Overseeing nuclear proliferation: New method denatures plutonium

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev engineers have developed a technique to “denature” plutonium created in large nuclear reactors, making it unsuitable for use in nuclear arms. By adding Americium (Am 241), a form of the basic synthetic element found in commercial smoke detectors and industrial gauges, plutonium can only be used for peaceful purposes.

This technique could help “de-claw” more than a dozen countries developing nuclear reactors if the United States, Russia, Germany, France and Japan agree to add the denaturing additive into all plutonium.

“When you purchase a nuclear reactor from one of the five countries, it also provides the nuclear fuel for the reactor,” explains Prof. Yigal Ronen, of BGU’s Department of Nuclear Engineering, who headed the project. “Thus, if the five agree to insert the additive into fuel for countries now developing nuclear power…they will have to use it for peaceful purposes rather than warfare.”

“Countries that purchase nuclear reactors usually give the spent fuel back to the producer,” explains Ronen. “They wouldn’t be able to get new plutonium for weapons if it is denatured, but countries that make nuclear fuel could decide not to denature it for themselves.”

In other words, hypocrisy still rules. The atomic reactor-manufacturing nations won’t use the denatured plutonium in their own reactors. Let’s keep atomic warfare in the hands of a members-only club.

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