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17 Comments

  1. Have you thought about publishing a list of anti-nuclear politicians on the Web, with information on which fossil fuel related companies have contributed to their election campaigns?

    1. It might be easier to compile a list of pro-nuclear politicians. Nuclear power’s ability to stockpile months to years worth of fuel means that politicians with short election cycles aren’t able to derive much power from manipulating its supply. Uranium as a mineral also doesn’t have the same magnitude in royalty payments for its extraction as fossil fuels do.

  2. There is one thing I noted from the appendix of Jan van Erp’s letter. In the bullet that “Aqueous reprocessing is prone to nuclear-weapons proliferation”, he noted that aqueous reprocessing is capable of separating out plutonium that has the chemical purity needed for weapons.” (emphasis added by me)

    He did not mention that it lacks the isotopic purity needed for weapons of significant yield, due to there being significant non-fissile Pu-240 amongst the chemically separated plutonium.

    I’ve always been a fan of the following link on this topic.

    http://depletedcranium.com/why-you-cant-build-a-bomb-from-spent-fuel/

  3. What are the market dynamics for recycled vs. once-through fuel use? I seem to recall hearing or reading somewhere that right now the market favors the once-through fuel cycle. If that is true, then unless we introduce artificial distortions in the uranium market, there will be an economic incentive to stick with once-through.

    1. The economic incentives will come in one of two forms.

      1. Having enough nuclear capacity worldwide for the price of U to increase substantially. This would be a good situation for nuclear in general, regardless of the fact that it would represent an increased fuel cost.

      2. Having the cost dispositioning spent fuel be increased or somehow accounted for differently than the present 1 mill/kW-hr disposal fee that utilities pay.

  4. Reading these letters, especially the one by Jan B. van Erp, fills me profound sadness. Seen in them is the story of how misguided political decisions have worked to turn our country away from the path of economical, clean, safe and abundant energy. This wrong turn contributed to the exodus of manufacturing from our shores and made a significant contribution to the economic mess in which we now find ourselves.

    I was particularly stuck by Mr. van Erp’s descriptions of how researchers were forbidden (for political reasons) to deliver their papers at the conference on nuclear fuel cycle development held in Salzburg, Austria. This is an action worthy of the commissars of the old Soviet Union.

    Yucca Mountain is essentially a triumph of fear — Spent nuclear fuel is really scary, and we will never be able to do anything with it. The Linear, No Threshold theory of radiation exposure is the truth. So let’s come up with a gold-plated solution to dispose of the spent fuel we have and make ourselves feel a little less scared.

    We have a society where the effort to avoid specific small threats overwhelms those who would take calculated risks to produce large-scale, general good. This attitude has become enshrined in government at such places as the NRC, where seemingly it is accept to exert all efforts to reduce a miniscule perceived risk in a nuclear power plant, all the while, the grand (though less specifically identifiable) risk of not licensing nuclear plants and instead having the power come from more dangerous sources is ignored.

    Unfortunately, this nanny-state attitude, misguide though it may be, continues to be a successful way to be elected to office. It will require a number of forward-thinking individual exerting Herculean efforts to change government for the better. The only alternative is for things to get so bad that the majority of voters will want to vote for someone showing real leadership in the area of energy.

  5. Fast reactors are much less scalable than thermal reactors because they require a large mass of fissionable materials to start up a chain reaction. For example, if you start a fast reactor with reactor grade plutonium, you may need as much as18 tons per GW of power output. On the other hand thermal breeders can be started with one tenth the amount of fissionable material. Thus the “fast reactors will save us” song seems doubtful. On the other hand you can build thermal breeders and much larger numbers.

  6. Ploriferation of gas and coal plants has been one consequence of conflating civilian nuclear power with nuclear weapons policy. Oh, and look at the result: a climate and energy and economics problem that is getting worse and worse.

    And, not surprisingly, we still have nuclear weapons proliferation problem. And I can’t see how you’d argue that it is not going to get worse, as conflicts over scarce energy and other resources increase, with countries without weapons often feeling threatened.

  7. President Obama just finished his speech.

    In with bio fuels (??)

    Out with mercury exposure (Coal is out)

    Not much else on the energy front to decipher.

  8. One problem with the Integral Fast Reactor concept is that General Electric essentially owns the technology. Sadly, GE seems more interested in selling wind turbines and gas turbines than nuclear reactors these days. I guess there’s more money to be made in being part of the big natural gas hype and in selling equipment for expensive tax-dodges.

    Given Immelt’s cozy relationship with the Obama administration, if GE was serious about its PRISM technology, I would expect there to be much more interest and enthusiasm in fast reactors from the DOE and the BRC. The last time we heard anything serious about PRISM in the US was the result of the Bush administration’s GNEP program. The consortium led by GE included the PRISM technology as part of the package that it proposed to the DOE for this program.

    It’s a shame that Congress failed to fund GNEP sufficiently. I guess that GNEP came along at just the wrong time (2006) … right before a change in the control of Congress. The change in administrations in the White House less than three years later was the final nail in the coffin.

    1. I’ve wondered if it would be more affordable for American citizens to pay for new nuclear plants and give them away to utilities than continue to pursue a course of heavily subsidized renewable tech.

    2. @Brian – I agree with you. Several times I have put Eric on the spot by asking him why his $157 billion per year revenue employer cannot simply fund a Prism with their own cash if the technology is so well developed.

      Conversely, if they do not want to pay for the development, they should release the IP that the taxpayers have already paid to develop.

    3. Let me make a analogy between IFR and the airline industry. The US has turned its back on IFR during the Clinton years. This decision will set the technology back a long time but it will not die as other countries will eventually pick up on it.

      The US once turned its back on the ‘Concorde’ technology and those planes are now history. But what a breakthrough: going from New York to London in 4 hours instead of 8. Now, we have to settle for airline travel standards that have not changed much since the 1960’s.

      What a waste.

  9. Some antis have been doing their IFR homework by cherry-picking quotes out of “Technical Options For The Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor”, published by the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment in May 1994 as part of their technical justification for pulling the plug on IFR.

    They have added the following unrebutted statements to the Wiki article on the subject:

    Proliferation risks are not eliminated. “The plutonium from ALMR recycled fuel would have an isotopic composition similar to that obtained from other spent nuclear fuel sources. Whereas this might make it less than ideal for weapons production, it would still be adequate for unsophisticated nuclear bomb designs. In fact the U.S. government detonated a nuclear device in 1962 using low-grade plutonium typical of that produced by civilian powerplants.” “If, instead of processing spent fuel, the ALMR system were used to reprocess irradiated fertile (breeding) material in the electrorefiner, the resulting plutonium would be a superior material, with a nearly ideal isotope composition for nuclear weapons manufacture”

  10. Brian Mays,
    There are already signs that GE’s wind turbine business is in big trouble. They are laying off people in Norway and elsewhere.

    It would be great if they showed some sense of urgency with PRISM but my guess is that they are holding back in the expectation favorable treatment from Uncle Sam. Immelt supports Obama and vice versa.

  11. Rod:

    I’m so glad to see this conversation going on!
    (I’m sorry I missed it before now – vacation, you know…)

    The two letters to the BRC, – although they probably fell on deaf ears- along with all the comments here, have been excellent. Not being a nuclear guru – just a neutral clean energy advocate who believes in the potential of nuclear-generated power for the overall, long-term benefit of humanity and the planet – I have never been able to understand WHY this country doesn’t want to move beyond LWRs and reap the benefits of obviously better technology such as that offered by fast reactors.

    I beat my head on the walls in Washington, D.C. regarding this subject for 5 years at Hyperion Power. I believe just a relative few truly got the message and saw the potential – the rest were mired in their own political entanglements, ambitions, ambivalence, laziness, didn’t want to rock the boat, etc.

    We must overcome this inertia! The U.S. is just getting further and further behind in nuclear energy leadership. We will not prevent other countries from taking the reigns and leaving us in the dust. Other countries are becoming more and more nuclear independent. They will not NEED the U.S. anymore – our technology OR our permission. The only way to monitor against nefarious nuclear activity is to be on the ground, cooperating in every country, where nuclear energy is being pursued. But, how can we do that if our own regulatory and political system prevents us from developing desirable improved technologies?

    Keep up the good work Rod – and all the rest of you that are standing up for fast reactors and true solutions for spent fuel.

    Deborah Blackwell, APR
    IX Power Foundation

    1. Deborah,

      I hand-delivered the 2nd letter to the former director of the DOE’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, since it related somewhat closely to that position. I need to try to follow up with him soon and see whether he actually read it or not and has any thoughts on it.

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