Controversial nuclear technology alarms watchdogs

SILEX, or laser enrichment, is a direct conduit to proliferation and must not be allowed. The idea that it will save money at the cost of even greater nuclear insecurity than exists already; and that this excuses the tremendous risk it creates, is unnacceptable. That the NRC refused to consider proliferation danger at all, even though they are required to do so, is yet more proof they are merely the extended arm of the nuclear industry.

David Worthington | Smart Planet  July 30, 2012

A controversial nuclear technology is raising alarms bells among critics who claim it may be better suited for making nuclear weapons than lowering the cost of nuclear power and could lead to a nonproliferation “Fukushima” for the United States.

SILEX (separation of isotopes by laser excitation) is a method for enriching uranium with lasers. It was developed by Australian scientists during the mid 1990’s as a way to reduce the cost of nuclear fuel, because uranium must be processed before it can be used to generate power.

The scientists formed Silex Systems to license the technology for commercialization, and that process is still ongoing. In 2000, the governments of Australia and the United States signed a treaty, giving the U.S. authority to review whether SILEX should be deployed.

That’s because there could be a major proliferation problem. ..

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SILEX and proliferation l Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

R. SCOTT KEMP | 30 JULY 2012

Article Highlights

  • SILEX is a new enrichment technology that happens to be well suited for making nuclear weapons. The benefits of commercializing SILEX are not yet established, but the proliferation risks are significant.
  • Dozens of countries are poised to copy SILEX if a US project demonstrates that the technology can be built on a commercial scale. The technical barriers, to the extent they exist, are not likely to endure the test of time.
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has refused to consider the proliferation risk in its decision to issue a license for the first commercial SILEX facility, despite a statutory obligation to do so. Only a few weeks remain for Congress to intervene.

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U.S. unable to account for 16,000 kilograms of exported enriched uranium

A timely reminder following the annoucement that Silex will push to pursue laser enrichment, something that would make controlling proliferation almost impossible. As it turns out, the US doesn't even know where all its exported highly-enriched uranium is, and does not appear to be looking all that hard for it.

The Raw Story l Eric W. Dolan  13 September, 2011

The United States could only account for 1,160 out of 17,500 kilograms of Highly-Enriched Uranium (HEU) -- weapon-usable nuclear material -- exported to 27 countries in response to a 1992 congressional mandate, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last week.

"The world today is dramatically different than when most U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements were negotiated," the report said. "Many new threats have emerged, and nuclear proliferation risks have increased significantly."

In another disquieting revelation, the GAO pointed out that in the 55 visits from 1994 through 2010, U.S. teams found that countries who received nuclear components met international security guidelines only about 50 percent of the time.

"The agencies have not systematically visited countries believed to be holding the highest proliferation risk quantities of U.S. nuclear material, or systematically revisited facilities not meeting international physical security guidelines in a timely manner," the GAO report warned.

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Belarus halts uranium repatriation to Russia over western sanctions for human rights abuses

Belarus plunges ahead with plans for new nuclear despite objections from world leaders and its own citizens. Compounding concerns, Belarus has now decided not to return its highly enriched uranium, a proliferation risk, to to Russia for downblending, Lukashenko stating Belarus has been badly treated internationally. While the safety of arms quality waste in Russia has been called into question, leaving it in politically volatile Belarus is an even worse solution.

Bellona l Charles Digges   22 August, 2011

The pact last December was an advance in the Obama administration's campaign to secure all vulnerable stocks of nuclear material by 2014, apart of the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which is geared toward repatriating poorly guarded highly enriched uranium stocks given out over decades by the Soviets to satellite states.

While the suspension announced Friday was a sign of deepening tension between Belarus's flamboyant authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko and the West, analysts said it didn't pose a serious security risk.

Rethinking repatriation in environmental terms

Yet the repatriation program itself has recently come under environmental scrutiny as environmentalists and politicians question the wisdom of storing and processing highly enriched uranium in Russia’s substandard, environmentally unclean nuclear facilities.

Germany, with its stockpile of highly enriched uranium and spent fuel from its use accrued in the former East Germany, was the first of the 17 countries in the Global Threat Reduction initiative to refuse to ship its highly enriched uranium back to Russia on grounds of environmental safety.

Under pressure of massive public protests in Germany and Russia, Norbert Röttgen, Germany’s environmental minister in December of 2010 refused to ship 951 spent fuel rods from the Rossendorf research reactor in the former East German region of Saxony to the controversial Urals region Mayak Chemical Combine...

...This leaves Belarus as the last country in the former Soviet orbit outside Russia with a large, Cold War-era stockpile of highly enriched uranium, which can be used to make nuclear bombs if enriched to a pure-enough grade – something that has not been lost on Lukashenko.

In April 2010, Lukashenko refused to participate in the Global Threat Reduction initiative and dramatically announced that he had large stocks of weapons-grade uranium. He said at the time that he would not be “dictated” to abandon it and praised it as a “commodity.”

Later that year, during a security conference held in Astana, Kazakhstan, the Obama administration announced it had brokered a deal with Belarus to relinquish the uranium to Russia in exchange for US help building a Belarusian nuclear power plant – despite the clattering of Belarus’s neighbors against the plant.

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Laser Advances in Nuclear Fuel Stir Terror Fear

Laser enrichment would remove any pretense that the production of nuclear fuel is not linked to proliferation. The enrichment of conventionally produced nuclear fuel is dangerous enough. Laser enrichment would allow smaller groups, with fewer resources to create weapons grade fuel with much less difficulty. The desire for profits in the nuclear industry are driving them to make the world less safe with each passing day. While the threat of terrorism has captured the public imagination, the reality of the nuclear threat doesn't seem to have sunk in. We need to find a way to resolve our differences without waging endless, crippling, and with nuclear and depleted uranium weapons- genocidal wars. In this age of information we now inhabit, there are no real secrets. While it is not possible to access all information (there is simply too much of it for that to be practicable), it is certainly possible to find any specific piece of information if enough attention is devoted to aquiring it. The idea that technology can be kept confidential, used only by "approved" (by who?) countries is unenforceable.

NYTimes l William Broad  20 August, 2011

Scientists have long sought easier ways to make the costly material known as enriched uranium — the fuel of nuclear reactors and bombs, now produced only in giant industrial plants.

One idea, a half-century old, has been to do it with nothing more substantial than lasers and their rays of concentrated light. This futuristic approach has always proved too expensive and difficult for anything but laboratory experimentation.

Until now.

In a little-known effort, General Electric has successfully tested laser enrichment for two years and is seeking federal permission to build a $1 billion plant that would make reactor fuel by the ton.

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Nuclear Proliferation: a civilian and a Military Dilemma

Heinrich Boll Stiftung l Green European Foundation TABLE OF CONTENTS  Preface: Nuclear Energy – a Dead End 3 Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Energy – Siamese Twins or Double Zero Solution? 5 By Otfried Nassauer (click to access PDF) Introduction 6  ...

India to seek uranium import from Australia: Sushilkumar Shinde

India's Clean Energy Program is has strong dependence on nuclear power, therefore it is not producing clean energy.

As activists and unions in Australia fight to end deadly uranium mining, it is imperative that the government not be allowed to lift its ban on exporting uranium to countries like India who have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

This would not only support an unacceptable nuclear energy posture, but enable the means to extract weapons grade plutonium in a country that will not promise not to do so.

Can We Live With the Bomb?



Lawrence S. Wittner  |  History News Network

"...while nuclear weapons exist, we are living on the brink of an unprecedented catastrophe.

Thus, if we are wise, we should draw back from the brink and address the problem posed by nuclear weapons. If the U.S. government and others are serious about building a nuclear weapons-free world, they should begin negotiations on a nuclear abolition treaty. And, if they are not serious about nuclear abolition, the public should raise enough of a ruckus so that they have no alternative to becoming serious.

If we can't live with the Bomb, we should begin planning to get rid it." 

U.N. Nuke Meet Ends with Good Intentions and Empty Promises

Non-Proliferation Review Conference ends with a fizzle and one striking positive note- the call for a 2012 Conference on a nuclear-free Middle East and the goal of appointing a facilitator.

"The road ahead is not easy," said Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the 118-nation Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), "but it's the only way forward." 

Four weeks of intense deliberation, a 28 page document, and three plans of action for the most contested subjects: nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and the "right to nuclear energy," left conference participants unsatisfied. "This is an action plan for treading water," said Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, which monitors U.S. nuclear weapons programmes and policies. 

High hopes ended in sighs of frustration, as once again, the road to true disarmament proves to be mostly uphill.

Diplomats haggle into final hours of nuke session

Associated Press reports diplomats haggling to the bitter end of the NPT Conference. This conference, and the earlier START Treaty, have been good first steps in what looks to be a slow, painful, crawl towards disarmament. 

The five weapons states have not agreed to any specific time table, but they have agreed to ""accelerate concrete progress" toward reducing their atomic weaponry, and to report on progress in 2014 in preparation for the 2015 NPT review session," according to AP. 

Israel has been in the news, and on everybody's mind as things bogged down over the proposed Nuclear-Free Middle East zone. This makes what happens at the at the 2012 Middle East Conference even more important. But, that leaves important details still to be hammered out. Most importantly, if this 2012 Conference will be the start of negotiating a treaty.

With nukes, attitudes change, but safety questions remain

Despite safeguards, waste and security are concerns for watchdogs


MarketWatch gives new nuclear a mixed review. While plant officials at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Center are 

going forward with their proposed billion dollar upgrade which will extend the plant's life for about 40 more years, the fleet of new nuclear plants forecasted to be the solution to global warming don't look likely to be built anymore than they look likely to solve that problem. Plant officials themselves are concerned with safety, and is it really the answer to global warming?

"Not even Palo Verde officials will go that far. Randy Edington, Arizona Power's chief nuclear officer and Palo Verde's top officer, said it still takes a diversified mix of basic building blocks, or "base load plants," to handle the bulk of the workload. "You still need base-load plants, and base-load plants are coal, gas and nuclear," Edington said. "I think diversified power makes sense."

Coal, gas, and nuclear (despite claims to the contrary) are exactly what we are trying to get rid of. The Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, stress the risk of proliferation, infiltration by terrorists, the mammoth costs involved, and the lack of any place to put the waste. There's still a long way to go before we see the end of nuclear, but the lukewarm review from the business sector makes it clear that the real story, like the radioactive waste, is leaking out.

Look for the link at the end to the video of Marketwatch's interview with a representative of Greenpeace.


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Nuclear Power is not the Answer