New Generation of Nuclear Power Stations 'Risk Terrorist Anarchy'
Plans for more nuclear power stations increases the risk of terrorists seizing plutonium, report warns
The new generation of atomic power stations planned for Britain, China and many other parts of the world risks proliferation that could lead to "nuclear anarchy", a security expert warned in a report published today.
Governments and multilateral organisations must come up with a strategy to deal the impact of the new nuclear age, which will produce enough plutonium to make 1m nuclear weapons by 2075, argues Frank Barnaby from the Oxford Research Group thinktank in a paper for the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).
"We are at a crossroads. Unless governments work together to safeguard nuclear energy supplies, the rise in unsecured nuclear technology will put us all in danger. Without this, we are hurtling towards a state of nuclear anarchy where terrorists or rogue states have the ways and means of making nuclear weapons or 'dirty bombs', the consequences of which are unimaginable," says Barnaby.
Any country choosing to operate new-generation nuclear reactors in future would have relatively easy access to plutonium, which is used to make the most efficient atomic weapons, along with the nuclear physicists and engineers to design them. These countries would be latent nuclear-weapon powers "and it is to be expected that some will take the political decision to become actual nuclear weapons powers," argues Barnaby in his paper submitted to the IPPR's independent Commission on National Security chaired by former Nato boss, Lord George Robertson.
The issue of nuclear proliferation security has been largely ignored until today as the nuclear power debate has concentrated on the economics, social issues and how to deal with radioactive waste.
Ministers in the UK have made clear their desire to see a new generation of facilities to replace existing ones at a time when North Sea gas is running out and the country needs to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels to meet its Kyoto protocol carbon emission targets. Nuclear power plants across the life cycle produce one third of the CO2 of gas-fired ones.
Barnaby says that a shortage of uranium for the kind of reactors that EDF and others are considering building in Britain could encourage them to reprocess fuel and produce more plutonium. But he is equally convinced that a nuclear renaissance will lead to fast breeder reactors which produce more nuclear fuel than they use and which could be useful to terrorists.
The Atomic Energy Agency and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have already suggested that uranium resources would last less than 70 years if processed using the current generation of light water nuclear reactors.
Barnaby wants the non-proliferation treaty strengthened at a "make or break" review conference next year and would also like to see countries as yet without nuclear capabilities discouraged from obtaining enriched uranium, a problem highlighted in the case of Iran.
Ian Kearns, deputy commissioner of the IPPR's security commission, said it was crucial that the rush to address climate change did not worsen the international security environment.
"A global nuclear renaissance, if badly managed, could bring enormous complications in terms of nuclear non-proliferation and terrorism. Policymakers need to be alert to the dangers and to construct policies that bring secure low-carbon energy and a stable nuclear weapons environment," he said.
Companies such as E.ON of Germany who want to build new nuclear plants in Britain declined to comment on the issue.