Vote to get the Integral Fast Reactor presented at MIT!

Mass-producible integral fast reactor modules can power every country on earth for nearly a millennium with waste products already at hand. That’s the pitch that Tom Blees has made to the Climate CoLab at MIT. If Tom’s pitch garners the most votes, the push to get the first PRISM built will get a lot more traction in the US, and with the public.

The PRISM is an unusual case. Since the EBR-II was shut down in 1994, GE had it sitting on a shelf with a small group of engineers combing over the design and tweaking and optimizing it, piece by piece. It was a low priority at GE and these guys laboured in obscurity, with a succession of people moving in and out of the project over the nearly two decades. But with all that optimization of every part of the system, the PRISM is now so ready to build that GE could make an offer to build them for the UK, right NOW. Such an offer, especially from a company as conservative as GE, displayed an enormous amount of confidence in its readiness to build the PRISM. This design process that’s lasted since the early 90s is why we call PRISM the best reactor never built.

Anyway, here are some more details. Please BNC readers, do register and vote. This really is worth 5 minutes of your time!

Vote for Tom Blees to give a talk at MIT on how
“Integral Fast Reactors Can Power the Planet”

In a proposal for MIT’s Climate CoLab, Tom Blees, president of SCGI, explains that “Mass-producible integral fast reactor modules can power every country on earth for nearly a millennium with waste products already at hand. “


The goal of the Climate CoLab is to harness the collective intelligence of thousands of people from all around the world to address global climate change.


Tom’s proposal has made it into the final round of judging and is now being voted on by the public. If it either garners sufficient votes or is supported by the judges, Tom will be invited to present the proposal at an MIT conference in November 2013. Previous winners have sometimes been given the opportunity to present their proposals to the UN and the US Congress.

If you’d like to read the proposal and support it with your vote, you can find it here. On the right side of that site you will see a link to vote, which requires a brief registration procedure:

  1. Make sure to put at least 8 characters in your password.
  2. No spaces in your screen name.
  3. The bio and photo are entirely optional, you can disregard those fields.

When talking with people about Integral Fast Reactor technology, people often ask where they might find a brief written explanation. Tom’s proposal on the MIT site is a great place to direct friends and acquaintances who might be interested in learning about it. The proposal provides a succinct overview of both the technology itself and the grand vision of what its use can mean for humanity. Besides introducing them to the IFR concepts, directing them to the proposal on the MIT site (via personal email, Facebook, etc.) will also give them the opportunity to support the proposal and increase the likelihood that the message will reach a much wider audience.

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The Case for Near-term Commercial Demonstration of the Integral Fast Reactor

I’m currently in Dubai at the 2012 World Energy Forum, as part of a delegation from the Science Council for Global Initiatives. Tomorrow (24 Oct) we will run symposium on “New Nuclear”, which will be chaired by Tom Blees and feature talks from Dr Eric Loewen (GE), Dr Alexander Bychkov (IAEA), Dr Evgeny Velikhov (Kurchatov Institute) and me (Dr Barry Brook, University of Adelaide). I will also chair a session later in the afternoon on “Vision for a Sustainable Future”, just before the closing address.

Tom and Nicole Blees of SCGI stand in front of the World Trade Centre in Dubai, during the World Energy Forum, Oct 2012. The sign behind them makes for some interesting reading…

In preparation for this meeting and as a result of a focussed conference at University of California Berkeley in early October, a white paper on the Integral Fast Reactor was prepared by Tom and me, on behalf of SCGI, and has garnered signatories from 8 key countries, including prominent people not attending the Berkeley meeting, such as climatologist  Jim Hansen. The white paper is given below.

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The Case for Near-term Commercial Demonstration of the Integral Fast Reactor

Demonstrating a credible and acceptable way to safely recycle used nuclear fuel will clear a socially acceptable pathway for nuclear fission to be a major low-carbon energy source for this century. We advocate a hastened timetable for commercial demonstration of Generation IV nuclear technology, via construction of a prototype reactor (the PRISM design, based on the Integral Fast Reactor project) and a 100t/year pyroprocessing facility to convert and recycle fuel.

1. Synopsis

We propose an accelerated timeframe for realizing the sustainable nuclear energy goals of the Generation IV reactor systems. A whole–system evaluation by an international group of nuclear and energy experts, assembled by The Science Council for Global Initiatives, reached a consensus on the synergistic design choices: (a) a well-proven pool-type sodium-cooled fast reactor; (b) metal fuel, and (c) recycling using pyroprocessing, enabling the transmutation of actinides. Alternative technology options for the coolant, fuel type and recycling system, while sometimes possessing individually attractive features, are hard-pressed to be combined into a sufficiently competitive overall system. A reactor design that embodies these key features, the General Electric-Hitachi 311 MWe PRISM [1] (based on the Integral Fast Reactor [IFR] concept developed by Argonne National Laboratory [2]), is ready for a commercial-prototype demonstration. We advocate a two-pronged approach for completion by 2020 or earlier: (i) a detailed design and demonstration of a 100 t/year pyroprocessing facility for conversion of spent oxide fuel from light-water reactors [3] into metal fuel for fast reactors; and (ii) construction of a PRISM fast reactor as a commercial-scale demonstration plant. Ideally, this could be achieved via an international collaboration. Once demonstrated, this prototype would provide an international test facility for any concept improvements. It is expected to achieve significant advances in reactor safety, reliability, fuel resource sustainability, management of long-term waste, improved proliferation resistance, and economics.

2. Context

When contemplating the daunting energy challenges facing humanity in the twenty-first century in a world beyond fossil fuels, there are generally two schools of thought [4].

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Roads Not Taken (yet)

Guest Post by Tom BleesTom Blees is the author of Prescription for the Planet – The Painless Remedy for Our Energy & Environmental Crises. Tom is also the president of the Science Council for Global Initiatives and a board member of the UN-affiliated World Energy Forum [wef21.org]. Many of the goals of SCGI, and the methods to achieve them, are elucidated in the pages of Blees’s book. He is a member of the selection committee for the Global Energy Prize, considered Russia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize for energy research. His work has generated considerable interest among scientists and political figures around the world. Tom has been a consultant and advisor on energy technologies on the local, state, national, and international levels.

Roads Not Taken

Those who grew up during the years of the Cold War will probably never forget the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, a time when two superpowers came perilously close to unleashing all-out nuclear war. Several of John Kennedy’s generals were purportedly advising an attack at least on Cuba, if not on Russia itself. Kruschev was likely receiving similarly bellicose advice from some of his advisors. The fact that these two men took the decision to stand down brought the world back from the precipice.

But this harrowing incident was certainly not the only time that those two nations came close to initiating nuclear Armageddon. Yuri Andropov was also reportedly urged at one point by his military advisors to attack the United States, but refused to listen to them. And then there have been close calls caused by malfunctioning early warning systems, sometimes in the USA, sometimes on the other side. The average citizen was blissfully unaware of these near misses, and will likely never know about them except from hearsay or historical reporting many years after the fact.

But there is another nuclear road that was not taken. Ironically, the failure to take that road can lead to global catastrophe for both humankind and many of the species with whom we share this planet. This time the problem is not nuclear war but the threat of climate change, and nuclear power can be the solution.

This article is being written on the one-year anniversary of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami that devastated communities in northeast Japan in March of 2011. Though nearly 16,000 people were killed in the tsunami and over a million buildings were destroyed or damaged, if one were to ask nearly anyone outside Japan about the Tōhoku earthquake it would likely elicit no recognition. But mention Fukushima and immediately people know which earthquake you’re talking about. For the press coverage of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant dwarfed the attention paid to the devastation wrought elsewhere by the tsunami.

As a result of this phenomenon, Japan has taken nearly every one of its 54 nuclear power plants offline amid pressure to abandon nuclear power entirely. Since those power plants were supplying about 30% of Japan’s electricity, this has dramatically increased the country’s carbon emissions as it turned to fossil fuel imports to keep the lights on and the factories running. It has also created Japan’s first trade deficit in over thirty years, with an estimated cost of about $100 million per day for additional energy imports.

But the impact of the Fukushima accident reached far beyond Japan (Aside: can it truly be termed a “disaster” or “catastrophe” when there was not a single instance of radiation-induced injury to the public? Even among emergency workers at the plant there were only a few who are expected to have any radiation-induced health risks. One worker died, but it was from a heart attack and had nothing to do with radiation exposure.) Shortly before the accident, Germany had been arguing over whether to decommission their perfectly serviceable nuclear power plants in deference to political pressures from the Greens. Fukushima tipped the scales, consigning Germany to a future of more coal and gas burning and almost certainly more (ironically, often nuclear-generated) electricity from its neighbors. Some other European nations have likewise reacted to Fukushima by foreclosing the option of building any new nuclear power plants.

But the nuclear road not taken that was alluded to above was a far more consequential decision, and one that might without exaggeration be termed a disaster. Like many choices of great import, the decision to abandon a new type of nuclear power system was taken by a few people in key positions. History will not likely judge them kindly, though as in so many cases those who exercised the most influence remain for the most part nameless, unknown to those who were outside the process.

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IFR FaD 13 – cost comparison of IFR and thermal reactors

This is the fourth and final part of the series of extracts from the book Plentiful Energy — The story of the Integral Fast Reactor by Chuck Till and Yoon Chang.

Reproduced with permission of the authors, these sections describe and justify some of the key design choices that went into the making the IFR a different — and highly successful — approach to fast neutron reactor technology and its associated fuel recycling.

These excerpts not only provide a fascinating insight into a truly sustainable form nuclear power; they also provide excellent reference material for refuting many of the spurious claims on the internet about IFR by people who don’t understand (or choose to wilfully misrepresent) this critically important technology.

For reference, here are the previous entries:

Part 1 (metal fuels and plutonium).

Part 2 (coolant choice and reactor configuration).

Part 3 (lessons learned from fast reactor capital costs).

This last extract considers the cost differences and similarities between the next-generation IFR and the current generation of thermal reactors (using a comparison with a generic LWR). Note that this section does not include the costs of fuel (mining, enrichment, fabrication, recycling, and so on). That is, however covered later in the book:, with full fuel-cycle cost estimate being: LWR = 0.55 c/kWh at current uranium cost (Table 13-4) and IFR 0.44 c/kWh — or $35 million/GWyr (Table 13-9).

This section is drawn from pages 277-280 of Plentiful Energy. To buy the book ($18 US) and get the full story, go to Amazon or CreateSpace. (Note that the images below do not come from the book).

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Generic cost comparison between the IFR and LWR (light water reactor) 

Comparison of fast reactor capital cost with the capital cost of commercial LWRs is not straightforward either. First, the part that should be straightforward, that of identifying the capital cost of commercial reactors, isn’t straightforward at all. U.S. LWRs were built twenty or more years ago, under wildly varying construction environments, some prior to the anti-nuclear campaigns of cost increases, some during the height of them, and a few after. Comparisons between PWR, BWR, heavy water reactors, and gas-cooled reactors are not straightforward either, even though, with the water reactor types, we are dealing with actual experience. Comparison with yet-to-be-designed fast reactors involves more uncertainty. However, the details of the makeup of capital costs do provide useful insight.

The Department of Energy’s Energy Economics Data Base (EEDB) defines a code of accounts for estimating and categorizing such cost components. [6] For illustrative purposes, a reference PWR capital cost breakdown developed for the EEDB is presented in Table 13-2. [7] Since the database was generated in the 1980s, the absolute dollar amounts have little relevance to today, so the cost breakdown is expressed in terms of percentage of the total direct costs.

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IFR FaD 12 – lessons learned from fast reactor capital costs

This is the third of a four-part series of extracts from the book Plentiful Energy — The story of the Integral Fast Reactor by Chuck Till and Yoon Chang.

Reproduced with permission of the authors, these sections describe and justify some of the key design choices that went into the making the IFR a different — and highly successful — approach to fast neutron reactor technology and its associated fuel recycling.

These excerpts not only provide a fascinating insight into a truly sustainable form nuclear power; they also provide excellent reference material for refuting many of the spurious claims on the internet about IFR by people who don’t understand (or choose to wilfully misrepresent) this critically important technology.

Click here for part 1 (metal fuels and plutonium).

Click here for part 2 (coolant choice and reactor configuration).

The third extract looks at the history of costs for commercial fast reactors to date (e.g., Superphenix in France). What can this tell us about the possible future costs of the IFR? (the final part will do a comparison with light water reactors). This section is drawn from pages 274-277 of Plentiful Energy. To buy the book ($18 US) and get the full story, go to Amazon or CreateSpace. (Note that the images below do not come from the book).

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Fast Reactor Capital Cost: What can be learned from fast reactor construction experience to date?

A model of the Superphenix nuclear power station, a now closed fast breeder reactor. While it was open, it was highly controversial and once on the receiving end of a eco-terrorist rocket attack.

Some notion of likely cost competitiveness can be gained from past fast reactor construction experience, but the information available is limited. It can be said that the capital costs per MWe of the early fast reactors built around the world were much higher than those of LWRs. But the comparisons are not by any means direct and unambiguous. In comparison to the LWR, every difference between the two adds a cost increment to the fast reactor. With one significant exception, they were much smaller in size and electrical capacity than the LWRs built for commercial electricity generation. There were only a few of them. They were built as demonstration plants, by governments underwriting fast reactor development. There was basically one demonstration per country, with no follow-on to take advantage of the experience and lessons learned. Nor were they scaled up and replicated. The LWR had long since passed the stage where first-of-a-kind costs were involved, and had the advantage of economies of scale as well. Further, their purpose was commercial, with the attendant incentive to keep costs down. None of this has applied to fast reactors built to the present time.

Experience with thermal reactor types, as well as other large-scale construction, has shown that capital cost reduction follows naturally through a series of demonstration plants of increasing size once feasibility is proven. This has been true in every country, with exceptions only in the periods when construction undergoes lengthy delays due to organized anti-nuclear legal challenges. But this phased approach of multiple demonstration plants is no longer likely to be affordable, and in any case, with the experience worldwide now, it is probably unnecessary for a fast reactor plant today. Estimating the “settled down” capital cost potential is not an easy task without such experience. Nevertheless, as the economic competitiveness of the fast reactor is taken to be a prerequisite to commercial deployment, we do need to understand the capital cost potential of the fast reactor and what factors influence it.
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