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Laser enrichment of uranium could make the process easy to hide

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twilyth

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#1
Right now, enriching uranium to increase the percentage of fissile U235 compared to the dominant U238 isotope is a painstaking process. You have to combine the uranium with flourine to make uranium hexaflouride. Then you have to spin the resulting gas, which is extremely corrosive, in special centrifuges. the heavier U238 tends to separate out from the light U235.

This requires hundreds of centrifuges if you want to make enough enriched uranium to support a weapons program.

With laser enrichment though, you use a laser that produces a wavelength that is only absorbed by U235. You can then separate the U235 directly (don't ask me how, but there is a wiki article on it here).

This process is much less cumbersome, requires no special centrifuges and much less space. Therefore, it could make the enrichment process virtually undetectable.

Article from New Scientist

Briefing: Security fears over laser-enriched uranium

15:34 23 August 2011 by Jeff Hecht
For similar stories, visit the Energy and Fuels and Weapons Technology Topic Guides

It's pretty hard to disguise the fact you are enriching uranium, whether for use in nuclear power stations or bombs. Now a method that uses lasers to complete the process could make it more efficient – and easier to hide.

General Electric and Hitachi are joining forces to build a laser facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, powerful enough to produce more than 1000 tonnes of enriched fuel every year.

But could the benefits of laser enrichment – its efficiency and low power requirements – also be its biggest drawbacks?

How does laser enrichment work?

The difference in mass between uranium-235 and the heavier uranium-238 causes small shifts in the wavelengths at which they absorb light. Lasers can be built to emit a narrow range of wavelengths that are absorbed by U-235 but not by U-238. Once the U-235 has become excited, it can be easily separated from the unexcited U-238, typically by a chemical reaction.

What's so good about using lasers?

Conventional enrichment techniques require large amounts of energy to increase the concentration of U-235 from its natural abundance in rock of 0.7 per cent to the roughly 3.6 per cent needed for use in light-water reactors, or the 20 per cent used in fission bombs. Laser techniques promise much better results because they can better select U-235 atoms, meaning far less power is required. However, the details of the process have not been made public.

If it's so good, why is it only being suggested now?

The idea was first mooted as a possibility in the 1960s, and the US began major projects in the 1970s but the technology proved impractical at the time. The current approach was developed only 10 years ago by an Australian company called Silex.General Electric-Hitachi have now licensed Silex's technology. The original process was hampered by inefficient lasers but the fact that GE-Hitachi are prepared to go ahead with a full-scale plant suggests they have developed a more efficient laser.

Why is the idea so controversial?

A key concern is that the high efficiency of a laser enrichment process would reduce energy requirements, allowing a uranium enrichment plant to be smaller and more distant from power sources. That would make it harder to detect using satellite imagery. Such a small plant could also be used to make enriched uranium for atomic bombs – with little chance of being spotted.

What happens next?

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is scheduled to review the proposal on 30 June 2012. If the NRC approves the plan, a joint venture called Global Laser Enrichment would build the plant in six stages, eventually reaching a capacity of 6 million work units, a standard measure of enrichment capacity. If the product was standard-grade reactor fuel, the facility could produce more than 1000 tonnes a year.
 
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#2
should make nuclear power plants realistic ideas in countries like china that spew enormous amounts of emmisions from coal fired plants.

The weapons part is of no concern imo. If a group or country is gonna build a nuke, then its gonna happen whether its thru centrifuges, lasers, or just buying the stuff off the black market. The concern hasnt been if their building or if they have them for years. I'd almost bet al qaeda has a "dirty bomb" (which doesnt take weapons grade uranium to make), its just if they use that, then theirs going to be a whole lot of missiles flying towards the middle east.

So this is neat for the economic uses. And is a non issue when it comes to weapons.
 

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#3
This is...concerning. :(:(:(
 
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twilyth

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#4
should make nuclear power plants realistic ideas in countries like china that spew enormous amounts of emmisions from coal fired plants.

The weapons part is of no concern imo. If a group or country is gonna build a nuke, then its gonna happen whether its thru centrifuges, lasers, or just buying the stuff off the black market. The concern hasnt been if their building or if they have them for years. I'd almost bet al qaeda has a "dirty bomb" (which doesnt take weapons grade uranium to make), its just if they use that, then theirs going to be a whole lot of missiles flying towards the middle east.

So this is neat for the economic uses. And is a non issue when it comes to weapons.
You don't think Iran would have liked to keep their program a secret? It's pretty naive to say it's a non-issue. Were that so, organizations like the NRC and IAEA wouldn't be concerned.
 

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#5
Very naive. This whole technology is about making access to U-235 easier and the only reason why anyone wants a lot of U-235 is to make a nuclear weapon. Nuclear power plants use unenriched uranium that has a very low concentration of U-235.

I don't get why GE and Hitachi would pursue this. The market for nuclear weapons is mostly gone (more nukes are being dismantled every year than made). Are they trying to start another nuclear arms race? If so, I think the USA and Russia need to step in and say a resounding NO. Nothing good is going to result from this.
 
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#6
You still have to enrich uranium to use it as fuel. The level though is nowhere near what you need for weapons-grade though. Off the top of my head, I think fuel is usually 3-12% enriched while weapons-grade is over 80%.
 
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#7
Interesting (but not exactly new) method. Good ol' uranium the rarest element in the universe. If this technology works out it's gonna be easier for the scientists. Especially in the era when lasers get improved. Of course I talk about science and technology. Fuckface warlords can just fuck off.
 
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#8
You don't think Iran would have liked to keep their program a secret? It's pretty naive to say it's a non-issue. Were that so, organizations like the NRC and IAEA wouldn't be concerned.
No I dont.. A country builds nukes as a deterrent, a "Dont do anything to piss me off cause I've got these" kind of thing. The worldwide public outcry of a nuke being used makes them nothing more then epeen who has more world enders in a big old game of risk.

Perfect example is Israel, only reason it still exists is not because we back them. But because they have nukes, and them son of bitches will use them before they let an arab country destroy their country. Take nukes away and they wouldn't exist right now and we wouldn't bother backing them.
 

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#9
Interesting (but not exactly new) method. Good ol' uranium the rarest element in the universe. If this technology works out it's gonna be easier for the scientists. Especially in the era when lasers get improved. Of course I talk about science and technology. Fuckface warlords can just fuck off.
Uranium is actually quite common. It is far from the rarest.


No I dont.. A country builds nukes as a deterrent, a "Dont do anything to piss me off cause I've got these" kind of thing. The worldwide public outcry of a nuke being used makes them nothing more then epeen who has more world enders in a big old game of risk.
Countries like Iran have no problem giving weapons to non-national factions (e.g. terrorists). The only way the nuclear deterrent works is if you have borders to retaliate within. Non-national factions have no borders so the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) policy isn't in effect (the reason why nuclear weapons are a deterrent). In short, it is the terrorist's pipe dream and bad for everyone except them. This is why we (the USA) is disarming Russia's nuclear stockpile and the primary reason why the UN exists (all countries on the Security Council have demonstrated nuclear weapons capability).

Your statements bleed of ignorance.


Perfect example is Israel, only reason it still exists is not because we back them. But because they have nukes, and them son of bitches will use them before they let an arab country destroy their country. Take nukes away and they wouldn't exist right now and we wouldn't bother backing them.
Last time I checked, Israel won the Six-Day War and they didn't use nukes. Our assistance to them was little more than intelligence.
 
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#11
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twilyth

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Countries like Iran have no problem giving weapons to non-national factions (e.g. terrorists). The only way the nuclear deterrent works is if you have borders to retaliate within. Non-national factions have no borders so the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) policy isn't in effect (the reason why nuclear weapons are a deterrent). In short, it is the terrorist's pipe dream and bad for everyone except them. This is why we (the USA) is disarming Russia's nuclear stockpile and the primary reason why the UN exists (all countries on the Security Council have demonstrated nuclear weapons capability).

Your statements bleed of ignorance.

Last time I checked, Israel won the Six-Day War and they didn't use nukes. Our assistance to them was little more than intelligence.
Exactly. Israel has owned the ass of every country that has ever tried to threaten it.

And Iran has in fact tried to hide their attempts to create a nuclear weapon - so clearly they prefer to do this work in secret. But that's almost irrelevant compared to the fact that this technique makes it possible for non-state actors to buy ordinary uranium and enrich it in secret. The reason you've only had state actors in the past is because of the tremendous amount of hardware that you needed to process the uranium. Al Qaeda couldn't run a couple hundred centrifuges in a Tora Bora cave. But they COULD do this process in cave somewhere.
http://www.eoearth.org/article/Uranium?topic=49557



Less than 3 milligrams per 1 kg. It's not even one millionth. I would call it rare.
And it's natural because if there's a ball made of uranium and its diameter is just few inches it's gonna make a big boom.
Uranium is actually quite common. It is far from the rarest.
You're both right - sort of. What really matters is how frequently do you find concentrations of it that can be mined and with uranium, it seems to be frequent enough that it's fairly cheap to produce in commercial quantities.

The other thing that matters is the fact that the concentration of U235 is less than 1% of the uranium that is mined. So as to U235, you can say that isotope is pretty rare. U238 is great for making plutonium 239 in a breeder reactor but is otherwise useless.
 
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#14
Countries like Iran have no problem giving weapons to non-national factions (e.g. terrorists). The only way the nuclear deterrent works is if you have borders to retaliate within. Non-national factions have no borders so the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) policy isn't in effect (the reason why nuclear weapons are a deterrent). In short, it is the terrorist's pipe dream and bad for everyone except them. This is why we (the USA) is disarming Russia's nuclear stockpile and the primary reason why the UN exists (all countries on the Security Council have demonstrated nuclear weapons capability).

Your statements bleed of ignorance.



Last time I checked, Israel won the Six-Day War and they didn't use nukes. Our assistance to them was little more than intelligence.
The Russian AND American stockpiles are not being fully dismantled. They are being greatly reduced yes but can still easily destroy any and every major city in the world. MIRVs reduced the need for vast amounts of missiles, along with the fact that the cold wars over and while we may not be best buds with russia, were far from the hostilities of the 60-80's.

Non nation funded groups dont look to build/acquire weapons with weapon grade uranium.
1. It's too expensive
2. They dont have the delivery vehicles
3. It's alot easier to make a dirty bomb and a whole lot easier to deploy one

A dirty bomb doesnt take weapons grade stuff, its basically a grenade just replace the frag with radioactive material and put it in a larger scale.

Also Israels weapon program didnt start til after the war, most estimates are that they had a handful of more tactical yield aircraft delivered munitions. It wasnt until they started their weapons program full speed that we directly started backing them with weapons and money. (Most MBT's they used in the 6 day war were acquired from modifying old ww2 shermans and purchasing pattons from germany and again modifying them.)


And dont get me started on the greedy, useless, dysfunctional organization that is the UN.

--

Basically, this doesnt change the face of nuclear weapons and who does and does not have them. Anyone who suddenly thinks haji is gonna be building weapons grade nukes in their caves now probably also believes area 51 has aliens. They dont have the means to deploy these weapons, and are much more likely to build a "Dirty bomb".
 
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#15
The other thing that matters is the fact that the concentration of U235 is less than 1% of the uranium that is mined.
True.

Isotope Natural Abundance
234U 0.0055%
235U 0.72%
238U 99.27%
234 is the rarest

U238 is great for making plutonium 239 in a breeder reactor but is otherwise useless.
238U(n, gamma) → 239U(beta) → 239Np(beta)→ 239Pu

Knowledge about U238 isn't useless. It helped scientists to have a better clue about our universe, its age and creation

http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2719

here's the snip:

Astronomers have spotted for the first time the fingerprint of uranium-238 in an ancient star - and have used it to make the most reliable guess yet of the age of the universe. They have obtained an estimate of 12.5 (+-3) billion years old. This is three times more accurate than the previous best estimate, which was based on absorption lines of thorium-232 (14 billion years)
 
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twilyth

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#16
The Russian AND American stockpiles are not being fully dismantled. They are being greatly reduced yes but can still easily destroy any and every major city in the world. MIRVs reduced the need for vast amounts of missiles, along with the fact that the cold wars over and while we may not be best buds with russia, were far from the hostilities of the 60-80's.

Non nation funded groups dont look to build/acquire weapons with weapon grade uranium.
1. It's too expensive
2. They dont have the delivery vehicles
3. It's alot easier to make a dirty bomb and a whole lot easier to deploy one

A dirty bomb doesnt take weapons grade stuff, its basically a grenade just replace the frag with radioactive material and put it in a larger scale.

Also Israels weapon program didnt start til after the war, most estimates are that they had a handful of more tactical yield aircraft delivered munitions. It wasnt until they started their weapons program full speed that we directly started backing them with weapons and money. (Most MBT's they used in the 6 day war were acquired from modifying old ww2 shermans and purchasing pattons from germany and again modifying them.)


And dont get me started on the greedy, useless, dysfunctional organization that is the UN.

--

Basically, this doesnt change the face of nuclear weapons and who does and does not have them. Anyone who suddenly thinks haji is gonna be building weapons grade nukes in their caves now probably also believes area 51 has aliens. They dont have the means to deploy these weapons, and are much more likely to build a "Dirty bomb".
And anyone who thinks that terrorists wouldn't use this tech if they have the opportunity probably has to wear a football helmet when they aren't being actively supervised.
True.



234 is the rarest



238U(n, gamma) → 239U(beta) → 239Np(beta)→ 239Pu

Knowledge about U238 isn't useless. It helped scientists to have a better clue about our universe, its age and creation

http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2719

here's the snip:
Please read what I wrote. I said U238 itself is useless. Which technically isn't true since you can still use it to make very nice anti-tank rounds.
 
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#17
Read what I wrote. Using U238 in researches is important so how can U238 itself is useless?
 

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#18
http://www.eoearth.org/article/Uranium?topic=49557



Less than 3 milligrams per 1 kg. It's not even one millionth. I would call it rare.
And it's natural because if there's a ball made of uranium and its diameter is just few inches it's gonna make a big boom.
No, platinum is rare (more valuable per ounce than gold by several times). By your metric, it's 0.005 milligrams per kg or 600 times more rare than uranium by weight.
 
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twilyth

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#19
Read what I wrote. Using U238 in researches is important so how can U238 itself is useless?
You're missing the point and if you can't see what I mean, then it's because you don't want to. I won't waste any more time responding to you.
No, platinum is rare (more valuable per ounce than gold by several times). By your metric, it's 0.005 milligrams per kg or 600 times more rare than uranium by weight.
Actually, if you check the current future's prices, gold and platinum are both trading in the same range right now - high 1700's to low 1800's per ounce.

But you're on the right track. Normally platinum sells for about $300-500/ounce more than gold - usually closer to $300. So while it's not a multiple of the gold price, you had the right idea. And btw, the current parity between gold and platinum is, in my opinion, evidence of a gold bubble. That's why I've been selling some of my gold coins but have been hanging on to the platinum ones.
 
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#20

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#21
Actually, if you check the current future's prices, gold and platinum are both trading in the same range right now - high 1700's to low 1800's per ounce.

But you're on the right track. Normally platinum sells for about $300-500/ounce more than gold - usually closer to $300. So while it's not a multiple of the gold price, you had the right idea. And btw, the current parity between gold and platinum is, in my opinion, evidence of a gold bubble. That's why I've been selling some of my gold coins but have been hanging on to the platinum ones.
After a bit of research, I think I'm confusing platinum with something else. For some reason a number greater than $6,000 is in my head and...thinking on it a bit more, it might have been the value of platinum per pound instead of ounce a long time ago. As such, the "several times" is derived from comparing an ounce of gold to a pound of platinum. In any case, I screwed up bad. :roll:

The value of platinum can fluctuate wildly depending on demand. Some times it is really needed for something and sometimes it really isn't. Gold tends to flucuate more in accordence to currencies or rather, the faith in them. When it waivers, there's a run on gold.


I know its about nukes but I find that sentence extremely "funny" due to how much money you pump into Israel.
http://ifamericansknew.org/stats/usaid.html
2011 is completely different from the 1960s when the Six-Day War occurred. :p
 
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#22
No, platinum is rare (more valuable per ounce than gold by several times). By your metric, it's 0.005 milligrams per kg or 600 times more rare than uranium by weight.
Platinum is more rare in Earth's crust than Uranium, I don't argue about that. In bigger scale the picture is different.

You're missing the point and if you can't see what I mean, then it's because you don't want to. I won't waste any more time responding to you.
I'll just be avoiding your threads, nothing new there anyway *yawn*
 
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twilyth

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#23
Platinum is more rare in Earth's crust than Uranium, I don't argue about that. In bigger scale the picture is different.


I'll just be avoiding your threads, nothing new there anyway *yawn*
Awwww. Don't be like that. :laugh:
 

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#24
"rare" has no relevance for this whole discussion. also you should understand the mechanics behind "rare stable", "rare isotope". it's like saying technetium is the rarest because it doesn't exist on earth at all (except human created)

laser enrichment is really really really really complicated, that's why it's being looked at only now.

this is not like a osama takes a laser pointer to some stolen yellow cake in his cave.

for small states the simplest methods are best for enrichment:
- mass spectroscopy (calutron). slow and expensive but any decent physics major can build one. thats what saddam tried to use
- centrifuges. require serious industrialization but it can be done by any industrial country at reasonable cost. used by majority of "evil" states

while in theory laser enrichment might be cheap once industrially available it will take a ton of money and research to get it to that stage - not gonna happen in a rogue state, maybe not even gonna happen in the US. even when "invented", producing the whole machinery and lasers is going to be extremely complicated, much harder than centrifuges. it's like stealing intel cpu blueprints and then thinking you can make one in your basement
 
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System Name BY-2015
Processor Intel Core i7-6700K (4 x 4.00 GHz) w/ HT and Turbo on
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Benchmark Scores Faster than the tortoise; slower than the hare.
#25
GE and Hitachi market products globally. Cars used to be something only the rich and famous can afford but today, it's near impossible in some nations to get by without them.

Why steal CPU blueprints and go through the hassles of making it when you can buy the finished product directly from Intel? The people who shouldn't be allowed to have this technology only cares about the finished product--not how they got there.