Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - November 11, 2011

Fueling nuclear power

Demand for energy spark idea of

The increasing demand for power by countries with robust economic growth — such as India, China and Brazil — also raises the specter of danger in William Perry's mind. Nations in general are beginning to harbor concerns about their energy security and, in some cases, the adverse effects of carbon-based sources such as coal and petroleum on climate change.

Countries including the United States are moving forward with aggressive plans to expand their reliance on nuclear plants to meet demand. There is much talk of a renaissance in the nuclear-power industry.

For Perry, power reactors themselves are not the issue; it is their fuel and the means to produce it that focuses his attention.

"The danger then is that the countries use their commercial reactor program as a steppingstone to get to their nuclear-weapons program. We saw that happen — precisely happen — in North Korea, and we think we see it happening in Iran today," he said.

A way to address this problem is already on the international table for consideration: a plan for a common "fuel bank" run and supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency. From it, countries new to nuclear-power generation could buy their fuel and then return and exchange it once they have exhausted it producing electricity.

According to Perry, this idea "has been proposed by many people and particularly by the NTI, the Nuclear Threat Initiative," a non-governmental agency chaired by Nunn. Warren Buffet has given $50 million to the U.N. to establish the fuel bank.

"So there have been serious and substantial efforts made in this regard," Perry said.

The trouble is in getting sovereign nations who want nuclear power to agree to use the bank. In Perry's view, there is no practical justification for any country to enter the business of making its own fuel.

"It is not economical, and they do it either for one or two reasons: either because they want to use this capacity to make fuel as an entry into a nuclear-weapons program, or they do it simply for national prestige — some mistaken view of what national prestige is all about. But there is no commercial reason for doing it," he said.

Perry believes if a broadly supported international fuel bank can be established, then even a full-blown resurgence in civilian nuclear-power generation would pose far less risk than it might otherwise, at least when it comes to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

"The problem lies in countries insisting on making their own fuel," he said.

—Christian Pease

Comments

Posted by G.R.L. Cowan, a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2011 at 7:46 am

Perry is like a government functionary in a realm that derives much of its government income from horses and stagecoaches worrying about the weapon proliferation potential of those new horseless carriages. The similarity between the pistons in their cylinders and bullets in guns is undeniable. He, his analogue, would take seriously a pseudoscholarly treatise titled "Transport/Crime: Breaking the Thermodynamic Link". Pseudo, because the idea is not so much to break the link as to persuade the innocent that it exists.

Heavy water-cooled and moderated nuclear power plants do not depend on uranium enrichment plants and have never been involved in proliferation. Light-water-cooled and moderated have a similar history of perfect innocence in proliferation, but do depend on uranium enrichment plants, so in their case, he might have a point about diseconomy of such enrichment plants on a national scale. The recent startup of the Bushehr plant in Iran was on uranium enriched, I believe, in Russia. Certainly supplied from there.

But there is no reason for any country that wants clean sustainable power not to have its own CANDU fuel fabrication plants.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2011 at 12:58 pm



Perry is not opposed to nuclear power-in fact he supports it.

He is opposed to nuclear weapons proliferation which can be achieved by re-purposing nuclear power plants.

He proposed a sane and simple solution to this problem.

"A way to address this problem is already on the international table for consideration:

a plan for a common "fuel bank" run and supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency. From it, countries new to nuclear-power generation could buy their fuel and then return and exchange it once they have exhausted it producing electricity.

According to Perry, this idea "has been proposed by many people and particularly by the NTI,

the Nuclear Threat Initiative," a non-governmental agency chaired by Nunn.

Warren Buffet has given $50 million to the U.N. to establish the fuel bank."

With that in place Iran, for example, can safely build as many nuke power plants as it wants.

The sane thing is to declare the WHOLE MENA area a nuclear weapons free zone--and to aggressively force compliance by all MENA states.


Posted by nuke'em, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 11, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Doesn't matter if Perry is for or against nukes. He is telling us the very real reasons why many countries are developing nuclear power plants. Are these countries going to voluntarily let (friendly or unfriendly) foreigners come in take over their nuclear assets? What do you think?


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 11, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Do you mean Rick Perry?


Posted by Peter Grynch, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 12, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Jimmy Carter forced Bill Clinton to sign a treaty with North Korea that enabled them to develop nuclear weapons. Barrack Obama's weak response to Iran's weapon program is encouraging Iran to go nuclear before Obama leaves office. Once Iran has nukes, the Saudi's will be forced to get nukes. Iraq and Egypt may be forced to follow.

I don't think that the fuel process is the problem.


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