It is my important discovery from the Fukushima nuclear power accident that we failed to understand radiation from nuclear bombs and the radiation from the nuclear accident are little different in terms of the risk for human life. We have long accepted the dangers of attacks by state actors with nuclear weapons, and now we understand the threat of human error and natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes on nuclear power plants. It seems that we have missed one key piece. What about attacks on nuclear power plants? Above all, I am concerned with terrorist attacks on nuclear power plants in volatile countries.
I have met eminent opinion leaders who are against nuclear weapons but support nuclear energy because it greatly contributes to reduce carbon dioxide. Both opinions might have valid arguments but it seems to me that both have lost sight of the long term risk and consequences.
I have asked Dr. Scott Jones, an International Advisory Council (IAC) member of the Nuclear Emergency Action Alliance (NEAA), to write on the relationship of nuclear energy plants and nuclear weapons. Dr. Scott Jones was a career naval officer with extensive nuclear weapon experience. He was a qualified nuclear weapons delivery pilot, and in intelligence assignments, a Nuclear Weapons Deployment Officer, and created Nuclear Weapon Target Annexes for U.S. European Command War Plans. Following this he became special assistant to Senator Claiborne Pell He wrote an article entitled : Fading Memories and Lessons Learned.
– Akio Matsumura
What is the Relationship of Nuclear Energy Plants and Nuclear Weapons?
Scott Jones, Ph.D.
Setting aside the classical tenderness of the phrase, they are Mother and Child. Within the science community and the business of commercial nuclear energy this reality is a given. However, the “Atoms for Peace” commercial slogan may have introduced some ambiguity about this reality. This is quickly cleared up for the lay person by a January 1983 article published in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:
“An even more specific confirmation of the economic advantage of the commercial-power route to bombs is available in a most distressing form: the admission by the U.S. government, in late 1981, that it is considering turning to commercial-reactor fuel as the source of plutonium for a new round of nuclear warheads. Would the United States even consider paying the political costs of such a move unless the economic attractiveness were compelling?”
The family relationship is the basic and fundamental link between nuclear energy production and nuclear weapons. However, it leads to other important relationships.
Nuclear weapons are the result of willful national security political decisions. After the development and use of nuclear weapons by the Unites States, every country that followed in the club of nuclear weapon owners made that decision because of an assessment that it gave them security that they otherwise would not have. It was claimed to be a defensive move to deter all potential enemies from use of nuclear weapons against them.
Fear is a great fertilizer. It takes a person with great independent wisdom to judge whether a perceived threat was reduced or exacerbated by following a path of fear. Judging is not the mission of the Nuclear Emergency Action Alliance. The NEAA’s mission is to be of service when the emergency is underway.
What we can say with certainty is that a nuclear power plant nominates itself as a potential target. What cannot easily be predicted is who or what may be the aggressor. While progress is being made in predicting threats from nature, it will always remain to a significant degree a capricious force.
In the human realm, current and traditional enemies most certainly will be on target and threat lists. But the threat may be from a terrorist group that selects one of the world’s existing 450 operating nuclear power plants in 31 countries, or later, one the 60 new plants under construction in 16 countries. Which plant to attack may be decided because it is assessed to be the most vulnerable target for their capability to attack.
There is no shortage of targets now and the number is increasing. Success will not be measured by the amount of radiation released. That will almost be immaterial.
The global nuclear power plant network shares a nervous system that is highly tuned to every nuclear event. Deserved or not an accident or an attack will be perceived by much of the world through a memory lens of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.