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Centrifuge May Be Superseded by Laser Enrichment 346

Posted by Zonk
from the poom-poom-bang-kapow-lasers dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Australian scientists have discovered, after a decade of tests, a new way to enrich uranium for use in power plants." From the article: "There are at present only two methods for sifting uranium atoms, or isotopes, to create the right mix. One, called diffusion, involves forcing uranium through filters. Being lighter, U-235 passes through more easily and is thus separated from its heavier counterpart. The second method, widely adopted in the 1970s, uses centrifuges to spin the heavier and lighter atoms apart. Both, said Dr Goldsworthy, are 'very crude. You have to repeat the process over and over,' consuming enormous amounts of electricity. The spinning method requires 'thousands and thousands of centrifuges'."
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Centrifuge May Be Superseded by Laser Enrichment

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  • Short on details? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by saforrest (184929) on Monday May 29, 2006 @06:53AM (#15423932) Homepage Journal
    If this is really so novel and useful, surely an analysis of it exists that is not written by the guy trying to sell it!

    The article goes on to explain that six other countries have tried laser-enrichment schemes and failed, but this effort has succeeded, and the only possible hint at why is that this new approach is that it is more "elegant and sophisticated".

    Even a link to the press release [world-nuclear.org] would have provided a bit more information (though more legalistic than technical).

  • Centrifuges (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BenBenBen (249969) on Monday May 29, 2006 @06:55AM (#15423937)
    The spinning method requires 'thousands and thousands of centrifuges'.
    Unless you're Iran, in which case only 50 centrifuges is enough to put you "a few months away" from a nuclear weapon, according to Olmert. Or, y'know, 10 years at best, according to the latest National Intelligence Estimate. Of course, powers within Iran that are more relevant than Ahmedinejad have declared that atomic weaponry is unislamic and issued a fatwa against gaining them, and Ahmedinejad isn't the head of the military anyway. But look! Over there! They're making Jews wear yellow ribbons! Quick, bomb them!

    Sigh.

  • Is it just me? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by JohnBeaulieu (922965) on Monday May 29, 2006 @06:59AM (#15423945)
    The whole frightens me. It seems absolutey crazy to encourage the use of nuclear fission in an atmosphere. There are to many things that can go wrong not to mention that there is no proven safe way as of yet to deal with the waste permanently. Instead of finding new ways to enrich uranium wouldn't it be better to focus on that 7 nation project to produce fusion power? Cold fusion may be a pipe dream but normal fusion isn't.
  • by Firethorn (177587) on Monday May 29, 2006 @07:07AM (#15423963) Homepage Journal
    Fuel cells will do nothing about the demand for power stations. Anyways, this makes fuel for nuclear plants even cheaper, and it's already a 'negligable' cost for the operation of a plant.

    I say we build so many nuke plants in 'trustworthy'(IE already nuclear) countries that we're buying all the fuel just to feed all the darn things. ;)

    Realistically, it's going to be impossible to prevent any country that wants nuclear weapons from getting them. I'm kinda suprised that we've done as well as we have, as all it takes is a country going 'screw you' and building the stuff themselves. We know it can be done with cutting edge 1940's level technology, and it's been over 60 years. Even countries like Iran have reached the point where they can do it with domestic industry if they truly wanted to.
  • MOX Anyone? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by turgid (580780) on Monday May 29, 2006 @07:08AM (#15423966) Journal

    The first generation of nuclear reactors in the UK (Magnox) used natural (i.e. unenriched) uranium metal as fuel.

    This meant that the fuel was very cheap to make but the fuel cans had to have a low neutron capture cross-section, hence the Magnox. This limited the temperatures at which the reactors could operate.

    Moving to enriched uranium allowed the use of stainless steel cladding which keeps its integrity to much higher temperatures and is mechanically stronger.

    There have been many developments in nuclear fuel technology since the 1950s, as one might expect. MOX was a good idea, but derailed by BNFL corporate incompetence and "environmentalist" hysteria.

    The idea with MOX is that, instead of enriching uranium to increase the proportion of fissile U-235, you mix in fissile plutonium recovered from used nuclear fuel which is then "burnt up" in the new fuel to provide power. Plutonium isotopes are natural byproducts of the nuclear reactions in fission reactors.

    Perhaps it would be more economical and environmentally-friendly to use more MOX than enriching fresh uranium?

  • Re:Is it just me? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday May 29, 2006 @07:13AM (#15423977) Homepage Journal
    It seems absolutey crazy to encourage the use of nuclear fission in an atmosphere. There are to many things that can go wrong not to mention that there is no proven safe way as of yet to deal with the waste permanently.

    There is a lot of radioactive material in brown coal. A power station is one of the best ways to distribute it in the atnosphere.

  • Re:Centrifuges (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Firethorn (177587) on Monday May 29, 2006 @07:14AM (#15423979) Homepage Journal
    Or you've been working on it for years. Sure, the USA might have thousands of centrifuges, but we also built thousands of nukes over the years. If it takes a 'thousand centrifuge years' to process enough for one nuke, then it'd take Iran 20 years to make one.

    Of course, the questions of efficiency, size of intended nuke, processing rate, how much people believe that Iran has 'only' 50 centrifuges(we've been wrong before!) have some importance as well.

    Oh, and it's not just the Jews that are to wear 'ribbons', it's chritians as well. Patch sewn onto clothing. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

    Honestly, I'm reminded of a pair of gorillas getting into a dominance display, beating their chests. I wish everyone would take a step back, calm down, and get back to negotiating. I wish the progressive Iranian youths I've been hearing about will step up and at least reduce the theocracy that's developed.
  • Re:Centrifuges (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BenBenBen (249969) on Monday May 29, 2006 @07:23AM (#15423999)
    The clothing thing is a hoax, a lie, disinformation to be endlessly repeated, half-remembered and alluded to even long after it's been proven bogus.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 29, 2006 @08:35AM (#15424153)
    As a non scientist, I would have expected you to know the difference between Austria (it's in Europe) and Australia (it's across the Pacific).

    I'll give an E for effort on the humour.
    you can use it spell three correctly
  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Monday May 29, 2006 @09:16AM (#15424267)
    It's just swell to work in a lab, but you should occasionally read a newspaper or surf the internet.

    Right now, nobody needs or wants any more U235, except for North Korea, Iran, and various splinter groups.

    The US Govt has PILES of the stuff, as does the USSR. Plus many tons of Plutonium. All very expensive stuff, but worth less than zero.

    There's more tons of U235 and Plutonium in all the unprocessed fuel elements that have outlived their usefulness in nuclear reactors. The stuff is so worthless it's being stored or buried, not put through a relatively cheap chemical reprocessing cycle to recover the U235 and Plutonium.

    If we needed more U235, there are several multi-billion dollar separation plants in mothballs that one could restart with relatively little effort.

    So this laser-enrichment, IF it can ever be gotten working on a large scale, is (a) a threat if rogue states and the Mafia get into it and (b) Will produce soemthing nobody needs, and (c) probably riskier and more expensive than just starting up the old plants.

  • Re:Centrifuges (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Grym (725290) on Tuesday May 30, 2006 @02:25AM (#15427009)
    ...the only reason [Iran] would actually want nuclear weapons is as a deterrant against the US and Israel.

    The only reason?

    You mean to say that they wouldn't want nuclear weapons to:

    • Further terrorist actions against Israel.
    • As a means of coercion to their neighbors, such as Iraq, whom have tradtionally been antagonistic.
    • To bring about the coming of the 12th Imam (the muslim version of the Apocalypse)--a time that the President of Iran has publically said is upon us.
    • As a means of detering any military repurcusions from economic harassment (i.e. drastically cutting their oil production)
    • Any or all of the above.

    There are lots of reasons Iran could want nuclear weapons that don't involve evil acts from either Israel or the United States. Bear in mind that many of them don't even have to be rational. We are dealing with a extremist theocracy. Do you really want to bet the stability of the world on Iran's tolerace of us infidels in the West?

    -Grym

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