The FFTF was not a shining example of government efficiency; it was initially conceived in the 1960s, finally completed in the late 1970s, started up in 1982 and shut down in 1993. It was opposed by many, including those who jealously wanted its financial resources to be spent on their pet technology. It cost several billion more than initially planned, but just as it started producing some valuable materials and test results, it was shut down. There are still those who believe that the final death knell has not been sounded, but hopes of restoration are not terribly abundant.
The FFTF was a victim of the Clinton Administration’s 1992 decision that there was no more need for advanced nuclear power research, but it was also subjected to some additional destruction during the Bush administration when a hole was drilled to allow coolant to be removed.
Original post ends here
Update (Posted December 15, 2012)
I will be using this post and the comment thread to gradually build up an information resource about the FFTF, including its current status, its potential uses, the history of the effort to destroy it, and the history of the struggle to restore it to operation.
From: Alan Waltar
Date: December 13, 2012 1:09:00 PM EST
To: Rod Adams
I read the short note that you recently provided in Atomic Insights regarding the possibility of restarting FFTF (the Fast Flux Test Facility), located at Hanford, Washington.
I must say that I was disappointed in your review. Whereas it is true that the reactor ended up costing considerably more than the original estimate, what DOE project has ever come in on budget?
I spent a good share of my career with this machine…and when it was prematurely shut down due purely to politics, I went on a few trips around the world to see if some foreign funding could be surfaced to turn it into an international test machine. Despite the normal tendency for any scientific group to defend their own facilities, I NEVER heard a disparaging remark about the quality and capability of the FFTF. Rather, it was (and still is) recognized as the Flagship of fast spectrum test capability.
Having just participated in a DOE review of their advanced fuels program, it is abundantly clear that the U.S. needs fast spectrum test capability. There is essentially universal agreement on that point (from any energy planner seriously concerned about America’s energy future). The major problem, of course, is that building a new fast test reactor would cost several billion dollars and require probably a decade or two to get on line. In today’s world, that kind of resource is just not in the cards.
Hence, it is my conviction that a serious study should be conducted by a highly qualified, independent committee to see if the FFTF could be restarted—and the associated cost and schedule for such a restart. A DOE-sponsored study a few years ago resulted in the conclusion that it COULD be restarted, at a cost of about $500 million and 6 years. In addition to being the premier test bed for fast spectrum research, the FFTF is capable of producing a great many, badly needed medical isotopes.
I hope this helps.
Best personal regards,
It will take a considerable political effort to slow the current movement toward completed destruction of the FFTF, which will include removal of all above ground facilities and filling all of the below ground facilities with grout and concrete. Here is a quote from the recently released Tank Closure & Waste Management (DOE/EIS-0391) FINAL in section 1.4.2 titled Decisions Not to Be Made:
Deactivation of FFTF. DOE does not intend to make any further decisions regarding deactivation of FFTF as a result of this EIS. Based on previous NEPA reviews (DOE 1995a, 2000a, 2006b), DOE decided to shut down and deactivate FFTF.
Here is another quote from Section 184.108.40.206 titled Issues Identified During the “FFTF Decommissioning EIS” Scoping Process that indicates the current position of the office of the Department of Energy that has the assigned responsibility of determining what to do with the FFTF.
Issue: FFTF should be preserved for various future missions. The decision to shut down FFTF is politically driven; political pressure may yet be able to reverse the process. FFTF should not be decommissioned.
Response: Based on previous NEPA reviews (DOE 1995a, 2000a, 2006b), DOE decided to shut down and deactivate FFTF. DOE does not intend to make any further decisions regarding deactivation of FFTF.
Speaking as someone who spent 9 years working in Washington as a bureaucrat in uniform, I can testify that one of the most difficult things to do is to convince a functionary that they must reevaluate a previous decision. Actually, that statement is not completely true; it is pretty easy to convince a civil servant that they must change their planned course of action as long as the order for making that change comes from the entity that controls their budget. As our founding fathers planned, the power of the purse strings is a powerful political tool.
Here is some additional background information that might be useful if you intend to attempt to save the FFTF from complete destruction and make it possible to restore its unique capabilities without starting from scratch.
DOE Press Release Dated December 5, 2012 – Issuance of the Final Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement
Note: This release announced the availability of a 6,000 page document. There is a minimum of a 30 day delay before the DOE can issue a Record of Decision (aka ROD) indicating what action it is going to take. Buried within the long document is information about the actions DOE is planning for the FFTF. In order to make it easier to locate that information, I have taken the liberty of extracting the relevant pages.
- Readers Guide summary of FFTF proposed actions Reader’s Guide: FFTF Decommissioning
- Extract from Proposed Actions: Background, Purpose and Need Sections where FFTF is discussed (1.2.5, 1.3, 1.4, 1.6.3, 1.9.2, 1.9.3, 1.10)
- Description of the three alternative courses of action considered Appendix E.2.3 Summary Description of FFTF Decommissioning Alternatives
Note: Restoration of the facility to operational status was not one of the alternative courses of action considered.
- Details about the waste removal actions Appendix D.2 FFTF Decommissioning Alternatives
Note: It is quite likely that I have missed some sections. Please let me know if you find significant discussion of the FFTF in the Hanford EIS outside of the sections that I have posted.
Commentary from Dr. Robert Schenter, National Association of Cancer Patients published on August 27, 2001 in Hanford Reach FFTF and Seaborg: Two National Treasures