Engineers develop technique to help combat nuclear proliferation

Mar 04, 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: Lockheed Martin advances live, virtual, constructive training in flight test

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

High Flux Isotope Reactor named Nuclear Historic Landmark

Sep 12, 2014

The High Flux Isotope Reactor, or HFIR, now in its 48th year of providing neutrons for research and isotope production at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has been designated a Nuclear ...

Antineutrino detectors could aid non-proliferation

Aug 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.

Japan city launches legal bid to halt reactor build

Jul 03, 2014

A Japanese city was Thursday asking a court for an injunction to prevent a nuclear plant being built, in a country that remains deeply suspicious of the technology three years after Fukushima.

Recommended for you

Reducing traffic congestion, remotely

4 hours ago

At the Intelligent Transportation Systems World Congress last week, MIT researchers received one of the best-paper awards for a new system, dubbed RoadRunner, that uses GPS-style turn-by-turn directions to ...

How to print your own cell phone microscope for pennies

4 hours ago

At one o'clock in the morning, layers of warm plastic are deposited on the platform of the 3D printer that sits on scientist Rebecca Erikson's desk. A small plastic housing, designed to fit over the end of ...

A spray-on light show on four wheels: Darkside Scientific

Sep 14, 2014

Darkside Scientific recently drew a lot of gazes its way in its video release of a car treated to the company's electroluminescent paint called LumiLor. Electroluminescence (EL) is a characteristic of a material ...

User comments : 0