Archive for the ‘TECHNOLOGY’ Category

Small nuclear reactors for military use would be too dangerous – excellent targets for the enemy

December 26, 2021

In normal operation, they release potentially hazardous quantities of fission products that would be widely distributed by any penetration of the reactor vessel. More worryingly, the resiliency of tri-structural isotropic particles to kinetic impact is questionable: The silicon carbide coating around the fuel material is brittle and may fracture if impacted by munitions.

Further, graphite moderator material, which is used extensively in most mobile power plant cores, is vulnerable to oxidation when exposed to air or water at high temperatures, creating the possibility of a catastrophic graphite fire distributing radioactive ash. Even in the case of intact (non-leaking) fuel fragments being distributed by a strike, the radiological consequences for readiness and effectiveness are dire.

Given these vulnerabilities, sophisticated adversaries seeking to hinder U.S. forces are likely to realize the utility of the reactor as an area-denial target…….. , a reactor strike offers months of exclusion at the cost of only a few well-placed high-explosive warheads, a capability well within reach of even regional adversaries

Even an unsuccessful or minimally damaging attack on a reactor could offer an adversary significant benefits…………..placing these reactors in combat zones introduces nuclear reactors as valid military targets,

MOBILE NUCLEAR POWER REACTORS WON’T SOLVE THE ARMY’S ENERGY PROBLEMS, War on the Rocks, 14 Dec 21, JAKE HECLA  ”………… As China and Russia develop microreactors for propulsion, the U.S. Army is pursuing the ultimate in self-sufficient energy solutions: the capability to field mobile nuclear power plants. In this vision of a nuclearized future, the Army will replace diesel generator banks with microreactors the size of shipping containers for electricity production by the mid-2020s.

…….  the question is whether or not reactors can truly be made suitable for military use. Are they an energy panacea, or will they prove to be high-value targets capable of crippling entire bases with a single strike?

nuclear power program is confidently sprinting into uncharted territory in pursuit of a solution to its growing energy needs and has promised to put power on the grid within three years. However, the Army has not fielded a reactor since the 1960s and has made claims of safety and accident tolerance that contradict a half-century of nuclear industry experience.

The Army appears set to credulously accept industry claims of complete safety that are founded in wishful thinking and characterized by willful circumvention of basic design safety principles……….. 


Dr Jim Green dissects the hype surrounding Small ”Modular” Nuclear Reactors.

December 25, 2021

 Nuclear power’s economic failure, Ecologist, Dr Jim Green, 13th December 2021     Small modular reactors

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are heavily promoted but construction projects are few and far between and have exhibited disastrous cost overruns and multi-year delays.

It should be noted that none of the projects discussed below meet the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production of reactor components, which could potentially drive down costs.

Using that definition, no SMRs have ever been built and no country, company or utility is building the infrastructure for SMR construction.

In 2004, when the CAREM SMR in Argentina was in the planning stage, Argentina’s Bariloche Atomic Center estimated a cost of US$1 billion / GW for an integrated 300 MW plant (while acknowledging that to achieve such a cost would be a “very difficult task”).

Now, the cost estimate for the CAREM reactor is a mind-boggling US$23.4 billion / GW (US$750 million / 32 MW). That’s a truckload of money for a reactor with the capacity of two large wind turbines. The project is seven years behind schedule and costs will likely increase further.

Russia’s floating plant

Russia’s floating nuclear power plant (with two 35 MW reactors) is said to be the only operating SMR anywhere in the world (although it doesn’t fit the ‘modular’ definition of serial factory production).

The construction cost increased six-fold from 6 billion rubles to 37 billion rubles (US$502 million).

According to the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency, electricity produced by the Russian floating plant costs an estimated US$200 / MWh, with the high cost due to large staffing requirements, high fuel costs, and resources required to maintain the barge and coastal infrastructure.

The cost of electricity produced by the Russian plant exceeds costs from large reactors (US$131-204) even though SMRs are being promoted as the solution to the exorbitant costs of large nuclear plants.

Climate solution?

SMRs are being promoted as important potential contributors to climate change abatement but the primary purpose of the Russian plant is to power fossil fuel mining operations in the Arctic.

A 2016 report said that the estimated construction cost of China’s demonstration 210 MW high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) is about US$5 billion / GW, about twice the initial cost estimates, and that cost increases have arisen from higher material and component costs, increases in labour costs, and project delays.

The World Nuclear Association states that the cost is US$6 billion / GW.

Those figures are 2-3 times higher than the US$2 billion / GW estimate in a 2009 paper by Tsinghua University researchers.

China reportedly plans to upscale the HTGR design to 655 MW but the Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology at Tsinghua University expects the cost of a 655 MW HTGR will be 15-20 percent higher than the cost of a conventional 600 MW pressurised water reactor.

HTGR plans dropped

NucNet reported in 2020 that China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Corp dropped plans to manufacture 20 HTGR units after levelised cost of electricity estimates rose to levels higher than a conventional pressurised water reactor such as China’s indigenous Hualong One.

Likewise, the World Nuclear Association states that plans for 18 additional HTGRs at the same site as the demonstration plant have been “dropped”.

In addition to the CAREM reactor in Argentina and the HTGR in China, the World Nuclear Association lists just two other SMR construction projects.

In July 2021, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) New Energy Corporation began construction of the 125 MW pressurised water reactor ACP100.

According to CNNC, construction costs per kilowatt will be twice the cost of large reactors, and the levelised cost of electricity will be 50 percent higher than large reactors.

Fast reactor

In June 2021, construction of the 300 MW demonstration lead-cooled BREST fast reactor began in Russia.

In 2012, the estimated cost for the reactor and associated facilities was 42 billion rubles; now, the estimate is 100 billion rubles (US$1.36 billion).

Much more could be said about the proliferation of SMRs in the ‘planning’ stage, and the accompanying hype.

For example a recent review asserts that more than 30 demonstrations of different ‘advanced’ reactor designs are in progress across the globe.

In fact, few have progressed beyond the planning stage, and few will. Private-sector funding has been scant and taxpayer funding has generally been well short of that required for SMR construction projects to proceed.


Large taxpayer subsidies might get some projects, such as the NuScale project in the US or the Rolls-Royce mid-sized reactor project in the UK, to the construction stage.

Or they may join the growing list of abandoned SMR projects:

* The French government abandoned the planned 100-200 MW ASTRID demonstration fast reactor in 2019.

* Babcock & Wilcox abandoned its Generation mPower SMR project in the US despite receiving government funding of US$111 million.

* Transatomic Power gave up on its molten salt reactor R&D in 2018.

* MidAmerican Energy gave up on its plans for SMRs in Iowa in 2013 after failing to secure legislation that would require rate-payers to partially fund construction costs.

* TerraPower abandoned its plan for a prototype fast neutron reactor in China due to restrictions placed on nuclear trade with China by the Trump administration.

* The UK government abandoned consideration of ‘integral fast reactors’ for plutonium disposition in 2019 and the US government did the same in 2015.


So we have a history of failed small reactor projects.

And a handful of recent construction projects, most subject to major cost overruns and multi-year delays.

And the possibility of a small number of SMR construction projects over the next decade.

Clearly the hype surrounding SMRs lacks justification.

Moreover, there are disturbing, multifaceted connections between SMR projects and nuclear weapons proliferation, and between SMRs and fossil fuel mining.

Hype cycle

Dr Mark Cooper connects the current SMR hype to the hype surrounding the ‘nuclear renaissance’ in the late 2000s:

“The vendors and academic institutions that were among the most avid enthusiasts in propagating the early, extremely optimistic cost estimates of the “nuclear renaissance” are the same entities now producing extremely optimistic cost estimates for the next nuclear technology. We are now in the midst of the SMR hype cycle.

* Vendors produce low-cost estimates.

* Advocates offer theoretical explanations as to why the new nuclear technology will be cost competitive.

* Government authorities then bless the estimates by funding studies from friendly academics.”  ……………….

Nuclear Fusion Recedes Into Far Future For The 57th Time

December 25, 2021

Fusion Recedes Into Far Future For The 57th Time,  Clean Technica
,  Fusion has an amazing future as a source of energy. In space craft beyond the orbit of Jupiter sometime in the next two centuries. By Michael Barnard, November 9, 2021  Fusion has an amazing future as a source of energy. Which is to say, in space craft beyond the orbit of Jupiter, sometime in the next two centuries. Here on Earth? Not so much. At least, that’s my opinion.

Nuclear electrical generation has 2.5 paths. The first is nuclear fission, the part that is the major electrical generation source that provides about 10% of the electricity in the world today. 

And then there’s fusion. Where fission splits atoms, fusion merges them. Instead of radioactive fuel, there’s a lot of radioactive emissions from the merging of things like hydrogen-3, deuterium, and tritium that irradiates the containment structures. Lower radioactive waste that doesn’t last as long, but still radioactive waste for those who think that’s a concern…….

fusion generation of electricity, as opposed to big honking nuclear weapons using fusion, is a perpetual source of interest. When Lewis Strauss, then chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, talked about nuclear being “too cheap to meter” in 1954, he was talking about fusion, not fission. Like everyone since the mid-1950s, he assumed that fusion would be generating power in 20 years.

And so here we are, 67 years later. How is fusion doing?

Let’s start with the only credible fusion project on the planet, the ITER Tokamak project. It’s been around for decades. It planted its roots in 1985 with Gorbachev and Reagan. 35 countries are involved. Oddly, ITER isn’t an acronym, it’s Latin for “The Way,” a typically optimistic and indeed somewhat arrogant assumption about its place in the universe.

It’s supposed to light up around 2040. That’s so far away I hadn’t bothered to think much about it, as we have to decarbonize well over 50% of our economy long before that. As a result, I had a lazy read on it. I had assumed, as most press and indeed pretty much everyone involved with it asserted, that it would be generating more energy than it consumed, when it finally lit up…………..

ITER will require about 200 MW of energy input in total running as it creates 500 MW of heat. But the exergy of heat means that if it were tapped, it would only return about 200 MW of electricity. So it might be a perpetual motion machine, but one that wouldn’t do anything more than keep its lights running as long as you fed it tritium, about $140 million worth of the stuff a year.

And it gets worse. ITER is planning at the end of this process to maintain this for less than 3000 seconds at a time. That’s 50 minutes. This is at the end of the process. As they build up to less than an hour, mostly they’ll be working on fusion that lasts five minutes, several times a day. It’s a very expensive physics experiment that will not produce climate-friendly energy. It’s going to teach us a bunch, which I completely respect, but it’s not going to help us deal with climate change.

I expected more from ITER. Not much more. I mean, it is a million-component fission reactor expected to light up in 2040 and not generate any electricity at that point. But I had assumed based on all the press that it would generate more electricity than it used to operate if you bolted a boiler and some turbines to it, even if it were grossly expensive. Apparently not. Just grossly expensive, no net new electricity………..

However, ITER is not the only fusion reactor in the game. There are startups! And we all know startups make no promises that they can’t keep and are excellent at disclosure.

Like Helion. They have a photo-shopped peanut asserting it’s a 6th prototype with regenerative power creation that’s never achieved fusion that is backed by Peter Thiel! It just received $500 million more of VC funding, with an option to get up to $2.2 billion if they hit their targets!

I’m not sure if I could have made up a paragraph less likely to make me think that there was some there there.

The website is likely intentionally lacking in anything approaching detail. It’s low-information and VC friendly, which in the energy space is Thiel’s jam. He’s the guy who, despite being partnered with Elon Musk, has never realized that electrical generation was already being disrupted by wind and solar. His acolytes in startups disrupting energy crashed and burned, because he and they never bothered to do the hard work of understanding how electricity actually works at grid scale. At least Musk was solid on solar, although he got the wrong end of it and hasn’t quite figured that out yet.

While Helion has achieved 100 million degrees Celsius, it’s with a high-energy laser pulse — not new ideas, in fact 1950s ideas, just easier now — and they are incredibly coy about duration. The assumption to be taken is that it lasts for a picosecond at a time. They talk about their prototype having worked for months, but that means it’s maintaining a vacuum and occasionally creating plasma, a precursor to fueled fusion. Many years and tens of millions of dollars in, they are promising the moon, and soon. And to be clear, they are well behind on their initial schedule…………..

 fusion generating electricity appears to be as far away as ever.

International Thermonuclear Experimental (fusion) Reactor (ITER) will consume as much power as it will generate

December 25, 2021

The ITER organization has confirmed that the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor is not designed to produce net power. This disclosure comes four years after articles in New Energy Times revealed that the ITER design is equivalent to a zero-net-power reactor.

In an article in the French newspaper Le Canard Enchainé last week, Michel Claessens, the former ITER organization spokesman, explained the ITER power discrepancy.

“For many years, it was claimed that the reactor will generate ten times the power injected. It is completely wrong. Thanks to a patient investigation, the American journalist Steven Krivit showed that ITER will consume as much [power] as it will generate,” Claessens said. “We know now that the net [power] balance will be close to zero.”

 New Energy Times 3rd Nov 2021

Terra Power’s Natrium nuclear reactor will be an economic lemon

December 25, 2021

This host of factors makes it reasonably certain that the Natrium will not be economically competitive.

In other words, even if has no technical problems, it will be an economic lemon.

Ramana, Makhijani: Look before you leap on nuclear, Oct 16, 2021  

The Cowboy State is weighing plans to host a multi-billion dollar “demonstration” nuclear power plant — TerraPower’s Natrium reactor. The long history of similar nuclear reactors, dating back to 1951, indicates that Wyoming is likely to be left with a nuclear lemon on its hands.

The Natrium reactor design, which uses molten sodium as a coolant (water is used in most existing commercial nuclear reactors), is likely to be problematic. Sodium reacts violently with water and burns if exposed to air, a serious vulnerability. A sodium fire, within a few months of the reactor starting to generate power, led to Japan’s Monju [at left] demonstration reactor being shut down.

At 1,200 megawatts, the French Superphénix was the largest sodium-cooled reactor, designed to demonstrate commercial feasibility. Plagued by operational problems, including a major sodium leak, it was shut down in 1998 after 14 years, having operated at an average capacity of under 7 percent compared to the 80 to 90 percent required for commercial operation. Other sodium-cooled reactors have also experienced leaks, which are very difficult to prevent because of chemical interactions between sodium and the stainless steel used in various reactor components. Finally, sodium, being opaque, makes reactor maintenance and repairs notoriously difficult.

Sodium-cooled reactors can experience rapid and hard-to-control power surges. Under severe conditions, a runaway chain reaction can even result in an explosion. Such a runaway reaction was the central cause of the 1986 Chernobyl reactor explosion, though that was a reactor of a different design. Following Chernobyl, Germany’s Kalkar sodium-cooled reactor, about the same size as the proposed Natrium, was abandoned without ever being commissioned, though it was complete.

All these technical and safety challenges naturally drive up the costs of sodium-cooled reactors, making them significantly more expensive than conventional nuclear reactors. More than $100 billion, in today’s dollars, has been spent worldwide in the attempt to commercialize essentially this design and associated technologies, to no avail.

The Natrium design, being even more expensive than present-day reactors, will therefore be more expensive than practically every other form of electricity generation. The Wall Street firm, Lazard, estimates that electricity from new nuclear plants is several times more than the costs at utility-scale solar and wind power plants. Further, the difference has been increasing.

To this bleak picture, Terrapower has added another economically problematic feature: molten salt storage to allow its electric output to vary. Terrapower hopes this feature will help it integrate better into an electricity grid that has more variable electricity sources, notably wind and solar.

Molten salt storage would be novel in a nuclear reactor, but it is used in concentrating solar power projects, where it can cost an additional $2,000 per kilowatt of capacity. At that rate, it could add a billion dollars to the Natrium project.

This host of factors makes it reasonably certain that the Natrium will not be economically competitive. In other words, even if has no technical problems, it will be an economic lemon.

To top it all off, the proposed Wyoming TerraPower demonstration project depends on government funds. Last year, the Department of Energy awarded TerraPower $80 million in initial taxpayer funding; this may increase $1.6 billion over seven years, “subject to the availability of future appropriations” and Terrapower coming up with matching funds.

Despite government support, private capital has recently abandoned a more traditional project, the mPower small modular reactor, resulting in its termination in 2017. And it was Congress that refused to appropriate more money for the sodium-cooled reactor proposed for Clinch River, Tennessee when its costs skyrocketed, thereby ending the project in 1983.

A much harder look at the facts is in order, lest Wyoming add to the total of many cancelled nuclear projects and abandoned construction sites. Of course, the Natrium lemon might be made into lemonade by converting it to an amusement park if it is never switched on, like the Kalkar reactor, now refashioned into Wunderland Kalkar, an amusement park in Germany, near the border with the Netherlands. For energy, the state might look to its natural heritage – its wind power potential is greater than the combined generation of all 94 operating U.S. nuclear reactors put together, which are on average, about three times the size of Natrium.

M. V. Ramana is Professor and Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security and the Director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia. Dr. Ramana holds a Ph.D. in Physics from Boston University.

Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, holds a Ph.D. in engineering (nuclear fusion) from the University of California at Berkeley.

Small nuclear reactors, uranium mining, nuclear fuel chain, reprocessing, dismantling reactors – extract from Expert Response to pro nuclear JRC Report

September 14, 2021


………… If SMRs are used, this not least raises questions about proliferation, i.e. the possible spread of nuclear weapons as well as the necessary nuclear technologies or fissionable materials for their production.    ………..

By way of summary, it is important to state that many questions are still unresolved with regard to any widespread use of SMRs – and this would be necessary to make a significant contribution to climate protection – and they are not addressed in the JRC Report. These issues are not just technical matters that have not yet been clarified, but primarily questions of safety, proliferation and liability, which require international coordination and regulations. 

  • neither coal mining nor uranium mining can be viewed as sustainable …….. Uranium mining principally creates radioactive waste and requires significantly more expensive waste management than coal mining.
  • The volume of waste arising from decommissioning a power plant would therefore be significantly higher than specified in the JRC Report in Part B 2.1, depending on the time required to dismantle it

    Measures to reduce the environmental impact The JRC Report is contradictory when it comes to the environmental impact of uranium mining: it certainly mentions the environmental risks of uranium mining (particularly in JRC Report, Part A, p. 67ff), but finally states that they can be contained by suitable measures (particularly JRC Report, Part A, p. 77ff). However, suitable measures are not discussed in the depth required ……..

    Expert response to the report by the Joint Research Centre entitled “Technical assessment of nuclear energy with respect to the ‛Do No Significant Harm’ criteria in Regulation (EU) 2020/852, the ‛Taxonomy Regulation’”  2021

    ”…………………3.2 Analysing the contribution made by small modular reactors (SMRs) to climate change mitigation in the JRC Report   
      The statement about many countries’ growing interest in SMRs is mentioned in the JRC Report (Part A 3.2.1, p. 38) without any further classification. In particular, there is no information about the current state of development and the lack of marketability of SMRs.

    Reactors with an electric power output of up to 300 MWe are normally classified as SMRs. Most of the extremely varied SMR concepts found around the world have not yet got past the conceptual level. Many unresolved questions still need to be clarified before SMRs can be technically constructed in a country within the EU and put into operation. They range from issues about safety, transportation and dismantling to matters related to interim storage and final disposal and even new problems for the responsible licensing and supervisory authorities 

    The many theories frequently postulated for SMRs – their contribution to combating the risks of climate change and their lower costs and shorter construction periods must be attributed to particular economic interests, especially those of manufacturers, and therefore viewed in a very critical light

    Today`s new new nuclear power plants have electrical output in the range of 1000-1600 MWe. SMR concepts, in contrast, envisage planned electrical outputs of 1.5 – 300 MWe. In order to provide the same electrical power capacity, the number of units would need to be increased by a factor of 3-1000. Instead of having about 400 reactors with large capacity today, it would be necessary to construct many thousands or even tens of thousands of SMRs (BASE, 2021; BMK, 2020). A current production cost calculation, which consider scale, mass and learning effects from the nuclear industry, concludes that more than 1,000 SMRs would need to be produced before SMR production was cost-effective. It cannot therefore be expected that the structural cost disadvantages of reactors with low capacity can be compensated for by learning or mass effects in the foreseeable future (BASE, 2021). 

    There is no classification in the JRC Report (Part A 3.2.1, p. 38) regarding the frequently asserted statement that SMRs are safer than traditional nuclear power plants with a large capacity, as they have a lower radioactive inventory and make greater use of passive safety systems. In the light of this, various SMR concepts suggest the need for reduced safety requirements, e.g. regarding the degree of redundancy or diversity. Some SMR concepts even consider refraining from normal provisions for accident management both internal and external – for example, smaller planning zones for emergency protection and even the complete disappearance of any off-site emergency zones. 

     The theory that an SMR automatically has an increased safety level is not proven. The safety of a specific reactor unit depends on the safety related properties of the individual reactor and its functional effectiveness and must be carefully analysed – taking into account the possible range of events or incidents. This kind of analysis will raise additional questions, particularly about the external events if SMRs are located in remote regions if SMRs are used to supply industrial plants or if they are sea-based SMRs (BASE, 2021). 


    Cosmic radiation will probably prevent growing crops on Mars

    September 14, 2021

    Greenhouses Probably Won’t Work for Growing Crops on Mars Because of Cosmic Radiation

    By ANDY TOMASWICK, UNIVERSE TODAY SEPTEMBER 4, 2021  MARS is a lifeless wasteland for more than one reason. Not only are the temperatures and lack of water difficult for life to deal with, the lack of a magnetic field means radiation constantly pummels the surface. If humans ever plan to spend prolonged periods of time on the red planet, they’ll need to support an additional type of life – crops. However, it appears that even greenhouses on the surface won’t do enough to protect their plants from the deadly radiation of the Martian surface, at least according to a new paper published by researchers at Wageningen University and the Delft University of Technology.

    Ideally, agriculture on the Maritan surface would consist of greenhouse domes and allow what limited sunlight hits the planet to make it through to the crops they house directly. However, current technology greenhouse glass is incapable of blocking the deadly gamma radiation that constantly irradiates Mars. Those gamma radiation levels, which are about 17 times higher on Mars than on Earth, are enough to affect crops grown in greenhouses on the surface significantly.

    The researchers ran an experiment where they planted garden cress and rye and measured the crop output of a group irradiated with Martian levels of gamma radiation with those grown in a “normal” environment with only Earth-level radiation. The crops in the irradiated group ended up as dwarves, with brown leaves, and resulted in a significantly decreased harvest after 28 days of growth.

    To mimic the gamma radiation environment, Nyncke Tack, an undergraduate researcher who performed much of the work for the project, used 5 separate cobalt-60 radiation sources. These were scattered evenly overhead of the test crops to create a “radiation plane” similar to the ever-present radiation field on Mars.

    Other confounding factors, including adding beta and alpha radiation, could also contribute to crop deterioration, though solid objects more easily stop those types of radiation. The research team, who was not surprised by their findings, suggests building underground farms where the planet’s regolith blocks most if not all of that radiation. This would have the obvious disadvantage of losing access to sunlight, but would have the added benefit of being a much more controllable environment, with LEDs and temperature control filling in for environmental conditions on the surface.

    To prove their theory, the team is next commandeering a Cold War-era bunker in the Netherlands to see if their same irradiation experiments affect crops grown inside if the irradiation is coming from outside. While not a direct analog for Martian regolith, it’s a novel approach to understanding how humans might eventually farm the sky.

    Weaponising space -the high road to World War 3, but profitable for weapon and space companies

    September 14, 2021

    Insane U.S. Plan to Spend Billions on Weaponizing Space Makes Defense Contractors Jump for Joy—But Rest of World Cowers in Horror at Prospect of New Arms Race Leading to World War IIICovertAction Magazine  By Karl Grossman – August 25, 2021 Imagine this scenario from the year 2045: The U.S. and China, after years of belligerence, go to war over control of the Taiwan straits; most of the battles are fought through cyber-attacks and space-based weapons systems that had been perfected over the previous decades.

    In a desperate maneuver, the U.S. activates its “rods from God”—a scheme developed in Project Thor involving telephone-pole-sized tungsten rods being dropped from orbit reaching a speed ten times the speed of sound [7,500 miles per hour] hitting with the force of nuclear weapons—and Beijing’s military command centers and other significant targets are destroyed.

    The above scenario looks increasingly plausible given a) the growing prospect of war between the U.S. and China; and b) the growing militarization of space by the U.S.—in violation of the landmark Outer Space Treaty of 1967 that sets aside space “for peaceful purposes.”

    U.S. Space Force and the Evisceration of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty

    Donald Trump declared at a meeting of the National Space Council of the U.S. in 2018 that “it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space, we must have American dominance in space…. I’m hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces … It is going to be something.”

    Indeed, the U.S. Space Force, established in December 2019, is something—and can, if not will, destroy the visionary Outer Space Treaty of keeping space for peace.

    The Outer Space Treaty
     of 1967 was put together by the U.S., Great Britain and the former Soviet Union and has wide support from nations around the world. 111 countries are parties to the treaty, while another 23 have signed the treaty but have not completed ratification.

    As Craig Eisendrath, who as a young U.S. State Department officer was involved in the treaty’s creation, told me—and I quote him in my book Weapons in Space—“we sought to de-weaponize space before it got weaponized … to keep war out of space.”

    This foundational treaty has allowed for half a century of ever expanding peaceful activity in space, free from man-made threats,” writes Paul Meyer, in his chapter “Arms Control in Outer Space: A Diplomatic Alternative to Star Wars” in the book Security in the Global Commons and Beyond.[1]

    The Outer Space Treaty bars placement “in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction or from installing such weapons on celestial bodies.”

    Biden Signs Off on Space Force

    Republican Trump’s successor as U.S. president, Democrat Joe Biden, has not pulled back on the U.S. Space Force. As Defense News headlined in 2021: “With Biden’s ‘full support,’ the Space Force is officially here to stay.”

    Its article opened: “U.S. President Joe Biden will not seek to eliminate the Space Force and roll military space functions back into the Air Force, the White House confirmed.” It continued: “White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters during a Feb. 3 briefing that the new service has the ‘full support’ of the Biden administration.” And it went on: “‘We’re not revisiting the decision,’ she said.”

    Most Democrats in the U.S. Congress voted for the legislation providing for formation of the U.S. Space Force as pushed by Trump. All Republicans in the U.S. Congress voted for it.

    False Pretext

    For decades there has been an effort to extend the Outer Space Treaty and enact the Prevention of an Arms Race, the PAROS treaty, which would bar any weapons in space.

    China, Russia (and U.S. neighbor Canada) have been leaders in seeking passage of the PAROS treaty. But the U.S.—through administration after administration, Republican and Democrat—has opposed the PAROS treaty and effectively vetoed it at the United Nations.

    Although the PAROS treaty has broad backing from nations around the world, it must move through the UN’s Conference on Disarmament which functions on a consensual basis.

    A rationale for the U.S. Space Force now being claimed is that it is necessary to counter moves by China and Russia in space, particularly development of anti-satellite weapons.

    That is what a CNN report in August 2021, titled “An Exclusive Look into How Space Force Is Defending America,” centrally asserted. There was no mention in the six-minute-plus CNN piece of how China and Russia (and Canada) have led for decades in the push for PAROS, and how China and Russia in recent times have reiterated their calls for space to be weapons-free.

    We are calling on the international community to start negotiations and reach agreement on arms control in order to ensure space safety as soon as possible,” said the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, in April 2021. “China has always been in favor of preventing an arms race in space; it has been actively promoting negotiations on a legally binding agreement on space arms control jointly with Russia.”

    A day earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for talks to create an “international legally binding instrument” to ban the deployment of “any types of weapons” in space.  Lavrov said: “We consistently believe that only a guaranteed prevention of an arms race in space will make it possible to use it for creative purposes, for the benefit of the entire mankind. We call for negotiations on the development of an international legally binding instrument that would prohibit the deployment of any types of weapons there, as well as the use of force or the threat of force.

    Onward and Upward!

    Meanwhile, the U.S. Space Force drives ahead.

    It has requested a budget of $17.4 billion for 2020 to “grow the service,” reports Air Force Magazine. “Space Force 2022 Budget Adds Satellites, Warfighting Center, More Guardians,” was the headline of its article. And in the first paragraph, it adds “and fund more than $800 million in new classified programs.” (“Guardians” is the name adopted by the U.S. Space Force in 2021 for its members.)

    A recruitment drive is under way.

    The U.S. Space Force “received its first offensive weapon … satellite jammers,” reported American Military News in 2020. “The weapon does not destroy enemy satellites, but can be used to interrupt enemy satellite communications and hinder enemy early warning systems meant to detect a U.S. attack,” it stated…………

    “US Space Command—dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment. Integrating Space Forces into war-fighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict,” trumpeted Vision for 2020……….

    I displayed the comments of U.S. Space Command Commander-in-Chief Joseph W. Ashy in Aviation Week and Space Technology in 1996: “It’s politically sensitive, but it’s going to happen,” said the general.

    Some people don’t want to hear this … but—absolutely—we’re going to fight in space. We’re going to fight from space and we’re going to fight into space…. We will engage terrestrial targets someday—ships, airplanes, land targets—from space.”  U.S. Space Command Commander-in-Chief General Joseph W. Ashy……………


    Arnie Gundersen writes to Bill Gates – about public funding for Gates’ false Natrium nuclear solution to climate change

    September 14, 2021

    History shows a legacy of failures in the pursuit of the sodium reactor fantasy. As Admiral Rickover said almost 70 years ago, sodium reactors are “expensive to build, complex to operate, susceptible to prolonged shutdown as a result of even minor malfunctions, and difficult and time-consuming to repair.

    Mr. Gates, it’s time to face the music (and the facts) – your supposedly foolproof, sodium-cooled Natrium brainchild will encounter those same obstacles. In my fifty years of nuclear power expertise, I have learned that sooner or later, in any foolproof system, the fools are going to exceed the proofs. Now is the time to stop the Natrium marketing hype and instead use those precious public funds to pursue renewable energy options with a proven history of actually working inexpensively in a time frame that will prevent catastrophic climate change!

    An Open Letter to Bill Gates About his Wyoming Atomic Reactor,
    BY ARNIE GUNDERSEN      Dear Mr. Gates,

    I am writing this open letter to you because I believe you have crossed the line by leveraging your fortune maneuvering State Governments and indeed the US Government to syphon precious taxpayer funds in support your latest atomic contrivance in Wyoming. How you spend your personal fortune is your decision and yours alone, but I question your zeal to leverage that fortune by securing additional public funds for an unproductive techno-solution[1] that claims to solve the climate crisis! Your latest technofix is the scheme to have taxpayers fund your new nuclear power concept in Wyoming, claiming that it will mitigate the climate crisis. It won’t!

    Atomic power generation is not part of your skillset, but it is mine. The many facets of nuclear energy have been areas of my professional focus for the last 50 years. Beginning in 1971 with two nuclear engineering degrees, a Reactor Operator’s license, a corporate Senior Vice President position for an atomic licensee, a nuclear safety patent, two peer reviewed papers on radiation, and a best-selling book on Fukushima, nuclear power is in my wheelhouse, not yours.

    Based on my experience, I am writing this public letter to express my fear that you have made a huge mistake by proposing to build a sodium-cooled small modular reactor (SMR) in Wyoming. Mr. Gates, your atomic power company Natrium (for the Latin word for sodium) is following in the footsteps of a seventy-year long record of sodium-cooled nuclear technological failures. Your plan to recycle those old failed attempts to resurrect liquid sodium yet again will siphon valuable public funds and research from much more inexpensive and proven renewable energy alternatives. Spending public funds on Natrium will make the global climate crisis worse, not better!

    Let me explain why Natrium is doomed. As you probably have already been told, all present-day atomic reactors are cooled by water and are called Light Water Reactors (LWRs). Similarly, all US coal, oil, and gas-fired electric plants heat water, not exotic coolants. While some Small Modular Reactors concepts retain water cooling, Natrium’s proposed design deviates from this pattern by cooling the atomic chain reaction using an exotic coolant and specially designed steam generators to remove the atomic heat. Nuclear power concepts that do not use water for cooling are called Non-Light Water Reactors (or NLWRs), and Natrium claims that cooing with liquid sodium is safer and more reliable than traditional water-cooled reactors. What evidence exists to support that assertion?

    World renowned energy economist Mycle Schneider calls Natrium and other proposed conceptual reactors “PowerPoint Reactors” as none are close to being fully designed yet all are being marketed as though their successful and safe operation were a fait accompli. According to Mycle Schneider, as reported in Politico EU:

    All they have right now are basically PowerPoint reactors — it looks nice on the slide but they’re far from an operating pilot plant. We are more than a decade away from anything on the ground.”

    The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recently completed an exhaustive, 140-page study of the supposed safety improvements claimed by NLWR manufactures like Natrium. Entitled Advanced Isn’t Always BetterUCS concludes:

    “But a fundamental question remains: Is different actually better? The short answer is no. Nearly all of the NLWRs currently on the drawing board fail to provide significant enough improvements over LWRs to justify their considerable risks.”

    Recently, the media and governors in western states have become enthralled with one NLWR design hyped by you and your publicity team at Natrium. Using your successes at Microsoft, you are now asking state and national governments to bankroll a “fast reactor” concept that is cooled by liquid sodium.

    “Wyoming To Lead The Coal-To-Nuclear Transition

    Interest for new nuclear plants is growing beyond Wyoming as states in the western region like Montana, Nebraska, Utah, Idaho and North Dakota reevaluate the role of nuclear energy – particularly applications for advanced nuclear reactors … the brainchild of Bill Gates, … has developed a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system.”

    The history of sodium as an atomic coolant does not support your grandiose claims for its success. Mr. Gates, the marketing hype associated with your latest “brainchild” ignores 70 years of failures using liquid sodium as an atomic reactor coolant. What follows are just a few examples of the monumental failures that have used liquid sodium that I am not so sure you have studied carefully before pressing for government funds in pursuit your idea.

    According to Scientific American, liquid sodium “is no mere novelty; as dangerous as it is captivating…  Sodium has significant disadvantages. On contact with air, it burns; plunged into water, it explodes.”

    The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists goes even further stating:

    Unfortunately, this pitch glossed over stubborn facts… because plutonium fast-breeder reactors use liquid metal coolants, such as liquid sodium, operating them safely is far more challenging and expensive than conventional reactors. When private industry tried in the early 1960s to operate its own commercial-sized fast-breeder, Fermi I, the benefits were negative. Barely three years after Fermi 1 came online, a partial fuel meltdown in 1966 brought it down… These facts, however, are rarely emphasized….”

    In addition to the meltdown at Fermi 1, whose failure is highlighted in the book We Almost Lost Detroit, other sodium cooled reactors have failed in the United States and worldwide. Beginning in 1950, the Navy attempted to develop a sodium-cooled reactor for the Seawolf submarine. According to the American Nuclear Society, Admiral Rickover, the founder of the nuclear Navy, testified to Congress in 1957 stating:

    “We went to full power on the Seawolf alongside the dock on August 20 of last year.  Shortly thereafter, she developed a small leak. It took us 3 months, working 24 hours a day, to locate and correct the leak. This is one of the serious difficulties in sodium plants.”

    Rickover killed the Navy’s sodium powered reactor because of sodium leaks, sodium’s volatility and because sodium repairs take too long and radiation exposure to workers was too high. The problem of high radiation exposures to maintenance personnel while repairing inevitable sodium leaks was also highlighted by Rickover in that same 1957 testimony when he stated:

    “Sodium becomes 30,000 times as radioactive as water. Furthermore, sodium has a half-life of 14.7 hours, while water has a half-life of about 8 seconds.”

    Making rapid repairs in a sodium-cooled reactor is impossible because sodium becomes highly radioactive as it flows through the reactor core and it stays radioactive for weeks after shutdown. In contrast, water used to cool conventional reactors stays highly radioactive for about one minute.

    After failed attempts to use liquid sodium on the Seawolf and on Fermi 1, nuclear zealots convinced the US Congress to subsidize yet another sodium-cooled reactor at Clinch River in Tennessee. The concept of a sodium reactor at Clinch River originated before the meltdown at Fermi 1, but was continued with huge government subsidies until 1984. Overcoming the safety issues presented by cooling atoms using liquid sodium led to delays and cost overruns that were certainly significant factors when the project was finally killed by Congress. However, serious, game-changing, safety concerns were also a factor in the cancelation of the project. According to The Rise and Demise of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor in Scientific American:

    “In 1982 … the Energy Department videotaped safety tests it had conducted of how molten sodium might react once it came in contact with the reactor’s concrete containment structure. Concrete contains water crystals. Molten sodium reacts explosively when it comes in contact with oxygen, including oxygen contained in water. What the test demonstrated and the video showed was concrete exploding when it came in contact with liquid sodium.”

    Even after the cancelation of the Clinch River fiasco, those same nuclear zealots continued to pursue the fantasy of a sodium-cooled reactor at the Monju site in Japan. Construction began in 1985 and about a decade later, the Monju sodium-cooled reactor was finally ready to operate. It did not operate long, however. After operating only 4 months, Monju had an emergency shutdown when the inevitable sodium leak caused an inevitable sodium fire.

    According to a report issued by the Monju Construction Office entitled Sodium Leak at Monju-Causes and Consequences, the failure mode that caused the leak could not have been anticipated by Monju’s designers.

    “On December 8, 1995, a sodium leak from the Secondary Heat Transport System (SHTS) occurred in a piping room of the reactor auxiliary building at Monju. The sodium leaked through a thermocouple temperature sensor due to the breakage of the well tube of the sensor installed near the outlet of the Intermediate Heat Exchanger (IHX) in SHTS Loop C… On the basis of the investigations, it was concluded that the breakage of the thermocouple well was caused by high cycle fatigue due to flow induced vibration in the direction of sodium flow.”

    After ten years of construction, Monju’s four months of operation were followed by a fifteen year shutdown, Monju again restarted in 2010, but operated for less than a year when the equipment used for refueling fell into the reactor while a refueling was in progress. It never restarted. The simple fact is that the Monju sodium reactor took ten years to construct, ran intermittently for one year, and failed operate for twenty years. And then there is the matter of Japan’s government subsidized costs which exceeded $11 Billion USD.

    “The move to shut the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor in Fukui prefecture west of Tokyo adds to a list of failed attempts around the world to make the technology commercially viable and potentially cut stockpiles of dangerous nuclear waste…. With Monju’s shutdown, Japan’s taxpayers are now left with an estimated bill of at least 375 billion yen ($3.2 billion) to decommission its reactor, on top of the 1 trillion yen ($8.5 billion) spent on the project.”

    A half a world away from Japan, France generates 75% of its electricity for light water cooled atomic reactors and has also considered sodium reactors. Given the repeated failures of sodium-cooled technology in Japan and the US, and with the falling price of renewable power, in 2019 France chose not to pursue the path chosen by you and NatriumAccording to Reuters, France has decided to pull the plug on its sodium-cooled reactor designs for at least half a century!

    PARIS (Reuters) – France’s CEA nuclear agency has dropped plans to build a prototype sodium-cooled nuclear reactor, it said on Friday, after decades of research and hundreds of millions of euros in development costs. Confirming a report in daily newspaper Le Monde, the state agency said it …is no longer planning to build a prototype in the short or medium term. “In the current energy market situation, the perspective of industrial development of fourth-generation reactors is not planned before the second half of this century,”

    There are more reports I could outline but I think I have made my point! History shows a legacy of failures in the pursuit of the sodium reactor fantasy. As Admiral Rickover said almost 70 years ago, sodium reactors are “expensive to build, complex to operate, susceptible to prolonged shutdown as a result of even minor malfunctions, and difficult and time-consuming to repair.”

    Mr. Gates, it’s time to face the music (and the facts) – your supposedly foolproof, sodium-cooled Natrium brainchild will encounter those same obstacles. In my fifty years of nuclear power expertise, I have learned that sooner or later, in any foolproof system, the fools are going to exceed the proofs. Now is the time to stop the Natrium marketing hype and instead use those precious public funds to pursue renewable energy options with a proven history of actually working inexpensively in a time frame that will prevent catastrophic climate change!


    Arnold “Arnie” Gundersen

    Moltex Energy’s nuclear pyroprocessing project with plutonium would produce weapons grade material and encourage weapons proliferation

    September 14, 2021

    Will Canada remain a credible nonproliferation partner?

    By Susan O’DonnellGordon Edwards | July 26, 2021 

    Susan O’Donnell
    Susan O’Donnell is a researcher specializing in technology adoption and environmental issues at the University of New Brunswick.

    Gordon Edwards
    Gordon Edwards is a mathematician, physicist, nuclear consultant, and president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility,

    The recent effort to persuade Canada to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has stimulated a lively debate in the public sphere. At the same time, out of the spotlight, the start-up company Moltex Energy received a federal grant to develop a nuclear project in New Brunswick that experts say will undermine Canada’s credibility as a nonproliferation partner.

    Moltex wants to extract plutonium from the thousands of used nuclear fuel bundles currently stored as “high-level radioactive waste” at the Point Lepreau reactor site on the Bay of Fundy. The idea is to use the plutonium as fuel for a new nuclear reactor, still in the design stage. If the project is successful, the entire package could be replicated and sold to other countries if the Government of Canada approves the sale.

    The recent effort to persuade Canada to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has stimulated a lively debate in the public sphere. At the same time, out of the spotlight, the start-up company Moltex Energy received a federal grant to develop a nuclear project in New Brunswick that experts say will undermine Canada’s credibility as a nonproliferation partner.

    Moltex wants to extract plutonium from the thousands of used nuclear fuel bundles currently stored as “high-level radioactive waste” at the Point Lepreau reactor site on the Bay of Fundy. The idea is to use the plutonium as fuel for a new nuclear reactor, still in the design stage. If the project is successful, the entire package could be replicated and sold to other countries if the Government of Canada approves the sale.

    On May 25, nine US nonproliferation experts sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing concern that by “backing spent-fuel reprocessing and plutonium extraction, the Government of Canada will undermine the global nuclear weapons non-proliferation regime that Canada has done so much to strengthen.”

    The nine signatories to the letter include senior White House appointees and other US government advisers who worked under six US presidents: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama; and who hold professorships at the Harvard Kennedy School, University of Maryland, Georgetown University, University of Texas at Austin, George Washington University, and Princeton University.

    Plutonium is a human-made element created as a byproduct in every nuclear reactor. It’s a “Jekyll and Hyde” kind of material: on the one hand, it is the stuff that nuclear weapons are made from. On the other hand, it can be used as a nuclear fuel. The crucial question is, can you have one without the other?

    India exploded its first nuclear weapon in 1974 using plutonium extracted from a “peaceful” Canadian nuclear reactor given as a gift many years earlier. In the months afterwards, it was discovered that South Korea, Pakistan, Taiwan, and Argentina—all of them customers of Canadian nuclear technology—were well on the way to replicating India’s achievement. Swift action by the US and its allies prevented these countries from acquiring the necessary plutonium extraction facilities (called “reprocessing plants”). To this day, South Korea is not allowed to extract plutonium from used nuclear fuel on its own territory—a long-lasting political legacy of the 1974 Indian explosion and its aftermath—due to proliferation concerns.

    Several years after the Indian explosion, the US Carter administration ended federal support for civil reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in the US out of concern that it would contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons by making plutonium more available. At that time, Canada’s policy on reprocessing also changed to accord with the US policy—although no similar high-level announcement was made by the Canadian government.

    Moltex is proposing to use a type of plutonium extraction technology called “pyroprocessing,” in which the solid used reactor fuel is converted to a liquid form, dissolved in a very hot bath of molten salt. What happens next is described by Moltex chairman and chief scientist Ian Scott in a recent article in Energy Intelligence. “We then—in a very, very simple process—extract the plutonium selectively from that molten metal. It’s literally a pot. You put the metal in, put salt in the top, mix them up, and the plutonium moves into the salt, and the salt’s our fuel. That’s it. … You tip the crucible and out pours the fuel for our reactor.”

    The federal government recently supported the Moltex project with a $50.5-million grant, announced on March 18 by Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc in Saint John.

    At the event, LeBlanc and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs described the Moltex project as “recycling” nuclear waste, although in fact barely one-half of one per cent of the used nuclear fuel is potentially available for use as new reactor fuel. That leaves a lot of radioactive waste left over.

    From an international perspective, the government grant to Moltex can be seen as Canada sending a signal—giving a green light to plutonium extraction and the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel.

    The US experts’ primary concern is that other countries could point to Canada’s support of the Moltex program to help justify its own plutonium acquisition programs. That could undo years of efforts to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of countries that might want to join the ranks of unofficial nuclear weapons states such as Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. The Moltex project is especially irksome since its proposed pyroprocessing technology is very similar to the one that South Korea has been trying to deploy for almost 10 years.

    In their letter, the American experts point out that Japan is currently the only nonnuclear-armed state that reprocesses spent nuclear fuel, a fact that is provoking both domestic and international controversy.

    In a follow-up exchange, signatory Frank von Hippel of Princeton University explained that the international controversy is threefold: (1) The United States sees both a nuclear weapons proliferation danger from Japan’s plutonium stockpile and also a nuclear terrorism threat from the possible theft of separated plutonium; (2) China and South Korea see Japan’s plutonium stocks as a basis for a rapid nuclear weaponization; and (3) South Korea’s nuclear-energy R&D community is demanding that the US grant them the same right to separate plutonium as Japan enjoys.

    Despite the alarm raised by the nine authors in their letter to Trudeau, they have received no reply from the government. The only response has come from the Moltex CEO Rory O’Sullivan. His reply to a Globe and Mail reporter is similar to his earlier rebuttal in The Hill Times published in his letter to the editor on April 5: the plutonium extracted in the Moltex facility would be “completely unsuitable for use in weapons.”

    But the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has stated that “Nuclear weapons can be fabricated using plutonium containing virtually any combination of plutonium isotopes.” All plutonium is of equal “sensitivity” for purposes of IAEA safeguards in nonnuclear weapon states.

    Similarly, a 2009 report by nonproliferation experts from six US national laboratories concluded that pyroprocessing is about as susceptible to misuse for nuclear weapons as the original reprocessing technology used by the military, called PUREX.

    In 2011, a US State Department official responsible for US nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries went further by stating that pyroprocessing is just as dangerous from a proliferation point of view as any other kind of plutonium extraction technology, saying: “frankly and positively that pyro-processing is reprocessing. Period. Full stop.”

    And, despite years of effort, the IAEA has not yet developed an approach to effectively safeguard pyroprocessing to prevent diversion of plutonium for illicit uses.

    Given that history has shown the dangers of promoting the greater availability of plutonium, why is the federal government supporting pyroprocessing?

    It is clear the nuclear lobby wants it. In the industry’s report, “Feasibility of Small Modular Reactor Development and Deployment in Canada,” released in March, the reprocessing (which they call “recycling”) of spent nuclear fuel is presented as a key element of the industry’s future plans.

    Important national and international issues are at stake, and conscientious Canadians should sit up and take notice. Parliamentarians of all parties owe it to their constituents to demand more accountability. To date however, there has been no democratic open debate or public consultation over the path Canada is charting with nuclear energy.

    Countless Canadians have urged Canada to sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that came into force at the end of January this year. Ironically, the government has rebuffed these efforts, claiming that it does not want to “undermine” Canada’s long-standing effort to achieve a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty. Such a treaty would, if it ever saw the light of day (which seems increasingly unlikely), stop the production of weapons usable materials such as highly enriched uranium and (you guessed it) plutonium.

    So, the Emperor not only has no clothes, but his right hand doesn’t know what his left hand is doing.