Friday, March 27, 2009

Al Gore's poorly informed account of nuclear proliferation

Axil wrote:
You say we need to challenge the argument that current technology would lead to nuclear proliferation.

Al Gore has recently said “Whatever countries such as the US and the UK do, it will have a demonstration effect for the rest of the world. As the world comes to grips with how to solve the climate crisis, we in the US and the UK have a leadership role. If we told the rest of the world that nuclear is the answer [they would follow]. For the eight years that I spent in the White House every nuclear weapons proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a reactor programme. People have said for years that there are now completely different [nuclear] technologies. OK, but if you have a team of scientists that can build a reactor, and you're a dictator, you can make them work at night to build a nuclear weapon. That's what's happened in North Korea and Iran. And in Libya before they gave it up. So the idea of, say, Chad, Burma, and Sudan having lots of nuclear reactors is insane and it's not going to happen.”

This guy has won a Noble prize. His opinion was officially ratified and affirmed by the world. He told Obama to hire Chu. Chu is loath to offend his good friend: Gore. . How do you fight this? I am groping here.

The only thing that might do the trick is a full proof device. It may well be vaporware now, but the argument may need to be made.

Al Gore's argument that "every nuclear weapons proliferation problem we dealt with (during the Clinton administration) was connected to a reactor programme" is absurd. Iran's nuclear technology did not originate from an Iranian reactor. Nor was Pakistan's or South Africa's weapons programs linked in any way to reactor programs. Libya bought an enrichment facility from an international criminal gang. Local scientists and reactor technology had nothing to do with it. Al Gore has fallen for Amory Lovins's argument without giving it the slightest amount of thought.

The argument that building reactors in the United States will in any way contribute to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by dictators is not backed by evidence. In none of the cases which Gore mentioned did American nuclear technology contribute to the proliferation. UK technology did contribute to the North Korean nuclear program, but only because the British Government shortsightedly put the plans for a plutonium production plant into the public domain.

My view is that LFTR research needs to have a proliferation component. The proliferation component needs to answer central questions.
1. Is it plausible that producing LFTRs in the United States for internal use lead to nuclear proliferation in other countries?
2. Is it plausible that producing LFTRs in the United States for internal use lead to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists?
3. Is it plausible that selling LFTRs to nuclear armed nations would lead to nuclear proliferation or the increase the likelihood that terrorists would acquire nuclear weapons?
4. Should Pakistan be considered a special case in this group?
5. Would the sale of LFTR technology to countries deemed to be politically unstable lead to an unacceptable political risk?
6. What policies would best contain LFTR related proliferation risks?


Finrod said...

The United States lost the war against nuclear proliferation in the early Forties.

Charles Barton said...

1943-1945. The Soviets had their spies, knew all about what we were doing.

Alex P said...

" The United States lost the war against nuclear proliferation in the early Forties "

Interesting, why do you believe this, because US used the bombes against civil targets during ww2 or because they losed the industrial secrets ?

Charles Barton said...

The Soviets got the secret, then the French figured it out, and then the Chinese, and then the Israelis, with a little help from the French. Then the Indians, then the South Africans who were not suppose to get it, but worked it out on their own, then the Paks, and the North Koreans. It is really not hard. There is no mystery. It is not expensive.

mdf said...

It is really not hard.

I can't find it online but I think John Coster-Mullen -- the truck-driver-come-nuclear historian fixated on the exact details of Little Boy's design -- suggested that the secret of the bomb is that it is so easy to make.

Probably not a unique idea. George Orwell wondered about the issue:

At the time he wrote that essay -- late 1945, and I think the first written use of 'cold war' -- only a few countries could indeed pull it off.

Nowadays, though, we have truck-drivers reverse engineering the things.

Finrod said...

By way of reply to Alex P, I offer the following link:

Charles Barton said...

The gun type bomb is no great technological challenge, but enriching U-235 is. Yet the South Africans proved that it was possible for even a small country could do it. Given the relatively low cost South African road to nuclear weapons, it is absurd to argue that blocking LFTR development would prevent rogue states and terrorists from developing nuclear weapons.

Warren Heath said...

Al Gore is a Club of Rome Lackey and a TOOL of Fossil Fuel Interests – doing his best to make sure that a global energy catastrophe will occur in another decade or two, how do you think he managed to get a Noble Prize for doing nothing of significance?

The fact is that in the near future, non-fission or pure fusion weapons will be developed. Nuclear fission will no longer have a connection with weapons. And once the methods of pure-fusion weapons are developed, the cat will be out of the bag, and any nation state will be able to develop fusion weapons without bothering with fission triggers. There’s a discussion at Atomic Insights Blog about why the US Gov’t is spending billions on laser fusion. In actual fact, it’s all about developing the technology for pure fusion weapons. The DOE is also investing in small nuclear particle accelerators – the purpose of which is developing anti-matter production factories. Anti-matter being one of several techniques of creating pure fusion weapons.

Personally, I would be much more worried about the explosive developments in genetic engineering and their application to the development of biological weapons. At least with nuclear weapons, it is easy to find the source of any nefarious weapon, and therein payback is a bitch. But with biologicals, destruction will be far greater and finding the source may be impossible. The Fed’s took years to find one lone researcher (after chasing after the wrong guy) – one of their own people – who caused great chaos using a U.S. Gov’t botulism strain – which he fortunately didn’t choose to spread into a crowded shopping malls or sports stadiums, which he easily could have done. Meanwhile the agricultural markets and rural farms in Southeast Asia are being operated in a way that is GUARANTEED to create a killer flu within a decade or two – likely 500 million will die as a result. The Greenies seem to by quite happy with the absolute lack of effort to prevent the upcoming killer flu – just as they stood back while HIV needlessly progressed into an epidemic, when it could have been stifled in its early stages.

Some discussion of New Non-Fission Nuclear Weapons Here

Jason Ribeiro said...

Warren brings up an interesting point. It would be far easier for a terrorist group to develop a chemical or biological WMD than it would be a nuclear device. Yet, these threats are not qualified in contrast to any potential proliferation risk by the increased use of nuclear energy.

In many respects, efforts to develop and deploy chemical or biological weapon would be easier to hide than a nuclear weapon development program.


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