Victor Gilinsky & Henry Sokolski: ‘Fast Reactors’ Also Present a Fast Path to Nuclear Weapons. New “fast reactors” promise sustainable nuclear energy. They also pose serious proliferation risks because they can make lots of plutonium. The Biden administration is proposing to use nuclear fuels that we are telling others—most immediately Iran—not to produce. It will make it difficult to gain the restraints the United States seeks to limit nations’ access to bomb-grade uranium and plutonium. We are talking here about the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) enthusiastic support of TerraPower’s proposed Natrium “fast reactor” demonstration plant and similar fast reactor projects, which DOE has showered with grants and supports with department-funded enrichment, test reactor, and spent nuclear fuel recycling programs. TerraPower and DOE expect to build hundreds of fast reactors for domestic use and export. TerraPower is obviously aware of this history and the public relations landmine it creates for its demonstration project. It insists its Natrium reactor will not use plutonium as fuel or require reprocessing to extract it. The company’s website says, “Both the demonstration plant and the first set of commercial plants will run on high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU).” HALEU is uranium enriched to just under the official definition of highly enriched uranium, but well above the level of the uranium fuel used in currently operating nuclear power plants. In enrichment terms, it is within easy arm’s reach of bomb-grade uranium. It is exactly the stuff we demand that Iran not produce, arguing that they don’t need it for power reactor fuel. It’s also what we’ve been discouraging South Korea from getting into (Seoul says it wants to enrich uranium to boost reactor exports and to power a fleet of nuclear submarines).
The National Interest 26th Sept 2021 read more »