US resume plutonium production

#1
From The Indie:

US resumes production of Cold War plutonium
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
28 June 2005

The US is poised to begin production of highly radioactive plutonium 238 - used previously to power spy satellites and space probes - for the first time since the Cold War. Officials say that the plutonium is being produced for "national security".

The isotope, many hundred times more radioactive than plutonium 239 which is used in nuclear arms, is to be produced at the Idaho National Laboratory, a sprawling site close to the Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Local environmental and anti-nuclear groups are concerned about possible contamination from radioactive waste: plutonium 238 is so powerful that even a speck of it is enough to cause cancer.

Officials involved in the $1.5bn (£800m) programme, which is intended to produce around 300lb of the material in the next 30 years, say the bulk of the plutonium will be used in secret projects but refuse to provide further details. The material has previously been used in batteries to power deep space probes such as Cassini as well as underwater surveillance and espionage equipment.

"The real reason we're starting production is for national security," Timothy Frazier, head of radio-isotope power systems at the Energy Department, told The New York Times.

The US has not made plutonium 238 since the 1980s when production was based at the Savannah River plant in South Carolina with some other work done in New Mexico and Tennessee. Since then it has relied on ageing stockpiles of the material or else on imports from Russia. The new programme will concentrate production at the Idaho facility in an effort to minimise the risk of leakage or contamination involving the 50,000 drums of hazardous and radioactive waste it is expected to make.

Local groups fear the programme will present considerable public health risks. Mary Woollen-Mitchell of Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free said: "They are concentrating all this production in just one place but it has never really been done safely anywhere. We're sceptical when they say, 'We know enough to make sure it's safe and to avoid an accident'. When they have spoken to us they say the majority of it will be for secret missions but they don't talk about the remainder. I worry about whether it will be involved in the weaponisation of space."

In his interview, Mr Frazier adamantly denied that the plutonium would be involved in military projects in space, though it has previously been used to power vessels that have travelled to those parts of space where there is insufficient sunlight to power solar panels. One unidentified federal scientist who helps the military plan space missions told the newspaper that the plutonium might be used in future projects to power compact spy satellites that would be difficult to detect. "It's going to be a tough world in the next one or two decades and this may be needed," he said. "Technologically, it makes sense."

The Snake River Alliance, a nuclear watchdog in Idaho, said: "Idaho is once again in the bull's eye for a dangerous nuclear programme that will create more nuclear waste and increase the contamination risks for our people, economy, and environment."
The full story is here.

How to incite the mob in 3 easy stages:

1. Refer back to the cold war.
2. Make vague reference to the 'weaponisation of space'.
3. Include reportage about 'spy satellites' and 'secret missions'.

$1.5Bn? This is a chickenfeed project by any reasonable comparison - they spent 10 times that amount on digital radios for NTC. 300lbs of plutonium over 30 years is barely sufficient for 2 small warheads per year - hardly cause for significant concern in the current world climate IMHO! :D
 

OldSnowy

LE
Moderator
Book Reviewer
#3
Not for Wardeads - wrong stuff. Satellite power more likely, compact, long-lasting batteries.

Now why can't have batteries like this for Bowman? Size of a matchbox, and could replace a large generator. Mind you, the problem of RadHaz for operators might be a tad worse than at present :D
 
#5
Again journos who have no clue about nuclear physics. Pu238 and Pu 239 are two completely different animals.
Pu239 has a half life of 24000 years and is an alpha emitter.
Pu238 has a half life of 88 years and is also an alpha emitter
Pu239 can be used for nuclear fission, but not Pu238.

Jan
 
#7
WARNING! PARANOIA ALERT!

AndyPipkin said:
It's probably to power undersea fiberoptic cable interception 'pods' installed by the USS Jimmy Carter.


Is that Lord Lucan I can see swimming up to the boat...and who is that on the grassy knoll!?? :D
 
#8
Darth_Doctrinus said:
WARNING! PARANOIA ALERT!

AndyPipkin said:
It's probably to power undersea fiberoptic cable interception 'pods' installed by the USS Jimmy Carter.


Is that Lord Lucan I can see swimming up to the boat...and who is that on the grassy knoll!?? :D
Just google on "Operation Ivy Bells" - from the 1970's - then perhaps you need to apologise to Mr Pipkin. Oh, and look up what little open source material there is on the mods done to the "Jimmy Carter", in particular the "Ocean interface". Truth is stranger than fiction.
 
#9
OOTS - noise down. Good to see that you've taken on board the advice about pointless 'over-quoting' as well.

Lack of open source material - you knob - it's a feckin SSN! What do you want - a full technical readout?

Who feckin cares if the 'Jimmy Carter' is mooching about listening to us? You can't substantiate anything to do with these things - and claiming the tinternet as a repository of fact is utterly pathetic.

Out.

Now, back to the thread...
 
#10
Darth_Doctrinus said:
OOTS - noise down. Good to see that you've taken on board the advice about pointless 'over-quoting' as well.

Lack of open source material - you knob - it's a feckin SSN! What do you want - a full technical readout?

Who feckin cares if the 'Jimmy Carter' is mooching about listening to us? You can't substantiate anything to do with these things - and claiming the tinternet as a repository of fact is utterly pathetic.

Out.

Now, back to the thread...
I'm afraid that personally abusing me does not compensate for your error - and you're right about over quoting, please accept my apologies.

Ivy Bells has been widely reported in the media (including the internet) since Ronald Pelton sold the details to the USSR and was locked up for the rest of his natural as a result. One of the listening devices the US placed on undersea cables in the 1970's is on display in the ex-KGB museum in Moscow. Not tin-foil hat fodder, but a very successful mission. See "Blind Man's Bluff" for more info - in book form.

Using a RTG for such a device would be a smart move. Of course whether or not the US can actually read fibre optics is not clear, theory says yes but the gap between that and practicality is often large. Still, whether or not they actually can it's not time for an aluminium foil beanie.

As for the Jimmy Carter, the fact that it was delayed years to get a 100ft hull extension has been widely written about and discussed in the defence press. The USN have admitted that said mods are related to intelligence work and given out some sketchy details of the changes.

But you definitely are a staff officer aren't you ? Any world view that challenges yours gets shouted down regardless of the facts. That works on your subordinates but you should try and bear in mind that any enemy we might face are resistant to changing their plans based on your predjudices. And yes I am mildly peeved.
 
#12
So let me summarise:

That chap Pipkin puts forward a plausible explanation for the matter under discussion;
You rubbish it through ignorance;
When evidence is presented you ignore it;
When more evidence is presented you wave a handbag at me;
And then you want to get back on topic.

Fine by me.
 
#13
James Bamford's 'Body of Secrets' discusses the role of the Jimmy Carter and its predecessor, the Parche, at great length. You can check out either vessel at www.globalsecurity.org.

Increasingly communications use fiberoptics rather than satellites, so it's unsurprising the US would want to tap them. You might also wonder why the USN maintains its own cable-laying ship.
 
#15
I've run across various bits of fluff, from apparently non-authoritative sources, on the internet saying or implying that the U238 is intended as a long duration power source for space weapons.

This link is representative: http://www.dailyemerald.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2005/06/28/42c101c10bcfe

Whether there is anything to this is something I do not know.

There's been a lot of hostile talk recently between USA and Russia as to whether USA will put weapons in space and the consequences that will ensue if it does.
 

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