D H
Sep 25, 2018 · Last update 2 mo. ago.

Is there an alternative use for the 14,500 nuclear weapons in existence in the world?

To mark the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons let us consider: Can these weapons by of any productive use? Would there be any way to effectively recycle all this nuclear material? If not what could be done to accomplish the total elimination of this great threat to humanity?
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Small reactors that run on nuclear waste
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Better nuclear reactors using difference fuel cycles to allow for nuclear recycling
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Atomic batteries
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Reactor fuel
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Small reactors that run on nuclear waste

In 2008 Taylor Wilson constructed a nuclear fusion reaction at his house in Texarkana, Arkansas at the tender age of 14, after fanatically studying nuclear physics since the ages of ten. He has since been awarded the Thiel Fellowship and won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair awards and prizes for his invention of cost effective nuclear radiation detectors. In 2013 Wilson gave a talk on a proposed network of small underground fission reactors that are self-contained and run on downgraded nuclear fuels from decommissioned nuclear weapons.

Designing and structuring the small reactors to run on recycled nuclear materials means Wilson's reactors could generate 50-100 megawatts of electricity for around 30 year before refuelling, that could power up to 100,000 homes. Wilson has stipulated that the reactors could come in a prefabricated modular sealed unit, in a size that can easily be shipped, and would run long-term on just the fuel pre-packaged inside, preventing tampering and running for years before requiring any refuelling. According to Wilson these reactors pose no safety risk as they would need a very small amount of nuclear fuel, the nuclear material cannot be re-enriched, answering many of the current issues facing nuclear power.

genius.com/Taylor-wilson-my-radical-plan-for-small-nuclear-fission-reactors-annotated disclose.tv/us-teenager-taylor-wilson-designs-compact-nuclear-reactor-347712 quora.com/What-is-the-progress-of-Taylor-Wilsons-small-nuclear-fission-reactor?share=1

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D H
Aug 12
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DH edited this paragraph
Designing and structuring the small reactors to run on recycled nuclear materials means Wilson's reactors could generate 50-100 megawatts of electricity for around 30 year before refuelling, that could power up to 100,000 homes. Wilson has stipulated that the reactors could come in a prefabricated modular sealed unit, in a size that can easily be shipped, and would run long-term on just the fuel pre-packaged inside, preventing tampering and running for years before requiring any refuelling. According to Wilson these reactors pose no safety risk as they would need a very small amount of nuclear fuel, the nuclear material cannot be re-enriched, answering many of the current issues facing nuclear power.

Better nuclear reactors using difference fuel cycles to allow for nuclear recycling

The amount of energy utilised from the nuclear fuel in a standard nuclear reactor remains only a few percent of the total energy available, and nuclear fuel can be recycled and reused to acquire more of this energy. The US currently recycles none of its nuclear waste material, but could run its electricity grid for 100 years by recycling its own nuclear waste, not to mention also cutting the half-life of the recycled waste to hundreds of years, as opposed to millions. Nuclear recycling plants and special breeder reactors can effectively harness much more of the energy available in nuclear material, including from decommissioned nuclear weapons, however they remain expense and present new safety concerns.

"Light water reactors" are the most common type of thermal-neutron reactor, themselves the most common nuclear reactor design, however there have been others in the history of nuclear energy that may be more beneficial. Light water reactors became favoured over other types with the discovery of vast amounts of nuclear fuels, however "breeder reactors" that generate more fissile material than it consumes were favoured in the early days of nuclear reactor experimentation. In theory, such reactors could extract almost all of the energy contained in uranium or thorium, decreasing the amount of fuel needed by 100 times, when compared to widely used once-through light water reactors.

However the current picture is far from ideal, during the operation of the most common reactors substances build up on the nuclear fuel over time, absorbing so many neutrons from the nuclear reaction that the reaction stops. At this point fresh fuel is needed, in the US the old used fuel is stored, while in Russia, the UK, France, Japan and India, this fuel is reused by reprocessing to remove the neutron absorbing products of the used fuel. There are so many prospects in nuclear power generation that have not been fully investigated, or are not in use worldwide, due to the massive initial cost of building and maintaining nuclear reactors. But the future of humanity's energy needs and the end of nuclear weapons could coincide, with the more intelligent reuse of nuclear material and investment in a diverse range of nuclear reactors.

whatisnuclear.com/recycling.html web.archive.org/web/20121128101318/http://analysis.nuclearenergyinsider.com/operations-maintenance/recycling-spent-nuclear-fuel-ultimate-solution-us web.archive.org/web/20110606130212/http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/6/13/742039/-Continuous-Plutonium-Recycling-In-India:Improvements-in-Reprocessing-Technology. books.google.co.jp/books?id=4m6o1jMcIIIC&redir_esc=y

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D H
Aug 12
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DH edited this paragraph
However the current picture is far from ideal, during the operation of the most common reactors substances build up on the nuclear fuel over time, absorbing so many neutrons from the nuclear reaction that the reaction stops. At this point fresh fuel is needed, in the US the old used fuel is stored, while in Russia, the UK, France, Japan and India, this fuel is reused by reprocessing to remove the neutron absorbing products of the used fuel. There are so many prospects in nuclear power generation that have not been fully investigated, or are not in use worldwide, due to the massive initial cost of building and maintaining nuclear reactors. But the future of humanity's energy needs and the end of nuclear weapons could coincide, with the more intelligent reuse of nuclear material and investment in a diverse range of nuclear reactors.

Atomic batteries

Atomic batteries are already being used for a multitude of long life, low energy applications, such as spacecraft, satellites, pacemakers, underwater systems and in automated scientific stations in remote locations. NASA has used a battery known as a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator in many space exploration missions. However NASA are running low on stock, as a result of nuclear non-proliferation the plutonium needed is no longer produced, and according to 2015 report there is only enough plutonium for 3 more missions powered by such devices. More weapons should be decommissioned to be used in, what should be, the much more imperative long-term project of exploration and the peaceful development of nuclear technology.

Other similar technologies have also been proposed to harness other waste material from nuclear power plants, for example the 'diamond battery' that utilises used radioactive graphite blocks from left over neutron moderator material in nuclear reactors. In 2016 the Cabot Institute of the University of Bristol in the UK proposed making an artificial diamond battery out of this radioactive waste, using carbon-14 in the form of diamond-like carbon as a betavoltaic cell, with the radioactive material as a voltage source. Such devices would last for thousands of years and be enclosed to shield users from radioactivity, they could be used in similar applications to NASA's atomic batteries, or even revolutionise traditional rechargeable batteries acting as self regenerative battery packs.

popsci.com/nasa-can-make-3-more-nuclear-batteries-and-thats-it seeker.com/nuclear-waste-and-diamonds-make-batteries-that-last-5000-years-2120412155.html electronicsweekly.com/news/research-news/diamond-nuclear-battery-generate-100%CE%BCw-5000-years-2016-12

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D H
Aug 12
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DH edited this paragraph
Atomic batteries are already being used for a multitude of long life, low energy applications, such as spacecraft, satellites, pacemakers, underwater systems and in automated scientific stations in remote locations. NASA has used a battery known as a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator in many space exploration missions. However NASA are running low on stock, as a result of nuclear non-proliferation the plutonium needed is no longer produced, and according to 2015 report there is only enough plutonium for 3 more missions powered by such devices. More weapons should be decommissioned to be used in, what should be, the much more imperative long-term project of exploration and the peaceful development of nuclear technology.

Reactor fuel

The most obvious use for nuclear weapons would be to dilute the weapons grade nuclear fuel with depleted uranium, a by-product from enrichment for reuse. This mixed nuclear material could then by reused as reactor fuel, generating more electrical energy from spent reactor fuel and unwanted weapons grade nuclear fuel. The main downside however is that this will effectively increase the amount of nuclear waste material that requires storage, and doesn’t solve the issue entirely.

Enriching uranium for generating weapons grade nuclear material generates a major by-product of depleted uranium in the form of uranium hexafluoride or triuranium octoxide, extremely dense compounds with limited applications for reuse. These materials can be however mixed with plutonium to form mixed oxide fuel, or diluted or downblended directly with highly enriched uranium straight from unwanted nuclear weapons, all of which can become reactor fuel. This presents a viable and important use for unused, superfluous or obsolete nuclear arms.

world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/uranium-resources/military-warheads-as-a-source-of-nuclear-fuel.aspx

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D H
Jun 5, 2019
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DH edited this paragraph
Enriching uranium for generating weapons grade nuclear material generates a major by-product of depleted uranium in the form of uranium hexafluoride or triuranium octoxide, extremely dense compounds with limited applications for reuse. These materials can be however mixed with plutonium to form mixed oxide fuel, or diluted or downblended directly with highly enriched uranium straight from unwanted nuclear weapons, all of which can become reactor fuel. This presents a viable and important use for unused, superfluous or obsolete nuclear arms.
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