Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Nuclear Energy Debate at Daily Kos

News from Australia of a potential breakthrough in uranium enrichment, has set off an interesting discussion on the merits of nuclear energy over at the Daily Kos. Take a look when you get a chance, as nuclear energy gets more support than you might think.

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Jim Baerg said...

A few years ago I came across an article written in the 1970s on what was then going on in laser isotope enrichment. The author made the good point that making deuterium enrichment cheaper would be more beneficial than making uranium enrichment cheaper.

Cheaper U enrichment makes bombs easier to make. Cheaper heavy water makes CANDU variants cheaper, including variants than can breed U233 from thorium.

I hope this advance is applicable to other isotope separation problems.

Rob M said...

It is possible to use it for other isotope separation problems, but I don't believe it's better than the current methods for making heavy water.

If you go to Silex's website, they propose to use it to do isotopic separation for silicon and carbon, for use in semiconductors.

Heavy water behaves differently enough in chemical reactions (the reaction rates are quite different in some cases, apparently) that you don't need the mass-related tricks used for uranium.

As to the proliferation risks, it doesn't appear to be easy technology to master; centrifuges are hard enough, this seems on first glance to be even tougher.

One possibility for weapons development that laser enrichment may offer advanced weapons states, however, is making almost perfectly pure Pu-239. Amongst other things, this would allow the development of a "gun bomb" (like the Hiroshima bomb) made from plutonium, but more importantly to a country like the US would apparently allow them to build physically smaller nuclear weapons (which makes sense; if predetonation isn't a problem your implosion mechanism could probably be a lot smaller and simpler).