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Saturday, 20 August 2011

Laser Advances in Nuclear Fuel Stir Terror Fear

Scientists have long sought easier ways to make the costly material known as enriched uranium — the fuel of nuclear reactors and bombs, now produced only in giant industrial plants.
Centrifuges for purifying uranium at a plant owned by the energy company USEC in Piketon, Ohio. A breakthrough with lasers promises to make the enrichment process easier and cheaper, allowing for much smaller plants.
“The issue is too big” to leave to the federal status quo, said Francis Slakey, a physicist at Georgetown University and American Physical Society official.
One idea, a half-century old, has been to do it with nothing more substantial than lasers and their rays of concentrated light. This futuristic approach has always proved too expensive and difficult for anything but laboratory experimentation.
Until now.
In a little-known effort, General Electric has successfully tested laser enrichment for two years and is seeking federal permission to build a $1 billion plant that would make reactor fuel by the ton.

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