Sad-ending story of EBR-II told by three of its pioneers

During the period between 1961 and 1994, an extraordinary machine called the Experimental Breeder Reactor 2 (EBR-II) was created and operated in the high desert of Idaho by a team of dedicated, determined, and distinguished people.

In 1986, that machine demonstrated that it could protect itself in the event of a complete loss of flow without scram and a complete loss of heat sink, also without a scram. Those tests were conducted carefully, with an expanded supervisory and operating staff while being witnessed by dozens of internationally respected scientists and engineers.

A few weeks later, at a nuclear power plant behind the Iron Curtain, a small, poorly led operating crew made up of people with little nuclear power plant experience conducted an ill-conceived experiment to see how long the steam turbine at a nuclear plant would keep spinning with enough momentum to supply electricity after the reactor was tripped. Before conducting the turbine momentum test, plant operators inadvertently — or purposely — put the reactor into its most unstable possible state.

That reactor blew up and caught fire. It stole the world’s attention away from the experiments at EBR-II proving that nuclear reactors could be designed to be automatically safe using well-developed physical principles. One result of the attention-getting explosion was to begin a long period of visceral distrust of nuclear energy. In too many cases, the distrust has been extended to all of the people who have devoted their professional lives to understanding, developing, building and operating the technology.

Instead of being reassured by the highly successful, extensively witnessed tests in the open and free United States, the world was subjected to overblown scare stories and dire future predictions as the result of events at a reactor in the opaque, somewhat mysterious world of the Soviet bloc.

Instead of moving steadily towards a future society supplied with virtually unlimited power from emission-free nuclear fission energy, the world has experienced nearly three decades of increasing dependence on natural gas, coal and oil. Those decades have seen periods of incredible transfers of wealth from the world’s energy consumers into the pockets of the world’s fossil fuel producers as people have been told that supplies of low cost fuel were running out.

Fossil fuel exports to European nations frightened away from nuclear energy by the events at Chernobyl have been a primary source of revenue for Russia, the dominant member of the former Soviet union. Control of the world’s fossil fuel markets has been a major source of power, wealth, and conflict with numerous U.S. companies in the hydrocarbon and military equipment industries accumulating substantial, sustained profits.

In 1994, the U.S. Senate — following the lead of Senator John F. Kerry and President Bill Clinton — decided to eliminate all funds for operations and research associated with the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) project. The vote was close, only 52 senators, a small majority, voted in favor of removing the funds.

That complete nuclear power plant and fuel cycle project included the EBR-II reactor. During President Clinton’s 1994 State of the Union address, he had characterized the valuable research being conducted on advanced nuclear energy systems as an unnecessary waste of money that should be stopped as part of a program of spending reductions.

Below is a poignant piece of recorded history told by three leading members of the team.

Spoiler alert — you know you are a problem-solving patriot if you are moved by John Sackett’s final soliloquy.

Making a Contribution: The Story of EBR-II (Full Version) from ComDesigns, Inc. on Vimeo.

Note: The above video was recorded not long before EBR-II was demolished. A sadly ironic end of the tale is that the funds for the destruction came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Somehow, it doesn’t seem right that the Department of Energy chose to use funds from a program that was supposedly designed to help America recovery from a terrible recession to destroy a machine that should have been proudly preserved as an inspiration for its prosperous future.

Norbert Rempe – Radiation Superstitions discusses costs of LNT and ALARA in DOE cleanup activities

Atomic Insights is not standing alone in the effort to push people and agencies to take a hard look at the basis for current radiation assumptions and regulations. Please watch Norbert Rempe, a retired professional geologist who spent much of his career performing work associated with the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, describe some of the costs and dangers associated with treating even the smallest measurable doses of radiation as hazardous.

Rempe played a supporting role in a story published by Current Argus News in February titled WIPP: 1 Year After the Accident.

In terms of safety, some would say that the fire was far more dangerous than the low-level radiation release.

Norbert Rempe, a retired geologist who worked at WIPP for over 20 years attends most WIPP meetings and openly criticizes WIPP officials.

Rempe has several concerns, including that WIPP and DOE officials still haven’t given a good estimate of the actual radiation still present in the underground.

“If you need to clean up a mess, you need to establish the size of the mess,” Rempe said.

Rempe said that what happened during the fire was far more dangerous then the radiation leak.

“These were my former colleagues who were potentially in danger, and it, the fire, could’ve caused a lot more damage then the radiation leak,” Rempe said. “Safety is their number one priority, but improving nuclear safety, for nuclear, trumped everything.”

Rempe explained that when the fire occurred, the ventilation system in the underground was shifted as if it were a radiological event, an act that made smoke inhalation more of an issue during the fire.

During his presentation, Rempe makes a number of important points about the costs associated with trying to enforce radiation protection limits that are a small fraction of the variations in normal background exposure around the world. He identifies an iron quadrangle of interest groups that benefit from excessive spending to clean up places that are already clean enough to prevent hazards to humans. They benefit because they are the recipients of the spending; they are on the revenue side of double entry accounting systems where one entity’s costs become another entity’s revenues.

It’s a lengthy presentation, but the slides are good and the delivery is informative and wryly amusing.

NIRS firing flak at “pro-nuclear fanatics”

Among one group of friends, we comfort ourselves with the following mantra, “When you’re taking flak, you’re right over the target.” Aside: Several members of the group are old enough to have fathers who flew in WWII when the phrase was common among bomber pilots. End Aside. I thought about that reassuring thought when I […]

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Atomic Show #241 – Rachel Pritzker, philanthropic problem solver

Rachel Pritzker is a philanthropist motivated to solve problems, even if they require rethinking long held notions. She is the founder and chairman of the Pritzker Innovation Fund, which she operates along with her brother, Roland. The tagline used by her organization is “Supporting the development and advancement of paradigm-shifting ideas to address the world’s […]

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Calabrese details reasons he is not satisfied with Science Magazine’s “final” answer

Edward Calabrese gave Atomic Insights permission to publish a letter he sent to Marcia McNutt, Editor-in-Chief of Science. His letter is quoted between the two lines below with detailed contact information removed. August 19, 2015 Dr. Marcia K. McNutt Editor-in-Chief, Science family of journals AAAS Dear Dr. McNutt: I read your e-mail letter to Dr. […]

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Categories: LNT

Crowd source request – influence of BEAR I assertion that there is no threshold of radiation dose

People who do not want to believe or acknowledge Edward Calabrese’s interpretation of the historical documents associated with the BEAR I Genetics Committee report have dismissed its influence. They claim it is just one paper of many and that numerous studies that have been conducted in the years since the report was issued have tested […]

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Categories: LNT

Jerry Cuttler and Mohan Doss add their voices to Calabrese’s challenge to Science Magazine. Rejected – so far.

Yesterday, Atomic Insights published a copy of a letter that Dr. Edward Calabrese sent to Marcia K. McNutt, the Editor-in-Chief of Science Magazine. I have obtained permission to publish copies of two related letters addressed to Ms. McNutt, one from Dr. Jerry Cuttler and one from Dr. Mohan Doss. In addition, I have obtained a […]

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Edward Calabrese challenges Science Magazine to right a 59 year-old case of scientific misconduct

Dr. Edward Calabrese shared the below letter to the editor in chief of Science Magazine with several of his professional colleagues. One of them shared it with me. I immediately contacted Dr. Calabrese and obtained his permission to share it with Atomic Insights readers. Dr. Calabrese did not initiate this coverage of his ongoing investigation […]

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Why does large hydro count as renewable in some propaganda but not when counting for quotas or subsidies?

A question that critical thinkers interested in energy policy debates should think about is the fuzzy definition of “renewable energy.” It is a term whose definition shifts depending on the goals of the person or publication using the term. That feature should cause truth seeking people to avoid its use. At Atomic Insights, we prefer […]

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South Australian nuclear discussion intensifying

On August 8, 2015 the Saturday Paper [Melbourne, Australia] published a thought-provoking article titled South Australia’s future role in the nuclear industry. It describes how the economic opportunity presented by an expanded involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle is meeting up with a particularly stressed unemployment situation in South Australia to stimulate some frank discussions […]

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The Left Needs to Reconsider its Automatic Position Against Nuclear Energy

by BILL SACKS and GREG MEYERSON As leftists who have studied the issue of nuclear energy for years, we want to reply to Robert Hunziker’s “Real Story” titled What’s Really Going on at Fukushima? (CounterPunch, June 15, 2015). It’s time for much of the left to reconsider a long-standing opposition to nuclear energy that often […]

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Diablo Canyon relicensing meeting – Musicians get top billing, but CGNP attracts press attention

At the NRC’s August 5 public meeting on relicensing Diablo Canyon, a group of aging classic rock stars relied on their fading celebrity status to provide commentary and get their names into the press. David Crosby showed up in person, while Graham Nash, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt sent in written comments. Their […]

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