Doing Our Part to Reduce the Deficit

The United States is facing a budget deficit of $1.5 trillion this year, and the new Republican-led House of Representatives (where spending originates in the US government) is looking for ways to save money.

We in the thorium community have a significant idea for how the government can

  1. save $500 million dollars
  2. accelerate the development of LFTR
  3. help NASA explore deep space
  4. save thousands of lives from cancer

It’s pretty simple–cancel the Department of Energy’s plan to destroy the uranium-233 stored at Oak Ridge National Lab.

For over ten years, the DOE’s Environmental Management division has been implementing a plan from the Defense Facility Nuclear Safety Board (97-1).

According to the DOE-EM 2011 budget request (page 14):

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory maintains the Department’s inventory of Uranium-233 (U-233), which is currently stored in Building 3019. The FY 2011 funding request will continue design of a project that processes the U-233 material in preparation for future disposal. Benefits include reducing safeguards and security requirements and eliminating long-term worker safety and criticality concerns. Recent discoveries of structural integrity issues with Building 3019 and determination that a portion of the U-233 is unsuitable for disposal at WIPP will require significant design changes to the facility. EM plans to continue the design effort through 90 percent design in FY 2011. At that point, a new baseline for construction and operations will be established. This will ensure that the construction estimate will have the accuracy necessary to complete the project on schedule and within budget.

Here’s the monetary stats on this project, according to a table on page 65 of the budget plan:

Site: Oak Ridge Reservation
PBS Field Code: OR-0011Z
PBS Name: Downblend of U-233 in Building 3019
Prior Costs FY 97-2009: $138.809M
FY10 and Remaining Cost (Low Range): $222.040M
FY10 and Remaining Cost (High Range): $246.012M
Lifecycle Cost (Low Range): $360.849M
Lifecycle Cost (High Range): $384.821M

It’s not too late to save the uranium-233. Despite spending $130 million, the effort to actually destroy the U-233 really hasn’t begun yet. Never have I rooted so hard for a government contractor to go slow and perform poorly!

From page 132:

U-233 Downblend Contract: The contract for U-233 downblending and Building 3019 shutdown was awarded to Isotek Systems, LLC in October 2003, originally managed by the Office of Nuclear Energy Congress directed the Department in the FY 2006 Energy and Water Appropriations Act to transfer the management of this project to the Office of Environmental Management and to terminate the medical isotope production. The contract has been revised accordingly. Phase I covered planning and design, which was completed in July of 2007. The current contracting schedule is for enhanced 90% design, in which a detailed cost proposal will be provided with a revised baseline and data sheet.

FY 2009: $58M
FY 2010: $38.9
FY 2011: $50M

Downblending of the U-233 hasn’t begun yet. From what I have heard, the contractor (Isotek) plans to import enough depleted uranium (DU) to create a final mixture of DU and U-233 that has the same fissile content as natural uranium (0.7% U-235). Well, if you want your final product to have only 0.7% U-233, then you’re going to need to bring in 1400 kg/0.007 = 200,000 kg of depleted uranium, and that weighs a lot. I’m guessing that that is what is requiring expensive modifications to building 3019 to support all that weight. I don’t know–one can only speculate at what is going on.

This is a very expensive project to destroy a very valuable resource. Please ask your Congressman to put an end to this waste of taxpayer money and to direct the DOE to use the U-233 for LFTRs that will produce electrical power and valuable materials for NASA’s space exploration and cancer-fighting medical isotopes.

Here is a video presentation of how saving U-233 from destruction can help NASA explore space and help save lives from cancer.

The DOE’s own Inspector General has begged them to stop, in order to preserve the valuable medical isotopes derived from the U-233 that can help fight cancer.

Here’s their report:

Meeting Medical and Research Needs for Isotopes Derived from Uranium-233

Should the Department of Energy (Department) carry out its disposition plans to dispose of its uranium-233, there is no assurance that a viable inventory of progeny isotopes (actinium-225 and bismuth-213) will be available to meet domestic medical and scientific research needs.

8 thoughts on “Doing Our Part to Reduce the Deficit

  1. Down-blending with DU is pure waste of efforts and money. LFTR is a bit in the future and if the proliferation/misuse risk is required to be reduced, a better way is suggested by the design of AHWR300-LEU fuel. All fissile material can be down blended and denatured by mixing it with a mixture of U238:thorium in the ratio 1:4. This can convert it into a long burn up fuel with nearly twice the burn up of standard fuels. This fuel can be utilized in current solid fuel reactors. At least a part of energy can be obtained from thorium while the LFTR is being refined and developed.
    This should also be done with surplus Russian and US weapons HEU or plutonium. Reactor grade recovered plutonium, of which the UK alone has about 100 tons, should also be converted to Pu-U-Th MOX should also be used for maximum energy production in this manner.
    The French, with maximum MOX experience and Indians with maximum handling experience of U233 can also be called on to produce such fuel.

  2. Remember that signing online petition is useless. Politicians pay attention to serious people, the type of people who will spend them time and money to write a letter (by hand!) and perhaps show up at functions where they can meet their representative. People who think they have achieved something by signing an online petition and fail to do anything else are deceiving themselves. Making other people think they have supported a cause by signing a petition is sabotaging a cause. Don't sabotage the U-233!

  3. What is the cost of securing the U233? The U233 is alot less atractive to a thief than a nuclear weapon.
    If the cost of securing the U233 is very high than PERHAPS it would make sense to downblend the U233 but only enough to make it no longer usable without enrichment in a bomb. For this purpose the downblending material should be U238.

  4. I was going to ask if uranium 235 can be replaced with uranium 233. If it were downblended to LEU levels can it be used in fuel rods? According to the post by Jagdish, this is possible.

    If this is correct, then diluting it is idiotic even for people who have no interest in LFTRs. If you can't convince people that it is needed for LFTRs, maybe you can convince them to save it as fuel for current reactors. It would certainly strengthen the case.

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