Last week the UK hosted a side-meeting with the title ‘The Challenges and Opportunities of Modular Reactors’ at the annual conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.( https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/general-conference-day-3-highlights-19-september-2018)
The IAEA summed up the meeting, saying “At the United Kingdom’s event on, UK policy makers, regulators and industry shared their experience regarding financing, manufacturing and regulatory challenges and opportunities related to modular reactors.”
It was a last gasp of a dying dinosaur, desperately grasping at SMRs instead of the technologically failing, economically catastrophic, Gigawatt–size, Hinkley C-style failing reactor.
I challenged several of the myths and highlighted the particular nuclear terrorism and security problems posed by SMRs in a controversial ( for their promoters) presentation to the European Atomic Energy Forum (ENEF) in Bratislava, Slovakia, on 5 June this year ( see: SMRs promoters must face up to some very inconvenient truths ( 70-page paper.http://www.nuclear-transparency-watch.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Nuclear-SMR-promoters-must-face-up-to-some-inconvenient-truths.pdf)
The day after the UK SMR presentation in Vienna, the UK Parliament Public Accounts Committee released a highly critical report of the renewal programme for the British nuclear WMD programme, Trident, under the neutral sounding title ‘Ministry of Defence nuclear programme’ (https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/1028/102802.htm)
Interestingly, this report has a very intriguing relationship with the promoters of SMRs, which needs to be spelled out.
In a section titled ‘Ensuring the right structures and skills’, the MPs explain: “In 2008, the National Audit Office* reported that the arrangements for overseeing the Enterprise were not effective. No single senior responsible owner (SRO) covered the whole Enterprise. Subsequently, the Department introduced a devolved model, with one team retaining control over significant nuclear programmes, and responsibility for the Dreadnought programme passing to Defence Equipment & Support, an executive agency of the Department. After 2014, the Department increasingly recognised the need to improve these governance arrangements. The Permanent Secretary told us the robustness of arrangements that had previously been in place could have been better and that developing and implementing plans for the introduction of the Defence Nuclear Organisation (DNO) and the Submarine Delivery Agency (SDA) took up much of his time when he was appointed in 2016. He was confident that the governance arrangements had been ‘seriously improved.’ In its report, the National Audit Office identified broadly positive initial feedback following creation of the SDA and DNO, although there remained lots to do. The Department told us it will continually review the effectiveness of arrangements, pointing to the example of the Defence Nuclear Enterprise Board, which had become unwieldy and has since been reformed.”
The reported added: “All aspects of the Enterprise require specialist skills and face continuing challenges in securing the required expertise, particularly nuclear and commercial, which is in short supply nationally. In January 2018, for example, the Department identified a shortage of 337 skilled personnel across seven nuclear specialisms. Since that point the Department said there had been improvements. Also, the Director General Nuclear told us that DNO had now filled 250 of its 300 posts, with a further 30 to be filled in the next four months. Its focus was now to strengthen the commercial team handling the Atomic Weapons Establishment. For SDA, there was a need for staff to manage supplier development and improvements to supply chain resilience. It is also looking to strengthen those teams which examine costs in detail, and is increasing its intake of graduates to 30 a year from September 2018, along with 10 apprentices. The Second Sea Lord told us that the situation in the Navy was improving as a result of initiatives to increase apprenticeships, train personnel more quickly, and invest in the submariner community to consolidate them around Faslane and the Clyde and to reduce the number leaving.”
The section concluded:”Given the complexity of programmes across the Enterprise, the organisations involved need to have the right leadership. Director General Nuclear stated that finding the right people was the biggest risk to his programme, and the Chief Executive of the SDA also considered maintaining and growing the skills base were his biggest risks. In view of the long timescales involved in Enterprise programmes and the importance of close working between organisations and their senior personnel, we were concerned that performance might be affected by churn amongst senior staff. Witnesses agreed that future success required time and commitment and told us initial thought had been given to succession planning.”
* The Defence Nuclear Enterprise: a landscape review The Comptroller and Auditor General,
HC 1003 SESSION 2017–2019 22 MAY 2018; https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/The-Defence-Nuclear-Enterprise-a-landscape-review.pdf )
The key to understanding the link betweenthe MOD’s perceive dneed to retain and enhance its nuclear skills base, and SMRS, has been very cleverly analysed by two academics based at the Science Policy Research Unit, at Sussex University. Luckily they have written up their analysis in two accessible Guardian articles, one from August 2015, another from March this year, both reproduced below, as well as submitting evidence directly to the Public Accounts Committee(PAC)( Professor Andrew Stirling and Dr Philip Johnstone, Written evidence from the University of Sussex, Science Policy Research Unit; (BRN0015)
An updated version was published as a chapter in the annual World Nuclear Industry Status Report, released in London on 4 September ( see my blog from 5 September 2018: ‘Interdependencies between civil and military nuclear infrastructures in the UK revealed’; http://drdavidlowry.blogspot.com/2018/09/interdependencies-between-civil-and.html)
At the end of last month, an award- winning pro-nuclear power self-styled environmentalist, Michael Shellenberger, President of California-based Environmental Progress wrote an extraordinary article in the US business magazine, Forbes, reproduced below, in which he bluntly stated:
“in seeking to deny the connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, the nuclear community today finds itself in the increasingly untenable position of having to deny these real world connections — of motivations and means — between the two….
Nuclear energy, without a doubt, is spreading and will continue to spread around the world, largely with national security as a motivation.
The question is whether the nuclear industry will, alongside anti-nuclear activists, persist in stigmatizing weapons latency as a nuclear power “bug” rather than tout it as the epochal, peace-making feature it is.”
Why is the UK government so infatuated with nuclear power?
As the nuclear option looks less and less sensible, it becomes harder to explain Whitehall’s enthusiasm. Might it be to do with the military?
Andy Stirling and Phil Johnstone
Andy Stirling is a professor and Phil Johnstone is a research fellow at SPRU, University of Sussex
Guardian, 29 March 2018
Against a worldwide background of declining fortunes for nuclear power, UK policy enthusiasm continues to intensify. Already pursuing one of the most ambitious nuclear new-build agendas in the world, Britain is seeking to buck 50 years of experience to develop an entirely new and untested design of small modular reactors (SMRs). In 2016, then energy and climate secretary, Amber Rudd, summed up the government’s position: “Investing in nuclear is what this government is all about for the next 20 years.”
Despite unique levels of long-term policy support, this nuclear new-build programme is severely delayed, with no chance of operations beginning as intended “significantly before 2025”, Costs have mushroomed, with even government figures showing renewables like offshore wind to already be far more affordable. With renewable costs still plummeting, global investments in these alternatives are now already greater than for all conventional generating technologies put together. With worldwide momentum so clear, the scale of UK nuclear ambitions are an international anomaly.
Unswerving British nuclear support contrasts sharply with obstructive national policy on other technologies. In 2015 various strategies supporting renewables and energy efficiency were abandoned, with the cheapest UK low-carbon power (onshore wind), effectively halted. The consequences of these cuts are now clear. The output of community energy projects has fallen by 99.4%. National investment in renewables has halved. Meanwhile, UK industrial strategy continues to prioritise nuclear. Nuclear R&D gets 12 times as much funding as renewables in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s “Energy Innovation Programme”. Instead of considering alternatives to spiralling nuclear costs, the UK government is looking to accommodate them with entirely new models of public financing. It seems clear that – for some undeclared reason and regardless of comparative costs or global trends – Britain simply must have new nuclear power.
The depth of this Whitehall bias creates a challenging environment for reasoned debate over British energy policy. To many, it seems scarcely believable that UK plans are so massively out of sync with current trends. The sheer weight of UK nuclear incumbency has successfully marginalised the entirely reasonable understanding that – like many technologies before it – nuclear power is simply going obsolete.
With direct reasons for the UK’s eccentric national position still unstated, we should pay attention to body language. Here, clues may be found in the work of the National Audit Office (NAO). Its 2017 report of 2017 points out serious flaws in the economic case for new nuclear – highlighting “unquantified”, “strategic” reasons why the UK still prioritises new nuclear despite the setbacks and increasingly attractive alternatives. Yet the NAO remains uncharacteristically unclear as to what these reasons might be.
An earlier NAO report may shed more light. Their 2008 costing of military nuclear activities states: “One assumption of the future deterrent programme is that the United Kingdom submarine industry will be sustainable and that the costs of supporting it will not fall directly on the future deterrent programme.” If the costs of keeping the national nuclear submarine industry in business must fall elsewhere, what could that other budget be?
Although unstated, by far the most likely source for such support is a continuing national civil nuclear programme. And this where the burgeoning hype around UK development of SMRs comes in. Leading designs for these reactors are derived directly from submarine propulsion. British nuclear submarine reactor manufacturer Rolls-Royce is their most enthusiastic champion. But, amid intense media choreography, links between SMRs and submarines remain (aside from reports of our own work) barely discussed in the UK press.
This neglect is odd, because the issues are very clear. Regretting that military programmes are no longer underwritten by civil nuclear research, a heavily redacted 2014 MoD report expresses serious concerns over the continued viability of the UK nuclear submarine industry. And Rolls-Royce itself is clear that success in securing government investment for SMRs would “relieve the Ministry of Defence of the burden of developing and retaining skills and capability” for the UK’s military nuclear sector. Other defence sources are also unambiguous that survival of the British nuclear submarine industry depends on continuation of UK civil nuclear power. Many new government initiatives focus intently on realising the military and civil synergies.
Some nuclear enthusiasts have called this analysis a conspiracy theory, but these links are now becoming visible. In response to our own recent evidence to the UK Public Accounts Committee, a senior civil servant briefly acknowledged the connections. And with US civil nuclear programmes collapsing, the submarine links are also strongly emphasised by a former US energy secretary. Nuclear submarines are evidently crucial to Britain’s cherished identity as a “global power”. It seems that Whitehall’s infatuation with civil nuclear energy is in fact a military romance.
So why does the UK debate on these issues remain so muted? It is now beyond serious dispute that nuclear power has been overtaken by the extraordinary pace of progress in renewables. But – for those so minded – the military case for nuclear power remains. In a democracy, it might be expected that these arguments at least be tested in public. So, the real irrationality is that an entire policy arena should so comprehensively fail to debate such crucial issues. In the end, all technologies become obsolete. If we are not honest about UK civil nuclear policy, the danger is that British democracy may go the same way.
Shining a light on Britain’s nuclear state
Debates over Trident and energy policy are rarely joined up. But are there deeper links between Britain’s nuclear deterrent and its commitment to nuclear power?
Phil Johnstone and Andy Stirling
Fri 7 Aug 2015
Two momentous issues facing David Cameron’s government concern nuclear infrastructure. The new secretary of state for energy, Amber Rudd, recently confirmed her enthusiasm for what is arguably the most expensive infrastructure project in British history: the Hinkley Point C power station. At the same time, a decision is pressing on a similarly eye-watering commitment to renew Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
Ostensibly distinct, both of these issues are intensely controversial, extremely expensive, agonisingly protracted, and often accompanied by vicious political rhetoric. Yet commentators rarely ask how these decisions might be connected. Could such links help to explain the strength of the UK’s nuclear lobby? Britain remains one of only a handful of countries committed to a “nuclear renaissance”, with senior government figures asserting the manifest falsehood that there is “no alternative” to nuclear power. Meanwhile, support for renewables and energy efficiency has been cut.
It seems that Whitehall is in denial about the widely acknowledged performance trends of nuclear power and renewables. The reality is that renewables manifestly outperform nuclear power as low carbon energy sources. Successive UK and international studies show they are already more competitive than nuclear. And renewables costs continue to fall. Yet after more than half a century of development (and far greater levels of cumulative public support), nuclear costs keep rising. The performance gap just keeps on growing.
Nor is there any good excuse for ignoring such overblown nuclear promises. Problems of reactor safety, nuclear waste and weapons proliferation remain unsolved. Nuclear security risks are uniquely grave. With finance in question and technical difficulties mounting, the deteriorating prospects of the Hinkley project are the latest episode in a familiar pattern.
So why is the UK so persistent in pursuing new nuclear power? If the nuclear lobby is driving this, why have other countries with stronger nuclear industries nonetheless developed far more sceptical positions? In the case of Germany, this has meant the country with the world’s most successful nuclear industry and a less attractive renewable resource than the UK, nonetheless undertaking a wholesale shift from one to the other.
One striking factor is an apparently strong correlation between those countries most eager to construct new nuclear with those expressing a desire to maintain nuclear weapons. But care is needed before jumping to conclusions. Historically, links between enthusiasms for nuclear power and nuclear weapons are well-explored. Almost all the attention here has focused on possibilities for diverting nuclear weapons materials like highly enriched uranium and plutonium. These connections were crucial in early nuclear developments, and remain so in contemporary proliferation threats. But it is highly doubtful they explain the UK situation. An elaborate global nuclear safeguards regime introduces formidable barriers. And the UK has since the end of the Cold War maintained enormous gluts of key weapons materials.
There are other more neglected questions. What if the links are less to do with the weapons themselves and more to do with wider technological systems required to run the associated nuclear submarines? It is, after all, these amazing feats of engineering whose range, capacities and undetectability aspire to make nuclear deterrence credible. As emphasised in debates during the general election, this infrastructure relies on very particular kinds of design expertise, engineering skills, supply chains and regulatory capabilities.
Are there worries that loss of national civilian nuclear capacities will erode the capabilities required to make the UK’s nuclear deterrent credible? By analogy with other countries, is there something akin to a UK ‘deep state’ fearful of losing the cherished elite identity on the world stage conferred by nuclear deterrence? After all, a distinctive British “warfare state” has been shown by the historian David Edgerton to exercise strong influence on national technology strategies.
The obscure provisions of the US/UK memorandum of understanding concerning transfer of nuclear submarine technology make it hard to answer these questions. But it seems the UK is committed to maintaining its own independent nuclear submarine supply chain – precluding the kind of foreign dependency (on France, China and others) now pervading the civilian nuclear industry.
This might help to explain the resounding official silence on this matter. The separation between civilian and military nuclear activities is one of the most sacrosanct principles in global politics. It forms one of the most imminent threats of war. And – like other nations – the UK is bound by numerous treaty commitments which are foundational to the international order. So, it would be naïve to expect too much candour.
Yet there may be other clues. Looking back to the New Labour era, one may lie in the remarkable flurry of activity that immediately followed a rare and brief loss of control, in which the 2003 energy white paper firmly concluded nuclear power was “unattractive” – instead backing renewables and energy efficiency.
This exercise was driven by an unusual and temporary innovation in UK policymaking, in which the newly-formed Cabinet Office Performance and Innovation Unit broke with normal practice, by recruiting external experts on independently-evaluated merit. When this allowed an independent look at nuclear power within government, the ‘deep state’ evidently developed a rare breach.
What followed was one of the most spectacular U-turns in recent British politics. After only three years, a cursory further energy review was completed in 2006. Despite unchanged conditions and no new arguments, this reinstated a strongly pro-nuclear policy. Although the 2006 paper was itself overturned by judicial review on the grounds of being too superficial, the Blair government retorted that any further appraisal “won’t affect the policy at all”.
Since then, UK nuclear commitments have once again dug in deep. But no government – including the present one – has ever properly explained why.
What has not been examined until now is the intense policy commotion behind the scenes during this same period on the arcane topic of submarines. By 2004, the well-funded Keep Our Future Afloat Campaign (KOFAC) was underway. Run by a consortium of nuclear industry, trade union and nuclear-dependent local authorities, this was among the country’s most effective lobby groups. Aiming to maintain a UK nuclear submarine industry, KOFAC’s activities were not confined to the military sector. It also engaged enthusiastically in energy policy consultations, highlighting the importance of a shared skills pool for the military and civilian nuclear sectors.
Evidently commissioned following the off-piste 2003 nuclear white paper, a report was produced for the ministry of defence in 2005 by RAND Europe. This detailed the risks posed to UK nuclear submarine capabilities, and the deterrent more broadly, by a depleted workforce and skills base. Aided by KOFAC, the RAND study triggered a series of related documents from MoD and other security institutions. Defence select committee inquiries were undertaken and a new white paper was produced, reaffirming the commitment to a submarine-based nuclear deterrent. At the same time, anxious parliamentary briefings appeared, new research programmes were initiated – and regulatory agencies joined the clamour on the civilian side to “keep the nuclear option open”.
Joining these efforts, submarine producer BAE Systems set up a key suppliers group to improve co-ordination among nuclear contractors. This culminated in 2009, with the government launching the Nuclear Skills Institute whose remit again quietly spans the linkages between crucial skills across civilian and defence sectors.
So the links between UK civilian nuclear power and military interests in nuclear submarines run deep. What is remarkable is the complete lack of discussion these provoke in the media, public policy documents, or wider critical debate. Yet the stakes are very high. Does the commitment to a submarine based nuclear deterrent help to explain the intensity of high-level UK support for costly, risky and slow nuclear power, rather than cheaper, quicker and cleaner renewable technologies?
If so, the conclusions are not self-evident. For some supporters of a nuclear deterrent, the additional burdens of nuclear power may seem entirely reasonable. But the almost total silence on these connections raises crucial implications for democracy. Imminent decisions that the government must take over nuclear power and the nuclear deterrent are hugely significant. There is a responsibility on all involved to be open and accountable. Otherwise, it will not just be electricity consumers and taxpayers that pay the price, but British democracy itself.
Phil Johnstone is a research fellow and Andy Stirling is a professor of science and technology policy at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex.
Nuclear power lobbyist Michael Shellenberger learns to love the bomb
The Ecologist, 20th September 2018
Decades of deceit have been thrown overboard with the new nuclear sales pitch, argues JIM GREEN. The new sales pitch openly links nuclear power to weapons and argues that weapons programs will be jeopardised unless greater subsidies are provided for the civil nuclear industry
Shellenberger has gone down a rabbit hole with his two essays promoting the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
In 2015, Nuclear Monitor published a detailed analysis of the many ways nuclear industry insiders and lobbyists trivialise and deny the connections between nuclear power - and the broader nuclear fuel cycle - and nuclear weapons proliferation.
Since then, the arguments have been turned upside down with prominent industry insiders and lobbyists openly acknowledging power-weapons connections. This remarkable about-turn has clear origins in the crisis facing nuclear power and the perceived need to secure increased subsidies to prevent reactors closing and to build new ones.
The new sales pitch openly links nuclear power to weapons and argues that weapons programs will be jeopardised unless greater subsidies are provided for the civil nuclear industry. The US Nuclear Energy Institute, for example, tried in mid-2017 to convince politicians in Washington that if the only reactor construction projects in the US ‒ in South Carolina and Georgia ‒ weren't completed, it would stunt development of the nation's nuclear weapons complex.
The Nuclear Energy Institute paper wasn't publicly released. But in the second half of 2017, numerous nuclear insiders and lobbyists openly acknowledged power-weapons connections and called for additional subsidies for nuclear power. The most important of these initiatives was a paper by the Energy Futures Initiative ‒ a creation of Ernest Moniz, who served as energy secretary under President Barack Obama.
The uranium industry jumps on the bandwagon
Even the uranium industry has jumped on the bandwagon, with two US companies warning that reliance on foreign sources threatens national security and lodging a petition with the Department of Commerce calling for US utilities to be required to purchase a minimum 25 percent of their requirements from domestic mines.
Decades of deceit have been thrown overboard with the new sales pitch linking nuclear power and weapons. However there are still some hold-outs. Until recently, one nuclear lobbyist continuing to deny power-weapons connections was Michael Shellenberger from the 'Environmental Progress' pro-nuclear lobby group in the US.
Shellenberger told an IAEA conference last year that "nuclear energy prevents the spread of nuclear weapons". And he claimed last year that "one of FOE-Greenpeace's biggest lies about nuclear energy is that it leads to weapons" and that there is an "inverse relationship between energy and weapons".
In two articles published in August, Shellenberger has done a 180-degree backflip on the power-weapons connections. "[N]ational security, having a weapons option, is often the most important factor in a state pursuing peaceful nuclear energy", Shellenberger now believes.
A recent analysis from Environmental Progress finds that of the 26 nations that are building or are committed to build nuclear power plants, 23 have nuclear weapons, had weapons, or have shown interest in acquiring weapons.
"While those 23 nations clearly have motives other than national security for pursuing nuclear energy," Shellenberger writes, "gaining weapons latency appears to be the difference-maker. The flip side also appears true: nations that lack a need for weapons latency often decide not to build nuclear power plants ... Recently, Vietnam and South Africa, neither of which face a significant security threat, decided against building nuclear plants ..."
Here is the break-down of the 26 countries that are building or are committed to build nuclear power plants according to the Environmental Progress report:
· Thirteen nations had a weapons program, or have shown interest in acquiring a weapon: Argentina, Armenia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Iran, Japan, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, UAE.
· Seven nations have weapons (France, US, Britain, China, Russia, India and Pakistan), two had weapons as part of the Soviet Union (Ukraine and Belarus), and one (Slovakia) was part of a nation (Czechoslovakia) that sought a weapon.
· Poland, Hungary, and Finland are the only three nations (of the 26) for which Environmental Progress could find no evidence of weapons latency as a motivation.
Current patterns connecting the pursuit of power and weapons stretch back across the 60 years of civilian nuclear power. Shellenberger notes that "at least 20 nations sought nuclear power at least in part to give themselves the option of creating a nuclear weapon" ‒ Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, France, Italy, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Libya, Norway, Romania, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, West Germany, Yugoslavia.
Shellenberger points to research by Fuhrmann and Tkach which found that 31 nations had the capacity to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium, and that 71% of them created that capacity to give themselves weapons latency.
Nuclear weapons ‒ a force for peace?
So far, so good. The pursuit of nuclear power and weapons are often linked. That's a powerful reason to eschew nuclear power, to strengthen the safeguards system, to tighten export controls, to restrict the spread of enrichment and reprocessing, and so on. But Shellenberger has a very different take on the issues.
Discussing the Fuhrmann and Tkach article (and studiously avoiding contrary literature), Shellenberger writes:
"What was the relationship between nuclear latency and military conflict? It was negative. "Nuclear latency appears to provide states with deterrence-related benefits," they [Fuhrmann and Tkach] concluded, "that are distinct from actively pursuing nuclear bombs."
"Why might this be? Arriving at an ultimate cause is difficult if not impossible, the authors note. But one obvious possibility is that the "latent nuclear powers may be able to deter conflict by (implicitly) threatening to ‘go nuclear' following an attack." ...
"After over 60 years of national security driving nuclear power into the international system, we can now add "preventing war" to the list of nuclear energy's superior characteristics. ...
"As a lifelong peace activist and pro-nuclear environmentalist, I almost fell out of my chair when I discovered the paper by Fuhrmann and Tkach. All that most nations will need to deter military threats is nuclear power ‒ a bomb isn't even required? Why in the world, I wondered, is this fact not being promoted as one of nuclear powers many benefits?
"The answer is that the nuclear industry and scientific community have tried, since Atoms for Peace began 65 years ago, to downplay any connection between the two ‒ and for an understandable reason: they don't want the public to associate nuclear power plants with nuclear war.
"But in seeking to deny the connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, the nuclear community today finds itself in the increasingly untenable position of having to deny these real world connections ‒ of motivations and means ‒ between the two. Worse, in denying the connection between energy and weapons, the nuclear community reinforces the widespread belief that nuclear weapons have made the world a more dangerous place when the opposite is the case. …
"Nuclear energy, without a doubt, is spreading and will continue to spread around the world, largely with national security as a motivation. The question is whether the nuclear industry will, alongside anti-nuclear activists, persist in stigmatizing weapons latency as a nuclear power "bug" rather than tout it as the epochal, peace-making feature it is."
Shellenberger asks why the deterrent effect of nuclear power isn't being promoted as one of its many benefits. Nuclear weapons can have a deterrent effect ‒ in a uniquely dangerous and potentially uniquely counterproductive manner ‒ but any correlation between latent nuclear weapons capabilities and reduced military conflict is just that, correlation not causation.
On the contrary, there is a history of military attacks on nuclear facilities to prevent their use in weapons programs (e.g. Israel's attacks on nuclear facilities in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007). Shellenberger points to the same problem, asking whether latency could "also be a threat to peace?" and noting Israeli and US threats to take pre-emptive action against Iran. He doesn't offer an answer or explore the issue further.
Shellenberger argues that Iran should be encouraged to develop nuclear weapons. He cites long-term nuclear weapons proliferation enthusiast Kenneth Waltz, who claims that the "decades-long Middle East nuclear crisis … will end only when a balance of military power is restored". He cites a German academic who argues that a nuclear-armed Germany "would stabilize NATO and the security of the Western World". We "should be glad that North Korea acquired the bomb" according to Shellenberger. And on it goes ‒ his enthusiasm for nuclear weapons proliferation knows no bounds.
'Shellenberger has gone down a rabbit hole'
Nuclear Monitor has previously exposed the litany of falsehoods in Shellenberger's writings on nuclear and energy issues. In his most recent articles he exposes himself as an intellectual lightweight prepared to swing from one extreme of a debate to the other if that's what it takes to build the case for additional subsidies for nuclear power.
A dangerous intellectual lightweight. Environmental Progress attorney Frank Jablonski writes:
"From Shellenberger's article you would conclude that, for any "weak nation", or for the "poor or weak" persons within such nations, things are bound to improve with acquisition of nuclear weapons. So, for humanitarian reasons, the imperialistic nations and hypocritical people standing in the way of that acquisition should get out of the way. No. The article's contentions are falsified by … logical untenability, things it got wrong, and things it left out. While Shellenberger's willingness to take controversial positions has often been valuable, a "contrarian" view is not always right just because it is contrarian."
Sam Seitz, a student at Georgetown's Walsh School of Foreign Service, argues that Shellenberger's argument is "almost Trumpian in its incoherence". He takes issue with Shellenberger's claims that no nuclear powers have been invaded ("a pretty misleading statistic" and "wrong"); that battle deaths worldwide have declined by 95% ("fails to prove that nuclear weapons are responsible for this trend … as we are frequently reminded, correlation and causation are not equivalent"); that Indian and Pakistani deaths in two disputed territories declined sharply after Pakistan's first nuclear weapons test in 1998 ("doesn't account for non-nuclear factors like the role of outside mediation and domestic politics"); and that Nazi Germany invaded France because the French lacked a credible deterrent ("makes very little sense and conflates several things … also silly").
Responding to Shellenberger's more-the-merrier attitude towards nuclear weapons proliferation, pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman puts it bluntly: "Here's the problem. The more nations have nuclear weapons, the more dangerous the world will be. Sooner or later some tin pot dictator or religious zealot is likely to push a button and send us all to eternity."
Shellenberger's about-turn on power-weapons connections provoked a hostile response from Yurman:
"Shellenberger has crossed a red line for the global commercial nuclear industry, which has done everything in its power to avoid having the public conflate nuclear weapons with commercial nuclear energy. Worse, he's given opponents of nuclear energy, like Greenpeace, a ready-made tool to attack the industry. …
"In the end he may have painted himself into a corner. Not only has he alienated some of his supporters on the commercial nuclear side of the house, but he also has energized the nonproliferation establishment, within governments and among NGOs, offering them a rich opportunity promote critical reviews of the risks of expanding nuclear energy as a solution to the challenge of climate change. …
"Shellenberger has gone down a rabbit hole with his two essays promoting the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Given all the great things he has done to promote commercial nuclear energy, it is a perplexing and disturbing development.
"It's ok to be contrarian, but I fear he will pay a price for it with reduced support from some of his current supporters and he will face critical reviews from detractors of these essays. In the end public support and perception of the safety of nuclear energy may be diminished by these essays since they will lead to increased conflating of commercial nuclear energy with nuclear weapons. The fatal attraction of the power of nuclear weapons has lured another victim. It's an ill-fated step backwards."
No doubt there will be more acknowledgements of power-weapons connections by nuclear industry insiders and lobbyists. As Shellenberger notes, the nuclear 'community' today finds itself in an increasingly untenable position denying the connections.
There is a degree of domestic support for nuclear weapons programs in weapons states … but few people support generalised nuclear weapons proliferation and few would swallow Shellenberger's arguments including his call to shred the non-proliferation and disarmament system and to encourage weapons proliferation.
Understanding of the power-weapons connections, combined with opposition to nuclear weapons, is one of the motivations driving opposition to nuclear power. According to Shellenberger, the only two US states forcing the closure of nuclear plants, California and New York, also had the strongest nuclear disarmament movements.
There is some concern that claims that the civil nuclear industry is an important (or even necessary) underpinning of a weapons program will be successfully used to secure additional subsidies for troubled nuclear power programs (e.g. in the US, France and the UK). After all, nuclear insiders and lobbyists wouldn't abandon their decades-long deceit about power-weapons connections if not for the possibility that their new argument will gain traction, among politicians if not the public.
The growing acknowledgement ‒ and public understanding ‒ of power-weapons connections might have consequences for nuclear power newcomer countries such as Saudi Arabia. Assuming that the starting point is opposition to a Saudi nuclear weapons program, heightened sensitivity might constrain nuclear exporters who would otherwise export to Saudi Arabia with minimalist safeguards and no serious attempt to check the regime's weapons ambitions. Or it might not lead to that outcome ‒ as things stand, numerous nuclear exporters are scrambling for a share of the Saudi nuclear power program regardless of proliferation concerns.
More generally, a growing understanding of power-weapons connections might lead to a strengthening of the safeguards system along with other measures to firewall nuclear power from weapons. But again, that's hypothetical and it is at best some way down the track ‒ there is no momentum in that direction.
And another hypothetical arising from the growing awareness about power-weapons connections: proliferation risks might be (and ought to be) factored in as a significant negative in comparative assessments of power generation options.
Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter, where a longer version of this article was originally published.
For Nations Seeking Nuclear Energy, The Option To Build A Weapon Remains A Feature Not A Bug
Forbes, August 29, 2018
After Saudi Arabia’s crown prince told CBS News last March that, if Iran decides to build a nuclear weapon, “we will follow suit as soon as possible,” opponents of the technology pounced.
“Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has confirmed what many have long suspected,” said Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, “nuclear energy in Saudi Arabia is about more than just electrical power.”
The controversy was viewed as a potential blow to U.S. efforts to win the contract to build that nation’s first nuclear plant. “Saudi Prince’s Nuclear Bomb Comment May Scuttle Reactor Deal,” noted Bloomberg.
In truth, no nation decides to get a nuclear weapon simply because they have nuclear power plants, and the fuel used in nuclear plants is not enriched enough to make a weapon.
But under the rules of the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, nations are allowed to have facilities to enrich uranium, and extract plutonium from spent fuel, which could be used to build a weapon.
The idea of Saudi Arabia having a nuclear program with the ability to enrich is a major national security concern," said the Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.
Using enrichment or reprocessing facilities to create weapons-grade materials would require expelling international inspectors and risking trade sanctions — or worse. In 1981 and 2007, for instance, Iraq and Syria, respectively, suffered bombing attacks carried out by Israel on their nuclear facilities.
But when push comes to shove, nations that feel they need a weapon will take those risks. “North Korea has provided the blueprint,” Vipin Narang, a professor of political science and nuclear weapons expert at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) told me.
“If you want a meeting with the president of the U.S., and insurance against an invasion,” explained Narang, “then get a nuclear weapon. Do it secretly. Make it ambiguous. Build a reactor, pull out of [the Non-Proliferation Treaty], kick out the inspectors. ”
Since its birth in the 1950s, the nuclear industry and scientific community have stressed the separateness of energy production and weapons. But recent statements by Middle Eastern leaders have thrust the connections — technical, workforce, and motivational — into the limelight.
Of the 26 nations around the world that are building or are committed to build nuclear power plants, 23 have a weapon, had a weapon, or have shown interest in acquiring a weapon, according to a new Environmental Progress analysis.
The 13 nations that had a weapons program, or have shown interest in acquiring a weapon, are Argentina, Armenia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Iran, Japan, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). Consider:
- U.A.E., which has finished construction of its first nuclear plant, and has shown high-level interest in acquiring a nuclear weapon — something acknowledged by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton;
- Turkey has begun construction of a nuclear plant and, may be secretly developing a weapon or “laying the groundwork to replace the nuclear umbrella the US provides;”
- Egypt will start construction of a nuclear plant in 2020 and is viewed by experts as a possible nuclear weapons state if Iran decides to acquire a weapon;
- Bangladesh has shown interest in developing weapons latency in the past and currently has a nuclear plant under construction.
- Brazil is seeking to a multipurpose reactor, has in the past sought a weapon, and “will leave the door open to developing nuclear weapons“ according to a new Stratfor analysis.
This trend fits the historic pattern. In the 60 years of civilian nuclear power, at least 20 nations* sought nuclear power at least in part to give themselves the option of creating a nuclear weapon.
Of the other nations building nuclear plants, seven have weapons (France, U.S., Britain, China, Russia, India and Pakistan), two had weapons as part of the Soviet Union (Ukraine and Belarus), and one (Slovakia) was part of a nation (Czechoslovakia) that sought a weapon.
Poland, Hungary, and Finland are the only three nations (of the 26) for which we could find no evidence of “weapons latency” as a motivation.
While those 23 nations clearly have motives other than national security for pursuing nuclear energy, gaining weapons latency appears to be the difference-maker.
The flip side also appears true: nations that lack a need for weapons latency often decide not to build nuclear power plants, which can be more difficult and expensive than fossil fueled ones.
Recently, Vietnam and South Africa, neither of which face a significant security threat, decided against building nuclear plants and opted instead for burning more coal, despite suffering from air pollution and professing concern for climate change.
Why Nuclear Energy Prevents War
In 2015, two scholars at Texas A&M university, Matthew Fuhrmann and Benjamin Tkach, set out to answer two questions: how many nations have the ability to build a weapon? And what impact does nuclear weapons “latency” have on war?
A growing body of research had found that latency deters against military attacks, Fuhrmann and Tkach noted. But with Israel and U.S. threatening pre-emptive action against Iran, could latency also be a threat to peace?
Fuhrmann and Tkach found that 31 nations had the capacity to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium, and that 71 percent of them created that capacity to give themselves weapons latency.
What was the relationship between nuclear latency and military conflict? It was negative. “Nuclear latency appears to provide states with deterrence-related benefits,” they concluded, “that are distinct from actively pursuing nuclear bombs.”
Why might this be? Arriving at an ultimate cause is difficult if not impossible, the authors note. But one obvious possibility is that the “latent nuclear powers may be able to deter conflict by (implicitly) threatening to ‘go nuclear’ following an attack.”
Nuclear isn’t the first energy technology whose adoption was driven by national security. Before World War I, the British Navy switched to petroleum-powered ships that could travel twice as far, emit less smoke (that potential enemies could see), and refuel more quickly than coal-powered ones. And today’s efficient natural gas turbines exist in large part thanks to decades of military procurement of jet turbines.
Every past energy transition has followed the same progression. The new fuel, whether coal, oil, natural gas, or uranium, starts out as a premium product more expensive than the incumbent and comes down in price over time.
For early adopters of the new fuel-technology combination, notes economist Roger Fouquet, a new energy source must offer some “superior or additional characteristics (e.g. easier, cleaner or more flexible to use).”
After over 60 years of national security driving nuclear power into the international system, we can now add “preventing war” to the list of nuclear energy’s superior characteristics.
“Your view that weapons drove nations to energy, not the other way around,” M.I.T.’s Narang told me, “may be more accurate given what we now know about many of these countries.” He pointed to Sweden and Switzerland:
Both are neutral nations outside of NATO that had a very deep interest in weapons and a program through the 1960s. Today they are championed as nonproliferation nations, but both militaries were very interested in having the basis for a nuclear weapons program if necessary. Both used nuclear energy to explore those options.
Before Iran, Narang notes, the nation most famous for nuclear weapons hedging was Japan. After six decades of peaceful nuclear power, it’s an open secret that Japan has created enough plutonium to create 6,000 bombs — as well as an excellent rocket program.
That doesn’t mean nuclear power is a sure thing in nations with nuclear weapons. France officially pledged under its last government to sharply reduce its reliance on nuclear power. But then President Emmanuel Macron explicitly said late last year that he would not carry out the policy.
Japan, which lacks a weapon, closed all of its nuclear reactors after the 2011 Fukushima panic and intends to restart just two-thirds of them. At the same time, it has shown no interest in giving up its weapons latency, with its plutonium program continuing.
U.S. nuclear plants are closing prematurely but mostly not because of explicitly anti-nuclear actions by political leaders. Rather, they are closing due to unusually cheap natural gas and heavily-subsidized renewables.
The only two U.S. states forcing the closure of nuclear plants, California and New York, also had the strongest nuclear disarmament movements.
And, notably, every single nation with a nuclear weapon is building nuclear power plants with the sole exception of Israel and North Korea. Experts believe Israel does not want nuclear plants because it would require acknowledging its nuclear weapons, and accepting inspectors, while stiff trade sanctions prevent North Korea from building nuclear power plants.
Implications for Pro-Nuclear Advocacy
As a lifelong peace activist and pro-nuclear environmentalist, I almost fell out of my chair when I discovered the paper by Fuhrmann and Tkach. All that most nations will need to deter military threats is nuclear power — a bomb isn’t even required? Why in the world, I wondered, is this fact not being promoted as one of nuclear power’s many benefits?
The answer is that the nuclear industry and scientific community have tried, since Atoms for Peace began 65 years ago, to downplay any connection between the two — and for an understandable reason: they don’t want the public to associate nuclear power plants with nuclear war.
But in seeking to deny the connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, the nuclear community today finds itself in the increasingly untenable position of having to deny these real world connections — of motivations and means — between the two.
From 1400 to 1945, deaths from war rose steadily before beginning a rapid decline.Our World in Data
Worse, in denying the connection between energy and weapons, the nuclear community reinforces the widespread belief that nuclear weapons have made the world a more dangerous place when the opposite is the case. From 1400 to 1945, deaths from war rose steadily before beginning a remarkable and rapid decline that continues to this day.
And while various efforts are made to deny the role of deterrence, the fact is that between 1945 to 1989, two great nations, the U.S. and U.S.S.R., with diametrically opposed interests and ideologies, and their most important allies, avoided full-scale war.
The same dynamic repeated itself with India and Pakistan. Before they acquired the bomb, they had three full-scale wars. After the bomb, zero.
Nuclear weapons don’t eliminate military conflicts but they greatly reduce their death tolls. The death toll from the third war between India and Pakistan to their border skirmish known as the Kargil “war” declined 90 percent, from 11,743 to 1,218.
Nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan “cured the previous disease, which was massive conventional war,” Narang explained, but “didn’t solve all the problems.” Still, he added, “just because medicine has a side effect, you don’t not give the medicine.”
One of the many dark fantasies about nuclear weapons is that if one were used anywhere it would lead to full-scale nuclear war everywhere.
And yet the most likely use of one would be tactical — against invading troops. Pakistan might say, “If we use our own nukes, on our own territory, in the desert, against an Indian strike corps, we haven’t given them justification to use nuclear against our cities,” notes Narang.
“But even then, it would be an event of such magnitude that the world would race to stop it from escalating,” he adds. “The first use of nuclear bomb since 1945? I think people will stop and ask, 'What the hell just happened?' and the international community will race to try to stop escalation.”
In other words, while there is in fact a real-world relationship between nuclear energy and weapons, the relationship between weapons and the widely-feared nuclear apocalypse, or even a return to wars as brutal as World War II, is entirely imaginary — the stuff of movies, novels, and scenarios.
Battle deaths have declined in conflicts between India & PakistanStrategic Foresight Group
In the real world, nuclear weapons have only been used to end or prevent war — a remarkable record for the world’s most dangerous objects.
Nuclear energy, without a doubt, is spreading and will continue to spread around the world, largely with national security as a motivation.
The question is whether the nuclear industry will, alongside anti-nuclear activists, persist in stigmatizing weapons latency as a nuclear power “bug” rather than tout it as the epochal, peace-making feature it is.
*Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, France, Italy, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Libya, Norway, Romania, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, West Germany, Yugoslavia
I am a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” Green Book Award Winner, and President of Environmental Progress, a research and policy organization. My writings have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, Nature Energy,...