Disposal nightmare

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

there seems to be some consensus on the means of disposing excess plutonium, an issue which has plagued super powers like us. The us energy department will now encase about 50 tonnes of plutonium, a remnant of 50 years of cold war, in glass or ceramic blocks, which will be consigned to a permanent underground repository.

The us $2 billion disposal programme will also involve using the toxic fuel in combination with conventional nuclear power plant fuel and burning it in commercial electricity-generating plants.

The energy department finally agreed with the National Academy of Sciences that these were the two best options. Nuclear activists are, however, wary of the plan of using plutonium as fuel in electricity plants. They argue that it will open the door to routine commercial use of plutonium.

Plutonium is the basic building block of nuclear weapons and is extracted by a chemical process from uranium fuel. As little as seven kg of this highly toxic, radioactive fuel is sufficient to build a crude nuclear device.

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