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Program to Use Russian Nukes for US Electricity Comes to an End 148

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the how-about-u.s.-nukes-now dept.
gbrumfiel writes "For the past two decades, about 10 percent of all the electricity consumed in the United States has come from Russian nuclear warheads. Under a program called Megatons to Megawatts, Russian highly-enriched uranium was pulled from old bombs and made into fuel for nuclear reactors. NPR News reports that the program concludes today when the last shipment arrives at a U.S. storage facility. In all nearly 500 tons of uranium was recycled, enough for roughly 20,000 warheads."
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Program to Use Russian Nukes for US Electricity Comes to an End

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  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @02:22PM (#45662137)

    Our proven uranium reserves would last us over 200 years at current consumption; Well beyond the life expectancy of any of our reactors. The only reason for this program was to provide a failing country with a cheap way of disposing of highly hazardous materials without losing face. It is the proverbial "turning a negative into a positive". It will have zero effect on our energy costs or programs.

    • by QuantumPion (805098) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @02:41PM (#45662367)

      Our proven uranium reserves would last us over 200 years at current consumption;

      If we built fast reactors, we would have enough fuel, in the form of depleted uranium sitting around idle in barrels at enrichment plants, to supply the entire planet's energy for about 1000 years.

      • The problem is fast reactors are un economical.
        We need breeder thermal reactors, that's really though to do !
        The only known design that might do that trick is Thorium / U-233 based.

      • If we built fast reactors, we would have enough fuel, in the form of depleted uranium sitting around idle in barrels at enrichment plants, to supply the entire planet's energy for about 1000 years.

        Current reactor designs, given current geologically-proven reserves and what has already been refined and available in world markets, is about 200 years. The definition of proveable is that someone's already done it.

        Fast reactors aren't economical right now. Maybe in two hundred years, assuming no new sources of uranium are discovered, we'll need to revisit it. It's economically absurd right now to suggest switching over. The 200 years estimate is based on today's technology, with today's known quantity, in

      • by xtal (49134)

        ..without a single ounce of extra CO2 added.

        People are not rational about nuclear power, and politicians are spineless, so invest in natural gas and oil companies. Burn, baby, burn..

      • And if we build fusion reactors, we would not need uranium in first place.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I like your post, but it propagates a myth due to severe omission. I'd like to correct it.

      The big problem is, you're off by a factor of 100.

      Our current fuel cycle is once-through. Thus, new fuel enters the reactor at 100% capacity, and when "spent" leaves the reactor at around 98% capacity.

      "Known reserves" is also problematic, as it means those reserves that we know about and can recover for the same price as the market currently prices Uranium at. In a multi-billion dollar plant, a doubling of the cost

      • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @02:58PM (#45662573)

        I like your post, but it propagates a myth due to severe omission. I'd like to correct it. The big problem is, you're off by a factor of 100.

        False. "Uranium reserves available at up to $100 per pound of U3O8 represented approximately 23 years worth of demand, while uranium reserves at up to $50 per pound of U3O8 represented about 10 years worth of demand. Domestic U.S. uranium production, however, supplies only about 10 percent, on average, of U.S. requirements for nuclear fuel"
        Source [eia.gov]. Domestic US production gives us 23 years of demand at 100% capacity. It is currently at 10% capacity. Conclusion: About 230 years.

        A second estimate [world-nuclear.org] looking at global supply had this to say: "Thus the world's present measured resources of uranium (5.3 Mt) in the cost category around present spot prices and used only in conventional reactors, are enough to last for about 80 years. This represents a higher level of assured resources than is normal for most minerals. Further exploration and higher prices will certainly, on the basis of present geological knowledge, yield further resources as present ones are used up." It goes on to state "This is in fact suggested in the IAEA-NEA figures if those covering estimates of all conventional resources (U as main product or major by-product) are considered - another 7.6 million tonnes (beyond the 5.3 Mt known economic resources), which takes us to 190 years' supply at today's rate of consumption."

        200 years is an accurate assessment given available data. Your assessment is based on non-existant technology and substantial change in current industry practices. Mine is based on today's technology, and no change.

        • Any argument that relies on higher prices for uranium needs to account for the falling cost of renewable energy which does not need fuel. Already wind power is helping to shut down existing reactors as uneconomical so demand for nuclear power is very unlikely to support higher uranium prices.
          • Any argument that...

            Please stop. I've now cited an official government source, and a reputable international source. Both of these analysis were done by a team of economists, nuclear engineers, and accounted for as many factors as reasonably can be taken into consideration. You have cited... absolutely nothing.

            • by careysub (976506)

              Any argument that...

              Please stop. I've now cited an official government source, and a reputable international source. Both of these analysis were done by a team of economists, nuclear engineers, and accounted for as many factors as reasonably can be taken into consideration. You have cited... absolutely nothing.

              That the oceans contain enough uranium for 10,000 years of once-through energy production is well known and easily confirmed [ieee.org]. The IEEE Spectrum article cites current research results that indicate the cost of seawater extraction can be performed at a cost of about $300/kg, a price point that the uranium spot market has already broken in the past [uxc.com], and the additional cost added to electricity by paying $300/kg vs current prices of around $100/kg is only about 0.6 cents per kwh [world-nuclear.org] still quite competitive with co [world-nuclear.org]

        • by Solandri (704621)
          You're missing AC's point. Current nuclear fission tech only releases about 2% of the energy available in the uranium. We call it "waste" when it still contains 98% of the energy it could potentially provide. The primary reason for this is non-proliferation. Extracting most of the remaining energy requires reprocessing - a byproduct of which is weapons-grade plutonium. So rather than deal with making sure that plutonium doesn't fall into the wrong hands, we simply choose not to reprocess (at least the
    • by rahvin112 (446269)

      We paid good money for that Uranium and IIRC the Russians got a bunch of jobs mixing the highly refined into low grade at the 2% rate that reactors use. They didn't need it, and it was a security risk laying around. It was a win-win for both nations.

      Modern weapons don't use Uranium anyway because you need so much more of it versus a plutonium trigger on an H-Bomb. IIRC the US phase uranium based weapons out decades ago and used up the excess uranium in exactly the same way we're using the Russian uranium. T

  • All your warheads are belonging to us.
  • In Soviet Russia, nukes use you for power.

  • No wonder. A program to do this would never work. This is clearly a hardware problem.

  • So you are recycling russian nukes to build your own nukes! Thats smart ;)

  • by mdsolar (1045926) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @03:08PM (#45662679) Homepage Journal
    Early enrichment had a pretty low energy return on energy invested because of the large contribution of gaseous diffusion to the process. Enriching up to weapons grade and then diluting back down was also an extra energy draw. I can't count the number of complaints I've heard about solar energy payback time from nuke nuts on slashdot, yet all this time its been horrible to non-existent for US nukes. Mostly we've had imported soviet hydro and coal power with this program.
    • I can't count the number of complaints I've heard about solar energy payback time from nuke nuts on slashdot, yet all this time its been horrible to non-existent for US nukes.

      You seem to be unaware that commercial fuel is only moderately enriched, and the enrichment process is done with (very energy efficient) centrifuges. (Actually, I'm being kind here, your handle, homepage, journal, and posting history all make your bias abundantly clear.)

      • by mdsolar (1045926)
        How much of that fuel was done with centrifuges? The Soviets had it sooner, but these are also their older weapons. Nope, this was a battery for conventional power, not an energy gain.
        • The sound you heard was my point whooshing over your head. Again, unsurprising considering your bias, and what I must now conclude is deliberate ignorance on your part.

          Had you bothered to read what I quoted, you'd note I was addressing your comment on US nukes.

      • In what terms do you measure the energy efficiency of a centrifuge?
        You clearly have no clue ...
        Perhaps they use not much energy in relation to the energy provided by the fuel ...
        But that is not called efficiency!

        • No, the one lacking a clue is you.

          You measure the efficiency of a centrifuge by measuring the energy consumed per SWU. This feeds into determining the EROEI that is the subject of grandparent's (clueless and disconnected from reality) complaint.

          • pffft, thank you that you answered ho you measure the efficieny of a centrifuge, I will take your opinion into account for my thesis.
            Best Regards

    • What you are missing here is that what is happening is turning crap no one really wants into something that is useful which has a much higher EROEI than turning raw materials into that same end product. The same could be said about early efforts in refining aluminum (there is a reason that the Washington Monument is capped with an aluminum point) but I still toss all my aluminum cans into the recycling bin.
    • by rasmusbr (2186518)

      Fine, but I didn't hear anyone suggesting that starting another cold war and then ending it, in order to harvest the leftover nuclear material, ought to be on the table in terms of possible future energy strategies.

      This was a one time deal that only made sense given the outrageous history of the 20:th century.

      • I don't know how outrageous the 20th was - look at the wars, plagues and general cocked-uppedness of the 19th, 18th, and 17th. The only reason antiquity doesn't seem as bad is because we've got lousy records of it.

        • by rasmusbr (2186518)

          I don't mean to diminish the suffering of anyone in earlier centuries, but the 20:th is special in that was the first century in which one man's decision could potentially destroy most of civilization.

          • one man's decision could potentially destroy most of civilization.

            I hope that isn't as true as Hollywood makes it out to be. Multiple authentication requirements, etc. are hopefully even stronger than they claimed they were _before_ Dr. Strangelove was released.

            Turning back to antiquity, wasn't it Caesar who essentially tanked Rome? Though, "we" (civilization) will be taking the barbarians down hard with us if the nuclear option gets out of control.

            • by rasmusbr (2186518)

              one man's decision could potentially destroy most of civilization.

              I hope that isn't as true as Hollywood makes it out to be. Multiple authentication requirements, etc. are hopefully even stronger than they claimed they were _before_ Dr. Strangelove was released.

              Turning back to antiquity, wasn't it Caesar who essentially tanked Rome? Though, "we" (civilization) will be taking the barbarians down hard with us if the nuclear option gets out of control.

              No, Caesar changed Rome from a republic to an Empire. You could say he laid the ground works for the imperial Rome that we most often think of.

              The fall of Western Rome was a drawn out process that took at least a couple of centuries, so you can't blame it on any one person. Rome probably fell for reasons not much different from why the Soviet union fell. It was too large an empire and way too reliant on central planning.

              • O.K. - but who was playing his fiddle while Rome burned?

                Obviously, where we are today is never the product of one person's decisions, the current conditions in the U.S.A are in large part thanks to pre-colonial English monarchs and their policies, but often one man is handed the blame or praise for terrible or great things that happened on their watch.

                • by tragedy (27079)

                  O.K. - but who was playing his fiddle while Rome burned?

                  Considering that the fiddle wasn't developed for the greater part of a thousand years after he died, it probably wasn't Nero. He probably wasn't playing his lyre either, since the historical records that aren't crazy conspiracy theories place him out of time when it happened. It is fairly historically certain that he introduced building codes to help prevent that sort of thing from happening again after the fire, however.

              • Sorry, been too many decades since my ancient history classes (can you imagine the early 80s!) - Google informs me that was thinking of Nero.

    • Personally, I don't care how efficient the process was or wasn't, I'm just pleased that the uranium delivered (and will continue to deliver for some time) its energy in a controlled fashion via the electrical grid, instead of all at once with a hydrogen jacket around it.

      As far as I'm concerned, this was a "disarming the BOMB" program, any side effects that generated electricity, at any cost, are a bonus.

      • by mdsolar (1045926)
        Except that now we have to deal with the waste. Better to just dilute it back down to natural uranium and not use it at all.
        • Ah, the classical solution to pollution: dilution.

          The world is a really big place, we'd be better off with a global nuclear waste dump the size of Utah than we are currently with the products of fossil fuel combustion in the atmosphere. Of course, Utah residents would disagree, but if you churned up the unwanted radioactives into cement at a "safe" concentration, whatever that is, started laying a 6' thick layer of the stuff at the center of the biggest non-draining desert in the state, it would be a very

  • Now Russia can do the same with all America's nukes! They won't mind!
  • ...and they shall beat their swords into plowshares... That's what $14 Billion can buy.
    • by Jeremi (14640)

      ...and they shall beat their swords into plowshares... That's what $14 Billion can buy.

      Note that the estimated cost of a single nuclear attack by terrorists is between $250 billion and $1 trillion.

      So never mind the electricity by-product; if this program kept nuclear weapons out of the wrong hands, then it was well worth it [washington.edu] for that reason alone.

  • While some people complain about the geopolitical status of the United States, it has to remembered that the US emerged from isolationism outside the Western hemisphere only after the second World War. Sure there was some involvement after the Spanish-American war and the first World War, but current state of affairs was created by the actions of countries around the world. If there is anything especially exceptional about the United States, it is that it is a large political conglomerate that continuously

  • There's no danger of a fuel shortage. The new US centrifuge enrichment plant [google.com] is up and running, and the second section of the plant is under construction.

  • If I'm reading the article right, that entire supply of fuel-grade uranium set us back a total of $17B. If we can produce 10% of our nation's power for 20 years (i.e. supply 2 years' worth of our country's TOTAL electricity needs) on half of what Apple brings in per quarter, why on earth are we bothering with wind farms and solar arrays?
    • Problem #1: that's how the French do it.

      Problem #2: TMI - Never Again! - NIMBY!!!

      Problem #3: Greenpeace & the like, no they're not a big force, but in the 51-49 world of red-blue U.S. politics, they're just big enough to make any new nuclear projects a political liability.

      Diversity is strength, we should have many sources of power, but I do think that keeping our existing nuke plants running past 2x their original design lifetimes while making it virtually impossible to construct new plants with fundame

    • by cbhacking (979169)

      Fuel is only a small part of the cost of operating a fission power plant. It non-trivial, but it's a lower percentage than for simpler / lower-energy-fuel power plants such as coal or natural gas.

      With that said, I agree that we should be expanding on fission power. Not at the expense of renewables - those are still well below where they could be - but at the expense of things like coal (which is currently needed to provide a lot of the base load that nuclear plants could handle so well and easily). However,

  • by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @05:33PM (#45664143) Homepage

    the us spent almost fifty years worried by the prospect of russian nukes lighting up their cities

  • ...it was never used in the first place.

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