Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here’s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.


 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate

Subscribe!
Subscribe





On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.
___________

Syndicate
RSS/XML


RSS 2.0

James Lovelock and the big bang

By Jim Green - posted Tuesday, 17 July 2007


James Lovelock, famous for his “Gaia Theory” of the Earth as a self-regulating organism, was in Adelaide last weekend speaking at the Festival of Ideas. He has had a fascinating career across a range of disciplines and he had much of interest to say. But on the topic of nuclear power, Lovelock is inaccurate and irresponsible.

"Modern nuclear power stations are useless for making bombs," Lovelock told ABC's Lateline television program last year.

That is in stark contrast to comments made last year by former US Vice President Al Gore: "For eight years in the White House, every weapons proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program," Gore said. "And if we ever got to the point where we wanted to use nuclear reactors to back out a lot of coal ... then we'd have to put them in so many places we'd run that proliferation risk right off the reasonability scale."

Advertisement

So which of these climate campaigners is right - James Lovelock or Al Gore?

A typical nuclear power reactor produces about 300 kilograms of plutonium each year, sufficient for about 30 nuclear weapons. There is no dispute that this “reactor-grade” plutonium can be used in weapons, though the use of weapon-grade plutonium increases their reliability and destructive force.

Power reactors can also be used to produce weapon-grade plutonium which is ideal for nuclear weapons. This could hardly be simpler - all that needs to be done is to shorten the amount of time that the nuclear fuel is irradiated in a reactor. This results in a higher percentage of plutonium-239 relative to other, unwanted isotopes such as plutonium-240, 241 and 242.

The proliferation risks associated with nuclear power are not just hypothetical.

We know that India uses power reactors in its nuclear weapons program (although research reactors have been the main source of plutonium). Under a proposed nuclear agreement between India and the United States, India has announced that 14 of its power reactors will be subject to international safeguards inspections but a further eight will not be safeguarded and can be used for weapons production.

North Korea's nuclear bomb test last October used plutonium produced in a so-called “Experimental Power Reactor”.

Advertisement

The United States uses a power reactor to produce tritium, which is used to increase the destructive force of nuclear weapons. The US has also published details of a successful weapon test carried out in 1962 using reactor-grade plutonium.

Australia's nuclear history provides another demonstration of the link between nuclear power and weapons. On several occasions in the 1950s and '60s, federal Cabinet received submissions arguing that one “advantage” of nuclear power reactors is that they inevitably produce plutonium which can be used in weapons.

From 1969 until his resignation in 1971, Prime Minister John Gorton pursued a plan to build a power reactor at Jervis Bay on the New South Wales coast. He later acknowledged that the purpose of the reactor was to produce not just electricity but also plutonium for potential use in weapons. The Jervis Bay plan was scrapped by Gorton's successor, Billy McMahon.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All


Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

6 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with del.icio.us Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth and a member of the EnergyScience Coalition. His PhD thesis dealt with the history of the Lucas Heights nuclear plant and the debate over the replacement of its nuclear research reactor.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Jim Green

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Jim Green
Article Tools
Comment 6 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend
Advertisement

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy