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Centrifuge May Be Superseded by Laser Enrichment 346

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Centrifuge May Be Superseded by Laser Enrichment

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  • by itsdapead ( 734413 ) on Monday May 29, 2006 @06:40AM (#15423906)
    So does anybody have a figure for how much energy is used, how much CO2 is produced and how much other waste is produced in order to generate a kW/h of nuclear power?

    Objective answers - rather than pro-nukular or anti-nuclear spin - preferred (some hope!)

  • Oh goody (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TopSpin ( 753 ) * on Monday May 29, 2006 @06:54AM (#15423935) Journal
    The post mentions diffusion and centripetal enrichment. There is actually a third method that has been used by several nations. The "calutron" separates isotopes using a magnetic field. It is the least efficient and most expensive method, so it is uncommon. However, it was used by the Manhattan Project and Saddam had an array running in Iraq at one time.

    Making Uranium enrichment easy is not necessary a good thing. Uranium ore isn't hard to get. Enriching it is the tough part. The same processes used to make fuel lead directly to gun-type "atom" bombs. It's just a matter of degree and some machining.

    Get this process down to something small enough to quietly function in a barn and you could build a weapon inside the borders of your target. A gold mine or somesuch would be all you need for cover.

  • Re:Centrifuges (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BenBenBen ( 249969 ) on Monday May 29, 2006 @07:20AM (#15423991)
    The manner in which Mossad tricked the US into attacking Libya was described in detail by former Mossad case worker Victor Ostrovsky in "The Other Side of Deception," the second of two revealing books he wrote after he left Israel's foreign intelligence service. The story began in February 1986, when Israel sent a team of navy commandos in miniature submarines into Tripoli to land and install a "Trojan," a six-foot-long communications device, in the top floor of a five-story apartment building. The device, only seven inches in diameter, was capable of receiving messages broadcast by Mossad's LAP (LohAma Psicologit-psychological warfare or disinformation section) on one frequency and automatically relaying the broadcasts on a different frequency used by the Libyan government.

    The commandos activated the Trojan and left it in the care of a lone Mossad agent in Tripoli who had leased the apartment and who had met them at the beach in a rented van. "By the end of March, the Americans were already intercepting messages broadcast by the Trojan," Ostrovsky writes.

    "Using the Trojan, the Mossad tried to make it appear that a long series of terrorist orders were being transmitted to various Libyan embassies around the world," Ostrovsky continues. As the Mossad had hoped, the transmissions were deciphered by the Americans and construed as ample proof that the Libyans were active sponsors of terrorism. What's more, the Americans pointed out, Mossad reports confirmed it. "The French and the Spanish, though, were not buying into the new stream of information. To them it seemed suspicious that suddenly, out of the blue, the Libyans, who had been extremely careful in the past, would start advertising their future actions. The French and the Spanish were right. The information was bogus."

    Ostrovsky wrote: "Operation Trojan was one of the Mossad's greatest successes. It brought about the airstrike on Libya that President Reagan had promised -- a strike that had three important consequences. First, it derailed a deal for the release of the American hostages in Lebanon, thus preserving the Hezbollah as the No. 1 enemy in the eyes of the West. Second, it sent a message to the entire Arab world, telling them exactly where the United States stood regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. Third, it boosted the Mossad's image, since it was they who, by ingenious sleight of hand, had prodded the United States to [bomb Libya]"

    To blame the US intelligence services for the Iraq war is to believe that Rumsfeld and Cheney didn't want to go to war, that they felt they had to because of the intelligence. The truth is that they made sure that Bush and others only got intelligence that suppprted their pre-determined outcome of 'regime change', no matter how poorly sourced it was.

    It's your typical Republican MO - break an agency, then point at it and say "look, it's broken! Abolish it all!". See also; FEMA.

  • Re:Centrifuges (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BenBenBen ( 249969 ) on Monday May 29, 2006 @07:32AM (#15424019)
    how much people believe that Iran has 'only' 50 centrifuges(we've been wrong before!)
    Umm, you mean about Iraq? You do realise that we were "wrong" on purpose, and totally the other way - mobile biological labs turned out to be weather balloon inflating equipment, fertilizer factories were labelled as anthrax factories and the weapons located "around baghdad and tikrit, north, east, west and south somewhat" (to quote Von Rumsfeld).. didn't exist.

    Plus, it would have been a lot easier to keep track of what equipment Iran was buying if Dick Cheney hadn't knowingly outed a covert CIA agent tasked with Iranian counterproliferation as political retribution against her husband.

  • by JumpingBull ( 551722 ) on Monday May 29, 2006 @08:24AM (#15424128)
    And you have the potential for electrolysis.
    Process heat comes from the Sun, still the best fusion reactor going.
    Electrolytic by-products are:
    • oxygen
    • silicon
    • a glassy slag concentrating mineral impurities to higher grade ore

    Now if the reaction can be combined with some hydrogen injection to make water and ease the total (electrical) energy required you get a nice sustainable technology. Water, also.

    Solar cells are made from the silicon, formed into parabolic mirrors that focus the IR band to the smelting pot. Interference coating the cells is easy with the free nothing called a vacuum

    Electricity from the power cells drives the electrolysis and runs the station power.

    With all that silicon, I'm betting that some composition can make silicon into something more ductile.
    Cheap building material would be nice...

  • by RsG ( 809189 ) on Monday May 29, 2006 @08:31AM (#15424146)
    Where are you getting the fuel then?

    Hydrogen doesn't occur naturally in pure form - it's always combined with something else, like a hydrocarbon chain, or water. To run a fuel cell you either have to:

    1) Use hydrocarbons as your fuel source. This is environmentally little different from using a standard internal combustion engine. You're still using natural gas, or possibly some other fossil fuel.

    2) Use water electrolysis to get hydrogen. This requires loads of electricity. This in turn means that your hydrogen "fuel" is actually a power storage medium like a battery. You cannot run a power plant this way.

    Got a link to the nebraska plant? I'd bet good money they're using option #1, and if they are, then they haven't weaned themselves of fossil fuels.

    Option #2 is the only way to use truely "green" fuel cells, but it also requires a source of clean electricity - such as fusion - or else you're just moving the source of pollution from a tailpipe to a power plant.
  • MOD PARENT UP!!! Excellent links.

    Quote from the first linked article: "In MLIS, an infrared laser is directed at uranium hexafluoride gas. The laser excites uranium 235 hexafluoride gas, while not disturbing the uranium 238 hexafluoride gas."

    In 1972 or 1973, I built an apparatus to test whether a flowing gas carbon monoxide laser could excite uranium 235 hexafluoride. My little project was shut down without explanation.

    The Silex web site [] gives almost no information. The "about Silex" [] web page misspells the word neutrons as "neutrins".

    It could be that the U.S. government has been successful at laser enrichment, but has published misleading information about the project. The article linked by Slashdot [] says, "One US effort involving 500 scientists gave up after spending $2 billion." That doesn't make sense. You know very early, without spending a lot of money, whether you have a laser tuned to the right frequency.

    Taxpayer Karma: If you contribute money to kill people, expect your own quality of life to diminish.
  • Two Words (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Monday May 29, 2006 @08:51AM (#15424190)
    Two Words : OH SHIT.

    I don't mean to be too alarmist, but this is VERY bad news. See, it's easy to get access to uranium ore. Many countries have the mineral, and buying yellowcake is not supposed to be all that hard. Heck, some of it supposedly went through Africa. If you have just a few kilograms of highly enriched uranium, again it is easy to make a bomb. Spherical explosives aren't needed, a simple crashing together of a critical mass is enough. 10-20 kilotons is still enough to cut the heart out of a major world city, and kill hundreds of thousands of people.

    But getting from A->B WAS ludicriously expensive. I read that it takes a year for a sample to travel from one side of the centrifuge plant to another, and these plants have to be enormous, costing billions. The laser method as described appears to be much cheaper and generates probably close to 100% pure U-235. Yes, it is a secret technology, but the plans can be stolen or bought, and lasers and all the other stuff needed to make it work are not restricted exports.

    It might still cost a billion dollars to make a nuke, but that's it - not 10 billion. Most private individuals without access to nation state resources can't do it, but even the poorest dictatorship in the world can probably scrape together or steal from the U.N. a billion.
  • Nukes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mark_MF-WN ( 678030 ) on Monday May 29, 2006 @09:24AM (#15424293)
    The technology to make weapons that are much more dangerous than gun-nukes are already available to pretty much anyone. Anthrax practically breeds itself. And by "practically" I mean "literally". A variety of super-lethal chemical agents can be synthesized with stuff from your local grocery store, and made into weapons using stuff from your local hardware store. A pack of matches and a forest during the summer can net you a firestorm that will destroy pretty much anything. I could go on and on. Besides, why worry about nukes when the common automobile kills more people per year than all nuclear weapons combined ever have? I'd worry more about the proliferation of the horseless carriage than about the proliferation of uranium.
  • Natural Uranium (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FrankDrebin ( 238464 ) on Monday May 29, 2006 @11:08AM (#15424614) Homepage

    TFA states "..[p]ower stations are fuelled by a specific blend of two types of uranium. About 5 per cent must be uranium 235...".

    This is of course untrue, for example the CANDU [] reactor uses heavy water and natural uranium. Not processing uranium is cheaper than processing, laser or not.

  • Re:Centrifuges (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Monday May 29, 2006 @12:41PM (#15424960) Homepage Journal
    Umm, you mean about Iraq?
    I mean intelligence in general. Pretty much all intel groups make mistakes, and quite frequently. Maybe not as bad or willfully as Iraq, but it still occurs. It's like playing poker.

    Plus, it would have been a lot easier to keep track of what equipment Iran was buying if Dick Cheney hadn't knowingly outed a covert CIA agent tasked with Iranian counterproliferation as political retribution against her husband.

    True or false, I believe that it's more of a matter that even if it's difficult, Iran has enough technical sophistication to manufacture the equipment domestically if it had to.

    What raises my ire is that I see both parties as pretty much hopelessly corrupt.

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"