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On-Line Uranium Auctions 194

object.orient() writes "Yahoo! News has a story about a web site that will be starting on-line auctioning of uranium fuel for nuclear powerplants. Wow, now all those blueprints for nuclear weapons I downloaded might be useful! (Seriously, they say it's safe from terrorists.)" Granted, it does look like you have to be a registered purchaser and it's not plutonium or anything - but the whole thought amuses me, in a science project gone awry way..
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On-Line Uranium Auctions

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  • Karma is frozen in the upward direction only.

    I can understand that. But why does it go down when I meta-moderate. Not "when I am meta-moderated" but "when *I* meta-moderate".
    --

  • Am I the only one who was disappointed as a kid when they found out that a nuclear fission reactor was nothing more than a giant steam engine?


    --
  • ...about 1 microcurie of the stuff...
    ...criticality of Am241 occurs at about 2 curies...
    ...order 2,000 good and fresh smoke detectors...

    That would be about 2 _million_ fresh smoke detectors.
  • Well seeing as the most naturally occuring isotope of Uranium, U238 has a half life of 4.47 Billion years, I can't see it causing that much trouble (radioactively).
  • In order to know when it's going to be delivered, you'd need to crack the far more secure communications of the power plants and storage facilities.

    According to the site [uraniumonline.com]:

    Another successful auction has been completed using UraniumOnLine. This time a buyer bought 56,320 kg U as UF6 for delivery at USEC on 30 Nov at an amazing price of $23.05/kg U as UF6.

    So much for needing to "crack the far more secure communications of the power plants and storage facilities."

  • There are over 100 nuclear plants in the US, and the typical refuel cycle is 2 years. If you want to hide a staff to keep an eye out for unmarked trucks, great. But I think a few grand to an apropriately morally-challeneged geek would be a lot more cost effective.

    As for Dolph, what for? A heist like this only requires that an invoice be fudged, to get "your" crate get loaded on your truck at the dock. No need to shoot people. Really, international espionage is over-dramatized in Hollyweird.

    Once the hack tells you who had *bought* it, you'd know whom to crack next. Elementary really. IANASpy BTW, really. :)
  • heheh - unless those docs come from the military, you're not gonna find the incomplete part I was referencing....
  • IIRC, South Africa's bomb tests showed that they could get a couple kilotons yield out of 80% U-235. This is still a hell of a long way from the 3% U-235 mix used for light-water reactor fuel.
    --
  • cyclotrons are used to accelerate atomic particles. I think you are thinking of gas centrifuges.

  • "Oh I'm sure in 1984 you can go down to the corner drugstore and get plutonium..."

    Well maybe be not but I can get some uranium and feed it to the lil' breeder reactor in my garage...
  • Sure you say, it's not bomb-grade material, but it's still radioactive.

    So what? Bananas are radioactive (Potassium-40). You get an annual dose of about 39 millirem from radioactive elements in your own body, most of the dose is from Potassium-40 (see this page [isu.edu]).

  • The Chernobyl disaster was as much a function of reactor design as poor disaster mitigation. The USSR reactor design at the time raised the graphite control rods from below rather than the American method of lowering them. The advantage of the American method is in the event of a runaway reaction the control rods drop in to the core stifling the reaction before the core can melt through and breach the reactor core housing.

    Ummm... no. The Soviet RBMK reactors (like Chernobyl, which was/is an RBMK-1000) lowered the rods into the reactor core, whereas the American reactors are not graphite-moderated at all (rather, they are moderated by heavy water.)

    In Chernobyl, the "American method" you describe above was exactly how Chernobyl's plant worked: the crew attempted to lower the rods into the reactor, but they jammed because they tried to lower them too fast...
  • Ok, well I only have one problem with the matter, and that is they have the gall to use BLINK... I almost had to hurl. No kidding.

  • In all fairness, it should be pointed out that gas power kills fewer people per kilowatt than nuclear. If only we could turn all of that CO2 into building materials, food, livestock...oh yeah, I forgot.

    Nuclear is also second cheapest. The differences in cost and safety are slight, but gas is still the winner. Coal, Al Gore are you listening? is a big looser.

  • by Tau Zero ( 75868 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @04:54AM (#837964) Journal
    All one has to do is drop a few pounds of powdered Uranium, way up-stream in the Mississippi, and we're all in for a world of hurt.
    That would be a really expensive way to accomplish not very much. Uranium is one of the more reactive metals (it's used in anti-tank ammo because it bursts into flame when it pierces armor plate; metals like uranium are called "pyrophoric"). Uranium powder in water would oxidize rather quickly. Guess what? Uranium oxide is not terribly soluble in water, so it goes down into the sediments and stays there. The biggest threat is from heavy-metal poisoning (not radioactivity) and even then the threat would be tiny. Ion exchange resins could remove any uranium which got into the treatment plants. The biggest problem would be that a few miles of the river might not be all that safe if you wanted to eat the fish.
    --
  • by TheDullBlade ( 28998 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @04:54AM (#837965)
    Nuclear power is something which is far too dangerous to tolerate even when it is under the most stringent of security at power plants,

    Ughh. Yes, let's go back to using large animals and small piles of wood for our energy need. We can't tolerate dangerous things like a barely controlled continual explosion just feet from your body (i.e. the internal combustion engine in a car). You know how many people those kill every year in spontaneous catastrophic failure, with hundreds of millions in daily use (awful things, they clearly must be banned!).

    The nuclear power station for a whole region is analagous to the internal combustion engine for the person, just as nuclear weapons are analogous to personal firearms. Yeah, it's dangerous, if it's made or maintained by an incompetent, or the owner insists on running it without proper maintenance. Yeah, it sounds dangerous if you describe it in terms of what can go wrong. But that doesn't mean it's actually more dangerous than other things.

    Any big power source kills lots of people when it goes wrong. Think of dams bursting or coal-mine explosions.

    Chernobyl? The world's experts knew it was unsafe. A good argument to listen to your mechanic, and not your pocketbook.

    Three Mile Island? Far from a disaster, that was a little hiccup in the early days of nuclear power that lead to even greater modern-day safety.

    Compare that to all the people that have died over the years from coal-dust explosions and being burned by petroleum products. And nuclear power becomes better understood and safer with every passing year.

    And the rewards... !

    If fission power plants were developed to their potential, electricity would be so cheap it wouldn't be worth metering except for industrial uses. Aluminum would become cheaper than wood, cheaper than good garden dirt. Coal would be left in the ground and nobody would just burn oil. That haze in the sky, whether you're too accustomed to it to notice it or not, would be a thing of the past, as would smog and acid rain.

    That's the kind of cheap energy we need to make things like space travel affordable. By the end of the 1960's we had adequate rocket technology for space colonization, if only it was mass-produced with cheap energy and we used small onboard reactors on spacecraft instead of trying to carry up huge amounts of chemical fuel, both for our machines and ourselves.

    The only possible justification for not using fission power is the expectation that fusion power will become available shortly. We've pretty much put our civilization on hold waiting that development. Compare the changes in the first 70 years of the 20th century to the latter 30 years: we went from "Bigger, Better, More" to "Smaller, Cheaper, More Efficient." Car and house prices stopped going down, consumer goods became less substantial. We didn't get smarter, we regulated away progress in energy production so this is the only progress we can still have!

    but for a company to trade it over the Internet is just asking for trouble! With the trend of backdoor penetrations into ecommerce by hackers over the last few years, I doubt any online site is truly safe from a determined and persistent hacker. And uranium could be a big prize for the right person.

    They're finding a buyer over the internet. That's all.

    Would it have made you happier if they they did it over the telephone, or with smoke signals?

    They will still be meeting with the buyer in real life and going through all the security protocols necessary to transfer the fuel (moving uranium is hardly a simple matter of tossing it on a truck and sending it off). It's not like they're FedExing the package to anyone whose credit card clears.

    The internet sale doesn't add the least bit of risk, it's just a natural use of the most efficient mode of communication we have.

    ---
    Despite rumors to the contrary, I am not a turnip.
  • I would like to point out that this stuff can still be dangerous even if it's not made into tactical grade nukes. Take a couple of rods, store them in a locker in grand central... instant evacuation=terorist activity. Throw a couple in the county resevoir=3 headed frogs. Put a couple in a bag with some sticks of dynamite..explode.. they will be digging up the soil and burning it for years.
  • Correct, only remember that Iraq's ability to do so has been closely monitored for the last decade. I would be more concerned over the instability of Pakistan and India with nuclear arms than any other hotspot in the world.


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  • by streetlawyer ( 169828 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @03:39AM (#837968) Homepage
    You don't need to hire hackers to trace who bought the stuff. There are not so very many nuclear plants in the world, they are all pretty big things, their locations are a matter of public record, and they all get pretty regular deliveries of uranium. If you think you can hijack one, then just hire Dolph Lundgren and Alan Rickman, and away you go (for some reason, it seems impossible to hijack anything without at least on of those two).

    Hacking the site, no matter how expertly done, would gain you the knowledge of who had *bought* the uranium. Since nuclear power plants do not typically wait until they're running out of uranium before buying some more, this gives you no knowledge beyond the date at which a book entry was presumably made on the ledgers of a storage facility, the locations of which are also public knowledge. In order to know when it's going to be delivered, you'd need to crack the far more secure communications of the power plants and storage facilities.

  • I don't really find this a justifiable extension of what Amazon started...

    None of the new things Amazon sells is a logical extension for a book and music store. I mean lawnchairs? Hardware (read: hammers and nails, not SCSI cables and USB hubs)!? Soon they're going to start selling CARS (seriously)! I wouldn't be surprised to see uranium (or anything else) on amazon at this point.

  • up and at them
    up and ATOM
    up and AT THEM
    UP AND ATOM!
    UP AND AT THEM!
    • Sure you say, it's not bomb-grade material, but it's still radioactive. It can be used to poison and irradiate any number of people in the wrong hands
    Oh, puuuulease! If it's simple radioactivity or poison you want, there are a billion easier ways to get them then by going onto a secure, public, invitation-only online auction. There are hundreds of radioactive isotopes of various elements that are a whole lot easier to get than uranium. And poison? Just visit any toxic dump site.

    No, Chicken Little, the sky is not falling.

  • Nuclear plants do indeed have their own suppliers; the company backing this site is one of the biggest. This site is a B2B exchange just like a billion others. It's main use is for the plants to trade inventory. The web allows them to do so anonymously (nobody wants the competition to know whether they're desperate buyers or sellers). The uranium will not typically move back and forth across the country; what's being traded are rights to receive the uranium when you need it.
  • Let's just hope.
  • But that's probably easier than laying your hands on 13,000 tons of TNT... Then there's the problem of putting it all where you wanted it.

    On an offtopic note, how much TNT would you need to make a shockwave that's rideable?


    --Fesh
    "Citizens have rights. Consumers only have wallets." - gilroy

  • I've seen analysis to support your statement but I've never seen anyone take into account the lost opportunity cost of using up the gas(natural gas I'm assuming we're talking about). I'm not a chemist but my understanding is that natural gas can be used in any number of renewable resource products. Whereas Uranium is mainly good for blowing up people(bad) and producing lots of "clean" energy.

    In the final analysis I think this factor must also be taken into account.

  • I hope your car is about as big as a submarine.
  • Thank you. Good heavens, I get so bloody tired of the anti-n-ergy activists. They have nothing in their arsenal of banal facts but scaremongering. And that they do well.

    Coal, oil, fossil fuels... All are dangerous (right now!) and all are running out. Use the fossil fuels such as oil as petrochemical fodder. Pleeeeese, lets stop burning the stuff.

    And about wind-machines and solar panels. Does anyone know the energy required to produce aluminum. Ungodly amounts of energy, in the Mwe, to produce it. Where's that energy going to come from. If we had entirely wind-generated power, most of it would be used in the production of the bloody turbines themselves...

    Also, check out www.atomicengines.com. Read up on the next generation n-ergy plant, the atomic engine. Fantastic.

  • By your definition, no "proper" breeder reactor could have been built, because the weapons-grade Pu to fuel it has to be made in a breeder reactor. Check on the history of the Hanford N reactor to see where you went wrong.
    --
  • I've always wondered how long it would be before some terrorists blow up a major city with an atom bomb. I mean, face it, there are some radioactive elements out there whose critical mass is measured in grams, and I'm sure there are lots of ex-communist countries' not-too-careful-about-ethics scientists who would be more than willing to sell such quantities to Joe R. Terrorist for a couple of M$.

    Building an A bomb is easy, isn't it? Basically, you just hit together two blocs totalling more than the critical mass. In the case of Uranium, you have to separate the U235 from the U238 and such tedious details, but basically, it isn't hard.

    So which will be the first city hit, and when? Honestly, I don't think it will happen in North America, Europe or Japan, because terrorists have generally more immediate targets. But still, it makes you shudder.

  • by JJ ( 29711 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @03:24AM (#837980) Homepage Journal
    Presuming you could get past the security protocols, you'd still have quite a job to turn power plant grade uranium into weapons grade stuff. Iraq hasn't been able to do it after about two decades of trying.
  • mmmm... military... you mean reactors in the subs and carriers? didn't they have enrichment as high as 30-40 % U235, so they dont have to change fuel so often.
  • Hmm, western and eastern versions of light water reactors need 3.x % U235, RBMK (chernobyl) about 2 % and candu (heavy water moderated) 0,7 %. Bomb needs about 95 %.
  • On-Line Uranium Auctions

    Online uranium? How does the radioactivity get to me? Via email?
    --
  • Don't forget to leave positive feedback!
  • Naturally occuring uranium is slightly enriched, to 3% U235, for use in reactors.

    Actually that's not entirely true. Heavy water reactors, such as the ones used in Canada, only require roughly 1% U-235.

    But this whole discussion is rather silly. A terrorist could just as easily cause massive damage by using a device to scatter radioactive material all over a populated area. He wouldn't even need a fission reaction, although that is much more spectacular...

  • I had a friend in high school and in boy scouts years back who made a makeshift nuclear reactor using americanum extracted from smoke detectors. This is no joke...the story was featured in Harpers magazine a couple years ago. When the EPA found out about it, it cost them like around $50,000 to clean it up. Just a nuclear reactor in a shed in a suburban backyard. Crazy, isn't it??!
  • Now terrorist factions like Hamas and general crime rings like the Russian Mafia have a new window for getting HEU.
    They do? How? The fuel for pressurized-water reactors is not HEU, it is low-enriched uranium (3% or so U-235, not 80+%). You're assuming that Hamas could turn LEU reactor fuel into HEU bomb-grade material, but couldn't turn natural uranium into bomb-grade material given the same technical resources. There's a little flaw in the reasoning there.

    As others have noted, the big threat is that Russian warheads will wind up with "FOR SALE" signs. Reactor fuel (raw, spent or re-refined) is not a proliferation threat.
    --

  • by mbrod ( 19122 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @03:26AM (#837988) Homepage Journal
    I do wish they would let the various Nuclear Powers compete in a mushroom cloud competition in the Olympics.

    Those things are just too cool.
  • At least until said terrrorists build a city sized diffusion plant to diffuse uranium hexaflouride into bombable and non bombable isotopes.

    Or at least until the terrorists build a breeder reactor to generate plutonium.

    Silly scare mongering, Hemos, we expect better of you.

    George
  • Now terrorist factions like Hamas and general crime rings like the Russian Mafia have a new window for getting HEU.

    This is just great. Now I guess I will live the rest of my life in the local fallout shelter.

  • Apparently

    We are also beginning the implementation of a new auction site dedicated to areas of nuclear procurement other than fuel. We expect to be online within weeks at www.nukeauction.com.

    I amazed noone was in here crying hoax already. Jeez...
  • True, but look at the medium of which this is being done on. The relative ease of use of this auction will allow for a buyer to purchase of a lot less cost than it would be to go through a regular physical auction. Its a lot easier to shadow buy at an online auction, due to the ease and anominity. A double edged sword that will undoubtedly be heavily scrutinized by the rest of the press.


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  • The first Bomb(tm) used in war was made with U238. I beleive there were about 100,000 who can attest that it did work.
  • You don't have to...

    You just create an airburst bomb made of high-ex wrapped in powdered Uranium.

    That'll screw people up just as definately as blowing them up will. It'll just be slower and less pretty to watch. [a2000.nl]

    Of course, it'll cause far more mass hysteria, since the "Bang!" method tends to get rid of the people that get all hysterical about it...

  • by Amphigory ( 2375 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @03:44AM (#837995) Homepage
    Nuclear power is something which is far too dangerous to tolerate even when it is under the most stringent of security at power plants, but for a company to trade it over the Internet is just asking for trouble!
    You should go research some facts, troll-man. Nuclear power is by far the safest form of power. The average coal power plant puts out more radioactivity per year than all the world's nuclear power plants combined. Yes -- that's right -- coal smoke is mildly radioactive.

    The bottom line is that Nuclear power is extremely safe compared to every other form of power we have available. Three mile island and Chernobyl not withstanding. Have you ever seen what coal soot can do to your lungs?

    --

  • about 100,000 who can attest that it did work.

    If we're thinking of the same 100,000... you might have trouble getting them to attest to anything!

  • The time machine used plutonium, not uranium.


    --
  • People, the Breeder reaction is a very basic physical property of Urianium and Thorium. The low energy neutrons bump an electron off the Uranium 238 and causes it to hopscotch about the periodic table untill it lands on Pl-139, which is just as fissle as U-235.

    The big fun-fun part of it is that it produces this unfriendly mix of Pl-139,140,141,etc. Aka Reactor-grade plutonium. Weapons grade plutonium is ==pure== Pl-139. You could hold it in your hand. The only way to get weapns-grade plutonium is to pump gob-boodles of Mwe (and millions of $) into a specially designed isotope seperation process. So, you get this nice hogde-podge of fissle material that gets used again and again and again untill all you've got left is some light to heavy metals in the half-life range of tens of years. Most of which are either alpha or beta emitters (ie tin foil is a great shield material).

    Terrorists don't have the capital or the time to turn reactor-grade pl into weapons-grade. It's easier for them to buy pre-assembled warheads from the former Soviet republics of Kasakistan, Uzbekistan, etc. Those poor folks have nothing to eat. And nothing to sell but hiiigh priced oil and big boom-booms. What would you do? Starve?

  • What I want to know is, what are those vertical dust streaks I'm seeing in some of those pictures? For instance here [enviroweb.org], here [enviroweb.org], here [enviroweb.org], and here [enviroweb.org]? Were they rockets for visualizing airflow patterns or something?


    --Fesh
    "Citizens have rights. Consumers only have wallets." - gilroy

  • YES! I just posted about that! I was friends with that kid in high school! We were in boy scouts together too. Wow, I feel almost famous now.

    He didn't get too sick, but he had burns on him. Shit, I probalby got radioactive poisoning from him. To avoid jail he joined the navy, and is still there as far as I know.
  • I'm just curious where you learned those numbers from (I'm NOT disputing them). They're right, but, um, incomplete
  • You can make a nuclear bomb just nicely out of uranium. Sure, it takes more work, and it's possibly not as big or as good, but hey, it still goes bang.

    Well that can be said of lots of things that are already legal and being sold online. The point is that this isn't going to result in lots of people making and deploying the things that people think of when they hear the scary phrase "nuclear bomb."

    IIRC, most of the good ones use Plutonium anyway.
  • The problem of uranium purification is a difficult one, and it would be nearly impossible to surreptitiously acquire enough reactor-grade uranium to construct a weapon without the world's intelligence agencies being clued in to the fact, mail-order uranium notwithstanding.

    Normally I would agree with you, but I would like to offer a counter example: James Acord. He first started gathering uranium from old fiesta-ware plates (for a few years the oarnge plates were colored with uranium). He broke up the plates to concentrate the uranium. Not enough to do anything with, but enough to alarm some people.

    He then managed to score a few tonns of uranium blankets that were to be used in a german fast breeder reator. The reactor never went online, and so Siemans had a few tonns left over. They gave it to James Acord for an art project. I don't think the art project was ever built, and I don't know where the uranium is today. Mr Acord has (had?) an NRC license for the material, so in a sense it is under control.

    To read more about James Acord, Nuclear artist look at http://www.hanfordnews.com/1999/dec8.html [hanfordnews.com] or http://www.artscatalyst.org/htm/eots/n uc.htm [artscatalyst.org]

    W

  • by Fesh ( 112953 )
    Oh, and don't open the box outdoors, as the alpha particles are lighter than air and the special latex interior seal will float off into the wild blue yonder. Warning: do not breathe the contents of the interior seal device, or your voice will sound like Donald Duck on crystal meth.


    --Fesh
    "Citizens have rights. Consumers only have wallets." - gilroy

  • On the bottom of the page:

    We are also beginning the implementation of a new auction site dedicated to areas of nuclear procurement other than fuel. We expect to be online within weeks at www.nukeauction.com.

    --

  • In physics, what makes power plant grade uranium, is the uranium 235 isotope. Since the uranium we mine isn't mostly 235, they have to enrich the the uranium ore. This enrichment process is also used to enrich the weapons grade uranium. This is why the Atomic energy commision (or whatever it's called) restricts what countries can have nuclear power plants.
    I hope I remembered correctly, it's been forever since I took physics.
  • When people talk about "Weapons Grade" and "Industrial Grade" theyre talking about the ratio of the Uranium 238 to Uranium 235 (forgive me, i dont have my Nuc-Rad notes with me. if i did i could tell you the exact ratio for reactors and weopons.) Both are unstable and have long half-lives, BUT, there is no way to make a nuclear power plant explode like a giant nuke. When a power plant is running, it starts the process by opening the control rods and exposing the fuel pellets to neutrons which slam into them at high speeds. The neutrons break the U atoms into protons and more neutrons. This process is the nuclear chain reacation. It produces Plutonium, neutrons, and of course, heat. When a nuclear weapon is detonated, the same process occurs, only at a much faster rate. The reaction is started when the fuel "goes critical" this means that the atoms are too heavy and will start to break apart (and remember E=MC^2, so the energry realeased is quite powerfull). Also note that the fuel pellets are inacive until the reactor is started, that is, you can take a pellet in your bare hands, even put it in your mouth (if thats what you're into) and you will not be exposed to any radiation. However, when you bombard the pellet with a neutron, I would suggest you get yourself as far away from it as possible, and get to a hospital immidatly. Unfortunatly, it is impossible to tell when you are reciving a radiation dose until it is too late. But if you have an unexposed pellet, there is almost no way to make it into weapons grade. (also you'd have to refine it, carve it into a perfect sphere and have an implosion device just lying around).
  • Gee, I was betting on fuel cells. I suppose this stuff beats methanol for power density.
    Ryan
  • The bottom line is that Nuclear power is extremely safe compared to every other form of power we have available. Three mile island and Chernobyl not withstanding. Heh, oh, those two, notwithstanding...heh, and the atom bomb isn't dangerous either, Hiroshima notwithstanding.
  • There is a chance a large object will slam into the Norteast United states. The resulting explosion and dust particles will block out the sun. Tidal waves will damage coastal property around the atlantic.

    How the hell did peoples' perspectives regarding nuclear energy become so warped?
  • You need weapons grade plutonium to get a bang out of the thing, and inorder to get that you would have to have a special reactor, now how many terroris have special reactor for making weapons grade plutonium? I suppose after a few months we'll learn that US Military has lost a reactor..
  • Chernobyl was caused by incompetant people trying to run an imperfectly built reactor at over 115% capacity...
    Not true. Chernobyl was caused by incompetent people trying to run a reactor with a positive reactivity coefficient and a large inventory of poisons (such as xenon) off-line with the safeties disconnected. They were doing an unauthorized experiment at power levels far below what they should. The chain reaction apparently stopped, and when the operators pulled out the control rods to restart it they got into the strongly positive section of the reactivity curve (where the reaction efficiency goes up with increasing power level). The power surged to several hundred or thousand times rated power, causing a steam explosion. The explosion blew the lid off the reactor core and scattered white-hot fuel pellets among graphite (carbon) blocks. The result was the world's largest radioactive hibachi.

    The point is threefold:

    1. The design of the RMBK reactors used at Chernobyl was grossly unsafe. This is only a flaw in that design, it does not apply to PWR's, BWR's or HTGR's.
    2. Even so, the reactor wasn't a problem until it was operated in a patently unsafe manner.
    3. There still wouldn't have been a problem if the reactor had a proper containment building around it.
    With US-style safeguards, nuclear power is safer by far than coal, and even safer than wind (working on towers is dangerous). There are more people killed every year in chemical plant explosions than could possibly ever die from all US nuclear accidents from Three Mile Island onward, and most years there are more bystanders killed by chemical plants than could ever die from nuke accidents from TMI on up. Funny, where's the greenie hype about chemical plants? Looks like selective blindness to me.
    --
  • by Guppy ( 12314 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @03:48AM (#838017)
    ...is user feedback, of course. For instance

    Negative comment for user EvilMidnightBomber from Bob's Surplus Nukes, Inc.:
    Warning: Do not deal with this guy! His check bounced, he refuses to answer e-mails, and he nuked Manhattan! Stay away from!!!
  • You should go research some facts, troll-man. Nuclear power is by far the safest form of power.

    Are you trying to tell me that nuclear power is inherently better than say, solar power? Of course coal plants are dangerous and polluting, but they're on the way out in many places and about time too.

    What you seem to be missing is that although the risks of an accident may be less than for coal, the consequences are much, much worse! This is why nuclear power is an evil which we should do without, because if something ever really goes wrong, it will be a disaster for a huge geographical area and the people that live there.

  • Finely-divided (ground) uranium (and plutonium) is pyrophoric -- it would burst into flames spontaneously when you dumped it out of the plane. It would turn into Uranium Oxide -- U2O5, if I remember right -- which can be quite poisonous if inhaled (just like any heavy metal oxide), but is really heavy -- it would more likely drop to the ground and stay there. Because the half-lives of uranium and plutonium are so long, the level of radioactivity is quite low -- plus they're alpha emitters, and alpha particles can't penetrate your skin. If you dumped uranium dust out of a plane, long term, some folks who breathed it in on the way down would have higher incidences of lung cangers, but that would be about it. The real fallout danger from a nuclear burst is all of the short-halflife crap -- strontium-90, cesium-137 (I think that's the one), etc. -- that gets created when everyday dirt gets hit with a big neutron flux. The fallout danger from uranium or any other alpha emitter is negligible. There's lots and lots of uranium and thorium in the dirt already.
  • Using uranium in a fission reactor produces plutonium which then needs to be disposed of. The problem is just that, what do you do with all this radioactive waste?
    Plutonium isn't waste, it's fuel. If your system is designed properly (like the Integral Fast Reactor) you can recycle it and burn it. The only real wastes are fission products. Most fission products have half-lives of 30 years or less, so in 1000 years there will be less than 1 billionth of them remaining. You don't have to bury them, you can build a pyramid out of them and they'll be history in 1/5 the lifespan of the ones in Egypt. Removed from its solvents and whatnot, all the high-level nuclear waste in the world wouldn't make a decent sized hill; it is quite literally a very small problem.
    --
  • Once the hack tells you who had *bought* it, you'd know whom to crack next.

    No you wouldn't; this is my point. The knowledge that a nuclear plant has bought uranium is not interesting in itself; it could be speculating, building an inventory, or any one of a number of other things. Added to this, typically the uranium is bought not at the individual plant level, but by operating companies and brokers who serve more than one plant.

    What you need to find out is the time of delivery, and that is much more difficult. And uranium isn't loaded onto "trucks" at "docks" -- there's a lot more paperwork and confirmation than that, plus you'd need the right kind of transporter, plus you'd need to show up at the exact right time, having first somehow prevented the actual owner from arriving.

  • by Tau Zero ( 75868 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @05:34AM (#838035) Journal
    Dam bursts have killed more people in this century than every nuclear accident outside of Russia. Hundreds of times as many people, as a matter of fact.

    Hydropower is also being opposed by the greenies because

    1. it destroys runs of migratory fish
    2. it creates emissions of greenhouse gases (methane) from the decay of submerged organic material
    3. it displaces people from their traditional lands and obliterates the archaeological record of an area.
    I'm not saying I agree with all these charges, but if you are going to claim hydro is so great it is up to you to rebut the counterclaims.
    --
  • I always wanted to run my car on nuclear power! And I can finally put that reactor I've had my eye on in the garage...
  • Another interesting, if off topic, online auction house with govt. surplus stuff is at LevyLatham [levylatham.com], some pretty weird stuff. Your (USians) tax dollars at work.
  • You cant get much worse than coal for area of destruction! The fallout from coal plants is global. Also, the actual rate of failure is very low for nuclear power. I would have a nuke plant in my back yard WAY before I would have coal.. solar is nice, but it is still the most expensive way to generate electricity next to maybe 1000's of hampsters running in little wheels...
  • Its a lot easier to shadow buy at an online auction, due to the ease and anominity.

    If you read the story (or even other comments) you'd see that there is no anonymity here. The auctions are by invitation only, and they're unlikely to invite a new buyer without some serious investigation. Also, any newcomers to the market can probably expect a visit from the FBI.

    --

  • Two quotes stand out from your post:

    barring accident, no radioactive materials escape nuclear plants,

    "Never underestimate the power of human stupidity."

    Care to reconcile?

  • Are you spewing FUD on purpose, or are you really that naieve? Just in case there's someone reading who actually believes you, lemme copy/paste directly from the UOL site. This nicely explains why you could sign up:
    Some UOL members will be PARTICPATING MEMBERS. They will be able to place listings and submit bids in UOL auctions. Non-participating members only have access to view certain information within the UOL system, including auction results (though not the actual auctions as they happen, which will only be private auctions limited to pre-approved participants).

    Sign up all you want, guys. Good luck buying anything unless you've been approved, which you won't be.

    And this should clear up a lot more:

    Q: Does using UOL present a risk of nuclear proliferation?

    A: Absolutely not. The handling, use and storage of nuclear fuel is highly regulated around the world. UOL is a simple system that allows participants in the nuclear fuel market to buy and sell nuclear fuel in an efficient and economical manner. Transactions within the UOL system do not occur within the system but involve transfers of nuclear fuel at different facilities around the world. Transfers are initiated by parties holding legitimate accounts with those facilities. These parties, generally utilities operating nuclear reactors or bonafide uranium suppliers or processors, have tight controls of what gets transferred and to whom. In addition, any party working with the UOL system in either a buyer or seller capacity, must have the appropriate licensing from their local, national and international authorities to be able to transact in nuclear fuel. UOL is run by New York Nuclear Corporation (NYNCO), a nuclear fuel broker in business since 1982, and well aware of all possible nuclear fuel market participants througout the world. An unknown entity or suspect entity would not be allowed to participate. As if this were not enough, a party not known to the facilities where nuclear fuel is stored, with an account in existence well before any UOL auction takes place, would not have a chance to an account at such facility into and out of which nuclear fuel can be transferred.


    --

  • Yes. A modern nuclear power plant does not underestimate the power of human stupidity. It's called a fail-safe system. The laws of nature itself conspire to make it not possible for the plant to have a "leak".

    ---
  • by Tau Zero ( 75868 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @05:50AM (#838061) Journal
    In fact, the fission cross section of Pu-239 is high, so it is quite difficult to make weapons out of plutonium.
    That's a non-sequitur. A high fission cross-section is good (gives a smaller critical mass); the problem is the very high rate of spontaneous fission, which can initiate a chain reaction before the mass is properly assembled in a prompt-supercritical configuration.

    This is why plutonium bombs are all implosion designs; a gun can't get a mass of plutonium into the right shape fast enough. The chain reaction starts prematurely, the bomb comes apart before more than a tiny fraction of the Pu has fissioned, and you get a "fizzle". This is the reason that it is nearly impossible to use recovered plutonium from power reactors to make bombs. Power reactor fuel spends years in a heavy neutron flux, and it is chock-full of higher isotopes of Pu (like Pu-240, Pu-241 and Pu-242) which have far higher spontaneous-fission rates than Pu-239. You'd need a bomb design made from scratch to use this stuff if you could use it at all. ISTR reading that the Russians had actually done isotope separation on their already-weapons-grade Pu to get rid of some of the higher Pu isotopes and make their weapons more reliable. If you're going to need gas-centrifuge gear anyway, you might as well go with uranium. Your chances of success are far better that way.
    --

  • That would be about 2 _million_ fresh smoke detectors.

    Oops. My bad. So much for doing math in my head, I always seem to lose the decimal.

    Ya know, I never do that when I'm calculating capacitor values and reactance and stuff like that.

    ...

    Better call ahead for that order. Maybe get them to bump up the credit limit on your Home Depot card.

  • by Claudius ( 32768 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @04:00AM (#838068)
    ...and it's not plutonium or anything...

    I'd like to note that nuclear weapons can be made of other things besides plutonium. In fact, the fission cross section of Pu-239 is high, so it is quite difficult to make weapons out of plutonium. One cannot use a gun assembly like Little Boy, the U-235 bomb that dropped on Hiroshima, and instead one surrounds a subcritical mass of plutonium with high explosives that, when detonated, compress/implode the material to get it to go critical. This is a delicate business best left for the pros e.g. Los Alamos Nat. Lab. An attractive and moderately low-cost alternative to plutonium that has been tried by at least one country (India, IIRC) is to breed U-233 from thorium to make material for weapons. (This is one place where the South Park song "Blame Canada" is actually fitting since, if I remember right, the materials were bred in reactors supplied by Canada).

    The problem of uranium purification is a difficult one, and it would be nearly impossible to surreptitiously acquire enough reactor-grade uranium to construct a weapon without the world's intelligence agencies being clued in to the fact, mail-order uranium notwithstanding.

    If I were a terrorist I'd forgo the whole nuclear weapons thing and just start manufacturing anthrax. Acquiring the materials is trivial (just go find a field of sheep), and you get considerably more deaths per dollar with biological agents than with nuclear weapons. Furthermore, they are easier to deploy, and they are much more difficult to detect and disable.

    Bioweapons--the poor-man's nuke.
  • First off, Amazon didn't start anything... they were just one of the first to make it so big that they still don't have a plan for profitability...

    Please read the article. The aucion is by invite only. You can't juts sign on as '5kr1p7_k!!dd!3' and hope to get a good deal on some uranium. It's very controlled.

    Try to have a clue before you start spouting things like "Nuclear power is the spawn of the devil! Repent ye and be saved!"... fool.
    --
  • Just so that nobody's taken in by this lousy piece of propaganda (which, incidentally, even the nuke lobby has given up on these days), it is complete balls to suggest that coal is more radioactive than uranium.

    This assumption depends on a) a ludicrous overestimate of the amount of naturally occurring trace radioactive elements (uranium, thorium etc.) in naturally occurring coal and b) an assumption that nuclear power always works without error and without leaks.

    So in other words, if a nuclear power station is safe, then it's safe. Thanks, guys.

  • It's U235 that is needed for a bomb. In nature's uranium there is 0,7 % U235 and the rest U238. To make a bomb you must have about 95 % U235. I think that pakistan tested this kind of U-bomb in 1998. (they had bought enrichment plant from france)
  • Yay! A Freakazoid ref on slashdot! The world is now complete!
  • Getting radioactivity by email...

    Hmm... let me see...

    According to Schrodinger, I guess that means that if you didn't check your email, then at any given moment, the email would be both unsent and sent.
  • by AbbyNormal ( 216235 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @03:28AM (#838085) Homepage
    I think it is a pretty good idea to keep it online and in the open for all to review. Not only do you have to be an invited participant by the New York Nuclear Corp but also any purchase that is made is surely going to be monitored closely by the Feds . Only problem that remains however is who is to stop the buyer from just relaying the goods to another shadow buyer?

    You are a unique individual...just like everyone else.


    -*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*
  • ...the terrorists hire a bunch of hax0rs to trace WHO bought the stuff and where it's being shipped, so they can hijack it.

    This is scary.

    The Divine Creatrix in a Mortal Shell that stays Crunchy in Milk
  • To all those idiots out there who think that there is going to be a security issue with this bit...you need to be beaten with a clue-by-four.

    What do you think the uranium producers are going to do, ship it to your house vie UPS or FedEx? Come on...it's not like they're going to ship this to just anyone. It's just a lot harder to fly all the uranium buyers to an auction than it is to use a web site.

    So say someone does break in and tries to buy reactor grade uranium. When they list their address as:

    Osama Bin Laden
    123 Main St. Apt. 4
    Somewhere in Afganistan

    It's prolly NOT going to be delivered. You trigger happy morons deserve nothing but flame for not thinking through your comments. You're just like a tabloid...if you can sensationalize it, print it. This is very similar to a Chicago suburb getting all in a fit because the U.S. Navy wanted to ship napalm through their town on it's way to be destroyed. Never mind the fact that they allow tankers full of sulfuric acid and chlorine through there all the time...

    Luddites, be damned...be damned to the eternal stoneage you would rather have.

  • Uh, no.

    Weapons grade uranium is 90% U235. The rest is U238 (plus some other junk).

    The uranium used in reactors is also U235.

    Naturally occuring uraniu m [webelements.com] is 0.72% U235.

    Naturally occuring uranium is slightly enriched, to 3% U235, for use in reactors.

    And, actually, there are multiple ways of seperating isotopes. Centrifuging uranium hexaflouride is just the cheapest and easist way, requireing ten passes to get weapons grade. Previously, magnetic deflection of ions (like in a mass spectrometer) was used.

    Ok, to return to my point, I should have said the most difficult part in getting fuel grade uranium to explode, is the construction.

    The reason weapons grade uranim is used is because it's a lot easier to make explode, in a controlled manner. And it gets you big bangs.

    Fuel grade uranium will not get you a much bigger bang than, say, 13 kiltons, assuming your careful about how you build it.

    That is a mere fire cracker compared with todays 100 megaton [gwu.edu] bombs. At one 100000th of that power, it's the same size as the Hiroshima bomb.

    If you were ever going to build one from fuel grade uranium, it would be a terror weapon. Even if all it did was blow up a block, that wuold do.

    [Aside: Fuel grade uraium can be made into a bomb: the chain reaction co-efficent of a nuclear reactor is 1 (by definition). This is controled by control rods, that allow the maximum chain reaction co-efficent to be reduced (but not enchanced). Thus the natural peak chain reaction co-efficent of the fuel must exceed 1.]

    Alternativly, you could build an FBR to produce plutonium, but that's getting off the point.
  • by DarkMan ( 32280 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @03:30AM (#838095) Journal
    You can make a nuclear bomb just nicely out of uranium. Sure, it takes more work, and it's possibly not as big or as good, but hey, it still goes bang.

    However, given that you need licenses to import uranium, you need to shape it in an inert atmosphere (argon), you need licenses to work with boron [0] too, and lets not even consider tritium. Krypton switches arn't exactly common, and high explosive is not trivial to obtain either.

    The most expensive part of a bomb is not the knowledge, and not the raw material either. It's the construction.

    I hardly think that anyone is going to use this to build a bomb.

    [0] Boron is needed to control the reaction. It's also probably (as boron nitrate, the comonly used ceramic form)the single best ceramic. It's used in bulletproof ceramic vest, it's got a tensile strength and elestic modulus somewhere in the 'oh, my god!' region, and requires to be dome formed at 2000 centigrade.
  • Now, if you collected it with a few sattilites, and 'beamed' it down, that's another thing altogether, but that's about the most expensive, least efficient way of doing anything, even though it would have the neatest Discovery channel special

    Yeah, especially when you miss the target by a fraction of a degree and fry a nearby town. They'll need some SPF 2 million sunblock, man.

    ---
  • You're saying one kind of radioactive waste product is alright, but another isn't? Where do you draw the line... can we have a figure in say children with leukemia per square mile?

    You're damn right he's saying that. I'd rather have an amount of nuclear waste in a container buried deep in the desert than a large amount of free radioactive radon particles spewing out of the top of the nearest coal burning facility.

    Wait a second, you do know that, barring accident, no radioactive materials escape nuclear plants, don't you? Perhaps not.

    ---
  • Are you trying to tell me that nuclear power is inherently better than say, solar power?

    Solar power is nuclear power. Just like in a fission plant, you don't derive the power directly from the fission, the same holds true for solar power. And the global impact of something going wrong with the Sun far exceedes any other disaster. To be safe, we need to get rid of the Sun.
  • by Performer Guy ( 69820 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @04:34AM (#838110)
    No, the hard part is enriching the material to make the weapons grade material. The atomic weights of the different isotopes is extremely close and it makes separation extremely difficult. There is no chemical difference so there is no easy means of separation.

    The manufacture of a fission bomb is not very hard for knowledgeable engineers, this was done over fifty years ago from scratch, it is easily doable today and the design doesn't have to be at all sophisticated. A fusion bomb is more tricky but the info about the Teller-Ulam design is already out there and easily obtainable.

    There's supposed to be an international effort to prevent nuclear proliferation, including civil applications like power generation because of the obvious application to weapons production. The bottom line is that this material is a prerequisite for anyone embarking on a WOMAD program. How does a site like this comply with international non proliferation objectives? I expect it does this the same way the market handles it now, with export licenses and restrictions on the point to point trade. This is just another market place, these things are already traded, at least this way the DOE can outbid the terrorists instead of having to beat them to the salesman every time, although it seems unlikely that unsavory trades would pass through such a public forum.
  • Does this mean that I can finally light my house with a nice, soft, light-blue glowing source?

    But, seriously, why is this needed? Don't nuclear power plants already have their own well-established suppliers? The article didn't make it clear what kind of benefit this really has. Power plants must already have their supplier list, otherwise they couldn't operate...
  • I looked the site over. It doesn't seem too different than the sites they use to do men's apparel or socks or pistachios. Of course, the +1, Funny potential is high, but nuclear fuel isn't that bizarre.

    IIRC, the isotopes used by reactors are different from the isotopes used in weapons-grade uranium. So it isn't much of a danger-- it would take the resources of a third world country to process U-235 into U-238 (or is it the other way backwards-- I always forget). Either way, Third World countries have plenty of uranium-- what they are missing is processing technology, such as gas-centrifuge systems and other technologies. And we, happily, are watching those technologies pretty closely.

    Tritium, on the other hand, is useful for both industrial and military purposes, and so is much more interesting. ;)

  • Can't wait for the media to get hold of this one. If there's one group of people who know how to blow things up out of all proportion it's them.

    -----
  • Wow, now all those blueprints for nuclear weapons I downloaded might be useful! (Seriously, they say it's safe from terrorists.)" Granted, it does look like you have to be a registered purchaser

    That's the key. So long as that is safe from being screwed with.

    Even if I were to break in and order some uranium from them, I doubt they'd deliver it to my house, anyway. I'm sure it would have to be a radiologically-licensed lab.

    I had initially figured it would be some sort of novelty website, selling natural uranium for people. Natural uranium (U238) is basically lead, but a little bit heavier and with different chemical properties. Not very radioactive, quite harmless unless you ingest it (like almost all heavy metals). But they appear to offer a search among a variety of isotopes and pellet configurations, so the fuel is suited to different reactor types.

    and it's not plutonium or anything

    Well, all American light-water moderated reactors run on U-235. "Enriched" uranium. It's an isotope that occurs in nature - it's uranium but with a few less neutrons than usual. This makes it more prone to fission, and therefore more useful as fuel. Chemically, it's ordinary uranium, but just a little heavier, so it's separated from U238 with a physical, not chemical, process.

    U235 is dangerous. It's more dangerous than many isotopes of plutonium. For example, Pu239 is dangerous as all hell - but chemically, not because of the alpha particles it throws off.

    Remember, Japan got to taste-test a Uranium and a Plutonium bomb.

    but the whole thought amuses me, in a science project gone awry way..

    Nah. People are just afraid of nuclear anything. Just take some precautions. Bad things will happen from time to time (as they always do when technology fails). But, nuclear technology is a boon to mankind. No one would ever suggest that we give up aviation because a plane crashes. No informed person would advocate that we give up nuclear technology because there was an idiot at the controls at Chernobyl. As we've learned from plane crashes, we learn from criticality accidents and mishaps.

    Ionizing smoke detectors save more lives each year than all the people who have died as a result of Chernobyl.

    And on the ceiling in your bedroom, that little smoke detector contains one of the wonderful by-products of the plutonium produced for the arms race: Americium 241. Alpha emitter, so it creates a positive electrostatic field around itself. Half-life of 49 years. Fairly active stuff. And you have, in your bedroom, about 1 microcurie of the stuff. Even if you open your smoke detector, as long as you never eat or inhale your smoke detector, you're perfectly safe: alpha emitters are harmless outside your body (alpha particles can't pass through skin) but if you get them in your body, you're in trouble.

    Criticality of Am241 occurs at about 2 curies. From that, you'd get a big blue flash, a lot of heat, and a lot of weird cancers. So, head down to Home Depot, and order 2,000 good and fresh smoke detectors. Pull them all apart and get the Am241 out of them. Keep two separate, but equal, piles of Am241 chunks. Melt them down in separate containers, and pour them into molds that have complementary shapes. Put them, always spaced about a foot apart, in the container of your choice. Use conventional explosives to force the two of them together. There ya go. You're now a nuclear power, ready to take on India or Pakistan. Kinda makes you wonder why it took them so long to get that far. (Canada had to sell each country a CANDU nuclear reactor back in the 1970s, for "civilian use". Good idea. Thanks. Yet another way that the Canadian government makes me feel proud to be a Canadian. <sigh>)

    There's nothing to it, the cost is only a few grand, and all the info required is basic and common knowledge; most of it you could acquire at any good municipal library. But, I assure you, you won't get to build your little nuke. Someone in the Feds will discover you've got a very strange interest in smoke detectors.


  • Guess you need to factor in the length of the auction and the total shipping time to accurately figure the price-per-pound to see if you're getting a good deal.


    The local CVS pharmacy has it on sale right now, and I don't have to pay shipping. Plus.. the Radio Shack next door promises me they'll have a flux capacitor soon. Then I'll go back in time and kill that damned milkman that was always winking at my mo...

  • I expect we'd all be quite safe standing on the same block as your 'nuke' as you've described it.

    The biggest problem is that it needs to be highly enriched Uranium. The other minor problems are that you need to bring them together fast and with enough of an initial release of neutrons to get the chain reaction started quickly and also make the sphere dense enough so that the material does infact go boom and not fizz.
  • by Chris Pimlott ( 16212 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @03:34AM (#838139)
    "I know we normally buy our uranium for Universal Elements but I got a real good deal on this website, they have a 30 day money back gaurentee... plus I got frequent flyer miles"

Keep the number of passes in a compiler to a minimum. -- D. Gries

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