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Dr. Thomas Neff, a research affiliate at the MIT (Massachussetts Institute of Technology) Center for International Studies states that limited supplies of uranium fuel for nuclear power plants may thwart the renewed and growing interest in nuclear energy in the United States and other nations.
Over the past 20 years, safety concerns and politics dampened all aspects of development of nuclear energy. No new reactors were ordered and there was investment neither in new uranium mines nor in building facilities to produce fuel for existing reactors. Instead, the nuclear industry lived off commercial and government inventories which are now nearly gone. It is stated that worldwide uranium production meets only about 65% of current reactor requirements.
A few years ago uranium inventories were being sold at US$ 10 per pound; the current price is US$ 85 per pound.
Much of the uranium used by the United States comes from mines in Australia, Canada, Namibia, and, Kazakhstan. Small amounts are mined in the western United States, but the United States is largely reliant on overseas supplies. The United States also relies for half its fuel on Russia under a “swords to ploughshares” 1991 deal. This deal is converting about 20,000 Russian nuclear weapons to fuel for U.S. nuclear power plants, but it ends in 2013, leaving a substantial supply gap for the United States.
Further, China, India, and even Russia have plans for massive deployments of nuclear power and are trying to lock up supplies from countries on which the United States has traditionally relied. As a result, the United States could be the “last one to buy, and it could pay the highest prices, if it can get uranium at all,” Neff said. “The take-home message is that if we're going to increase use of nuclear power, we need massive new investments in capacity to mine uranium and facilities to process it.”
Mined uranium comes in several forms, or isotopes. For starting a nuclear chain reaction in a reactor, the only important isotope is uranium-235, which accounts for only 7 out of 1000 atoms in the mined product. To fuel a nuclear reactor, the concentration of uranium-235 must be 40 to 50 out of 1000 atoms. This is done by separating isotopes in an enrichment plant to achieve the higher concentration, but there is not enough processing capacity worldwide to enrich all the uranium required.
Researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (USA) have announced that hydrogen sulfide (sulphide) gas, H2S, can induce a state of suspended animation in mice while maintaining normal blood pressure. It is hoped that this result eventually will help in the treatment critically-ill patients. This result was presented at the American Physiological Society conference, "Comparative Physiology 2006: Integrating Diversity," in Virginia Beach, Virginai, USA, October 2006.
Hydrogen sulfide (sulphide) gas, sometimes called sewer gas, produces a noxious odour often described as a rotten egg smell. This highly toxic gas occurs naturally in swamps, some springs, and volcanoes.
The researchers administered 80 parts per million of H2S gas to their and found that their:
- heart rate fell from 500 beats per minute to 200 beats per minute
- respiration rate decreased from 120 breaths to 25 breaths per minute
- core body temperature fell from 38° C to 30° C
- activity level fell dramatically, moving only when the researchers touched them or shook their chambers
After the mice returned to breathing normal air they quickly returned to normal. Normally, as oxygen consumption goes down and heart rate decreases, blood pressure decreases also. Since the heart rate of the mice fell by more than 50%, the researchers expected blood pressure to fall, but it didn't.
"These findings demonstrate that mice that breathe 80 parts per million of hydrogen sulfide become hypothermic and decrease their respiration rate, heart rate and cardiac output without affecting stroke volume or mean arterial pressure," the authors said. This line of research could have a variety of helpful applications, including sustaining the function of organs of critically ill people, Ichinose said. It may also be possible to use the finding for patients undergoing surgery. This would be an advance, because anesthesia usually causes blood pressure to drop.