21st Century Swords to Plowshares: From Megatons to Megawatts

Currently, hydropower provides 6% of the USA’s electrical power, and solar, biomass, wind and geothermal combined provide 3%.

Dismantled nuclear weapons provide 10%.

The ‘Megatons to Megawatts’ programme was instituted in the 1990s as a means to secure the weapons that both the US and Russsia had agreed to dismantle as a result of arms reduction treaties. What was initially seen as a massive security issue has been transformed into a cheap and plentiful supply of fissile material, and also led to huge financial savings from not having to secure and maintain the warheads themselves, along with their associated delivery systems. The scheme has been very successful – material from Russia’s ex-weapons currently provides 45% of the fuel in US reactors, with former American weapons providing a further 5%.

As conventional oil supplies peak, dismantling nuclear weapons and using their uranium in nuclear reactors makes extremely good economic and strategic sense. The highly enriched material in the warheads can be blended for use in civilian reactors, providing an excellent energy resource at a cheap net cost to society – all the hard work of mining, extracting and enriching has already been done. It also has a tangible benefit – after the uranium is blended, its purity falls from 90% to approximately 5%, and it is no longer usable in weapons. It is a win-win strategy for the increasingly resource constrained world we find ourselves moving into.

The current supplies of uranium, from the previous rounds of disarmament, are scheduled to run out in 2013. Interestingly, the US and Russia are currently negotiating a treaty to further reduce their stockpile of weapons. It would appear that Russia, along with being the world’s largest producer of oil, will be providing a significant percentage of the fissile material powering America’s reactors for quite some time to come.

To quote the New York Times, which has an excellent article on this:

“Treaties at the end of the cold war led to the decommissioning of thousands of warheads. Their energy-rich cores are converted into civilian reactor fuel.
In the United States, the agreements are portrayed as nonproliferation treaties — intended to prevent loose nukes in Russia.
In Russia, where the government argues that fissile materials are impenetrably secure already, the arms agreements are portrayed as a way to make it harder for the United States to reverse disarmament”

It appears both the US and Russia have been succeeded in portraying this in their respective countries as a victory, and one that enhances their security – a truly successful 21st century swords to plowshares.

Links:
http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epates.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/10/business/energy-environment/10nukes.html?_r=5
http://www.nei.org/howitworks/nuclearpowerplantfuel
http://www.usec.com/megatonstomegawatts.htm

about the author: Paddy Morris Based in Dublin, and having had an interest in environmental issues for almost 2 decades, Paddy will be blogging about a wide range of topics, with a focus on the old reliables of climate change and peak oil, along with a selection of interesting environmental and science stories from across the web.

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7 Responses to 21st Century Swords to Plowshares: From Megatons to Megawatts

  1. rexusdiablos says:

    Am I right to assume that you won’t be covering Climategate scandal? i.e. the fraud known as anthropogenic global warming?

    Will we be seeing any mention of the unidentified persons who allegedly hacked a server used by the Climatic Research Unit, posting online copies of e-mails and documents that they found.

    1000 emails, 3000 documents and 160 MB of data proving climate change and carbon taxation is an elaborate fabricated scam.

    Isn’t that somewhat relevant to your blog?

  2. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    @John,

    Could you put the guest bloggers on a different page, as it interrupts the flow and forces the commentariat (that’s us) to tune into a different style of writing and different wavelength or point of view. And coming up to (and during) Copenhagen, you need to be at the helm of the site. If you don’t have time, well, that’d be understandable, but even short entries from you on the Copenhagen talks would be preferable to other people’s viewpoints, on this page anyway.

  3. Paddy Morris says:

    @ Rexusdiablos

    As you say yourself 1000 emails, thousands of documents and megabytes of data – you must be a fast reader to have got through all that!

    Some of what is revealed is worrying – deleting emails subject to FOI is illegal and simply wrong. However, a lot is simple out of context quoting – something that those in the denial industry are rather adept at.

    I presume, that along with the thousands of pages of hacked emails you have read you took a look at the page where the scientists explain some of the context of what they are saying?
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/11/the-cru-hack-context/

    It also interests me that you seem to seize on a couple of emails, out of context, as proving climate change is a scam… are you aware there is literally a world of hard evidence pointing the other way?

    Climate Change is real, and it is here. the scientists who are involved have made real world predictions which have been confirmed as happening through experiments and observation. For example, NASAs GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite measures changes in the earths gravitational field, and has confirmed that Antarctica is now losing approx. 190bn tonnes of ice a year.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/22/east-antarctic-ice-sheet-nasa
    Thats a lot of ice you seem to think has decided to melt solely so some researchers in England (who have in your opinion ‘fabricated’ the ‘scam’ of global warming) don’t look bad when their emails are hacked.

    ‘Climategate’ is up their with all the other ‘gates’ that have been amplified and blown out of all proportion – intensely embarrassing and damaging for those immediately involved, and worthy of comment, explanation and correction, but not half as important as actual real world problems like CO2 emissions, peak oil, resource depletion etc. These emails do not show the science of climate change to be fundamentally flawed -just complicated, and open to (mis)interpretation if quoted out of context.

    I will leave you with the words of George Monbiot on this:
    “The handling of this crisis suggests that nothing has been learnt by climate scientists in this country from 20 years of assaults on their discipline. They appear to have no idea what they’re up against or how to confront it. Their opponents might be scumbags, but their media strategy is exemplary”
    You should have a read of his article covering this as well:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2009/nov/25/monbiot-climate-leak-crisis-response

    If you are interested in a brief rundown of how our scientific knowledge of climate change has been built up over approx. 150 years, and the climate change denial lobby has been funded and created over the last 2 decades, you should watch the following.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T4UF_Rmlio&feature=player_embedded
    The same scientists and institutes initially involved in denying the science of global warming have a slightly suspect past – several of them were involved with denying the link between smoking and lung cancer – they were and still are simply shrills for industries which do not want to change.

  4. Paddy Morris says:

    @ Coilin
    Thanks for the constructive suggestion, I’ll leave it up to John to make a decision on pages, or perhaps a second column – this blog is his gig, I am only a guest.

    Just a quick point – any reduction in CO2 globally over the next decade or two as a result of Copenhagen will very likely have a sizable nuclear component (although not in this country by the looks of things). As many in the green movement seem totally opposed to nuclear on idealogical grounds I thought the above article had some relevance – I for one would much rather see uranium used in nuclear power plants as opposed to sitting in warheads, or storage for that matter. We have already created the stuff, we might as well use it and as it does not have to be mined/refined etc. there will be little or no carbon emissions associated with making it usable in reactors.

  5. David Quinn says:

    John,
    One of your main contentions has been that there have been little or no papers published in peer-reviewed journals of note by scientists sceptical about AGW. George Monbiot has said “some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics, or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. ”
    I would really like to hear what you have to say about all of this. I would also like to hear what you think about the acknowledgement of the CRU that they destroyed a lot of the raw data supporting their theory.

  6. John Gibbons says:

    @Coilin
    I think we have sorted the issue you point out – you’ll notice there is now an ‘Authors’ button to the top right hand corner of the page, clicking one allows you to follow their threads, while blog postings pour chronologically into the site itself.

    Hope that works out to be acceptable for most users. I am very keen to broaden out the blog, have a greater spread of viewpoints available and also to keep the postings coming more frequently than has been possible for me writing alone. This blog has become a lot busier in the last while.

    In the month of November, I’ve had in the region of 2,500 Unique Visitors to the site, with several hundred of these visiting multiple times in the month. The rate at which I can both respond to postings and research and write new blogs, while keeping up with other commitments can’t do justice to an audience that size, hence the decision to open it up to more contributors.

  7. Coilin MacLochlainn says:

    @John
    Thanks, that helps ok.

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