June 1, 2001
To the Editor, The Globe and Mail:
I wish to bring to your attention a significant factual error in the
recent article (2001 May 30) by Prof. Franklyn Griffiths on MOX vs.
immobilization for surplus weapons-plutonium disposition.
In paragraph four Griffiths states: "This strange use of the word
'disposition' reflects the fact that plutonium cannot be disposed of with
today's technologies. Instead, this extremely long-lived, toxic and
man-made substance can only be changed from form to form and moved from
place to place."
In fact, with today's CANDU technology one could destroy about half the
plutonium, relative to the amount fed into it. The remaining plutonium
would be embedded in highly radioactive spent fuel, and denatured to
so-called "reactor-grade" form. This represents an important distinction
between the MOX and "immobilization" disposition options, since the latter
maintains 100% of the original plutonium inventory, at full weapons-grade
Denaturing of plutonium to reactor-grade has been recognized by the U.S.
National Academy of Sciences as the most important barrier to the "re-use"
of the surplus weapons plutonium by host states like Russia and the U.S.
AECL also has advanced strategies that can increase the plutonium
destruction fraction up to 75% and greater. In other words,
three-quarters of the plutonium would be permanently destroyed, while
generating clean electricity. The spent fuel would be a small fraction of
that currently generated by CANDU reactors, and far shorter-lived due to
the lower amount of plutonium.
Interestingly, Ontario already generates about one-quarter of its
electricity from plutonium, safely, cleanly, and economically.