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Pt 101492

News From The Future: Laser Enriched Uranium – Cheaper, Better, Smaller And Portable?

Scientists have long sought easier ways to make the costly material known as enriched uranium — the fuel of nuclear reactors and bombs, now produced only in giant industrial plants.

One idea, a half-century old, has been to do it with nothing more substantial than lasers and their rays of concentrated light. This futuristic approach has always proved too expensive and difficult for anything but laboratory experimentation.

Until now.

In a little-known effort, General Electric has successfully tested laser enrichment for two years and is seeking federal permission to build a $1 billion plant that would make reactor fuel by the ton.

…The inventors called their idea Silex, for separation of isotopes by laser excitation. “Our approach is completely different,” Dr. Goldsworthy, a physicist, told a Parliamentary hearing.

An old black-and-white photograph of the sensitive technology — perhaps the only image of its kind in existence publicly — shows an array of pipes and low cabinets about the size of a small truck.

This is going to be interesting, we might get cheaper, smaller, better nuclear power – but that means a lot of freaking out about the “potential” of it being used for bomb material. Alternatively when wind and solar are mentioned some consider it either an eyesore or not worth investing in (yet). Even if we tap the sun we’ll still have problems later :)

Any way, if anyone knows where that “old black-and-white photograph” is, post up in the comments!

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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Comments

  1. Ryan Benech says:

    “old black-and-white photograph”
    easy… 2nd page google image search for “silex laser”
    http://www.dfat.gov.au/asno/annual_report_9900/images/image027.jpg

    1. Anonymous says:

      @google-f6cc00c9e7f5e144bed009876afad2fe:disqus good find, when i tried that it didn’t come up in my search results! that’s a really small set up!

    2. Anonymous says:

      @google-f6cc00c9e7f5e144bed009876afad2fe:disqus good find, when i tried that it didn’t come up in my search results! that’s a really small set up!

  2. Ryan Benech says:

    “old black-and-white photograph”
    easy… 2nd page google image search for “silex laser”
    http://www.dfat.gov.au/asno/annual_report_9900/images/image027.jpg

  3. Anyone that thinks any form of fission reactor is a good idea Knows nothing or so self centered and arrogant that they’re just interested in money.            uranium is very rare there just isn’t enough of it and even if there was digging it up is a Ecological disaster. On top of that even after it’s used it’s toxic for hundreds of thousands of years far out lasting any containment vessel we could ever make.   We should stop wasting money on projects that even if they work at the best ever possibly could still kill us in the long run.  If it’s not Hydro, wind, solar or fusion we should not be waiting money and time on it.

  4. Anyone that thinks any form of fission reactor is a good idea Knows nothing or so self centered and arrogant that they’re just interested in money.            uranium is very rare there just isn’t enough of it and even if there was digging it up is a Ecological disaster. On top of that even after it’s used it’s toxic for hundreds of thousands of years far out lasting any containment vessel we could ever make.   We should stop wasting money on projects that even if they work at the best ever possibly could still kill us in the long run.  If it’s not Hydro, wind, solar or fusion we should not be waiting money and time on it.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @facebook-100000790715420:disqus yah, that’s the challenge i was talking about – there are tradeoffs for each way of generating power.

  5. Anyone that thinks any form of fission reactor is a good idea Knows nothing or so self centered and arrogant that they’re just interested in money.            uranium is very rare there just isn’t enough of it and even if there was digging it up is a Ecological disaster. On top of that even after it’s used it’s toxic for hundreds of thousands of years far out lasting any containment vessel we could ever make.   We should stop wasting money on projects that even if they work at the best ever possibly could still kill us in the long run.  If it’s not Hydro, wind, solar or fusion we should not be waiting money and time on it.

  6. Anyone that thinks any form of fission reactor is a good idea Knows nothing or so self centered and arrogant that they’re just interested in money.            uranium is very rare there just isn’t enough of it and even if there was digging it up is a Ecological disaster. On top of that even after it’s used it’s toxic for hundreds of thousands of years far out lasting any containment vessel we could ever make.   We should stop wasting money on projects that even if they work at the best ever possibly could still kill us in the long run.  If it’s not Hydro, wind, solar or fusion we should not be waiting money and time on it.

  7. Addidis says:

    I remember reading about a month back about a Fusion reaction that actually generated more energy then it took to start up. That is the tech im interested in.  If its not killed with patents and the likes. Interestingly I believe it also uses lasers.
      On a side note , I live 40 feet from 3 rail lines out side of chicago, and Ive seen quite a few /full/ trains full of enormous wind mill parts I forget what they call them. Some one is investing in them.  I can try to dig up the article, i think it was on bigthink .

  8. Anonymous says:

    Anyone who can make a blanket statement that all fission can’t possibly be in any way good, either knows nothing or is so arrogant that they want to adhere to ideology ignorant of engineering realities.

    Sorry, but while I would agree that the 50 year old GE plants are horrible, and the way they’ve been regulated and run could certainly use some work, there are designs currently that make it possible to have very safe fission power.  These would also need to be surrounded by good management and policy to make a total system of people and machinery safe enough to use. 

    The engineering and proper design work for nuclear energy has advanced vastly over the last few decades.  Radically different designs are here that use physics instead of active intervention to keep things from going south like the old plants.  Something goes wrong, the simplest possible intrinsic properties then act to make the reactor safe.  Cut off cooling, power stops.  No drama. 

    Waste processing is also a rapidly advancing field, which could reduce waste output and re-use most of the waste to make yet more energy.  Laser ignition is extremely exciting, no pun intended, as the volume could be reduced by orders of magnitude, and what’s left has a much shorter half life than “10 million years”.  There are other processes that can reduce half-life to something reasonable as well. 

    Since the CO output is near-zero, we can’t simply toss these options aside in a fit of ideological pique.  The damage of utilizing any resource needs to be fully assessed.  There is a lot of nuclear material floating around currently, the scarcity argument doesn’t hold water. 

    Also nuclear materials used as fuel can’t be used to kill people.  For that reason alone, I’d like to see a well developed and well regulated nuclear system. 

    Will I ever make a dime on this, no.  Do I consider myself green?  Hell yes.  Buying a fully electric car as my next vehicle (replacing my 32mpg honda), and I recycle damn near everything.  I’ll be putting solar on my roof as soon as I can afford it as well (and even a vertical windmill if I can get away with it).  I’m generally progressive in outlook. 

    I just don’t agree that nuclear is automatically bad.  Old nuclear plants, yes, that’s not good, should have been retired long ago.  The old plants, of course can’t be upgraded or replaced by new plants, primarily due to political opposition (including, up until recently, my own).  Law of unintended consequences, by trying to eradicate nuclear entirely, we’re saddled with obsolete technologies that are far more dangerous than what we could have right now. 

    I think the best thing we can do with this issue is remove the ideology and look at the engineering.  What are the requirements for a safe nuclear system?  What are the best ways to manage it?  Are reactors like Bill Gates proposed wave reactor a good idea?  (I think it has promise, but we need more data).  What can we do with current technology?  How can we make it unattractive to abuse by vested interests?  Is the total cost of the system worth it?  Can we eradicate coal first? 

    We have to have a blend of energy sources, unless somebody comes up with a storage system orders of magnitude better than anything we have today.  Batteries can’t do it, water pumping systems can’t cut it either, although they come closer.  Or a superconducting grid that spans the entire world.  Not holding my breath on that, as much as I’d like to see it. 

    Solar and Wind are great as far as they go, but the ebb and flow is too much to efficiently compensate for without other sources.  Building enough power generation isn’t the problem, it’s consistency of delivery of power, which isn’t going to be solved just by waving the words “smart grid” around.  The grid can improve greatly, but it still will need something to work with at the end of the day. 

    I know that this is a very controversial topic, I request that we keep this civil, and if you disagree, present your points as I have, with information.  Ideologies are politically useful, but intellectually lazy. 

    Make yourself a sacred cow burger, challenge your dearly held beliefs to stand up against your most critical thought.  I find that when I absolutely, positively, KNOW I’m right, I should be nervous.  There should always be that willingness to be wrong, that check of what you think is true.  I am Green, but I go about it in a critical and rational way.  And I discover all sorts of strange things as a result. 

    1. I’ve read articles on most of the tech you’ve talked about and I can tell you knowing the engineering doesn’t make using fission any better.
       
      Waste processing doesn’t make the waste cleaner it just removes the still usable fuel left in mix. the toxic stuff still goes off to get dumped in the ground somewhere and even the “shorter half life” are in the thousands of years. As for your argument about the abundance of the fuel is no better the gas companies saying there’s still more gas to use.
       
      You can’t remove the basic problem; fission uses a highly limited and toxic fuel. Until comes up with a sci-fi style
       
      Now you point to the known limits of renewables like solar but there are people out there working to fix them. Take the solar tower in Spain that can make power for days without the sun from the leftover heat in the molten salt. There’ also all of the fusion reactor research that’s in the works right now. Fusion has the benefits of fission without almost any of the draw backs.
       
      In the end I agree the future is about blend of energy sources I just say we have to make sure that mix doesn’t just make more problems down the road.  There’s just better research out there to put our money behind.

      1. Addidis says:

        More over reality is, man is the variable. Give me the best fission plant tech can provide. I (assuming im a mirror image of the guys in charge of them now) will screw up. There is no debate that life as we know it depends on fission. But there is also no debate that the guys running the plants have their own agenda to meet, aside from safety, being green, et al . The simple truth is a sustained fusion reaction that produces more energy then it uses is the answer, according to the tech we have now. Very few people are reliable enough to man the helms of our nuclear programs. even fewer of those few hae the influence to hold the position.
          I am actually pro-nuclear , pro fission. But im not so knieve (spelling) to believe that statistics support that the right people are running the industry.  rocketryguy makes a valid point , our ability to realize there is a problem actually stunts the growth of the right plants being run by the right people. In the end its only a race against our selves, yes nuclear CAN be run safely… But the facts point towards a different end currently. WE are our own worst enemy, and the battle against our selves is the hardest to win.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Anyone who can make a blanket statement that all fission can’t possibly be in any way good, either knows nothing or is so arrogant that they want to adhere to ideology ignorant of engineering realities.

    Sorry, but while I would agree that the 50 year old GE plants are horrible, and the way they’ve been regulated and run could certainly use some work, there are designs currently that make it possible to have very safe fission power.  These would also need to be surrounded by good management and policy to make a total system of people and machinery safe enough to use. 

    The engineering and proper design work for nuclear energy has advanced vastly over the last few decades.  Radically different designs are here that use physics instead of active intervention to keep things from going south like the old plants.  Something goes wrong, the simplest possible intrinsic properties then act to make the reactor safe.  Cut off cooling, power stops.  No drama. 

    Waste processing is also a rapidly advancing field, which could reduce waste output and re-use most of the waste to make yet more energy.  Laser ignition is extremely exciting, no pun intended, as the volume could be reduced by orders of magnitude, and what’s left has a much shorter half life than “10 million years”.  There are other processes that can reduce half-life to something reasonable as well. 

    Since the CO output is near-zero, we can’t simply toss these options aside in a fit of ideological pique.  The damage of utilizing any resource needs to be fully assessed.  There is a lot of nuclear material floating around currently, the scarcity argument doesn’t hold water. 

    Also nuclear materials used as fuel can’t be used to kill people.  For that reason alone, I’d like to see a well developed and well regulated nuclear system. 

    Will I ever make a dime on this, no.  Do I consider myself green?  Hell yes.  Buying a fully electric car as my next vehicle (replacing my 32mpg honda), and I recycle damn near everything.  I’ll be putting solar on my roof as soon as I can afford it as well (and even a vertical windmill if I can get away with it).  I’m generally progressive in outlook. 

    I just don’t agree that nuclear is automatically bad.  Old nuclear plants, yes, that’s not good, should have been retired long ago.  The old plants, of course can’t be upgraded or replaced by new plants, primarily due to political opposition (including, up until recently, my own).  Law of unintended consequences, by trying to eradicate nuclear entirely, we’re saddled with obsolete technologies that are far more dangerous than what we could have right now. 

    I think the best thing we can do with this issue is remove the ideology and look at the engineering.  What are the requirements for a safe nuclear system?  What are the best ways to manage it?  Are reactors like Bill Gates proposed wave reactor a good idea?  (I think it has promise, but we need more data).  What can we do with current technology?  How can we make it unattractive to abuse by vested interests?  Is the total cost of the system worth it?  Can we eradicate coal first? 

    We have to have a blend of energy sources, unless somebody comes up with a storage system orders of magnitude better than anything we have today.  Batteries can’t do it, water pumping systems can’t cut it either, although they come closer.  Or a superconducting grid that spans the entire world.  Not holding my breath on that, as much as I’d like to see it. 

    Solar and Wind are great as far as they go, but the ebb and flow is too much to efficiently compensate for without other sources.  Building enough power generation isn’t the problem, it’s consistency of delivery of power, which isn’t going to be solved just by waving the words “smart grid” around.  The grid can improve greatly, but it still will need something to work with at the end of the day. 

    I know that this is a very controversial topic, I request that we keep this civil, and if you disagree, present your points as I have, with information.  Ideologies are politically useful, but intellectually lazy. 

    Make yourself a sacred cow burger, challenge your dearly held beliefs to stand up against your most critical thought.  I find that when I absolutely, positively, KNOW I’m right, I should be nervous.  There should always be that willingness to be wrong, that check of what you think is true.  I am Green, but I go about it in a critical and rational way.  And I discover all sorts of strange things as a result. 

  10. Anonymous says:

    Oh blimey, not more uranium based fission work.

    Considering fusion plants are still possibly many decades off, fission research really should be focused on thorium based reactors.

    For those that aren’t aware, thorium can be used in a variation of a fast breeder reactor. Thorium is much more abundant in the earth’s crust compared to uranium (therefore, cheaper as well). Many many thousands of years worth of fuel is available. It’s a lot safer to handle, can be used straight from the ground (no enrichment), and proliferation isn’t really issue as the only way to get the uranium or plutonium from the thorium cycle involves grabbing it straight from an active reactor at the correct time.

    The cycle is also much cleaner, possibly more efficient, and certainly produces a hell of a lot less nuclear waste as most of the “waste” that makes up a uranium reaction is actually part of the thorium fuel cycle in the first place.

    It’s also tried and tested, the USA had a *very* safe and successful set of Molten Salt Reactors using it back in the 60′s.

    The cycle isn’t perfect, as it does require uranium or plutonium to start it, but once it’s been started, the uranium/plutonium starter can be removed or used up, and as long as thorium is supplied, it’ll keep going on its own. Useful because the use of uranium/plutonium as a starter is miniscule compared to it’s use as a general nuclear fuel.

    It’s not fusion, but it’s a damn sight better than the current wave of Gen.2 and Gen.3 reactors around the world.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I just paíd $20.87 for an íPad 2.64GB and my boyfriend loves his Panasoníc Lumíx GF 1 Cámera that we got for $38.79 there arriving tomorrow by UP S.I will never pay such expensive retail príces in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LCD T V to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy.
     Here is the website we use to get it all from : 
    BidsBit.com

  12. Any support, enthusiasm, and even trust that I had in the nuclear power industry died when I learned that for the past few decades, the nuclear power industry has ‘disposed’ of its spent fuel rods by storing them in cooling pools above the nuclear reactors themselves.  

    As Fukushima demonstrated, the cooling pools have become so crowded in our aging commercial nuclear power plants that if the cooling pumps are turned off even for just a few hours, the waste heat becomes so great that the water boils away and the potential for hydrogen gas build-up and explosion becomes imminent, with the consequence of scattering far more radioactive contaminants into the environment than are in a reactor core at any time.  

    We have a hundred-plus potential Fukushimas in the US, waiting for a combination of continent-wide natural disaster (earthquake, snowstorm, etc.) and economic crisis to cause a breakdown of the national transportation and power grids that in turn could cause cooling pumps to simultaneously fail at multiple plants and create a spent rod apocalypse that could contaminate hundreds of thousands of square miles for centuries to come.

    Before the nuclear power industry spins another fantasy about how it will soon become economical if only we would ‘deregulate’ it (while continuing to massively subsidize it and transfer its insurance liability onto the taxpayer), it needs to deal with the spent fuel rod problem.  It’s not unsolvable, but it won’t be solved if we continue to ignore it, and of course the most effective way to ignore a problem is to always find something else to talk about (eg, ‘blame the hippies’).    

    The spent rod apocalypse is no fantasy.  Google or Yahoo ‘MIT spent fuel rod report’ and read for yourself. 

  13. Any support, enthusiasm, and even trust that I had in the nuclear power industry died when I learned that for the past few decades, the nuclear power industry has ‘disposed’ of its spent fuel rods by storing them in cooling pools above the nuclear reactors themselves.  

    As Fukushima demonstrated, the cooling pools have become so crowded in our aging commercial nuclear power plants that if the cooling pumps are turned off even for just a few hours, the waste heat becomes so great that the water boils away and the potential for hydrogen gas build-up and explosion becomes imminent, with the consequence of scattering far more radioactive contaminants into the environment than are in a reactor core at any time.  

    We have a hundred-plus potential Fukushimas in the US, waiting for a combination of continent-wide natural disaster (earthquake, snowstorm, etc.) and economic crisis to cause a breakdown of the national transportation and power grids that in turn could cause cooling pumps to simultaneously fail at multiple plants and create a spent rod apocalypse that could contaminate hundreds of thousands of square miles for centuries to come.

    Before the nuclear power industry spins another fantasy about how it will soon become economical if only we would ‘deregulate’ it (while continuing to massively subsidize it and transfer its insurance liability onto the taxpayer), it needs to deal with the spent fuel rod problem.  It’s not unsolvable, but it won’t be solved if we continue to ignore it, and of course the most effective way to ignore a problem is to always find something else to talk about (eg, ‘blame the hippies’).    

    The spent rod apocalypse is no fantasy.  Google or Yahoo ‘MIT spent fuel rod report’ and read for yourself. 

  14. Any support, enthusiasm, and even trust that I had in the nuclear power industry died when I learned that for the past few decades, the nuclear power industry has ‘disposed’ of its spent fuel rods by storing them in cooling pools above the nuclear reactors themselves.  

    As Fukushima demonstrated, the cooling pools have become so crowded in our aging commercial nuclear power plants that if the cooling pumps are turned off even for just a few hours, the waste heat becomes so great that the water boils away and the potential for hydrogen gas build-up and explosion becomes imminent, with the consequence of scattering far more radioactive contaminants into the environment than are in a reactor core at any time.  

    We have a hundred-plus potential Fukushimas in the US, waiting for a combination of continent-wide natural disaster (earthquake, snowstorm, etc.) and economic crisis to cause a breakdown of the national transportation and power grids that in turn could cause cooling pumps to simultaneously fail at multiple plants and create a spent rod apocalypse that could contaminate hundreds of thousands of square miles for centuries to come.

    Before the nuclear power industry spins another fantasy about how it will soon become economical if only we would ‘deregulate’ it (while continuing to massively subsidize it and transfer its insurance liability onto the taxpayer), it needs to deal with the spent fuel rod problem.  It’s not unsolvable, but it won’t be solved if we continue to ignore it, and of course the most effective way to ignore a problem is to always find something else to talk about (eg, ‘blame the hippies’).    

    The spent rod apocalypse is no fantasy.  Google or Yahoo ‘MIT spent fuel rod report’ and read for yourself.