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Bill Gates’ Fast Nuclear Reactor: Will It Bomb? via The National Interest

The principal reason for preferring fast reactors, historically the only reason, is to gain the ability to breed plutonium. Thus, the reactor would make and reuse massive quantities of material that could also be used as nuclear explosives in warheads.

by Victor Gilinsky Henry Sokolski

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The Natrium project, more than any other, offers the possibility to fulfill the nuclear community’s eighty-year-old nuclear dream to develop a nuclear power plant that can run on all mined uranium, not just on the relatively rare uranium-235 fissile isotope, as current reactors do, thereby vastly increasing fuel resources. It does this by first turning the inert uranium into plutonium and then using the plutonium as fuel. It can even “breed” excess plutonium to fuel new fast reactors. Those outside the nuclear community have no idea of the grip this captivating idea has on nuclear engineers’ minds. It has, however, serious practical drawbacks. What concerns us here is that plutonium is a nuclear explosive—a few kilograms are enough for a bomb, and it is an awful idea to have untold tons of it coursing through commercial channels.

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The thing to remember is that the principal reason for preferring fast reactors, historically the only reason, is to gain the ability to breed plutonium. That is surely what foreign customers will want. The original GE design on which Natrium is based included an onsite reprocessing plant. So configured, the reactor would make and reuse massive quantities of material that could also be used as nuclear explosives in warheads.

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The potential weapons link is obvious in India, which has refused to allow international inspections of its fast reactor. And the recent disclosure that China is building two fast reactors more or less under wraps immediately provoked international concerns about Chinese possible weapons plutonium production. The plutonium produced in the fast reactor uranium “blanket” surrounding the reactor core is well over 90 percent plutonium 239, which is ideal for nuclear weapons.

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At the March Senate hearing, TerrPower’s CEO described a future for the Natrium project that had almost unlimited export opportunities for Natrium and much larger plants. As Levesque explained, the current Natrium offering is a 345-megawatt (electric) machine—not so small in itself—because that size was what today’s market would accept. As TerraPower gained experience, though, he anticipated “growing Natrium output back up to gigawatt scale,” the size of current large light water reactors. The obvious conclusion is that, despite the current ballyhoo about the economic advantages of small units, TerraPower doesn’t think the smaller units would be as economic as larger ones. The “small” label is apparently just for the easily impressed.

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