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.
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
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 tonne.
That might be good news for the nuclear industry. But critics fear
that if the work succeeds, rogue states and terrorists could make bomb
fuel in much smaller plants that are difficult to detect. Iran has
already succeeded with laser enrichment in the lab, and nuclear experts
worry that G.E.’s accomplishment might inspire Tehran to build a plant
easily hidden from the world’s eyes. Backers of the laser plan call
those fears unwarranted and praise the technology as a windfall for a
world increasingly leery of fossil fuels that produce greenhouse gases.
But critics want a detailed risk assessment. Recently, they
petitioned Washington for a formal evaluation of whether the laser
initiative cou… >>>