Not so fast


Bill Gates is unleashing a potentially very big proliferation problem with his TerraPower Natrium reactor, despite his denials. Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Center say there’s a lot more to the story. 

Here is what they wrote:

“Late last week, Bill Gates’ TerraPower nuclear reactor corporation struck an agreement with the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industry to build a small, advanced modular fast power reactor in Wyoming. The nuclear plant, called Natrium, is touted as the path forward to save the planet from carbon emissions. TerraPower insists that the plant presents no nuclear weapons proliferation concerns. The company says it won’t fuel it with plutonium, a nuclear weapons explosive that is extracted or “reprocessed” from spent reactor fuel.

“All this sounds good but, as Victor Gilinsky and I explain in a piece just published by Kyodo News, “US-Japan Fast Reactor Cooperation Raises Nuclear Security Issues,” it’s too good to be true.

“The Natrium reactor is based on an earlier General Electric – Hitachi fast modular reactor known as the Prism. It, like the Natrium reactor, can be quickly switched to run on plutonium and produce or “breed” many bombs’ worth of the stuff. 

“Roughly half of the plutonium it can produce moreover would be super-weapons-grade plutonium – i.e., of a purity beyond even what the United States uses in its nuclear weapons.

“France, India, and China appreciate how militarily useful fast reactors are. France used a fast reactor to fuel its bombs. 

“India is planning to do so and the Pentagon has determined that China will use its fast reactor program to make bombs as well. The proponents of fast modular reactors both here and in Japan downplay or ignore these points. That’s a mistake. As Victor Gilinsky and I have long argued, pushing the international commercialization of fast reactors not only makes no economic sense, it’s way dangerous.”

In the Kyodo News article, Gilinksy and Sokolski remind us that:

“Japan’s nuclear bureaucracy has long planned, as did its counterpart in the United States, to rely on plutonium-fueled reactors.

“That is why Japan had its fuel reprocessed in Britain and France and now has in the country an enormous stockpile of plutonium, which the government plans to use as fuel, and why Japan has built an enormously expensive reprocessing plant at Rokkashu for continuing to extract plutonium.”

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