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 […]

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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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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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Sierra Club member asks Executive Director Brune to support nuclear energy

A few days ago, a friend from Californians for Green Nuclear Power shared a letter he had written to Michael Brune, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club. He gave me permission to share his letter with Atomic Insights readers. My friend is a Sierra Club member because he agrees with many of its goals […]

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FOE continues promoting fossil fuel by trying to force Diablo Canyon closure

As a literature major during my undergraduate years, I was fascinated by the variety of stories that can be told about the same topic depending on the author’s selected point of view. Here is a brief example. Friends of the Earth (FOE) has a page on its web site titled Shutting down Diablo Canyon. The […]

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Atomic Show #239 – Sarah Laskow and the LNT model

In March 2015, Foreign Policy magazine published an article by Sarah Laskow titled The Mushroom Cloud and The X-Ray Machine. The article described the controversy over the radiation protection model known as the linear, no-threshold dose response. Ms. Laskow conducted some admirable literature research and talked with a number of well-known people. The ones that […]

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Participation opportunity – Turkey Point EIS public meeting

One of the most prolific anti-nuclear activist groups, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), is distributing posts encouraging their followers to oppose FP&L’s plan to build two new reactors at the Turkey Point Power station. SACE is encouraging people to submit negative comments via the public comment process for the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) […]

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Atom and the Fault

I came across a fascinating little book by Richard Meehan titled The Atom and the Fault: Experts, Earthquakes and Nuclear Power. It was published in 1984 by MIT University Press. Meehan is a geotechnical engineer who participated in several controversial nuclear plant projects in California, including Bodega Head, Malibu, and Diablo Canyon. Though the book […]

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Time to stop consuming precious resources to harmonize occupational dose limits

Pressure groups and interested individuals have been striving for more than two decades to force the U. S. to reduce its occupational worker radiation protection limit from 50 mSv/year to 20 mSv/year. The primary justification for this effort is that in 1991 the International Commission on Radiation Protection (ICRP) issued publication 60 and provided their […]

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SMRs – lots of noise but DOE budget that’s 1% of annual wind tax credit

I’ve been spending some time watching, rewatching and clipping interesting excerpts from the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water subcommittee hearings on the FY2016 Department of Energy budget. It’s not everyone’s idea of entertainment, but it’s fascinating to me to watch publicly accessible discussions about how our government makes decisions, sets priorities and spends the money […]

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