One of the distressed Japanese nuclear power plants contains a fuel known as MOX -- which is a mix of uranium and plutonium that's reprocessed from spent uranium (or the disposal of weapons grade plutonium). Over the last couple days I've been thinking (as probably many of us have) about nuclear power and its role in our society. I've often thought that the big issue that makes nuclear a non-attractive choice is the waste, and wondered why it couldn't be reprocessed and re-used in some way. And, apparently they also do so in France, which has received much attention for being so invested in nuclear energy. And after learning that I thought "well if the French can do it, why can't we"?
This article helps me understand some of the reasons why this isn't such an easy answer -- 1) reprocessing is apparently done with plutonium, which is thousands times more toxic than uranium -- although it is much harder to disperse than uranium and 2) plutonium is used in the creation of nuclear weapons, and widespread availability of plutonium at nuclear power plants poses a weapons proliferation risk (i.e., terrorists get their hands on plutonium).
My prayers continue to be with the people of Japan. I've given a donation to the American Red Cross, please consider a small donation to this, Save the Children, Doctors without Borders, or other organization you trust that has experience in international relief.