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JohnWxy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 01:46 PM
Original message
Nuclear waste: how much is there & how long does it take to decay?-
It ain't just the mining of uranium that's deadly:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_waste#Manageme...


In the United States alone, the Department of Energy states there are "millions of gallons of radioactive waste" as well as "thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel and material" and also "huge quantities of contaminated soil and water."<1> Despite copious quantities of waste, the DOE has stated a goal of cleaning all presently contaminated sites successfully by 2025.<1> The Fernald, Ohio site for example had "31 million pounds of uranium product", "2.5 billion pounds of waste", "2.75 million cubic yards of contaminated soil and debris", and a "223 acre portion of the underlying Great Miami Aquifer had uranium levels above drinking standards."<1> The United States has at least 108 sites designated as areas that are contaminated and unusable, sometimes many thousands of acres.<1><2> DOE wishes to clean or mitigate many or all by 2025, however the task can be difficult and it acknowledges that some may never be completely remediated. In just one of these 108 larger designations, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, there were for example at least "167 known contaminant release sites" in one of the three subdivisions of the 37,000-acre (150 km2) site.
~~
~~

HOw long until it decays to "safe" levels.

Of particular concern in nuclear waste management are two long-lived fission products, Tc-99 (half-life 220,000 years) and I-129 (half-life 17 million years), which dominate spent fuel radioactivity after a few thousand years. The most troublesome transuranic elements in spent fuel are Np-237 (half-life two million years) and Pu-239 (half life 24,000 years).<23> Nuclear waste requires sophisticated treatment and management in order to successfully isolate it from interacting with the biosphere. This usually necessitates treatment, followed by a long-term management strategy involving storage, disposal or transformation of the waste into a non-toxic form.<24> Governments around the world are considering a range of waste management and disposal options, though there has been limited progress toward long-term waste management solutions.<25>


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Dogmudgeon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 01:51 PM
Response to Original message
1. Coal is the biggest source of nuclear waste by far
And anti-nuclear is pro-coal.

That's not rhetoric. That's what the energy companies actually do.

Then they run hundreds of TV and print ads showing wind farms, birds, flowers, and happy blond children.

--d!
"This is bigger than the both of us ..."
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 01:53 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. Bullshit
Nuclear is the fallback position for the same people who own coal. It is a matter of historical record that the proponents of nuclear and coal are one and the same.
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Dogmudgeon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 01:58 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. "... a matter of historical record ..."
You frequently brag about your scientific prowess.

So prove your claim.

And without personal attacks.

--d!
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 02:23 PM
Response to Reply #3
8. Just review the party platforms for the past 30 years.
Take for example the past election - McCain advocated Drill baby drill" (thus showing the typical republican's total indifference to climate change) while simultaneously advocating that we build more than a hundred new nuclear reactors to address a the climate change issue he obviously doesn't give a fig about.

Nuclear power is the final fallback position of the same people who are dead set on burning every lump of coal in the ground.
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AtheistCrusader Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-21-09 11:58 AM
Response to Reply #8
48. Pardon me
but what does drilling for oil have to do with mining for coal?
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NNadir Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 02:08 PM
Response to Reply #2
4. Really? Please let me know of JUST ONE form of renewable energy
that can run at the same capacity utilization as coal.

The fact is fundie boy that you are, as usual, talking completely out of your hat. Every single nuclear plant that has been shut by the arbitrary attention of scientifically illiterate fundied - not one of whom can demonstrate even ONE person injured by used nuclear fuel - and couldn't give a flying fuck about the people killed by biofuel waste, coal waste, electronic waste or automotive waste - has been replaced by dangerous fossil fuels.

Some of the world's largest dumb fundie anti-nukes, Gerhard Schroeder, Joschka Fischer and Amory Lovins are openly paid at an executive level by the dangerous fossil fuel industry.'

I know that neither you nor the fundie who wrote the opening post give a rat's ass about how to store dangerous natural gas waste for eternity.

Since you are both completely illiterate about nuclear science, having never opened a science book in your life - either of you - you have no fucking idea what you're talking about.
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 02:28 PM
Response to Reply #4
9. If capacity factor were the determinant you'd be right
But since it isn't your clinging to that canard is a great example of desperation. You can't legitimately argue the relevant issues of resource availability and evaluations based on net energy, total directs costs or external costs, you are reduced to making the specious claim that we can only judge renewable energy sources by the same metrics we use to judge centralized sources of thermal generation. That is a claim that is false.
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jpak Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 06:18 PM
Response to Reply #4
16. Are you quite ill again - or is this normal?
:rofl:
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JohnWxy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 02:12 PM
Response to Reply #1
5. I'm not for radiation exposure whatever the source. However, toxic waste by virtue of it's
long period till decay will put many more people at risk. How many people are put at risk by x-million tons of nuclear waste over, say 70,000 years?

NO, not all people who question the common sense or practicality of nuclear are pro coal. I don't doubt though, that pro-coal interests are happy to emphasize the very serious concerns about nuclear. (the fly ash, which does contain some radioactive material, can and should, of course, be dealt with since it is certainly technically feasible to do so.)



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bananas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 03:23 PM
Response to Reply #1
12. Radioactivity releases from nuclear operations dwarf radioactivity releases from coal
Edited on Fri Oct-09-09 03:24 PM by bananas
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Name removed Donating Member (0 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 02:13 PM
Response to Original message
6. Deleted message
Message removed by moderator. Click here to review the message board rules.
 
Name removed Donating Member (0 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 06:20 PM
Response to Reply #6
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Nederland Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 02:17 PM
Response to Original message
7. France stores all its nuclear waste in a single room
Edited on Fri Oct-09-09 02:25 PM by Nederland
http://www.standpointmag.co.uk/recycling-the-french-mod...

<snip>

For years now I've heard how France stores all its nuclear waste in a single room at La Hague. It never quite believed it but now I do now. Two weeks ago, I got to stand in that room.

What they say about France is true: the country has mastered nuclear technology. It has the lowest greenhouse emissions of any industrial nation while importing only half as much natural gas from Russia as either Britain or Germany. There are even signs around Paris directing you to stations where you can recharge your electric car. It's time Britons took note of these things. There's going to be no way to deal with global warming or the looming oil shortage without nuclear energy.

France's nuclear reprocessing centre sits on a promontory overlooking the English Channel. Here, spent fuel assemblies arrive from France's 59 reactors plus a few others in Belgium and other countries.

<snip>

http://www.terrestrialenergy.org/blog/?p=11

<snip>

Theres one thing I want to ask, I said. Ive read this several times but I want to make absolutely sure. The plutonium that comes out of a commercial reactor, that you separate from the fuel rod, that cannot be used to make a bomb, right?

Thats right, he nodded. You have four plutonium isotopes Pu-239, Pu-240, Pu-241 and Pu-242. Of the four, only Pu-239 can sustain a chain reaction. The others are contaminants. The PU-241 is too highly radioactive. It fissiles too fast so you cant control it to make a bomb. But you can use all of them to sustain fission in a MOX reactor.

I lean back for a second. I dont know whether you know all this, Im sure you do, but we completely ended reprocessing in the United States in the 1970s on the premise that if we extracted plutonium someone might use it to make a bomb. We were saving the world from nuclear proliferation. But in fact, as youre saying, this is all wrong. You cant use plutonium from a commercial reactor to build a bomb?

You have to have a special kind of fast reactor that breeds only Pu-239, he said. Thats what the North Koreans did.

So weve created this whole problem of nuclear waste on a false premise. And were building this huge complex at Yucca Mountain on a completely mistaken idea.

He gave a little Gallic shrug and smiled under his mustache. Thats right, he said.

<snip>
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 02:37 PM
Response to Reply #7
10. The reality of France's aggressive nuclear power push
From The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/op-eds/the-reali...


The reality of France's aggressive nuclear power push
By Mycle Schneider | 3 June 2008

Article Highlights

* Developing countries that have expressed interest in French nuclear power technology can't implement it anytime soon.
* A French-led global nuclear power renaissance is problematic, since the country's nonproliferation record is poor.
* French nuclear reactors aren't as safe as its promoters claim.
* Nuclear power provides only a small portion of total French energy consumption.

"It's time to look to the French," New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote in January. "They've got their heads in the right place, with nuclear power enjoying a 70 percent approval rating." Similarly, presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain has wondered, "If France can produce 80 percent of its electricity with nuclear power, why can't we?" Even Southern Republicans are becoming Francophiles, with Georgia State Rep. Amos Amerson, chairman of the Georgia House Science and Technology Committee, asking how the French system might help the United States in its "efforts to obtain cleaner, cheaper, more stable energy."

France is known as the country where nuclear power works. It operates 59 nuclear reactors, which provided 78 percent of its electricity in 2007. Now, the French government has decided to bring the "revival" of nuclear power to the world. The Sarkozy administration has made multiple nuclear cooperation agreements with other nations and the president himself has traveled the world as a nuclear salesman. "The requests by countries that wish to profit from that clean and cheap source of energy are legitimate," says French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. New bilateral nuclear trade agreements have been negotiated with Algeria, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. In addition, France has pledged to assist China, India, and Brazil in expanding their nuclear power programs.

But despite France's best efforts to the contrary, it's unlikely that the wannabe nuclear players will implement nuclear power programs any time soon--if ever. None of these countries have the necessary nuclear regulations, regulators, maintenance capacity, or the skilled workforce to run a nuclear plant. The head of France's Nuclear Safety Authority has estimated that it would take at least 15 years to build the necessary regulatory framework in countries that are starting from scratch. (The French government is well aware of this problem; last month, it created the Agence France Nuclaire International within its Atomic Energy Commission to "help foreign states to prepare the institutional, human, and technical environment necessary for the development of a civil nuclear program.")

Furthermore, their electricity grids would be unable to handle the increased load from a 1,600-megawatt European pressurized water reactor (EPR) built by the Franco-German joint venture AREVA NP. The increase that a new EPR would represent of total installed generating capacity in a country such as Jordan (1,900 megawatts) or the United Arab Emirates (with roughly 6,600 megawatts, the largest grid of the six Arab candidate countries) illustrates the absurdity of large-scale nuclear deployments in these countries. The grids in such countries would not have the distribution potential nor the capacity to replace nuclear plants that might shutdown or lower output temporarily, wreaking havoc on the countries' electricity consumers.

The idea of encouraging and promoting nuclear energy seems even more surprising in countries that are beset by armed rebel groups, many of whom have demonstrated stunning levels of unscrupulousness toward their fellow citizens. Some people have labeled civilian nuclear facilities "pre-deployed nuclear weapons." The phrase becomes particularly significant in this context.

In the meantime, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's announcement politics perfectly complement the international nuclear industry's massive campaign to promote nuclear power as a potential answer to climate change. AREVA and its CEO Anne Lauvergeon, whom Cohen dubbed the "stylish 'Vive les Nukes' saleswoman," are offering nuclear plants as if they were pressure cookers at the local market. "We have it in France, why shouldn't they have it in Morocco?" Sarkozy asked during an October 2007 speech in Marrakesh.

The rhetorical question puts Morocco on the same level as France. In doing so, the French president not only flatters his host but underscores his own authority and strategic view: "If de Gaulle had not embarked on nuclear energy, EDF would not be today what it is. . . . Tomorrow, I wish that Morocco chooses French civil nuclear energy." His statement is actually historically incorrect. De Gaulle was instrumental in the launch of the nuclear weapons program, but the large civil nuclear program was launched on March 6, 1974 under President Georges Pompidou and Prime Minister Pierre Messmer. But Sarkozy's stance is a strong reminder to the international community that France wants to be different--especially from the United States--when it comes to its relationship with the Arab World. So Sarkozy tells Moroccan leaders, "France will be your partner. France makes that political choice. France will accompany you on this road."

Unfortunately, Sarkozy's strategy risks contributing to the steady erosion of an international nonproliferation regime "on the brink of collapse." Moreover, France has a devastatingly poor nonproliferation record, having supplied nuclear assistance to most of the official and unofficial nuclear weapon states around the world. The Israeli bomb program was based on French technology, as was the Iraqi nuclear effort and the South African nuclear program. French companies continue to assist Pakistan and India, which have both used civilian nuclear facilities and materials for military purposes.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran still holds 40 percent of the joint French-Iranian consortium Sofidif, which maintains a 25-percent interest in Eurodif, a multinational uranium enrichment group that operates a gaseous diffusion plant in southern France. Currently, the dividends are frozen due to international restrictions over Iran's contested uranium enrichment program, but tens of millions of Iranian Euros are piling up in French banks as a result of the Shah's profitable 1974 investment in French uranium enrichment.

French officials are proud of their country's place as the world's leading nuclear energy state. Kouchner maintains, "Thirty years ago, France made the choice of nuclear . It was the price its independence, its prosperity, its freedom. . . .Today, we have a degree of energy autonomy that profits every French . The cost of our electricity is the lowest in the world and our economy is one of the cleanest in terms of carbon emissions."

Independence, prosperity, freedom--this is strong stuff. And, of course, Kouchner does not forget to point out the price of oil, which "reaches summits and continues to climb."

But is he correct? For starters, he makes a convenient mistake--mixing up the words "electricity" and "energy." In 2007, nuclear energy provided 78 percent of France's electricity, which corresponded to 39 percent of its commercial primary energy but only 18 percent of its final energy. Primary energy is the energy contained in the fuel when it enters the system, while final energy is what is left over for the consumer after processing, transformation, and distribution. In the case of large nuclear or coal-fired power plants, only about one-quarter of the primary energy reaches the consumer's home, office, or factory. In France, more than 70 percent of final energy is provided by oil, gas, and coal, of which one-half is oil alone, just as in many other countries. This year, the country will face an all-time record energy bill of more than $80 billion.

If the goal was independence from oil, then the target should have been the transportation sector. Already the largest consumer of oil in the early 1970s, oil consumption has increased by 70 percent, far outstripping the oil savings from nuclear energy's growth in the electricity sector. Today, transportation is responsible for more than one-half of French oil consumption and one-third of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. With all of the country's uranium now imported as well--the last French uranium mine closed in May 2001, even though nuclear power is curiously still considered an entirely domestic energy source--it's difficult to see how the nuclear program could even come close to ensuring the country's energy independence.

Further claims that French nuclear power costs are "the lowest in the world" can't be substantiated because nobody knows the cost of the entire domestic nuclear program. For decades, the civilian program has profited from direct and indirect subsidies, in particular through cross-financing with the nuclear weapons program. Current estimates don't appropriately take into account eventual decommissioning and waste-management costs, which remain a concern and quite uncertain. (In addition to post-fission waste, 46 years of uranium mining has left 50 million tons of waste for eventual cleanup and remediation, the cost of which is unknown.) Official final disposal cost estimates for long-lived high- and intermediate-level fission wastes vary between $21 billion and $90 billion.

Still, fantastic claims about the benefits of French nuclear power persist. In May, the French ambassador to Canada wrote in the National Post, "France is the world's largest net exporter of electricity due to its very low cost of generation." Last year, France exported 83 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and imported 27.5 billion kilowatt hours--obviously, a large net export. But the ambassador neglects to mention that France cheaply exports base-load power and imports expensive, essentially fossil fuel-based, peak-load power to use in its citizens' wasteful winter heating systems. Net power imports from Germany, which is phasing out nuclear power, averaged about 8 billion kilowatt hours over the last few years, and the emissions linked to these imports are attributed to the exporting country, not France. But the radioactive waste stemming from its exported nuclear-generated power--equivalent to the output of a dozen reactors--remains in the country.

Nor do any of the above arguments begin to deal with nuclear safety. In the existing French nuclear fleet, the number of safety-relevant events has increased steadily from 7.1 per reactor per year in 2000 to 10.8 in 2007, even as lectricit de France (EDF) stresses that serious events are declining. This is a disturbing trend considering that the entire fleet is aging and conceivably, such events will only increase with age. There are also the construction errors AREVA has made while building new plants, which are based on the EPR design that the company is hawking worldwide. Last December, the company started an EPR project in Flamanville, France, where French nuclear safety authorities noted that basic technical specifications and procedures such as proper concrete pouring hadn't been followed, culminating in an unprecedented and unlimited May order to stop cement pouring.

More problems are on the horizon. Some 40 percent of EDF's operators and maintenance staff will retire by 2015. As a result, France will likely face a formidable shortage of skilled workers. Already, Paris has started fishing in foreign waters for willing students. As the French Embassy in Canada notes on its website: "The need for students in atomic energy is estimated at 1,200 graduated students a year for the next 10 years, although, nowadays, the number of graduated students is 300 per year. . . . Among the most significant initiatives stands the creation of an international master in 2009 which contents will be taught in English in order to be open to French but also to foreign students." It's an odd posture, considering France hopes to sell more nuclear reactors elsewhere in the world, including in Canada. If Paris proves successful at poaching foreign students for its domestic nuclear power program, its potential foreign clients won't have a nuclear workforce of their own.

Meanwhile, AREVA is struggling to demonstrate that it can build new plants on time and at the estimated cost. For example, after nearly three years of construction, the EPR project in Olkiluoto, Finland, is two years behind schedule and at least $2.3 billion over budget.

So all of this talk about France leading the world toward a renaissance in nuclear power, is exactly that--talk. Besides, nuclear power plays a limited role in the international energy market, providing roughly 2 percent of the final energy available to the consumer--a number that will actually decline in the future as growth rates of nuclear power's main competitors such as decentralized cogeneration and renewable energy technologies increase. In fact, nuclear building projects will most likely be unable to replace the number of currently operating units that will reach the end of their operational life within the next couple of decades.

Sadly, then, the obsession with nuclear power robs resources from alternative energy strategies that can deliver and have public backing. A recent European Commission study revealed that two-thirds of French citizens polled favor a decrease of nuclear's share in the power mix, just as the average European Union citizen. Maybe the French do have "their heads in the right place" after all.
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Nederland Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 02:59 PM
Response to Reply #10
11. Mycle Schneider isn't exactly unbiased
He has worked for Greenpeace and has spent his entire life opposing nuclear power.

Regardless, the point of my post was that France has worked hard to deal with it's nuclear waste issues. The ability of French nuclear plants to contain its pollution far exceeds the ability of coal and NG plants to contain theirs.
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 04:40 PM
Response to Reply #11
13. Isn't that a natural consequence of the way awareness of risk unfolded? nt




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Nederland Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 06:31 PM
Response to Reply #13
20. No
I draw that conclusion based upon the facts that some people look at the risk and deem it acceptable, while other look at it and deem it unacceptable. If it were "a natural consequence", I would think everyone would come to the same conclusion.
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 07:58 PM
Response to Reply #20
22. That isn't the point
Each industry is part of a large system that developed *over time* both an awareness of the associated risks and a regulatory mechanism for dealing with those risks.

What you are aware of now regarding coal has nothing to do with the fact that the regulatory mechanisms are grandfathered from times of less awareness.

We can track the same awakening with nuclear only the time frame was condensed due to more easily perceptible negative externalities.
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Nederland Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 08:17 PM
Response to Reply #22
24. I see your point now (nt)
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NNadir Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 05:17 PM
Response to Reply #11
14. Never underestimate the power of anti-nuke fundies to cite themselves as validation.
They are an intellectual circle jerk very much like, say, the sanctums of certain religions.

It's like having a bunch of Mormons prove that Joseph Smith was a profit by citing the writings of Brigham Young.

Fundie anti-nukes go on quite a bit cutting and pasting endless babble, but as far as nuclear sciece goes, they know zero and simply oppose on the grounds that it is over their tiny heads.

The airhead to whom you are responding is one of the most egregrious fools on this score there is.

The CEA is ahead of the world in recognizing that there is no such thing as nuclear waste, although it must be said that the technology they use is still relatively primitive compared to what is known.

However the CEA has the most enlightened plutonium inventory management program on the planet.

It is a pleasure to read technical articles on their reactor based approaches, like CORAIL, etc.

But basically the cartoon reading boys like the bourgeois car CULTist who started this illiterate thread couldn't fucking understand a scientific concept on their best day. Note that the same assholes don't give a rat's ass about energy waste that actually kills people, becasue being narcissists, they elevate their fantasies over reality.

Note too that the same stupid fuckers have been predicting the economic death of nuclear power for their entire stupid lives and all of them are rather in the same position as members of Pat Robertson's 700 club explaining that tyrannosaurus rex skulls are the result of Noah's flood when they face France's nuclear energy program.

France is the world's 5th or 6th largest economy year to year over the last several decades. For many years a major export has been electricity, the cleanest electricity on earth.
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jpak Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 06:22 PM
Response to Reply #14
18. (((((being narcissists, they elevate their fantasies over reality)))))))
now we're getting somewhere....

:rofl:
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Javaman Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-21-09 08:57 AM
Response to Reply #14
46. You really have to get some new material. Your stand up routine is playing to crickets...
perhaps you might want to think about becoming a prop comic. Carrot top does pretty good, I understand, but I'm more of a Gallagher type guy myself.
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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 05:41 PM
Response to Reply #11
15. OK, perhaps a less questionable opinion
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-vonhippel15-2...
Opinion

A nuclear waste solution

Yucca Mountain may never be used, but a physicist lays out his argument favoring repositories over costly reprocessing.

By Frank von Hippel

September 15, 2009



Many conservatives on Capitol Hill favor the French "solution": spent-fuel reprocessing. But reprocessing isn't a solution at all: It's a very expensive and dangerous detour.



All in all, reprocessing as practiced in France amounts to an expensive way to shift France's radioactive waste problem from its reactor sites to the reprocessing plant.

For some of AREVA's customers, that is the point. When I asked the fuel managers of Japan's nuclear utilities why they reprocess, their answer was that they would love to store their spent fuel on site as the U.S. does until an underground radioactive waste repository becomes available. But local governments have vetoed dry-cask storage at their nuclear power plants. The stark choice for the industry, therefore, is to either pay for reprocessing or shut down all of Japan's 53 power reactors.

Reprocessing is enormously dangerous. The amount of radioactivity in the liquid waste stored at France's plant is more than 100 times that released by the Chernobyl accident. That is why France's government set up antiaircraft missile batteries around its reprocessing plant after the 9/11 attacks.

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Nederland Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 06:29 PM
Response to Reply #15
19. This is interesting
We appear to have an objective dispute over the facts:

From your post:

Even more dangerous, however, is the fact that reprocessing provides access to plutonium, a nuclear weapon material. That is why the U.S. turned against it after 1974, the year India used the first plutonium separated with U.S.-provided reprocessing for a nuclear explosion.


From my post:

Theres one thing I want to ask, I said. Ive read this several times but I want to make absolutely sure. The plutonium that comes out of a commercial reactor, that you separate from the fuel rod, that cannot be used to make a bomb, right?

Thats right, he nodded. You have four plutonium isotopes Pu-239, Pu-240, Pu-241 and Pu-242. Of the four, only Pu-239 can sustain a chain reaction. The others are contaminants. The PU-241 is too highly radioactive. It fissiles too fast so you cant control it to make a bomb. But you can use all of them to sustain fission in a MOX reactor.



I wonder which one is correct? I don't pretend to understand nuclear physics well enough to know.
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OKIsItJustMe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 06:42 PM
Response to Reply #19
21. I've always seem this as an argument against reprocessing (i.e. weapons-grade plutonium production)
For example:

http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/nuclear_power_risk/...

Nuclear Reprocessing: Dangerous, Dirty, and Expensive

Reprocessing would increase the risk of nuclear terrorism.

Less than 20 pounds of plutonium is needed to make a nuclear weapon. If the plutonium remains bound in large, heavy, and highly radioactive spent fuel assemblies (the current U.S. practice), it is nearly impossible to steal. In contrast, separated plutonium is not highly radioactive and is stored in a concentrated powder form. Some claim that new reprocessing technologies that would leave the plutonium blended with other elements, such as neptunium, would result in a mixture that would be too radioactive to steal. This is incorrect; neither neptunium nor the other elements under consideration are radioactive enough to preclude theft. Most of these other elements are also weapon-usable.

Moreover, commercial-scale reprocessing facilities handle so much of this material that it has proven impossible to keep track of it accurately in a timely manner, making it feasible that the theft of enough plutonium to build several bombs could go undetected for years.

A U.S. reprocessing program would add to the worldwide stockpile of separated and vulnerable plutonium that sits in storage today, which totaled roughly 250 metric tons as of the end of 2005enough for some 40,000 nuclear weapons. Reprocessing the U.S. spent fuel generated to date would increase this by more than 500 metric tons.

Reprocessing would increase the ease of nuclear proliferation.

U.S. reprocessing would undermine the U.S. goal of halting the spread of fuel cycle technologies that are permitted under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but can be used to make nuclear weapons materials. The United States cannot credibly persuade other countries to forgo a technology it has newly embraced for its own use. Although some reprocessing advocates claim that new reprocessing technologies under development will be "proliferation resistant," they would actually be more difficult for international inspectors to safeguard because it would be harder to make precise measurements of the weapon-usable materials during and after processing. Moreover, all reprocessing technologies are far more proliferation-prone than direct disposal.

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Nederland Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 08:15 PM
Response to Reply #21
23. I think I figured out the issue
I did some research and think I figured it out. The plutonium produced by reprocessing reactor fuel cannot be used to make a bomb because it contains too much PU-240. However, the technology used to reprocess nuclear fuel can be modified to produce bomb grade plutonium. That is how India got it's plutonium for a bomb--using reprocessing equipment it obtained from the US. Accurate articles on the subject make a clear distinction and will talk about the different isotopes (Pu-239, PU-240, PU-241, PU-242) involved and how they relate to bomb materials. Inaccurate articles, like the one you linked to above, use less precise terminology, referring to plutonium generically. This does not mean you do not have a valid point regrading reprocessing. It is a dangerous technology that you would not want to sell to questionable states, and apparently France has done precisely that. However, it does not, to my mind, justify opposition to reprocessing reactor fuel here in the US.

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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 08:24 PM
Response to Reply #23
25. It comes back to the reality of global relations
Edited on Fri Oct-09-09 08:33 PM by kristopher
What you propose puts us in the "Do as we say, not as we do" camp.

If we argue the right to energy security via this route, how do we then oppose the same argument when it is used by anyone else. The official reasoning is that we can limit reprocessing to a few central, easy to control facilities. The problem with that is that it places client states in an obviously vulnerable position.

A country hesitates to ever let an outside entity control its basic food supply or its energy supply.
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Nederland Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Oct-09-09 09:58 PM
Response to Reply #25
26. Response
Edited on Fri Oct-09-09 09:59 PM by Nederland
You and OkItsJustMe seem to be arguing two different things. On the one hand there is the claim that reprocessing doesn't make financial sense and countries should just used mined uranium (post #15). On the other hand, you claim that not allowing states to reprocess spent fuel places them in a vulnerable position.

Which is it? Do you agree or disagree with OkItsJustMe's post?
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Oct-10-09 02:23 AM
Response to Reply #26
27. I'm not knowledgeable enough on the point of basic economic viability.
It's a difficult decision because so many things factor into the final judgment. I couldn't begin to judge the financial worthiness of these projects for those proposing them since they have the ability to use regulatory mechanisms to lock in cash streams, mitigate risk and lower the cost of capital.

I view the issue more on the larger merits, which go to the last sentence in your last post, "It is a dangerous technology that you would not want to sell to questionable states, and apparently France has done precisely that. However, it does not, to my mind, justify opposition to reprocessing reactor fuel here in the US."

The point that I'm making is the weak link in the policy approach of using centralized reprocessing to guarantee against nuclear proliferation. I'm not talking about how it is designed to work when it functions properly, but the area where it is generally considered most likely to fail because there is no enforcement (short of war) other than to cut off the supply of reprocessed fuel. Some people feel such a stick is likely to have perverse consequences.

Why do you think our current policy is as it is?
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Nederland Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-15-09 09:06 AM
Response to Reply #27
35. Our current policy
Our current policy is: "We can have nuclear weapons but you cannot."

The hypocrisy exists regardless of the stance on reprocessing.

The fact that the centralized reprocessing model developed all by itself (France reprocesses for numerous countries) indicates that there are natural advantages to that model anyway, making enforcement easier. If it is more cost effective for countries to ship their waste to be reprocessed than developing the capacity themselves anyway, it should be easy to convince them to do so.
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-15-09 03:14 PM
Response to Reply #35
39. Perhaps this will be of use.
Edited on Thu Oct-15-09 03:21 PM by kristopher
But first, a specific comment on your reply. Nuclear weapons possession by a limited number of nations is a fact that the world has uneasily accepted. Saying that we are already engaging in "do as we say, not as we do" in regard to this status quo is not a particularly convincing response to the idea that our willingness to engage in commercial reprocessing would give license to other countries to violate the Nuclear NPT.
You follow this glossing over with precisely the logic the Reaganites have been espousing since they assumed power - that economic self interest will propel nations to accept dependence on outside political structures for the security of their energy supply.
That, of course, totally ignores the implications of the *standard* argument I presented on how lack of control over energy security is the potential motivator that DRIVES a country to capitalize on the 'hypocrisy' dilemma in order to justify diversion of nuclear materials into their own reprocessing program. Once they have the basic technologies, there isn't a whole hell of a lot that can be done to discourage them if they decide to join the nuclear club.
What the policy you are advocating ultimately does is spread nuclear weapons.

I understand you are really more focused on the use of nuclear power in the US, and frankly that puzzles me. The direct and external costs of nuclear energy are huge. The energy return with once through uranium fuel cycle is below that of coal and drops dramatically with reprocessing.
Given that the technology performs poorly in a comprehensive evaluation of the available alternatives for meeting our energy security and climate change needs, why are you a supporter?
Why advocate for a third rate solution to our troubles when there is a proven better answer?


Report from Congressional Research Service giving timeline for US policy.

Order Code RS22542
Updated March 27, 2008

Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing: U.S. Policy Development

Anthony Andrews
Specialist in Industrial Engineering and Infrastructure Policy Resources, Science, and Industry Division

Summary
As part of the World War II effort to develop the atomic bomb, reprocessing technology was developed to chemically separate and recover fissionable plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel. In the early stage of commercial nuclear power, reprocessing was thought essential to supplying nuclear fuel. Federally sponsored breeder reactor development included research into advanced reprocessing technology.

Several commercial interests in reprocessing foundered due to economic, technical, and regulatory issues. President Carter terminated federal support for reprocessing in an attempt to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons material. Reprocessing for nuclear weapons production ceased shortly after the Cold War ended. The Department of Energy now proposes a new generation of proliferation-resistant reactor and reprocessing technology.

Reprocessing refers to the chemical separation of fissionable uranium and plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel. The World War II-era Manhattan Project developed reprocessing technology in the effort to build the first atomic bomb. With the development of commercial nuclear power after the war, reprocessing was considered necessary because of a perceived scarcity of uranium. Breeder reactor technology, which transmutes non-fissionable uranium into fissionable plutonium and thus produces more fuel than consumed, was envisioned as a promising solution to extending the nuclear fuel supply. Commercial reprocessing attempts, however, encountered technical, economic, and regulatory problems. In response to concern that reprocessing contributed to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, President Carter terminated federal support for commercial reprocessing. Reprocessing for defense purposes continued, however, until the Soviet Unions collapse brought an end to the Cold War and the production of nuclear weapons. The Department of Energys latest initiative to promote new reactor technology using proliferation-resistant reprocessed fuel raises significant funding and policy issues for Congress. U.S. policies that have authorized and discouraged nuclear reprocessing are summarized below.


1946. The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (P.L. 79-585) defined fissionable materials to include plutonium, uranium-235, and other materials determined to be capable of releasing substantial quantities of energy through nuclear fission.1 The act also created the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and transferred production and control of fissionable materials from the Manhattan Project. As the exclusive producer of fissionable material, the AEC originally retained title to all such material for national security reasons.

1954. Congress amended the Atomic Energy Act, authorized the AEC to license commercial reactors, and eased restrictions on private companies using special nuclear material (fissionable material). Section 183 (Terms of Licenses) of the act, however, kept government title to all special nuclear material utilized or produced by the licensed facilities in the United States.

1956. Lewis Strauss, then chairman of the AEC, announced a program to encourage private industrys entry into reprocessing spent nuclear fuel.2

1957. The AEC expressed its intent to withdraw from providing nuclear reprocessing services for spent nuclear fuel in a Federal Register notice of March 22, 1957.

1959. The Davison Chemical Company, later called Nuclear Fuel Services, began extensive discussions with the AEC on commercial reprocessing.

1963. The AEC-sponsored Experimental Breeder Reactor (EBR II), constructed at the Argonne National Laboratory West near Idaho Falls, began operating. Irradiated fuel was reprocessed by melt-refining.


1964. The AEC was authorized to issue commercial licenses to possess special nuclear material subject to specific licensing conditions (P.L. 88-489).

1966. The AEC granted an operating permit for commercial reprocessing to Nuclear Fuel Services for the West Valley plant, near Buffalo, NY. The plant operated from 1966 until 1972, reprocessing spent fuel from the defense weapons program.3 Commercial spent fuel was never reprocessed. Stricter regulatory requirements forced the plants shutdown for upgrades. The plant was permanently shut down in 1976 after it was determined that the stricter regulatory requirements could not be met.4

1967. The AEC authorized General Electric Company (GE) to construct a spent fuel reprocessing facility in Morris, IL.5

1969. The AEC invited public comment on a proposed policy in the form of Appendix F to 10 C.F.R. Part 50 on siting a fuel reprocessing plant.6

1969. EBRII fuel reprocessing and refabrication operations were suspended.

1970. Allied-General Nuclear Services began constructing a large commercial reprocessing plant at Barnwell, SC.

1972. GE halted construction and decided not to pursue an operating license for its
Morris reprocessing facility. Instead, GE applied for and received a license to store spent
fuel.7

1974. The AEC determined that any decision to permit nuclear fuel reprocessing on a large scale would require an environmental impact statement under Section 101(2)(c) of the National Environmental Policy Act (U.S.C. 4332(2)(c)).

1974. The Energy Reorganization Act (P.L. 93-438), October 11, 1974, split the AEC into the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA). The responsibility for licensing nuclear facilities was transferred to the NRC.

1976. Exxon applied for a license to construct a large reprocessing plant but received no final action on its license application.

1976. In an October 28 nuclear policy statement, President Ford announced his decision that the reprocessing and recycling of plutonium should not proceed unless there is sound reason to conclude that the world community can effectively overcome the associated risks of proliferation ... that the United States should no longer regard reprocessing of used nuclear fuel to produce plutonium as a necessary and inevitable step in the nuclear fuel cycle, and that we should pursue reprocessing and recycling in the future only if they are found to be consistent with our international objectives.8 With that announcement, agencies of the executive branch were directed to delay commercialization of reprocessing activities in the United States until uncertainties were resolved.

1977. In an April 7 press statement, President Carter announced, We will defer indefinitely the commercial reprocessing and recycling of plutonium produced in the U.S. nuclear power programs.9 He went on to say, The plant at Barnwell, South Carolina, will receive neither federal encouragement nor funding for its completion as a reprocessing facility. (It was actually Carters veto of S. 1811, the ERDA Authorization Act of 1978, that prevented the legislative authorization necessary for constructing a breeder reactor and a reprocessing facility.)10

1977. The NRC issued an order terminating the proceedings on the Generic Environmental Statement on Mixed Oxide Fuel and most license proceedings relating to plutonium recycling.11 It stated, however, that it would reexamine this decision after two studies of alternative fuel cycles were completed.

1978. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Act (P.L. 95-242), March 10, 1978, amended the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to establish export licensing criteria that govern peaceful nuclear exports by the United States, including a requirement of prior U.S. approval for re-transfers and reprocessing; and a guaranty that no material re-transferred will be reprocessed without prior U.S. consent.

1980. President Carter signed Executive Order 12193, Nuclear Cooperation With EURATOM (45 Federal Register 9885, February 14, 1980), which permitted nuclear cooperation with the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) to continue to March 10, 1981, despite the agreements lack of a provision consistent with the intent of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act requiring prior U.S. approval for reprocessing. This cooperation was extended through December 31, 1995, by a series of executive orders.12 It has since expired and been replaced by a new agreement.

1981. President Reagan announced he was lifting the indefinite ban which previous administrations placed on commercial reprocessing activities in the United States.13

1981. Convinced that the project could not proceed on a private basis and that reprocessing was commercially impracticable, Allied halted the Barnwell project.14

1982. President Reagan approved the United States Policy on Foreign Reprocessing of Plutonium Subject to U.S. Control as National Security Decision Directive 39 (June 4, 1982). Although specific details of the directive have not been declassified, the policies approved pertain to the nonproliferation and statutory conditions for safeguards and physical security for a continued commitment by Japan to nonproliferation efforts.

1990. In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1991 (P.L. 101-510, Sec. 3142), Congress declared under Findings and Declaration of Policy that t the present time, the United States is observing a de facto moratorium on the production of fissile materials, with no production of highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons since 1964. While the United States has ceased operation of all of its reactors used for the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union currently operates as many as nine reactors for the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons. Also, under Sec. 3143 Bilateral Moratorium on Production of Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium for Nuclear Weapons and Disposal of Nuclear Stockpiles, the law urged an end by both the United States and the Soviet Union to the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.
(In its fullest sense, plutonium production implies reprocessing.)

1992. President G. H. W. Bush disapproved Long Island Power Authoritys attempt to enter into a contract with the French firm Cogema to reprocess the slightly irradiated initial core from the decommissioned Shoreham reactor.

1992. President G. H. W. Bush halted weapons reprocessing in a policy statement on nuclear nonproliferation declaring: I have set forth today a set of principles to guide our nonproliferation efforts in the years ahead and directed a number of steps to supplement our existing efforts. These steps include a decision not to produce plutonium and highly enriched uranium for nuclear explosive purposes....15

1992. Energy Secretary Watkins announced the permanent closure of the Hanford, WA, PUREX reprocessing plant in December.

1993. President Clinton issued a policy statement on reprocessing stating that he United States does not encourage the civil use of plutonium and, accordingly, does not itself engage in plutonium reprocessing for either nuclear power or nuclear explosive purposes. The United States, however, will maintain its existing commitments regarding the use of plutonium in civil nuclear programs in Western Europe and Japan.16

1995. On November 29, 1995, a new nuclear cooperation agreement with EURATOM was submitted to Congress. Although the Clinton Administration determined it met all the requirements of Section 123 a. of the Atomic Energy Act, some Members believed it did not meet the requirement of prior consent for reprocessing. The agreement entered into effect in 1996 without a vote.

2001. President Bushs National Energy Policy included the recommendation that he United States should also consider technologies (in collaboration with international partners with highly developed fuel cycles and a record of close cooperation) to develop reprocessing and fuel treatment technologies that are cleaner, more efficient, less waste intensive, and more proliferation-resistant.17

2006. As part of the ongoing Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (AFCI), the Department of Energy announced that it will initiate work toward conducting an engineering scale demonstration of the UREX+ separation process (operation planned for 2011) and developing an advanced fuel cycle facility capable of laboratory development of advanced separation and fuel manufacturing technologies. UREX refers to the process of chemically separating uranium from spent nuclear fuel. The AFCI is intended to develop proliferation resistant nuclear technologies in association with the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) for expanding nuclear power in the United States and around the world. The Department of Energy later requested an expression of interest from domestic and international industry in building a spent nuclear fuel recycling and transmutation facility that would meet GNEP goals.18

2007. In July 2007, DOE announced that four consortia had been selected to receive up to $16 million for technical and supporting studies to support GNEP (AREVA Federal Services, LLC; EnergySolutions, LLC; GE-Hitachi Nuclear Americas, LLC; and General Atomics). DOE followed with an August announcement that it was making $20 million available to conduct detailed siting studies for public or commercial entities interested in hosting GNEP facilities. The original GNEP partnership China, France, Japan, Russia and the United States expanded to include Australia, Bulgaria, Ghana, Hungary, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Ukraine, South Korea, Italy, Canada, and Senegal by year end.

http://ftp.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RS22542.pdf


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Nederland Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-15-09 08:45 PM
Response to Reply #39
42. You are stating opinions as facts.
Edited on Thu Oct-15-09 08:59 PM by Nederland
You follow this glossing over with precisely the logic the Reaganites have been espousing since they assumed power - that economic self interest will propel nations to accept dependence on outside political structures for the security of their energy supply. That, of course, totally ignores the implications of the *standard* argument I presented on how lack of control over energy security is the potential motivator that DRIVES a country to capitalize on the 'hypocrisy' dilemma in order to justify diversion of nuclear materials into their own reprocessing program.

I don't see the evidence for this. Dependence on outside political structures for the security of ones energy supply is exceedingly common, I can think of only a couple that can claim otherwise. Certainly it is true that almost all countries rely on outside political structures for their transportation energy. Countries with oil generally rely on others for refining, countries without oil rely on others by importing it. The only country that I can think of with both is Russia. The same is less true of electric power generation, but still exceedingly common. I would guess a majority of countries in the world either import their electricity directly or import fuel for their power plants. Yes, Iran and North Korea both claim that they are doing what they are doing because they seek energy independence, but does anyone really believe them? What actually drives North Korea and Iran to pursue nuclear technology is a desire for nuclear weapons, not energy security. The very structure of their nuclear programs betray that fact.

Once they have the basic technologies, there isn't a whole hell of a lot that can be done to discourage them if they decide to join the nuclear club.
What the policy you are advocating ultimately does is spread nuclear weapons.


I think you are forgetting what policy I am advocating. I am advocating a policy of reprocessing spent reactor fuel in a few centralized places, so the statement "once they have the basic technologies" is false.

I understand you are really more focused on the use of nuclear power in the US, and frankly that puzzles me. The direct and external costs of nuclear energy are huge. The energy return with once through uranium fuel cycle is below that of coal and drops dramatically with reprocessing. Given that the technology performs poorly in a comprehensive evaluation of the available alternatives for meeting our energy security and climate change needs, why are you a supporter?

I think that the idea that reprocessing is economically un viable and the idea that nuclear technology performs poorly in a comprehensive evaluation of alternatives are both highly debatable points. There are numerous threads on DU debating the second point ad nauseum. Certainly government of France believes you are wrong about reprocessing, and the government of China believes you are wrong about the nuclear power being uncompetitive.

The reason I am a supporter of nuclear power is because unlike you and NNadir, I am not certain what method of producing power is best. I'm content to pursue all options diligently rather than place all our eggs in one basket. I would be delighted to have solar power prove to be a better source than nuclear, but I am sobered by comparing the history of both technologies. The first solar cell was created in 1883, the first nuclear reactor in 1951. Despite the fact that billions have been spent on researching both technologies, today nuclear generates 20% of our electricity and solar less than 0.1%. The track record of solar is therefore not exactly reassuring, but unlike NNadir I am willing to continue to give it a fair shake.


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bananas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Oct-10-09 04:44 AM
Response to Reply #23
28. You figured it out wrong
IEER Plutonium Factsheet:
It is important to remember that this classification of plutonium according to grades is somewhat arbitrary. For example, although "fuel grade" and "reactor grade" are less suitable as weapons material than "weapon grade" plutonium, they can also be made into a nuclear weapon, although the yields are less predictable because of unwanted neutrons from spontaneous fission. The ability of countries to build nuclear arsenals from reactor grade plutonium is not just a theoretical construct. It is a proven fact. During a June 27, 1994 press conference, Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary revealed that in 1962 the United States conducted a successful test with "reactor grade" plutonium.


National Academy of Sciences, 1994:
In short, it would be quite possible for a potential proliferator to make a nuclear explosive from reactor-grade plutonium using a simple device that would be assured of having a yield in the range of one to a few kilotons, and more using an advanced design. Theft of separated plutonium whether weapons-grade or reactor-grade would pose a grave security risk.


Marvin Miller and Frank von Hippel, 1997 letter to APS:
<snip>

... reactor-grade plutonium can be used to make nuclear weapons at all level of technical sophistication.

In what follows, we briefly outline the technical basis for this conclusion within the limits of classification.

<snip>

These considerations underlie the recent and most explicit declassified government statement on the usablility of reactor- grade plutonium in weapons:

"At the lowest level of sophistication, a potential proliferating state or subnational group using designs and technologies no more sophisticated than those used in first-generation nuclear weapons could build a nuclear weapon from reactor-grade plutonium that would have an assured, reliable yield of one or a few kilotons (and a probable yield significantly higher than that). At the other end of the spectrum, advanced nuclear-weapon states such as the United States and Russia, using modern designs, could produce weapons from reactor-grade plutonium having reliable explosive yields, weight, and other characteristics generally comparable to those of weapons made from weapons-grade plutonium. <snip> Proliferating states using designs of intermediate sophistication could produce weapons with assured yields substantially higher than the kiloton-range possible with a simple, first-generation nuclear device."

<snip>


Ivan Oelrich, 2006, Nuclear Engineering International Magazine and Federation of American Scientists:
<snip>

Second, the GNEP proposal states that the envisioned separation technologies are proliferation resistant. (The DoE is very careful not to claim that anything is proliferation proof.) There have been various proposals for new separation techniques, for example, Urex, Urex+, UREX+1, and now Urex+1a. As the names imply, they are variations on a theme. In the longer term, other techniques, such as pyroprocessing might become available on an industrial scale. When GNEP proponents say that these techniques are proliferation resistant, they mean they are when compared to the Purex process. Purex was developed during the Manhattan project specifically to provide plutonium for the first atomic bombs. The claim is, then, that Urex variants are less proliferation prone than a process that was specifically designed for bomb manufacture, a very low hurdle indeed. But none of these processes is more proliferation resistant that what we are planning to do now, that is, disposal of sealed, intact fuel rods in a geologic repository.

Part of the alleged proliferation resistance comes about because some variations on Purex for example Urex+ intentionally leave radioactive contaminants in the plutonium to make them more difficult to steal and handle if stolen. Frank von Hippel and Jungmin Kang at Princeton University have calculated the radiation doses from Urex+ and pyroprocessed fuel and found them falling short of meeting the standards of self protection. Moreover, even if impurities are intentionally left in the plutonium, nothing prevents a thief from using a simplified version of the 60-year-old Purex technology to get pure plutonium out. Some approaches, such as leaving in chemically similar radioactive rare earth elements make self protection more robust but substantially increase the final fuel fabrication costs. Finally, as pointed out by Richard Garwin recently in Congressional testimony, spent fuel from a nuclear reactor is about 1% plutonium, while Urex+ fuel would be more than 90%, so a thief would need to steal only about 9kg of Urex+ fuel to get an 8kg critical mass of plutonium but would have to steal approximately 800kg of lethally radioactive spent fuel to get a critical mass.

<snip>

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Nederland Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-15-09 07:41 AM
Response to Reply #28
31. Good example of what I'm talking about
All of your links refer to plutonium generically, without referring to the isotopes involved. Such simplistic terminology serves to gloss over the difficulties involved in getting the particular isotope you need for a bomb, making it seem like all you need to do is separate the plutonium from the uranium and you're good to go. It is inaccurate and misleading.
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bananas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-15-09 08:51 AM
Response to Reply #31
34. Good example of how wrong you are.
"All of your links refer to plutonium generically, without referring to the isotopes involved."

No, the excerpts I gave refer to plutonium grades, which are categorized by the isotopes involved.
If you went to the links, you would see that the links refer to specific isotopes in detail.

"the difficulties involved in getting the particular isotope you need for a bomb"

You seem to think that a bomb can only be made from 100% pure Pu-239.
That's not the case at all.
According to the National Academy of Sciences book I linked to above:
"Virtually any combination of plutonium isotopes ... can be used to make a nuclear weapon."
http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=2345&page=3...



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Nederland Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-15-09 09:27 AM
Response to Reply #34
36. You are ignoring the larger point
Edited on Thu Oct-15-09 09:32 AM by Nederland
...which I made in post #32.

I do not deny that it is physically possible to derive weapons grade material from reactor fuel. It is physically possible to derive bomb material from the ocean, are you going to ban taking water from the ocean? The question is, does reprocessing reactor waste here in the US make it easier for rogue nations to obtain bomb material? The answer is no. There are far easier ways of obtaining bomb material than trying to steal it from a reprocessing facility located in the US.
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bananas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-15-09 02:04 PM
Response to Reply #36
37. You still have it wrong
"I do not deny that it is physically possible to derive weapons grade material from reactor fuel. It is physically possible to derive bomb material from the ocean"

You're still making the same error you made in post #23.
The reactor grade plutonium can be used as-is to make a nuclear weapon.
You don't have to "derive" weapons grade material from it.
It doesn't need to be processed or refined or enriched any further.
Your analogy with ocean water is incorrect.

Because you have this simple fact wrong, you came to several wrong conclusions in post #23.
You came to a screwed-up conclusion about how to determine if an article is "accurate" or "inaccurate".
And it's going to screw up your understanding of anything else you read on this matter.
In post #7 and #19, you quoted some blog which had incorrect information.

"The question is, does reprocessing reactor waste here in the US make it easier for rogue nations to obtain bomb material? The answer is no. There are far easier ways of obtaining bomb material than trying to steal it from a reprocessing facility located in the US."

Actually, the answer is yes, but there's no reason to go into that. Reprocessing in the US was unanimously recommended against by the National Academy of Sciences and was called a "goofy idea" by John Deutsch (co-author of MIT's "The Future of Nuclear Power" as well as CIA Director under Clinton), for references and more information about why it's a goofy idea see the thread It's official: DOE has scrapped its GNEP plan; US nuclear recycling faces the axe - read that whole thread, it's only three posts.

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Nederland Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-15-09 06:29 PM
Response to Reply #37
41. Self Evidently Incorrect
Edited on Thu Oct-15-09 06:40 PM by Nederland
"The question is, does reprocessing reactor waste here in the US make it easier for rogue nations to obtain bomb material? The answer is no. There are far easier ways of obtaining bomb material than trying to steal it from a reprocessing facility located in the US."

Actually, the answer is yes.


If the answer is yes, and it is actually easier to obtain weapons grade material by stealing it from reprocessing plants, why is it that India, Israel, Pakistan, South Africa, North Korea and Iran all tried or got their weapons grade material by making it themselves?

Obviously the answer is because you are wrong. Making it is easier than stealing it, period end of story.
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bananas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Oct-17-09 08:34 AM
Response to Reply #41
43. Wrong
First of all, you're trying to change the question.
The question you asked was, "The question is, does reprocessing reactor waste here in the US make it easier for rogue nations to obtain bomb material?"
Since it creates additional paths for them to obtain bomb material, the answer is yes.
Now you're saying you asked a different question - whether it's easier to make it or steal it.
But your answer is still wrong, because it depends on the country.

Also, both versions of your question ignore non-state groups.

And as I pointed out, it's a "goofy idea" which was rejected by the National Academy of Sciences.

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Nederland Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-15-09 08:46 AM
Response to Reply #28
32. More importantly...
Edited on Thu Oct-15-09 09:37 AM by Nederland
The truth regarding making a nuclear weapon is this: it is 65 year old technology. The people that made the first nuclear weapons used slide rules, not computers. The notion that we can keep even the most moderately resourceful nation from acquiring a nuclear weapon if they really wanted it is laughable. In this respect the question of whether or not reprocessing can produce fissile material is academic. A nation seeking fissile material has many options, and can procure fissile material by other means if necessary. In fact, recent history suggests that it is far easier to obtain fissile material by purifying uranium rather than plutonium, which is why states like Iran and Korea pursue that option. Yes, plutonium is the preferred fissile material for bombs, but that fact really only applies to countries that are seeking to create large numbers of stockpiled weapons. A country wishing to do that is not going to steal its bomb material from a reprocessing plant, it will make it own, just like the US did--in 1944.
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bananas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Oct-17-09 08:49 AM
Response to Reply #32
44. That's self-evidently incorrect
"The notion that we can keep even the most moderately resourceful nation from acquiring a nuclear weapon if they really wanted it is laughable."
No, we have kept very resourceful nations from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Through careful monitoring of materials, components, and technologies, we've managed to keep the number of countries with nuclear weapons down to a small number. The non-proliferation treaty has been very successful.
It's unfortunate that Bush-Cheney administration did so much damage to it,
but Obama just won the Nobel for his efforts to reduce and potentially eliminate nuclear weapons.

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Nederland Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-21-09 11:52 AM
Response to Reply #44
47. Really?
Name one.

Perhaps I was a bit vague by what I meant by moderately resourceful. Let me be specific: I would consider any country in the top 50% per capita GDP to be "moderately resourceful".
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NYC_SKP Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Oct-12-09 12:57 AM
Response to Reply #7
30. A picture of that room...
Cute girl, too! :P

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bananas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-15-09 02:10 PM
Response to Reply #7
38. No, it doesn't store all its waste in one room
There is so much wrong information in that post.
For one thing, France sends a lot of its waste to other countries: http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.ph...

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One_Life_To_Give Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Oct-10-09 07:43 AM
Response to Original message
29. At least it does decay
Last I checked Mercury will still be Mercury long after all our waste nuke fuel has decayed to immeasurable radioactive levels.
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Nederland Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-15-09 08:48 AM
Response to Reply #29
33. "Immeasurable radioactive levels"
I think you and I both know that is not the standard. Regardless of where you live, your backyard is not made of material with "immeasurable radioactive levels."
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-15-09 03:26 PM
Response to Original message
40. Plutonium Reprocessing Twenty Years Experience (1977-1997)
Plutonium Reprocessing Twenty Years Experience (1977-1997)

By Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

As one of the early acts of his Administration, President Carter in April 1977 issued a statement on nuclear policy that began with a commitment to defer indefinitely the commercial reprocessing and recycling of plutonium. The history of the past twenty years has dramatically demonstrated the wisdom of this policy and underscored the need to continue on this course for the foreseeable future.

President Carter's decision marked a distinct break from the conventional wisdom inherited from the early days of the nuclear age that reprocessing of plutonium leading to plutonium fuel cycle was the indispensable key to achieving a plentiful supply of cheap nuclear power to meet the accelerating global demand for electricity. Despite the demonstrated ability of nuclear reactors to produce energy, the supply of natural uranium to provide fuel for reactors was originally perceived to be in very short supply which underscored the fact that with less than one percent (.007) of this natural uranium was in the form of the isotope U-235 that sustained the energy-producing chain reaction in the reactor. A solution to this highly inefficient utilization of an apparently very limited resource was provided by the convenient fact that the plutonium produced in a reactor by the capture of neutrons by the other natural uranium isotope U-238, which makes up more than 99 percent of natural uranium, is also a suitable fuel for reactors. Chemical separation of this plutonium (by them same process used to obtain plutonium for weapons) makes available more fissile material for use in reactors. Moreover, the physics is such that these reactors can be designed to produce more fissile material than they consume. These "breeders" can therefore in principle eventually consume all of the U-238 in natural uranium and thereby increase production of energy from a given amount of uranium by a factor of as much as 100. Caught up in the enthusiasm of the new nuclear age, it was widely assumed that the solution of this problem would simply be a relatively straightforward engineering exercise that would lead to early introduction of plutonium reprocessing and breeder reactors that would solve the world's energy problems.

Unfortunately, plutonium reprocessing and the resulting "plutonium economy" presented with a serious new security problem by substantially increasing the danger of proliferation of nuclear weapons. The technology of reprocessing plutonium for civil reactors is the same as that for producing plutonium for weapons. Moreover, with the passage of time it became increasingly clear that even plutonium from civil reactors, operating in a normal fashion, could be used to make nuclear weapons. The not very reassuring response to these serious concerns was that the plutonium from civil reactors would not be as good for weapons purposes as specially produced plutonium and that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards would give adequate warning of any diversion of materials. Looking down the road, when breeders enter the picture, each reactor might have an inventory of several tons of plutonium, the equivalent of 1000 nuclear weapons. Even with the most effective safeguards, a world in which tons of weapons useable plutonium are being separated and shipped from place to place every year would create far greater opportunities for nuclear theft and diversion.

Despite the promises of cheap and unlimited electric power, the U.S. nucleear industry by mid- 1975 was in serious trouble, plagued by rapidly escalating costs multiplying regulatory problems, and increasing political opposition largely on environmental issues. At the same time, the "energy crisis" sparked by the oil embargo of 1973 and the subsequent quadrupling of oil prices by OPEC stimulated in concern over energy sufficiency and a temporary surge in spot prices for uranium from $8 to $40 a pound.

In this environment, the Nuclear Energy Policy Study Group, which was initiated by McGeorge Bundy, President of the Ford Foundation (and former National Security Advisor to President Kennedy), undertook a broad examination of the role of nuclear power in the overall energy picture. The Study Group (of which I was chairman) was made up of experts in related fields who had no conflicts of interest and had not taken sides in the increasingly bitter debate over the role of nuclear power. 'The group's findings were set forth in a major report, "Nuclear Power Issues and Choices," which was released at the beginning of 1977.

In general, the Study Group concluded that despite its many serious problems, nuclear energy would and should be a major source of electric power in the future. The study, however, was extremely critical of much of the analysis on which the future planning of the nuclear industry and governmental policy had been based. For example, projections of power demand were vastly inflated and capital costs, which are the largest factor in the economics of nuclear power, were greatly underestimated.

The study was particularly critical of the estimates of the future availability and cost of uranium, which is central to any decisions on the economic viability of plutonium reprocessing and the need for and timing of breeder reactors. Until the cost of uranium ore rises significantly, it is cheaper to produce low enriched uranium from new ore than to separate plutonium from previously irradiated fuel elements. The study concluded that, if uranium followed the example of other minerals, the higher costs accompanying increased demand would generate much larger supplies than previously forecast as it was discovered that lower grade sources could be profitably exploited.

On the basis of more realistic estimates of uranium reserves and the capital costs involved in plutonium reprocessing, the study concluded that "there is no compelling reason at this time to introduce plutonium or to anticipate its introduction in this century." Since the dangers associated with the plutonium economy, in particular proliferation of nuclear weapons, were seen as far outweighing any possible economic benefit under the most optimistic assumptions for reprocessing the study recommended that a clear cut decision be made "to defer indefinitely commercial reprocessing of plutonium." Such a positive decision to defer was seen as having a major influence on the decisions of other countries to pursue reprocessing while a decision to go ahead would accelerate international interest in the dangerous plutonium fuel cycle. Consequently, the study, recommended that the government not take over or subsidize the Barnwell plutonium reprocessing facility which undertaken as a commercial venture and was in serious economic and technical troubles.

Despite the inherent proliferation dangers associated with a future plutonium economy, the study concluded that a long term development program should continue as insurance against the possibility of very high energy costs in the future. Since the anticipated availability of low cost uranium indicated that this would not be the case for a long time, the study concluded the on-going very expensive program to demonstrate early commercialization of breeder technology was premature and that the Clinch River Project, a prototype demonstration reactor, could be canceled without harming the long term prospects for breeders which might in fact never be needed if alternative energy sources became available later in the next century.

At the time, reactions to the study were decidedly mixed. The nuclear industry attacked it as an unwarranted assault on the future of nuclear power. At the other extreme, environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists attacked it as being overly supportive of nuclear energy as an important source of electric power. What really mattered, however, was that President Carter, who was briefed in the Cabinet room by the study group on its report soon after he took office, was impressed by the study. Shortly after his briefing he gave the Japanese Prime Minister a copy of the report with the comment that, if he were to write a book on the subject, this would be it. Actually, while the extensive independent analysis in the study brought the details of the issue to public attention, many of the study's conclusions were already gaining acceptance, including the recommendation that plutonium reprocessing be indefinitely postponed. For example, President Ford of the eve of the 1976 election had stated that "reprocessing should not proceed unless there is sound reason to conclude that the world community can overcome effectively the associated risks of proliferation."

After Carter issued his statement in April 1977 deferring indefinitely commercial reprocessing of plutonium, he initiated the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation (INFCE) Conference which sought to persuade the international nuclear community that economics did not support reprocessing and the plutonium fuel cycle. The United States moved too quickly on the issue and was largely isolated at the conference by the other major players in nuclear power, including: France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, all of which vehemently rejected the abandonment of the plutonium fuel cycle option. All of these countries continued to energetically pursue program involving plutonium reprocessing and development of breeder reactors. Although, President Reagan initially criticized Carter's nuclear power policies, for simple economic reasons U.S. industry then as now was not interested in plutonium reprocessing and breeders and in 1983 both the Barnwell reprocessing and the Clinch River breeder project were finally terminated.

Now that 20 years have elapsed since the completion of our study and President Carter's decision on plutonium reprocessing, it is useful to take stock of what has happened in the interim to determine the validity of the analysis and the wisdom of his decision. I believe the study has stood the test of time extremely well and can only be faulted for having been too cautious in its critique of the then conventional wisdom of the nuclear power community.

While correctly anticipating that nuclear power with its escalating capital costs and regulatory problems would have difficulty competing with electric power from conventional "fossil" fuels, the study did not anticipate that there would in fact be no new orders for nuclear power plutonium in the United States during the next twenty years. This amazing statistic relates to orders for the well proven light water reactors using low enriched uranium. Reactors using more expensive recycled plutonium or unproven advanced breeder reactors would certainly have found no takers in this market.

With regard to uranium, the study was right on the mark in flagging the common misconception about uranium supplies but again was overly cautious. In two decades there have been no shortages of uranium and no increase in cost. In fact, there is such an over supply of uranium that the cost today (about $12 per pound) is only fifty per cent greater than it was 25 years ago before the energy of the early seventies. Thus, considering the 200 per cent inflation rate that has accrued during this period, the real cost of uranium today is less than half the price at that time and less than one tenth the cost at the time of the study. It is difficult to identify any other basic material whose real cost has declined so precipitously. At present many uranium mines have closed because they cannot compete at current prices and there is a worldwide excess capacity of enrichment facilities to produce low enriched uranium for standard light water reactors. In short, there is no economic reason to pay subsidies that would be required to operate a plutonium fuel cycle.

With the end of the Cold War and the diminished direct military nuclear threat from Russia, the relative importance of nuclear proliferation markedly increased. The wide-spread creation of the technical infrastructure to produce plutonium as well as the global traffic in plutonium in connection with the plutonium fuel cycle would greatly increase the potential for nuclear proliferation. The problems now associated with the potential leakage of plutonium from the Russian program could become global in scope. Concern about a small plutonium processing plant in North Korea stimulated a major confrontation that some highly regarded strategists suggested justified preempting military action and led to a major high-risk U.S. diplomatic initiative to eliminate a potential nuclear weapons program. Currently, a major objective of U.S. foreign policy is to discourage Russian and Chinese assistance to the nuclear program and in particular to make sure that Iran does not obtain a plutonium reprocessing plant as part of any deal. The pursuit of an unnecessary and wasteful plutonium economy is the last thing we need in a world struggling to prevent further nuclear proliferation.

Despite these economic and political realities, the tight-knit nuclear power industries in a number of countries, including France, Japan and Russia have continued to pursue the plutonium reprocessing and the plutonium fuel cycle. These countries have invested vast sums in breeder programs that have no chance of succeeding in the foreseeable future. This obsession with uneconomic solutions to the energy problems reflects institutional inertia, state subsidized isolation from the market, and a technological fixation with achieving the "holy grail'of nuclear technology through the breeder reactor, regardless of cost.

In France the Superphoemx. a demonstration commercial breeder reactor, has been a dramauc failure and, after a prolonged shut down for technical problems, has been reoriented to a research role. In fuel-poor Japan, which is driven by a deep rooted desire for energy self sufficiency going back to its isolationist past and experience during the World War II blockade, a major program based on plutonium economy and breeders, has serious technical and economic problems-- and in the wake of recent accidents serious political problems as well. In fuel rich Russia, whose nuclear program historically never had any economic basis, grandiose paper plans for a plutonium fuel cycle program are rapidly fading in the growing recognition that its economy cannot even safely support its existing reactors, on which actual work has been halted for many years.

An element of confusion has recently arisen in public perception of U.S. policy toward the plutonium fuel cycle with the recent announcement that the U.S. would use excess plutonium from eliminated nuclear weapons as MOX fuel in commercial nuclear reactors. This was incorrectly hailed and denounced by advocates and opponents of the nuclear fuel cycle. Actually, this activity has nothing to do with plutonium reprocessing but is simply a medod of disposing of existing separated plutonium by using it as a reactor fuel which once irradiated will be no more accessible to recapture than plutonium from normal spent fuel from commercial reactors. Significantly, even this "free" plutonium is not competitive with low emiched uranium fuel and requires significant subsidy.

With high confidence based on two decades of persuasive experience, the United States should continue President Carter's sound economic and security policy of deferring indefinitely the reprocesmg of plutonium in civil reactors. Moreover, a renewed effort should be undertaken to build an international consensus against an economically unjustified plutonium economy which entails serious international security risks. While such an effort will continue to meet resistance, one would hope that opposition will be considerably diminshed from 1977 given the unanticipated difficulties that the opponents of the policy have experienced over the last two decades.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/...
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wtmusic Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-18-09 10:09 AM
Response to Original message
45. It'll decay long after life on Earth is extinguished by global warming.
A non-issue.
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