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

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

        2. @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.

      2. @donb,

        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.

        1. David-
          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.

    2. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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

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

  6. 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.


  7. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. Joe,

        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.

      2. @ 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.

  8. 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?

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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

  14. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. @ 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 !

      2. 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.

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