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Megatons to Megawatts

Megatons to Megawatts

Around 20% of the electricity generated in the United States is from nuclear power.  A lesser known fact is that half of that nuclear energy is created using decommissioned Russian nuclear weapons.  In 1993 the United States and Russia reached a nonproliferation agreement that would convert high-enriched uranium into low-enriched uranium to be used in nuclear power plants.

This program is called Megatons to Megawatts and it is set to end in 2013 when 500 metric tons of warhead material has been eliminated (the equivalent of 16000 nuclear warheads).  Since its inception, American energy providers operating nuclear power plants have benefited greatly.  The abundance of fuel inserted into the market dramatically reduced prices and resulted in savings that were enjoyed by investors and consumers.

When this program ends, there is some concern about the immediate availability of nuclear fuel.  At a time when the demand for nuclear energy is increasing, this loss of supply would inevitably lead to higher nuclear fuel costs.  The price increase would have to be absorbed by the consumer.

Thankfully, the United States has barely used any of its own bombs to this purpose yet.  In a recent article regarding how to intelligently reduce military spending, some light was shed on the benefits of decommissioning some of our own warheads.

The United States spends over $25 billion annually to maintain some 5,500 nuclear warheads, well past its current and future strategic needs.  Shaving off 550 or more warheads — with an accompanying $2.5 billion a year in savings — the result would be not a strategic loss but a strategic gain, as cuts from there could be used to protect other parts of the defense budget.

ChrisB – I know not everyone is sold on the idea of nuclear power (as I wasn’t until recent years).  I learned that spent fuel from one human lifetime worth of electricity from nuclear power fits in a coke can.  It also produces considerably less green house gases than burning fossil fuels.  This program seems a logical and globally beneficial way to reduce nuclear arms and increase energy independence, and I had no idea it existed.  Extending it to include a number of our own weapons could save us money on defense and electricity.  Energy is one thing we are sure to need more of in the future, and I have never been sold on the idea that wind and solar will fill in enough of the gaps.  I have included a video from a TED conference where two environmentalists (with impressive academic credentials) take opposite sides on the nuclear issue.  Maybe it will help to better inform you as it did me.

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