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9 Comments

  1. The last paragraph of the essay is just one word: “Understand?” I wonder to whom the author might be addressing that question. Secretary Chu perhaps? Chu has repeatedly stated that reprocessing is a proliferation risk. This has been the official US policy for over 30 years. With today’s internet, you never know who might be reading a blog. Hopefully this might start a discussion among some influential people about what exactly is and isn’t a proliferation risk.

  2. While reprocessing itself is not a cause for proliferation concern, the technology could be. If you know how to separate out reactor grade plutonium, you definitely know how to do it with weapons grade. Granted, that still does not get you a bomb, or even weapons grade material, but it does give you an important piece of the puzzle.

    Of course, the concern about US reprocessing its spent nuclear fuel is overblown. At the moment, however, there is really no need to do so. This will probably change in half a century. Hopefully by then we can detangle some of the political messes of today.

  3. You can, however, build a napalm grenade using gasoline, so all cars should be banned. And, Home Depots should be banned– someone could just walk right in there, grab a saw, and start hacking away at people. We are a ruthless species, humans.

  4. I’m not saying reprocessing *should* be banned, that’s silly, especially here in the US or any other weapons state. What I am saying is that that reprocessing technology can be a proliferation risk under the wrong conditions. For example, suppose we give reprocessing plant technology where one of its phases separates out elemental plutonium to Belgium. Even if the Belgian nuclear program starts off as entirely peaceful, they always have the option to build a plutonium production reactor and they have an existing facility to separate the plutonium.

    The statement that reprocessing can be a proliferation risk is not entirely without merit. Even if one happens to feel that this concern is minor (as I do), one should not go so far as to say their argument has no basis whatsoever.

  5. The most popular “reprocessing technology” is based on chemical solvent extraction. Solvent extraction is used in several different industries and applications. It is not such a secret technology. Sure, with nuclear waste reprocessing you need some special knowledge of radiation protection and in ensuring against accidental criticality of the fissile components. But solvent extraction by itself is a rather common industrial chemical process. In other words, the basic knowledge is already out there and it wouldn’t take that much additional experimentation and development to build a fuel reprocessing plant.

  6. Rod, I hope you realize that Laser Enrichment is a game changer. As soon as that technology is perfected, it becomes possible in principle to adapt it to recovering Pu-239 from spent reactor fuel. Yay, more bombs. Seriously though, what’s this crap about nuclear bombs being a bad thing? Without the terror of nuclear weapons, there would be more warfare.

    It’s my hypothesis that Americans are so paranoid about nuclear weapons and all the technology even remotely associated with them because they are an aggressive Imperial power. As a result, they fear and loathe the devices that make it impossible for them to wage war.

    1. @Richard – I concur. However, it is not all Americans who feel that way, just the elites that are part of the establishment that fully supports the “nonproliferation community.” They only fear other nations weapons, not their own or those of their “friends”.

      My evaluation of history is that scary weapons owned by both sides leads to increased respect, politeness and diplomacy. Believe it or not, but I am a career military officer who is also a strong peacenik.

    2. Is laser enrichment really so much more effective than regular enrichment in isotope seperation? The Pu isotopes in question are generaally only 1 amu difference in mass, so isotopic seperation is going to be inherently more difficult than U-235 enrichment no matter the technology.

  7. If you have laser enrichment capabilities, why would you even bother enriching plutonium? The mass difference with uranium makes it the more effecient material to enrich. Also, it’s more easily handled because it’s less radioactive and it can be more easily made into a reliable weapon.

    The only big advantage to a fledgling weapons state from plutonium is you don’t need to enrich it (if you have a plutonium production reactor).

    Thanks for the kind words, Rod.

    @Pete: “The last paragraph of the essay is just one word: “Understand?” I wonder to whom the author might be addressing that question.”

    A little tongue-in-cheek frustration over the fact that this issue keeps getting rehashed over and over and no amount of explanation for why it’s a non-issue seems to get through.

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