Below is an article on IFR that was published on ABC Unleashed earlier this week. It’s a sensible, pragmatic look at this technology, from another person who has no vested interest in IFR other than he wishes to ensure that we have the means to fully decarbonise our economy. Geoff is a regularly contributor to BNC, where he has written about the impact of food production on climate change.
ABC Unleashed article on IFR by Geoff Russell (Geoff is an unpaid committee member of Animal Liberation SA, also long standing member of Amnesty International, Australian Conservation Foundation and Oxfam. He is a computer programmer and mathematician who earns a living writing computer software in the transit scheduling industry. He is also a keen cyclist and food grower and and has written for The Monthly, Dissent, Australasian Science and the Independent Weekly).
I was a long-haired 18-year-old hippie student activist in 1972 and cheered loudly when Greenpeace sailed into the French nuclear pacific testing zone. A few years later I studied nuclear physics at Macquarie University as part of an Arts degree. Know thine enemy has always been a favourite motto of mine.
Decades later, I sneered at the Howard/Zwitkowski nuclear plans but still read the background report by Manfred Lenzen and the Institute of Sustainability Analysis (ISA). I ho-hummed my way through Tim Flannery’s nuclear pages in The Weather Makers. There was nothing in any of it that made me regret donating my old physics books to a trash and treasure sale.
But back in August 2008 my world view got a little nudge. NASA climate scientist James Hansen circulated a report in which he discussed a draft of a book by Tom Blees called Prescription for the Planet. Blees outlines an ambitious plan built around Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) nuclear technology. For reasons that will become obvious, this technology didn’t rate a mention in the Howard/Zwitkowski review.
My considerable respect for Hansen left me just a little shaken, but definitely not stirred. Blees must surely be a force from the dark side. But just when I thought it safe to re-enter the water, Barry Brook, the Professor of Climate Change here in Adelaide started to discuss the Blees book and the technologies on his blog, BraveNewClimate. I’ve worked on a few things with Barry and figured I really had no alternative now but to read the damn book. What a bloody nuisance.
So what’s it all about? Ask yourself these questions.
1) Are you worried about nuclear waste?
2) Are you petrified at the thought of nuclear proliferation?
3) Would you like to close down all uranium mines?
4) Would you like to shut down all China’s coal fired power stations (and those in the rest of the world) but save the power generation infrastructure?
5) Do you really believe that we only have a few years to tame our climate?
6) Do you want to both tame the climate and give those in the developing world a better life?
If you answered Yes to all (or even most) the questions in the previous paragraph, then you need to rethink your nuclear views, regardless of how deeply ingrained they are.
IFR reactors can be powered by that very waste which the nuclear industry just can’t seem to get rid of. They can digest it and burn it until it is just a shadow of its former self. The result is a tiny amount of much more manageable waste.
Once IFR reactors have finished cleaning up the mess left by current reactors (which includes the types advocated by Howard and his mates), they can run on depleted uranium – this is, among other things, a by-product of making fuel for current reactors and we have enough of the stuff to power the planet for thousands of years. Not just enough to power the rich world either, enough for everybody. All this depleted uranium is currently not doing much except hardening munitions. It badly needs a better job description and saving the climate fits the bill.
Once we have enough IFR reactors up and running, we can shut down all our uranium mines. Of course, you have to understand my very real fear of ‘being disappeared’ for making this suggestion in South Australia and you will understand why the Howard/Zwitkowski tag team conveniently forgot to mention it.