Engineers develop technique to help combat nuclear proliferation

March 4, 2009

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev engineers have developed a technique to "denature" plutonium created in large nuclear reactors, making it unsuitable for use in nuclear arms. By adding Americium (Am 241), a form of the basic synthetic element found in commercial smoke detectors and industrial gauges, plutonium can only be used for peaceful purposes.

This technique could help "de-claw" more than a dozen countries developing nuclear reactors if the United States, Russia, Germany, France and Japan agree to add the denaturing additive into all plutonium. An article on the technique and findings will appear next month in the Science and Global Security journal.

"When you purchase a nuclear reactor from one of the five countries, it also provides the nuclear fuel for the reactor," explains Prof. Yigal Ronen, of BGU's Department of Nuclear Engineering, who headed the project. "Thus, if the five agree to insert the additive into fuel for countries now developing nuclear power -- such as Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Namibia, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Yemen -- they will have to use it for peaceful purposes rather than warfare."

Ronen originally worked on Neptonium 237 for the purpose denaturing plutonium, but switched to Americium, which is meant for pressurized water reactors (PWRs), such as the one being built in Iran.

"Countries that purchase nuclear reactors usually give the spent fuel back to the producer," explains Ronen. "They wouldn't be able to get new plutonium for weapons if it is denatured, but countries that make nuclear fuel could decide not to denature it for themselves."

Nuclear fuel used in nuclear reactors has two isotopes of uranium. One is fissionable, while the other is not. The unfissionable component undergoes a number of nuclear reactions, turning some of it into plutonium. The plutonium also includes fissionable and unfissionable components. The amount of fissionable components created in nuclear reactors is enough to be used as nuclear weapons.

Source: American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Explore further: Idaho aquifer decline could hinder radioactive monitoring

Related Stories

A brief history of nukes in space

June 26, 2015

In just a few short weeks, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will make its historic flyby of Pluto and its moons. Solar panels are unable to operate in the dim nether regions of the outer solar system, and instead, New Horizons ...

Antineutrino detectors could aid non-proliferation

August 12, 2014

Physicists at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland and even in the fictional world of CBS' "The Big Bang Theory" look to subatomic particles called neutrinos to answer the big questions about the universe.

Recommended for you

Interactive tool lifts veil on the cost of nuclear energy

August 24, 2015

Despite the ever-changing landscape of energy economics, subject to the influence of new technologies and geopolitics, a new tool promises to root discussions about the cost of nuclear energy in hard evidence rather than ...

Smart home heating and cooling

August 28, 2015

Smart temperature-control devices—such as thermostats that learn and adjust to pre-programmed temperatures—are poised to increase comfort and save energy in homes.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.