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10% of US Energy Derived From Old Soviet Nukes 213

Posted by timothy
from the what-about-the-peak-nukes-problem dept.
Nrbelex writes "The New York Times reports that about 10 percent of electricity generated in the United States comes from fuel from dismantled nuclear bombs, mostly Russian. 'It's a great, easy source' of fuel, said Marina V. Alekseyenkova, an analyst at Renaissance Bank and an expert in the Russian nuclear industry that has profited from the arrangement since the end of the cold war. But if more diluted weapons-grade uranium isn't secured soon, the pipeline could run dry, with ramifications for consumers, as well as some American utilities and their Russian suppliers.'"
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10% of US Energy Derived From Old Soviet Nukes

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  • by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @12:51PM (#30047312) Homepage Journal

    ... oh my goodness, I can't bring myself to do it. Go on without me! For great justice!

  • Nuclear weapon powers USA!
    • by tuxgeek (872962)

      FTFA "But if more diluted weapons-grade uranium isn't secured soon, the pipeline could run dry, with ramifications for consumers, as well as some American utilities and their Russian suppliers."

      Gotta end sometime, but was fun while it lasted

  • by Kenja (541830) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @12:53PM (#30047344)
    So the solution to the energy problems we face, is to stockpile more nukes so we can use them for fuel when they get past their "best used by" date?
    • Well, some people have tried to freeze them, but with mixed results.
      • by LoRdTAW (99712)

        Yea they sometimes get that funny smell when thawed or the explosives get freezer burn, yuk!

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          Freezer burn ist easily fixed by heating dor product in de microwave at power level tree or lower.
          (Make sure container ist wrap-ped in celophane so moischure can note esscape.)

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @01:08PM (#30047606)

      No. In the path uranium -> nukes -> nuclear fuel, it is cheaper to go directly from A to C. This is talking about going from B to C only because people already went overbroad going from A to B as a solution to "security" problems. You can't justify going from A to B from an energy standpoint.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by beatsme (1472991)
        Also: the well won't run dry if we continue to dismantle warheads. The article mentions that we've been milking these same "few thousand" warheads since the end of the Cold War. Considering that we have between the US and Russia close to TWENTY thousand warheads, if we take even 20% of that collectively, that'd be enough for another 15-20 years. By which time one would think we'd have gotten our act together on these other more renewable resources.
      • by Dishevel (1105119) *
        You got your path all wrong. The path is Uranium -> Nuclear Fuel -> Nukes. Going from A to C then back to B is not cost effective. See how much easier it is when you get things right.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by godztempus (1081497)
          Well, the making of nukes falls under a large defense budget, but to refine the fuel under the utility budget makes it more expensive.
          • by Bakkster (1529253) <Bakkster.man@gWELTYmail.com minus author> on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:13PM (#30049740)

            More expensive to the industry, yes, but overall it is much more expensive to produce highly enriched uranium (weapons grade) and later thin it out to fuel grade.

            A more accurate pathway is Unenriched -> Enriched (fuel grade) -> Highly Enriched (weapons grade) -> Warheads. The path to go from low enriched to highly enriched is VERY time consuming and expensive. So even though going from D->B is cheaper now because we have a surplus of warheads produced with taxpayer money, it's still cheaper overall to go from A->B instead of A->D->B.

            • by Firethorn (177587) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @07:11PM (#30053128) Homepage Journal

              So even though going from D->B is cheaper now because we have a surplus of warheads produced with taxpayer money, it's still cheaper overall to go from A->B instead of A->D->B.

              To be even more specific, there are a number of reactor designs that don't require enrichment at all for usage in a nuclear power plant. There are efficiency gains to be had using higher enriched stuff, but it's not absolutely necessary.

              Right now the Civilian uranium mining and enrichment industry is supressed due to the materials flowing out of our former stockpiles. It'd be like if during the cold war we built up trillions and trillions of barrels of oil as an 'emergency war stockpile' and now are releasing it - we wouldn't be bothering much with drilling for oil at the moment.

              From my readings, fuel cost is pathetically cheap and even if we have to mine the stuff it won't raise the cost of electricity by a penny per kwh.

    • Or at least the "sell by" date.
    • by ShakaUVM (157947) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:56PM (#30051244) Homepage Journal

      >>So the solution to the energy problems we face

      We have energy problems? I guess we did have rolling brownouts a while back here in California, but California has had its collective head up its butt for a long time when it comes to power infrastructure.

      And no, I'm serious. There's no real looming crisis when it comes to power. Even if we move to a completely carbon neutral energy grid, it'll raise prices by about 50% across the board if we stick with coal, but would remain around the same if we start switching more to nuclear.

      Since making a statement like that tends to draw out the Greens on Slashdot, I'll post the prices of different sources of energy. I looked at four different sources: ClimateProgress.org, a tidal power company survey of power costs, the California Energy Commission study on what wholesale prices would be for new plants built today, and the Federal DoE energy costs estimates. There's quite a bit of discrepancy between the four sources, so I'll give the range of prices between the four.

      There's also subsidies and carbon/social cost adjustments, which I'll also list.

      Summarizing from cheapest to most expensive:
      1) Coal (currently 49% of our power production): 3.15c to 9.4c/KWH. Carbon Capture or Reduction systems raise the price to around 10c to 12c/KWH.

      2) Natural Gas (20% of current production): 4.95c to 9.15c/KWH. Produces half the CO2 of coal. Carbon Capture or Reduction raises the price to 8c - 11.5c/KWH.

      3) Nuclear (19% of current production): 2.16c - 11.5c/KWH. No CO2 production. Price includes decommissioning and lawsuit costs. Federal subsidies knock about 1c/KWH off. Actual wholesale costs from existing plants runs around 4c/KWH these days.

      4) Hydro (7% of current production): 8.7c to 19.5c/KWH. No CO2 production. Federal subsidies knock off about 2c/KWH. Dams have recently become non-politically correct, with some being dynamited to free up fish runs.

      5) Oil (1.7% of current production): Roughly twice as much as natural gas, but prices have fluctuated massively in the last few years. Mainly used as a power backstop. Also puts some pressure on consumer fuel costs.

      6) Biofuel (0.93% of current production): 7.5c - 20c/KWH. No CO2 production, but produces other pollutants. Federal subsidies are large, knocking the price to 5c-15c/KWH for biofuel. Can put pressure on consumer food costs if they do something stupid like burning edible food products for power. (Braindead plans like Ethanol.)

      7) Wind (0.78% of current production): 6.5c - 14.1c/KWH. Offshore adds another 5c-10c/KWH. No CO2 production. Wind farms run into NIMBY resistance from people like the late Sen. Kennedy (who didn't want offshore wind near his estate because it'd ruin the view - what a great environmentalist, no?) Subsidies would knock the price from 13.9c/KWH to 9.9c/KWH, so it's likely the low end estimates (which came from the hippie sources) already include the subsidies.

      8) Metropolitan Solid Waste (0.4% of current production): 6.5c - 8.6c/KWH. No CO2 production. Somewhat limited sources of fuel. Subsidies reduce price to 5.4c/KWH.

      9) Geothermal (0.36% of current production): 5.5c - 13c/KWH. No CO2 production. Somewhat limited sources. Federal subsidies knock the 13c/KWH price to 9c/KWH. (It's likely the 5.5c price from the Hippie groups include the subsidies already.)

      10) Solar (0.03% of current production): 12c - 98c/KWH; discarding high and low: around 18c - 39c/KWH (counting subsidies, 36c-60c/KWH or so without). No CO2 production. Sierra Club has been blocking development of solar power in deserts for environmental reasons.

      11) Wave Power (~0% of current production): 6.5c - 137c/KWH. Note the 6.5c estimate came from a wave power company. The 137c estimate came from the State of California's estimated costs of actually building one. No CO2 production. Some people dislike tidal power plants.

      Knowledge is power. Hopefully, with these numbers out there (which, again, were drawn half from hippie sources, and half fr

  • by saisuman (1041662) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @12:55PM (#30047392)
    before we run out of uranium!!
  • Correction (Score:5, Informative)

    by bongey (974911) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @12:55PM (#30047398)

    For about 10 percent of electricity in the United States, it's fuel from dismantled nuclear bombs, INCLUDING Russian ones.

    10% from all not all from Russia . Dammit it is the first sentence.

    • Try rereading it.. a bit slower this time.

    • by Rogerborg (306625)
      Bingo. "mostly Russian" is bullshit.

      But at times, recycled Soviet bomb cores have made up the majority of the American market for low-enriched uranium fuel. Today, former bomb material from Russia accounts for 45 percent of the fuel in American nuclear reactors

      I guess it's easier to get past the Slashduh "editors" if you inject a suitable dose of hyperbole. It's not like they're going to check, is it?

    • 45% of the current uranium comes from Russian and 5% from American. That is 50% of about 19-20% of our energy matrix. That means that roughly 10% of energy comes from old bombs, of which 9% of the total US energy is from Russian Bombs.

      In the end, who cares? It is cheap energy. Hopefully, this line will go away and America can get back to using Western American Uranium, which new mines and processing is starting up in Colorado.
      • by von_rick (944421)
        There are very few countries in the world that have a surplus of nukes - by few I mean two. So imported nukes are usually from the Soviet Surplus store. You can then mix and match the imported and domestic to make a cool energy mix - and it would still be better than Gatorade.
  • But if more diluted weapons-grade uranium isn't secured soon, the pipeline could run dry . . .

    . . . new, old Soviet nukes . . .

    I'm sure there must be profit for someone in there somewhere . . .

  • by parlancex (1322105) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @12:58PM (#30047448)
    Think of all the countries they could have incinerated with those nukes!
  • The United States Enrichment Corporation, a private company spun off from the Department of Energy in the 1990s, is the treaty-designated agent on the Russian imports. It, in turn, sells the fuel to utilities at prevailing market prices, an arrangement that at times has angered the Russians.

    So the most likely thing to happen will be that instead of a bunch of US government-connected fatcats reaping a windfall, some Russian government-connected fatcats will reap a windfall (or at least the balance shifts the

  • by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp.Gmail@com> on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @01:04PM (#30047554) Homepage Journal

    ... if we'd use common sense and recycle the fuel, as many other nuclear nations already do. The whole terrorist argument against this was bogus from the start. Recycle the damn fuel, and you can reuse 93 percent of it.

    • Bah. Recycle 100% of it. Who wouldn't want a glowing paper weight? Mobsters could give people uranium boots, so much more compact. Think of how tiny you could make the heads of hammers with something like spent uranium. The possibilities are endless!.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Dare nMc (468959)

      what a great idea, wonder why no one has thought of that? could it be that the price of power would have to triple to make it affordable?
      would have to increase to nearly $165 per pound in 1981 dollars before the breeder would become financially competitive [wikipedia.org]

      • by SWPadnos (191329) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @01:35PM (#30048140)

        That type of breeder reactor isn't the only alternative.

        Try this one instead:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_fast_reactor [wikipedia.org]

        The IFR (Integral Fast Reactor) would be able to extract 99% of the energy in the fuel, rather than the 1% we get from the types of reactor used today.

        • by Reziac (43301) *

          Looks like the main drawback is the liquid sodium coolant, because sodium is so reactive. What other metals might work?

          Otherwise, I don't see a downside here, at least not compared to traditional reactors. If there is one, someone kindly pipe up.

          • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @04:59PM (#30051302) Homepage Journal

            Looks like the main drawback is the liquid sodium coolant, because sodium is so reactive. What other metals might work?

            It's reactive if you let it out. We know how to handle liquid sodium.

            Otherwise, I don't see a downside here, at least not compared to traditional reactors. If there is one, someone kindly pipe up.

            It's nookulur. Clinton defunded it with one of his first executive orders, and Gore and Kerry lead the fight to kill it in the Congress the next year. At the time the speculation was it was payback to environmental lobbyists - Sierra Club is against anything nuclear, for instance.

        • it's going to be 30 years before there viable breeder reactor producing power. It's going to take 50+ years before there's a possibility of a viable fusion reactor.

          There are significant engineering problems with both now. We're stuck for the next couple of decades with the highly inefficient ones we have now.

          There's an excellent post on theoildrum on exactly this issue right now. Basically, the next couple of decades are going to be bad...

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by bill_mcgonigle (4333) *

            it's going to be 30 years before there viable breeder reactor producing power. It's going to take 50+ years before there's a possibility of a viable fusion reactor.

            There are significant engineering problems with both now.

            We had a working 40MW IFR reactor in the early 90's.

    • by careysub (976506) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @03:00PM (#30049550)

      ... if we'd use common sense and recycle the fuel, as many other nuclear nations already do. The whole terrorist argument against this was bogus from the start. Recycle the damn fuel, and you can reuse 93 percent of it.

      Not in any existing reactor you can't. The fissile content (U235+Pu) going into a reactor in fresh fuel is about 4%, the rest is unusable U-238. Burning the fuel fissions about 4% of the actinide nuclei present, and leaves a fissile content of something slightly under 1% (due to plutonium breeding) at the end. Recycling this spent fuel would extend existing fuel supplies by only 25%.

      The fundamental problem with doing this is that it is extremely expensive. The cost of plutonium extracted from spent fuel is equivalent to natural uranium costing $700/kg or so. The actual market price of natural uranium is about $100/kg and for $300/kg you could extract natural uranium from seawater and have a 1000 year supply. Even if the extracted plutonium were free (instead of being far more expensive than the uranium) the cost of fabricating and handling plutonium-bearing fuel is so high that it would still be more expensive that uranium-only fuel. In fact the DOE has to pay utilities to use the mixed plutonium/uranium MOX fuel it makes from ex-Soviet weapons.

      France has conclusively proven that a nuclear fuel cycle with recycling is more expensive than one without it. See: http://www.fas.org/press/_docs/021507PlutoniumRecycle3L.pdf [fas.org].

      Reprocessed plutonium is that rarest of industrial products: one that it worth less than nothing (even if the extravagant production cost is completely written off).

      Now a breeder reactor fuel cycle could use the U-238 to produce power in principle, but the cost would be much more than conventional nuclear power, and it is hampered by the fact that every breeder reactor project thus built has failed. It may be possible to build a workable breeder pwer reactor, but no one has yet succeeded in doing it.

    • The whole terrorist argument against this was bogus from the start.

      The order not to reprocess has nothing to do with terrorism, having been passed in Jimmy Carter's time. It was about proliferation.

  • by jocks (56885) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @01:04PM (#30047560) Homepage

    Right up until now I thought US foreign policy was extremely poor. I feel I must apologise for thinking that, in fact US foreign policy is an act of unparalleled genius! North Korea is being largely ignored by the US as is Iran, not because they are not dangerous (they are) but you are simply employing them to gather enough nulear armaments together that you will later use to generate power, whilst silmutaneously reducing your dependency on fossil fuel and also creating world stabalisation. Outstanding work, forward thinking and downright cunning. I salute you!

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      Yeah -- who knew a Cold War could be so useful??

      Serious question, tho: what is the economic balance here? Is this actually a net profit, given the cost to develop and build the original bombs? At the current price of electricity, maybe it is. Anyone want to take a stab at the math?

      • by Zordak (123132)
        Doesn't really matter. The cost of producing the weapons is a sunk cost. And even better, it was money spent by somebody else. So the Soviets basically made a big, free investment in our future energy needs.
        • by Reziac (43301) *

          Ha, that's true... always most economical to get someone else to pay for the R&D, as much as possible ;)

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Hal_Porter (817932)

          Well the Germans and Japanese in WWII inadvertently turned the US into a global power. And the Chinese have put billion into T bills to keep the dollar strong and their currency weak to keep America importing. Still if the US inflates its way out of the debt they'll effectively lose that money. Even better the Chinese political system is much more vulnerable to economic pain than the American one. It's quite possible that when the US stops importing the Chinese political system may change rapidly into a mor

  • So much for the argument that nukes are better than oil because the fuel is less limited.

    And how cheap is this ex-Soviet fuel, while it lasts? Shouldn't we count the cost to get them, which includes $TRILLIONS on the Cold War?

    • Do you count the cost of the original coke can when the aluminum is recycled and resold and then made into a new coke can in an infinite loop until you say we shouldn't recycle because now that coke can costs $20,000 or do you simply count the cost of the aluminum the recyclers sells you versus the cost the freshly mined/processed aluminum?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by chrysrobyn (106763)

      And how cheap is this ex-Soviet fuel, while it lasts? Shouldn't we count the cost to get them, which includes $TRILLIONS on the Cold War?

      In economic terms, that's a sunk or opportunity cost. Those trillions have been paid. Whether we decide to use the material or knowledge or not doesn't change the amount of money put in, and the incremental cost of actually using that is all that we should continue to worry about.

      If we can take all those trillions and turn them into something good, why not do it? Ignori

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      So much for the argument that nukes are better than oil because the fuel is less limited.

      Um... recycling warheads doesn't do anything to the argument that there is more energy to be had from uranium stores than oil. It's just a convenient, already-processed source.

      And how cheap is this ex-Soviet fuel, while it lasts? Shouldn't we count the cost to get them, which includes $TRILLIONS on the Cold War?

      Uh, no, you should not attribute the cost of the Cold War to nuclear power as though the whole thing was jus

  • We should do more (Score:4, Insightful)

    by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby@@@comcast...net> on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @01:27PM (#30047982)

    If anything we should increase the amount of energy created by using nuclear fuel in this country. Every form of 'green' power has some kind of drawback that makes it less than ideal, hyrdo affects fish, solar requires nasty chemicals, geothermal is accused of causing earthquakes, wind power kills birds and so on. Point being if we're going to have widespread energy production it needs to be done on a feasible basis that responds to economy of scale. I'd love to have solar panels for my house (and will probably have them within a couple years), but that doesn't mean where I live is a good location for building solar power plants.

    The biggest obstacle keeping us from using the greenest energy source we have is the pushback from groups like greenpeace. Ever notice that greenpeace never actually does research or other work to make the world a greener place? The research they do is politically motivated and centered around preventing others from doing things they are politically intolerant of. When's the last time you read a press release from greenpeace about a new technological development they made? If groups such as greenpeace were actually serious about the environment they would be all over themselves in doing everything they could in order to increase the use of nuclear energy.

    The fact that the government feels it had to keep this story below the radar in the first place shows how much damage these groups have done to nuclear power. It's time for greenpeace to stand up, do the right thing, and make amends for decades of harm to the environment they have caused. They are no better than some of the old factories that dumped chemicals into rivers.

    • by kevinNCSU (1531307) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @02:08PM (#30048728)

      I'm a big supporter of nuclear power but to be fair Nuclear power kills fish too nearly any way you wing it. Those puppies need water cooling so most are built near large bodies of water. Even if they cool their water properly (cooling towers or canals) so that they don't mess the fish up by raising the temperature of the body of water at all there's no getting around the fact that those intake pipes are going to suck in some fish and other larger animals can often get stuck on the mesh.

      I know one plant was required to build a "slide for life" to get some of the fish out of the intake. Got the fish out all-right, but their fate wasn't much delayed. The birds on the other hand, thought it was the best fucking invention ever.

    • You're probably giving Greenpeace too much credit. The refining and mining industries have probably played a greater, if quieter, role.
  • Pet Peeve (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Electricity is just one part of our energy supply, but by no means all of it. Far too often the terms energy and electricity get used as if they are interchangeable, when they are not. The summary is correct, the title is not. 10% of our electricity is not the same as 10% of out total energy.
  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @02:00PM (#30048610)

    The New York Times reports that about 10 percent of electricity generated in the United States comes from fuel from dismantled nuclear bombs, mostly Russian.

    Wow, that Bono really has a global impact!

  • Offset (Score:2, Funny)

    by JesseBHolmes (1063676)
    The power from old Russian nukes we use today does not offset the loss of energy we still suffer from as a result of the Cold War-era tapping of our precious bodily fluids!
  • by Lord Ender (156273) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @02:24PM (#30048986) Homepage

    http://www.google.com/finance?q=TSE:UF.UN [google.com]

    Just buy a few hundred shares of UF.UN and you make money if the price of the stuff goes up. And you can tell chicks that you own uranium!

  • Now tell me (Score:4, Funny)

    by Dunbal (464142) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @02:42PM (#30049268)

    Isn't it better to have all that energy released gradually, instead of all at once? :)

  • The solution seems easy: Just dismantle more nukes. In fact, lets dismantle all of them. It's the promise of the nuclear age finally realized without the horrible side effects.
    • Most of the remaining bombs were made with plutonium, which the "terrorism" freaks are afraid of.

  • ... when they say all this nuke stuff are just for electricity ?

    "Sure, we get nukes from North Korea, but come on, they are so bad they are only good for generating electricity, just like the Americans do with the Soviet nukes!"

  • by Burning1 (204959) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @08:03PM (#30053696) Homepage

    Dismantle a nuclear bomb, and you can light a city for a year. Drop a nuclear bomb...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Krannert IT (1675504)

      Dismantle a nuclear bomb, and you can light a city for a year. Drop a nuclear bomb...

      Not in my back yard

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