He knows a lot," says Johnpierre Paglione, a physics professor at the University of Maryland who recently invited Coster-Mullen to give a lecture about the bomb as part of his class on the Manhattan Project.
"The impressive thing about the work, to me, is how much information he was able to curate over time," says Jeffrey Lewis, a scholar at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
It all began in 1993 with a scheme to make a little money.
"The 50th anniversary of the bombs was coming up, and I thought I could make little replicas of the bombs and sell them," Coster-Mullen recalls.
To him it made sense. He'd grown up at the dawn of the Atomic Age and loved making models. He figured some like-minded baby boomer might buy them. Some companies were already making models of the bombs, but Coster-Mullen noticed their versions contained small errors in the tail design and elsewhere. He thought he could do better.
"I'm a perfectionist. I want everything where it should be," he says.
A 1965 image shows a replica of a Fat Man nuclear bomb, the type dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945, on view for the public in Los Alamos, N.M. AP hide caption
toggle caption
AP
A 1965 image shows a replica of a Fat Man nuclear bomb, the type dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945, on view for the public in Los Alamos, N.M.
AP
To make his models, he drove 1,300 miles to Los Alamos, N.M., the birthplace of the atomic bombs. The museum there has accurate, full-scale replicas of Little Boy and Fat Man that he could work from. As he designed his models, he decided he'd write a brochure to go with them.
"The brochure turned into a 431-page book," he says.
Coster-Mullen never sold a single model, but he has been adding to his bomb brochure ever since, building up what are basically complete specs for America's first nuclear weapons. He has traveled the country, and the world, to glean all sorts of supposedly secret details.
"Nobody leaked anything to me,"he says. "I found all this information was hiding in plain sight."
Like the time he went to a lecture by someone who'd worked on the development of the bombs. At the end of the talk, the man held up a special commemorative paperweight, which had been made using a mold. "The mold they poured the plastic into was the same mold they poured the plutonium into to make the cores," says Coster-Mullen. The paperweight was a perfect copy of one hemisphere of a Fat Man-type bomb's nuclear core.
Coster-Mullen ran up after the lecture, made a few quick measurements and got what was once highly classified information.
On private land in the western U.S., Coster-Mullen found this fragment of what he believes is bomb casing from a test version of the Fat Man design. Meredith Rizzo/NPR hide caption
toggle caption
Meredith Rizzo/NPR
On private land in the western U.S., Coster-Mullen found this fragment of what he believes is bomb casing from a test version of the Fat Man design.
Meredith Rizzo/NPR
He also spends a lot of time poring over declassified photographs and documents and thinking about how the pieces they describe fit together. "I've had a lot of those 'Ah ha!' moments where it suddenly hits you," he says.
Public secrets
Coster-Mullen lives for those "Ah ha!" moments, and they've added up to a very complete diagram of each bomb. I tried to contact several former nuclear weapons designers about the accuracy of his work. None of them wanted to comment publicly on it.
But Alex Wellerstein, a historian at the Stevens Institute of Technology who specializes in nuclear weapons, says Coster-Mullen's work is the "gold standard." "His view of how the bombs worked is the most compelling I've seen," Wellerstein wrote in an email.
Lewis says Coster-Mullen's odyssey shows that nuclear weapons just aren't that hard to understand. "If a truck driver from Milwaukee can roughly replicate one, then that tells you that there is nothing mysterious about them," Lewis says.
"Anyone who thinks that ignorance is going to be an effective prohibition on a small nation attaining nuclear weapons should take heed of John's work," agrees Wellerstein. "There's more information out there than most people realize. And it has been out there for a long time."
In fact, many small nations have put together nuclear weapons designs over the years. In the 1940s and 1950s, Sweden had a bomb program that produced a complex design, Lewis says. Australia also is believed to have worked on a weapon design, as did Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
The real challenge is getting the uranium or plutonium needed to make the design a reality. "The hard part is creating the nuclear fuel. That requires a nation-state," Coster-Mullen says.
For all its limitations, North Korea is such a state. It has the reactors and centrifuges needed to make bomb-grade fuel.
In the end, Lewis says, the only way to halt North Korea's progress may be to somehow convince the country's leaders that it's in their best interest to stop it themselves. That seems to have worked in the case of Iran, where a nuclear program was frozen in exchange for sanctions relief and other financial incentives.
North Korea, which has already developed nuclear weapons, is a considerably more difficult case, Lewis concedes. But if nothing is done, he expects their progress to continue apace.
"I think we watch too many superhero movies; we imagine that we can physically prevent people from doing this," Lewis says. "But it is so easy."

National Security


North Korea Designed A Nuke. So Did This Truck Driver

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/570806064/573464391" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NOEL KING, HOST:
This year, deep inside a mountain, North Korea detonated a giant nuclear bomb. It also launched missiles. And so for the first time since the Cold War ended, a lot of us ordinary Americans have started thinking about nuclear weapons. But one American, a big rig trucker, has been thinking about these weapons for decades, and he can't stop. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel has the story of his obsession with the bomb and what it can tell us about North Korea.
GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: John Coster-Mullen is 71 years old and lives in Milwaukee. He works for a major trucking firm delivering merchandise to big-box stores.
JOHN COSTER-MULLEN: Twelve hours a night, five days one week and six days the next.
BRUMFIEL: But for the past 24 years, Coster-Mullen has had an extraordinary hobby. He has carefully recreated detailed designs of America's very first nuclear weapons - Little Boy, the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, and Fat Man, the one that fell on Nagasaki. It all began in 1993 with a scheme to make a little money.
COSTER-MULLEN: The 50th anniversary was coming up on the bombs, and maybe I could make little replicas of the bombs and sell them.
BRUMFIEL: To him, it made sense. He'd grown up at the dawn of the atomic age and loved making models. He figured some like-minded baby boomer might buy them. Now, some companies were already making models of the bombs, but Coster-Mullen noticed their versions looked off. Maybe the tailfins were wrong or something like that. He thought he could do better.
COSTER-MULLEN: If you're going to do it, do it real, and I'm a perfectionist. I want everything where it should be.
BRUMFIEL: So to make his models, he drove 1,300 miles to the birthplace of the atomic bombs - Los Alamos, N.M. The museum there has accurate, full-scale replicas of Little Boy and Fat Man he could work from. As he designed his models, he decided he'd write a little brochure to go with them.
COSTER-MULLEN: And the brochure turned into a 431-page book.
BRUMFIEL: Coster-Mullen never sold a single model, but he's been adding to his bomb brochure ever since, building up what are basically complete specs on America's first nuclear weapons. He's traveled the country and the world to glean all sorts of supposedly secret details.
COSTER-MULLEN: Nobody leaked anything to me. I found all this information was hiding in plain sight.
BRUMFIEL: Like the time he went to a lecture by someone who'd worked on the development of the bombs and the guy had the special commemorative paperweight.
COSTER-MULLEN: It turned out that paperweight, that souvenir, the mold they poured the plastic in, it was the same mold they poured the plutonium into to make the cores.
BRUMFIEL: The small, nuclear cores at the center of the Fat Man-type bombs. So Coster-Mullen ran up after the lecture, made a few quick measurements and got what was once highly classified information. He also spends a lot of time poring over declassified photographs and documents and thinking about how the pieces they describe fit together.
COSTER-MULLEN: I've had a lot of those aha moments where it suddenly hits you. And when I'm driving at night, I've had a lot of these where it flashes in your head and you're like, oh, oh, oh, oh, my.
BRUMFIEL: Coster-Mullen lives for those aha moments, and they've added up to a very complete diagram of each bomb. I ask him to show me his design for Fat Man.
COSTER-MULLEN: I used to know the page numbers, but when you keep adding stuff, the page numbers get moved around. OK, there we go.
BRUMFIEL: Coster-Mullen drew it himself. The level of detail is incredible.
COSTER-MULLEN: The central core is the 3.5, 3.6-inch diameter plutonium core. That's what they were trying to compress.
BRUMFIEL: Coster-Mullen sells his book on Amazon. I tried to contact several former nuclear weapons designers about his work. None of them wanted to comment publicly on it. But Jeffrey Lewis, a scholar at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, says conversations he's had suggests the designs are reasonably close to the real thing.
JEFFREY LEWIS: I'm not in a position to judge, but I observe that people who are seem to take them seriously, and some of those people are alarmed.
BRUMFIEL: But Lewis has a little bit of a different take on this. He says Coster-Mullen's odyssey shows nuclear weapons just aren't that hard.
LEWIS: If a truck driver from Milwaukee can roughly replicate one, then that tells you that there is nothing mysterious about them.
BRUMFIEL: The only hard part is getting the uranium or plutonium to fuel the bomb, which brings us back to North Korea. It has both. Earlier this year, it conducted a massive nuclear test of a powerful weapon at least 10 times more destructive than the Hiroshima bomb. That led to a lot of talk about stopping North Korea from advancing its technology. But Lewis says that may not be possible.
LEWIS: I think we watch too many superhero movies. We imagine that we can physically prevent people from doing this, but it is so easy.
BRUMFIEL: That's why Lewis says the only way to halt North Korea's progress may be to somehow convince them that it's in their best interest to stop it themselves. Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPALACHES' "PISOECOURSE")
Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Siamese atomic twins re-joined


In her excellent ‘Long Read’ on the Hinkley C nuclear plant financial fiasco (“Hinkley Point: the ‘dreadful deal’ behind the world’s most expensive power plant,” Guardian, 21 December; www.theguardian.com/news/2017/dec/21/hinkley-point-c-dreadful-deal-behind-worlds-most-expensive-power-plant), Holly Watt mentions the innovative insight of Sussex University academics Prof. Andy Stirling and Dr Phil Johnstone who have identified the central importance of expansion of the  skill base of the  new nuclear build programme – headed by Hinkley C- for the  Trident  military nuclear WMD renewal programme

Indeed, in a little noticed report issued by the House of CommonsExiting the EU Committeepublished on 1st December-  on  The progress of the UK's negotiations on EU withdrawal,’ supporting industrial sectoral evidence  number 24 on the nuclear industry notes at para 13:

“There are also synergies between UK civil nuclear and the defence nuclear programme, particularly in terms of the transferability of the skilled workforce.”


In her article Ms Watt also mentions the first nuclear plant built on the same site, Hinkley A. What is barely acknowledged about this reactor is it was both built and operated to manufacture plutonium for British nuclear warheads, and probably some plutonium created in the reactor was sent to the US for use in its military stockpile too.

I have dug up considerable primary and secondary evidence that demonstrates this beyond any doubt.

The first public hint came with a public announcement on 17 June 1958 by the Ministry of Defence, on: “the production of plutonium suitable for weapons in the new [nuclear ] power stations programme as an insurance against future defence needs…”

A week later in the UK Parliament, Labour Roy Mason, (who incidentally later became Defence Secretary, why Her Majesty's Government had

 

“decided to modify atomic power stations, primarily planned for peaceful purposes, to

produce high-grade plutonium for war weapons?”

to be informed by the Conservative government’s Paymaster General, Reginald Maudling, who said, inter alia:

“At the request of the Government, the Central Electricity Generating Board has agreed to a small modification in the design of Hinkley Point …so as to enable plutonium suitable for military purposes to be extracted should the need arise. The Government made this request in order to provide the country, at comparatively small cost, with a most valuable insurance against possible future defence requirements. The cost of providing such insurance by any other means would be extremely heavy.”  (Hansard, 24 June 1958 columns 246-8; http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1958/jun/24/atomic-power-stations-plutonium#column_246)

The headline story in the Bridgwater Mercury, serving the community around Hinkley, on 24 June was:

 “Military Plutonium to be manufactured at Hinkley”

The newspaper described the plan as “an ingenious method.”

The nuclear world has thus turned full circle:  as the atomic Siamese twins that had been painfully separated for nearly fifty years are being  rejoined in an insidious way  by this new Conservative government.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Trump's most stupid decision yet!

Letter  sent to the Guardian:

Of all the stupid decisions Donald Trump has made a President, the inclusion in his administration’s new national security strategy of a threat to attack non nuclear targets with nuclear weapons surely ranks as the most dangerously stupid of all (“Trump says  US could use nuclear weapons against conventional attacks,” 19 December; https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/18/nuclear-weapons-trump-national-security-strategy)

 

The last time a serving US president threatened  the us eof nuclear WMDs against a nonnuclear foe was against China in the Korean war in 1950, when President  Harry S. Truman said in a presidential press conference at the White House on 30 November 1950 “We will take whatever steps are necessary to meet the military situation, just as we always have.” When challenged by the press corps with : “ Will that include the atomic bomb ?, Truman retorted “  That includes every weapon that we have…” adding ““There has always been active consideration of its use.” (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=13673)

 

The clear problem with such a strategy is it will encourage non nuclear states that  regard to United States as hostile to them - such as Iran and Venezuela- to obtain nuclear weapons to deter US attack; and current small scale  nuclear weapons powers, such as North Korea and Pakistan, to build up their atomic arsenals as a future hedge against invasion.

 

These states will have learned the painful lessons of both Iraq and Libya, whose leaders Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi, were overthrown after they disarmed themselves of nuclear WMDs.

 

Columnist Roger Cohen “Trump’s National Security Strategy Is a Farce,” writing in the New York Times, on 19 Dec. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/19/opinion/trump-national-security-strategy-tillerson-haley.html) asserts “President Trump and his team have several contradictory positions. That’s what happens when your priority as president is to use foreign policy to throw red meat to your base while other cabinet members are scrambling to stop Armageddon.

 

On15 December 2015 Donald Trump said “The biggest problem we have is nuclear—nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. That's in my opinion that is the single biggest problem that our country faces right now.”

                                                      

His new  national security posture  ensures that will happen.


Monday, 18 December 2017

Harrington needs to learn humility or be humiliated


You report energy minister Richard Harrington as asserting that critics of nuclear power were “na├»ve and simplistic.” (“Revival for reactors,” Business Section, 10 December 2017; ) https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/hitachi-boss-hiraoki-nakanishi-ups-the-ante-over-10bn-wales-nuclear-site-kfffgkknh), as he advocated further development of nuclear.

Mr Harrington has only been energy minister since 14 June this year. His background before he entered Parliament in 2010 was in property development. In university, he studied jurisprudence at Oxford. He has no background whatever in energy policy.

I was appointed by one of his predecessors as energy minister, Charles Hendry, as one of two non-governmental organization (ngo) representatives to the minister’s Geological Disposal Implementation Board for long lived radioactive waste, the remaining dozen  being representatives from the nuclear industry.

My abiding experience on that Board was the number  of times over three years participation  the almost Panglossian predictions of success of the nuclear sector turned out to be wrong, and the more cautiously critical contributions of the ngos turned out to be right.

Eventually the minister wound up the Board as he realised the UK was still years away from any form of “implementation.”

Personally, I have forty  years’  experience  (including a PhD in nuclear reactor choice) in  analyzing nuclear energy  policy - in the UK and abroad - and have published and spoken widely on the issue.

Mr Harrington would be wise to sound out the wider views of nuclear critics, whose predictions have a forty-year record of much  more accuracy than nuclear advocates.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Why does Hitachi-GE keep secret the security of its new reactor design?

 
I have written the letter below to the recently appointed chief Nuclear Inspector, Mark Foy, at the Office for Nuclear Regulation. I am publishing it because I genuinely believe in transparency:
 
Mark
I've just speed read hundreds of pages the joint regulators released today on the GDA for the Hitachi-GE ABWR.



Out of these hundreds of pages, I could find only two paragraphs that mention nuclear security issues.

5.17 Nuclear Security (Ref. 47)
http://www.onr.org.uk/new-reactors/uk-abwr/reports/uk-abwr-gda-dac-assessment.pdf
In addition to nuclear safety, ONR is responsible for the regulation of civil nuclear security.
Consequently, and complementary to the nuclear safety specialist assessments summarised elsewhere in this section of the report, ONR has examined Hitachi-GE’s conceptual security arrangements for the UK ABWR.
In particular, ONR specialist nuclear security inspectors considered:
 The adequacy (and outputs) of Hitachi-GE’s process for categorisation of nuclear and other radioactive material against theft or sabotage (to provide a proportionate and risk informed basis for its conceptual security plan);
 The adequacy (and outputs) of Hitachi-GE’s process for identification and categorisation of critical assets (including Computer Based Systems Important to Safety) and vital areas (VA);
 The adequacy and proportionality of the physical protection of identified assets, and demonstration of defence in depth to meet ‘National Objectives, Requirements and Model Standards for the Protective Security of Civil Licensed Nuclear Sites, Other Nuclear Premises and Nuclear Material in Transit’ (NORMS); and
 Evidence that safety requirements had been considered when developing security arrangements.
ONR notes that, at a later stage, the future licensee will need to develop site specific arrangements that are compatible with ONR’s Security Assessment Principles (Ref. 51), which has recently replaced NORMS.
ONR is satisfied that Hitachi-GE has satisfactorily conducted a comprehensive VA identification analysis (using a UK design basis threat), and has generated a well-defined list of areas requiring protection.
To prevent unauthorised access to such facilities, Hitachi-GE has adopted ‘defence-in depth’, through which, a series of sequential barriers and access controls ensure that only those personnel with appropriate authorisation can gain access to relevant areas.
As a consequence, ONR is satisfied that the claims, arguments and evidence presented in the Conceptual Security Arrangements are such that, from a nuclear security perspective, the design is suitable for construction in GB.


The Design Acceptance Confirmation  (DAC) document makes a single reference to an ONR document.

Step 4 Assessment Report – Security, UK ABWR GDA - ONR-NR-AR-17-026, 2017/98310



Could you provide me with this  ONR document, and draw my attention to any other references to security assessment in the GDA suite of documents that I may have overlooked. I find the imbalance between one part of the ONR mission, ie safety, to which hundreds of pages are devoted, and security, meriting barely two paragraphs, extraordinary.


Is there any coherent explanation for this. I know Hitachi declined to publish a single word on  security. Could you  inform me  what is the total number of pages their secret security documentation comprises?

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Grenfell victims still need urgent action

Deborah Orr writes critically but movingly about the impact of the Grenfell tower fire on the mental wellbeing of its surviving victims. (“The Grenfell survivors don’t need our pity – they need homes,” 9 December; https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/08/grenfell-tower-survivors-homes-fire)

In a written answer to Labour’s shadow fire safety and housing spokesperson Chris Williamson, health minister Jackie Doyle-Price asserted on 1 December:

“Mental health support for people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire has been co-ordinated by West London Clinical Commissioning Group and Central and North West London Foundation Trust with support from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

In response a proactive ‘screen and treat’ programme was established in August to support individuals in the local area potentially affected by the fire. In addition, emotional support is being provided through outreach and intervention provision in the community such as drop-in support, psychological first aid, counselling and support groups which can be accessed by anyone in the local area.

The local health sector is committed to responding to the needs and wishes of the local community. It is aiming to achieve this through continued joint working with other local agencies and community groups, listening to feedback from the community and the development of an agile dynamic service model to respond quickly to changing demands of those affected.”
 
It is very clear this arrangement, as with so many others in response to the Grenfell tragedy, is very far from sufficient, and that collectively the promises of several ministers –including the prime minister- to take urgent action to address the causes and consequences have failed.

This failure itself needs urgent rectification, as your front page news report ("Grenfell:call for families to be heard at last," 12 Dec.; https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/dec/11/grenfell-tower-police-investigating-corporate-manslaughter-offences)
and Amelia Gentleman's sensitive analysis of the Grenfell rehousing failures  on the same day (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/dec/11/homeless-because-of-a-tragedy-struggle-to-rehouse-grenfell-survivors-continues) demonstrate.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Nobel Peace Prize winners ICAN show way forward for multilateral nuclear disarmament



Letter sent to The Times:
I find it hard to understand why you did not find room on the 34 pages you devoted to news on Monday (Dec 10) to the ceremony in Oslo awarding the  2017 Nobel Peace Prize (www.nobelprize.org) to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), despite having reported the award when it was originally announced two months ago (Oct 6, www.thetimes.co.uk/article/international-campaign-to-abolish-nuclear-weapons-wins-nobel-peace-prize-wf0fqr8gj)


In that report, you noted that the Nobel peace prize award [to ICAN) has “so far been shunned by Britain and the other atomic weapon powers.” Sadly, this continued at the ceremony itself, when the UK declined to send its  Ambassador to Norway or its International disarmament ambassador, based in Geneva, to the ceremony, despite ICAN having a very active British chapter.
This calculated snub is even more inexplicable, as the nuclear weapons ban treaty adopted by the United Nations in July, for which ICAN was the key driving force  - and was signed by 122 non-nuclear weapons countries- is a multilateral treaty advocating  collective nuclear disarmament, which is British Government policy.
Amongst ICAN's supporters in Britain are Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR, an organisation of about 750 natural scientists, social scientists, engineers, and other professionals in related areas) and the Medical Campaign  Against Nuclear Weapons (Medact), the UK chapter of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which published key analysis of the  humanitarian and ecological impact of the use of nuclear weapons earlier this year (A Safer World; www.medact.org/2017/resources/reports/safer-world-treating-britains-harmful-dependence-nuclear-weapons)
 
Three years ago this week on behalf of Medact (and as part of an ICAN-UK delegation), I attended the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (https://www.bmeia.gv.at/en/european-foreign-policy/disarmament/weapons-of-mass-destruction/nuclear-weapons-and-nuclear-terrorism/vienna-conference-on-the-humanitarian-impact-of-nuclear-weapons/, organized by the Austrian Foreign Ministry, which immediately followed a two day international meeting organized by ICAN in the Austrian capital on how to achieve a nuclear weapons ban.
 
Both conferences provided the foundation for the international nuclear weapons ban treaty.
 
Although the US Administration (under President Obama, who himself won the Nobel Peace Prize for his own nuclear disarmament initiatives)  did send its disarmament ambassador to the inter-governmental event in Vienna, the UK boycotted it.
 
It is about time the Foreign Office began to implement its oft-stated commitment to multilateral nuclear disarmament, to which it currently pays lip service, and not ignore or snub international meetings established under the auspices of the United Nations and allies such as Austria, to find collegiate ways to implement  British nuclear disarmament policy.
 

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Atomic gimmick endangers our security

Letter sent to the Guardian:

Cheerleaders for new nuclear  power plants, including small modular reactors (SMRs) such as Justin Bowden, trades union GMB’s national secretary for energy (“Millions on offer to develop small nuclear plants," 4 December; https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/dec/03/mini-nuclear-power-stations-uk-government-funding ) are recklessly promoting this new version of an already failed technology, ignoring the very serious negative  consequences of their  nations wide deployment.

Aside from there being no plan to deal with the very extensive  radioactive waste they would create ( it is like  taking off in an aircraft without  landing gear on board!), they would  have to be  located on multiple greenfield sites very close to  dense urban areas and industrial  parks - which is very unlikely to be popular with local communities -  because the economics of SMRs only makes any semblance of sense if the  excess heat they  create can be  piped into local heat  grids, according to an analysis by the Energy Technology Institute‘s detailed report  published in September last  year (http://www.eti.co.uk/library/preparing-for-deployment-of-a-uk-small-modular-reactor-by-2030), updated by the institute’s energy programme manager Dr Mike Middleton,  last month (http://www.eti.co.uk/library/etis-strategy-manager-mike-middleton-presents-the-role-for-small-modular-reactors-in-a-uk-low-carbon-economy).

But the most disturbing aspect of SMRs is the additional security threat they will create, not only by proliferating targets for the multiple terrorist groups who have already identified nuclear plants are prime targets, as the  capture of  documents and hard discs from terror groups demonstrate, but also they would  multiply the number of  nuclear transports by road and rail manifold, at a time when the  national nuclear regulator (office for nuclear regulation, ONR) is under huge  resource pressure, as the responsibility for nuclear ‘safeguards’ is being transferred  to ONR under the  nuclear safeguards bill, currently  undergoing scrutiny in Parliament. (https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/nuclearsafeguards.html; https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmpublic/nuclear/memo/nsb06.htm)

When I met with the business and energy department (BEIS) officials at the department over a year ago to discuss the SMR programme, they alarmingly conceded they had not  considered the additional security risks SMRs create; I hope they have done so now.

This SMR strategy is an expensive, dangerous and unnecessary atomic gimmick, alongside the environmental gimmicks of which your second leader warns. (“Environmental policy must be about more than gimmicks,” 5 December; https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/04/the-guardian-view-on-green-toryism-it-must-go-beyond-gimmicks)