Future Energy: The Nuclear Fission Option

https://www.futuretimeline.net/21stcentury/images/fusion-power-2040-2050-demo.jpgCommUnity of Minds — Donald Halcom writes: Gertrude Stein once said, “A rose, is a rose, is a rose”. Paraphrasing the old girl, “A Neutron, is a Neutron, is a Neutron” and “A Joule, is a Joule, is a Joule”.

On this planet there is only one naturally occurring fissile element and that is Uranium 235 (U235). Mankind has learned how to make two new fissile elements and these are Uranium 233 (U233) and Plutonium 239 (Pu239). Both of these manmade elements are made by “neutron capture” from the fission of a fissile element (e.g. U235) followed by the spontaneous neutron beta minus decay to form new fissile elements. U238 is converted to Pu239 and Thorium 232 (Th232) is converted to Uranium 233 (U233). Observe that one must sacrifice one fissionable material to make another fissionable material. There is no free lunch. U238 and Th232 are called “fertile” elements. Notice the “odd” and “even” relationships.

The starting amount of U235 initially present and the amounts of U233 and Pu239 that can be formed are of primary interest to mankind. Our future, in part, depends upon them. Electric power generation will be highly influenced by the finite amounts of these fissile materials. Mankind keeps demanding ever increasing amounts of electricity. The purpose of this analysis is to estimate how long “nuclear” materials can supply such power. (04/15/2013)