American researchers have shown that prospective magnetic fusion power systems would pose a much lower risk of being used for the production of weapon-usable materials than nuclear fission reactors and their associated fuel cycle.
The researchers, from Princeton University, found that if nuclear fusion power plants are designed to accommodate appropriate safeguards, there is little risk of fissile materials being produced for weapons, either secretly or overtly.
Their results have been published today, 29 March, by IOP Publishing in the journal Nuclear Fusion.
In the study, the researchers undertook a quantitative assessment of the risks of proliferation the spreading of nuclear materials for use in weapons that could be associated with future magnetic fusion energy power systems in three different scenarios and compared them to the risks associated with nuclear fission.
Co-author of the study Alex Glaser summarizes: "We found that the proliferation risks from fusion are low compared with fission, assuming that IAEA safeguards are applied in both cases."
The three scenarios were: the clandestine production of weapon-usable material in an undeclared facility; the covert production of such material in a declared facility; and the production of material in a breakout scenario where the effort is not concealed.
Firstly, their findings showed that it is highly implausible that a small-scale nuclear fusion system could be built, and then operated, in a clandestine fashion to produce material for even one weapon in two years, due to the large size and power consumption of the facility that would be required; it would be clearly visible by, for example, the continuous power it would consume and ultimately have to dissipate at least some 40 MW.
In comparison, first-generation centrifuge plants used to produce highly enriched uranium for fission power plants are much less conspicuous and can
|Contact: Michael Bishop|
Institute of Physics