Nuclear Technological decline

The US no longer produces weapons grade plutonium. Supposedly this is a choice.

It has asked other countries to not produce weapons grade plutonium, and to get rid of the weapons grade plutonium they do have.

The economical way to destroy weapons grade plutonium is to burn it in nuclear reactors, to use it for power, which destroys some of it and irreversibly contaminates the rest with plutonium 240, making it unusable for weapons, though still usable for power.

Unfortunately, the US, in attempting to do so, ran into “massive cost overruns”, which is to say, technological decline. Putting it in breach of its agreements with Russia and Japan.

Under the US-Russian PMDA, originally signed in 2000, both parties agreed to dispose of at least 34 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium, enough to produce 17,000 nuclear bombs.

The US, however, has not disposed of any plutonium, despite spending a lot of money attempting to do so. If you cannot use it, probably cannot make it.


20 Responses to “Nuclear Technological decline”

  1. El Bow says:

    If you talk with any old-timer who worked at Rocky Flats or similar, you’ll quickly realize that:

    1) This nuclear weapons crap requires some pretty specialized infrastructure


    2) Most of this infrastructure in the US has been scrapped

    34 tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium metal, which is about 93% PU-239, translates to about 510 tonnes of reactor-grade MOX fuel, which is about 7% PUO2 by weight. Watering down weapons-grade material into reactor fuel is not especially difficult; it would require a good industrial/chemical processing facility to oxidize the plutonium and mix it with uranium oxide. Going the other way is what requires the crazy centrifuges and whatnot. There might be some dumb regulatory reason that converting weapons material into MOX requires special facilities, but there is no physical reason this would need to be the case.

    World demand for uranium is about 60,000 tonnes:

    But that’s natural uranium. MOX is roughly equivalent to 3% enriched LEU oxide fuel. LEU requires about ten tonnes of natural uranium per tonne of LEU.

    So, the entire US plutonium stock would supply about one twelfth of the annual world demand for reactor fuel.

  2. Alan J. Perrick says:

    The other way of reading it is that treaty is being voided.


  3. A.B. Prosper says:

    The Russians recently defined the US as “not agreement capable” which is the same language they use for hollow states.

  4. Dan Kurt says:

    Perhaps “weapons grade plutonium” is a myth.

    Where in a physics text or a physical chemistry text will one find a section on solid metal being able to be compressed by a chemical explosive, so called implosion, into a smaller volume. A gas can be compressed. A liquid can be compressed a fraction of a percent. But can a solid (metal, glass, crystalline) be actually compressed a significant percentage of its volume?

    If “weapons grade plutonium” can not be imploded, a plutonium bomb is a myth.

    Dan Kurt

    Dan Kurt

    • Oliver Cromwell says:

      Metals act like fluids when the forces to which they are subject are large relative to the internal forces holding them rigid. At very high velocities there are no solids.

    • kevembuangga says:

      LOL, you didn’t really read the schemas of atom bombs which are all over the Net or you stumbled on the one made for idiots or for disinformation:
      The plutonium isn’t “compressed” (nor is the uranium in the same use case) it is SEVERAL DISJOINT PARTS which are suddenly brought together by conventional explosives, or a hollow sphere which is crushed to a solid ball.

      • Alistair Hermann says:

        If you don’t understand the process, don’t go putting down someone in the same position who is asking questions.

        You might learn something.

      • ilkarnal says:

        Levitated, hollow pit nuclear weapons are the state of the art, but they are not the only way nuclear weapons can work. Fat Man was not a hollow pit weapon. You can compress plutonium.

        • jim says:

          I am not familiar with the term “levitated” in this context. By “levitated” I assume you mean supported by foam or aerogel – or, quite possibly, styrofoam peanuts.

          My understanding is that the secondary is supported in something like styrofoam, and the primary is solidly connected to the outer hull with high explosive.

          • ilkarnal says:

            The primary is high explosives, then tamper, then neutron reflector, then pit. You can increase the efficiency of the explosive compression process by introducing gaps – between the tamper and the reflector+pit (‘levitated pit’), and within the pit itself (‘hollow pit’). What fills these gaps is not particularly important, as far as I understand, except that the configuration is durable and doesn’t shift to disrupt symmetry, which would be disastrous. I’m not sure a foam would work, because it could partially collapse and shift when the device is knocked around. Probably need solid support struts.

            The secondary is surrounded with plastic foam blown with some low Z gas. This is important because resistance to ionization increases greatly as the number of protons increases, and completely ionized gas is nearly transparent to the radiation that drives the implosion of the secondary.

            This plasma is very important because all the surfaces within the bomb are disintegrating as a result of the radiation coming from the secondary, and channels need to be kept open between the primary and the surfaces of the secondary to get the best implosion and to ensure symmetry.

            In contrast I don’t know of anything that makes the gaps within the primary particularly interesting, beyond just letting the shockwave from the high explosives accelerate the implosion more efficiently.

      • Dan Kurt says:

        Here is a direct quote from the Wiki article: Fat Man
        “The plutonium was compressed to twice its normal density.”
        Solid or liquid plutonium seems to be defying the known laws of physics if an explosion can compress a metal to twice its density suggesting compression to half its starting volume.

        This never made sense to me. BA (chemistry), no masters but Ivy Doctorate and two post Docs, one at an Ivy. My nuclear chemistry professor worked on the navy’s submarine reactor and he had no explanation when I posed the question to him more than a half century ago.

        Dan Kurt

        • jim says:

          Under extreme forces – forces higher than the critical pressure of the substances involved, the distinction between solid, liquid, and gas breaks down. Everything is a liquid, everything is a gas.

      • jim says:

        Nah. The simplest standard fission bomb is a solid ball that is suddenly compressed into a considerably smaller liquid ball.

        There are a lot of designs, but that is the simplest design. Subsequently they got clever, largely to fit the bomb into a shell shaped form factor, and to incorporate varying degrees of fusion.

    • El Bow says:

      If solids couldn’t be compressed then they would not conduct sound waves.


  5. coyote says:

    We proved the technology with sodium-cooled fast neutron breeder reactors 50 years ago. As with the space program, and our educational systems, we have diversified our science/ technology institutions and accomplishments into retarded promoters of crony capitalist schemes and multi-culti marxist gabble. The West slides away into the dustbin of history.

  6. Father Thyme says:

    Understanding physics is a sure sign of patriarchal oppression.

    Science: a masculine disorder? (Science and Public Policy, Vol. 12, No. 6, December 1985, pp. 308-316)

  7. Cavalier says:

    That the US agrees to an agreement which will in theory reduce the amount of nuke material and then fails to do so is not a sign that it is incapable of doing so, but that it doesn’t want to do so. “Massive cost overruns”, like “massive cost overruns” for every other military-industrial application, are merely a convenient way of distributing pork, not an indication that the actual ability to do the actual things supposedly intended is absent or in decline.

    That is not to say that technological decline is not in effect, though I have my reservations, merely that it is much more likely that the US never intended to de-arm itself in the first place.

    Hypocrisy is not unheard of in Washington.

    • Alfred says:

      Blue state makes a big deal of nuclear disarmament in their holy posturing against red state. I’ll go with either hypocrisy or incompetency though.

    • peppermint says:

      If Hillary wins we’ll find out if those invisible airplanes the govt has been bragging about since I was 10 reading magazines in the dentist’s office actually work.

      Seeing which students from my class went where and how many of them reproduced, I’m hoping for a non-nonviolent solution to this conflict. Praise Kek.

Leave a Reply