Nuclear Power Plants and Proliferation

“In terms of weapons, the best disarmament tool so far is nuclear energy. We have been taking down the Russian warheads, turning it into electricity. Ten percent of American electricity comes from decommissioned warheads. We haven't even started the American stockpile.”

Stewart Brand
February 2010
TED Conference Debate: Does the World Need Nuclear Energy?

“The ability to construct a weapon from reactor-grade plutonium was demonstrated decades ago. It is dangerous even to consider it an open question. Hans Blix, director-general of the IAEA, informed our Institute that there is 'no debate' on this point in the Safeguards Department of the IAEA, and that the agency considers virtually all isotopes of plutonium, including high burn-up reactor-grade plutonium, to be usable in nuclear weapons. In June 1994, U.S. Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary declassified further details of a 1962 test of a nuclear device using reactor-grade plutonium, which successfully produced a nuclear yield.”

Steven Dolley, Research Director

It is one thing to lie in error or ignorance. One may be young, or new to a field of knowledge. If one is not taking speaking and consulting fees as an expert on the topic, and makes no claims to expertise, no one will think twice about the occasional utterance of pure bullshit. But this is not the case with Stewart Brand. He describes himself as a former member of Greenpeace, a veteran of the environmental movement who now speaks about the heresies of the movement he helped found. He gets to speak at TED conferences and earn a living being one of the select few who lead the conversation on how to save the world. He is a man of science, and as such he should apply the scientific method to his own assumptions. So if he wants to believe that nuclear energy is a fantastic disarmament tool, the first thing he should do is test this idea for negative evidence. Perhaps he has. It is not difficult to do. Reliable sources on the topic are found easily, and when he finds that the UN agency charged with promoting nuclear power disagrees with his assumption, he ought to desist from spreading this wrong information. Only he can answer why he hasn't done his homework, or if he has, why he deliberately lies about this question of nuclear power plants as disarmament tools.

This is not a trivial matter because this lie about nuclear power plants' capacity to “burn up” reactor grade plutonium is repeated often and taught to novices in the nuclear priesthood. They take it in as gospel truth and, like their teachers, are not inclined to question their beliefs as they solidify.
Many others have written about the nuclear proliferation implications of nuclear power plants. To speak of nuclear reactors as a solution to proliferation issues is a bad joke. If nuclear power plants were such a good solution to disposing of bomb-grade plutonium, Israel and the US would give their surplus plutonium to Iran and help them build a reactor to "burn it" up. 
There is a shred of truth in the argument because the bomb-grade fuel that is "burned" in reactors is turned into something more difficult to make a bomb with, but that’s all. The use of bomb-grade plutonium as fuel is not a solution to the ever increasing amounts of nuclear waste, nor will it ever lead to a final disarmament. Decommissioned warheads could just as well be sabotaged with impurities and put in permanent disposal. And we should not overlook the fact that, while some people talk of neutralizing Russian warheads, the US is still producing replacement plutonium pits in Los Alamos in order to refresh the aging inventory of plutonium in its arsenal. Have your weapons if you must, but don’t con us with some fairy tale that proliferation is slowing and disarmament is really happening.

Other sources:

In United States Circumvented Laws To Help Japan Accumulate Tons of Plutonium, Joseph Trento described how the US government at first worried about Japan accumulating plutonium from reactors if the US agreed to share nuclear technology.  Later, the US was a willing accomplice in letting Japan’s plutonium stockpile increase.

Herman Scheer (1944-2010) in The Energy Imperative wrote:

"Clearly, the existing nuclear weaponry or its aspired possession cannot be seen separately from the question of nuclear power. No state which owns and wishes to retain nuclear weapons (and none who is secretly striving for nuclear weapons or, without the knowledge of its own population, want to keep this option open) will be willing to give up its own nuclear power plants. If you have, or want, atomic bombs, not only do you need nuclear power plants, you also need the basis for the an atomic technology industry. For every nuclear power, nuclear technology is a 'double-use technology': having nuclear weaponry without one's own atomic technological potential is unthinkable, and maintaining such a potential solely to build nuclear weapons is almost unaffordable. Thus for as long as we have nuclear weapons, attempts will be made to stimulate a 'renaissance in nuclear power'. But no government will admit to holding on to its nuclear power plants simply to maintain this status. Instead, together with the atomic energy organizations, nuclear powers desperately seek justification for arguing that renewable energy alone is insufficient to meet energy demands. And this is how excellent nuclear scientific knowledge comes to be paired with ignorant arguments against renewable energy. Putting a stop to nuclear energy means nuclear disarmament, otherwise there will be ever greater and more influential attempts to limit renewable energy. Governments that recognize and work towards the target of using renewable energy to meet all their energy needs must also accept the goal of nuclear disarmament. Any other path would be inconsistent or blind to the true circumstances."

-Hermann Scheer, Social Democrat member of the German Bundestag Parliament, President of Eurosolar (The European Association for Renewable Energy) and General Chairman of the World Council for Renewable Energy. The Energy Imperative. p. 160-161. Routledge, 2012.


  1. Hi Dennis - can you write a blog on the elections in Japan (or is that too touchy of a subject at the moment?) I'm just curious to get an insider's view on the election results.

    Just today, 2 articles in the mainstream media talk about Japan restarting nuclear because of the election results.

    Also, I'm not sure if you're limited in what news you get, so this link gives each day's latest nuclear news:


    Take care.

  2. Hi, Anonymous;

    Thanks for the link and the comment. I might write about the political situation in Japan at some time, but so far I have refrained from doing so because I feel that future energy policy will not be determined by a particular party. I think any party that gets power will be forced by the bureaucracy and business community to restart some nuclear plants. If nuclear energy is to be stopped, it will have to be stopped by popular resistance.

  3. I have no words for this great post such a awe-some information.solar panels for schools