March 9, 2009

Scientists learn to ‘declaw’ plutonium

Engineers at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel say they have developed a way to declaw nuclear fuel, ensuring only peaceful plutonium use.

The engineers said their technique denatures plutonium created in large nuclear reactors, making it unsuitable for use in nuclear arms. They said that by adding Americium, a form of the basic synthetic element found in commercial smoke detectors and industrial gauges, plutonium can only be used for peaceful purposes.

Professor Yigal Ronen, who led the research, said if the United States, Russia, Germany, France and Japan agreed to add the denaturing additive into all plutonium, it would affect other nations now developing nuclear power.

When you purchase a nuclear reactor from one of the five countries, it also provides the nuclear fuel for the reactor, said Ronen. Thus, if the five agree to insert the additive into fuel for countries now developing nuclear power -- such as Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Namibia, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Yemen -- they will have to use it for peaceful purposes rather than warfare.

The research is to be reported in next month's issue of the journal Science and Global Security.