Skip to comments.From Warheads to Cheap Energy: Why this MIT Professor Deserves the Nobel Peace Prize
Posted on 02/02/2014 1:55:44 PM PST by SeekAndFind
As the Cold War ended in the late 1980s and early 90s, a new fear arose amid the rejoicing and relief: that atomic security might fail in the disintegrating Soviet Union, allowing its huge stockpile of nuclear warheads to fall into unfriendly hands.
The jitters intensified in late 1991, as Moscow announced plans to store thousands of weapons from missiles and bombers in what experts viewed as decrepit bunkers, policed by impoverished guards of dubious reliability.
Many officials and scientists worried. Few knew what to do.
That is when Thomas L. Neff, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hit on his improbable idea: Why not let Moscow sell the uranium from its retired weapons and dilute it into fuel for electric utilities in the United States, giving Russians desperately needed cash and Americans a cheap source of power?
Last month, Dr. Neffs idea came to a happy conclusion as the last shipment of uranium from Russia arrived in the United States. In all, over two decades, the program known as Megatons to Megawatts turned 20,000 Russian warheads into electricity that has illuminated one in 10 American light bulbs.
(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...
Dr. Neff actually made his idea public in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times, entitled : A GRAND URANIUM BARGAIN.
The Op-Ed was published Oct. 24,1991. Read it here:
The total electric power, it said, could illuminate the whole of the United States (roughly 20,000 cities and 115 million households) for about two years or Washington, D.C., for 185 years.
I would have opted for shedding some light on D.C...buts thats just me...
Stupid, this is going to enhance illegal nuclear poaching.
“Stupid, this is going to enhance illegal nuclear poaching.”
Umm, this program was specifically designed to DETER illegal nuclear poaching. Which it has done, for nearly 20 years. And, it’s coming to an end, without any suggestion that it has led to such poaching. So, maybe not such a stupid idea after all.
Molten salt reactors burn away pretty much all high grade material into ash
But here is the unintended side result - there are now huge numbers of “spent” fuel rods with no place for their long-term storage, which continue to deteriorate their containment units, and present another hazard, if some solution is not found.
I know, it would have been a problem anyway, with or without the additional fissionable material obtained from the decommissioning of the Russian nuclear arsenal. But we have all this fissile element lying around,why not put it to good use?
I believe I have touched on the subject of molten-salt thorium nuclear reactors as a means to REPLACE the U-238 fueled nuclear reactors, with a twofold advantage, one of which is that the reaction cannot proceed to a “runaway” surge, causing something like a “China syndrome” (not actually possible with the existing design of any nuclear reactor), and secondly, as a much more efficient way to “burn-up” the existing stockpile of “spent” fuel rods now accumulating. Cut and paste, if necessary:
This provides a good basic understanding of what is involved in getting a thorium-based nuclear atomic pile up and running.
Some comments upthread mention our 'burden' of storing all the used fuel assemblies resulting from this. That isn't as much the result of adopting leftist nukes as fuel as it is from adopting leftist ideas about managing the valuable, NOT expensive 'used' fuel. Thorium reactors offer one way to profitably reuse that. I'm impressed by what I've read about them, but lack the background to exclude there being some 'catch' I'm overlooking. Thorium isn't the only method to reuse 'spent' fuel. France, the most nuclear dependent nation, uses another method, presumably with its own risks, and produces minimal 'waste' at the end of its fuel cycles. Thanks to Carter we're using the most 'wasteful' option.
As long as you give the DC Chapter time to evacuate :)
Jimmy Carter put us in the predicament of spent fuel rods left in spent fuel pools indefinitely due to his executive order banning the reprocessing of spent civilian fuel. We had a chance to have that overturned upon the successful completion of the West Valley Demonstration Project, which used the same vitrification technologies used by the French. From a technical standpoint, the spent fuel should spend just a limited time for some of the shorter lived isotopes to decay. As in at most a month. At that time, the fuel rods can be shipped for reprocessing, even if the cask needs heavy shielding. There is still a lot of burnable fuel left in the fuel rods, since only a portion of the fissile material can be burnt at a time due to the neutron capture cross section of the fission fractions. This goes beyond xenon, which has a high cross section, but is short lived.
The thorium molten salt reactors is not a new concept, the idea has been around since the early 1960’s if not late 1950’s. I suspect one of the hurdles at the time was metallurgy for handling the molten fluoride salts (and maybe the uranium lobby). India has been a major proponent of this technology, since they have large reserves of thorium. The actual fissile material is U233 which is bred from the thorium - but it does not make good weapons material.
If we disarm ourselves, how can we hunt for rogue nukes? It is like antihunting organization. They create the very disinterest, financial or political, in looking to protect the game revenues and its maintenance.
This program had nothing to do with disarming ourselves - the weapons used in this program were former Soviet weapons. Granted, the Soviet weapons were disabled as part of bilateral agreements in which we agreed to disarm some weapons as well, but this particular program was separate and apart from the initial disarmament issue.
Thomas L. Neff, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hit on his improbable idea: Why not let Moscow sell the uranium from its retired weapons and dilute it into fuel for electric utilities in the United States, giving Russians desperately needed cash and Americans a cheap source of power? Last month, Dr. Neffs idea came to a happy conclusion as the last shipment of uranium from Russia arrived in the United States. In all, over two decades, the program known as Megatons to Megawatts turned 20,000 Russian warheads into electricity that has illuminated one in 10 American light bulbs.Thanks SeekAndFind.
There would have been the same number of spent fuel rods, without this program.
... with no place for their long-term storage,
There is a perfectly good place for long term storage that we have already spent billions of dollars constructing. It's called Yucca Mountain and the only reason it is not operating is corrupt fear-mongering politicians like Harry Reid.
... which continue to deteriorate their containment units,
Can you site even one example where the interim storage units are "deteriorating?" I agree, they are not a solution, but they are not deteriorating either.