Why not just dilute the plutonium with something and use it for reactor fuel?
- All isotopes of plutonium can be used to produce a nuclear detonation.
- Chemical separation can be used to separate Pu from other materials.
- LEU cannot be used to produce a nuclear detonation.
- Making HEU from LEU is a difficult and costly process (isotopic separation).
Why don't we just put it back in the ground?
- Plutonium has occurred naturally:
- It was formed by the operation of a naturally occurring reactor in a uranium deposit at Oklo in West Africa some two billion years ago.
- Except for trace quantities, it is not now found in the earth's crust.
- It was first isolated as an element in 1941.
- It did not exist in quantity prior to that time.
What about half-life?
Doesn't it just go away after a while?
- Half-life is the time it takes for a radioactive material to lose half of its radioactivity (naturally - through spontaneous decay).
- Different isotopes have different half-lives.
- Pu-239: 24,390 years
- U-235: 710,000,000 years
Don't nuclear reactors produce plutonium?
- A typical nuclear power reactor creates about 230 kilograms of plutonium per year.
- Total world generation of reactor-grade plutonium is about 75 tonnes per year.
- About 1300 tonnes of plutonium have been produced so far, and 90% of this remains as spent fuel.
- One kilogram of plutonium can produce sufficient heat to generate nearly 10 million kilowatt-hours of electricity - sufficient to meet the needs of over 1,000 households for 3 years.
- Russia intends to use its plutonium as a fuel, burning it in fast neutron reactors.