The obvious answer, simply put is – get informed.  But that borders on silliness, as nuclear power is sophisticated science that needs a lot of successfully passed education to become involved.  But those smart geek types who do pass have a few among them that can get the messages most important to everyone else out in understandable fashion for the rest of us.

The reality is as most people realize now even after the real meltdown at Chernobyl and the loss of cooling control at Three Mile Island a nuclear reactor of those old generations aren’t going to burn to the center of the earth and explode vast quantities of deadly actinides, er, radioactive particles over the whole planet.  The old technology is safe.  The new designs if ever passed by the government regulators will be far beyond the safe people have seen for more than 50 years.

That leaves the outlaws, terrorists, rogue states, and proliferators.  None of these actors have any designs on selling power reactors to others.  They seek power. Destructive power – and the differences are striking from power generation.  About all that is in common are some of the heavy metal materials.

Democracy Now’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Amy Goodman interviewed John Mueller, author of Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda and John Steinbach, who has studied Israel’s nuclear weapons program, back on April 14, 2010.  Thanks to Rod Adams at Atomic Insights we’re alerted to a worthwhile session of getting informed.

It’s a little remarkable that a recognized political science expert surprises relatively committed anti-nuclear journalists by telling them that their fear of “loose nukes” is not justified because the probabilities are so low.

Adams zeroed in on the prime point that Mueller makes.  The missile weenies, wing nuts and sub drivers will all nod appreciatively.

The Democracy Now ‘Rush’ Transcript is here.

AMY GOODMAN: But Professor Mueller, why is it so hard for groups to get so-called “loose” nukes?

JOHN MUELLER: Well, mainly because they don’t exist. No one has really been able to find anything that’s a loose nuke. If you did actually buy or sell – buy or steal a nuclear weapon, what you’d find is that it’s got a lot of locks on it, and there’s very few people who know how to unlock it. In the case of Pakistan, for example, they keep their weapons in pieces, so you’d have to steal or buy one half, find – go to another secure location and buy or steal the other half, somehow know how to put tab A into slot B, and set it off. The number of people – as I say, the number of people who know how to set them off is very small. The people who designed them are not – do not know how to set them off. And the people who maintain them do not know how to set them off. So just getting the bombs – and they also have locks on them which will, if tampered with, will cause a conventional explosion, which will cause the weapon itself to self-destruct, effectively, in a conventional explosion. So the danger is extraordinarily small, it seems to me.

So I asked a couple of missile weenies about that.  Serious squints and a “why do you want to know” sort of inquiry gets you a potent reality. These folks are not treading anywhere near a topic that’s classified.  And I’m not pushing.

Referred to Mr. Adam’s page and the interview does get knowing smiles, and its clear that getting the “bomb or warhead” isn’t anywhere near enough.  One inside joke is that a nuclear weapon is a kind of ‘improvised explosive device’ for any interloper.  Or – these things are massively dangerous and not because of the nuclear material inside.  Stealing one of these is fool’s errand for the doomed.

The coincidence that “nuclear” applies both to weapons and power generation is just food for the hysterical.  Propane warms millions of homes across the world and also is the explosive in one of the nastiest, biggest and dreadful bombs mankind have ever devised.  As a practical matter hydrogen “burns” so fast that you can’t really say it burns, it explodes.  Fuel whether it’s the lightest molecule such as methane or a very heavy uranium molecule has a great deal of latent energy available.

The old reactor designs are essentially worthless to a terrorist and the newest utterly pointless.  That might be a point to encourage the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to get busy.  It’s no great sin to spin when it’s the truth.  Besides, the press and media can’t be trusted to get it right – after 50 years they should have some compunction about getting the facts before writing stories.

Thorium could be the safest natural fuel across the full range of risks.  The stunning thing is the basis for modern designs was simply shelved in the early 1970s.  At the same time the current crop of reactors was being built to make some heavier actinides for bombs and warheads.  Luckily, that same material is getting reused now in those same reactors instead of freshly mined fuel.  The fuel remnants can again be used in thorium reactors both for added energy release and to finally extract the power value as well as greatly reduce the radioactivity.

There remains a stunning amount of nuclear sourced energy available.  The matter is political policy; safety is fine, mission critical and the first order of any oversight.  But somehow, the public has to get it across to the politicians and regulators that cheap and efficient are vital as well.


1 Comment so far

  1. Matt Musson on April 22, 2010 5:33 AM

    The Atomic Energy Commission should be tasked with choosing /approving a Terrorist/Tamper Proof Design for a commercial reactor.

    Since the AEC has never in it’s 35 year history approved any design at all – that should finally get them off their butts and do some work!

    “The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe.” -Dr. Leonard McCoy, Star Trek IV

Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind