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Are there fissionable isotopes of any element with short-lived radioactive isotopes?

  1. Nov 28, 2006 #1
    might be more expensive than uranium or plutonium, but storage costs and environmental impact and anti-nuke activism might be muted if there was an isotope of any element, say an isotope of iodine, that when fissioned, gives off energy AND short-lived radioactive isotopes.

    so, say, hypothetically speaking, iodine captures a neutron from say plutonium, and becomes a radioactive isotope of iodine, which fissions into non-radiactive iron isotope and radioactive tritium isotope with a short half life.

    the upfront cost of using iodine might be more expensive, but the overall cost might be less expensive.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 29, 2006 #2

    Astronuc

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    Nothing below U-233 is readily fissionable by low to intermediate energy neutron absorption.

    Pa-231 is fissile with thermal and epithermal neutrons, but has a very low cross-section < 1b, and more on the order of 1-100 mb. Th-232 is effectively fissionable with fast neutrons only, >1 MeV and higher.

    http://oldserver.ba.infn.it/~ntof/proposte/TH_PROPv7.pdf [Broken]

    Pu-241 has a half-life of 14.290 y and is fissile. The isotope Americium-241 (which results from the 14-year half-life decay of Pu-241 which accumulates in reactor grade plutonium with increasing burnup) emits highly penetrating gamma rays, increasing the radioactive exposure of any personnel handling the material.

    See Morbius's discussion of 'fissionable' vs 'fissile'.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  4. Nov 29, 2006 #3

    Morbius

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    bananan,

    First I'd like to address an issue of terminology.

    The term you want to use above is not "fissionable" but "fissile".

    "Fissile" means that the nuclide is fissioned by a neutron of ANY energy.

    "Fissionable" means that the nuclide can be fissioned by a neutron, but only if it has
    kinetic energy above a nuclide-dependent threshold.

    For example, U-238 is actually "fissionable" because it will fission with fast neutrons
    with energy in excess of about 1 MeV. However, U-238 can't be used as a reactor
    fuel alone.

    So allow me to rephrase your question into "are there any fissile isotopes of any
    element....."

    Consistent with Astronuc's reply above; for fissile isotopes, you have your choice of
    U-233, U-235, or Pu-239.

    Unfortunately, there's no nuclide that fits your criteria above that produces energy,
    produces only short-lived daughters, is acceptable to the anti-nukes.... If there was,
    then we'd be using it.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Physicist
     
  5. Nov 29, 2006 #4
    I understand from wiki that india is using Thorium as a supply fuel. Could there be a combination of Thorium, uranium and plutinion that when placed with spent radiactive fuel, might cause it to decay quicker?
     
  6. Nov 29, 2006 #5

    Morbius

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    bananan,

    In the "Thorium cycle", you use Th-232 as a fertile material to breed fissile U-233.

    Then you burn the U-233 for power and make more U-233.

    Putting combinations of different materials together doesn't affect the radioactivity.

    The radioactive decay characteristics depend on what's going on in the nucleus.

    The nucleus has no way of knowing what's also in the mix. In terms of length scale;
    all those other materials are a LONG, LONG, LONG way away from the nucleus.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Physicist
     
  7. Nov 29, 2006 #6

    Astronuc

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    This might be helpful.

    Some Physics of Uranium
    http://www.uic.com.au/uicphys.htm

    Thorium fuel was used in at least two reactors in the US - Shippingport and Indian Point 1. IIRC, the fuel did use U-235 dispersed in thoria.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2017
  8. Nov 29, 2006 #7
    THank you Dr. Greenman,

    But those radiactive elements, which are the waste products and the objections of greenies, are they Fissionable (I hope I used the right term this time), in that if they are in the pressence of high-neutron flux, as a result of either uranium or plutonium, can either capture a neutron and transform into another element or split directly, into waste products with shorter decay?

    Alternatively, would it be possible to combine a source of high neutron flux uranium or plutonium, with a lower atomic number material, say carbon-14, so that should carbon 14 capture a neutron, it gives off energy and decay or transform into something nonradioactive.

    Thanks
     
  9. Nov 30, 2006 #8

    Astronuc

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    Many fission products already decay rapidly. It's the longer living isotopes which present a problem, e.g. Cs-137 and Sr-90, but these decay with about about 29-30 year half-life.

    http://www.nndc.bnl.gov/chart/ - one can select a section and zoom in on the appropriate radionuclide.

    Any nucleus can be 'transmuted' into a new isotope by neutron capture, and that is one reason nuclear fuel has to be periodically removed from a reactor - the fission producst compete with the fissile material for neutrons - and isotopes of Xe and Kr build up causing pressurization of the fuel and swelling of the ceramic or metal matrix.

    One idea has been to recover the U, Pu and other transuranics and burn those in a so-called actinide burner. This approach gets rid of some of the long-lived radionuclides and utilizes the thermal energy.

    These might be of use - http://www.uic.com.au/nip.htm
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2017
  10. Nov 30, 2006 #9

    Morbius

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    bananan,

    There are two classes of materials in nuclear waste. One class is the "fission products";
    these are the remnants of nuclear fuel that has fissioned. They are all fairly short-lived;
    as Astronuc points out, the longest lived fission products are Sr-90 and Cs-137 which
    have half-lives of 29 years and 30 years, respectively.

    The other class of materials in nuclear waste, are the "transuranics" or "actinides".
    These are the long lived wastes, and there are both "fissile" and "fissionable" nuclides
    in this group. This group would include Pu-239, which is "fissile" and has a half-life
    of about 24,000 years. You correctly surmise that the rest are "fissionable".

    The way to get rid of these long-lived components of nuclear waste is to reprocess the
    nuclear waste and recycle the long-lived components back to the reactors to be burned
    as fuel, as you suggest above.

    This was always the intention of the nuclear power program in the USA; to reprocess
    spent fuel and recycle the long-lived waste components back to the reactor. The USA
    was setup to do this in the early '70s, but the "greenies" went to court to block it;
    claiming that there must be an environmental impact report before the USA could
    authorize reprocessing.

    So the AEC, and its successor ERDA, did an environmental impact statement called the
    GESMO - Generic Environmental Statement for Mixed Oxide. [ When reprocessed
    actinides are returned to the reactor as fuel, they are in oxide form, and mixed with
    fresh uranium dioxide to form a fuel known as "mixed oxide" or "MOX". ]

    Shortly thereafter, the "greenies" got Congress to OUTLAW the reprocessing and
    recycling of nuclear waste in the USA!!!

    One has to understand, the "greenies" evidently don't want a solution to the nuclear
    waste problem. They want to shutdown nuclear power in the USA. That's why they
    have opposed recycling nuclear waste. They have opposed Yucca Mountain.
    They oppose power companies even shipping the waste out of the power plant.

    The strategy of the "greenies" is to back-up the nuclear fuel cycle so that nuclear
    power plants won't have any place to put spent fuel. If the power company doesn't
    have any place to put spent fuel; then they can't unload their last core of spent fuel
    and reload the reactor with fresh fuel. The nuclear power plant will have to shutdown;
    and the "greenies" will have accomplished their purpose.

    A solution to the nuclear waste "problem" is the LAST thing the "greenies" are interested in.

    Nations like Great Britain, France, and Japan routinely reprocess and recycle spent
    nuclear fuel in exactly the manner you suggest without the problem of obstruction by
    the "greenies".

    If ALL the electricity used by a family of four for 20 years were generated by
    nuclear power; the accumulated nuclear waste due to that electricity generation would
    fit in a shoebox if it was not reprocessed. If it was reprocessed, then the equivalent
    amount of nuclear waste for the family of 4 for 20 years would fit in a pill bottle or
    shot-glass.

    Most of the volume and mass of nuclear waste [ >90%] is U-238; no more dangerous
    or radioactive than the day it was dug out of the ground.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Physicist
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2006
  11. Nov 30, 2006 #10
    Dear Dr. Gregory Greenman,

    I'm surprised that these facts are not usually presented on the nuclear debate. While I'm infavor of environmental issues, I think nuclear might be a good way to address global warming.

    Is it possible to reprocess the radiactive long-lived waste, both fissile and fissionable, on-site? Greenies and after 911 are afraid of terrorists/accidents if it is done off site. Also, I understand U-238 can be bred into plutonium.

    IMHO, improving an existing technology that exists now (fission) is better than the countless billions poured on a pipe dream (fusion). I've argued in other forums that if we invest in billions to recycle nuclear waste rather than nuclear fusion, then we can reduce CO2 emissions now, rather than wait another 100 years for fusion to become online (if it does at all).

    I've read extensively on nuclear technology. I understand that pebble bed technology, while safe, is a once-through cycle that produces considerable waste. It was done experimentally at South Africa.

    I am under the impression that long-lived nuclear waste disposal, in peaceful Western democracies, is the primary objection to nuke, with safety (i.e Chernobyl) being second.

     
  12. Nov 30, 2006 #11

    Morbius

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    bananan,

    YES - on site reprocessing is indeed feasible.

    That is one of the principal features of the Integral Fast Reactor [ IFR ] that I worked
    on in the early part of my career when I was at Argonne National Laboratory.

    Here is an interview my former boss, Dr. Charles Till; did with PBS's Frontline in a program
    entitled "Nuclear Reaction" hosted by Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Rhodes
    [ "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" ]:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/interviews/till.html

    As Dr. Till mentions, the fuel for the IFR is in metalic form, as opposed to the oxide
    ceramic found in most reactors. By keeping the fuel in metalic form, it is particularly
    easy to do the reprocessing. Instead of needing a chemical processing plant, as one
    needs with oxide fuel; IFR fuel is reprocessed using metallurgical techniques, namely
    "halide slagging" followed by "electrorefining".

    As Dr. Till mentions, the plutonium / actinide containing output of this process can NOT
    be used as nuclear weapons fuel, but CAN be recycled back to the IFR to be burned.
    Therefore the IFR doesn't impose a proliferation risk.

    Because the metallurical process is much simpler than chemical reprocessing, the
    reprocessing plant can be placed on-site, as you suggest. The plutonium / actinides
    never leave the high-radiation region of the plant; so there is no opportunity for theft.

    The following web page, courtesy of the Nuclear Engineering Department at the
    University of California - Berkeley mentions the on site nature of the IFR's
    reprocessing system under the heading of "Diversion":

    http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/designs/ifr/anlw.html

    In addition, the IFR was "inherently safe". It did not rely on engineered systems to
    shutdown and cool the reactor. All that is needed to keep the IFR safe, is that the
    laws of Physics work - which they ALWAYS do.

    As stated in the article; the IFR is "almost too good to be true" as Richard Rhodes
    phrased it. It's really too bad that President Clinton cancelled the IFR in 1994.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Physicist
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2006
  13. Nov 30, 2006 #12
    Ronaldo Szilard, Nuclear Science and Engineering director of INL, came to give a talk my my university today. He was talking about the NGNP, and later I had asked if it was similar to the IFR design. Would it also be able to process waste on site?
     
  14. Nov 30, 2006 #13
    Hi,
    Well I've been reading the wiki article on generation IV
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_IV_reactor

    I'm a little surprised that none will be online at least until 2030 given that fission nuclear plants do exist. If fusion could be performed beyond the break-even point tomorrow, I infer it won't go commericial until 2050. Personally, I'd rather see money diverted from fusion research into fission reactor designs. (That, and the stupid war in Iraq and war on Terrorism). I, uh, vote democrats, and I'm rather disappointed it was a democrat that killed IFR.

    I'm surprised that of the designs proposed once-through cycles are seriously considered, as greenies really dislike radioactive waste. Which of the designs of Gen IV do you and nuclear physics community think is most promising?

    * 1.1.1 Very-High-Temperature Reactor (VHTR)
    * 1.1.2 Supercritical-Water-Cooled Reactor (SCWR)
    * 1.1.3 Molten Salt Reactor (MSR)

    1.2 Fast reactors

    * 1.2.1 Gas-Cooled Fast Reactor (GFR)
    * 1.2.2 Sodium-Cooled Fast Reactor (SFR)
    * 1.2.3 Lead-Cooled Fast Reactor (LFR)
     
  15. Dec 1, 2006 #14

    Astronuc

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    It's a matter of selecting the right structural materials for a 60 year lifetime - which has yet to be demonstrated, and then convincing a utility to accept the risk of a multibillion dollar/euro investment.

    Even with new Gen-III plants utilities are faced with obstacles in building them, and much of that has to do with the disposition of spent fuel.

    Of the list above, I'd say MSR and Lead (or Pb-Bi) are least likely, and SCWR is problematic with respect to material performance. As temperatures and pressures increase, so do the challenges to materials performance.
     
  16. Dec 1, 2006 #15
    Astro or Morbius. Now when Bush has openly stated his war feelings for nuclear power. Is there any plans to restart projects like the IFR over there in the states?
     
  17. Dec 1, 2006 #16

    Morbius

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    Azael,

    The Bush Administration has put forth an initiative called the GNEP -
    Global Nuclear Energy Partnership:

    http://www.gnep.energy.gov/ [Broken]

    http://fpc.state.gov/fpc/61808.htm

    It's a fairly new initiative, just really getting started.

    How this initiative will fair with the new composition of the Congress is anybody's guess.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Physicist
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  18. Dec 1, 2006 #17

    Morbius

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    bananan,

    Bill Clinton and Al Gore CAMPAIGNED on the fact that federal monies were given to
    national labs to work on nuclear programs. They promised to put an end to that
    practice and shutdown research on nuclear power. That's what they did - and said
    so at the time.

    Clinton stated that nuclear power research "wasn't needed" in his first
    State of the Union address in 1993:

    http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=47232

    "We are eliminating programs that are no longer needed, such as
    nuclear power research and development. We're slashing subsidies
    and canceling wasteful projects."

    --President William J. Clinton, February 17, 1993


    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Physicist
     
  19. Dec 1, 2006 #18

    Andrew Mason

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    I am quite impressed with the IFR - (not only because the project was directed by a Canadian) and I think you make an excellent case for its reconsideration.

    But to be fair to Clinton, cancellation of the IFR was done as part of a massive economic restructuring to balance the enormous deficit that had been built up (and which pales in comparison to the present Bush administration deficit). If he had not cut it one could well have asked why are they cutting these other programs (which Clinton describes as having been difficult decisions in the full quote of the speech to Congress which you excerpt) when they are keeping this expensive IFR nuclear energy project?

    So a good argument could be made that the IFR was more a casualty of previous administrations that spent (or failed to adequately tax) irresponsibly. Clinton did what any responsible leader interested in keeping the country strong should have done: cut spending and raise taxes to balance the books.

    AM
     
  20. Dec 1, 2006 #19

    Morbius

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    Andrew,

    BALONEY!!

    If you look back at the budgets of the Department of Energy - it went UP under
    Clinton. There was no great cutback!! There was plenty of money spent on
    programs that are now dead because they didn't pan out - all the so-called
    "green energy". Now THAT was WASTE!!!

    The IFR was cut for ONE and ONLY ONE reason - it was NUCLEAR.

    You need to go back and read the speeches by Al Gore at the time!!!

    Al Gore trumpeted the fact that the Clinton Administration cancelled anything and
    everything that was NUCLEAR.

    The policies of the Clinton Administration were some of the most anti-nuclear of
    any previous Administration. That's most likely due to the influence of Al Gore.

    It costs more to dismantle a facility than it takes to just shut it down and
    "mothball". If the Clinton Administration was interested in saving money;
    they could have mothballed EBR-II; which served as the IFR prototype.

    NO - they ordered it DISMANTLED - and PAID for doing so!!! They wanted
    it dismantled so that it would be difficult to reverse their decision.

    I'm sorry if it hurts your partisan sensibilities; but you need to face facts!!

    The Clinton Administration was anti-nuclear and PROUD of it!!!

    One can't come back later and claim it was just budget pressures; because the
    Clinton Administration was quite up-front at the time that they wanted to shutdown
    ALL nuclear programs and research. [ The Supercollider died too. ]

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Physicist
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2006
  21. Dec 1, 2006 #20
    Hello I'm a beginer at this, but would like to share my point with all of you smart ones out there.
    here goes, I understand that Energy given off is based on the Electrons of a atom, and the quanity of electons in a action, is what its all about.
    I understand that the medal mercury, Hg, 80, has the most electrons per element, Non-Radioative,but the last safe choice, just before the unsafe elements, if we could just use mercury as a energy source. I would enjoy the pro's help with my concept.
    Thanks
     
  22. Dec 1, 2006 #21

    Morbius

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    Paul,

    I'm afraid it's more complicated than that.

    When you talk about "energy given off" - what energy are you talking about.

    In the case of nuclear energy; the energy that one can get by fissioning or fusing
    the nuclei of elements; the amount of energy available has absolutely nothing to
    do with the number of electrons.

    The electrons are important in chemical reactions; not nuclear reactions. Even then,
    how many electrons there are is not really important either. When you have a bunch
    of chemicals, the laws of Physics and Chemistry tell you what combinations those
    elements can make. Each of the combinations has a certain energy associated with
    them - the "binding energy".

    If you can take chemicals in one energy state, and rearrange them into another
    arrangement that has lower energy - then net energy is released.

    For example, let's take the combusion of Hydrogen to form Water:

    2 H2 + O2 ---> 2 H2O

    That is two molecules of Hydrogen plus one molecule of Oxygen gives you two
    molecules of water.

    If you look at the reactants, the Hydrogen molecules and the Oxygen molecule;
    there is a certain amount of energy in the Hydrogen-Hydrogen bonds of the two
    Hydrogen molecules plus the energy in the Oxygen-Oxygen bond of the Oxygen
    molecule.

    When we rearrange them into water; you now have two Hydrogen-Oxygen bonds in
    each of the two water molecules - for a total of 4 Hydrogen-Oxygen bond.

    It turns out that those 4 Hydrogen-Oxygen bonds represent LESS energy than the
    total energy in the Hydrogen-Hydrogen and Oxygen-Oxygen bonds you had before
    the reaction.

    That difference in energy is released as Heat Energy - and that's why you can get
    energy out of burning hydrogen.

    It's not as simple as just counting electrons.

    When you say you want to use Mercury as an energy source; what do you have in
    mind? You don't get energy just from an element; you get energy from a chemical
    or nuclear reaction.

    Do you have a specific chemical reaction with Mercury in mind?

    There's no nuclear reaction with Mercury that's going to give you energy and be
    self-sustaining. Mercury isn't a nuclear fuel source.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Physicist
     
  23. Dec 1, 2006 #22
    Dr. Gregory Greenman thanks for you help, here is my idea, since Hg has the most electrons, like the match idea, if you could gather all the energy from just one single match,you would have all the energy to power the homes in the world forever. I study many areas of research, I understand your idea on a chemical reaction, Maybe I'm trying to apply my most electons element to getting energy out of, can you plug in a concept of mercury used as a secondary storage battery, being better than Lithium or with Lithium the latest battery of today, instead using mercury, since it loaded with alot of electrons.
    Thanks for your time
     
  24. Dec 1, 2006 #23

    Morbius

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    paudusa,

    First in a "lithium" batery; which is more properly called a "lithium-ion" battery; you are
    not getting energy out of lithium.

    A particular chemical reaction is being used to store energy and release it later. You
    can see the formula for that reaction at:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_ion_battery

    The reaction that stores energy involves not just Lithium, but also Cobalt (Co),
    Carbon (C) and Oxygen (O).

    It's called a "lithium battery" or a "lithium-ion battery"; but that's just a convention;
    the real chemistry behind this battery is more involved than just the element lithium
    and how many electrons it has.

    Read the article from Wikipedia. There's a lot of things that go into the design of a
    battery; like how much charge it can store, whether it suffers from "memory effect",
    the temperature sensitivity...

    As the article states, it took a lot of good chemists working on this for 20 years to
    come up with the lithium battery. I don't think just using another element with more
    electron automatically means that you get a better battery.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Physicist
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2006
  25. Dec 2, 2006 #24

    Morbius

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    Andrew,

    It's blatently partisan to say that the IFR was a casualty of previous Administrations.

    First, the IFR was cancelled during a period where the Democrats controlled BOTH
    houses of Congress. One can't say that the fiscal policies of spending and taxing
    were the fault of one party or the other. The budgets and spending prior to the
    cancellation of the IFR were passed by a Congress controlled by Democrats,
    and a White House controlled by Republicans until 1993.

    BOTH parties have to share the responsibilities for the fiscal health of the US Gov't
    at that time.

    However, programs like the IFR are really a "drop in the bucket" compared to the
    overall budget of the USA.

    It was clear from the very beginning of the Clinton Administration that it
    was opposed to everything and anything nuclear.

    The options for the IFR were to mothball it; stop work and place the facility in a
    condition where it could sit unused; but could be restarted at a future date. That would
    be the least expensive option.

    The second option would be to continue the research program; which is more expensive.

    The third option is the MOST expensive; DISMANTLE the facility. Although this is the
    most expensive option; it makes it much more difficult for a future Administration to
    restart the project; because they have no facility, and have to build a new one. This is
    the option the Clinton Administration chose for the IFR.

    The Clinton Administration was also seeking to shutdown the DOE's nuclear laboratories.
    The first lab in the gunsight was Lawrence Livermore. Clinton's first Secretary of Energy,
    Hazel O'Leary; appointed a task force which was composed mostly of "greenies" and led
    by Motorola CEO Robert Galvin; hence the task force was called the "Galvin Commission".
    They wanted to either shutdown LLNL, or turn it into a "green lab" which was a hub for
    technology transfer to industry, and LLNL nuclear physicists could design blades for
    wind turbines.

    Fortunately, LLNL was saved by the herculean efforts of its then Director Dr. Bruce Tarter:

    http://www.llnl.gov/llnl/history/directors.html [Broken]

    Under the section devoted to Dr. Tarter's tenure as Director, called "New Challeges",
    one reads:

    "In 1994, the Galvin Commission was called by former Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary
    to explore whether the Laboratory should be closed down. Others thought the Laboratory
    should relinquish all weapons work, and some thought it should become a hub for
    technology transfer. Tarter felt the Lab's primary mission should remain weapons work,
    particularly through the use of new tools such as the National Ignition Facility and
    terascale computers. It was a controversial position, but his tenacious efforts led the
    Galvin Commission, along with President Clinton, to agree that the nation needed
    laboratories such as Lawrence Livermore."


    I can cite you chapter and verse of the anti-nuclear efforts of the Clinton Administration.

    The gutting of the nuclear research capabilites of the USA for both power production
    and national security is a legacy of the Clinton Administration, the damage of which is
    still being repaired.

    It's what the Clinton Administration wanted; and they got it. They were proud of this
    stance at the time. Many of Clinton's followers believe it was the right thing to do; or
    had wanted him to go even farther.

    However, if one supports nuclear power and nuclear research for both power production
    and national security; one can't say now that the Clinton Administration was aligned with
    those priorities.

    My friends who are ardent Democrats, but that support nuclear power and nuclear
    research are not proud of the Clinton Administration in that matter. Most see that
    as the influence of Al Gore, and for that reason did not support his Presidential
    aspirations.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Physicist
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  26. Dec 2, 2006 #25

    selfAdjoint

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    Dr. Greenman, you are properly indignant at the Clinton Administration's behavior, and so am I. They had at that time what they considered a powerful client; the green anti-nuclear movement. Just like some other social fads that have faded with time, it's hard to appreciate today just how petty and fanatical they were. They told each other lies about the existing reactors. Nova produced a program about TMI with a sinister voiceover, implying, but never quite stating, that people in the region wer dying like flies of cancer and other radiation-linked illnesses. The anti-nukes wanted to shut down a reactor as unsafe every time some normal problem was found (one time that I remember it was a broken perimeter fence! Well, "children could get in and be poisoned"). And the Clintons threw them that bone. It was truly shameful. Republican administrations haven't done that, but I haven't seen them follow up their casual talk about encouraging nuclear options as a global warming action. Nobody has clean hands.
     
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