Nuclear scientist Siegfried S. Hecker, Ph.D., discussed his “Personal Reflections on Global Nuclear Hot Spots” at the Morning Forum of Los Altos May 2.
Hecker is a Stanford University professor and senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He was director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1986 to 1997 and a Los Alamos senior fellow until 2005. He has received the Enrico Fermi Award from the U.S. Department of Energy and the American Nuclear Society’s Seaborg Medal. He has extensive experience collaborating with nuclear scientists in other countries.
Nuclear fission – the splitting of the nucleus that is the basis of nuclear energy – was discovered in Germany in 1938. Many countries generate electricity using nuclear reactors.
“Nuclear fission is a safe and pollution-free way to generate power,” Hecker said. “Nuclear reactors require about 30 tons of uranium ore to provide a city of 1 million people with electricity for one year. Compare this to the more than a million tons of oil or coal needed to provide the same amount of energy.”
Hecker cautioned that while nuclear power can be used for peaceful purposes, it also can be used to “destroy the world.”
The United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France and China had nuclear devices before 1968, the year the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was initially signed. The treaty’s goal is to promote cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy and ultimately achieve complete nuclear disarmament. Since 1968, India, Pakistan, North Korea and, perhaps, Israel have acquired nuclear weapons (Israel is ambiguous about whether it has nuclear weapons). India, Pakistan and Israel have not signed the treaty, and Korea withdrew in 2003.
Hecker has traveled to North Korea seven times to visit its nuclear labs.
“North Korea is the world’s greatest nuclear danger,” he said. “North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-Un, is a young, inexperienced, unpredictable leader. The United States’ leader is old, inexperienced and unpredictable.”
According to Hecker, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said all options are on the table in regard to North Korea.
“If North Korea were to drop one nuclear bomb on Seoul, a city of 25 million people, several hundred thousand people would die,” he said. “President Trump’s job is to prevent them from using their bombs. He should negotiate with North Korea. While North Korea is homicidal, it is probably not suicidal.”
The Morning Forum of Los Altos is a members-only lecture series that meets at Los Altos Methodist Church, 655 Magdalena Ave. New members are invited to join. For membership details and more information, visit morningforum.org.