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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


To The Calgary Herald regarding a misleading article on nuclear proliferation risks.

(published in the 2008 Jan 27 edition)


Just the Facts

To the Editor,

Re: "Nuclear power called 'too risky,' " Jan. 15.

Your interview with Gordon Edwards contained serious errors regarding the relationship between nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons.

It is true that all nuclear power reactors, like CANDU, produce plutonium in their cores. It is incorrect, however, to refer to this plutonium as "weapons-grade." This term refers to high-purity plutonium produced in special production reactors, not the type found in power reactors like Candu.

The "reactor-grade" plutonium found in CANDU used fuel is unattractive for weapons use due to the significant difficulties it presents in getting a bomb to work.

These difficulties present enough of a barrier that every country with a nuclear weapons program has pursued either weapons-grade plutonium or highly enriched uranium instead.

This has little to do with having access to one type of material or another. Any organization technically and financially capable of doing anything remotely menacing with reactor-grade plutonium is smart enough to achieve its goals much more simply with weapons-grade material.

Most international expert bodies recognize this barrier in reactor-grade plutonium, supported by more than 60 years of experience since nuclear fission knowledge emerged.

The risk that does exist is managed through rigorous international safeguards that monitor the inventory of nuclear material, removing remaining incentives to would-be proliferators. A significant disservice is done to readers who read unqualified opinions and take them as fact.

Edwards is not an expert, but a well-read citizen with an opinion based upon popular literature.

Jeremy Whitlock, Chalk River, Ont.

Jeremy Whitlock is manager, non-proliferation and safeguards, for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

[Response from Gordon Edwards, Jan.31]

[Response from Jeremy Whitlock]

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