A Conversation for How a Nuclear Plant Works
Binaryboy Started conversation Dec 6, 2000
Hello again -
I forgot about this in my other post, but there is another major advantage/disadvantage to having a nuclear power station and that is: they are really handy for making Plutonium (not sure how, maybe someone else knows?).
Apparently, one problem is that along with weapons-grade plute, reactors also make loads of minging-grade plute that is a) really dangerous and b) pretty much useless, unless you make it into a self-heating frying pan or something.
In the UK, Lord Hailsham admitted in the late 80s that the country's enthusiasm for nuclear power in the 50s was mostly so we could get our hands on lots of plute.
Martin Harper Posted Dec 6, 2000
the way you do it is that you pack depleted uranium (that's the stuff which won't undergo fission - there's one isotope which does, one which doesn't, and I can't recall which one is which. I think 238 is the one which won't) between the fuel rods.
Then, when excess neutrons hit the depleted uranium, they turn it into plutonium-239. This can be used like uranium-235 in either nuclear reactors or atomic bombs. you get more bang from your buck with plutomium, too.
'minging-grade' plutonium, I'm guessing, is what happens when you get plutonium-239 mixed in with uranium-238. This stuff is good for power stations, but not so good for making bombs. Hence the need to refine it to get weapons-grade, which would be much purer.
Wampus Posted Dec 8, 2000
Furthermore, certain types of reactors are better for making plutonium than others. US commercial reactors aren't so great for plutonium, but the Soviets designed RBMK (Chernobyl) reactors so they could get plutonium out of them.
Really, to get good plutonium out of a reactor, you have to design it for that purpose. Pl-239 is the first thing one gets from U-238, but if you leave the Pl-239 in too long, it starts absorbing more neutrons and becomes Pl-240 and 241. Pl-239 is the preferred isotope for making bombs.
Nuclear reactors may produce plutonium, but they don't make it easy to get to. Once the plutonium is made, it's mixed in with a whole bunch of other HIGHLY radioactive substances; you need some sort of reprocessing facility to separate out these substances to get to the Pl.
Mixed-oxide nuclear fuel is when they mix Pl with U and use it in commercial power stations. People do that to get rid of weapons-grade material; turning swords into plowshares, as it were.
Binaryboy Posted Dec 8, 2000
Hey thanks, you people really know your plute.
Is there any way to make Plute that doesn't involve a nuclear reactor? Don't worry, I am not going to knock some up (might get minging plute by accident).
Wampus Posted Dec 8, 2000
Not that I know of. And if any government came up with a way, I'm sure they wouldn't tell me.
Probably if you found a ready source of neutrons besides a nuclear reactor, you could use it to bombard uranium into plutonium. But that's pretty much the same thing that happens in a reactor anyway.
And if I were a smartass, I could argue that turning U into Pl is a sort of a nuclear reaction, and the chamber that happens in should logically be called a nuclear reactor anyway.
Mullet Posted Aug 31, 2003
And 2 and a half years later there is an answer...
It is possible to make "Plute" without a nuclear power station and the method used does involve building what is techinically a nuclear reactor. Do a search for "Nuclear Boy Scout" and you should find the process to which I am referring.
Binaryboy Posted Sep 2, 2003
Hi there Mr Mullet -
I saw that program on Ch 4. It was great. That bloke is a legend. Although I don't think I'd accept an invitation to one of his barbecues.
Although it sounds like if you tried to bake your own plute, you'd get what I referred to above as 'minging grade' plute. Pu 240 or 241, as above. This is probably a good thing.
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