Monday, May 11, 2015

The Nuclear Complex Engineers Nuclear Proliferation

Sunday's Washington Post edition had a very interesting article on Obama's efforts to renew the 1954 Atomic Energy Act of 1954 in order to sell US nuclear technology to China.

I've paraphrased most of the article and included key excerpts, marked by quotations to illustrate how the nuclear complex's desire for replication eclipses nuclear proliferation concerns.

Mufson, Steven (2015, May 10) Obama’s quiet nuclear deal with China raises proliferation concerns. The Washington Post,

Key points:

Obama notified Congress he is planning on renewing a nuclear cooperation agreement with China allowing China to purchase more US designed reactors and to pursue a facility or technology enabling reactor coolant technology capable of making submarines quieter. China also plans on expanding its reprocessing to create MOX fuel for use in civilian reactors.

The nuclear cooperation agreement to be renewed is the 1954 Atomic Energy Act. The new version is referred to as “a 123 agreement under the Atmic Energy Act of 1954.”

The US currently has bilateral agreements with “with 22 countries, plus Taiwan” for “peaceful use of nuclear power.” Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Malaysia, have expressed interest in clearing obstacles to building US designed nuclear reactors. Westinghouse has been pushing nuclear reactors in China since 2006:
“In December 2006, Westinghouse Electric — majority-owned by Toshiba — signed an agreement to sell its AP1000 reactors to China. Four are under construction, six more are planned, and the company hopes to sell 30 others, according to an April report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS).”

China tested its first nuclear weapon in 1964 and has an arsenal of approximately 250 nuclear warheads. It already has on-hand enriched uranium and plutonium supplies capable of producing vast quantities of nuclear weapons.

Fuel reprocessing is emerging as a major issue. China claims it wants to use Plutonium in its fuel mix in civilian nuclear plants.
So, China is saying it wants to use MOX fuel in civilian nuclear power plants. Experts say china already has enough highly enriched uranium and plutonium to make hundreds of bombs so the implied claim is that China is really simply interested in reprocessing to create MOX fuel.

Critics are not convinced the Obama agreement prevents proliferation of nuclear weapons and may give China the technology to make its nuclear subs much quieter, despite guarantees for IAEA access:
[Sokolski is Executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center is being quoted]:   “Sokolski said the agreement proposed by Obama lacks a requirement for explicit, case-by-case U.S. permission for a reprocessing project using American technology or material from U.S. reactors. It gives consent in advance. And he fears that over the 30-year life of the new 123 agreement, China might want to compete with Russian and U.S. arsenals and make more bombs, for which plutonium is the optimal material.”
It seems very clear from this story that the nuclear complex's logic of replication eclipses any other decision-frame, even when replication will engineer more catastrophic risks into our global nuclear infrastructures.

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