Environmental Protection

No Nuke Materials

Shortage of Ingredient May Cause Power Disruption

The New York Times reported October 8, 2013 on the possible shortage of lithium, produced only by China and Russia, and used in 65 out of 100  nuclear reactors in the U.S. The shortage may cause a disruption of electricity provided by the U.S. nuclear reactors.

The shortage concerns lithium-7, which is what’s left over when separated from lithium-6. Lithium-6 is used to make tritium, the hydrogen in the hydrogen bomb. The equipment needed to separate lithium-6 from lithium-7 was shut down by the U.S. in 1963 due to a huge surplus. Given the shrinking inventory of U.S. nuclear weapons, little tritium has been required and the surplus of lithium-7 has been mostly consumed.

China and Russia apparently still have their equipment in place, but because it is related to their weapons program, outsiders do not know how much capacity they might have. At the same time, Chinese domestic demand for lithium-7 is likely to increase soon because they are working on a new type of nuclear reactor that uses vastly larger quantities of the material, according to independent experts.

For decades, the U.S. has sought “energy-critical materials” from distant places due to the environmentally damaging processes associated with procuring the “rare-earth” materials. These materials are used in high-efficiency motors, while other materials are used in solar cells. 

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