Next Generation Nuclear Technologies: New Challenges to the Legal Framework of the IAEA from Intense Neutron Sources

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Englert, Matthias ; Harrington, Anne (2016)

In this chapter, we take intense neutron sources (INS) as a somewhat futuristic case to unveil another dimension in disputes over the application of safeguards to nuclear technologies. The current IAEA safeguards regime is built on a distinction between facilities and materials. The assumption underlying such a distinction is that facilities are not a concern in the absence of nuclear materials. Historically, such a distinction made sense because there was no reason to operate nuclear fuel cycle facilities in the absence of nuclear materials. However, INS facilities do not require nuclear materials under normal operating procedures, yet they hold out the potential for producing weapons-grade plutonium in a shorter period of time and with less source material than existing facilities. As a result, they present a new challenge to the IAEA safeguards regime. We present a comparison of the timeline to produce weapons-grade plutonium with reactors, spallation neutron sources and fusion plants and discuss possible advantages and disadvantages of the respective technologies. One focus will be the possibility of fusion plants and spallation sources producing significant quantities of plutonium with less source material than ‘one effective kilogram’ of uranium. Furthermore, the question will be raised if the corresponding technologies are adequately covered by current IAEA terms like ‘facility’ and ‘reactor’.
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