Fast reactor advocates throw down gauntlet to MIT authors

Near the end of 2010, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a summary of a report titled The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle as part of its MIT Energy Initiative. The complete report was released a few months ago. The conclusions published that report initiated a virtual firestorm of reaction among the members of the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) Study group who strongly disagreed with the authors.

I have an all-star team of people I can assemble to debate your position on the urgency of fast reactors (top DOE brass, nuclear industry, environmental leaders, etc).

You pick the place and time.

Though there are a number of specific recommendations provided in the report, the following quote from the “Study Context” provides a good summary of why the fast reactor advocates were so dismayed by the report.

For decades, the discussion about future nuclear fuel cycles has been dominated by the expectation that a closed fuel cycle based on plutonium startup of fast reactors would eventually be deployed. However, this expectation is rooted in an out-of-date understanding about uranium scarcity. Our reexamination of fuel cycles suggests that there are many more viable fuel cycle options and that the optimum choice among them faces great uncertainty—some economic, such as the cost of advanced reactors, some technical such as implications for waste management, and some societal, such as the scale of nuclear power deployment and the management of nuclear proliferation risks. Greater clarity should emerge over the next few decades, assuming that the needed research is carried out for technological alternatives and that the global response to climate change risk mitigation comes together. A key message from our work is that we can and should preserve our options for fuel cycle choices by continuing with the open fuel cycle, implementing a system for managed LWR spent fuel storage, developing a geological repository, and researching technology alternatives appropriate to a range of nuclear energy futures.

The group of fast reactor supporters includes some notable scientists and engineers whose list of professional accomplishments is at least as long as those of the people who produced the MIT report. In addition, it includes people like Charles Till and Yoon Chang who were intimately involved in the US’s multi-decade long fast reactor development and demonstration program that resulted in demonstrating a passively safe, sodium cooled reactor and an integral recycling system based on metallic fuel and pyroprocessing.

That effort, known as the Integral Fast Reactor, was not just based on an out-dated concept of uranium availability, but also on the keen recognition that the public wants a clear solution to “the nuclear waste issue” that does not look like a decision to “kick the can down the road.”

The IFR discussion group also includes a few aggressive politicians and entrepreneurs who are more skilled at getting their way than the typical research scientist.

Over the past several months, I have been eavesdropping on some interesting conversations between the IFR supporters and their colleagues at MIT. In essence, the MIT study authors have assiduously avoided discussion and tried mightily to change the subject. Ernie Moniz, one of the leaders of the MIT Energy Initiative, when confronted in person on the topic, has often deflected conversation by saying, “Well, I think it is time for drinks at the bar. I’m buying.”

The Science Council for Global Initiatives produced a detailed critique of the MIT paper and published that on Barry Brook’s Brave New Climate blog at the end of May 2011. The discussion has a great deal of interest for technical specialists and is supporting evidence that belies the often asserted falsehood (by people who oppose nuclear technology) that the people interested in developing and deploying nuclear technology speak with a single, almost brainwashed voice.

In recent days, however, the controversy has become more interesting because the IFR discussion group has decided to issue a public debate challenge and to allow people like me to write about that challenge in an attempt to produce some response. Here a background message from Steve Kirsch, an aggressive entrepreneur who never learned to meekly accept “no” for an answer, that led to the issuance of the challenge:

I think your team is dead wrong on your conclusion that we don’t need fast reactors/closed fuel cycle for decades.

Your study fails to take into account

  1. the political landscape
  2. the competitive landscape
  3. the safety issue
  4. environmental issues with uranium mining

It is unacceptable to the public to not have a solution to the waste issue. Nuclear power has been around for over 50 years, and we STILL HAVE NO OPTION FOR THE WASTE today other than interim dry cask storage. There is no national repository. Without that, the laws in my state forbid construction of a new nuclear power plant.

Other countries are pursuing fast reactors, we are not. Russia has 30 years of commercial operating history with fast reactors. The US has zero.

We invented the best Gen IV technology according to the study done by the Gen IV International Forum. So what did we do with it? After spending $5B on the project, and after proving it met all expectations, we CANCELLED it (although the Senate voted to fund it).

An average investment of $300M a year could re-start our fast reactor program with a goal of actually commercializing our best reactor design (the IFR according the GIF study).

At least we’d have a bird in the hand that we know works, largely solves the waste problem, since the fast reactor waste needs only to be stored for a few hundred years at most, and doesn’t require electric power or any active systems to safely shut down.

As long as we keep spreading around our research dollars and not focusing, we will get nothing done.

Investing lots of money in a project and pulling the funding right before completion is a bad strategy for technology leadership.

MIT should be arguing for focusing and finishing what we started with the IFR. At least we’d have something that addresses safety, waste, and environmental issues. Uranium is cheap because we don’t have to pay for the environmental impact of uranium mining.

We’ve had over 50 years to come up with better ideas. The IFR has proven to be the best of the GenIV designs. We should build one and get on with it, not spend another 30 years looking at other options.

Even if you still think we should be doing research for the next 30 years, the fact remains that computer modeling can only get you so far; the best way to advance our science is to actually build our technologically most advanced designs and improve them. That would be the IFR at this point. You can use this technology both for power generation, for advancing the science, and for materials testing.

Not having such a facility available in this country is a major mistake.

(Aside: I am reporting here and do not agree with all of the statements above, particularly the statement about the environmental impact of uranium mining. End Aside.)

After getting some unsatisfactory, head-patting responses from the “authorities” at MIT, Steve fired back with the following challenge.

The fact is that Russia is moving ahead with building IFRs, a technology we invented, and the MIT study says this is a low priority. That’s the debate.

And it’s an important one since nuclear is a critical piece of our energy mix.

I have an all-star team of people I can assemble to debate your position on the urgency of fast reactors (top DOE brass, nuclear industry, environmental leaders, etc).

You pick the place and time.

…and we’ll let the MIT student audience decide the winner.

The head of MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering tried to deflect that specific challenge with a distracting offer to debate a variety of fuel cycle and reactor options in light of lessons learned from Fukushima. The IFR group agreed that such a debate is would not address the topic of interest – should the US set a course of technology development (not laboratory research) based on already existing knowledge that would make demonstrable progress towards a closed fuel cycle?

As I noted earlier, Steve Kirsch, the inventor of the optical mouse, a successful entrepreneur, AND an MIT graduate, is not used to being deflected from a desired course of action, so he elevated the visibility of his challenge to the MIT student newspaper and to the President of the Institute. Here is a copy of his note to Dr. Susan Hockfield:


The MIT EI guys are trying to avoid defending their nuclear fuel cycle report.

Prof Moniz is silent and the head of nuclear would like to change the topic.

This is an important issue because it affects the deployment of nuclear power in the US which is critical for avoiding a climate disaster. This report has worldwide implications.

The challenge is from extremely credible people (most knowledgable nuclear expert in Congress, DOE nuclear management, Argonne National Lab Fellow, and from a famous climatologist who knows more about fast reactors than any of his peers; he has published three books and over 170 peer-reviewed scientific papers)

Can you help me make this debate happen?

Sorry for making trouble here, but that’s what MIT grads are supposed to do…stand up for the truth and call people out if they are wrong, right?

I will also volunteer my auditorium at MIT as the venue if Kresge is not available 🙂


Note: There is a Kirsch Auditorium at MIT and the namesake of that Auditorium cannot be told that it is not available for his use.

Stay tuned for more updates on this interesting intellectual duel. Something tells me that my friends who support the Liquid Fluoride Thermal Reactor (LFTR) would “boo” both sides of any resulting debate. As far as I am concerned, if the winning position supports the rapid construction of more fission power plants that do not burn fossil fuels, I am happy.

Update: (July 24, 2011 2:50 PM EDT) I received an email from Steve providing the names of his all-star team:

Update: (July 25, 2011 5:09 am) Barry Brook at Brave New Climate has published a letter from Steve Kirsch responding to another deflection attempt by the MIT faculty. You can find it at Fukushima, IFRs and an MIT debate. It is an impressive and thought provoking letter. I wish I had written it.

Update: (July 29, 2011 4:05 am) Steve Kirsch has posted an updated debate challenge on The Huffington Post titled Is MIT Afraid to Debate Nuclear Report?. I wish I could share all of the back and forth that I am seeing between MIT and the IFR support group. It is quite entertaining. There is one particular grad student…

About Rod Adams

35 Responses to “Fast reactor advocates throw down gauntlet to MIT authors”

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  1. George Carty says:

    My preferred end-state for nuclear fission energy would be something like 70% LFTRs and 30% IFRs.

  2. Nick P. says:

    Considering how awful fossil fuels are, it would seem to me that virtually *ANY* nuclear reactor is a better alternative and considering the difficulty we’re having getting any reactors built at all this internal fight over everyone’s favorite pet reactor technology boggles my mind.

    • David says:

      Nick, this is mainly a “fight” over NRC resources. Since the NRC has determined that it should take a minimum of 42 months and practically 15 years for a single design to get approval, there are very very limited seats at the table. If the NRC had a faster track and more lanes this debate would be done in the rooms of the venture capitalists. The other point here is in the USA we have done enough with efficiency that at the moment electricity growth is a zero sum game. However, the opportunity is today because there are large numbers of coal plants that are about 50 years old and need replaced. What replaces them is key. For me, any type of nuclear is better than new coal plants, natural gas or diesel generation. We need our coal to last much longer than it will if we burn it all up generating electricity. Dito with natural gas only more so!

      So the internecine debates are wonderful! At least we are getting press over the fact that there are many designs that are passively safe and can generate much less waste which is much shorter lived. I just fear the outcome that gives us “one best” solution and locks us into a single design. I see room for dozens of good designs.

      • Daniel says:

        Talking of lost opportunities, I think the NRC will drag its feet and kill the small nuclear reactor market in the US.

        They just won’t be able to learn from their past failures and fast track the certification process.

        • Jason C says:

          That’s if they had “failures” to learn from. Since they’ve never seen one single project through from inception to completion, they have no “failures” but they have no success either. By definition of their charter, the NRC has no obligation to make anything succeed or fail, their only objective is to protect safety and regulate. There couldn’t be a more perfect smokescreen for having no accountability for success or failure.

        • donb says:

          @Jason C:
          By definition of their charter, the NRC has no obligation to make anything succeed or fail, their only objective is to protect safety and regulate.

          While the NRC has been able to regulate, it has failed manifestly to protect safety. This failure lies in its burdensome regulations that make nuclear power plants difficult and expensive to build. Instead, we have the continued operation of coal-fired power plants, and the construction of natural gas power plants. Both of these are more dangerous than nuclear power plants.

          On the other hand, the NRC was given a mandate by Congress to regulate only nuclear safety, rather than regulating for increased overall safety. Unfortunately, both the NRC and Congress are all too comfortable with the arrangement.

      • David says:


        What specific additions would you make to the language in HR909 to change the charter of the NRC? I have some ideas but I don’t know enough to craft language properly. Would the simple phrase – “Shall include consideration of overall safety of the community as affected by the production of Nuclear Power” work ?? There is a move in the attitude of congress at this time and suggestions have a chance of being implemented.

        • donb says:

          I thing the language needs to have something like “In cases where decisions by the NRC cause delays or additional costs in the licensing, construction, or upgrading of nuclear power plants, the benefits of those delays or additional cost must outweigh the dangers of the power generated by other sources instead.”

          Not the best, but that is the sense I am trying to get across.

    • Friakel Wippans says:

      ANY nuclear reactor as long it’s not an RBMK. This is one type of reactor I’m not willing to defend.

      Less in jest, BWRs without a full containment bunker also fall in this category of NPP that should be put on the back burner.

      If Fukushima Daiichi reactors had had TMI-style containments, we wouldn’t be in the current position. Quite the contrary. Everybody would be marveling how tough and safe NPPs are, even after a total LOC and a meltdown, even completely obsolete, 40 years old reactor. And everybody would be clamoring for nuclear.

  3. Dan Meneley says:

    This debate must go forward. Yes, build many new LWR power plants. But get ready for the next era, when oil supply fades away and world needs are greater.

    “The most dangerous person in the world is an engineer whose opinion cannot be questioned.”

    This stands for MIT engineers as well.

  4. jean-Bernard Minster says:

    It is astounding to me that a technology invented and developed in the US is now being deployed and marketed abroad, with Russia, China, India, South Korea all jumping in the area, or dying to do so. This is my book is a very short-sighted national policy to solve the energy crisis.

  5. Steve Kirsch says:

    The world’s most famous global warming expert, Jim Hansen, has just agreed to be added to the panel to debate the MIT report.

  6. Paul Wick says:

    And, why not invite MIT’s Transatomic Power to the party/debate at MIT? from their website:

    Transatomic Power is a nuclear reactor design company. SHIVA, our flagship reactor, is a 200 MW molten salt reactor that converts high-level nuclear waste into electric power.

    Leslie DewanChief Executive Officer Ph.D. candidate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology DOE Computational Science Graduate Fellow MIT Presidential Fellow

    Mark Massie Chief Technology OfficerPh.D. candidate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology DOE Nuclear Engineering University Program Fellow DOE Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative Fellow

    Advisory Board

    Dr. Richard Lester Head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCo-chair and founding director of the MIT Industrial Performance Center

    Dr. Jess Gehin Senior Nuclear R&D Manager, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

    Dr. Benoit Forget Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    Transatomic Power’s SHIVA reactors turns high-level nuclear waste into electric power. What makes SHIVA so innovative?

    Power from nuclear waste. Our reactor can convert the high-level nuclear waste produced by conventional nuclear reactors each year into $7.1 trillion of electricity. At full deployment, our reactors can use existing stockpiles of nuclear waste to satisfy the world’s electricity needs through 2073.

    Greatly reduced radioactivity. Conventional reactor waste is radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years. Our reactor reduces the majority of the waste’s radioactive lifetime to hundreds of years, thereby decreasing the need for permanent repositories such as Yucca Mountain.

    Inherently Safe. Unlike conventional reactors, which must rely on operator action, external electric power and active safety systems to prevent damage in accident scenarios, the physics of our design ensures our reactor is alwayspassively safe.

    Efficient modular design. Our compact 200 MWe molten salt reactor can be manufactured economically at a central location and transported by rail to the reactor site. Utilities can use the profits from the first reactor installed to fund construction of additional units.
    Why it works

    Our SHIVA reactor can be powered by nuclear waste because it uses radically different technology from conventional plants. Instead of using solid fuel pins, we dissolve the nuclear waste into a molten salt. Suspending the fuel in a liquid allows us to keep it in the reactor longer, and therefore capture more of its energy. Conventional nuclear reactors can utilize only about 3% of the potential fission energy in a given amount of uranium before it has to be removed from the reactor. Our design captures 98% of this remaining energy.

    • John Englert says:

      I had the opportunity to work with Jess Gehin in my last job at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

      • Joel Riddle says:

        Dr. Gehin is at least somewhat a fan of the possibilities of thorium, if I am not mistaken.

  7. weeellllll….! Hmmmmm….!

    Yeah, there is a degree of arrogance on the part of the IFR folks. There is a question of the issue of “IFR” or just “Fast Reactors”? And, as Rod noted, the issue of LFTR, which there are now 3 start ups to develop R&D around this in the U.S (not to mention the Chinese start up of R&D in February of this year, a commitment to build LFTR). So the “We invented the best Gen IV technology according to the study done by the Gen IV International Forum.” is silly…but I understand why they put it this way.

    I would love to see a debate on this. I would love to see a *real* Gen IV debate, something the IFR folks seem to want to avoid as much as MIT wants to avoid a fast reactor debate on their fuel cycle report.

    So is the issue fast reactors or is it the fuel cycle based on the MIT Report? If it’s the latter, as I suspect, then all parties who have “projects” to put forward ought to be there, be they IFR, PBMR (the only working Gen IV reactor in the world) and LFTR.

    LFTR advocates, btw, while outspoken, are more *enthusiastic* than *arrogent*, so ya’ know :). We’d love “in” on this debate.


  8. David says:

    The time for lab study is over, let’s build some working plants! Let’s build some IFRs let’s build some LFTRs, Let’s build some SMR, pebble beds and Atomic Engines! I am deeply convinced that if we allowed this practical development to move forward, we would have a large competition of different NUCLEAR designes, waste disposal methods and integrated solutions to many problems. The time for University study alone is finished, Let’s work on real world technologies and learn from them.

    It was from an MIT study on the modular construction of Pebble Bed reactors that I got interested in Nuclear. Let’s build those designs! And a whole lot of others to boot.

    • Joel Riddle says:

      Right on, David.

      We will need a minimum of 2, and likely many more different reactor designs in the future. Neither the LFTR nor the IFR will be capable of being the ONLY design needed. An optimized nuclear energy-based economy of the future will take a healthy mix of reactor designs to provide adequate energy, while keeping waste down to a managable level.

      • David says:


        I spent some time last fall working for a Renewable energy company wanting to put up a Bio Fuels plant. I had the job of research and we developed a plan of using waste land left from old strip mines to plant very fast growing reeds for burning in the plant to generate electricity. The problem was that the cost of electricity was too low to pay back the loan in ten years. The capital cost got us. Once paid, that plant could have run indefinitely on the fuel harvested in the area and would have been carbon negative due to the increasing biomass in the ground. But we did not have the capital to invest and we did not want to use venture capital – (VC’s always want to run the plant in about 3 years and end up destroying the investment since they don’t know how to actually run it) and the bank loan repayment amount was too expensive in the face of 8 to 9 cents an hour electric. You need about 10 to 12 cents an hour wholesale to pay capital costs or you need to pay those costs without a bank loan.

        I came to understand that one of the reasons coal is successful is that it has a wide community impact. Land owners make money, truck drivers make money, miners make money, coal companies make money and Power generation makes money and utilities make money. It is a very very wide impact on the economy. What replaces it has to be so compelling that like cars replacing horses the case is clearly advantageous. Frankly at the moment Nuclear is much like the case of cars in the 1880’s A few very very expensive hand built steam models that don’t threaten the horses at all. It was not until the factory built models started rolling off the lines that the days of the horses came to an end. (Can you imagine the stink in New York City back in the day..?) Thankfully, once Ford got rolling several people got into the business. Different designs could evolve and now we have an amazing system.

        So, I strongly support HR909, because, if we can restructure the response of the NRC to actually license a wide number of types of designs so that Utilities can actually buy an SMR on time and on budget for less than a billion dollars (100 million is a nice target) They will buy them. We will not need legislation to cap coal, it will go away just like the horse and buggy days. (Perhaps a few will be left over – we still have the Amish and the occasional horse race). Competition between different designs will weed out the most expensive and dangerous of the mix and leave us with wonderful smooth running machines.

        Rod’s Atomic Engines (now sadly closed) were a great design but the process of fuel development was bound up in research labs who wanted to prove the fuel before using it. A good businessman or woman will make fuel that is good enough and then in the process of burning it continue development. Crank out version 1.0 and keep working on new fuel designs. But our labs and Universities want to start at version 9.0 and keep us waiting while they work internally (eternally?) on V. 1 – 2 -3 -4 …….

        So, if you want to kill carbon, let it go don’t worry about it. Quit trying to spend energy time and effort killing it. Make the focus on freeing the shackles of Nuclear. Allow a real Nuclear industry to emerge. Carbon will die in the face of competition from a heat source that is actually a million times better.

        Safety is a dodge to stop innovation.

      • Daniel says:

        @ Joe

        A paraphrase from Pete Domenici on the French vs US nuclear industry:

        France has 2 reactor models and hundreds of different cheeses. The US has 100 different reactor models and 2 sort of cheeses.

        I vote for minimizing the number of designs and be smarter this time around.

  9. Jeff S says:

    This might be slightly off-topic, but can anyone point me to any written discussion/analysis of how Sodium-cooled reactors can deal with the Sodium fire hazard?

    Most people, like myself, if they know anything about metallic sodium, would be afraid that in a severe incident, the burning sodium could provide a transport mechanism, similar to the burning graphite moderator at Chernobyl, which I’ve heard it said caused a lot of reactor core material to become airborne.

    How do you make sodium, as a coolant, safe?

  10. Jason C says:

    I am shocked to see my district Rep. John Garamendi on that list. I didn’t think he had any pro-nuclear leanings at all- his campaign was endorsed by the Sierra Club.

    I support Steve’s debate challenge and the idea of developing the IFR, but I don’t think it necessarily has all the answers, especially to the “problems” they consider problems. I’d like to see the USA develop nuclear technology with some degree of diversity. China seems to be going down the diverse technology path with the development of different models of LWR’s, Candu’s, fast reactors, pebble beds, and now LFTR. That diversity and experience they gain from it will be a huge advantage for them. While they are building billions worth of new Gen 3+ reactors right now, the USA can’t even get one single Gen 3+ design approved. In the USA, it seems that developing advanced nuclear technology is the least of our worries, because we can’t seem to develop *any* new nuclear technology.

  11. Jagdish says:

    There is just one problem with IFR and present designs of fast reactors-the sodium coolant. I wish that Indians,Russians or Chinese would build a fast reactor with a safer coolant. The Westerners have run their lap and it is time for Asians to carry the baton.

    • George Carty says:

      What, like a liquid-chloride molten salt reactor?

      • Jagdish says:

        Something on these lines. Just a clean salt coolant, distinct from the fuel, could also be possible.

    • SteveK9 says:

      Would be very interesting if India would examine the LFTR. Their thorium utilization plan seems very complicated (although that doesn’t mean it won’t work). India seemed ideally suited to developing a LFTR, since they were committed to a thorium cycle. Maybe the recent large Uranium find (low quality ore though) will make them less interested in thorium.

      • Jagdish says:

        Molten chloride salt reactor is more like it.LFTR is a thermal concept. The IFR processing is basically chloride volatility and electrolysis. Chloride salt fuel makes it easier. Sadly, the Indian DAE is shying away from molten salts.

  12. Well, the Gen IV Forum had any…seriousness…I could use other words…they would of done just what some of your are suggesting: develop the plans to start building 3 or 4 of the reactors they initially proposed. We should of had ORNL, NLs in Idaho and Sandia start right away…and this is like 8 years ago or so! Very frustrating that all they produced was a nice web site.

  13. If I am occasionally frustrated at advancing the liquid fluoride thorium reactor, I can not even imagine how frustrated the IFR folks must be — they were even closer to the goal line.

    If nuclear waste is such a big issue, it’s hard to see how MIT’s report could ignore it’s progeny Transatomic Power’s molten salt reactor approach. LFTR advocates also promote using a molten salt reactor to harvest spent fuel plutonium as a fissile “ignition” source.

    Barry Brook says there are two silver (colored) bullets, plutonium and thorium, to solve our energy crisis. Besides LWR and IFR, I would like to see LFTR included in the fuel cycle debate — as recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission.

    Berkeley scientist Per Peterson would be an excellent debate participant, advocating the molten salt cooled pebble bed reactor.

  14. James Greenidge says:

    If this showdown can’t be on cable TV, I hope that it is at least YouTube-cast live with great promotion. I’d also like a (Rod?) follow-up there on the spin that groups like Sierra Club and Greepeace are going to hawk if the nuclear argument wins. I want a kid to finally walk into class proudly proclaining he’s pro-nuclear without scorn around the room.

    James Greenidge

  15. As a Thorium advocate (and friend of Atomic Insights Blog) I would echo Robert Hargraves fine suggestion:
    “I would like to see LFTR included in the fuel cycle debate — as recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission”.
    Thorium LFTRs have an important advantage not shared by any competing reactor technology, including the sodium cooled IFR, which should make them worthy of inclusion in discussion in any debate regarding the ultimate handling and disposition of nuclear waste. Only thorium can be completely consumed in a “thermal-spectrum” reactor. Uranium can’t (Uranium-235 or Pu-239 require a fast neutron spectrum reactor to consume all of the fuel). All of America’s commercial reactors today are “thermal-spectrum” reactors, and they’re that way because they can be built in their most stable configuration and with the minimum amount of start-up fissile fuel. If you want to minimize nuclear waste, even to the point of nearly eliminating it, you must be able to completely consume your nuclear fuel and thorium implemented in LFTR reactors permits complete consumption of the nuclear fuel while operating with excellent safety and stability in a reactor having a thermal neutron spectrum.
    Why not give Thorium LFTRs a seat at the table?

    • jmdesp says:

      Don’t forget that coal plants are today generating a lot of waste, including uranium and thorium. One you realize that, what’s the need to fight for a nuclear industry that generate 0 long term waste ?

      Actually I’ve heard that a 1GW coal plant generates *more* radioactive waste than a 1GW nuclear plant, if you take into account the amount that’s left after it has cooled down, and that must be stored in long term storage.
      I’d like to have a more precise demonstration of that, because wow ! if true, the nuclear industry should have realized it and been using it since *very* long ago as the ultimate sledgehammer argument against coal.

      • Daniel says:

        @ jmdesp,

        If coal plants were to be approved by the NRC, they would not pass the requirements as they emit too much radio activity.

        Go figure !

      • David Walters says:

        This is not accurate. There are figures out there about the radioactivity…specifically U238/U235 and Thorium that is not ‘generated’ but exists to varying degrees in the chemical make up of coal. The coal plant burns up the hydrocarbons and leaves these material, along with other heavy metals, like mercury, and emits it with the fly ash and particulate.

        The amount of radioactivity is statistically irrelevant but does exist. All these materials are chemically toxic as one might expect, which is the real danger.

        A nuclear power plant *emits* little in terms of radioactivity but creates several dozen tons a year and is highly dangerous and toxic, due to the intense radioactivity.

        On the whole, coal plants emit far more of this little amount of radiaoctivity as a whole because there is so much coal burned.

        In China, which has, umm…a lot of coal ash, they have built a pilot plant to ‘mine’ the coal ash and remove the U235 for reuse in their nuclear plants.