Opponents of nuclear power rightly focus on issues of cost, operational danger and waste disposal, writes David Lowry. But they should not forget the towering ‘elephant in the room’ – nuclear security and the risk of proliferation and terrorist attacks.
Nuclear power and nuclear security
This discussion will put the focus squarely on the 25 states that possess nuclear materials, most of them for civil nuclear programs for the generation of electricity.
Despite reassurances that these nuclear materials present little or no proliferation hazard, the reverse is the case. Nuclear security is the ‘elephant in the room’ of the nuclear power debate.
Sellafield – a nuclear security nightmare
In Britain, the biggest nuclear security problem is the huge nuclear facility at Sellafield, originally built in the early 1950 on England’s northwest coast, in Cumbria, which is also home of the wonderful Lake District National Park.
Sellafield however is also the home of hundreds of decaying and decrepit building, many stores of liquid and solid radioactive waste, and, from a security perspective, most importantly, 111 tonnes of weapons – useable plutonium.
Let me give you that figure in another way. 111 tonnes is 111,000 kilogrammes. A nuclear bomb can be made with as little as 5 kilograms of plutonium – a lump about the size of a large orange.
UK score on nuclear security: 11%
But the problem is clearly systemic. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council, who also happen to be the ‘Big Five’ nuclear weapons states – the US, Russia, China, UK and France – all ranked 18th or worse out of 25, with scores of 34/100 or worse.
Intriguingly Iran – condemned by the US and other countries as representing a major nuclear proliferation hazard and punished by the Security Council with severe sanctions as a consequence – ranked 4th with a score of 89/100, putting the UNSC permanent members to shame.