1. Uranium will be used as a weapon before the end of the decade to fight a new war.

    The quest for blue gold, not oil, will be at stake.

    That’s right. Water desalination and nuclear.

    Mark my words.

    Atoms for peace.

    And the World bank will wake up and finance nuclear reactors for the poor. It is their mission to help emerging nations reach dignity. They just are confused.

    1. @Daniel

      And the World bank will wake up and finance nuclear reactors for the poor. It is their mission to help emerging nations reach dignity. They just are confused.

      Cynically speaking, it is you who are confused. I just finished David Rockefeller’s excellent and reasonably honest autobiography. As he describes in not so many words, the real mission of the World Bank has always been to use public funds to enrich people like him. I think his words were something like “enabling free flow of investment capital, goods and people across borders”.

      1. I read you Rod,

        Nonetheless, here is the cynical mission of the World Bank:

        The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital programs.

        The World Bank’s official goal is the reduction of poverty.

        So I can make the connection between nuclear plants as being capital intensive and make the link to reduce poverty by providing cheap electricity.

        And the cynical mission of the NRC is to help protect the environment by licensing a few plants every other 30 years.

  2. Listening to the Moniz video above, he has no clue as to the content of this article by Nnadir. NO CLUE.

    The DOE should also have a ‘no bozos allowed’ rule.

    1. @Daniel

      Over the life of a fuel element in a light water reactor, about 1/3 of the energy produced comes from plutonium fission. Thus it gets some of the credit for the 1.8 million lives that Hansen et al have computed as being saved by nuclear power during the past several decades.


  3. Nnadir, your comment:

    Thus it is more difficult to make nuclear weapons from the uranium in used nuclear fuel than it is to use natural uranium, since uranium in used nuclear fuel contains a new isotope that is not found in natural uranium, 236U, the presence of which complicates the separation of 235U, at least in the commonly used gas diffusion process and the related ultracentrifuge process, in ways that natural uranium does not.

    My question:

    Would the latest laser technology be more efficient for separation than the old gas diffusion or current ultracentrifuge process ?

    1. If you have a fuel cycle which does not use enrichment, there is no legitmate purpose for laser enrichment systems any more than gas centrifuges.

      1. @Engineer-Poet

        Enriched fuel is much more valuable and flexible, even if you have no desire to produce weapons, than unenriched fuel. It makes it much easier to build small fission powered machines, it allows those machines to be far more responsive to power changes, it reduces the irradiated waste volume considerably, and it makes it easier and less wasteful to produce specialized isotopes. Please do not ask for links supporting those assertions.

        Besides, power is not the only reason why it can be useful to own the equipment required to separate isotopes of various elements.

        I remain convinced that the demonization of enriched fissile material is part of the strategy to limit beneficial uses of nuclear energy.

        1. I agree that enriched fuels are a necessary component of full exploitation of nuclear energy but I would quibble with how we get there.

          Separated isotopes are an essential of many important technologies, most of which have nothing to do with nuclear energy, or only have peripheral relevance. The separation of deuterium for instance might have application in nuclear technologies, such as the manufacture of heavy water reactors – which I like very much – as well as in the construction of “hydrogen” bombs, where lithium deuteride is an important component. However most of the important biomedical research would be impossible without deuterium, given the essential role it plays in mass spectroscopy and NMR, as well as in chemistry where it is used to probe organic reactions.

          Deuterium separations are among the easiest in such an approach; all that is required is effectively an electrolysis apparatus and some patience.

          Other isotopes are more problematic, and require higher investments of energy, even the straight forward enrichment of carbon 13.

          Some pure isotopes of potential interest can be obtained by fast processing of used nuclear fuels, particularly those that are designed for things like the putative Gen IV fluid phased reactors. Some accessible pure or nearly pure isotopes that come to mind immediately are Zr-90, pure Rb-85 (all natural rubidium is radioactive by Rb-85 is not), Nd-144 (although I’m hard pressed to imagine why anyone would want it), pure Pd-106: that’s just what pops into my head.

          But I’m not sure that the separation of actinide isotopes by traditional isotopic separation is either necessary or desirable. I’d rather use fission/capture schemes to achieve this. For many thousands of years, we probably can keep a sparkplug in uranium by use of thorium/U-233 schemes: with continuous recycling we will inevitably be making new U-235. If and when thorium runs out – its geochemistry makes it not quite as indefinitely available as uranium, we can make it from U-234 derived from the decay of Pu-238, this produced by irradiating Am-241 obtained from the recycling of U-238 containing fuels. (I didn’t make this clear in the text but the route is Am-241 captures a neutron to give Am-242 which decays by alpha decay to give Pu-238. U-234 is an excellent “fertile” nuclide.

          I agree with Kessler that the expanded production of Pu-238 is a wise move, not only for the (somewhat phony) “anti-proliferation” reason but in order to provide cheap and clean access to particular uranium and plutonium vectors useful in myriad types of reactors.

          We can of course make actinides of relatively pure isotopic qualities by judicious use of radiation schemes coupled with fast chemical manipulation. For instance, if we want pure Pu-238 for space missions, a fast fluid phase separation of Cm-242 followed by decay of the isotope with its 163 day half-life should make this possible. This is easier and cleaner that short irradiated Np-237.

          Traditional isotope separation schemes do in fact raise the external costs of nuclear energy, not nearly enough to make them as bad as dangerous fossil fuels, but enough to want to displace them with cleaner options. I would like to see the nuclear industry do away with physico-chemical isotopic schemes, since cleaner faster and frankly safer options exist.

    2. Daniel:

      This is an excellent question, and I considered it during the writing, and thought of adding a discussion of it, but the piece was already way too long.

      If I were to try to separate a wide spectrum mixture of uranium or plutonium isotopes, I would most likely look at laser methods which are probably the most refined. The point of my essay is not that such separation is impossible, but only that it is far more problematic than with the use of natural uranium.

      This approach, “more difficult than using the natural sources” helps to divorce nuclear energy from nuclear war.

      I am not an expert in laser enrichment, but my crude understanding is that it relies on hyperfine distinctions in the quantized electronic energy levels that arise from slight differences in the charge distributions in nuclei. As such, it is going to involve ionized transition states that will sort the nuclei. It is very possible for ions to engage in electronic exchanges, so I wouldn’t think that as an approach it would offer much of an advantage, if any, since there are a large number of nuclei available for which such exchange can take place.

      Next, the matrix itself is far more radioactive than natural uranium, and the presence of x-rays and some gamma rays will result in Auger electrons being emitted, creating another source of ions to complicate the picture.

      Finally, one needs to transport the material to the instrument after robotic isolation and after use the instrument will be strongly contaminated with things like U-232. It means at the minimum, more robots and thus more cost.

      I expect that laser enrichment is far better suited for natural uranium than for anything else, including actinides isolated from used nuclear fuels. since the radioactivity of the uranium, especially when separated from members of its decay series.

      Thanks again for your question.


      1. “the preternaturally paranoid partisans of the anti-nuclear regimes” – Best new epithet since William Safire penned “nattering nabobs of negativism” for Agnew.

        But one thing nags me – did you ever have to suppress the temptation to tell your readers “so long, and thanks for all the lutefisk?”

        1. The allure of alliteration always appeals to me.

          There was one alliterative passage in what I think may have been the best diary I ever wrote at Kos – a passage about waiting on line in the supermarket – that I have always been proud of writing. It’s in this diary about Lise Meitner:


          I don’t think I could write that piece again if I tried, and I surely couldn’t do it any better than I did then. I’m very proud of that piece, and a few others that I wrote there.

          But that was then and this is now.

          As for the Kossacks, they didn’t offer me any lutefisk; I brought lutefisk to them. It is therefore understandable that there was always an undercurrent of hostility towards there. As my Grandmother used to say, “Beware of people bearing lutefisk!” Well maybe she didn’t say that, but she should have.

          In the story Rod told above about my departure of from Daily Kos there’s some errors. I stopped writing diaries there in December of 2012, mostly because post Hurricane Sandy, I’d become fed up with the prominent anti-nukes there, Timmy Lange, (Meteor Blades) and Larry Lewis (Turkana) not to mention that disaster movie writer, the incompetent geologist Georgie Birchard (FishoutofWater).

          I think living through the hurricane, which was hardly the worst of what is to come — irrespective of any Bayesian analysis of why that particular one was so furious – exhausted any patience I had left for what this anti-nuke ignorance is doing to the environment. And remember, jokes aside, I am first and foremost an environmentalist. My interest in nuclear energy is inextricably linked with my environmentalism.

          The second idiot, Larry, is more amusing than the former, Timmy, and the last idiot, Georgie, since Larry, the poorly educated and exceedingly ignorant brat, was awfully loud about making statements about how he, um, “respected” science, frequently appealing to his admiration of Jim Hansen’s work on climate, at least until Hansen said something he didn’t want to hear, specifically that nuclear energy saves lives, millions of lives.

          (See reference 19 above.)

          Suddenly the respect for Jim Hansen’s “science” was no longer mentioned, since his “respect” – since he clearly lacked anything resembling a scientific education – was contingent on hearing only what he wants to hear.

          As for Kos himself…

          Kos didn’t “ask” me to stop writing. I almost never had a direct communication with him. In fact, I only had one note from him, and it was hostile and predictably nitpicky as I’d mentioned something he didn’t want to hear in one of his precious electric car threads.. (I have never thought him the brightest bulb, but there were some very fine and very smart people who wrote on the website he owned in spite of him. Some of them got fed up before I did and left or were booted out.)

          Some months after I stopped writing diaries, limiting myself to bitter sarcastic comments often directed at his less than enlightened front pagers, he banned me, without comment.

          The straw on the camel was this remark that I made, for which I have no apologies since I happen to think that it reflects dead spot on truth:


          It’s a pretty angry statement, I confess, but it was an appropriate ending to my tenure in that place. I was angry.

          I was really, really, really, really fed up with that intellectually lazy set who thinks that the environment can be saved by lanthanide laced whirlygigs, some cadmium covered McMansion roofs, and a few subsidies thrown at the millionaires and billionaires who tool around in that absurd Tesla motor car. I mean there are three billion people on this planet with no sanitation, billions without clean water, millions dying each year from air pollution, and this is what they have to offer?

          There were a lot of fine people who wrote at Kos, and I mean to cast no aspersions on them, but my personal passion being what it is, I’d reached the point of no return.

          It was fun while it lasted, but I’m glad it’s over.

          1. NNAdir writes: “Suddenly the respect for Jim Hansen’s “science” was no longer mentioned, since his “respect” – since he clearly lacked anything resembling a scientific education – was contingent on hearing only what he wants to hear.”

            I notice that a lot at my end. I have used Jim Hansen’s powerful pro-nuclear activism as a crowbar to force anti-nukes to consider pro-nuke arguments seriously, but every anti-nuke I have confronted in this way has chosen to degrade him/herself by responding with arguments such as “Jim Hansen is a great climatologist, but he clearly knows nothing about nuclear power.”

            Still, I think we should continue to tell people about Dr. Hansen’s opinion on nuclear power. Although all anti-nukes I’ve confronted with it so far appear to readily stoop to calling Dr. Hansen a fool, it can be seen (during conversation) that is not psychologically so easy for them to do this. I imagine it causes painful cognitive dissonance which they may be able to hide from onlookers, but which will presumably reduce their capacity for particularly enthusiastic anti-nukery at least somewhat.

            Dr. Hansen remains a very influential figure for those who are concerned about climate disruption and his outspoken pro-nuke activism is therefore IMO one of the most powerful pro-nuclear forces in the energy debate today.

          2. Joris:

            Hansen’s paper, which represents some small victory for pro-nuclear environmentalists – at a time when specious attacks on nuclear energy have reached a new crescendo – is the most widely read paper at Environmental Science and Technology over the last 12 months.


            It’s number one. Hopefully that will translate into something meaningful, as if nothing else, it is a blow against ignorance.

          3. I reread Nnadir’s piece on Lise Meitner and the drop-like nature of atomic nuclei, but the link to the high speed photography of water droplets did not seem to be working. Does anyone have another link for that?

          4. John:

            Thanks for going there.

            Well, I see that you’re right; the video is gone. It’s too bad, but I guess that’s the nature of blogging, things are transient.

            I googled leaf, falling drop – which is how I came across the original – and there’s lots of them, but not the one I used in the original post.

            Hopefully though, I described the situation well enough that you can imagine what was going on.

            Thanks again,


    3. Answer: yes, of course. But it would also make the separation of natural uranium more efficient too. So natural uranium is *still* a better way to go than used fuel, if one’s intent is weapons.

  4. NASA could do a WHOLE lot to boost a positive “friendly-useful” reputation of plutonium (and help popularize the need for supply) by hawking how much it’s been used in space probes and lunar explorer gear as proudly and constantly it does that its other probes are solar cell powered. Today NASA seems almost reluctant to exhibit that in public, like they had to use nuclear as the lesser of two evils. Check Google and see how many hits you get with solar power and Spirit and Opportunity then of plutonium and Curiosity. Green-PC lives with NASA.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  5. NNadir, I’m offering another opinion on “Carter’s Mistake”. No doubt it occurred under his administration, but assigning him the credit (or blame) is probably a stretch. As we used to say in the nuke navy; the guy knew about enough to be dangerous. I think it’s the nature of the beast that the guy sitting in that chair becomes a product of the advice they receive. And even though the Secretaries of Whatever change every administration, the real department cultural mentality is firmly entrenched in the career workforce. These are the guys that influence policy.
    I recently read J Samuel Walker’s book The Road to Yucca Mountain, The Development of Radioactive Waste Policy in the United States. I can add that it is an extremely well documented book, and Walker is not shy about hitting the NRC hard when they deserve it. It also has a good historical discussion about the end of reprocessing in the US.
    The discussion really did start under the Ford Administration (’74-’76), and all of the discussion was based on nuclear bomb proliferation. This was going on during the time the AEC was in its death throes. This was also the historical time frame that the whole world saw, up close for the first time, terrorists at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Additionally India exploded their first nuke bomb in 1974, historically attributed to them having a Canadian reactor as a result of the Eisenhower “Atoms for Peace” program. James R Schlesinger was Ford’s Secretary of Defense and later Carter’s Secretary of Energy.
    A previous observation from the book is that Ford and Carter shared the same opinion on proliferation. Note well that the NRC could have told Carter to “go to hell”, as they had the sole regulatory authority under the Atomic Energy Act of ’54. They could have told Carter to get Congress to change the law first, taking their authority away. Walker states in the book the Commission voted 4-0 to endorse Carter’s position, and only one was a Carter appointee. I have verified with the current NRC historian that this is an error as only one was not a Carter appointment; Gilinsky, Hendrie and Bradford were Carter appointees, Kennedy was not. From the NRC web site info dates here are the 4 men who killed reprocessing:
    Victor Gilinsky (D) Ford appointment, reappointed by Carter 5/15/79
    Richard T Kennedy (R), no appointment info, term ’75-‘80
    Joseph M Hendrie (R) Carter appointment
    Peter A Bradford (D) Carter appointment
    From the book discussion info on Dec 23, 1977 when they ruled to kill reprocessing (against the recommendation of the NRC staff), Hendrie and Bradford had only about 4.5 months experience on the Commission. So just who would you suppose is exercising the “dominant operator syndrome” influence on this issue in this group? Hint: Gilinsky is and remains a “one-trick-pony” on the same issue.
    From Gilinsky’s resume I decided to learn something about the Rand Corporation. There are many scathing accounts of this organization on the web. A common thread is they are a “think tank” for the military industrial complex, totally bent on influencing their views in all aspects of US politics, invented right after WW2 to give themselves a job. Gilinsky and James Schlesinger both cut their teeth in that organization. In fact the Rand Corporation list of alums reads like a list of “who’s who” in the A-holes of US foreign and domestic policy. These are the guys who killed reprocessing. If you read some of Gilinky’s current one-trick-pony writings, he has one idea; nuclear reactors always lead to an H2 bomb (true), and commercial nuclear reactors in other countries always do also, and will expedite the same (somewhat true).
    The Rand’s bottom line is US foreign policy supremacy and power, and therefore our future existence, depends on us keeping the H-bomb edge in the hands of as few countries as possible. So any advancement of our commercial nuke technology to other countries reduces our ability to survive. I really believe they believe that, and they have singlehanded influenced both political party’s nuke power policy in that direction. These guys just don’t think like normal people, they see war as a solution, not as a problem, and they see nuke war ability as a special bargaining chip. You can probably blame Carter for naively believing the “moral high ground” approach of the policy, but not much else.
    Of course as you point out this thinking is behind the times, other countries can and do now export nuke tech, so we shift to pressuring them to stop also. But it won’t stop, too much money to be made in world markets. There are also schools of thought that would disagree with your solution of using nuke power to improve the condition of underdeveloped countries, because constant population growth is not sustainable, and that too threatens our existence. The thinking of those folks doesn’t include a solution involving any “moral high ground.” But you can thank Rand Corp type thinking for the root cause of most of these problems.

    1. @mjd

      There are a few tidbits missing from your excellent historical overview.

      Not only was Schlesinger Nixon’s Secretary of Defense for a time, but he also had the dubious distinction of being the last Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. He is the guy tasked by Nixon to take apart the organization, create the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, figure out what to do with the bomb programs, and cast the nuclear energy promotional arm into the abyss of the hapless Energy Research and Development Agency.

      Interestingly enough, I just heard Schlesinger opine about energy at the OPEC +40 Summit in Washington. Here is a key quote from his ramblings:

      Moderator: Secretary Schlesinger, do you agree with that? By 2020 we could not require any foreign sources of energy?

      Schlesinger – No, I think we’ll still be importing oil. We will be exporting oil products. But I doubt… We’re still importing 6 or 7 million barrels of oil per day; I doubt that we’re going to get down to zero. I think there is a little more enthusiasm for our prospective oil position. But you asked a question about nuclear. Madeline (Albright) mentioned the unintended consequences (of the Atoms for Peace speech). There are unanticipated consequences. What we have seen as a result of shale oil development and shale gas development is natural gas is so cheap now that nobody, no utility, is going to build a nuclear plant unless very heavily subsidized and we are not seeing that. Philosophically we may be more interested in having more nuclear plants but as a practical matter, we’re just not going to see them. There is no nuclear renaissance coming.

      (Emphasis added.)

      Also, the Rand Corporation is a little known part of the military-industrial-petroleum-banking complex that protects the American establishment’s economic interests. The last time I had deep involvement in a Rand Corp project, they were seriously recommending that the Navy plan to spend about $14 billion per copy — without weapons — for Trident replacement submarines. That number has probably been changed since I retired.

    1. He should stick to subjects in which he has expertise, like, say, um, managing marital relationships.

      One of the consistent things about anti-nukes is their willingness to discuss subjects they know nothing about; and one of the consistent features of the news media is that they are always willing to publish these diatribes by anti-nukes discussing subjects they know nothing about.

  6. Excellent article! I enjoyed reading it very much. Especially the stuff about the Candu…
    I know Rod is always saying it’s more about fission vs. Combustion but I would like to ask one thing. Isn’t it true that candu is actually using LESS Natural U than a PWR of equal size? I always had that in the back of my head probably because I read it somewhere. If this assertion is true then I have a hard time understanding why there exist so few HWR.
    However the fuel usage efficiency must also depend much on the tails assay of the enrich. U used in the PWR. Does anyone know where the breakeven tails assay lies?

    Thanks for the article

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