Why is the US ignoring the Integral Fast Reactor?

Cartoon by Nicholson from The Australian newspaper: www.nicholsoncartoons.com.au

Cartoon by Nicholson from "The Australian" newspaper: http://www.nicholsoncartoons.com.au

Here is something written by Steve Kirsch, and published recently on the Huffington Post. It is obviously highly relevant to our discussions on IFR and ETS bills in Australia, so I thought BNC readers would find it of interest. I’ll ask Steve if he wants to join in the commentary herein…

Waxman-Markey: Three Tough, Unanswered Questions

Steve Kirsch

On June 10, 1Sky sponsored a conference call with Waxman, Markey, and their staff to talk about the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) a.k.a. the Waxman-Markey bill. I had three really tough questions that weren’t addressed in the call, so I e-mailed the House staffers who spoke on the call.

I received a response which I’ve included below, but the response didn’t directly answer my questions.

So I thought it would be fun to speculate at how they might have responded if they were required to answer each question directly, without being “politically correct.”

Question #1: Jim Hansen did an analysis of the bill. He told me on June 7 that he will write something soon showing that Waxman-Markey “locks in terrible results for two decades.”

Now we all know that Hansen is a really smart guy that we wished we had listened to back in 1988 when he first testified about global warming. His prognostications have all materialized.

Since we are so late in addressing climate change, and we really cannot afford to make any mistakes this time around (our last chance), how can you be so certain that Hansen is wrong in his assessment of Waxman-Markey? Do you have an expert who is as smart as Hansen (and as right in his prognostications) who has convinced you that Hansen is wrong?

Answer #1: No, we haven’t seen Hansen’s analysis.

Question #2: Both Secretary Chu and the President of MIT point out that nuclear has to be a key part of the energy mix going forward. We can’t supply all our clean energy needs relying on just renewables.

Yet this bill has over 932 pages, and the word “nuclear” only appears twice.

That seems pretty odd considering that 70% of our CO2-free power is from nuclear. Even more odd considering we haven’t built a new nuclear plant in 30 years and it’s still 70% of our clean power!

I’m sure you all know that the energy content contained in light water reactor (LWR) spent fuel and depleted uranium exceeds all the known oil reserves in the world. It’s an energy resource that is 10 times bigger than the energy of the coal we have in the ground. And that’s just the stuff we have on hand! That’s not even counting the stuff we haven’t mined. Using fast reactors, we can run the entire planet for over 700 years on just the uranium “waste” we have on hand and for millions of years if we are willing to use the uranium that hasn’t yet been mined.

So we have this huge energy resource just lying there and we invented the fast reactor technology (known as the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR)) at Argonne National Laboratory 25 years ago to use it 100 times more efficiently than in an LWR with minimal waste, lower cost, and better safety than existing nuclear plants. It also solves our nuclear waste problem since it uses the existing nuclear waste for fuel. But we aren’t talking about it at all in this bill on clean energy security. It’s not even a footnote in the bill.

Secretary Chu is talking about fast reactors as a critical piece to moving forward, yet nobody in Congress in the last 15 years has brought it up and it sure isn’t anywhere in this bill. Isn’t this a bit short sighted to not even mention this in the bill? The current DOE funding for this is ridiculously inadequate.

I spoke to the former top guy in charge of civilian nuclear for DOE (Ray Hunter) and he thinks this is a travesty. He was so disgusted he sent a letter to Senator Reid and a few other Senators explaining all of this, but they all ignored his letter (Senator Mikulski’s office sent him a “thank you for writing us” response). That’s a bit odd considering this is our biggest energy resource and this guy was the top civilian nuclear guy at DOE.

Unfortunately, this bill is no different. Jim Hansen has been building a fast reactor as one of his top 5 priorities for Obama to fix global warming. I heard that Congressman McNerney was briefed on fast reactors and tried to have a hearing on it. Nothing happened and this bill has nothing on it at all.

Is there any chance we can fix that? Or at least acknowledge the reason for this stunning omission?

Answer #2: No. Congressman Markey hates nuclear and he always has. He isn’t going to let little things like “facts” and “science” change his beliefs. Even if nuclear supplied 99% of our clean energy, it still wouldn’t be called out in the bill. However, the bill doesn’t penalize utilities for constructing nuclear plants.

Question #3: One of the reasons we are in this crisis is due to our government’s lack of a long term vision and a viable strategy with respect to global warming. This seems to me not to have changed. Am I wrong?

On the call, Markey correctly pointed out that in order to control climate change, we not only have to reduce our emissions at home, but we also have to get other countries to dramatically reduce their emissions. Coal is the big problem. If we can’t virtually eliminate coal use worldwide, we are just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Is there a strategy for how we are going to move other countries off of coal? Markey talked about developing and then exporting carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), but such a strategy would rely on exporting a technology that doesn’t exist (at scale), that may never exist, that nobody really wants, that would raise the price of electricity to be unaffordably high, and which can only be retrofitted onto coal plants originally designed to capture CO2 of which there are none.

That’s a lot of assumptions. Is that our official core strategy to save the planet??!?!?!

Wouldn’t it make more sense to invest in commercializing the IFR fast reactor technology that we invented 25 years ago, spend lots of money to modularize and mass produce the pieces, have the US finance construction of the plants in foreign countries, and make in-country joint partnerships with the local government to build and operate the plants? Such a plan could displace existing coal plants because it would provide power at a cheaper cost. It would be the equivalent of Walmart moving into town and displacing higher priced competitors. And of course, it will also eliminate the construction of new coal plants.

The benefits to the US would be huge: a nice recurring profitable revenue stream helping our trade deficit and creation of a huge number of high paying jobs to build these plants and the parts for them and to operate them. So we make tons of money and create lots of jobs. And the benefits to the world are huge in terms of CO2 reduction. We’d also virtually eliminate the nuclear waste worldwide. And the host country gets cheaper power. Everyone wins.

Isn’t the latter a fundamentally better strategy than Markey’s “pray for CCS” strategy?

Or is there a better strategy for getting other countries to eliminate CO2 from all power generation?

Answer #3: Sure, a strategy that relies on pure economics for getting people to abandon coal is better than a strategy of relying on an uneconomic and unproven technology and the threat of economic sanctions for non-compliance. Carrots are always better than sticks. Look at our own country for example. We are having a heck of a time getting enough votes for this bill and it we’ve already watered down the renewable portfolio standards so much that they basically don’t require much change from the status quo at all. So sure, that’s a better strategy, but that’s not the strategy we are pursuing.

Look, it’s not about economics or what is in the public’s best interest for saving the planet. If you are trying to get enough votes to pass a bill in Congress, the political realities are this: We want to do the right thing for the planet and for the public. But If we don’t have a strategy that makes the coal, oil, and gas companies happy, they’ll spend lots of money on misleading ads to try to ensure that we don’t get re-elected. Unfortunately, there are a lot of Members who are afraid of that.

The official response

Here is the response to the three questions that I did receive from one of the House staff members:

Thanks for your emails. We wanted to provide some information on how the Waxman-Markey bill (ACES) provides opportunities for new nuclear power:

● Because nuclear power generates far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels, utilities will need to hold far fewer emission allowances for the nuclear plants to comply with the carbon limitations in ACES. According to EPA modeling, twice as many new nuclear plants would be built by 2025 under ACES than without the legislation.

● Under the federal Renewable Electricity Standard, electricity generated from new nuclear units is not added to a utility’s baseline electricity level. As a result, the addition of a nuclear plant would not require a utility to obtain additional renewable electricity. This ensures that the RES provides no disincentive to the construction of new nuclear units.

● ACES establishes a self-sustaining Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA) within the Department of Energy to promote the domestic development and deployment of clean energy technologies. CEDA would be empowered to provide direct loans, loan guarantees, and letters of credit to support clean energy technologies that might otherwise be unable to secure financing, including nuclear power.

● ACES includes reforms to the existing Department of Energy loan guarantee program. The Department has received applications for federal loan guarantees from 21 proposed nuclear power plants, totaling $122 billion in requested assistance.

Chairman Waxman is committed to developing the strongest legislation that can pass Congress. Our staff is all working very hard to get the bill ready for the House floor next week, but if you’d like to talk about this issue or others, please let us know and we’ll be glad to talk to you during the next recess.

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37 Comments

  1. Steve K: if you’re watching, Stanford has a great energy seminar series during the regular school year, every Wed @ 4:15PM.

    One talk in April was: How Energy Policy Is Really Made
    Tara Billingsley, Professional Staff, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, U.S. Senate
    Related Link(s): http://energy.senate.gov/public/

    She gave a candid discussion of the way Energy bills really happen, reminiscent of Bismarck’s old saw about “laws and sausages.”

    It is amazing that anything even slightly useful ever happens.

    Personally, I think this is another “Head fakes” and “belt-buckle” analogy. [I.e., I’ve used that to describe surface temperatures compared with Ocean heat Content].

    As best as I can tell, more of the Congressional effort is focussed on shorter-term issues and of course is subject to the usual political issues. I actually don’t mind that too much, since I’m really wary of Congress picking technology winners or managing proper R&D processes.

    I would much rather see strong encouragement for deployment of existing technology, coupled with a disciplined R&D process. Back in the old days at Bell Labs, someone outside might say “AT&T is ignoring X”, but it might well be that there were multiple N-year R&D programs inside Bell Labs already doing discipline R&D on it.

    Q: So, where’s the belt-buckle, i.e., what do you *really* want to watch?

    A: DOE and Stephen Chu, over the next few years.

    I don’t know Chu, but know people who do. Generally, I’m inclined to give a Bell Labs Nobelist, head of Stanford Physics, and Head of Lawrence Berkeley Labs some time to get DOE figuring out what can be done, as opposed to edicting the solution.

    No one walks on water …but how does Chu compare to previous Secretaries of Energy?

    See MIT Technology Review interview.
    OR
    Chu addresses the National Labs.

    Q: Is Chu aware of IFR?
    [A: Yes, if for no other reason than that Hansen has talked to him about it over dinner.]

    Q: For example, if you are *for* IFR, would you want the USA to invest big money in Yucca Mountain … or not?

    A: Not. Did people notice Chu took Yucca off the table in March?

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  2. I know nothing about the Waxman-Markey Bill. Is the reason it “locks in terrible results for two decades” that it economically supports unambitious targets?

    Reading the official response to Steve’s questions, they seem to be saying only that nuclear power is not preferenced under the Bill, and that it would compete on the same basis as other carbon free energy sources. Is that the case?

    While I would like to see active government support for gen IV development (sometimes I think you do have to pick winners, rather than let the 1000 monkeys of the market pick for you), having a level playing field (with correctly priced carbon) should put nuclear power in pretty good shape, and perhaps surprise the antis.

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  3. I agree with John Mashey.

    I do not believe the US is ignoring IFR related technologies and processes. This week the US House of Representatives, Science and Technology Committee conducted a hearing with testimonies from:

    Mark T. Peters, Deputy Associate Laboratory Director Argonne National Laboratory;

    Dr. Alan S. Hanson, Executive Vice President, Technology and Used Fuel Management AREVA NC Inc.;

    Lisa Price, Senior Vice President GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Americas LLC; and

    Dr. Charles D. Ferguson, Philip D. Reed Senior Fellow, Science and Technology Council on Foreign Relations.

    There were several calls for R&D, strong justifications for closing the fuel cycle and arguments in favour of the IFR (particularly Price’s with references to GE’s PRISM design). Even Ferguson, representing non-proliferation related concerns, took a rather pragmatic tone.

    But another theme in the testimonies was the lack of a sense of dire urgency with respect to fuel processing. Uranium supply fears are unfounded and from a proliferation perspective, high activity actinides in LWR used fuel are an excellent natural proliferation barrier.

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  4. The Waxman-Markey bill is significantly better than the Australian Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation. But like the CPRS, the target is too weak.

    If IFRs are going to deployed, the the policy that is needed is a sufficiently high, steadily increasing carbon price, rather than some policy based on picking winners. An advantage that W-M has over the CPRS is that it has a price floor, that is steadily increasing at 5% above inflation. But it starts at $10 per tonne, so it is not sufficiently high.

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  5. ED @ #

    Thanks, good to know.

    Re: “Calls for R&D”: this of course has at least 3 different meanings that I know off offhand:

    1) Delay: I don’t want X, or I don’t believe X, so we must do more research to be sure.

    OR

    2) I want X (not Y or Z), so go all-out and build it.
    Manhattan Project seems to have been like this, and of course, cost-is-no-object is nice.

    However, I often get scared when well-meaning people “call for R&D” and I ask them what that means, and don’t get satisfying answers. I’ve seen people waste a lot of time and money by premature commitments.

    OR

    3) I want a disciplined progressive-commitment R&D program with some clear goals, analyzes the state of the the options, models the costs of achieving the goals along the various pathways, and puts appropriate projects together. I’ll find the best people I can get to do this, and then give them the responsibility, budget, and time to do it.

    I have some hope that this case might actually be 3). It would be *really* nice if the DOE were working on the *right* problems. [Note: I’ve helped sell many supercomputers & workstations to the DOE, I’ve been inside many US National Research Labs. There are many excellent people, but sometimes, I wasn’t always convinced of the priorities…]

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  6. John,
    I am no Scientist, but rather an Engineer. I would probably recognise a decent applied science programme at best. But my impression was closer to number 3 (realising the limitations of objectivity associated with witnesses affiliated with private companies). The four testimonies are linked below. I’d be interested in other opinions.

    Mark Peters
    http://democrats.science.house.gov/Media/file/Commdocs/hearings/2009/Full/17jun/Peters_Testimony.pdf

    Alan Hanson
    http://democrats.science.house.gov/Media/file/Commdocs/hearings/2009/Full/17jun/Hanson_Testimony.pdf

    Lise Price
    http://democrats.science.house.gov/Media/file/Commdocs/hearings/2009/Full/17jun/Price_Testimony.pdf

    Charles Ferguson
    http://democrats.science.house.gov/Media/file/Commdocs/hearings/2009/Full/17jun/Ferguson_Testimony.pdf

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  7. Ed: thanks, I’ll take a look.

    If you haven’t looked at the R&D processes article I mentioned, you might.

    In that scheme, at Bell Labs, only a small fraction of efforts were pure research (R1), more was applied research (R2), more yet was various phases of developed (D1-D3), and the huge money was manufacturing & deployment. I use it as a a somewhat-=comparable example because it was one of the few industrial companies with long-term thinking and scale anything remotely like the energy business.

    Put another way, that was a mix of science and engineering, and there was a lot more of the latter than the former.

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  8. They know there’s something wrong with it and want a free ticket to attack any nation trying to set those plutonium factories up… Yes its me with a sarcastic accent, hasn’t worked very well up here.

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  9. I read with interest the four testimonies provided by Ed. Obviously, the one from Lisa Price of GE Hitachi was of most relevance with respect to the previous discussions on this site.

    My impression was that she was a lot less “gung-ho” on the subject of IFRs than I would have expected from previous reading here. The impression I gained was that a great deal of R and D would be necessary both for the reactor and for the recycling facility before it would be possible to move on to full scale demonstration. I got no feel for the timescale envisaged. The technology was being pushed, as far as I could gather, primarily as a means of addressing the waste problem and avoiding proliferation risks rather than as a way of producing affordable sustainable power per se. Her Fig 2 left me with the impression that recycling would produce 3 components – cleaned uranium for despatch to 3rd generation reactors, dirty fissile material for the IFR and waste to go to a depository. Why would one contemplate this if the first and second components could both be energised in the IFR? One conclusion one could come to is that this approach would be more costly. In other words, one might reasonably suppose that energy from 3rd generation reactors is cheaper than from 4th generation. (You might tell me that this is only because the former are already extant and that this wouldn’t apply to new build 3rd generation machines.)

    I accept that Lisa Price’s employers have nuclear interests that are not solely linked to SCRs and recycling. However, if politicians had to rely on that testimony for their sole knowledge of IFRs, they would have to be a lot more perceptive than I in order to become enthusiasts for it.

    I had been led to believe from my reading on this site (and linked articles) that IFR technology was:
    a) Sustainable.
    b) Deployable in significant quantity well before 2030.
    c) Likely to provide energy at a price cheaper than newly built coal.

    If any or all of these beliefs are wrong, then I don’t see much point in the technology (or hope for the future because renewables won’t be enough for all of us). On sustainability, whom am I to believe? How dependent is the IFR on uranium? Is David MacKay wrong? Can one breed as much fuel as one wants for ongoing power from IFRs? When can we really expect to see a lot of power from IFRs? If not till after 2030, it could well be too late to matter. Finally, it seems to me that the only way to stop coal reserves being used up is to produce energy more cheaply than from coal. How confident can one be that IFRs will achieve this objective? One is always being lectured by anti nuclear types that nuclear reactor build costs invariably overrun and the current debacle in Finland doesn’t help.

    I think I am seeking reassurance. I don’t suppose that most of my queries can be answered with any certainty until a commercial demonstration unit is built. Unfortunately, the impression I gained from Lisa Price’s testimony was that this won’t be any time soon. If the IFR is as good as you and Tom Blees are suggesting, Lisa Price seems to be damning with faint praise.

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  10. I am impressed that the IFR dialogue has progressed to the point that a congressional committee is studying the possibility. The DOE has granted $6M under Sect Chu to ASU I believe to study alternative fuels for nuclear reactors. Energy Solutions in Utah is making a play this month to pressure Utah DEQ to allow depleted uranium be accepted at their Clive,Utah facility. Utah Radiation Board put on the brakes and is studying the issue in more depth this past week. It seems like a good time to give Utah’s State Rad group a call. Good discussion here across the country on the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, FINALLY! The struggle is helping the politicians understand the nuclear fuel cycle which is challenging for most scientists and daunting for non-scientific policy makers.

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  11. re: #8 Douglas

    To add to what Ed’s posted, it really helps to read Committee Discusses Nuclear Waste Recycling Risks and Benefits, and Status of R&D, in which one finds that the primary focus of this hearing was on *recycling*, i.e., what to do about waste, as opposed to specifically about IFR.

    It says:
    “The president’s 2010 budget request appears to continue the Yucca Mountain licensing process, but the significant funding cut would delay the current planned 2020 opening of the repository. The president is also convening a blue ribbon panel to look for alternative solutions for managing the nation’s nuclear waste.”

    My interpretation of all this is:

    a) The US for decades has been saying we’d do Yucca Mountain. My state, CA, has a ~1978 law that says:

    “California law prohibits the construction of any new nuclear power plants in California until the Energy Commission finds that the federal government has approved and there exists a demonstrated technology for the permanent disposal of spent fuel from these facilities.”

    That was slightly before my time here, but I think the expectation was that there would be such a solution and at that point, nuclear power plants could be reconsidered. (Whether California would wish to or not is another issue. Between seismic faults and water issues, there aren’t as many places to put them as one might like.) Of course, it’s now been 30+ years, and a rational person might well say “this just isn’t happening”, and Secty Chu has said Yucca “off the table”.

    b) I don’t find the testimony inconsistent with what Barry has been discussing, again, because the chain is:

    – Plan of Record (Yucca) seems no longer to be getting lip service. This is a change.

    – SO, what *do* we do with the nuclear waste, rather than just kicking the issue to later generations?

    – Hence, if the HoR wants to hear about that, I’m unsurprised that the emphasis was on recycling/reprocessing, rather than any particular tech.

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  12. Like I said in the earlier topic (chuckle):
    — present this as the new plan for

    Improved Fissionables Reduction — the IFR.

    Done this way, it doesn’t appear to cut into the current investment in GenIII, which is enormous.

    Remember our economic system relies on throwing good money after bad, to justify spending the first round on things too big too fail or melt down.

    Crises don’t make people smarter in the short run.

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  13. Oh, and then in a few years, we’ll make the astonishing discovery that we can use the waste heat from the Improved Fissionables Reduction plant, and since they’ll already have been proven out as fissionables reduction devices, they can be recertified easily enough as power plants.

    They’ll require the new high temperature alloys being worked on now — that work in the high temperatures of the extremely efficient next generation coal plants, ironically, which operate hotter than any planned fission reactor. Same alloys will be needed for fusion when it comes along in “about 30 years” of course.

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  14. > throwing good money after bad

    There’s a question for the biologists — are there any animals other than primates that do have this problem of not immediately recognizing sunk costs, and staying attached to strategies that have failed rather than immediately abandoning them and starting over?

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  15. As others have said below, the hearing was on nuclear fuel reprocessing. Reprocessing brings with it other issues to tackle beyond low emission energy generation. One large example is the desire to draw down Pu stockpiles resulting from aqueous reprocessing processes to date. Hence considerable airtime devoted to MOX fuel. This is the way Pu will be consumed in the short term.

    But still – even in a hearing about reprocessing / recycling used nuclear fuel – you still hear statements about fast reactors, breeding and a long term sustainable nuclear fuel cycle. To me, this is reassurance.

    Regarding your interpretation of IFRs from this site and other material, don’t abandon your interpretations just yet. Remember this testimony and Barry’s post are USA specific. Other countries are working on the technology as well and may be deploying fast reactor facilities in advance of the US. Many of these countries are subject to different economic constraints than America and in several instances this provides additional motivation for different innovative nuclear designs, including IFRs.

    Also, I do not believe we can assume the cost of coal will remain level for much longer. It can’t, can it? If we move to an economic model where energy lifecycle costs (waste, health effects, environmental impact, etc.) are internalised with the costs of construction, operation and maintenance; nuclear will be even more cost competitive than it is at the moment. By addressing the waste stream, IFRs will improve this business case and produce energy to boot.

    I do believe there is some urgency to IFR / improved reprocessing technology development. As John has highlighted below, the final disposition of high level waste is, in some cases, preventing the broader deployment of nuclear power technologies. Boosting confidence in a LWR back-end solution is a significant IFR selling point. It seems wise to allocate additional resources to that effort.

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  16. Excellent points made above, John M, Ed and Hank.

    Regarding this last point, yes, there many cases, mostly constrained through evolutionary programming (e.g. naivety of animals on islands without predators, which get wiped out by people walking around with clubs without trying to flee, even when witnessing the slaughter of their companions, day after day).

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  17. Thanks Barry; maybe the human ability to stick with losing strategies is typical of the examples you give, the behavior of a formerly top predator (that is, we used to be the top predators, each family or village or tribe had its own range — but now we’ve created super-predators, corporations, governments, other large organizations, heck, gambling casinos — that up til the last few thousand years wouldn’t have been threats to most people most places in the world. And we just stand around and let them club us most of the time).

    Has anyone looked at school curricula and noted where there are courses being taught relevant to the GenIV — as opposed to training people to work in industry as it is now?

    I looked at California: http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/node/20

    “… The UCB/NE Department is institutionally constrained, despite the fact that adequate numbers of students are applying for enrollment.The troubling fact is that the UCB/NE Department is the only such department in the UC System. This means that students not admitted to this program must go out of the state of California for their nuclear engineering education…”

    Anyone knowledgeable about the issue (I’m certainly not) could probably read the online course descriptions and opine on what’s offered. What are the basic prerequisites for working in GenIV technology?

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  18. PS to Barry, thanks for the example; I’d been thinking of “sunk costs” in terms of abandoning investment of effort toward some possible acquisition that doesn’t work out — trying to stalk an antelope and giving up when it startles far enough away it can’t be run down, or trying to get honey out of a tree and finding the wood’s not rotten enough to break the hive out easily without too many beestings. Not the same sense of ‘sunk cost’as not expecting a new predator.

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  19. The UCB nuclear engineering department has experienced a slow attrition over the decades of nuclear stagnation in the States and could desperately use an infusion of capital to create their own renaissance to help train engineers for the promised nuclear renaissance. Fortunately they have a director who is savvy about the fact that the Pacific Rim is primed for a nuclear boom and she realizes that Berkeley can be a focal point for the education of nuclear engineers and physicists in the Asia-Pacific region. Hopefully she’ll be able to make that vision a reality.

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  20. Ed, it seems that the USA has such a wonderful collection of national labs that we can invent some of the most awesome stuff on the planet. But when it comes to actually building any of it on a commercial scale we fall flat on our faces, because then politicians take the reins (when it comes to anything nuclear) and it all goes south. If the scientists at the national labs would continue to push it that might make a difference, but their business is research, not commercialization, and they’ve all got their niches so it’s like herding cats to try to get consensus. So you get the never-ending “Let’s do more R&D” line, which is of course the raison d’etre of national labs, and indecisive politicians afraid of the N word are more than happy to agree on ever more R&D.

    The PRISM is ready to be built. But it’s going to take some decisive politicians to get the thing done. Are we getting close? A confluence of factors (Yucca Mountain, global warming, disarmament leading to lots of Pu being available) will hopefully be sufficient to get them off the dime, but I’m not holding my breath. At this point it looks more likely that the PRISM will end up being built outside the States first due to political inertia. I could go on and on about this, believe me, but for reasons of political discretion I must refrain.

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  21. Barry. I am wondering if the promotion of IFR in Australia could get a boost from the new body established by Rudd et al to rid the world of nuclear weapons, to be co-chaired by Gareth Evans. Given the ability of IFR to process spent fuel/Pu waste it would seem to me that there is a neat conjunction in the two if you factor in something like two decades. Getting Evans to believe in IFR potential might be a lot easier than flogging the issue around Canberra, notwithstanding that Gareth gave us the memorable “It seemed like a good idea at the time” quote when he used the RAAF to spy on Tassie Hydro plans for the Lower Franklyn River. Sorry I can’t give the title of the nuclear disarming body but the thing has had a long genesis, going back to Jeatings time. It may never go anywhere but the potential for IFR shouldn’t be lost in the process.

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  22. > Why not …?

    Thorium generally, see the link in the right sidebar, it’s actively discussed. With some great pictures of a modern Stonehenge (abandoned partly built reactor site) http://thoriumenergy.blogspot.com/

    Pebble bed: you’d have to ask them, or their investors, why not. The website you link to currently says:

    “Johannesburg’s Business Report says the pebble bed modular reactor project is running out of cash. It’s initial goals may have to be redirected…. to use its heat directly … gasoline from coal … for extracting oil from the Canadian tar sands. Hyperion Power is also exploring this use for its uranium hydride reactor technology….

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  23. Thanks for the link John – I had actually read that article some time ago.

    I was involved in a complex project with GE some years ago and visited their R&D facility in Schenectady, NY. What a place. As one entered the building, there were many photographs on a large wall. The top row were all Nobel Prize winners, then those who had received a minimum number of patents (say 50), then a row with fewer patents, etc. The bottom row had a 10 patent minimum. Many of the photos were old as I remember. Seems that GE’s R&D heyday was similar to Bell Labs’.

    I strongly agree with the process as you’ve laid it out. The transition of technology from science to engineering is a complicated one that certainly can not be scheduled up until the later stages (D2+) at best. In the right environment and with the right management – I can’t imagine a better place to work.

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  24. Colorado School of Mines has a new Nuclear Engineering Department that is beginning to receive greater funding and increase in students. University of California system is bankrupt both morally and financially. I am not sure that I would count on Berkeley to solve our nuclear problems.

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  25. The latest version (as of a couple of days ago) of the Waxman-Markey bill now has a section on “Nuclear and other Advanced Technologies”, so it may not be true that the US is ignoring IFR.

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  26. Tom,

    I am replying to your latest comment but it might have been more appropriate to your previous response in which your frustration with progressing the IFR technology in the States was beginning to show.

    I was discussing the sustainability of the energy available from nuclear fission with David MacKay this morning. In his book, he arrives at much lower amount of (1000 year)sustainable energy/person/day than has often been claimed on this site. However, he did qualify his comments by stating the quantity of uranium reserves he was basing his data on. He also said that, because of there being no current uranium shortage, the land reserves that could come onstream economically in the future could well be 1000 times greater than the number that his calculations were based on. I am also not sure that he was taking existing stockpiles of “radioactive waste” into account. He certainly lamented the fact that, despite the UK sitting on many tonnes of plutonium, its government had recently cut back its contributions to the consortium of nations funding 4th generation fission research, making it unlikely that UK researchers would any longer have the opportunity to work in this area.

    This is all a preamble to my request that you provide detailed figures that underpin the sustainability estimates pertaining to IFR technology. I have to make the terrible confession that I have not read your book and that the answers I seek may already be there. If so, tell me and I’ll get it.

    Unfortunately, some have promoted the IFR as a perpetual motion machine and give the impression that a breeder reactor can produce all the energy we need while simultaneously recreating its supplies with no further inputs

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  27. Douglas, it hasn’t been laid out explicitly yet on the blog, but I have presented this in some of my recent talks. Needless to say, I’ll do a post on it at some point. There is no perpetual motion magic required — the supply of fissionable and fertile U and Th is, for all intents and purposes, unlimited.

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  30. For what it’s worth at this late date, I think we are ignoring the IFR because our government cancelled it and nobody in the government wants to be seen to be wrong, seen to be reversing an old decision that the new folks know nothing about, or because it hurts the heads of those in power to try to figure out what all these different nuclear technologies mean.

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