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Megatons To Megawatts Program Comes To a Close

Soulskill posted about 9 months ago | from the time-to-make-some-gigascale-weapons dept.

Power 125

necro81 writes "In the aftermath of the Cold War, the disintegrating Soviet Union had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and tons of weapons-grade fissile material. In the economic and political turmoil, many feared that it would fall into unfriendly hands. However, thanks to the doggedness of an MIT professor, Dr. Thomas Neff, 500 metric tons of weapons grade material made its way into nuclear reactors in the United States through the Megatons to Megawatts program. During the program, about 10% of all electricity generated in the U.S. came from weapons once aimed at the country. Now, after nearly 20 years, the program is coming to an end. The final shipment of Soviet-era uranium, now nuclear fuel, has arrived in Baltimore."

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Great way to end (0, Troll)

CaptQuark (2706165) | about 9 months ago | (#46097837)

This is a great way to use the nuclear fuel that was aimed at us. Bravo.

Re:Great way to end (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46097857)

Holy shit, that is one inane and useless comment. "Way to go guys!". No wonder you have such good Karma, brohan.

Re:Great way to end (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46097887)

I think the point is that the fuel is being aimed at us again.

Re:Great way to end (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46097903)

Is that you, Fred? Whining that you missed the first post by one minute because you were crafting such an insightful comment? LOL

I agree he didn't leave a great post, but I've seen much worse first post messages.

Re:Great way to end (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098061)

Meh, I'm just waiting for the Taco Cowboy remora post to come and attach itself around here.

Re:Great way to end (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098071)

At least on the old /. web page, compared to the beta, I do not have to put up with idiots saying First Hah!!

Or instead you get random posts that have nothing to do with the story just extremists making racist claims.

Re:Great way to end (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098241)

Because it's only a great post if it is a pointless, negative whine about something you can't do anything about - a bit like this post, actually :). Positive attitudes not allowed!

Re:Great way to end (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098741)

It's certainly a lot better, and on topic, than your inane blathering. Wait...is that your mom I hear calling you up from the basement? Ah yes, your Fruit Loops are ready!

Re:Great way to end (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098053)

The article makes no mention of what happens to the spent fuel rods that you so selflessly imported.

Perhaps they will go into the ground like the other 70.000 metric tons of spent fuel rods generated by the US?

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2013/01/28/deferring-recycling-u-s-to-bury-almost-all-existing-nuclear-waste/

Re:Great way to end (2)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about 9 months ago | (#46098411)

They came from the ground, it sounds like a good idea to put them right back.

Re:Great way to end (1)

Applehu Akbar (2968043) | about 9 months ago | (#46099417)

We don't want to get rid of spent fuel, because it's a valuable resource. We need to keep those rods in dry storage until it becomes economical to recycle them into new fuel plus medical/industrial isotopes.

Nuclear dangers... (4, Insightful)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | about 9 months ago | (#46097841)

Sadly, nuclear power is dying due to ignorance. Coal kills thousands (maybe 15+) in the US alone every year, and tens to hundreds of thousands worldwide every year. Yet what do we hear in the news? Fukushima. Where you can count the death toll with 0 fingers, and even in 50 years it'll be less than coal kills in the US in a single year.

You can argue that Coal is a false choice (it isn't, it's what we have now) but even natural gas kills an order of magnitude or more people yearly than nuclear power, and yes _Solar_ kills more people.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

chuckinator (2409512) | about 9 months ago | (#46097893)

Melanoma, or are you talking about those crazy schmucks with solar grills initiated some DIY spontaneous-human-combustion?

Re:Nuclear dangers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46097947)

I think he is talking about deaths due to accidents during solar panel maintenance aka cleaning. Of course nuclear plants have non-radiation related fatalities. Also, I would think the distributed nature of solar leads to more electrical fires and fatalities. (Yes, most are caused by improper maintenance/installation.) Also, wind plants kill people who work on them. Everything from the manned space exploration to matchbox toys has a number of deaths per unit that can be calculated to varies degrees of accuracy/directness of effect.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098823)

Due to the strict guidelines at nuclear plants there are far fewer worker related deaths in construction and maintenance than other buildings.
With solar power you can get deaths when installing and maintaining because some worker decided safety harnesses are for pussies. Not so at a nuclear plant as any incident will have to be reported and investigated.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46099351)

I was going to say nuclear might require more transmission lines which equals more deaths to get the power to where you need it but then again wind turbines and solar arrays tend to use a decentralized remote layout which should need more lines then a centralized remote layout for nuclear plants. I also know that early Uranium mining and processing caused environmental and personal damage. All that being said am be looking into buying stocks associated with uranium mine and production. Right now uranium is being sold on the spot market for less then cost to mine. It can't go on that way forever. Especial since Russian and China are building a bunch of nuclear plants. I need to do more research but am most interested in companies developing mining in Mongolia which lest face it could use more exports.

Another reason to build nuclear is ironically nuclear winter, or any man-made/natural sky blocking event. If we are reliant on nuclear we could survive even total darkness and bitter bitter cold. Not everyone mind but enough people. Also, nuclear energy density looks like the only reasonable way we currently have to get humans to other planets.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 9 months ago | (#46098181)

Hes talking about mining / industrial waste from manufacturing the things, I would guess.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098327)

Hes talking about mining / industrial waste from manufacturing the things, I would guess.

Those exists for nuclear too. The people falling from roofs while installing solar power is enough to outnumber nuclear.
Of course one can claim that those numbers can be reduced with proper safety measures but if one accept that argument for solar then the same should hold for nuclear.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

khallow (566160) | about 9 months ago | (#46099109)

Of course one can claim that those numbers can be reduced with proper safety measures but if one accept that argument for solar then the same should hold for nuclear.

Only if nuclear is at the same level of non-compliance with proper safety measures. I wonder what the price tag would need to be to get solar regulated at the same hardcore level as is present with the nuclear industry?

Re:Nuclear dangers... (5, Insightful)

ILongForDarkness (1134931) | about 9 months ago | (#46099423)

So it is the nuclear industries fault that they follow safety regs and your mom and pop solar installer doesn't?

Nuclear is far far safer than most things. 250k coal mining deaths in the last 50 years worldwide. 64 nuclear deaths. Even accounting for relative energy production nuke is about 6% (fossiil fuels were lumped together where I found them http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W... [wikipedia.org] ) and scaling: you'd be looking at ~1k deaths if all were nuke versus about 500k if all coal (assuming ~50% of the fossil fuels is coal generation, the rest oil, natural gas).

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46100721)

Unfortunately, this fails to address worst-case scenarios. An explosion at a coal mining facility is tragic. An explosion at a nuclear plant is a disaster that extends far beyond the facility itself, with long-term costs and potential health problems. Also, no one gets too upset if a lump of coal goes missing.

Re:MicroNuclear (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46100857)

Nuclear needs to commoditized itself to be relevant and sell it to the home market or lose to Solar...!

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

oji-sama (1151023) | about 9 months ago | (#46098389)

I guess he is primarily talking about the pollution from burning coal. ( For example: http://www.theguardian.com/env... [theguardian.com] , articles from across the pond also exist about this.). Not sure where the solar cost is coming from.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098627)

He's talking out of his ass.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | about 9 months ago | (#46098925)

http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/... [nextbigfuture.com]

Rooftop solar is several times more dangerous than nuclear power and wind power. It is still much, much safer than coal and oil, because those have a lot of air pollution deaths.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46097911)

Solar kills more people? Explain or cite. (And heat stroke doesn't count)

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098019)

Turns out working on roof's is one of the most dangerous jobs you can have, it has quite a few fatalities on a yearly basis or so it seems.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098371)

Turns out working on roof's is one of the most dangerous jobs you can have, it has quite a few fatalities on a yearly basis or so it seems.

That's a bit of a stretch isn't it? I mean you could also argue:
Dozens of aluminium miners die every year in work accidents... OMG!!! Aluminum soda cans are dangerous, THEY KILL PEOPLE!!!

Re:Nuclear dangers... (2)

Sneftel (15416) | about 9 months ago | (#46098385)

If that were the case, then yes, you could argue that the use of aluminum is dangerous. A decrease in the use of aluminium would result in a decrease in deaths.

Bauxite is strip-mined, though, which is pretty safe as far as the miners are concerned.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (4, Insightful)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | about 9 months ago | (#46098357)

Sadly, nuclear power is dying due to ignorance.

Yes, lets compute the human deaths in the production, while ignoring non-lethal health issues, other species (which we are not independent of) and the 10000 year contamination of the end products and any issues that will occur during this time.

Both nuclear and coal are crappy options.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (4, Insightful)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 9 months ago | (#46098477)

All the options are crappy. We just have to make do with picking the least-crappy.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (5, Informative)

nojayuk (567177) | about 9 months ago | (#46098521)

The pollution from coal waste is permanent, it never decays unlike nuclear waste. US coal-fired power generators pump 50 tonnes of mercury into the environment every year, it never goes away or decays, it ends up in water and the soil, in the sea and seafood. Nobody cares, any attempt to reduce these sorts of emissions is a "War on Coal".

Re:Nuclear dangers... (0)

c0lo (1497653) | about 9 months ago | (#46098657)

The pollution from coal waste is permanent, it never decays unlike nuclear waste. US coal-fired power generators pump 50 tonnes of mercury into the environment every year, it never goes away or decays, it ends up in water and the soil, in the sea and seafood. Nobody cares, any attempt to reduce these sorts of emissions is a "War on Coal".

Unless the coal power generation involves alchemy and transmutation (or a fresh supernova explosion nearby), that mercury you speak of... came from Earth environment.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (4, Informative)

nojayuk (567177) | about 9 months ago | (#46098687)

That mercury WAS buried underground well away from the biosphere. Now it's been dug up, burned, vapourised and spread over cropland and towns and cities downwind, deposited into rivers and lakes supplying drinking water to the population before it eventually makes its way into the sea where it bioaccumulates in fish to the point where authorities recommend people don't eat too much of it because of the toxic mercury content.

You might want to look up "sequestration" sometime.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 9 months ago | (#46100475)

The pollution from coal waste is permanent, it never decays unlike nuclear waste. US coal-fired power generators pump 50 tonnes of mercury into the environment every year, it never goes away or decays, it ends up in water and the soil, in the sea and seafood. Nobody cares, any attempt to reduce these sorts of emissions is a "War on Coal".

The irony being those who complain about mercury in CFLs (metallic form) yet don't realize an incandescent that's coal-powered will release far more mercury (in far more dangerous bio-available form) in its lifetime than what's in a CFL bulb.

And metallic mercury is actually quite safe to handle - it's not easily bio-available so it's much more difficult to get mercury poisoning that way. The form in coal is bio-available and the body rapidly absorbs it into the tissues that way.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

Khashishi (775369) | about 9 months ago | (#46101041)

It's not permanent. Eventually it will be reintroduced into the ground via long term ecological and geological processes. We're talking millions of years, but then again we are comparing it to nuclear wastes.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

jez9999 (618189) | about 9 months ago | (#46098625)

Both nuclear and coal are crappy options.

Bullshit.

List the non-leathal health issues of storing safely a small amount of nuclear waste of a half-life of a few hundred years that you get from an integral fast reactor.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (4, Informative)

dbIII (701233) | about 9 months ago | (#46098695)

It's not a small amount - it's a long process and it's not just the depleted fuel that's a waste storage problem. Anything that gets bombarded with a lot of neutrons becomes nuclear waste itself, so. That's what the "nuclear is magic beans appearing in the reactor core" crowd don't get. That's why real solutions like Synrok were ignored for decades.
The health problems start with water runoff in the mines (eg. acid mine drainage), just like a lot of other things. Nuclear is not magic just because it's nuclear.
It's an industrial process that has impacts and benefits and has to be looked at that way instead of the stupid "clean" dream. We got over "duck and cover" and "too cheap to meter" - it's time to get over the "clean" propaganda as well.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

jez9999 (618189) | about 9 months ago | (#46098769)

So little uranium needs to actually be mined for IFR fuel (not to mention the fact that there's a load of nuclear "waste" lying around that could be used as fuel first anyway); surely mining could be done carefully to avoid water runoff problems.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (3, Informative)

dbIII (701233) | about 9 months ago | (#46098865)

surely mining could be done carefully to avoid water runoff problems

Maybe, but it's currently a problem at a lot of mines including some uranium mines (eg. yearly at the Ranger mine in Kakadu National Park in Australia).
My point is that nuclear is not special just because it's nuclear - it has it's own downsides just like everything else. Minimising those is of course a very good thing but they still shouldn't be dismissed as irrelevant. For decades waste has been written off as irrelevant, and everything other than fuel rods swept under the carpet. We shouldn't do that.
I'm also a fan of that sort of reactor concept (certainly beats reprocessing by a mile) even if liquid metal gives me the heebie-jeebies. Along those lines Russia has a large sodium cooled reactor planned which is related enough that it may assist with the technical problems likely to be associated with full scale liquid metal reactors

Re:Nuclear dangers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46100407)

Because absolutely no other energy solutions have environmental impacts from the extraction of necessary materials. Certainly not solar, which require massive amounts of rare-earth metals that get strip mined out of conflict zones. Nope, no mine tailings coming from that!

Bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46100971)

There are no rare-earth metals used in any commercial solar cells.

Do you even know what a rare-earth metal is?

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

Gareth Iwan Fairclough (2831535) | about 9 months ago | (#46100445)

It's not a small amount - it's a long process and it's not just the depleted fuel that's a waste storage problem. Anything that gets bombarded with a lot of neutrons becomes nuclear waste itself, so. That's what the "nuclear is magic beans appearing in the reactor core" crowd don't get. That's why real solutions like Synrok were ignored for decades. The health problems start with water runoff in the mines (eg. acid mine drainage), just like a lot of other things. Nuclear is not magic just because it's nuclear. It's an industrial process that has impacts and benefits and has to be looked at that way instead of the stupid "clean" dream. We got over "duck and cover" and "too cheap to meter" - it's time to get over the "clean" propaganda as well.

You forget, that the so called "waste" from nuclear reactors is (by design) contained in one tiny little rod that is relatively easy to handle. This is the opposite of any fossil fuel based energy source, which just dumps all its waste (i.e. green house gases) into the atmosphere and in much MUCH greater quantities.

It's time to get over the "NOOCLEAUR IZ EVIL!!" propaganda.

could you name even one present day technology that could do a better job of generating electricity with little waste, than a nuclear reactor?

Re:Solar will beat Nuclear (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46101011)

The people in the Nuclear Industry can not run a business even if their lives depended on it...!

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

Khashishi (775369) | about 9 months ago | (#46101059)

one rod? I'm pretty sure nuclear reactors use more than one rod.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

Arrepiadd (688829) | about 9 months ago | (#46098779)

List the non-leathal health issues of storing safely a small amount of nuclear waste of a half-life of a few hundred years that you get from an integral fast reactor.

Please tell us about the IFR reactors in commercial operation, so that we can discuss the subject fully. Oh, right...

Re:Nuclear dangers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46100003)

This is problem you know. We should be building and using those more right now for the simple reason that in 50 years we will be doing that anyway out of pure necessity. It's going to be a way more rough and dangerous ride then if we just suddenly start building hundreds of plants with limited experience.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 9 months ago | (#46099145)

No you are wrong. Coal is crappy. Coal will produce more and wider spread radiation then nuclear ever will while also producing tons of carbon. Speaking of long term effects both Coal and natural gas produce many times the carbon of Nuclear.
Solar can not work for base load. Wind is a bit better but it still needs natural gas fired peaking plants to back it up. Simple truth is you are spouting the same FUD we hear all the time about nuclear.
The anti-nuclear people are as bad as the climate change deniers.

Here are some scientists that say you are wrong.
http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/03/... [cnn.com]
http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10... [acs.org]

And a co founder of Greenpeace. http://www.wired.com/science/p... [wired.com]

Re:Nuclear dangers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098509)

Fukushima? Hiroshima!

And even if we somehow decide to ignore the weapons potential, do you really think that people don't die from uranium mining? Besides being highly radioactive, it's also a chemically very potent poison.

I agree however coal is not a solution. But the only people who seem to think so are Americans and Chinese...

One a finite planet, the only hope is renewables, as long as we don't have fusion. This is not rocket science. And much as everybody is going to kick as scream, conservation.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098623)

Ok. You're welcome to go live in Fukushima if you want to.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

alphatool (603160) | about 9 months ago | (#46098877)

No, you're not welcome to go live in Fukushima. First, it's almost impossible to get a residency visa to live in Japan, unless you are being sponsored for a job that nobody in Japan can do. There aren't any of these jobs in Fukushima. Second, even if you do manage to get a visa, the government has forcibly evacuated the area around Fukushima and is not allowing residents to return. The odds of a new resident being allowed to move into the area are zero.

All up, even well informed people, who are willing to accept the risks (if any) of low level radiation exposure, are not allowed to live in Fukushima. It must really suck for the people who were forced to leave their lives behind.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

couchslug (175151) | about 9 months ago | (#46098789)

Our system is effortlessly able to discreetly process the people killed by conventional pollution.

Nuclear accidents are disruptive. Dispersed death isn't even interesting.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (1)

Applehu Akbar (2968043) | about 9 months ago | (#46099585)

Even less interesting to the Western press is the eighteen thousand people who died in that very calamity at places other than Fukushima. Mass deaths in one of the largest and costliest natural disasters of all time mean nothing to those pursuing a political crusade.

Re:Nuclear dangers... (0)

argStyopa (232550) | about 9 months ago | (#46098985)

Agreed.

It's actually hard to determine the greatest crime of the modern environmental movement.

They're well-intentioned, generally I'd concede that.

But from the (pointless, politically motivated) ban on DDT that resulted in millions of needless deaths in malarial climates, to the histrionic anti-nuclear activism that has effectively blocked the development of nuclear power in the US for the last 30 years (condemning us - until the recent switches to gas - to coal-fired plants and more particulates, more acid rain, more CO2, etc.) the choices made by modern environmentalists are the direct cause of the deaths of many humans.

Of course, this would presume that one sets aside the agenda of the radical environmentalist movement, which IS in fact totally amenable to millions if not billions of human deaths.

Re:Nuclear is Expensive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46100791)

What stops me from giving a TAX CUT for all business who get solar on their rooftops...!

Good and bad (3, Interesting)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 9 months ago | (#46097891)

With computers, we have good and bad CPU designs, good and bad GPU designs, good and bad OS designs.

Like computers, nuclear power plants come in many designs, some good and some bad. Watch this [wikipedia.org] and learn a bit more, especially about the Integral fast reactor [wikipedia.org] design.

I'm all for green power, but let's not forget that right now solar panels are not terribly efficient and very resource-intensive during the manufacturing process, wind farms don't work without wind (duh) and kill birds, etc. Each choice has drawbacks and from the numbers given in this film, if they are accurate, we'd be insane not to use nuclear power plants as long as they're IFR-type.

Re:Good and bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098843)

yeah there are "good guns" and "bad guns and there is "good poison" and "bad poison" and there are "good liars" and "bad liars" and there are "good murderers" and "bad murderers" and there is "bad cancer" and "good cancer" ...
srsrly it's time to wake up and firmly put the word "nuclear" in the list of words that invoke a bad feeling!
as for on-topic: i find it fantastic that the most atomic bombs have detonated on/in american soil, that the most nuclear poison (waste) is produced on american soil and now the former enemy has found a sneaky way to transport even more potential poison onto american soil : )

Re:Good and bad (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 9 months ago | (#46099091)

I'm all for green power, but let's not forget that right now solar panels are not terribly efficient and very resource-intensive during the manufacturing process,

Moden solar panels reach energy payback in three years and even the old PC PV panels did it in seven... In the seventies. There is no, repeat NO good reason not to increase solar generation.

Re:Good and bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46099709)

Assuming 21 hours of direct noonday sun per day, no clouds, and no nesting birds.

Re:Good and bad (1)

Gareth Iwan Fairclough (2831535) | about 9 months ago | (#46100489)

I'm all for green power, but let's not forget that right now solar panels are not terribly efficient and very resource-intensive during the manufacturing process,

Moden solar panels reach energy payback in three years and even the old PC PV panels did it in seven... In the seventies. There is no, repeat NO good reason not to increase solar generation.

How long does a panel last? 10 years? 15? Compare that to Nuclear plants in the US, which have been coming near to their 40th birthday. Sure, some have been closed, but all of those shut downs (with one exception) have been for political reasons dressed up as "economic" reasons.

Re:Good and bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46100783)

No maintenance costs? No major overhauls or upgrades? No staff? They just last forever and run by themselves?

Re:Good and bad (4, Insightful)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 9 months ago | (#46099195)

Nuclear is relatively safe but has rather extreme risks, which makes it extremely expensive. A lot of nuclear fans don't seem to appreciate why low probability but very high cost risks are a problem.

Nuclear safety is expensive. Nuclear insurance against incredibly expensive accidents is literally priceless, in that no commercial insurance company will offer it so the government has to. The cost of centralizing so much capacity in a form that can randomly shut down at any time (and regularly does) creates a lot of cost to the grid for reserve capacity. Compared to most other forms of energy nuclear is just very, very costly and that is what is killing it off.

The only places where new nuclear is being built is where the government is funding it. For example in the UK the government provides insurance and has guaranteed well above market rates for any electricity produced.

IFRs are interesting but have their own problems (such as spontaneously catching fire if there is a sodium leak, as happened in Japan) and are a long way from a proven commercial scale design. With all the other costs and risks involved (and by risk I mean the risk that some design issue creates massive extra costs or cancellation) it is unlikely that any company will want to invest in developing one. Even if they did it would be a decade or more before it was even built and operating, by which time Germany will be nuclear free and the market is likely to have changed dramatically in light of that.

Re:Good and bad (1)

nojayuk (567177) | about 9 months ago | (#46099647)

You're wrong in many particulars but your errors are common ones commonly repeated so I won't bother knocking them down one by one. I'll just point out that IFR reactors cover a wide range of designs and technologies and several have run successfully for a few decades although not without major problems in some cases. The Soviet/Russian BN-350 is one such fast reactor which operated from the mid-70s providing electricity and desalination process heat. It was only shut down around 2000 when its rather specialised fuel was no lnoger available. The larger sodium-cooled BN-600 based on a similar design started up in 1980 and is still running today despite several accidents and fires as the core was not compromised and there were no radiation leaks when things did go wrong. It's been enough of a success that an even larger version (the BN-800) is being built in Russia (planned commercial startup is April 2014) and, if agreement is reached, more BN-800s or dervatives will be built in China.

The physical technology of the IFR is pretty well understood, the problems arise due to the failure of materials exposed to high temperatures, very high neutron fluxes, radiochemistry and other factors that should be solvable with enough experience of operation and seeing where the bits land after the next explosion. Baby steps baby steps.

Misnomer (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 9 months ago | (#46097921)

The warheads were only Megatons because they were fusion weapons.

We only used the fission trigger part to generate power'

Still it is a good 'swords into plowshares' story.

We need to develop controlled fusion to solve our energy problems.

Re:Misnomer (4, Informative)

stoploss (2842505) | about 9 months ago | (#46098145)

The warheads were only Megatons because they were fusion weapons.

We only used the fission trigger part to generate power'

Your pedantry is misplaced: your error is thinking of the warheads individually.

Instead, there were ~20k nuclear warheads worth of HEU involved (500 metric tons). Since even the inefficient gun-type Little Boy weapon had an estimated yield of 15 kt for 64 kg of HEU, the program represents a minimum of 120 megatons worth of yield—even falsely presuming they couldn't achieve better yields with that HEU than using a gun-type weapon approach.

The program's name is perfectly cromulent.

Re:Misnomer (4, Informative)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about 9 months ago | (#46098727)

The warheads were only Megatons because they were fusion weapons.

No, this is a common misconception.

A basic nuke compacts a lump of (e.g.) plutonium to above the critical mass using convential explosives. The momentum caused by the explosives holds it together while the chain reaction grows exponentially. Eventually it flies apart, generally before the fission fuel is used up because the explosives don't hold it together very long.

You can introduce fusion by hollowing out the pit and filling it with tritium, giving a boosted fission bomb. That boosts the power a bunch (yay!).

However, the thing to note is nuclear explosions are much bigger than conventional ones, and if a conventional explosion is good at holding the fissile material together, then a nuclear one ought to be much better, and it is.

So basically, you pack lithium deuteride around another fissile pit. When the nuke goes off, it irradiates the deuterium creating tritium and compresses the second pit giving another nuclear explosion. It's a much more efficient one second time since it's held together longer and you also have much more tritium, so both the fusuion and fission but yield a lot more energy.

At this point you have two relatively small fission explosions, one mid sized fusion one and one large fusion one. Most of the energy comes from the fusion. It's also relatively clean in that the amount of nasty byproducts to energy ratio is low.

The logic continues. It a small fission explosion is really good at compressing, then a large fusion/fission one ought to be REALLY REALLY good. A third stage can therefore be added (allegedly this is not usually the case).

But it still doesn't usually end there. The nuclear reactions yield what is technically known as an ass-load of neutrons. If you wrap the entire thing in natural or even depleted uranium, the neutrons cause it to undergo fission. Lots of fission. It's generally thought that this stage more than doubles the yield and comes at next to no extra cost, size or weight (the bomb has to have some sort of heavy casing anyway).

Anyway, that's a summary of the wikipedia article and a few other bits and bobs.

TL;DR in most cases a bit over half of the energy comes from fission.

Re:Misnomer (3, Informative)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 9 months ago | (#46099189)

You are nitpicking but also wrong.
Even thermonuclear weapons get most of there yield from fission. The fusion reaction is mainly a neutron producing event that then goes on to fission the tamper made of natural uranium. That is how variable yield weapons work. You adjust the amount of tritium boost gas you inject in the triggers pit.

In Post-Soviet Russia... (5, Funny)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 9 months ago | (#46097945)

The enemy disposes of your nuclear waste for you!

If there's a heaven I hope he goes there (1, Offtopic)

wisebabo (638845) | about 9 months ago | (#46097991)

I wish history (books? professors? courses?) would do a better job of recognizing people like this.

Like the people (Mr. Haber?) who created the Haber process that gave the world cheap, safe (not made from human excrement!) fertilizer. Or the "father" of the Green Revolution. Or not just the creators of the life saving vaccines (Pasteur, Salk) but the ones who are getting them distributed including (Gasp!) Bill Gates.

Of course this list could get rather long. What about the inventor of the container ships that may have reduced the costs of global trade? Or the inventor of the jet engine or radar or even asphalt pavement? Too bad there a "good" politically neutral way of rating someone's contribution to mankind. (My business friends would say "money" is the way the world rewards people but, as we all know, the market is often wrong. I'm sure Kalishnikov made a lot more money selling his rifles than Dr. Neff did from his efforts.

(Then again there are those who may have been in positions of great power and respect but who have left legacies that are a bit more troubling. Like Mao, whose great leap forward may have caused tens of millions of deaths from starvation. Or the president of S. Africa (after Mandela) who's resistance to fighting AIDS caused the epidemic to go on. Or (gasp again!) perhaps the founders of the U.S. who didn't/couldn't stop the scourge of slavery from being a part of the new nation.)

That's probably a big reason why people believe in God; judging a very flawed humanity would require a truly omniscient point of view. Maybe we can ask Google to do it someday :)

Anyway, if there are any other people who have contributed so much but been recognized so little, I'd love to know about them.

Re:If there's a heaven I hope he goes there (2)

bugs2squash (1132591) | about 9 months ago | (#46098039)

Would that be the "Father of chemical warfare" Haber by any chance ?

Re:If there's a heaven I hope he goes there (1)

Crookdotter (1297179) | about 9 months ago | (#46099171)

... whose wife begged him to stop developing chemical weapons and when he refused, she shot herself in her broken heart with his revolver.

The same Haber who, next day, left for the front to oversee more weapons leaving behind his dead wife to be discovered by his 13 year old son.

What a guy.

Re:If there's a heaven I hope he goes there (2)

mysidia (191772) | about 9 months ago | (#46098191)

Anyway, if there are any other people who have contributed so much but been recognized so little, I'd love to know about them.

I reported large numbers of e-mail spammers to their ISPs over the years, and got the offending IP addresses appropriately nominated to MAPS for blacklisting.

I also wrote a bunch of enhancements to IRC server software in the 90s made over 4000 beneficial edits on Wikipedia, and probably added about 10000 comments to Slashdot; there's gotta be something in there.......

Re:If there's a heaven I hope he goes there (1)

slew (2918) | about 9 months ago | (#46098461)

I'm sure Kalishnikov made a lot more money selling his rifles than Dr. Neff did from his efforts.

From the NYTimes article [nytimes.com] ...

The general often claimed that he never realized any profit from his work. But in his last years he urged interviewers not to portray him as poor, noting that he had a sizable apartment, a good car and a comfortable dacha on a lake near the factory where he had worked for decades.

Work and loyalty to country, he often suggested, were their own rewards. “I am told sometimes, ‘If you had lived in the West you would have been a multimillionaire long ago,’ ” he said. “There are other values.”

Anyway, if there are any other people who have contributed so much but been recognized so little, I'd love to know about them.

FWIW, there are plenty of practically unknown contributors to the world. Here are a few...

Frank Willis (the security guard that first called the police in some office complex called somekindofliquid-GATE)
Thomas Midgley, Jr (first invented Tetra-Ethyl-Lead and later Freon, probably the man with the most impact on the environment)
Vasili Arkhipov (commander of the K-19 sub AND later the officer that decided to NOT start WWIII during the Cuban missile crisis)
And all the women who had their contributions minimized back in the day when it wasn't proper to recognize their contributions.

wounded war hero states union in disarray (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098197)

now we're listening? ominous (very nearly fatal) 'welcome home' from our 'civil' servants http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=scott%20olsen&sm=3

did i say 'civil'? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098217)

retraction demands fly; http://www.cbsnews.com/news/ny-congressman-threatens-reporter-after-sotu/

And where did US ship his warheads? Oh wait... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098307)

And where did US ship his dismantled warheads? Oh wait...those are still pointed at the rest of the world.
You fuck'n liars duped the bad old Russia to hand over nuclear fuel.

super bowel product AD ready for testing (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098315)

external combustion digestion is not for everyone yet. this baby is designed to neutralize the precious phosphorous in our poop so it cannot be used as a weapon (the most cost effective WMD) any longer. bad news for the phosphorian genociders is good news for our billions of spiritual & physical allys mostly hungry kids (talk about terror? try going without food?) http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=phosphorous+weapon as for touting unclear sources of even more radiation... wtf

explains why we stopped importing oranges? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098369)

pretty much. if all of our 'allys' stop growing export oranges we'll only need one brand of oranges. the finest (only) oranges in the world, each one as perfect as the other. what should they be called?

not straight into more weapons? (1)

dwater (72834) | about 9 months ago | (#46098401)

How do we know the US didn't just use it for their own weapons? I guess it says somewhere, perhaps the Russians did some 'inspection' things to make sure it was being used for power, along the lines of Iran?

Re:not straight into more weapons? (3, Interesting)

nojayuk (567177) | about 9 months ago | (#46098563)

The US has a large stockpile of weapons-grade material (U-235 and also Pu-239) from decommissioned nuclear weapons produced in the 1960s when it had over 30,000 weapons ready for use. It now has about 5000 warheads, most in reserve (i.e. not ready for immediate use or kept as "junk box" units that could be refurbished given the need, will and funding). The ready-for-use warhead count is about 2,200 or so.

They don't need to divert this ex-Soviet material to make more weapons, they don't need more weapons, they don't have the launchers and platforms to carry more weapons and they don't have the facilities or funding to pay for new weapons to be built and besides the uranium arriving in America has already been downblended to fuel-level enrichment (probably 4 or 5%) from the original 90% or so of the original weapon cores.

That's how we know the US didn't use it for their own weapons.

Re:not straight into more weapons? (1)

dwater (72834) | about 9 months ago | (#46098587)

I don't think that qualifies as 'know', but it convinces me :)

Re:not straight into more weapons? (3, Informative)

necro81 (917438) | about 9 months ago | (#46098945)

How do we know the US didn't just use it for their own weapons? I guess it says somewhere, perhaps the Russians did some 'inspection' things to make sure it was being used for power, along the lines of Iran

The highly enriched, weapons grade, bomb ready uranium was not shipped as is. Instead, it was diluted with natural or depleted uranium first, and that is what got shipped to the US. I suppose it is possible that it went from there to a U.S. weapons lab, re-enriched from fuel grade to weapons grade, and then made into weapons. Basic economics, however, suggests otherwise:

1) Uranium is a commodity, like a lot of other metals, and the amount that is produced and consumed each year is known. Mismatches in supply and demand affect the price of uranium on the open market - a price that is closely watched like other commodities. If there was diversion away from fuel processors and power plants and into the U.S. arsenal, that would be a pretty obvious signal. (There was a spike in the uranium markets in 2007, but there are more prosaic explanations for that, and it came about 13 years into the Megatons To Megawatts program.) The U.S. military has no shortage of uranium available to it, particularly as it dismantles its own arsenal.

2) Nuclear weapons production is a massive undertaking - in terms of cost and very-specialized-and-not-easily-hidden infrastructure. If the U.S. were taking the Soviet fuel and making new weapons from it, that could not be hidden, just like the original build up during the Cold War could not be hidden. Secret, yes, but not hidden.

And, yes, inspection and verification was a part of the program. And unlike Iran, the U.S. (civilian) nuclear program makes itself available to the inspectors of the IAEA. A large diversion of incoming uranium away from fuel processors and power plants would be pretty obvious - the numbers wouldn't add up. I find it difficult to believe that hundreds of tons of highly enriched uranium (and many times that of fuel-grade uranium) could have been made to disappear from the civilian fuel cycle without somebody noticing. The dismantlement of the U.S nuclear arsenal was verified by Russia, just as we verified theirs.

Re:not straight into more weapons? (1)

dwater (72834) | about 9 months ago | (#46099377)

nice response...kudos.

Re:not straight into more weapons? (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 9 months ago | (#46099235)

Because the number of weapons is going down. AKA we have more than we need as it is. The Russians also down blend it so it is no longer weapons grade when it is shipped. That is not because they worry the US will use it for weapons but to make it useless for weapons if stolen and make it safer to ship as it can not form a critical mass.

So in other words you are a paranoid idiot that didn't bother to read the article.

Re:not straight into more weapons? (1)

dwater (72834) | about 9 months ago | (#46099339)

ah, personal insults. that's mature.

Re:not straight into more weapons? (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 9 months ago | (#46100119)

You are right. I am sorry. I was just in a bad mood and should have kept the comment constructive.

Price of Nuclear Energy (1)

Infestedkudzu (2557914) | about 9 months ago | (#46098711)

So, does this mean nuclear reactors will be more expensive to run now that what I assume is free or subsidized fuel is gone?

Re:Price of Nuclear Energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46098795)

So, does this mean nuclear reactors will be more expensive to run now that what I assume is free or subsidized fuel is gone?

No, we just have to start dismantling US bombs instead.

Re:Price of Nuclear Energy (1)

nojayuk (567177) | about 9 months ago | (#46098833)

Not particularly. Nuclear fuel is cheap per joule of electricity generated, about 0.6cents/kWh. It's the cost of operating the plant, paying off the loans to build it in the first place, licencing and regulation, insurance, paying for spent fuel disposal and funding the eventual decommissioning of the plant that brings the total generating cost up to par with coal or gas.

The recycling of the ex-Soviet weapons material has depressed the world markets for mined uranium for the past few years meaning yellowcake (U3O8) is ridiculously cheap, currently $35/lb. A number of mining operations have cut back production or closed temporarily for this reason. Even if yellowcake tripled in price it would only add a cent or two to the wholesale price per kWh for generators. If the cost of gas or coal tripled that would have a much greater effect on electricity prices.

Re:Price of Nuclear Energy (1)

necro81 (917438) | about 9 months ago | (#46098957)

Other than a price spike around 2007, the price of uranium fuel has been pretty low since the end of the Cold War. Prices are higher now than they were a decade ago, but appear to be relatively stable. Uranium can be had from lots of places - it's a worldwide commodity [wikipedia.org] like any other metal. There are lots of sources for it, and the Soviet arsenal was only ever a small contribution. So, yes, prices may go up a little bit, but you aren't likely to see that in your utility bill anytime soon. The price of fuel-grade uranium isn't a major contributor to the cost of nuclear power - the cost of building and operating the plant is the big thing.

Which reactors? (1)

multi io (640409) | about 9 months ago | (#46098879)

Can existing commercial reactors run on weapons-grade Uranium or Plutonium?

Re:Which reactors? (2)

Firethorn (177587) | about 9 months ago | (#46098947)

No, but all you have to do is mix it with either depleted uranium or even freshly refined unenriched stuff to get it to the ranges necessary for use.

Re:Which reactors? (1)

nojayuk (567177) | about 9 months ago | (#46099073)

The US paid for downblending to be done in Russia and the other ex-Soviet republics; no weapons-grade material (90% plus enriched) was actually shipped to the US.

Re:Which reactors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46099863)

I could be mistaken here, but i thought CANDU reactors can?

"CANDU can burn a mix of uranium and plutonium oxides (MOX fuel), the plutonium either from dismantled nuclear weapons or reprocessed reactor fuel. "

Re:Which reactors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46101031)

Yeah, some plutonium is mixed into normal uranium fluel rods. I don't think you can put 90% plutonium alone as fuel. The rod itself would be supercritical.

so we get stuck (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46099163)

with the bill (and risks) for disposal of this material once it has been used for power generation. what a bargain.

Sounds like Dr. Thomas Neff (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46099763)

Sounds like Neff should have won a Nobel Peace Prize.

But I guess those are about politics, so we give them US Presidents simply for being elected.

It's very sad.

Thanks (1)

confused one (671304) | about 9 months ago | (#46099959)

Well, it was great while it lasted. So long and thanks for the fish.

Movie Plot? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46100431)

The final shipment of Soviet-era uranium, now nuclear fuel, has arrived in Baltimore.

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