A recent post to ScienceWonk, “Back to the basics: producing fissile materials,” is an excellent factual introduction to uranium and plutonium, and the processes to refine them—but the conclusion is seven words too long.
“… Both systems have a long and proven track record, both have been mastered by many nations, and both represent paths to nuclear weapons.”
While some paths may lead there, the majority of fissile material production (contrary to where the story leaves you) represent paths to carbon-free clean energy—plus another one to fewer nuclear weapons.
This third path to plutonium also addresses ScienceWonk’s final point on nuclear weapons. The third path dismantles existing nuclear weapons, extracts the plutonium, and creates a mixed uranium and plutonium fuel (MOX) for nuclear reactors to peacefully generate gigawatts of clean electricity for decades with one fueling.
The MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) under construction near Aiken, SC, will use this safe, secure, proven process designed by AREVA and successfully operating in France for 20 years.
As stated on the MFFF website, “this facility will be a major component in the United States’ program to dispose of weapon-grade plutonium … [and] will be capable of turning 3.5 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium into MOX fuel assemblies annually.”
Producing fissile material does not necessarily equate to producing nuclear weapons, and can even remove them.