The terrorism risk of new geewhiz nuclear reactors – theme for August 14
The promoters of the Integral Fast Reactors’ (IFRs), Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor ( LFTR), and Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) like to pretend that these geewhiz new schemes are quite different from the well known dirty, dangerous, and expensive nuclear power plants.
Note the way that they carefully leave out the word “nuclear” from the titles.
First of all – they depend on the whole vulnerable nuclear chain for their existence, anyway.
For now, I’ll leave aside those matters of Cost, Environment, Radioactive Wastes – and just look at the much touted Safety of these supposedly different new electricity producers.
PRISM (Power Reactor Innovative Small Modular) latest manifestation of much-hyped but non-existent IFRs: It would require converting plutonium oxide powder into a metal alloy, with uranium and zirconium. This would be a large-scale industrial activity on its own that would create large amount of plutonium contaminated salt waste. This plutonium metal would be even more vulnerable to theft for making bombs than the plutonium oxide.
Smaller versions of present-day pressurized water reactors, planned to be built underground, will be hard to get to, in an emergency situation. Pebble-bed reactors- high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs) run risk of cracking of their tiny fuel kernels, and of temperature rise, resulting in Chernobyl-type graphite fire.
Thorium The risks inherent in nuclear reactors are due to the massive concentrations of radioactive materials and the huge amount of heat they produce . No matter if the fuel is based on uranium or thorium, if it’s solid or liquid. Thorium itself can’t be used as weapons fuel – but to be used in a nuclear reactor it has to be transmuted into the fissile uranium isotope, U-233, which can be used for nuclear weapons.
While the entire chain leading to these new, and non-existent reactors carries terrorism risks, the end result is just as vulnerable or more so . In the case of Small Modular Reactors this means not just a few targets for terrorism, but multiple targets. That means more safety regulations, more security guarding – and then of course – more costs too. It is a particularly vicious cycle!
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