Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Ramping up of nuclear power in the UK: implications for nuclear secrecy and insecurity

From 10-13 April I attended the European Environment Foundation Convention of Environmental Laureates, in Freiburg, Germany.

I presented this paper at a session on sustainable and unsustainable energy.

Let me start with the Global Nuclear Security Conference, The Hague Netherlands, in March 2014

The final communiqué of the Global Nuclear Security Conference that was held last month in The Hague insisted that “measures to strengthen nuclear security will not hamper the rights of States to develop and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes”.

Dr Victor Gilinsky, a former member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, noted in 2009 that “even so-called arms controllers fall over themselves trying to establish their bona fides by supporting nuclear energy development and devising painless proposals...” (A call to resist the nuclear revival’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 27 January 2009;


That mentality was in evidence at the NSS, just as it was at the IAEA nuclear security conference in Austria last July.


But sensibly Gilinsky advocates a reversal of priorities: “Security should come first − not as an afterthought. We should support as much nuclear power as is consistent

with international security; not as much security as the spread of nuclear power will allow.”


And in my view that means zero nuclear power.


Hiroshima Report


At the start of this week, Center for the Promotion of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (CPDNP) at the Japan Institute for International Affairs  in Hiroshima, Japan issued a 165 page report on Evaluation of Achievement in Nuclear Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Security: 2014.


The section on nuclear security says the following:


“Firstly there is no legally binding, universal instrument as regards nuclear security. In this regard, United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 is expected to serve as a legally binding, universal instrument; however, as the report obligation of the resolution has not been fulfilled, it does not function as it is supposed to.


Secondly, due to the sensitivity of nuclear security-related information, it is very difficult to obtain

comprehensive information for the evaluation of the actual nuclear security status on a per

country basis. Nuclear security-related information, particularly regarding threat assessment, a

Design Basis Threat (DBT)… physical protection systems for facilities and transport of nuclear

and other radiological material, as well as the nuclear security plan of each state, is confidential

information for counter-terrorism reasons and is shared only among a very limited group of

people with “need-to-know” status.


Thirdly, the responsibility of the nuclear security of a state entirely rests with the individual state. In other words, nuclear security requirements need to be established based on national decisions and sovereignty. Each state decides what level of nuclear security requirements to impose in accordance with its own national threat assessment.”




I agree with this summary of the problem.


Let me be more concrete.


In Britain, the biggest nuclear security problem is the huge nuclear facility at Sellafield, originally built in the early 1950on England’s north  west coast, in Cumbria, which is also home of the wonderful Lake District National Park.


Sellafield, however, is also the home of hundreds of decaying and decrepit building, many stores of liquid and solid radioactive waste, and, from a security perspective, most importantly, 111 tonnes of weapons–useable plutonium.


Let me give you that figure in another way. 111 tonnes is 111,000 kilogrammes.


A nuclear bomb can be made with as little as 5 Kilogrammes, about the size of a  large orange.


As a result of a recent security review, the Sellafield management decided to strengthen the perimeter fence around the site. Unfortunately in doing so they unintentionally captured a small herd of wild deer. But rather than releasing the corralled deer, they shot them, as the local newspaper, the Whitehaven News revealed last week. Their headline ran:


Three deer shot dead as Sellafield carries out cull



In an increasing uncertain world, using nuclear explosive materials such as plutonium as a fuel to generate electricity or to create plutonium as a by-product of running a nuclear power plant has to be justified if there is no  alternative.


A huge remaining and unsolved problem is the insecurity of the storage  buildings for  the waste products arising from  operating a nuclear power reactor.


We are often told these stores are robust against terrorist attack.


Well have a look at this test demonstration:


January 2008 Test of a Raytheon Shaped Charge, Intended as the Penetration

(Precursor) Stage of a Tandem Warhead System



Before Test


After Test (viewed from the attacked face)



(a) These photographs are from: Raytheon, 2008. For additional, supporting information,

see: Warwick, 2008.

(b) The shaped-charge jet penetrated about 5.9 m into a steel-reinforced concrete block

with a thickness of 6.1 m. Although penetration was incomplete, the block was largely

destroyed, as shown. Compressive strength of the concrete was 870 bar.

(c) The shaped charge had a diameter of 61 cm and contained 230 kg of high explosive.

It was sized to fit inside the US Air Force’s AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile.

(Dr Gordon Thompson, Director, Institute for Resource and Security Studies, Cambridge, Mass, USA- Comments on the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s

Waste Confidence Generic Environmental Impact Statement,

Draft Report for Comment (September 2013)


In a paper I presented in February this year to a meeting of concerned NGO stakeholders hosted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change  in London, I argued that I wanted to :


demonstrate how ministers in the Coalition Government  prozelytize one message of  nonproliferation and increased counter terrorism measures to enhance nuclear security, while simultaneously taking forward a nuclear energy policy that utterly undermines this aim, through both promotion of an expansion of new nuclear power plants in the UK, re-use of  plutonium in MOX fuel through normalising the use of  plutonium -  the prime nuclear explosive material, in commercial nuclear fuel - and seeking to re-establish a global nuclear technology sales, nuclear services provision and nuclear material sales programme.


I titled my paper: The UK, the unintended proliferator.

In some detail I argued:

“In my view, ministers are suffering from acute cognitive dissonance when pursuing their twin-track policies of nuclear promotion and nuclear controls. What do I mean by this?

“Social psychologists refer to cognitive dissonance as the presence of incongruent relations among cognitions (thought and understanding) that frequently results in excessive mental stress and discomfort. Ultimately, individuals who hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas and/or values frequently experience cognitive dissonance.”

This is a very dangerous condition for senior decision-makers when dealing with a technology that carries the twin dread-threat of a major accident and malevolent misuse by determined terrorists.”

In early January, the respected Washington DC-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) published its latest annual report. The NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a mission to strengthen global security by reducing the risk of use and preventing the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and to work to build the trust, transparency, and security that are preconditions to the ultimate fulfillment of the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s goals and ambitions.

Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former IAEA secretary-general, said of NTI:

 “The Nuclear Threat Initiative is a role model for me of a private-public partnership in issues of security and of survival... NTI has been a trailblazer."

NTI publishes a table in its new report that ought to set the alarm bells ringing in DECC and across Whitehall, in its placing the UK bottom in terms of its nuclear materials  security provisions of the 25 countries NTI identified as having the nuclear materials and technologies capable of  making nuclear nuclear WMDs.


Rank / 25 Score / 100 Δ

=1 Argentina 100 +5

=1 Australia 100 +5

3 Uzbekistan 95 +5

4 Iran 89 –

=5 Belarus 84 –

=5 Poland 84 +6

7 Norway 83 -5

8 South Africa 79 +6

9 Italy 73 –

10 Switzerland 72 –

11 Canada 67 –

=12 Belgium 62 +6

=12 Germany 62 –

=12 Netherlands 62 -5

15 North Korea 60 –

16 Kazakhstan 57 -6

17 Israel 44 –

=18 China 34 –

=18 France 34 –

=20 Russia 23 –

=20 United States 23 –

=22 India 22 –

=22 Japan 22 –

=22 Pakistan 22 –

25 United Kingdom 11

*Full UK scores across all security categories may be seen at p.134.

“There is no question that securing nuclear materials is a grave, sovereign responsibility. At the same time, the threat is global, and all countries must work to reduce that threat.


That was the conclusion of the authoritative Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2014 Report, published in Washington DC, 8 January 2014.


Unfortunately far too many nuclear authorities and Governments like the UK’s, who mix up nuclear security with nuclear cheer-leading, are acting  more like Homer from the Simpsons!


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