Die hard

Die hard the us has decided to resume producing plutonium 238, a human-made highly radioactive metal created from uranium in nuclear reactors, for "national security'. This is the first time after the end of the cold war that the country with the highest number of nuclear weapons will produce the deadly metal. Till now, it depended on old stockpiles or Russian imports; it can't use the latter for military purposes, as per a pact with Russia. While project managers admit that most of the plutonium produced will be used in secret missions, they decline to divulge further. The secrecy around the move has raised serious concerns about the risks involved, especially as the metal will be produced at a site close to delicate ecosystems: at the Idaho National Laboratory, outside Idaho Falls and some 161 kilometres from the Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Also in danger will be the Yellowstone National Park (in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming) and the Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a popular weekend getaway.

The metal's production was necessitated by diminishing domestic stockpiles. "The real reason we're starting production is for national security,' said Timothy A Frazier, head, radioisotope power systems, the us Energy Department. The current plan is to produce 149.7 kilogrammes of it over 30 years. The plant's construction will begin soon and production will start by 2012. Officials say over 50,000 drums of radioactive waste will be generated in the nearly us $1.5 billion effort.

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