In “Afghanistan’s Buried Riches,” Sarah Simpson discusses the availability of rare-earth elements, which are needed for high-tech manufacturing but are in short supply. She does not, however, note that these minerals are present in nuclear power plant “waste.”
In roughly 50 years of operation the U.S. has accumulated about 60,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel. Within that so-called waste stream, one can find significant amounts of cerium, samarium, gadolinium and europium, all rare-earth elements listed in the article.
One would also find actinides, heavy radioactive elements such as plutonium and uranium that can act as future fuel. That is, the waste still contains around 95 percent of the energy that could have been extracted had the fuel put into the reactors been used properly, as detailed in your December 2005 issue in “Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste,” by William H. Hannum, Gerald E. Marsh and George S. Stanford.
La Crescenta, Calif.
One of David Pogue’s points in “Big Progress on the Little Things” [TechnoFiles] is that the standardization of power cables is a highly desirable, and long overdue, trend in the gadget industry. He rightly points out that USB has become the industry standard (although he fails to emphasize that microUSB, not miniUSB, is becoming the de facto standard in the U.S.) for devices from cell phones to e-readers to MP3 players. But what he should have added is “except for Apple.”
Apple continues to refuse to wholly conform to USB conventions but rather still mainly uses a proprietary 30-pin dock connector. And instead of condemning the company, he applauds it for being “standardized” within its own ecosystem, for forcing customers who buy products outside Apple to have multiple power cords and for adding to the stockpiles of proprietary Apple cabling that grow the size of our landfills.