Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Power

Megatons To Megawatts Program Comes To a Close 125

Posted by Soulskill
from the time-to-make-some-gigascale-weapons dept.
necro81 writes "In the aftermath of the Cold War, the disintegrating Soviet Union had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and tons of weapons-grade fissile material. In the economic and political turmoil, many feared that it would fall into unfriendly hands. However, thanks to the doggedness of an MIT professor, Dr. Thomas Neff, 500 metric tons of weapons grade material made its way into nuclear reactors in the United States through the Megatons to Megawatts program. During the program, about 10% of all electricity generated in the U.S. came from weapons once aimed at the country. Now, after nearly 20 years, the program is coming to an end. The final shipment of Soviet-era uranium, now nuclear fuel, has arrived in Baltimore."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Megatons To Megawatts Program Comes To a Close

Comments Filter:
  • Nuclear dangers... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RightSaidFred99 (874576) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @03:14AM (#46097841)

    Sadly, nuclear power is dying due to ignorance. Coal kills thousands (maybe 15+) in the US alone every year, and tens to hundreds of thousands worldwide every year. Yet what do we hear in the news? Fukushima. Where you can count the death toll with 0 fingers, and even in 50 years it'll be less than coal kills in the US in a single year.

    You can argue that Coal is a false choice (it isn't, it's what we have now) but even natural gas kills an order of magnitude or more people yearly than nuclear power, and yes _Solar_ kills more people.

    • Melanoma, or are you talking about those crazy schmucks with solar grills initiated some DIY spontaneous-human-combustion?
      • Hes talking about mining / industrial waste from manufacturing the things, I would guess.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Hes talking about mining / industrial waste from manufacturing the things, I would guess.

          Those exists for nuclear too. The people falling from roofs while installing solar power is enough to outnumber nuclear.
          Of course one can claim that those numbers can be reduced with proper safety measures but if one accept that argument for solar then the same should hold for nuclear.

          • by khallow (566160)

            Of course one can claim that those numbers can be reduced with proper safety measures but if one accept that argument for solar then the same should hold for nuclear.

            Only if nuclear is at the same level of non-compliance with proper safety measures. I wonder what the price tag would need to be to get solar regulated at the same hardcore level as is present with the nuclear industry?

            • by ILongForDarkness (1134931) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @10:09AM (#46099423)

              So it is the nuclear industries fault that they follow safety regs and your mom and pop solar installer doesn't?

              Nuclear is far far safer than most things. 250k coal mining deaths in the last 50 years worldwide. 64 nuclear deaths. Even accounting for relative energy production nuke is about 6% (fossiil fuels were lumped together where I found them http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W... [wikipedia.org]) and scaling: you'd be looking at ~1k deaths if all were nuke versus about 500k if all coal (assuming ~50% of the fossil fuels is coal generation, the rest oil, natural gas).

              • by Anonymous Coward

                Unfortunately, this fails to address worst-case scenarios. An explosion at a coal mining facility is tragic. An explosion at a nuclear plant is a disaster that extends far beyond the facility itself, with long-term costs and potential health problems. Also, no one gets too upset if a lump of coal goes missing.

                • by blindseer (891256)

                  Why would a modern nuclear power plant explode? I understand why the old designs explode, they have high pressure steam pipes that can burst, solid fuel that can melt down, chemically incompatible materials in contact, and so forth. That's how we used to build nuclear power plants. We don't build them like that any more. A modern design operates at ambient pressure, no high pressure pipes to break. A modern design uses liquid fuels, the fuel cannot melt down because it's already molten.

                  If a modern nucl

                • Unfortunately, this fails to address worst-case scenarios. An explosion at a coal mining facility is tragic. An explosion at a nuclear plant is a disaster that extends far beyond the facility itself, with long-term costs and potential health problems. Also, no one gets too upset if a lump of coal goes missing.

                  Even then, the evacuations and other issues with bad nuclear accidents are there to prevent deaths that we are already seeing with coal.

                • The range of coal problems extend much farther too. Coal doesn't kill you right away so the don't evacuate you. Instead you die at 65 rather than 75 because of all the population in the air or water. As mentioned by another poster too: evacuations prevent the deaths. There is a cost to evacuating to be sure, even likely a non-zero death toll for the average evacuation of the scale of Fukushima but the thing is you can evacuate people vs having the air poisoned for 1000+km around the site of use but a low en

                  • by ultranova (717540)

                    Instead you die at 65 rather than 75 because of all the population in the air or water.

                    Or you die at 35 because you won the lung cancer lottery. But it's from inhaling soot rather than radioactivity, so it's an okay, non-scary cancer death.

                    Not that it matters, since the opposition to nuclear is ideological, not rational.

              • by khallow (566160)

                So it is the nuclear industries fault that they follow safety regs and your mom and pop solar installer doesn't?

                I also blame them for morning wood. Their perfidy knows no bounds.

                I think it is more helpful to consider my post an observation rather than an accusation. Solar power would have gotten a lot more expensive both for the producers and for the regulators, if governments were regulating it just as thoroughly as nuclear power is. So sure, it might be possible to get solar power safety figures down to the point where there're similar deaths per MwH as there are with nuclear, but it'd greatly increase the cost

                • I don't know if it would ever get down to nuclear levels. The energy density is just too low, you need a few guys to spend a few days on a roof to generate 10kwH of power. They can use proper rigs and suck but ultimately someone has to go up the roof the first time without a harness to mount the ropes for the harnesses, they have to do this a few hundred times to equal the capacity of 1 reactor. The density of a nuclear plant means things like skyjacks, rigging etc gets diffused over many more kwH of genera

        • by oji-sama (1151023)
          I guess he is primarily talking about the pollution from burning coal. ( For example: http://www.theguardian.com/env... [theguardian.com] , articles from across the pond also exist about this.). Not sure where the solar cost is coming from.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          He's talking out of his ass.

      • http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/... [nextbigfuture.com]

        Rooftop solar is several times more dangerous than nuclear power and wind power. It is still much, much safer than coal and oil, because those have a lot of air pollution deaths.

    • by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @05:55AM (#46098357) Homepage Journal

      Sadly, nuclear power is dying due to ignorance.

      Yes, lets compute the human deaths in the production, while ignoring non-lethal health issues, other species (which we are not independent of) and the 10000 year contamination of the end products and any issues that will occur during this time.

      Both nuclear and coal are crappy options.

      • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @06:40AM (#46098477)

        All the options are crappy. We just have to make do with picking the least-crappy.

      • by nojayuk (567177) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @06:52AM (#46098521)

        The pollution from coal waste is permanent, it never decays unlike nuclear waste. US coal-fired power generators pump 50 tonnes of mercury into the environment every year, it never goes away or decays, it ends up in water and the soil, in the sea and seafood. Nobody cares, any attempt to reduce these sorts of emissions is a "War on Coal".

        • by c0lo (1497653)

          The pollution from coal waste is permanent, it never decays unlike nuclear waste. US coal-fired power generators pump 50 tonnes of mercury into the environment every year, it never goes away or decays, it ends up in water and the soil, in the sea and seafood. Nobody cares, any attempt to reduce these sorts of emissions is a "War on Coal".

          Unless the coal power generation involves alchemy and transmutation (or a fresh supernova explosion nearby), that mercury you speak of... came from Earth environment.

          • by nojayuk (567177) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:47AM (#46098687)

            That mercury WAS buried underground well away from the biosphere. Now it's been dug up, burned, vapourised and spread over cropland and towns and cities downwind, deposited into rivers and lakes supplying drinking water to the population before it eventually makes its way into the sea where it bioaccumulates in fish to the point where authorities recommend people don't eat too much of it because of the toxic mercury content.

            You might want to look up "sequestration" sometime.

        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          The pollution from coal waste is permanent, it never decays unlike nuclear waste. US coal-fired power generators pump 50 tonnes of mercury into the environment every year, it never goes away or decays, it ends up in water and the soil, in the sea and seafood. Nobody cares, any attempt to reduce these sorts of emissions is a "War on Coal".

          The irony being those who complain about mercury in CFLs (metallic form) yet don't realize an incandescent that's coal-powered will release far more mercury (in far more da

        • by Khashishi (775369)

          It's not permanent. Eventually it will be reintroduced into the ground via long term ecological and geological processes. We're talking millions of years, but then again we are comparing it to nuclear wastes.

      • by jez9999 (618189)

        Both nuclear and coal are crappy options.

        Bullshit.

        List the non-leathal health issues of storing safely a small amount of nuclear waste of a half-life of a few hundred years that you get from an integral fast reactor.

        • by dbIII (701233) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:48AM (#46098695)
          It's not a small amount - it's a long process and it's not just the depleted fuel that's a waste storage problem. Anything that gets bombarded with a lot of neutrons becomes nuclear waste itself, so. That's what the "nuclear is magic beans appearing in the reactor core" crowd don't get. That's why real solutions like Synrok were ignored for decades.
          The health problems start with water runoff in the mines (eg. acid mine drainage), just like a lot of other things. Nuclear is not magic just because it's nuclear.
          It's an industrial process that has impacts and benefits and has to be looked at that way instead of the stupid "clean" dream. We got over "duck and cover" and "too cheap to meter" - it's time to get over the "clean" propaganda as well.
          • by jez9999 (618189)

            So little uranium needs to actually be mined for IFR fuel (not to mention the fact that there's a load of nuclear "waste" lying around that could be used as fuel first anyway); surely mining could be done carefully to avoid water runoff problems.

            • by dbIII (701233) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @08:40AM (#46098865)

              surely mining could be done carefully to avoid water runoff problems

              Maybe, but it's currently a problem at a lot of mines including some uranium mines (eg. yearly at the Ranger mine in Kakadu National Park in Australia).
              My point is that nuclear is not special just because it's nuclear - it has it's own downsides just like everything else. Minimising those is of course a very good thing but they still shouldn't be dismissed as irrelevant. For decades waste has been written off as irrelevant, and everything other than fuel rods swept under the carpet. We shouldn't do that.
              I'm also a fan of that sort of reactor concept (certainly beats reprocessing by a mile) even if liquid metal gives me the heebie-jeebies. Along those lines Russia has a large sodium cooled reactor planned which is related enough that it may assist with the technical problems likely to be associated with full scale liquid metal reactors

          • It's not a small amount - it's a long process and it's not just the depleted fuel that's a waste storage problem. Anything that gets bombarded with a lot of neutrons becomes nuclear waste itself, so. That's what the "nuclear is magic beans appearing in the reactor core" crowd don't get. That's why real solutions like Synrok were ignored for decades. The health problems start with water runoff in the mines (eg. acid mine drainage), just like a lot of other things. Nuclear is not magic just because it's nuclear. It's an industrial process that has impacts and benefits and has to be looked at that way instead of the stupid "clean" dream. We got over "duck and cover" and "too cheap to meter" - it's time to get over the "clean" propaganda as well.

            You forget, that the so called "waste" from nuclear reactors is (by design) contained in one tiny little rod that is relatively easy to handle. This is the opposite of any fossil fuel based energy source, which just dumps all its waste (i.e. green house gases) into the atmosphere and in much MUCH greater quantities.

            It's time to get over the "NOOCLEAUR IZ EVIL!!" propaganda.

            could you name even one present day technology that could do a better job of generating electricity with little waste, than a nuclear

            • by Khashishi (775369)

              one rod? I'm pretty sure nuclear reactors use more than one rod.

            • by dbIII (701233)
              No we didn't forget - you just don't know. Look up radioactive decay and read about what neutrons do.
        • by Arrepiadd (688829)

          List the non-leathal health issues of storing safely a small amount of nuclear waste of a half-life of a few hundred years that you get from an integral fast reactor.

          Please tell us about the IFR reactors in commercial operation, so that we can discuss the subject fully. Oh, right...

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        No you are wrong. Coal is crappy. Coal will produce more and wider spread radiation then nuclear ever will while also producing tons of carbon. Speaking of long term effects both Coal and natural gas produce many times the carbon of Nuclear.
        Solar can not work for base load. Wind is a bit better but it still needs natural gas fired peaking plants to back it up. Simple truth is you are spouting the same FUD we hear all the time about nuclear.
        The anti-nuclear people are as bad as the climate change deniers.

        Her

    • by couchslug (175151)

      Our system is effortlessly able to discreetly process the people killed by conventional pollution.

      Nuclear accidents are disruptive. Dispersed death isn't even interesting.

      • Even less interesting to the Western press is the eighteen thousand people who died in that very calamity at places other than Fukushima. Mass deaths in one of the largest and costliest natural disasters of all time mean nothing to those pursuing a political crusade.
        • by nojayuk (567177)

          The Boxing Day tsunami that hit Indonesia and elsewhere in the southern Pacific in 2004 killed over 230,000 people, over ten times the number of dead resulting from the Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Indeed that tsunami wasn't even the biggest natural disaster to hit Japan in a hundred years as over 100,000 people died in the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923.

    • by argStyopa (232550)

      Agreed.

      It's actually hard to determine the greatest crime of the modern environmental movement.

      They're well-intentioned, generally I'd concede that.

      But from the (pointless, politically motivated) ban on DDT that resulted in millions of needless deaths in malarial climates, to the histrionic anti-nuclear activism that has effectively blocked the development of nuclear power in the US for the last 30 years (condemning us - until the recent switches to gas - to coal-fired plants and more particulates, more aci

  • Good and bad (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @03:28AM (#46097891)

    With computers, we have good and bad CPU designs, good and bad GPU designs, good and bad OS designs.

    Like computers, nuclear power plants come in many designs, some good and some bad. Watch this [wikipedia.org] and learn a bit more, especially about the Integral fast reactor [wikipedia.org] design.

    I'm all for green power, but let's not forget that right now solar panels are not terribly efficient and very resource-intensive during the manufacturing process, wind farms don't work without wind (duh) and kill birds, etc. Each choice has drawbacks and from the numbers given in this film, if they are accurate, we'd be insane not to use nuclear power plants as long as they're IFR-type.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      I'm all for green power, but let's not forget that right now solar panels are not terribly efficient and very resource-intensive during the manufacturing process,

      Moden solar panels reach energy payback in three years and even the old PC PV panels did it in seven... In the seventies. There is no, repeat NO good reason not to increase solar generation.

      • I'm all for green power, but let's not forget that right now solar panels are not terribly efficient and very resource-intensive during the manufacturing process,

        Moden solar panels reach energy payback in three years and even the old PC PV panels did it in seven... In the seventies. There is no, repeat NO good reason not to increase solar generation.

        How long does a panel last? 10 years? 15? Compare that to Nuclear plants in the US, which have been coming near to their 40th birthday. Sure, some have been closed, but all of those shut downs (with one exception) have been for political reasons dressed up as "economic" reasons.

        • >How long does a panel last? 10 years? 15?

          Seriously? And no link or at least cogent argument? I mean, come on, this is pretty obviously wrong. It's no longer 1995, the tech is much better implemented & understood; does anyone really believe solar panels fail after a decade? I *like* nuclear power, and I *like* solar power; they both have their uses. I can argue for and against both, and providing supporting data for all sides.

          Short case in point...

          Panels are warrantied 30 years & last 30+ years.

    • Re:Good and bad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:44AM (#46099195) Homepage

      Nuclear is relatively safe but has rather extreme risks, which makes it extremely expensive. A lot of nuclear fans don't seem to appreciate why low probability but very high cost risks are a problem.

      Nuclear safety is expensive. Nuclear insurance against incredibly expensive accidents is literally priceless, in that no commercial insurance company will offer it so the government has to. The cost of centralizing so much capacity in a form that can randomly shut down at any time (and regularly does) creates a lot of cost to the grid for reserve capacity. Compared to most other forms of energy nuclear is just very, very costly and that is what is killing it off.

      The only places where new nuclear is being built is where the government is funding it. For example in the UK the government provides insurance and has guaranteed well above market rates for any electricity produced.

      IFRs are interesting but have their own problems (such as spontaneously catching fire if there is a sodium leak, as happened in Japan) and are a long way from a proven commercial scale design. With all the other costs and risks involved (and by risk I mean the risk that some design issue creates massive extra costs or cancellation) it is unlikely that any company will want to invest in developing one. Even if they did it would be a decade or more before it was even built and operating, by which time Germany will be nuclear free and the market is likely to have changed dramatically in light of that.

      • by nojayuk (567177)

        You're wrong in many particulars but your errors are common ones commonly repeated so I won't bother knocking them down one by one. I'll just point out that IFR reactors cover a wide range of designs and technologies and several have run successfully for a few decades although not without major problems in some cases. The Soviet/Russian BN-350 is one such fast reactor which operated from the mid-70s providing electricity and desalination process heat. It was only shut down around 2000 when its rather specia

    • by Khashishi (775369)

      Fast neutron reactors need highly enriched uranium, which is very politically undesirable to the powers currently possessing nuclear weapons.

  • The warheads were only Megatons because they were fusion weapons.

    We only used the fission trigger part to generate power'

    Still it is a good 'swords into plowshares' story.

    We need to develop controlled fusion to solve our energy problems.

    • Re:Misnomer (Score:5, Informative)

      by stoploss (2842505) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @04:50AM (#46098145)

      The warheads were only Megatons because they were fusion weapons.

      We only used the fission trigger part to generate power'

      Your pedantry is misplaced: your error is thinking of the warheads individually.

      Instead, there were ~20k nuclear warheads worth of HEU involved (500 metric tons). Since even the inefficient gun-type Little Boy weapon had an estimated yield of 15 kt for 64 kg of HEU, the program represents a minimum of 120 megatons worth of yield—even falsely presuming they couldn't achieve better yields with that HEU than using a gun-type weapon approach.

      The program's name is perfectly cromulent.

    • Re:Misnomer (Score:5, Informative)

      by serviscope_minor (664417) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:58AM (#46098727) Journal

      The warheads were only Megatons because they were fusion weapons.

      No, this is a common misconception.

      A basic nuke compacts a lump of (e.g.) plutonium to above the critical mass using convential explosives. The momentum caused by the explosives holds it together while the chain reaction grows exponentially. Eventually it flies apart, generally before the fission fuel is used up because the explosives don't hold it together very long.

      You can introduce fusion by hollowing out the pit and filling it with tritium, giving a boosted fission bomb. That boosts the power a bunch (yay!).

      However, the thing to note is nuclear explosions are much bigger than conventional ones, and if a conventional explosion is good at holding the fissile material together, then a nuclear one ought to be much better, and it is.

      So basically, you pack lithium deuteride around another fissile pit. When the nuke goes off, it irradiates the deuterium creating tritium and compresses the second pit giving another nuclear explosion. It's a much more efficient one second time since it's held together longer and you also have much more tritium, so both the fusuion and fission but yield a lot more energy.

      At this point you have two relatively small fission explosions, one mid sized fusion one and one large fusion one. Most of the energy comes from the fusion. It's also relatively clean in that the amount of nasty byproducts to energy ratio is low.

      The logic continues. It a small fission explosion is really good at compressing, then a large fusion/fission one ought to be REALLY REALLY good. A third stage can therefore be added (allegedly this is not usually the case).

      But it still doesn't usually end there. The nuclear reactions yield what is technically known as an ass-load of neutrons. If you wrap the entire thing in natural or even depleted uranium, the neutrons cause it to undergo fission. Lots of fission. It's generally thought that this stage more than doubles the yield and comes at next to no extra cost, size or weight (the bomb has to have some sort of heavy casing anyway).

      Anyway, that's a summary of the wikipedia article and a few other bits and bobs.

      TL;DR in most cases a bit over half of the energy comes from fission.

      • Don't forget that if you use that depleted uranium tamper in your last scenario, not only do you get a metric shit-tonne of fission, but you also get an incredibly dirty cloud of half-used radioisotopes and daughter products extending several kilometers into the sky for all kinds of nice fallout effects.

        These are weapons we're talking about here. Cleanliness doesn't matter as much when you're looking to vaporize a few square miles, and incinerate / lay flat a few dozen more surrounding them by way of the e

    • Re:Misnomer (Score:4, Informative)

      by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:44AM (#46099189) Homepage Journal

      You are nitpicking but also wrong.
      Even thermonuclear weapons get most of there yield from fission. The fusion reaction is mainly a neutron producing event that then goes on to fission the tamper made of natural uranium. That is how variable yield weapons work. You adjust the amount of tritium boost gas you inject in the triggers pit.

    • It's pretty incredible that first we beat the launchers into plowshares in the 60s to put man in space; then disassembled the warheads, unenriched the nuclear fuel and used it for power generation.

      Recycling at it's finest!

  • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @03:50AM (#46097945)

    The enemy disposes of your nuclear waste for you!

  • I wish history (books? professors? courses?) would do a better job of recognizing people like this.

    Like the people (Mr. Haber?) who created the Haber process that gave the world cheap, safe (not made from human excrement!) fertilizer. Or the "father" of the Green Revolution. Or not just the creators of the life saving vaccines (Pasteur, Salk) but the ones who are getting them distributed including (Gasp!) Bill Gates.

    Of course this list could get rather long. What about the inventor of the container ships

    • Would that be the "Father of chemical warfare" Haber by any chance ?
      • ... whose wife begged him to stop developing chemical weapons and when he refused, she shot herself in her broken heart with his revolver.

        The same Haber who, next day, left for the front to oversee more weapons leaving behind his dead wife to be discovered by his 13 year old son.

        What a guy.
    • by mysidia (191772)

      Anyway, if there are any other people who have contributed so much but been recognized so little, I'd love to know about them.

      I reported large numbers of e-mail spammers to their ISPs over the years, and got the offending IP addresses appropriately nominated to MAPS for blacklisting.

      I also wrote a bunch of enhancements to IRC server software in the 90s made over 4000 beneficial edits on Wikipedia, and probably added about 10000 comments to Slashdot; there's gotta be something in there.......

    • by slew (2918)

      I'm sure Kalishnikov made a lot more money selling his rifles than Dr. Neff did from his efforts.

      From the NYTimes article [nytimes.com]...

      The general often claimed that he never realized any profit from his work. But in his last years he urged interviewers not to portray him as poor, noting that he had a sizable apartment, a good car and a comfortable dacha on a lake near the factory where he had worked for decades.

      Work and loyalty to country, he often suggested, were their own rewards. “I am told sometimes, ‘If you had lived in the West you would have been a multimillionaire long ago,’ ” he said. “There are other values.”

      Anyway, if there are any other people who have contributed so much but been recognized so little, I'd love to know about them.

      FWIW, there are plenty of practically unknown contributors to the world. Here are a few...

      Frank Willis (the security guard that first called the police in some office complex called somekindofliquid-GATE)
      Thomas Midgley, Jr (first invented Tetra-Ethyl-Lead and later Freon, probably the man with the most impact on the environment)
      Vasili Arkhipov (commander of the K-19 sub AND later the officer that decided to NOT start WWIII during the Cuban missile crisis)
      And all the women who had

  • How do we know the US didn't just use it for their own weapons? I guess it says somewhere, perhaps the Russians did some 'inspection' things to make sure it was being used for power, along the lines of Iran?

    • by nojayuk (567177) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @07:10AM (#46098563)

      The US has a large stockpile of weapons-grade material (U-235 and also Pu-239) from decommissioned nuclear weapons produced in the 1960s when it had over 30,000 weapons ready for use. It now has about 5000 warheads, most in reserve (i.e. not ready for immediate use or kept as "junk box" units that could be refurbished given the need, will and funding). The ready-for-use warhead count is about 2,200 or so.

      They don't need to divert this ex-Soviet material to make more weapons, they don't need more weapons, they don't have the launchers and platforms to carry more weapons and they don't have the facilities or funding to pay for new weapons to be built and besides the uranium arriving in America has already been downblended to fuel-level enrichment (probably 4 or 5%) from the original 90% or so of the original weapon cores.

      That's how we know the US didn't use it for their own weapons.

    • by necro81 (917438) on Wednesday January 29, 2014 @09:04AM (#46098945) Journal

      How do we know the US didn't just use it for their own weapons? I guess it says somewhere, perhaps the Russians did some 'inspection' things to make sure it was being used for power, along the lines of Iran

      The highly enriched, weapons grade, bomb ready uranium was not shipped as is. Instead, it was diluted with natural or depleted uranium first, and that is what got shipped to the US. I suppose it is possible that it went from there to a U.S. weapons lab, re-enriched from fuel grade to weapons grade, and then made into weapons. Basic economics, however, suggests otherwise:

      1) Uranium is a commodity, like a lot of other metals, and the amount that is produced and consumed each year is known. Mismatches in supply and demand affect the price of uranium on the open market - a price that is closely watched like other commodities. If there was diversion away from fuel processors and power plants and into the U.S. arsenal, that would be a pretty obvious signal. (There was a spike in the uranium markets in 2007, but there are more prosaic explanations for that, and it came about 13 years into the Megatons To Megawatts program.) The U.S. military has no shortage of uranium available to it, particularly as it dismantles its own arsenal.

      2) Nuclear weapons production is a massive undertaking - in terms of cost and very-specialized-and-not-easily-hidden infrastructure. If the U.S. were taking the Soviet fuel and making new weapons from it, that could not be hidden, just like the original build up during the Cold War could not be hidden. Secret, yes, but not hidden.

      And, yes, inspection and verification was a part of the program. And unlike Iran, the U.S. (civilian) nuclear program makes itself available to the inspectors of the IAEA. A large diversion of incoming uranium away from fuel processors and power plants would be pretty obvious - the numbers wouldn't add up. I find it difficult to believe that hundreds of tons of highly enriched uranium (and many times that of fuel-grade uranium) could have been made to disappear from the civilian fuel cycle without somebody noticing. The dismantlement of the U.S nuclear arsenal was verified by Russia, just as we verified theirs.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Because the number of weapons is going down. AKA we have more than we need as it is. The Russians also down blend it so it is no longer weapons grade when it is shipped. That is not because they worry the US will use it for weapons but to make it useless for weapons if stolen and make it safer to ship as it can not form a critical mass.

      So in other words you are a paranoid idiot that didn't bother to read the article.

  • So, does this mean nuclear reactors will be more expensive to run now that what I assume is free or subsidized fuel is gone?
    • by nojayuk (567177)

      Not particularly. Nuclear fuel is cheap per joule of electricity generated, about 0.6cents/kWh. It's the cost of operating the plant, paying off the loans to build it in the first place, licencing and regulation, insurance, paying for spent fuel disposal and funding the eventual decommissioning of the plant that brings the total generating cost up to par with coal or gas.

      The recycling of the ex-Soviet weapons material has depressed the world markets for mined uranium for the past few years meaning yellowcak

    • by necro81 (917438)
      Other than a price spike around 2007, the price of uranium fuel has been pretty low since the end of the Cold War. Prices are higher now than they were a decade ago, but appear to be relatively stable. Uranium can be had from lots of places - it's a worldwide commodity [wikipedia.org] like any other metal. There are lots of sources for it, and the Soviet arsenal was only ever a small contribution. So, yes, prices may go up a little bit, but you aren't likely to see that in your utility bill anytime soon. The price of
  • Can existing commercial reactors run on weapons-grade Uranium or Plutonium?
    • by Firethorn (177587)

      No, but all you have to do is mix it with either depleted uranium or even freshly refined unenriched stuff to get it to the ranges necessary for use.

      • by nojayuk (567177)

        The US paid for downblending to be done in Russia and the other ex-Soviet republics; no weapons-grade material (90% plus enriched) was actually shipped to the US.

        • by Firethorn (177587)

          Never said it was done in the states, and on second thought it's highly unlikely you'd mix it with depleted. 1 kg mixed with 9kg of natural gives you 10kg of 'reactor grade', depending on the reactor, of course, but if you're mixing it with depleted you might only be able to mix it with 4kg for the same effect.

          • by nojayuk (567177)

            I don't know which they chose for the downblending process but if they had depleted UF6 to hand they may well have used that; it's a byproduct of centrifuge enrichment lines. It's expensive to convert the depleted UF6 back into metal unless there's a good reason. The US has about 700,000 tonnes of UF6 in storage, for example.

            http://web.ead.anl.gov/uranium... [anl.gov]

            • by Firethorn (177587)

              You don't need to convert it to UF6 to combine it though. That's part of the reason you might want to use freshly refined(but not enriched/depleted) uranium - You only need to kick up the proportion of 235 a bit with natural, as opposed to providing nearly all of it if you're using depleted.

              • by nojayuk (567177)

                It needs to be thoroughly mixed to a statistical level to be used as fuel in a reactor as lumps of higher and lower enrichment within fuel pellets could cause some odd radiological and physical problems. Converting HEU to UF6 makes the mixing easier and more predictable. Of course we could stop guessing and look up how the downblending process was actually achieved...

                http://www.usec.com/educationa... [usec.com]

                Conversion to UF6 and then "mixed with other material". They're not specific about whether this "other ma

  • Well, it was great while it lasted. So long and thanks for the fish.

"If value corrupts then absolute value corrupts absolutely."

Working...