Nuclear disarmament


Here are some quotations from Obama must fulfill dream to end nukes by Timothy Garton Ash published in The Guardian Weekly for November 21, 2008. (I have requested permission to post his entire article on my website < >). After a page of description of the history of  discussions of nuclear disarmament since the Acheson-Lilienthal report of 1946 and the quantity of bomb material existing in our world, Mr. Ash states:


“……[Obama] has promised to “make the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide a central element of US nuclear policy”.

*   *   *

The Question is how?  Different models are canvassed in detail, but everyone agrees that you have to do two big things.  You have to persuade the states who already have nuclear weapons---whether or not they are signatories to the non-proliferation treaty---to commit themselves to reduce, rapidly and radically, and eventually to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.  Zero is the goal.  And you have to create an international, verifiable and enforceable regime covering, one way or another, the production, storage and use of all nuclear fuel in every corner of the world, so that none of it gets into the wrong hands.  Each of these is, on its own, a tall order.  But you have to do both…….


,,,,,..No, none of this will be easy.  And negotiations with established nuclear powers will be a cakewalk compared with the second task: that of creating an effective international regime to supervise the production, storage and use of all nuclear fuel everywhere in the world.  I can well imagine some hardened pragmatists on Obama’s transition team urging him not to include this among his three or four headline foreign policy priorities: too ambitious, too difficult, not urgent.  But I hope he will overrule them, and that his supporters around the world will then rise to sustain him on the way, making this a genuinely common endeavour.  Yes, this is trying to close Pandora’s box, and no one has done it before.  But there’s a first time for everything.”


The benefits of nuclear disarmament are not limited to reducing the risk of atomic warfare; several such benefits come to mind—not all obvious.  Example one: few of us realize that verifiable nuclear disarmament solves the problem of disposal of high-level nuclear waste.


Thorough supervision and inspection of atomic power plants worldwide including their fuel preparation and reprocessing could indirectly eliminate all high level, long-lived radioactive waste.  Current technology can permit use of all plutonium and uranium isotopes for refueling.  Adequate supervision and verification prevents diversion of fuel to bomb production.  If the world disarms, the waste from decommissioning 50,000 existing bombs and the stockpiled raw material for 250,000 more bombs will be added to the present waste stream from atomic power plants—years of needed atomic fuel (1).  Long-term sequestration of such a vast amount of heat producing (because of high level radioactivity) “waste” material cannot be assured for the required hundreds of thousands of years.  The half-life of plutonium, the major component of this waste is 25,000 years and ten

half-lives are required before harmlessness can be assured.  Think of earthquakes or floods dispersing the radioactivity into the environment, not to mention problems beyond anticipation—one quarter of a million years is a geologic time frame.  Storage of waste from this material used as nuclear fuel is only a few hundred years—no new technology required. 


Here is an example of a problem “beyond anticipation” or very nearly so.  Several years ago  I learned that there are several Africa uranium ore bodies that went critical and melted down eons ago like an unruly modern nuclear reactors (3) and from wikipedia, accessed 12/5/08—not the sort of thing that Google is likely to get wrong. Presumably these meltdowns occurred because of gradual accumulation of a radioactive decay product more fissile than any isotope in the ore as originally deposited.  The amount of radioactivity released into the atmosphere at the time of these very ancient events will probably never be known.  In any event, burying unnatural concentrations of plutonium for an enormous length of time seems like too great a risk especially since the need for strict supervision of atomic energy will always be necessary regardless of “burying past sins.” 


A detail for enhancing supervision of atomic materials: Currently some radiopharmaceuticals are made using small amounts of bomb grade U235.  This could be done with low enrichment U235 with less inconvenience than the necessary augmented supervision and inspection (2).


Therefore, suddenly after disarmament, constructive use of decommissioned weapons would turn from problem to asset and become a significant contribution to mitigation of global warming by avoiding much burning of fossil fuel.  Ultimately nuclear power will be made so safe that nonpolluting thorium reactors can be sited in crowded areas and used for all energy needs as geothermal energy is already doing in Iceland where they are well on their way to using no fossil fuel.  See Impending Global warming Demands a New Discussion of Nuclear Power already on  < >.


Example two of non-obvious benefits of  disarmament: successful nuclear disarmament would likely lead to gradual demilitarization of the world.  The final result would be like world government even if it were not so labeled.  Mankind needs to become all one tribe.  Police and soldiers would become indistinguishable (and carry only billy clubs like the London police of a generation ago?).


If we act as if these things are possible, we may get a leader who can carry it off.


Note well.  Exploitable uranium and thorium mineral deposits are only sufficient for a few millennia.  Responsible long-term plans involve much exploitation of renewable energy including more efficient agriculture—especially avoiding soil erosion; and  above almost  all else  we  must  avoid  human  overpopulation.  See: The next article in this series 1)  Postmodern Agriculture and also 2) Major Nuances in Population Control on  < > .


John A. Frantz, MD, NASW

December 9, 2008


1)      Ash TG. Obama must fulfil dream to end nukes  Guardian Weekly for Dec21 2008

2)      Williams B, Tilman AR.  Getting nuclear bomb fuel out of radiopharmaceuticals, Lancet 371 (9615) 8Mar2008 795-7

      3)   Sciencescope, Science 276 (5315) 16 May 1997 p1019