From the 1950's until the 1970's governments and corporations dreamt about nuclear aeroplanes and trains as well as freight and passenger ships powered by small nuclear reactors. The Plougshare programme of the US government searched constructive peaceful uses for nuclear weapons, like excavating canals and the basements of apartment houses and digging mines and gas wells. Project SuperOrion tried to develop a spaceship that would have flown to Proxima Centauri pushed by the detonations of 25 million multi-megaton nuclear weapons. Scientists predicted that electricity provided by nuclear power plants would soon be so cheap that electric meters would become obsolete and unnecessary.
Today, everybody understands that such dreams were mere hallucinations, products of an age dominated by an euphoric belief in the limitless possibilities of modern science.
Rethinking Nuclear Power asks whether we have already waken up, or whether we are still dreaming. It claims that some of our still existing nuclear programmes are at least as dangerous than the above-mentioned earlier proposals.
Until Fukushima, Japan's national nuclear research programme was eagerly advocating the establishment of small nuclear reactors in the basements of large office buildings and apartment houses. Besides this, more than 30 governments are involved in developing breeder reactors,or fourth-generation nuclear reactors, converting uranium to plutonium or thorium to uranium 233.
Fourth-generation nuclear reactors would use much more highly enriched nuclear fuels than our present nuclear power plants. It is not possible to make a nuclear weapon from the fuel of our present nuclear power plants, but all the proposed fourth-generation nuclear power plants would use fuels that can be used to manufacture nuclear bombs without any further enrichment.
If we want to produce much more nuclear electricity than we are currently doing, we have to move to breeder reactors that make more nuclear fuel than what they consume, because there is not enough (economically available) natural uranium. But if we move to a breeder reactor economy, every transportation of nuclear fuel to a power station provides the terrorist organizations of the future with a new chance of acquiring nuclear weapons. The spread of breeder reactors would also multiply the number of nuclear weapons states.
Rethinking Nuclear Power analyzes the political and security choices related to breeder reactors and present kind of nuclear power plants and investigates whether our energy systems really needs nuclear power.