Did you know that the worlds stockpile of Plutonium stands at around 500 Tonnes? (incidentally the UK owns about 20% of that) Wikipedia Link Here
Theoretically, a technically competent country could build around 250,000 fission nuclear bombs out of that 500 Tonnes. Each bomb would be around 10KT – about the size that destroyed Hiroshima.
Of course, a technically competent country would actually be capable of using the Plutonium for detonators inside much larger fusion weapons (Hydrogen Bombs).
A less technically competent nation would have more difficulties and may only be capable of producing around 100,000 fission nuclear bombs from the 500 Tonnes.
By any reasonable evaluation the bomb potential from 500 Tonnes of Plutonium on a global scale is effectively limitless.
Clearly safe control and disposal of Plutonium (other than by building bombs out of it) would be a good idea.
So how about burying it?
Plutonium has a half life of 24,000 years. So in 24,000 years time todays stockpile of 500 Tonnes would only build a mere 125,000 bombs. Or for a less technically competent nation a mere 50,000.
So burying it is hardly a solution.
There are a number of cunning plans to “poison” the Plutonium to make it extremely difficult to separate. But you can always guarantee that somewhere, somehow, there will another cunning plan which could be used to purify it.
Even if you successfully poison it what do you do with it then?
There is only one way that I know of that can reduce the Plutonium stockpile - short of blowing people up with it.
That is by using it as fuel in an Integral Fast Reactor (IFR). The by-product of using the Plutonium is a huge supply of electricity. So you dispose of the Plutonium and produce a massive benefit to society at the same time.
Another and less productive use of IFR reactors is to poison the Plutonium in a short time scale, but using it for power production would seem a better idea.
An IFR not only solves the Proliferation issue it also solves the issues surrounding air pollution and carbon emissions from burning coal. An IFR in power mode can consume almost all of its fuel and it produces very small amounts of short lived radioactive waste. It is the ultimate win-win solution to an otherwise intractable problem.
IFR technology is by the way, old proven technology, even though the anti-nuclear lobby will try and bluster you otherwise.
The technology dates back at least four decades. The USA had a working IFR in the 1980's. It was cancelled as a political sop to the anti-nuclear movement. The American IFR was a victim of broad brush ignorance. It remains a victim to this day. (Wikipedia - Argonne Reactor Here)
Ironically the project was killed off just two weeks after a test proved the IFR would safely shut itself down after suffering a total loss of cooling and control. That is why it is often referred to as an intrinsically safe design.
Even the UK had a similar (though not quite the same) project based a Dunraey in Scotland in 1970's While the Dunraey reactors had a number of design issues they did show the feasibility of the IFR concept was sound. (Wikipedia Dunraey Reactor Here)
Today Russia operates two commercial IFR's. India is building one and I believe China has just commissioned its first. So this is no pie in the sky unproven dream world technology. (World Nuc. News - Existing & Future IFR's Here)
GE-Hitachi have a design for a 600MW reactor based on the original USA design from the 1980's. It is the current front runner in the UK to deal with the Plutonium issue. It is called the PRISM reactor.
But there is a problem.
The problem is with people who would rather bury their heads in the sand than seek a solution to the Plutonium stockpile problem.
Feckless politicians are likely to sit on their hands rather than risk the wrath of Green groups. Even though these anti nuclear groups have no solution to the plutonium stockpile themselves.
If you have a magic solution to the Plutonium stockpile other than by using PRISM reactors please tell me – I'd love to know what it is.
But without a magic solution (or PRISM reactors) the Plutonium stockpile is not going anywhere soon. As far as I can see the only way to put the Plutonium Genie back in the bottle is to constructively use it for the benefit of mankind in PRISM reactors.
So what is your solution? What do you do with 500 tonnes of Plutonium?
If you have some magic plan other than PRISM what is it?
------------------------(Post posting note! It has been correctly pointed out on twitter that PRISM reactors are not the only constructive nuclear technology that can use the Plutonium. There are other promising avenues of development, such as Molten Salt Reactors and Sub Critical reactors to name just two. I had no intention of dissing these promising avenues of development but at the moment in the UK the front runner (by a long margin) is the PRISM reactor.