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Nuclear power the only form of electricity production that in itself poses a threat to international peace, domestic security and individual liberties

Posted by gmarkets on 27 September, 2007

Nuclear power was the only form of electricity production that in itself posed a threat to international peace and domestic security, and consequence of its dangers and of the secrecy that inevitably surrounds it because of its connections with nuclear weapons, the only form of electricity production that in itself poses a threat to individual liberties argued the Oxford Research Group report: “Too Hot to Handle?; The Future of Civil Nuclear Power but Frank Barnaby and James Kemp, with a Foreword by David Howarth MP, UK Liberal Democrat Shadow Energy Spokesperson.

Non-state players to acquire plutonium: “Those who advocate it might not care about peace or freedom, but for those of us who do, we cannot say that we were not warned. A significant use of generation III and IV reactors will carry with it the real risk that nuclear terrorist groups will eventually acquire plutonium, fabricate primitive nuclear weapons and use them in terrorist attacks.

Relatively easy access to plutonium:Any country operating new nuclear-power reactors, particularly breeder reactors, will have relatively easy access to plutonium usable in effective nuclear weapons and will have competent nuclear physicists and engineers who could design and fabricate them”.

Build nuclear force in a short time: Because they could produce a nuclear force in a short time – months rather than years – these countries will be latent nuclear-weapon powers. Within 30-40 years, according to the IAEA, about 30 countries are likely to have access to fissile materials from their civil nuclear power programmes that can be used for nuclear weapons and competent nuclear physicists and engineers who could design and fabricate them.

Implosion technique: Terrorists may acquire plutonium to make and detonate a crude nuclear weapon. They would do so using the implosion technique. This would involve surrounding a sphere of plutonium, having a mass less than the critical mass, or surrounding a spherical volume of plutonium dioxide, of less than critical mass, by conventional high explosives. A terrorist group containing people with appropriate skills could design and fabricate such a crude nuclear explosive. The size of the nuclear explosion from such a crude device is impossible to predict.

Devastate the centre of a large city: But even if it were only equivalent to the explosion of a few tens of tonnes of TNT it would completely devastate the centre of a large city. Such a device would, however, have a strong chance of exploding with an explosive power of at least a hundred tonnes of TNT. Even one thousand tonnes or more equivalent is possible, but unlikely:

Dirty bomb risk: Terrorists would be satisfied with a nuclear explosive device that is far less sophisticated than the types of nuclear weapons demanded by the military. Whereas the military demand nuclear weapons with predictable explosive yields and very high reliability, most terrorists would be satisfied with a relatively primitive nuclear explosive. The simplest and most primitive terrorist nuclear device is a radiological weapon or radiological dispersal device, commonly called a dirty bomb. A dirty bomb would consist of ;

• conventional high explosive (for example, semtex, dynamite or TNT);

• some incendiary material (like thermite) surrounding the conventional explosive; and

• a quantity of a radioisotope, probably placed at the centre of the explosive.

Radioactive isotopes a risk: Many other types of radioisotopes (radioactive isotopes) would be suitable for use in a dirty bomb. But the most likely one to be used is one that is that is relatively easily available, has a relatively long half-life, and emits energetic radiation. Suitable ones included;

• caesium-137;

• cobalt-60; and

• iridium-192; these emit mainly gamma rays (electromagnetic radiation).

• Strontium-90, which emits beta particles (electrons) and is concentrated in bone, is also a possible candidate.

Fear, panic and social disruption: The radioactive material in the bomb would be dispersed into the air but would be soon diluted to relatively low concentrations. If the bomb is exploded in a city, as it almost certainly would be, some people are likely to be exposed to a dose of radiation. But the dose is in most cases likely to be relatively small. A low-level exposure to radiation would slightly increase the long-term risk of cancer. The main potential impact of a dirty bomb is psychological – it would cause considerable fear, panic and social disruption, exactly the effects terrorists wish to achieve. The public fear of radiation is very great indeed, some say irrationally so.

Tens of square kilometres contaminated: The explosion of a dirty bomb could result in the contamination of an area of a city and the surrounding areas with radioactivity. Areas as large as tens of square kilometres could be contaminated with radioactivity to levels above those recommended by the National Radiological Protection Board for the exposure of civilians to radioactivity. The area would have to be evacuated and decontaminated.

Nuclear-power station a target:There were two potential targets in a nuclear-power station for a terrorist attack: the reactor itself and the ponds storing the spent fuel removed from the reactor. An attack on the reactor could cause the core to go super-critical (as happened during the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl reactor) or cause a loss of the coolant that removes heat from the core of the reactor (as happened during the reactor accident at Three Mile Island).

Terrorists could target a reactor or spent fuel pond by:

• using a truck carrying high explosives and exploding it near a critical part of the target;

• exploding high explosives carried in a light aircraft near a critical part of the target;

• crashing a high-jacked commercial airliner into the reactor building or spent-fuel pond; attacking the power station with small arms, artillery or missiles and occupying it; or

• by attacking the power lines carrying electricity into the plant.

Alternatively, a terrorist group may infiltrate some of its members, or sympathisers, into the plant to sabotage it from inside. A saboteur may attack, for example, the systems cooling the reactor core or drain water from the cooling pond. This could cause the temperature of the reactor core to rise, resulting in a release of radioactivity from the core, or cause the temperature of the spent fuel rods to rise, again resulting in a release of radioactivity.

Care could be taken to vet staff: Making existing nuclear-power reactors less vulnerable to terrorist attack is not very feasible although storage ponds for spent fuel elements could be more hardened. And greater care could be taken to vet staff to make it more difficult for a terrorist group to infiltrate people into a nuclear-power station. Also, staff in all sensitive nuclear facilities, such as reprocessing plants and MOX fabrication plants, should be thoroughly vetted.

Design Basis Threats (DBTs)The capacity of intelligence and security services to prevent nuclear terrorism in a world of many more potential targets also needs very careful consideration. In the UK new nuclear plants will be required to build-in physical protection measures based on Design Basis Threats (DBTs) to reduce vulnerability to a range of terrorist attack scenarios. The details of these are confidential, so it is impossible to independently verify their adequacy.

True in ten, twenty or thirty years time?The combination of DBTs with various other physical and human security measures including counter-terrorism exercises, staff vetting, and, of course, on-going security and intelligence work, are sufficient for the Office of Civil Nuclear Security (OCNS) and Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) to assert that: the risks associated with building new nuclear power stations can be appropriately managed. This may be the case today, but will it be true in ten, twenty or thirty years time?

Failed terrorist attack created commercial crisis: And if the threat assessment change, how the operators of a new nuclear plant adapt and at what cost? How would the market and public respond to a foiled terrorist attack against a nuclear plant, let-alone a successful one? Even a failed terrorist attack on one of the first new builds would most probably cause subsequent new build to halt in many countries. If this happened, Governments would need to re-review energy policy minus civil nuclear power, further delaying progress towards a sustainable and secure energy policy, possibly causing the UK and other affected countries to miss the window of opportunity to seriously mitigate CO2 emissions.

Reference: Too Hot to Handle?: The future of Civil Nuclear Power, Frank Barnaby and James Kemp, Foreword by David Howarth MP, UK Liberal Democrat Shadow Energy Spokesperson; Oxford Research Group: Development House, 56-64 Leonard St, London EC2A 4LT, United Kingdom. Phone: +44 (0)20 7549 0298 Fax: +44 (0)20 7681 1668 Email: Website: Registered Charity No. 299436

Erisk Net, 11/7/2007


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