Heavy-Duty Recycling

articleLarge.jpgWar as a means of securing energy resources is a familiar narrative.  Peace as a means of securing energy resources is rather less typical . . . The New York Times today has a wonderfully ironic story on how decommissioned Soviet weapons are being used to keep the very houses warm that once they threatened to destroy.  Who’d have though the leftovers of the Cold War could be warming up the hot suppers of thousands of Americans?  Certainly adds another layer of vested interests to the START replacement discussions.  If one of the defining conflicts of the 21st century will be that of battling climate change, as Mikhael Gorbachev suggests in the Moscow Times today, then cooperation on arms reductions could be a step forward of some breadth :

In the last two decades, nuclear disarmament has become an integral part of the electricity industry, little known to most Americans.

Salvaged bomb material now generates about 10 percent of electricity in the United States — by comparison, hydropower generates about 6 percent and solar, biomass, wind and geothermal together account for 3 percent.

Utilities have been loath to publicize the Russian bomb supply line for fear of spooking consumers: the fuel from missiles that may have once been aimed at your home may now be lighting it.

But at times, recycled Soviet bomb cores have made up the majority of the American market for low-enriched uranium fuel. Today, former bomb material from Russia accounts for 45 percent of the fuel in American nuclear reactors, while another 5 percent comes from American bombs, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade association in Washington.

Treaties at the end of the cold war led to the decommissioning of thousands of warheads. Their energy-rich cores are converted into civilian reactor fuel.

In the United States, the agreements are portrayed as nonproliferation treaties — intended to prevent loose nukes in Russia.

In Russia, where the government argues that fissile materials are impenetrably secure already, the arms agreements are portrayed as a way to make it harder for the United States to reverse disarmament.

The program for dismantling and diluting the fuel cores of decommissioned Russian warheads — known informally as Megatons to Megawatts — is set to expire in 2013, just as the industry is trying to sell it forcefully as an alternative to coal-powered energy plants, which emit greenhouse gases.

Read on here.