Small Modular Reactors and Proliferation /Tolerance of Nuclear Weapons

Gordon Edwards, January 12, 2021

Uranium enrichment is indeed a proliferation-sensitive technology as is clearly demonstrated by the Iranian situation. Even though, under the terms of the NPT and all other international accords, Iran has the right to enrich uranium to any degree that might be desired, for civilian purposes only, in practical terms the western powers do not at all trust Iran to exercise that right. So they are prohibited from doing so, even to the 20% (minus epsilon) level, which is what many of the proposed SMNR designs require.

Right up until the final shutdown of the NRU reactor at Chalk River, Canada was using weapons-grade uranium (>93%) targets for the production of technetium-99m generators for use in hospitals around the world, and I was told by an Iranian scientist in Salzburg that Iran wanted weapons-grade uranium for exactly the same reason – medical isotopes. All of this ignoring the fact that weapons-grade uranium is NOT needed for this purpose, whether in Canada or anywhere else, and in actual fact technetium-99m generators can be produced in a cost-effective manner without the use of a nuclear reactor of any kind, or even using uranium of any kind.

But – in the interests of a nuclear weapons free world – Canada should indeed be encouraging the international / multinational control (or oversight) of ALL enrichment facilities.

But that is small potatoes. Canada claims the NPT is the backbone of its non-proliferation commitment, but India has not signed the NPT and has already developed a nuclear weapons capability beginning in 1974 with plutonium produced in a Canadian reactor (the CIRUS, a clone of the NRX). Whereupon Canada insisted there would be no more nuclear cooperation between Canada and India – but all the time, India remained a member of COG (the CANDU Owners Group) and went on to build more than a dozen CANDU “clones” without direct Canadian help (other than the fact that we sold them under very generous terms the original CANDUS that were the cookie-cutter models for all the others.  And then, under Stephen Harper, we resumed sales of uranium to India without any requirement that they get rid of their nuclear arsenal or even stop expanding it, and without signing the NPT. Which makes all the other countries who signed the NPT to have access to Canadian uranium and/or technology look like fools, because India got all the goodies without accepting the NPT responsibilities. Canada should stop selling uranium to India if the NPT is really so important.

But even that is small potatoes. Article VI of the NPT says that the “ official  nuclear weapons states USA, UK, France, Russia and China, must negotiate in good faith not only to eliminate nuclear weapons but to achieve general and complete disarmament (i.e. elimination of armies and an end to war).  Clearly, none of these nuclear superpowers are embarked on such a path, and until they do, Canada should refuse to sell uranium to any of them. Or at least should put constant pressure on the, to comply with Article VI. The fact that these things are not done indicates that Canada is only paying lip-service when it says that NPT is the basis for its non-proliferation policies.

PET told the UN General Assembly that if we want a world free of nuclear weapons, we must end the arms race – and we must begin with a strategy of suffocation, to choke off the vital oxygen on which it feeds, meaning the production of the two “strategic nuclear materials” which serve as primary nuclear explosives, i.e. weapons-grade uranium and weapons-grade plutonium.

These same considerations should apply when it comes to the extraction of plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel.  At the very least, there should be a requirement for such facilities (reprocessing plants) to be under international control just as enrichment plants should be under international control. Of course, better yet would be the abolition of reprocessing and uranium enrichment altogether, taking Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s 1978 “strategy of suffocation” to its ultimate limit. PET told the UN General Assembly that if we want a world free of nuclear weapons, we must end the arms race – and we must begin with a strategy of suffocation, to choke off the vital oxygen on which it feeds, meaning the production of the two “strategic nuclear materials” which serve as primary nuclear explosives, i.e. weapons-grade uranium and weapons-grade plutonium. However we now know that, for weapons purposes, ALL plutonium is “good” plutonium, so the division of plutonium into weapons-grade and non-weapons-grade is illusory. Ultimately, then, the strategy of suffocation means no nuclear reactors whatsoever.


Trinity (nuclear test) - Wikipedia
Trinity test of a plutonium bomb (Wikipedia)

Civilian nuclear and military nuclear members of a “mutual admiration society” ~ Dr. Gordon Edwards

by Dr. Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

December 19, 2020

Civilian nuclear and military nuclear have always been friendly room-mates, members of a “mutual admiration” society. In today’s announcement of an SMR Action Plan, Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan said that nuclear power in Canada is a “home-grown” technology and referred to C. D. Howe’s role in this connection.  In fact C.D. Howe arranged for all Canadian uranium extracted from Canadian mines to be sold to the US military for use in tens of thousands of nuclear weapons from 1945 to 1965. C D Howe was also on the Committee that met in Washington DC in 1944 to approve the first nuclear reactors to be built in Canada (at Chalk River) as part of the ongoing effort to produce plutonium for use as a nuclear explosive. Mr. Howe approved of the policy of selling plutonium produced at Chalk River to the US military for weapons use, a practice that continued until 1975 and beyond. Plutonium from Chalk River was sent to Britain (it was the first sample of plutonium that Britain had ever obtained) just a few months before Britain detonated its first A-Bomb in the Monte Bello Islands off Australia. 

To the best of my knowledge, no civilian nuclear power agency – not the Canadian Nuclear Association, nor the Canadian Nuclear Society, nor the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, nor Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, nor Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, NOBODY – has ever issued a clear statement denouncing nuclear weapons or even calling for a nuclear weapons free world. Most nuclear scientists and engineers feel a strong kinship and camaraderie with those who are in the nuclear weapons business. The same goes for those in the nuclear division of Natural Resources Canada. I remember on one occasion (prior to the exchange of nuclear tests between India and Pakistan) I expressed alarm at the fact that both neighbours are developing a nuclear war-fighting capability and a couple of senior civil servants said “Would that be so bad? Maybe that’s just what the world needs. More deterrence. Creates stability”

Despite regular denials from our puppet masters that civilian nuclear has nothing to do with military nuclear, it is clear that civilian nuclear (including the frankly discriminatory provisions of the NPT) has adopted an appeasement policy that will never succeed in bringing about a nuclear weapons free world. Why does Canada continue to sell uranium to countries that are in the process of investing hundreds of billions to improve and modernize the nuclear arsenals in utter defiance of the NPT, knowing that the vast bulk of Canadian uranium that is rejected from enrichment plants as DU end up as the raw material for producing plutonium for Bombs, and that the lion’s share of the explosive power – and the overwhelming share of the radioactive fallout – of every H-bomb comes from the fissioning of DU atoms that are freely accessed by the military even if they are the leftovers of “peaceful” fuel production for nuclear power plants?

“See ‘The Nuclear Fudge’ at“. This 16-minute W5 segment from the Regan era is very informative. The photo below is a screen shot from the video.