Ending the Separation of Plutonium

Harold A. Feiveson

in Unmaking the Bomb

Published by The MIT Press

Published in print September 2014 | ISBN: 9780262027748
Published online January 2015 | e-ISBN: 9780262319188 | DOI:
Ending the Separation of Plutonium

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Today there are about 500 tons of separated plutonium, about half of which was produced for weapons during the Cold War. The remainder is a result of civilian programs in the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, and countries inspired by their examples which have sought to use plutonium as a reactor fuel, initially for liquid-sodium-cooled plutonium breeder reactors. This chapter surveys the history of breeder reactor and the costs and dangers of reprocessing and plutonium use and explains why they have largely been abandoned, with only six of the 31 countries with nuclear power reactors now separating plutonium. While, the UK has decided to stop reprocessing, Russia, India, and China continue to separate plutonium for their breeder development programs and, in France and Japan, plutonium separation has become so institutionalized that they are extracting plutonium for mixed-oxide (MOX, uranium-plutonium) fuel even though it is not economic, The chapter also assesses the challenges facing long-term storage and disposal in a final geological repository of spent fuel from nuclear power reactors and high-level radioactive waste from reprocessing operations.

Keywords: Plutonium; Breeder reactors; Spent fuel reprocessing; Mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel; Spent fuel storage; Geological repository

Chapter.  5689 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: International Relations

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