The civilian nuclear industry is a cornerstone of the United States nuclear weapons establishment—and that kind of connection might also explain why the United Kingdom decided to continue its nuclear program after critiquing its cost.
“The link between the civil nuclear industry and the military’s ability to maintain its nuclear weapons capability is spelt out in a report by experts close to the Pentagon,” Climate News Network reports, citing the Washington, DC-based Energy Futures Initiative. “It states openly that tritium, an essential component of nuclear weapons, is manufactured in civilian reactors for military use. It also says that civilian reactors are needed to produce highly enriched uranium.”
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The report predicts that Russia and China, with new civilian nuclear stations on the way, “will overtake America both in influence and ability to deliver a nuclear threat unless steps are taken to prop up the civil nuclear program at home.”
Governments, particularly the UK, have long maintained there was no connection between their civilian and military nuclear activities, notes correspondent Paul Brown. “This is the first time that the dependence of nuclear weapons states on their civil nuclear programs has been so clearly spelt out.”
“A strong domestic supply chain is needed to provide for nuclear Navy requirements,” the EFI report states. “This supply chain has an inherent and very strong overlap with the commercial nuclear energy sector,” and “includes a work force trained in science and engineering, [consisting] of U.S. citizens who qualify for security clearances.”
Moreover, with no current supply chain for the highly-enriched uranium the navy will need, “the relatively lengthy time period required to stand up such a capability raises serious, near-term concerns about the U.S. capacity to meet this critical national security need,” the report warns. And while the civilian nuclear industry is losing out in efforts to attract the next-generation work force, the report acknowledges that a career in military nuclear “might prove even less attractive to the younger generation,” Brown writes. “It fears there would not be enough qualified American people with security clearance to support the military.”
Climate News Net connects the U.S. report back to a curious moment in 2005, when the UK inexplicably announced a revival of its domestic nuclear industry. In 2002, the government’s Performance and Innovation Unit had concluded that, even then, nuclear cost too much, and renewable energy was a better option for generating electricity.
Tony Blair’s government rejected that advice after a “secretive review,” Brown recalls, and initiated an “unprecedented intensification in efforts to preserve nuclear skills for the military sector. Many millions of pounds have been given in government grants since that time to set up nuclear training programs.”