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Nuclear Arms Disposal Will Take Decades

From a context-free New York Times:

Disposal of Plutonium From U.S.-Russian Disarmament Is Likely to Take Decades


April 8, 2010

WASHINGTON — The plutonium that is the key ingredient in thousands of nuclear weapons sidelined in the new arms control treaty between the United States and Russia is likely to be around for decades at least, according to experts. They say the process for destroying plutonium has not yet started to whittle down the surplus already created by previous agreements.

Plutonium can be consumed in nuclear power reactors, creating the possibility of a swords-to-plowshares conversion that would have the added benefit of making redeployment of the weapons impossible. But converting the weapons plutonium for civilian reactor use has proved much slower than expected.

Since the late 1990s, the United States has been trying to build a factory at the Savannah River Site, near Aiken, S.C., that would convert the plutonium to reactor fuel. Government officials once hoped that such fuel could be loaded into reactors in 2002. But construction did not begin until 2007 and even if all goes well, the plant will not be finished until 2016. The cost of the plant, once estimated at $2.3 billion, is now $4.8 billion. The plant is the largest nuclear construction project in the country.

Gee, who could have been behind delaying such a worthy site? Could it have been environmentalists? Will it turn out that they are the ones to keep swords from being beaten into plowshares?

Oh, well. You can’t hug a tree with nuclear arms.

The plan is to use the amount already declared surplus, 34 tons, over about 15 years, so if the new arms agreement results in more plutonium being declared surplus, it would not start to be converted to fuel until the 2030s, at the earliest, people involved in the project say…

Energy officials said the effort had slowed because of its expense. They must also build a factory that will take the plutonium metal from the bombs and convert it into a powdered oxide, the form in which it can be fashioned into fuel pellets, but there is not enough money to do all this at once, officials say…

Meanwhile the Energy Department is negotiating with the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federal agency that runs several power reactors. Current reactors are limited in how much plutonium they can substitute for their normal fuel, uranium, so the department needs half a dozen reactors as customers to consume the output of the fuel factory, 3.5 tons a year. A single reactor could accept the plutonium from about 150 weapons a year.

The Energy Department plans to sell the plutonium at a discount, to replace the uranium that the utilities usually buy…

Isn’t it a pity that we don’t have more nuclear power plants? Why is that?

Opponents of the plutonium conversion technology say plutonium creates security concerns, because stolen plutonium fuel assemblies could be reprocessed into bombs, unlike stolen uranium fuel assemblies.

In the Clinton administration, the Energy Department proposed a quicker route to disposal. The department has tanks filled with millions of gallons of high-level liquid waste, that it is slowly mixing with molten glass, to solidify for eventual burial. It proposed mixing the plutonium in with the glass.

But Mr. Bromberg said the Russians objected to that method because it seemed less permanent than using the plutonium in reactor fuel, where much of it would be broken down into materials that are hard to handle, and useless for bombs.

The Russians were supposed to destroy a like amount of plutonium, 34 tons, in parallel, and their program has also been delayed for years, partly because Western countries promised to raise $2 billion to pay for the Russian program, but never did. The plan now is for Russia to consume the plutonium in a reactor that is already running and is designed to use plutonium; the United States is paying for modifications to the plant so it does not create more plutonium than it consumes.

Is this crazy world or not?

By the way, wWhere is any mention of the Russians offering to pay for the modifications to our Savanna plant? Or, for that matter, where are the offers of help from other Western countries?

After all, they are claiming it hasn’t been built because it’s so expensive. Don’t our European friends and the rest of the world want to help us to do away with such a terrible threat. They always say it is so important.

But obviously it isn’t important enough for them to put up any money towards that end.

Whether the American queue of weapons plutonium awaiting conversion into reactor fuel will grow longer is not clear; first, a president would have to declare additional material as surplus. The new agreement with the Russians is over launchers and delivery systems, and does not require the dismantlement of weapons.

But eliminating weapons-usable material is a long-term goal, and the United States already has such a large plutonium surplus that it may be running out of storage places

Gosh, it’s really a shame that we don’t have another site for this decommissioned nuclear material, besides this Savanna River complex, which is going to take decades to be completed and operational.

If only there was a place, say in the Nevada wilderness, where maybe some big mountain could be hollowed out and used as a safe and secure storage vault – if only temporarily.

Just think how much more quickly we could do away with all of these evil nuclear weapons. And think how criminal it would be to stand in the way of such a noble process.

This article was posted by Steve on Friday, April 9th, 2010. Comments are currently closed.

9 Responses to “Nuclear Arms Disposal Will Take Decades”

  1. proreason says:

    The plan is working.

    What American would have thought that by dismantling the USSR they could in fact dismantle the USA.

  2. GetBackJack says:

    Me. This is exactly what I thought.

    BTW – if we’re going to dispose of our weapons and weapons grade radioactives, and if Yucca Mountain is going to be closed, then I suggest here … as the proper place for disposal.


    • Right of the People says:

      Bravo! A splendid choice.

      I was going to suggest Afghanistan as part of my Obamazation plan for the third world only leave it attached to the warheads for a more efficient dispersal.

  3. NoNeoCommies says:

    How could we have missed this wonderful idea?!?
    Bush could have made noises about reducing nukes, but only if a ‘proper’ disposal site could be opened.
    Once we have a site, there is no reason not to use it for spent fuel.

  4. Rusty Shackleford says:

    In Russia, plutonium disposes of YOU!

    • JohnMG says:

      …….”Disposal of Plutonium From U.S.-Russian Disarmament Is Likely to Take Decades…..”

      Tsk, tsk, tsk, Rusty, that is soooo 1970’s. Read the headline again. It’ll only take the U S decades to dispose of OUR plutonium. Russia will have theirs (what’s left of it) in Iran by next week at the latest.

    • Rusty Shackleford says:

      Vazz making leetle joke, yes? You not see funny in dare?

  5. canary says:

    Obama wrote it would take Russia decades to disarm all their weapons in his 2006 book and that the U.S. should provide financial aid to Russia while they are consumed in doing this task around the clock.

  6. Mithrandir says:

    “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.”

    Governments making promises to each other is worth less than the paper it’s written on. . .

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