Changing Nuclear Weapons into Clean Power

We liked this OpEd article in the Orlando Sentinel … Lynn Edward Weaver of the Florida Institute of Technology writes:

Disarmament hasn’t gotten much attention from the presidential candidates, but some surprising progress has been made in the effort to reduce the quantity of nuclear-weapons materials so that they don’t fall into the hands of irresponsible governments or terrorist groups. Much of the credit for this goes to the U.S. nuclear industry … Under a pact signed in 2000, the United States and Russia agreed to eliminate 34 metric tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium in each country … enough plutonium to arm 17,000 nuclear warheads. So destroying what amounts to 68 tons of weapons plutonium — one-third of the world’s supply — is a major step forward …

He describes the specific reuse of the plutonium into mixed-oxide fuel. AREVA is a strong proponent of the use of MOX fuel, and supplies key technology for U.S. MOX reprocessing pants like the one under construction in South Carolina. He continues:

Instead of encasing excess plutonium in glass shells and placing the weapons material in a repository deep underground, as if it were nuclear waste, the United States and Russia agreed to convert the plutonium into a mixed-oxide fuel known as MOX. Once plutonium is converted into MOX, it is no longer useful in the production of nuclear weapons. This fuel can be used in nuclear power plants to produce electricity for millions of homes and businesses.

About 30 power reactors worldwide use MOX, though it’s MOX made from plutonium that’s in the spent-nuclear fuel left over in a reactor after electricity is produced rather than MOX directly from weapons … Surely if MOX can be made from weapons plutonium, its production from spent fuel should also be allowed.

And he closes with this:

Under a U.S.-Russia agreement negotiated during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, 500 metric tons of highly-enriched uranium from Russia’s stockpile is being down-blended into low-enriched uranium for use in U.S. nuclear plants to produce electricity. Anyone who questions the value of that agreement should consider that half of the nuclear-generated electricity in the United States is being produced with this fuel derived from Russian nuclear warheads.

It’s a great article, you can read the whole thing here.