Publicatie Laka-bibliotheek:
The Changing need for a Breeder Reactor

AuteurRichard Wilson, UI London
Datumseptember 1999

Uit de publicatie:

             The Uranium Institute 24th Annual Symposium
                    8-10 September 1999: London

    The Changing Need for a Breeder Reactor
                             Richard Wilson

When nuclear fission was discovered,1 and the possibility of a neutron chain
reaction was demonstrated2 there was euphoria about the possibility for
unlocking the energy of the atomic nucleus for peaceful human
development. The need to win a terrible war ensured that progress was first
made in the field of military explosives, but the scientists continued to
ponder the use of nuclear fission as an energy source to fuel mankind. One
limitation was evident. Only the rare (0.7%) isotope of uranium, U-235, was
fissionable by slow neutrons and would be burnt up in a reactor. Uranium
appeared to be a scarce mineral with only three known suppliers: the
Joachimstal mine in Czechoslovakia, soon to be overtaken by war; Union
Minière d’Haute Katanga in the Congo; and the Eldorado mining company
in Canada. It seemed that although the “nuclear age” had come, it was to be
short lived.

But other fissionable materials (with atomic weights A = 4N-1) were
predicted by Bohr and Wheeler3 in 1939, and plutonium-239 was discovered
by Seaborg, McMillan, Ramannod and Wahl in 1941. Soon thereafter,
Seaborg and collaborators discovered the first (U-233) of many fissionable
isotopes not a member of Bohr and Wheeler’s 4N-1 rule. In 1951 McMillan
and Seaborg received the Nobel prize in chemistry for their work on the
chemistry of the transuranic elements that included this discovery. This
immediately led to a possibility which I will call for brevity “Fermi’s
dream”. By use of a breeder reactor it is possible to convert the waste U-238
into Pu-239 for burning. By this means 100 times as much energy can be
obtained from the same amount of raw fuel. I note that this dream was an
endeavour to achieve high efficiency in fuel use — a goal rediscovered by
“environmentalists” (but not in the context of a breeder reactor)