IFR FaD 8 – Two TV documentaries and a new film on the Integral Fast Reactor

Want to know more about the Integral Fast Reactor technology from the comfort of your lounge room chair? Then these two fascinating videos, recently transcoded and uploaded by Steve Kirsch to the “http://vimeo.com/skirsch/ifr” website, are for you. You can watch online, or download in .MP4 format (choose the format and then the download link below) for offline viewing.

First, we have: Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor Actinide Recycle System, “Energy for the 21st Century”

It is about 8 minutes long and cost the ALMR team about $40,000 to make in 1990 (according to Chuck Boardman).

This video was also highlighted on Atom Insights blog by fellow IFRG member Rod Adams. Rod said:

The Energy Policy Act of 1992 included language directing research and development of the Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor (ALMR) with Actinide Recycle System. The above video is an explanatory (some might use the word “promotional”) production that explains the program and its goals from the perspective of the mid 1990s.

As many nuclear energy insiders know, the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) demonstration was part of the ALMR program. That program was cancelled by the Clinton Administration when its energy program decision makers decided to zero out all research on advanced nuclear energy systems. The reactor design that the video describes – the PRISM – is still on GE’s drawing board. It still has its advocates. Jack Fuller, Chairman of the Board, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy presented the reactor design and described its history to the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Energy Future.

This video provides more evidence of an energy opportunity that America has not been pursuing. Knowing just how important an abundant, clean, reliable energy source can be to a country’s prosperity, one has to wonder why there was so much opposition to the concept during the 1990s and why that opposition still exists today.

Second, we have “The New Explorers: Atoms for Peace”

This 54 minute TV documentary is a history of nuclear energy in America, broadcast in 1996 on the national PBS network. The show focuses on Argonne’s efforts to develop the Integral Fast Reactor, an inherently safe nuclear power plant killed by Congress and the Clinton Administration. From Argonne NL website:

http://blip.tv/file/4199148

[Film-maker] Bill Kurtis hosts the exploration of nuclear energy from its beginnings under the Stagg Field grandstands at the University of Chicago, through the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program and the development of the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR).

“Argonne National Laboratory holds a very special place in the 50-year-long journey to turn nuclear power into unlimited energy for the world,” according to Tom Olson of the “New Explorers” Chicago Production Center.

Several Argonne researchers will be featured as “new explorers,” including Walter Zinn and Charles Till. Zinn was Argonne’s first director and leader of the project responsible for producing the world’s first nuclear electricity (from Experimental Breeder Reactor-I, in 1951). Charles Till, associate laboratory director for engineering research, will explain the concepts behind the IFR.

You can also read a review of this documentary by Walter Goodman, published in 1996 in the New York Times.

There is also a multi-part YouTube version (in 14 minute chunks) that’s been posted by BNC commenter Scott, here (thanks for the tip).

After watching these, you’ve really got to ask yourselves — how did we let the last 15 years slip by with no action on this? Still, there’s no point crying over spilt milk. It’s time to get sustainable nuclear energy firmly back on the public agenda. With that motivation in mind, environmental documentary maker Robert Stone is about to embark on a new project, called “Pandora’s Promise“. You can read more about it here, including a multi-page treatment. It’s still in the early stages of development and finalising funding. The synopsis:

PANDORA’S PROMISE will be a feature-length documentary about nuclear power and how mankind’s most feared and controversial technological discovery may ultimately hold the key to its very survival. Built around a number of in-depth interviews with several of the world’s leading environmentalists, scientists and energy experts, many of whom (like me) have undergone a metamorphosis in their thinking about nuclear power, the film will be brought to life through a wealth of incredible archival footage and original filming across the globe. Operating as history, cultural meditation and contemporary exploration, PANDORA’S PROMISE aims to inspire a serious and realistic debate over what is without question the most important issue of our time: how we continue to power modern civilization without destroying it.

I shared a car trip with Robert when travelling from Sacremento to Berkeley the other month, which gave us a good chance to chat about the movie. The previous evening, Robert had joined me, Steve Kirsch and others from SCGI (Ron Gester, Susan von Borstel etc.) for dinner at the Blees’ house, where I was staying. He’s a very nice guy, and makes excellent movies. One of his previous ones was a real love letter to the environmental movement, and includes interviews with Hunter Lovins etc., so if anyone is going to make THE definitive picture on nuclear energy for environmentalists, it’s Robert!

People, we CAN solve the climate and energy crunches of the 21st century, IF we have the will and the knowledge. These old and new video productions could go a long way towards inspiring and educating today’s generation of citizens on the great potential of fission energy as the natural, sustainable successor to fossil fuels. We just have to get people engaged and aware. BNC readers, help spread the message, push ahead with a ‘can do’ positive attitude, and things may yet change faster than you could ever imagine…

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33 Comments

  1. “The momentum of the Going Concern is very difficult to change in a democracy”.

    From Democratic Ideals and Reality – MacKindren

    on the other hand –

    “I have great hope for the future.
    And my hope lies in the following
    Three things; Truth,Youth and Love”.

    Buckminster Fuller

  2. it is important to understand what the ALMR is, and what it is not. The ALMR is basically an actinide burner that have at best a breeding ratio of 1.07, which is no higher than is anticipated for the LFTR. Yet the ALMR will require 10 times as much RGP. Thus the ALMR, while representing a very fine reactor design, will not be a useful tool for fighting climate change.

  3. Barry, I would refer you to “Technical Options for the Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor.”
    http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/ota/Ota_1/DATA/1994/9434.PDF

    “Plutonium storage could also bean issue if a decision is made to wait until the ALMR/IFR technology is developed before surplus weapons plutonium is processed. In that case, today’s surplus plutonium may have to be stored for decades while ALMR technology is designed, tested, scaled up, deployed, and licensed. Some believe that the use of breeder reactors such as the ALMW IFR will make economic sense as a means of meeting future U.S. energy needs, and therefore the United States should store its military plutonium for this eventuality. Others point out that plutonium-fueled fast breeder reactors will not be economically competitive with current reactors for probably a century (37, 46). Plutonium could become an economic energy source only if uranium becomes much more expensive or the world’s uranium resources become scarce. Most experts agree that, at present, the cost of fabricating and safeguarding plutonium fuels makes it un- competitive with cheap and widely available low- enriched uranium fuels (27).

  4. Citing a US Congress technical evaluation paper (seemingly co-authored by Frank von Hippel? – can’t be sure – and dating from 1994, the year a Congress committee zeroed the EBR-II/IFR funding) hardly constitutes an argument or a logical justification. Give me a break.

    Indeed, the opinion section of that report that you’ve chosen to quote is simply the standard modern MIT/Moniz line, redux, i.e., ‘go once-through whilst U is cheap’ and is also commonly used against thorium-uranium breeders (when they even bother to acknowledge that this tech is possible). It says nothing about whether fast reactors with recycle are a/the solution to low-carbon energy supply/climate change or the answer to long-term sustainable nuclear.

    And the use of terms like “Some believe” and “Others point out” and “Most experts agree” says nothing useful. For instance, I could say that “most experts agree” that LFTR is irrelevant for decades to centuries, and “some believe” that it is technically flawed and will never be a feasible system. So how exactly do such vacuous statements help? Wake up and smell the whole rose garden Charles, not just your variety of white blossom.

  5. Barry, these videos are a great find. I’ll tell my class on Rethinking Nuclear Power.

    I think LFTR will be able to generate power substantially cheaper than IFR, which must continuously process an order of magnitude more material, in solid/liquid/solid state transformations. Cost is critical if we are to undersell coal.

  6. I could only get the 8 minute video to run so my comments are based on that alone.

    Given that the video was made almost 20 years ago it is disappointing that we are still talking about “decades” to get the technology deployed. I guess we can thank the Clinton administration for that when they canceled the IFR project so close to completion.

    While I find the LFTR very appealing it is clearly many years behind the AMLR when it comes to licensing and large scale deployment.

    I don’t understand why Charles Barton is falling out with his friends when it is pretty obvious that there is no single technology that will get the job done in an acceptable timescale.

  7. The MSR vs IFR comparison table should cover mass and composition of start charges, fuel burn rate, temperatures and pressures in primary and secondary fluids, leftover unusable fraction, time between refuelling, reprocessing if any, time needed for waste storage, estimated capital cost, materials reliability issues and optimum size.

  8. “I looks like we really need on objective comparision between LTFR and IFR”

    I don’t know – will that achieve very much at the moment? While the price of uranium remains cheap, neither are likely to be the most economic option – current thermal reactors will be the preference. In the long run, though, next generation reactors will be imperative. Give them a level playing field, and let the best reactor win. Who knows how many Gen IV reactor designs there will be available for implementation a few decades from now.

    What is absolutely neccessary, I believe (as a non-expert), is for prototypes of the current next generation reactor designs (IFRs, LFTRs etc.) to be built now to demonstrate their viability. Demonstrating that waste and fuel availability really aren’t issues is important for public perception, particularly in developed nations. While most here would agree that current thermal reactors are fine for the job at the moment, I think the general public are going to want some reassurances before a significant nuclear expansion happens, even of current technologies.

  9. “OT – I think Bolt has a point”

    Bolt has lots of points and they are invariably opinionated nonsense.

    Those who cannot afford rising utilities charges should be compensated by subsidy of some kind. Furthermore attributing all rises in utilities bills to the activities of Greens is just political garbage.

    No doubt somebody could make some sort of case for oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef in terms of higher GDP or lower petrol price but nobody is going to have a bar of it. The same considerations apply in general to the trade offs in costs in environmental protection.

    There is a good case to be made that FITs for PV panels are folly, but Bolt is not interested in that – just in bashing environmentalists. This is as it always was.

  10. Absent subsidies, electricity from NPPs is already competitive with the dominant technology (coal). The cost of coal will rise as reserves are depleted so that it is inevitable that nuclear power will have a growing price advantage as the years roll by.

    Jurisdictions that prohibit the construction of NPPs will be at a competitive disadvantage to their neighbors. There are already some examples of how this plays out. Germany, Denmark and the UK have been forced to buy increasing quantities of electricity from France. California has been forced to pay huge premiums on electricity purchased from other states.

    Jurisdictions that are overly influenced by anti-nuclear hysteria will pay an economic penalty for prohibiting NPPs. The other side of the coin is that other jurisdictions will encourage NPPs and reap a competitive advantage.

    Right now it looks as if China, Russia and India are leaders among jurisdictions that seek a competitive advantage by building NPPs.

    I would like to see the USA producing NPPs as it used to produce liberty ships during WWII but that is a beginning to look like a forlorn hope. The French seem to have lost their nerve given the demise of the Superphénix. Somebody cheer me up by pointing to large scale projects that are not “decades” away.

  11. It looks like we really need on objective comparison between LFTR and IFR. The positive and negative aspects about them both.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think there is anyone who is sufficiently expert on either, let alone both, who is not so strongly in favour of one or the other that no-one in the opposite camp will trust them to give an unbiased assessment. I’m pro-LFTR, on the basis of low fissile inventory –> rapid initial deployment, likely lower cost, and probable easier public acceptability due to lack of flammable materials, (I accept that liquid sodium can be handled safely, but just wait for the Greenpeace et al videos on YouTube of adding a few grams of sodium to water – ‘just imagine this a million times bigger, and radioactive too!’. Such arguments do not have to be rational to be effective). However, since I’m not a nuclear engineer, I accept that I am not qualified to judge this accurately. On some of the issues mentioned:-

    Start charge 8 Te / Gw(e) for IFR, 1.3 Te for LFTR on 1960′s designs, 1 Te should be possible but is not proven. For LFTR that’s tonnes of U233, you need slightly more U235, and definitely more reactor grade Pu as that has non-fissile Pu240 and Pu242 in it. I’m not sure how well IFRs handle those Pu isotopes, probably better but there will still be some penalty.

    Everybody uses about 1 Te of fertile (depleted U or thorium) per Gw(e)-year. There’s plenty of both for millennia, it is not an issue.

    LFTR top temperature is 700C, which is good for CO2-cycle turbines and acceptable for helium. It’s wasted on steam cycle, though you can use supercritical steam at a slight efficiency penalty. There is an option of a lower temperature LFTR with cheaper materials to run a conventional steam turbine. Cheap, but fissile / Gw(e) would be worse. IFR top temp is 470C, according to GE document on their PRISM IFR-based plant. Steam cycle or CO2 would be possible.

    Pressure in primary circuit is ambient + hydrostatic head + a few PSI at the bottom of the core, several bar across the heat exchangers where most of the flow resistance occurs. Very similar for LFTR and IFR

    Neither reactor leaves any unusable actinides, other than those which escape from imperfect reprocessing. The lower fissile inventory of LFTR allows for lower losses from the first-pass reprocessing system per unit of energy generated, but obtaining very low losses for either plant will eventually require separation of traces of actinides from the fission product waste. This is the same problem for both.

    LFTRs do continuous reprocessing and fertile addition, there is no refuelling interval as such – but there will be maintenance requirements for any plant. IFR – ??

    LFTR reprocessing – online/continuous fluorination/reduction and/or vacuum distillation. Offline/batch vacuum distillation and/or electrochemical refining. IFR reprocessing – offline batch electrochemical refining only, but a large inventory to turn over.

    Waste storage time – same for both, possibly as little as 300 years, much less for most of it if we split out the elements with longer-lived isotopes. However, this is an economic/political decision. How much money and effort should go into pulling out actinides down to the 0.001% level, when burial with 0.5% left in might be cheaper, but leaves a multi-millennial waste problem?

  12. Ok Barry, if you are not going to pay attention to what the United States Congress thinks
    (and they are the people who appropriate the money for reactor research), how about MIT?
    “A key finding is that reactors with very high conversion ratios (fissile material produced divided by fissile material in the initial core) are not required for sustainable closed fuel cycles that enable full utilization of uranium and thorium resources. A conversion ratio near unity is acceptable and opens up alternative fuel cycle pathways . . .”
    http://web.mit.edu/mitei/docs/spotlights/nuclear-fuel-cycle.pdf

    By the way, this viewpoint is very well represented on Secretary Chu’s Blue Ribbon Commission panel. Panel member Eernest J. Moniz is a co-author of
    The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle. Barry I am not trying to bug you, I simply want to point out that there are intellectually respectable views that are going to get a political hearing, that contradict your position.

  13. Charles, I said in my previous comment that this is also the MIT line (and I also mentioned Moniz — did you read it?). As to the Congress decision related to that report, circa 1994, go read Tom Blees’ book, chapter 12, for the gory details. So your latest comment is not adding to my knowledge base. Did you expect it to be some revelation to me?

    Of course there are sceptics of the technology (or, more specifically, of the need to develop it now rather than in 50 years time). But they’re the same sceptics of LFTR, for many of the same reasons, and you should recognise that. This constant backhanding of IFRs by you and others is not helpful to LFTR’s cause either, and it often borders on being downright misleading and UNhelpful to nuclear development in general. That was my point, and I’m surprised that you, of all people, can’t see this.

  14. Charles Barton,
    That MIT report pillories the thinking of the hidebound nuclear establishment in the USA. My younger colleagues who are trying to develop innovative reactors are not getting any funding and when I ask them “Why?”, the answer amounts to “You can’t buck City Hall”.

    You can bet that the MIT report is pretty close to what Chu’s “Blue Ribbon” task force will come up with. Specifically:

    1. LWRs to dominate roll outs until at least 2100.
    2. Invest at least $500 million per year developing improved LWRs.
    3. Little interest and no sense of urgency with regard to IFRs, LFTRs or ADRs.

    Don’t expect much from people who can dismiss fast reactors as follows:
    “Fast reactors are under development in several countries but are today uneconomic and have not been deployed.”

    Almost as breathtaking as Lord Kelvin in his declining years:
    “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now, all that remains is more and more precise measurement.”

    For nuclear physics to move on (at least in the USA) many people must be retired if they refuse to leave gracefully.

  15. Luke_UK,

    Great short summary, thank you. I can’t comment on the correctness of your statements, but I expect others will.

    One of your statements jumped out at me. You said for LFTR

    likely lower cost

    I expect the eventual decision will be influenced overwhelmingly by which can provide the lowest cost electricity. Eventually all the hoo ha about safety will be a non issue. Electricity generation will be treated the same as other industries. As long as the generators are safe enough and consistent with what society requires from all other industries, safety will be no more of an issue for nuclear than for anything else. Likewise, waste disposal will be a trivial issue compared with the management of the chemical toxic wastes from most industries.

    I agre with those who say we should continue researching, developing and demonstrating all the potentially viable Gen IV alternatives. But “we” means USA, EU, Russia, China, India, Japan and Korea. Australia should not be diverting resources to researching Gen IV. We should put all our effort into researching how to implement least cost, currently available nuclear power in Australia as quickly as possible. I urger most of this research should be focused on the social engineering issues.

  16. Peter, thanks, but if you think the social engineering / acceptability issues are important, you’re going to have to take some notice of eclipsenow’s views on your cost-of-safety arguments. Being technically right isn’t enough, it’s about trust / belief. See the links at the top of this thread

    http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=62&t=2015

    and the ensuing discussion. Given your political position as evinced by the recent

    Private good, public ba-a-a-a-ad
    Public good, private be-e-e-e-tter

    exchange, you are likely to share Kirk’s initial reaction, but please remember that unless the required trust can be won, we will not get progress at the necessary rate.

  17. Luke_UK,,

    Peter, thanks, but if you think the social engineering / acceptability issues are important, you’re going to have to take some notice of eclipsenow’s views on your cost-of-safety arguments.

    Firstly, I’ve been taking notice of the arguments you are putting. They have been repeated, basically unchanged, for 30 years. I am now quite convinced the softly softly approach you and the others are advocating is wrong.

    “If you keep doing what you did, you’ll keep getting what you got.”

    In this case continued failure.

    Clearly you have misinterpreted what I was arguing for with the funding for research into how to bring least cost clean elenrgy to Australia. Please refer to the link http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/

    This may help. Otherwise we can discuss it more if you want to.

    I really do urge all thowe arguing to keep beating on about needing excessive safety to try to understand:

    1. It costs a lot
    2. it makes nuclear more expensive that coal
    3. while nuclear is more expensive than coal it i not ging to be implemented, or if so very slowly.

    Can you understand this? Or don’t you accept this?

    The public perception that nuclear is dangerous or high risk is wrong. This needs to be explained, not avoided. It can be explained. Why don’t you try to get an understanding of it and develop a way to explain it to the audiences you are addressing.

    Public opinion can change quickly if the leaders get behind it. So it is the leaders and the policitcians and the environment NGO’s we need to educate. Get out and educate them, instead of continuing this same sillyness we’ve been arguing for 30+ years.

    What cannot be changed easily or quickly is the move to electricity industry being owned and operated by the private sector and funded by investors. That cannot be changed quickly, or at all.

    What can be changed is the regulations that make nuclear a poor investment.

    If you want to persuade me to change my mind continually repeating arguments for continuing the proven failed approaches of the past 30 years wont have any effect. What will change my mind is if you or the others can lay out a plan showing how your approach can implement nuclear in Australia, how it will be funded, private or public owned I don’t care, but you do need to be able to explain the answers to the problems I’ve raised with trying to do it as a public ownership apprach. You also need to explain how you can implement it at a cost competitive with coal, especially if you want to insist on a USA type regulatory approach, and world best practice safety standards.

    Do tell! I’m all ears!!

  18. Peter,
    Firstly, I don’t ever recall advocating renationalising power utilities. I regret that the privatised UK utilities made an entirely predictable grab for short-term profits and burned off our gas reserves in 20 years when they should have lasted 50, but there’s nothing to be done about that now. For rapid nuclear rollout, I note that:-

    -:State-owned industries have a poor reputation for efficiency, although this does cover a wide variation. Our public utilities weren’t too bad, our state-owned car maker was a disaster. Realistically, construction will be by corporate vendors.

    -:Government borrowing is usually the cheapest finance available in any given economy. Some countries may have higher risk premiums than some blue-chip companies, but Australia is not headed the way of Greece. You can borrow at 5.1% over 15 years with inflation at 3.1%, i.e 2% real. Finance that cheap markedly lowers the cost of nuclear power.

    In my opinion, the cheapest way to get the job done would therefore be to get various bids, and agree to pay 90% of the expected cost out of central government funds, supplied by a series of government bonds maturing over 5 – 30 years. The utilities agree to pay off the bonds as they fall due. The last 10% of the agreed cost and all delays and overspends should be the responsibility of the utility and vendor, divided up however they have specified in the construction contract. This should give cheap finance, and therefore cheap power, without those directly involved thinking they can string out the job to milk the government. Everybody has an incentive to avoid unnecessary costs and delays.

    On the excessive safety issue:-

    Some background. My employer is one of the major chemical multinationals everybody loves to hate. Decades ago, they used to regularly set things on fire and kill people. Eventually they realised this was not going to be acceptable, and got serious about employee safety and environmental protection. Necessary and long overdue – but even 10 years ago, by far the most hazardous thing anyone did all day was drive to work and back. Further costly efforts to reduce already tiny risks are a poor use of resources, but it is made abundantly clear that anyone questioning the policy of continuous improvement, let alone applying any cost/benefit analysis to whether a safety-related change is a good idea, will be looking for alternative employment.

    How much of this is driven by fear of litigation, or by what other factors, is WAY above my head, but we’re far from unique. A seemingly rational, cost/benefit approach to safety issues is seen as completely unacceptable to companies that are in most respects ruthless profit-maximising machines. I suspect the CEOs aren’t stupid, they just don’t think it’s worth trying to buck the social consensus that ignores major risks in daily life and focuses on minor (but unfamiliar) risks elsewhere. Can the nuclear industry do any better? Why should it expect to? – many of the opponents are the same, and some of the arguments similar in structure.

    The questions;-

    1) It costs a lot. Depends. Passive safety can be both cheaper and safer than the multiple engineered safety layers of Gen II plants, However, having achieved that ‘win’ it is possible to apportion the benefits in various ways between safety and cost. The Chinese variants derived from the AP-1000 get higher power out of essentially the same equipment – something like 40% extra free – at cost of absolute passive safety in worst case extreme accidents. They’re still safer than Gen II, and enormously safer than the pollution and mining deaths from coal.

    2) it makes nuclear more expensive that coal. Depends where you are and how you count. It’s very difficult to get anything cheaper than local open pit mined coal, but most places don’t have that., or at least not enough of it. If you put a cost on the pollution effects of coal and nuclear (externalities), nuclear wins in Europe (high cost nuclear vs high cost coal), even if you ignore the global warming effects. With environmental protesters now delaying and driving up the cost of coal plants here, and a small carbon price in place, it is a reasonable sell that nuclear is cleaner and safer than coal, and only marginally more expensive. The enormous effort required to get truly rational decision making on risk therefore seems unnecessary for now.

    3) While nuclear is more expensive than coal it i not ging to be implemented, or if so very slowly. Asia has cheap nuclear and not enough coal, they are building nuclear as fast as they can already, and exporting as well. Europe, (except Germany, where they are building crazy rooftop PV) will displace expensive coal with expensive nuclear, and get poorer. America will probably do what the wind-fronted gas lobby wants. Australia – someone has to build the last coal plant, and economics suggest it will be those with the cheapest coal.

  19. Luke_UK

    I missed this excellent post. I’ve only just seen it. Sorry for the delayed response.

    I regret that the privatised UK utilities made an entirely predictable grab for short-term profits and burned off our gas reserves in 20 years when they should have lasted 50, but there’s nothing to be done about that now.

    I suspect you are ‘blaming’ the privatised industry, whereas you should blame the voters for forcing governments to make bad regulations. The companies do what the regulations allow. We make silly regulations and the companies do what they required (of course you can argue about cheating and distortions on the fringe but really the problems is with the really silly beliefs that we force our parliamentary representatives to enact into laws). Their are many examples and we have another being pushed now by the same groups that keep forcing these dud policies on us: ETS or carbon tax!

    Regarding the part on public and private finance for electricity, there are a lot of points you make that I agree with and some others that would need a long discussion. I cant take that on here, and I don’t actually believe it would help. There is far too much background to how we interpret the evidence.

    I agree public electricity can be cheaper especially because of the lower borrowing costs. However, I cannot see how the direction we have taken – to privatising our electricity industry – could be reversed. It would be politically very difficult and would cause enormous delays. It just cannot be done. And, although you say the government could raise the funds with government bonds, there are many other things that the government could do with that funding capacity that only government can do. So if the government uses its capacity to borrow on the electricity industry, other things we want governments to do will be forgone. I just don’t believe what you are proposing can be achieved in practice, nor am I persuaded that it is the right thing to do when we consider the totality. There are other costs of public sector ownership that are hidden.

    Furthermore, it seems ludicrous to me that we want to raise the cost of safer electricity, rather than lower the cost by removing the impediments to it. The first thing we should do is to remove the impediments to nuclear.

    I recognise there are two sides two this argument, and a lot of support for the idea of public ownership, but I just cant see it being possible, politically.

    On the excessive safety issue:-
    Some background. My employer is one of the major chemical multinationals everybody loves to hate. Decades ago, they used to regularly set things on fire and kill people. Eventually they realised this was not going to be acceptable, and got serious about employee safety and environmental protection. Necessary and long overdue – but even 10 years ago, by far the most hazardous thing anyone did all day was drive to work and back. Further costly efforts to reduce already tiny risks are a poor use of resources, but it is made abundantly clear that anyone questioning the policy of continuous improvement, let alone applying any cost/benefit analysis to whether a safety-related change is a good idea, will be looking for alternative employment.
    How much of this is driven by fear of litigation, or by what other factors, is WAY above my head, but we’re far from unique. A seemingly rational, cost/benefit approach to safety issues is seen as completely unacceptable to companies that are in most respects ruthless profit-maximising machines. I suspect the CEOs aren’t stupid, they just don’t think it’s worth trying to buck the social consensus that ignores major risks in daily life and focuses on minor (but unfamiliar) risks elsewhere. Can the nuclear industry do any better? Why should it expect to? – many of the opponents are the same, and some of the arguments similar in structure.

    Good points. I agree with this. But …

    1. Nuclear is 10 to 100 times safer than the coal generators we accept as sufficiently safe. Therefore, we are imposing excessive, irrational safety requirements on nuclear (I agree the CEO’s cannot argue about this. But we can! We shouldn’t just accept continuation of this situation when it is is causing us to delay clean electricity for irrational reasons. We vote!)
    2. Nuclear plants are around twice as costly in the west as in Asia. Some of this is due to cheaper labour in Asia, but most is due to the regulatory regime and the investment risks we cause because of the way we treat nuclear and the investors.
    3. If we want the greater safety of nuclear, are we prepared to pay twice as much for electricity for that ridiculous level of safety?
    4. I’d argue we should not pay that extra cost. I don’t want to pay that extra cost so I want to try to persuade people that they are being irrational by supporting it. I want to persuade people to tell out governments to remove the unequal imposts to nuclear.
    5. The benefits to society of cheap electricity are seldom considered in the debate. Why not? They should be.

    Regarding “The questions:-“ 1, 2 and 3 and your answers: Excellent points.

    I agree some one will build the last coal plant, eventually. It will probably be in one of the least developed countries. It should be noted however, that if nuclear was cheaper than coal, then the last coal plant would be built sooner. So, we should be doing all we can to bring the cost of nuclear down as fast as we can. That means removing the impediments to investing in and build Gen II and III now, and removing the ridiculous, excessive safety requirements from Gen IV. The sooner we get through our period of demanding excessive safety requirements the sooner we can start to reconsider our excessive safety requirements and remove them from Gen IV. We need to move forward with what ever we can now so we can proceed more quickly on the development path. In Australia we need to focus on 1) removing the impediments to nuclear and 2) implementing nuclear at the least possible cost, and 3) as spoon as possible.

    Your answer to 3 was referring to all countries, whereas I was talking about Australia.

    Luke_UK,

    Yours is an excellent post. Thank you. I agree with most of what you say here, despite my picking on some points of difference.

  20. I think fears of a sodium fire are minor. I’ve just seen photographs of 7 tonne crucibles of molten aluminium being loaded onto trucks. The liquid starts about 800C and cools somewhat on its journey to car engine parts foundries. One journey is Melbourne to Adelaide. No hazmat signals, no escort, no flashing lights. The only known spillage due to a collision occurred in France.

    I guess several physical and chemical properties could compare the dangers of molten aluminium with that of molten sodium eg specific heat capacity, ignition point. Note the British navy shuns aluminium ships because of the proven fire danger. Can IFR leaks be that bad? The fact remains giant cauldrons of 800C liquid metal are not going to rush towards you unawares on the public roads at closing speeds of 200 kph.

  21. John, the difference between a sodium fire and an aluminium fire is that when the sodium goes up, it produces large volumes of aerosolized sodium oxide, ie a dense white cloud of caustic soda. Very corrosive smoke, not healthy. The solid ash is also obviously very corrosive. It would be a pretty horrible cleanup if it went up inside a building. Monju must have been a pig. Its not the end of the world – its localized, and neutralizable to non-toxic product – but its not nice.

    I’ve played with recreational sodium and potassium explosions in the 50-100g range. I’d hate to be near a big one.

  22. The aluminium foundry workers apparently add sodium to aluminium alloys to get a stronger metal. The sodium is stored in kerosene which I gather is burnt off during the mixing process. At other times a glass fibre blanket is used to deny oxygen to the liquid surface.

    I hadn’t though about the causticity issue. The counterbalancing issue is that to get near to liquid sodium you have to enter the lion’s den. OTOH we are unknowingly inches away from much hotter liquid aluminium just driving on the road.

  23. John Newlands

    Thank you fot that comment. This sentence leads me to another point. This is not addressed to you, but to many of the BNC contributors.

    OTOH we are unknowingly inches away from much hotter liquid aluminium just driving on the road.

    We almost never hear discussions about risks like this and the many other hazardous substances that are held in storage tanks dotted thoroughout our cities, and transported on trains and trucks.

    Why are we so concerned about the safety of nuclear but not about the safety of all these other industries? Why aren’t the anti nukes concerned about safety of all industries in a fair and balanced way?

    The obvious hypocracy of the anti-nukes has a halo effect. It makes me wary of a lot of what they say. For me, there is an extension to the groups that are closely related to the anti-nukes in most of the other policies they advocate.

    I urge you to take on board the point I am making rather than shoot the messenger.

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