nuclear-news

The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry Fukushima Chernobyl Mayak Three Mile Island Atomic Testing Radiation Isotope

Russian Uranium NOT Sanctioned – Why?

Russian Uranium NOT Sanctioned – Why? Russia still ships uranium-filled
nuclear fuel rods to reactors around the world – no limits. If US has
sanctions against Russian oil, gas & coal, why do we not sanction their
uranium?

Why is the nuclear industry exempt? And who decided? Linda Pentz
Gunter founded Beyond Nuclear in 2007 and serves as its international
specialist, as well as its media and development director. Prior to her
work in anti-nuclear advocacy, she was a journalist for 20 years in print
and broadcast, working for USA Network, Reuters, The Times (UK) and other
US and international outlets. She brings a clarity and precision to all her
reporting, with specific insights into international angles on nuclear
issues. To find out more on one under-represented nuclear aspect of the
Russian war on Ukraine, I spoke with Linda Pentz Gunter on Thursday, April
2

1, 2022 Nuclear Hotseat 21st April 2022

May 5, 2022 Posted by | 2 WORLD, politics international, Uranium | Leave a comment

Hungary receives nuclear fuel shipment by air from Russia

Gee, I hope they never have a crash.

    https://www.power-technology.com/news/hungary-nuclear-fuel-shipment-air-russia/ April 8, 2022

The shipment arrived via the airspace of Belarus, Poland and Slovakia.  Hungary has received its first shipment of nuclear fuel by air from Russia for its Paks nuclear power plant since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has made shipping of the fuel by rail unfeasible.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto announced the shipment in a Facebook video from Brussels, Belgium.

Szijjarto said: “Fuel (for the Paks plant) has always come from Russia by rail via Ukraine. Unfortunately, this is no longer possible, so we had to find an alternative way of shipping.”

April 26, 2022 Posted by | EUROPE, safety, Uranium | Leave a comment

Europe’s reliance on Russian nuclear supplies isn’t ending with the war

In the relevant Council Regulation of 15 March 2022, civil nuclear-related activities were excluded from the definition of the energy sector and are therefore, quite explicitly, not covered by the prohibition on investments in the Russian energy sector. 

The only difference is that while this dependence on gas has been widely discussed, the same cannot be said of the nuclear industry. And yet the EU member states have no intention of ending this nuclear dependence. 

Putin’s uranium self-enrichment — Beyond Nuclear International How dependent is Europe on the Russian nuclear sector?
The below is the second half of the Öko-Institut blog entry — “Energy policy in times of the Ukraine war: Nuclear power instead of natural gas?” — looking at Europe’s reliance on the Russian nuclear sector. Read the full blog article.

By Anke HeroldDr Roman Mendelevitch and Dr Christoph Pistner, 17Apr 22,

Europe is heavily dependent on Russia for nuclear energy as well, perhaps to an even greater extent than for gas. The main sources of uranium imports into the EU in 2020 were Russia (20%), Niger (also 20%), Kazakhstan (19%), Canada (18%), Australia (13%) and Namibia (8%). Just 0.5% of the uranium used in the EU comes from the EU itself. 

However, this apparent diversity of sources is deceptive. Russia has a close relationship with Kazakhstan, while the mines in Niger belong to Chinese state-owned companies, as do two of the three largest uranium mines in Namibia. The third Namibian mine is largely Chinese-owned. 

In other words, in 2020, only 21% of uranium imports into Europe were supplied by firms that are not owned by totalitarian regimes. It follows that here too, Europe has placed itself in a position of high import dependence.

Around 25% of uranium enrichment and some processes in fuel rod fabrication for the EU take place in Russia. Many Russian-designed reactors source their fuel rods largely from the Russian company TVEL – now part of Rosatom – on the basis of long-term supply contracts that run for 10 years or more. 

There are Russian-designed nuclear reactors in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary and Slovakia. The 16 older pressurised water reactors, type WWER-440, are totally dependent on TVEL for fuel rod fabrication. These older reactors can be found in Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. 

Even the Euratom Supply Agency itself identifies this dependence as a significant vulnerability factor. The operators are dependent on imports of Russian technology. 

The Western European nuclear power plants are also far from being independent. The French company Areva collaborates with TVEL in order to supply fuel rods for seven reactors in Western Europe, including the Loviisa nuclear power plant in Finland. 

As recently as December 2021, the French nuclear company Framatome signed a new strategic cooperation agreement on the development of fuel fabrication and instrumentation and control (I&C) technologies.

The Russian fuel rod manufacturer TVEL was also keen to enter into fuel rod production at the factory in Lingen, Germany, which currently belongs to the French company ANF. Lingen supplies fuel rods to British, French and Belgian nuclear power plants. The German Federal Cartel Office approved the venture in March 2021, whereupon the Federal Economics Ministry conducted an open-ended review until the end of January 2022. 

On the day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Ministry announced that the Rosatom subsidiary TVEL had withdrawn its application. In Germany, the Rosatom Group also owns a subsidiary, NUKEM Technologies, which specialises in the decommissioning of nuclear facilities, decontamination, waste management and radiation protection. In Germany, it plans and constructs storage facilities for radioactive waste and is involved in decommissioning the Neckarwestheim and Philippsburg nuclear power plants.

So Putin manoeuvred the European nuclear industry into a position of dependence on Russia long ago, and he himself earns income from the decommissioning of the German nuclear power plants. 

The only difference is that while this dependence on gas has been widely discussed, the same cannot be said of the nuclear industry. And yet the EU member states have no intention of ending this nuclear dependence. 

In the relevant Council Regulation of 15 March 2022, civil nuclear-related activities were excluded from the definition of the energy sector and are therefore, quite explicitly, not covered by the prohibition on investments in the Russian energy sector. 

Although practically 100% of the EU’s uranium is imported, as is most of the fuel rod supply, the EU classes nuclear energy as “domestic” production because fuel rods can easily be stockpiled.

Here, we see a similar Orwellian use of language as in the EU Taxonomy, which describes nuclear energy as a technology which does not cause significant harm to the environment.

As the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on 18 March 2022, even the EU’s flight ban on Russian aircraft was lifted for a delivery of nuclear fuel into Slovakia.

So our conclusion on this topic is that as regards nuclear energy too, the dependence on Russia must be drastically reduced. Supply security with no dependence on totalitarian regimes requires a substantial reduction in nuclear energy use in Europe. Read the full blog.

April 18, 2022 Posted by | EUROPE, politics international, Uranium | Leave a comment

Macron under Putin’s thumb as Russia could CRIPPLE France’s nuclear industry, as it controls uranium supply.

Macron under Putin’s thumb as Russia could CRIPPLE France’s nuclear
industry. The recent reports of atrocities committed by Russian forces in
Bucha have finally pushed the EU into considering a ban on Russian fossil
fuels.

Oil and gas exports make up a large portion of Russia’s economy
and EU is heavily dependent on gas supplies from Moscow, making up 40
percent of its imports. The EU imported a staggering €48.5billion
(£38billion) of crude oil in 2021, and €22.5billion (£19billion) of
petroleum oils other than crude.

But even as EU leaders meet to discuss an immediate ban on Russian coal, experts have warned that aside from fossil fuels, Russia could also manipulate the EU’s energy through its control
of the global uranium supplies.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, Dr Paul Dorfman,
an associate fellow at the University of Sussex’s Science Policy Research
Unit (SPRU) and chair of the Nuclear Consulting Group said: “In terms of
energy security, Russian controlled uranium – basically reactors run on
uranium, includes both Russia and corporations in Kazakhstan, which are
Russian controlled.

 Express 9th April 2022

https://www.express.co.uk/news/science/1592617/emmanuel-macron-putin-news-russia-eu-uranium-supplies-nuclear-energynce A

April 11, 2022 Posted by | France, politics international, Uranium | Leave a comment

Scrutiny on Switzerland’s nuclear power industry- it gets uranium from Russia

Use of Russian uranium for Swiss nuclear power under scrutiny,   Russia’s state-owned nuclear firm Rosatom helps fuel two nuclear power plants in Switzerland. That commercial link is now under scrutiny as the Western world puts financial pressure on Russia to stop its aggression against Ukraine. Swiss Info March 31, 2022 

Swiss electricity company Axpo purchases fuel from Rosatom to operate the Beznau and Leibstadt nuclear power plants in canton Aargau.

In a statement published on Thursday, the environmental NGO Greenpeace urged the authorities of seven Swiss cantons – which own Axpo – to stop buying uranium from Rosatom.

This commercial relationship, the NGO argued, helps to finance Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. Competitor company Alpiq, which runs the Gösgen nuclear site, stopped sourcing from Russia in 2016.

…………………………………..  Of Switzerland’s four nuclear reactors, only Gösgen, operated by the company Alpiq, does not buy Russian uranium. Alpiq said this decision was taken in 2016 due to considerations about environmental compatibility and supply chain transparency………..

By paying for Russian uranium – Switzerland could also indirectly help finance Russia’s military apparatus. SRF points that Rosatom is the manufacturer of Russia’s warheads and now controls the operation of various Ukrainian nuclear power plants, such as at Zaporizhia, seized after fighting on March 4.   https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/use-of-russian-uranium-for-swiss-nuclear-power-under-scrutiny/47479722

April 2, 2022 Posted by | politics international, Switzerland, Uranium | Leave a comment

Russia about to announce an export ban on uranium

Putin goes nuclear: Biden faces crisis as Russia BANS uranium exports in sanction response

US PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN is currently facing a nuclear crisis as Russia announces an export ban on uranium. Express UK, By ANTONY ASHKENAZ Mar 21, 2022  Russian President Vladimir Putin has hit back the US for the crippling sanctions placed by Joe Biden on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. Earlier this month, the US dealt a major blow to Moscow by announcing a ban on Russian oil and gas, the country’s largest export. Now as a response to the embargo, Russia is considering halting the sale of uranium to the US.

When he was asked about how he felt about imposing a ban on the export of uranium, Mr Novak said: “This issue is also on the agenda, it is being studied.”

Uranium, which is a key component of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, is another energy resource mined in Russia.

The US energy industry relies on Moscow and its key allies Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan for roughly half of the uranium powering its nuclear power plants.

Mr Biden has faced intense lobbying from the nuclear industry to continue buying Russian uranium despite Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has known uranium deposits of 500,000 tonnes and accounts for 9 percent of the world’s uranium production, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Uranium is primarily used for its nuclear properties, both as a fuel for power plants and for nuclear weapons.

Earlier this month, at a White House address, Mr Biden said: ‘We’re banning all imports of

 Russian gas, oil and energy’…………….

 sources noted that these sanctions do not include a ban on imports of uranium for nuclear 

power plants………..   https://www.express.co.uk/news/science/1584053/putin-news-russia-nuclear-nightmare-uranium-exports-ban-ukraine-invasion

March 22, 2022 Posted by | politics international, Uranium | Leave a comment

People Against Wylfa-B (PAWB) calls for sanctions on UK importing enriched uranium from Russia

PAWB has written to Ynys Môn MP, Virginia Crosbie, who is a member of the
All Party Nuclear Group in Westminster. We urge the group to call for
sanctions on raw and enriched uranium from Russia, and that such sanctions
are imposed internationally. Russia has 35% of the world market for
enriched uranium.

We also condemn in the strongest terms, the All Party
Nuclear Group’s totally reckless and irresponsible call for 30 Gigawatts
(30,000 Megawatts) of electricity through nuclear by 2050. This shows an
astounding economic and environmental illiteracy. This would be 3 times the
peak of electricity generated by nuclear power in Wales, England and
Scotland during the mid 1990s.

It appears Boris Johnson is listening too
much to this completely misguided nuclear cheerleading by the All Party
Nuclear Group. The Group totally ignores the challenges of climate change,
rising sea levels and the severe threats from storm surges to all coastal
nuclear sites in Wales, England and Scotland. Also, in the context of the
war in Ukraine where 15 operational nuclear reactors are potential dirty
bombs that could poison the whole of Europe with radioactivity, can the All
Party Nuclear Group and Boris Johnson answer how the British state can
justify building new nuclear reactors, obvious targets for hypersonic
missiles by potential enemies?

 PAWB 20th March 2022

https://www.stop-wylfa.org/news/

March 22, 2022 Posted by | opposition to nuclear, politics international, UK, Uranium | Leave a comment

European countries make an exception for uranium from Russia – no sanctions on importing that!

So far, the EU has not put uranium on any sanctions list. Because only Russia can supply suitable fuel rods for many Eastern European nuclear power plants. Without Russia, the technicians at the Bohunice nuclear power plant in western Slovakia have a problem.

Here it is easy to imagine what an immediate embargo on raw materials from Russia would mean. They need uranium to keep the electricity flowing. But there is only one supplier who can supply the reactors with fuel. And that is, of all things, a Russian state-owned company. Slovakia has put itself in an awkward position.

Now Putin is bombing Ukraine. And yet uranium imports must continue. Of course, even Germany has not yet been able to bring itself to impose an energy embargo – the fear of skyrocketing prices, unemployment and cold living rooms is too great. But other European states also have red lines.
It is no coincidence that uranium is not on any EU sanctions list so far.

 Sueddeutsche Zeitung 17th March 2022

https://www.sueddeutsche.de/wirtschaft/energie-atomkraft-uran-russland-1.5549686

March 21, 2022 Posted by | business and costs, politics international, Uranium | Leave a comment

The Ukraine war is bad for USA’s nuclear industry- hard to get the Highly Enriched Uranium needed from Russia for Advanced Nuclear Reactors


How Russia’s invasion is affecting U.S. nuclear
, EE News, By Hannah Northey | 03/14/2022   

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is raising questions about the cost and flow of fuel to existing and yet-to-be commercialized advanced U.S. reactors touted by advocates as a tool for tackling climate change.

President Biden didn’t target the nuclear sector when he issued an executive order this month to block imports of Russian crude and natural gas.

But as the war drags on for a third week, the White House is consulting with the nuclear sector about the potential impact of imposing sanctions on Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned atomic energy company, according to Bloomberg, which cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter.

The White House did not immediately confirm talks with the nuclear industry.

Sanctions on Rosatom, sources told E&E News, could pose long-term challenges for the United States’ fleet of more than 90 reactors running on low-enriched uranium.

While the existing plants have enough fuel for the next six to eight months and possibly longer, experts say sanctions on Russian imports could raise the global cost of low-enriched uranium and rile U.S. plants sensitive to cost swings. Russia supplies 20 percent of the low-enriched uranium needed to run American nuclear plants, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Others say the larger concern may sit with advanced reactor demonstrations expected to come online around 2028 that will require high-assay, low-enriched uranium, or HALEU. That’s because Russia is the only viable commercial supplier globally and other firms are years away from readily providing such fuel, they say.

Groups like Beyond Nuclear have said the Russian invasion highlights the liability of nuclear power and spent fuel, arguing the fuel source cannot be a climate solution.

Frank von Hippel, a physicist and professor emeritus at Princeton University, said the bigger challenge for nuclear power is that the technology is not economically competitive…………..

Russia represents— about 20 percent in 2020 — of the enriched uranium making its way to American reactors. Concerns about what steps the Biden administration would take regarding uranium began surfacing publicly when Reuters, citing sources familiar with the matter, reported earlier this month that NEI urged the White House to keep uranium sales exempt from sanctions (Energywire, March 3)…………………

Focus on advanced reactors

Possible sanctions on Russia could affect the current timeline for the deployment of advanced reactors in the U.S., said Jeff Merrifield, who sat on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations and is now a Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP law firm partner.

Merrifield agreed Russia is the most readily available short-term option for providing fuel for advanced reactors that will need HALEU, uranium that’s enriched between 5 percent and 20 percent — higher rates that allow smaller designs to get more power for their size.

The first projects that would need a steady source of HALEU could be the Energy Department’s advanced reactor demonstration program, including a TerraPower plant in Wyoming and an X-energy project in Washington state. Those plants are expected to come online around 2028.

To be sure, sources of HALEU outside Russia are emerging — but industry and regulatory sources E&E News spoke with said it’s a matter of demand and timing as advanced reactors come online……………  https://www.eenews.net/articles/how-russias-invasion-is-affecting-u-s-nuclear/

March 15, 2022 Posted by | business and costs, technology, Uranium, USA | Leave a comment

Rosatom’s woes before and beyond the war: implications of Russia’s embattled nuclear industry

 Pinar Demircan: Rosatom’s woes before and beyond the war: implications of Russia’s embattled nuclear industry.

Russia had a nuclear waste recycling agreement with Ukraine. According to this arrangement, Ukraine
would send the waste from its 15 nuclear reactors operating within its borders to Russia at the cost of 200 million dollars every year.

However, in 2005, Ukraine’s then Minister of Energy, Yuriy Nedashkovsky concluded a new agreement with the US-based company Holtec to establish a storage facility promising 100 years of protection in the Chernobyl plant site for 250 million dollars, thus, bringing to an end the earlier deal with Russia.
The dry-storage facility, built by Holtec with the financial loan support of the US-based Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which committed to offering protection for a maximum of 100 years, was to be put into operation on November 6, 2021, with trial tests at the end of 16 years.


Although there are currently 4,000 cubic meters of waste, this warehouse is now the key facility where nuclear waste from 15 nuclear reactors, which produce 51 percent of Ukraine’s energy needs, will be stored. Thus, Ukraine was spared from paying $200 million every year to Russia for the
removal of nuclear waste, and had to bear only a one-time expense of 250 million dollars under the new agreement. In other words, with theconstruction of this warehouse by the US corporate, Russia had lost both the supply of nuclear waste for nuclear fuel production and an income of
200 million dollars per year.

Moreover, the Russian-origin nuclear fuelcompany TVEL, which has been operating since 1991, had invested hundreds ofmillions of dollars to produce fuel from nuclear waste and had even starteda new facility in Moscow.

 DiaNuke 6th March 2022

March 8, 2022 Posted by | Russia, Uranium | Leave a comment

USA nuclear industry affected by shortage of enriched uranium, due to sanctions on Russia

As economic sanctions pile up on Russia, there’s growing concern that
export restrictions on the world’s top supplier of nuclear fuel has the
potential to disrupt the U.S. power industry. Russia produces about 35% of
the world’s enriched uranium for reactors, about twice as much as the No.
2 provider, and supplies about 20% of the U.S. industry, according to UxC
LLC, a nuclear industry researcher.

 Bloomberg 3rd March 2022

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-03-03/russian-sanctions-pose-risks-to-u-s-nuclear-power-industr

March 8, 2022 Posted by | Uranium, USA | Leave a comment

USA nuclear industry lobbying White House to remove sanctions on uranium imports from Russia.

The U.S. nuclear power industry is lobbying the White House to allow
uranium imports from Russia to continue despite the escalating conflict in
Ukraine, with cheap supplies of the fuel seen as key to keeping American
electricity prices low, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The United States relies on Russia and its allies Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan
for roughly half of the uranium powering its nuclear plants – about 22.8
million pounds (10.3 million kg) in 2020 – which in turn produce about 20%
of U.S. electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information
Administration and the World Nuclear Association.

Russia’s uranium
production is controlled by Rosatom, a state-run company formed by Russian
President Vladimir Putin in 2007. The company is an important source of
revenue for the country.

 Reuters 1st March 2022

https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/exclusive-us-utilities-push-white-house-not-sanction-russian-uranium-2022-03-02/

March 5, 2022 Posted by | politics, Uranium | Leave a comment

The supposed new rise in nuclear power and the uranium business, is doubtful!

As nuclear power rises again, its second act is in doubt, THE GLOBE AND MAIL, 15 Feb 22,

”…………………………scratch beneath the surface, and it’s clear there are reasons to be wary of nuclear’s renaissance. Despite doubling in price since 2018 to trade at about US$43 a pound, uranium is far below the all-time high of approximately US$140 reached in 2007.

And while China, India, Russia and others are building new nuclear plants, the total number worldwide has fallen consistently since 2018, as other countries, including Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Spain, phase out aging infrastructure.

……………………  one of the biggest factors holding nuclear power back globally is its growing reputation as a money pit. Outside of China, new power-plant construction is renowned for its astronomically long timelines, gargantuan cost overruns and persistent design problems. France’s Flamanville 3 plant took 16 years to build and went €16-billion ($23-billion) over budget. Finland’s Olkiluoto 3 reactor, which is finally scheduled to go into production later this year after more than a decade of delays, will have taken 20 years to build and is about €5-billion over budget.


Nuclear has always had its fair share of skeptics. Its new designation as an environmentally friendly fuel rankles some people because nuclear waste can stay radioactive for thousands of years and must be stored indefinitely. And the chance of a major accident, which can cause not only immediate fatalities but the potential of cancer deaths from exposure to radioactivity decades later, is a continuing risk. Cameco’s Mr. Gitzel acknowledges that as rare as major accidents have been – three in the past 40 years – they cast a long shadow.

February 17, 2022 Posted by | 2 WORLD, business and costs, Uranium | Leave a comment

Ukraine aims to produce enough uranium for nuclear energy needs


Ukraine aims to produce enough uranium for nuclear energy needs

Reuters   KYIV, 29 Dec 21, – Ukraine, facing a lack of fuel for thermal power plants and surging gas prices, aims to increase its uranium production to cover fully the needs of its nuclear power units after 2026, the government said on Wednesday.

Under a national programme the government adopted on Wednesday, Ukraine will invest 9.1 billion hryvnia ($335 million) over the next five years to increase uranium mining and processing facilities in the centre of the country.

It said the production at four Ukrainian uranium deposits would total 995 tonnes in 2022 and should rise to 1,265 tonnes in 2026.

It gave no uranium output figure for 2021 but said current production meets around 40% of Ukraine’s needs for nuclear fuel.The rest comes from imports from Russia and the United State…….. https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/ukraine-aims-produce-enough-uranium-nuclear-energy-needs-2021-12-29/

December 30, 2021 Posted by | Ukraine, Uranium | Leave a comment

Thorium and nuclear weapons.

The Hype About Thorium Reactors, by Gordon Edwards, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, December 26 2021.

There has recently been an upsurge of uninformed babble about thorium as if it were a new discovery with astounding potentiality. Some describe it as a nearly miraculous material that can provide unlimited amounts of problem-free energy. Such hype is grossly exaggerated.

Thorium and Nuclear Weapons

One of the most irresponsible statements is that thorium has no connection with nuclear weapons. On the contrary, the initial motivation for using thorium in nuclear reactors was precisely for the purposes of nuclear weaponry.

It was known from the earliest days of nuclear fission that naturally-occurring thorium can be converted into a powerful nuclear explosive – not found in nature – called uranium-233, in much the same way that naturally-occurring uranium can be converted into plutonium.

Working at a secret laboratory in Montreal during World War II, nuclear scientists from France and Britain collaborated with Canadians and others to study the best way to obtain human-made nuclear explosives for bombs. That objective can be met by converting natural uranium into human-made plutonium-239, or by converting natural thorium into human-made uranium-233. These conversions can only be made inside a nuclear reactor. 

The Montreal team designed the famous and very powerful NRX research reactor for that military purpose as well as other non-military objectives. The war-time decision to allow the building of the NRX reactor was made in Washington DC by a six-person committee (3 Americans, 2 Brits and 1 Canadian) in the spring of 1944.

The NRX reactor began operation in 1947 at Chalk River, Ontario, on the Ottawa River, 200 kilometres northwest of the nation’s capital. The American military insisted that thorium rods as well as uranium rods be inserted into the reactor core. Two chemical “reprocessing” plants were built and operated at Chalk River, one to extract plutonium-239 from irradiated uranium rods, and a second to extract uranium-233 from irradiated thorium rods. This dangerous operation required dissolving intensely radioactive rods in boiling nitric acid and chemically separating out the small quantity of nuclear explosive material contained in those rods. Both plants were shut down in the 1950s after three men were killed in an explosion.

The USA detonated a nuclear weapon made from a mix of uranium-233 and plutonium-239 in 1955. In that same year the Soviet Union detonated its first H-bomb (a thermonuclear weapon, using nuclear fusion as well as nuclear fission) with a fissile core of natural uranium-235 and human-made uranium-233.

In 1998, India tested a nuclear weapon using uranium-233 as part of its series of nuclear test explosions in that year. A few years earlier, In 1994, the US government declassified a 1966 memo that states that uranium-233 has been demonstrated to be highly satisfactory as a weapons material. 

Uranium Reactors are really U-235 reactors

Uranium is the only naturally-occurring material that can be used to make an atomic bomb or to fuel a nuclear reactor. In either case, the energy release is due to the fissioning of uranium-235 atoms in a self-sustaining “chain reaction”. But uranium-235 is rather scarce. When uranium is found in nature, usually as a metallic ore in a rocky formation, it is about 99.3 percent uranium-238 and only 0.7 percent uranium-235. That’s just seven atoms out of a thousand!

Uranium-238, the heavier and more abundant isotope of uranium, cannot be used to make an A-Bomb or to fuel a reactor. It is only the lighter isotope, uranium-235, that can sustain a nuclear chain reaction. If the chain reaction is uncontrolled, you have a nuclear explosion; if it is controlled, as it is in a nuclear reactor, you have a steady supply of energy. 

But you cannot make a nuclear explosion with uranium unless the concentration of uranium-238 is greatly reduced and the concentration of uranium-235 is drastically increased. This procedure is called “uranium enrichment”, and the enrichment must be to a high degree – preferably more than 90 percent U-235, or at the very least 20 percent U-235 – to get a nuclear explosion. For this reason, the ordinary uranium fuel used in commercial power reactors is not weapons-usable; the concentration of U-235 is typically less than five percent.

However, as these uranium-235 atoms are split inside a nuclear reactor, the broken fragments form new smaller atoms called “fission products”. There are hundreds of varieties of fission products, and they are collectively millions of times more radioactive than the uranium fuel itself. They are the main constituents of “high-level radioactive waste” (or “irradiated nuclear fuel”) that must be kept out of the environment of living things for millions of years.

In addition, stray neutrons from the fissioning U-235 atoms convert many of the uranium-238 atoms into atoms if plutonium-239. Reactor-produced plutonium is always weapons-usable, regardless of the mixture of different isotopes; no enrichment is needed! But that plutonium can only be extracted from the used nuclear fuel by “reprocessing” the used fuel. That requires separating the plutonium from the fiercely radioactive fission products that will otherwise give a lethal dose of radiation to workers in a short time.

Thorium Reactors are really U-233 reactors

Unlike uranium, thorium cannot sustain a nuclear chain reaction under any circumstances. Thorium can therefore not be used to make an atomic bomb or to fuel a nuclear reactor. However, if thorium is inserted into an operating nuclear reactor (fuelled by uranium or plutonium), some of the thorium atoms are converted to uranium-233 atoms by absorbing stray neutrons. That newly created material, uranium-233, is even better than uranium-235 at sustaining a chain reaction.  That’s why uranium-233 can be used as a powerful nuclear explosive or as an exemplary reactor fuel.

But thorium cannot be used directly as a nuclear fuel.  It has to be converted into uranium-233 and then the human-made isotope uranium-233 becomes the reactor fuel. And to perform that conversion, some other nuclear fuel must be used – either enriched uranium or plutonium

Of course, when uranium-233 atoms are split, hundreds of fission products are created from the broken fragments, and they are collectively far more radioactive than the uranium-233 itself – or the thorium from which it was created.  So once again, we see that high-level radioactive waste is being produced even in a thorium reactor (as in a normal present-day uranium reactor). 

In summary, a so-called “thorium reactor” is in reality a uranium-233 reactor. 

Some other nuclear fuel (enriched uranium-235 or plutonium) must be used to convert thorium atoms into uranium-233 atoms. Some form of reprocessing must then be used to extract uranium-233 from the irradiated thorium. The fissioning of uranium-233, like the fissioning of uranium-235 or plutonium, creates hundreds of new fission products that make up the bulk of the high-level radioactive waste from any nuclear reactor. And, as previously remarked, uranium-233 is also a powerful nuclear explosive, posing serious weapons proliferation risks. Moreover, uranium-233 – unlike the uranium fuel that is currently used in commercial power reactors around the world – is immediately usable as a nuclear explosive. The moment uranium-233 is created it is very close to 100 percent enriched – perfect for use in any nuclear weapon of suitable design.

Uranium-232 — A Fly in the Ointment

Continue reading

December 27, 2021 Posted by | Reference, thorium, Uranium, weapons and war | 1 Comment