Monday, April 11, 2011

At Common Sense She Gaily MOX

Here's a good summary article about a nuclear fuel that is not new but is newly highlighted in the wake of the Fukushima disaster: mixed oxide, or mox. The idea is to dispose of an excess of weapons-grade plutonium (America has 43 tons of the stuff) by mixing it with uranium and using it as a fuel for commercial power reactors.

Supported by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one project is underway at Savannah River to build a plant to produce mox. To date, the project is partially finished and has cost five times the projected amount ($5 billion rather than $1 billion) to build. And customers for the fuel are not exactly lining up at the door.

Yes, one of the reactors that melted down at Fukushima is a mox-fueled reactor. There's no necessary causal relationship there... the other two partial meltdowns were in conventionally uranium-fueled reactors, and the cause of all three catastrophes is a combination of earth-shattering natural forces and all-too-human screw-ups, not the choice of fuel. But plutonium, though safe enough to handle, is vastly more deadly (if, for example, inhaled as dust) than uranium. And of course it can be stolen and returned to its original use... nuclear weapons... much more easily than uranium.

Read the article and see what you think. Me? I doubt seriously that this is a suitable long-term solution to our industrial energy needs. But then again, as a child in America I grew up with two things: the threat of The Bomb, and the conventional promise of "power too cheap to meter." I didn't believe that promise even when I was a kid. But I certainly believed, and still believe, the threat. Good luck to us all; we're going to need it.

(A note about the subject: it's almost a quote from Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance: "How quaint the ways of Paradox! / At common sense she gaily mocks!")


  1. And now the song is stuck in my head...

    Just read somewhere that some fields in Sweden and Finland contaminated by Chernobyl are still unusable. Not surprising but it's not discussed. These messes will be PERMANENT. We can't ask nature to clean it up for us speedily as we usually do.

    So, let's let our wonderful educated folk develop the solar and wind like they've been trying to do for years... oh.

    We're defunding those programs? Of course.

    Never mind.

  2. ellroon, Chernobyl was in many ways the worst possible kind of nuclear plant, old and with none of the safeguards built into newer plants. But Fukushima shows us that even plants with those features are no match for the worst that can happen to them. And you are right: the messes become long-term problems... the half-life of the isotope of plutonium used in power generation is 87 years; for the isotope used in bombs, it's 24,000 years. According to the wiki, mox contains a mixture of four isotopes, and can be used as fuel only once. I don't know if that's good or bad relative to other sources.

    [CAPTCHA text "unction", as in extreme?]



• Click here to view existing comments.
• Or enter your new rhyme or reason
in the new comment box here.
• Or click the first Reply link below an existing
comment or reply and type in the
new reply box provided.
• Scrolling manually up and down the page
is also OK.

Static Pages (About, Quotes, etc.)

No Police Like H•lmes