Plan to Use Military Plutonium at Civilian Plants Stirs Debate Some Risk of Terrorism, but May Aid Russian Disposal

By Peter Grier and Peter N. Spotts, writers of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 1, 1996 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Plan to Use Military Plutonium at Civilian Plants Stirs Debate Some Risk of Terrorism, but May Aid Russian Disposal


Peter Grier and Peter N. Spotts, writers of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Since the dawn of the thermonuclear age the United States government has invested huge amounts of effort and treasure to create tons of the most deadly substance on earth: plutonium.

But the end of the cold war has made thousands of nuclear weapons and their plutonium pits surplus material. Now Washington is proposing to destroy much of the US plutonium stockpile in a process that could be almost as complex and controversial as the material's production.

Simply leaving the estimated 50 tons of excess plutonium in storage might be the simplest solution to the problem, admit administration officials. Such a cache would be a tempting target for terrorists, however, and could raise Russian suspicions about future US nuclear plans. That might make Russia think twice about destroying its own excess plutonium. "We want to make sure the Russians dispose of their plutonium in a way we feel comfortable with," says an administration official. The Department of Energy's preferred alternative for plutonium, released yesterday, takes a two-pronged approach to disposal of the fissile material. About one-third of excess US plutonium would be fused into immobile glass or ceramic blocks - "vitrified" - under DOE plans. (In its natural state, plutonium is both radioactive and toxic. In some forms, it can be flammable.) These stable blocks would then be stored in a permanent repository somewhere, deep underground. The bulk of the plutonium, however, would be set aside to burn as fuel in conventional nuclear power plants. Such use would require the plutonium to be mixed with uranium, forming a fuel substance known as MOX. Reportedly, 16 civilian US utilities have expressed interest in receiving government-subsidized MOX fuel. Energy Department officials rejected dozens of other destruction approaches before deciding on their alternatives. Launching plutonium into the reaches of space, for instance, was deemed too risky. Environmental groups raised strong objections to the idea that plutonium be buried on the ocean floor. But the proposal to make use of plutonium in power reactors is sure to be controversial. The diversion of such weapons-usable material into the US civilian economy, even in a MOX form, is something that many nuclear activists have argued against for decades. "This is a very bad decision. It's time to close the door to plutonium in the commercial sector," argues Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Plan to Use Military Plutonium at Civilian Plants Stirs Debate Some Risk of Terrorism, but May Aid Russian Disposal
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?