Tuesday, June 28, 2005

US resumes production of Cold War plutonium

The US is poised to begin production of highly radioactive plutonium 238 - used previously to power spy satellites and space probes - for the first time since the Cold War. Officials say that the plutonium is being produced for "national security".
The isotope, many hundred times more radioactive than plutonium 239 which is used in nuclear arms, is to be produced at the Idaho National Laboratory, a sprawling site close to the Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Local environmental and anti-nuclear groups are concerned about possible contamination from radioactive waste: plutonium 238 is so powerful that even a speck of it is enough to cause cancer.
Officials involved in the $1.5bn (£800m) programme, which is intended to produce around 300lb of the material in the next 30 years, say the bulk of the plutonium will be used in secret projects but refuse to provide further details. The material has previously been used in batteries to power deep space probes such as Cassini as well as underwater surveillance and espionage equipment.



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