Laser Uranium Enrichment Makes a Comeback

The controversial technology poses proliferation risks, but nuclear firms press on

5 min read
Laser Uranium Enrichment Makes a Comeback

laser01_device

Photo: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Dangerous Device? Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s plan was among many doomed laser uranium enrichment schemes. Will GE and Hitachi succeed where so many others have not?

Two technology giants, GE and Hitachi, are betting big on a nuclear renaissance. The companies formed an alliance in 2007 to push for a global expansion of nuclear power. But selling new reactors is only half the game. The joint venture is also aggressively pursuing a controversial technique for making nuclear fuel using lasers, a method they hope to commercialize by building the world’s first industrial-scale pilot plant in 2012. Regulatory agencies are worried that laser enrichment of uranium could lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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