Archive for September, 2010

Fifteen Bomb Programs by 2030?

It is interesting as an author to see my work through the lens of those whose opinions diverge from my own. Steve Kidd’s review in the August edition of Nuclear Engineering International is a case in point. It’s also worth reading an earlier piece by Kidd in Nuclear Engineering International. In it he states: “It is likely that more countries will foolishly choose to acquire nuclear weapons. If they are really determined to do so, there is little really that the world can do to prevent them—the main effort has to be in dissuading them from this course of action. How many countries will have nuclear weapons by 2030 is hard to say, but there could well be a total of 15 by then.”

In other words, Nuklear Uber Alles (with apologies to the Germans, who appear determined to rid their country of reactors as soon as possible and focus on renewables and smart grid technologies). No matter what happens or how horrible the consequences, hands off the nuclear industry. Kidd basically absolves both the industry and the International Atomic Energy Agency of any responsibility for nuclear proliferation. But the fact is most of the programs that exist today would not have developed without the convenient cover of “peaceful” nuclear energy, beginning with India, which used a Canadian-US supplied reactor supplied under Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program to produce fuel for its first nuclear weapon in 1974. (Actually, even earlier, both Britain and France used the pretext of civilian nuclear power to build the reactors they needed for bomb fuel production.) I don’t think most people would be in favor of more nuclear energy if they knew the flip side was a half dozen more nuclear weapons states within their lifetimes.

Reading Kidd’s commentary brings literature’s eternal optimist to mind. When Candide laying dying after an earthquake in Lisbon, he called upon his philosopher friend Pangloss for food and water. “Help! Get me some wine and oil. I’m dying!”

Pangloss replied: “This earthquake is nothing new. The city of Lima felt the same tremors in America last year.” As if that wasn’t enough, the next day, having found a few scraps of food by crawling about in the rubble, Candide and his companions wept over their morsels of bread. But, Voltaire writes, “Pangloss consoled them by assuring them that things could not be otherwise: ‘For all this is the best there is….'”

In Kidd’s view the prospect of a half dozen more nuclear weapons programs is about the best we can hope for since “there is little really that the world can do to prevent them” — and paying that price in order to secure more nuclear generated electricity is as it should be.

Paperback, Books Talks — and Iraq

I just returned — totally energized — from a series of talks in southern New Hampshire and Vermont to coincide with the release of the paperback edition of In Mortal Hands. It’s heartening to see people at a local level genuinely concerned about the big nuclear issues of our day. If what I said was eye opening to my audiences, listener comments were equally eye opening for me — and I want to hear more from all of you! What I think a lot of people realized is that the nuclear narrative as conveyed by Washington and the mainstream media is misleading a lot of people.

A case in point: Iraq. It’s interesting that Tony Blair in his new book says that he is convinced that had Saddam Hussein remained in power he would have tried for a nuclear weapon. He’s probably right. That doesn’t absolve him or former President George W. Bush of the deaths of at least 100,000 Iraqis and 4,400 soldiers (and thousands more injured) in a war started under false pretenses. At the same time, it is worth remembering that the seeds of the conflict are rooted in a failed nonproliferation policy dating back to the early 1980s. During the whole of that decade the US and its European allies turned a blind eye to dozens of exporters who sold Saddam suspect nuclear technology — and the International Atomic Energy Agency gave Iraq a clean bill of health year after year. Nonproliferation goals took a back seat to larger geopolitical purposes (the “tilt” toward Iraq and against Iran) and commercial interests.

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