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The Versatile Test Reactor Debate: Round 2

, senior scientist

In mid-February, the House of Representatives passed the “Nuclear Energy Research Infrastructure Act of 2017” (H.R. 4378). It authorizes the secretary of energy to spend nearly $2 billion to build and begin operating a facility called a “versatile, reactor-based fast neutron source” by the end of 2025 “to the maximum extent practicable.” The purpose of the facility would be to provide an intense source of fast neutrons that could be used by startup companies developing fast reactors for power production. Current US power and test reactors do not generate large quantities of fast neutrons.

However, the facility itself would be a fairly large, experimental fast neutron reactor, likely fueled with weapon-usable plutonium, and would pose significant security and safety risks. H.R. 4378 authorizes the Department of Energy (DOE) to construct this facility, now known as the “Versatile Test Reactor” (VTR), without really knowing how much it would cost or how long it would take, let alone whether there was a significant need for it in the first place. In fact, at the time of the bill’s passage in the House, the DOE had not even begun to conduct such an analysis. This is bad public policy. Read more >

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Update on the Low-Yield Trident Warhead: Time for the Senate to Step Up

, analyst

A couple of weeks ago, we noted that the Senate Armed Services Committee was about to get its chance to consider the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which in its current form includes $88 million in funding for a new, lower-yield warhead for the Trident D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), designated the W76-2. At the time, the House Armed Services Committee had voted, along party lines, to reject an amendment that would have eliminated funding for the new warhead. Read more >

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The FY2019 National Nuclear Security Administration Budget: Weapons Are Winners

, analyst

In late February the Department of Energy (DOE) released its FY2019 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and in late March Congress passed its final FY2018 appropriations bill, so we now have more information about the agency’s plans for the next several years. To no one’s surprise, both the administration and Congress increased funding for the NNSA and, in particular, for its nuclear weapons work. Read more >

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China Not an Obstacle to US Summit with North Korea

, China project manager and senior analyst

Last fall, as North Korea raced to demonstrate it could strike the United States with a nuclear-armed missile, the Chinese government acceded to strict international economic sanctions it previously resisted. This spring, after North Korea declared it had achieved its goal and would stop further testing, the Chinese government acceded to North Korean requests for greater engagement, including high-profile meetings between Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un.

President Trump, along with many US officials and observers, praised China’s willingness to sign on to tougher sanctions. But they greeted China’s positive response to North Korea’s testing freeze with a mix of skepticism and suspicion. Trump suggested his Chinese counterpart was playing geopolitical poker with the summit in Singapore. US observers wondered whether China felt threatened by the summit and intentionally undermined it.

That’s unlikely. Read more >

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