The Integral Fast Reactor – Summary for Policy Makers

ifr_conceptSteve Kirsch, after discussions with a large number of the principal researchers on Argonne National Laboratory’s IFR project, has prepared his ‘one stop shop’ summary of the Integral Fast Reactor technology (sometimes referred to as the ‘Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor’ [LMFBR] or the ‘Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor’ [ALMR], although in reality, the IFR is the systems design that includes an ALMR and on-site pyroprocessing) and the urgent need for deployment.

I should note that Steve’s piece is not written for a science, technology and engineering audience. The aim is to alert policy makers, politicians, and everyday folk with a concern for cleaning up our energy supply, to the great potential of the IFR as a major alternative route to slashing carbon emissions.

You can get the Word version of this ‘summary for policy makers’ here. Print this, read it. Send the link to others who you think are currently ignorant of this prospect (either through not appreciating what Gen IV nuclear means, or because they’ve never heard of it!). Print out copies and hand it to them. This sort of information must be more widely known, appreciated, discussed and debated. It’s critical, and we’re all running out of time. The public dialogue on this matter must begin in earnest.


The Integral Fast Reactor

Guest Post by Steve Kirsch

“In the decade from 1984 to 1994, scientists at Argonne National Laboratory developed an advanced technology that promised safe nuclear power unlimited by fuel supplies, with a waste product sharply reduced both in radioactive lifetime and amount. The program, called the IFR, was cancelled suddenly in 1994, before the technology could be perfected in every detail. Its story is not widely known, nor are its implications widely appreciated. It is a story well worth telling, and this series of articles does precisely that.”

— excerpt from Plentiful Energy and the IFR story by Charles Till, former Associate Director, Argonne National Laboratory

Executive summary

Congress should add a provision to the climate bills to authorize $3B to have DOE work with industry to build a demonstration Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) plant in order to jump-start this critical clean energy technology.


A successful IFR demonstration can lead to the following important benefits:

  1. The only technology we have with a realistic potential to save the planet. The IFR is the first viable solution to how to eliminate CO2 emissions from coal plants because it can do that without increasing costs. Eliminating emissions from coal plants is required to prevent a climate catastrophe. But using carbon capture adds cost and may not be practical or viable. The IFR, on the other hand, can replace the burner in an existing coal plant while reducing operating costs. This is why the IFR is one of Jim Hansen’s top five priorities for saving the planet.
  2. Solves the nuclear waste problem and opens the door for the expansion of nuclear power in the US. The IFR uses today’s nuclear waste as fuel. The waste product from the IFR is minimal and short-lived. Solving the waste problem is required if we are to expand nuclear power in the US. The IFR does this.
  3. Opportunity to become the world leader in clean energy. The IFR is the state-of-the-art nuclear technology that everyone wants. It is better in every dimension than any of today’s nuclear reactors. If we make a strategic bet on this technology and heavily invest in it, the US has the opportunity to become the undisputed world leader in clean electric power generation. Nuclear is the elephant of clean power technologies and the IFR was determined to be the best nuclear power technology by an extensive comparative study DOE. It is arguably the most powerful clean power technology on the planet.
  4. Creates enormous economic value. It turns our existing nuclear waste into an asset worth over $30 trillion dollars. That is a fantastic return on investment for a one-time $3B investment to jump-start the technology. Nothing else comes close.
  5. Unlimited clean power. The IFR allows us to power the entire US electricity needs for the next 1,500 years without doing any additional mining of uranium; just using the “waste” we have on-hand that nobody wants. The power is carbon free. If we mine, we can power the power needs of the entire planet forever.


The IFR is an advanced fourth generation sodium-cooled fast nuclear reactor (SFR) combined with a reprocessing facility using pyroprocessing, typically in the same power plant. The combination of a fast reactor plus waste processing is known as the Integral Fast Reactor.

Unlike today’s nuclear power plants (all of which are second generation designs built 30 years ago), the IFR uses fast neutrons (instead of slow neutrons) and thus is known as a “fast reactor.” Fast neutrons have the advantage of “burning” the nuclear material completely so that the only waste products are fission products (elements near the middle of the periodic table).  This waste is only dangerous for a few hundred years which is much less than the 100,000-year sequestration time that many think is needed for conventional nuclear waste.

Sodium-cooled fast nuclear reactor technology was developed beginning in 1964 by a team of scientists at Argonne National Laboratories. Their test-bed reactor, known as the EBR-II,  ran flawlessly for 30 years until being permanently shut down by Congress in 1994.

Today, while other countries such as Russia, India, China, France and Japan are successfully and aggressively pursuing fast reactors,[1] the US hasn’t had an operating fast reactor since the EBR-II was shut down 15 years ago.

The need

To prevent a climate disaster, we must eliminate virtually all coal plant emissions worldwide in 25 years. The best way and, for all practical purposes, the only way to get all countries off of coal is not with coercion; it is to make them want to replace their coal burners by giving them a plug-compatible technology that is less expensive. The IFR can do this. It is plug-compatible with the burners in a coal plant (see Nuclear Power: Going Fast). No other technology can upgrade a coal plant so it is greenhouse gas free while reducing operating costs at the same time. In fact, no other technology can achieve either of these goals. The IFR can achieve both.

The bottom line is that without the IFR (or a yet-to-be-invented technology with similar ability to replace the coal burner with a cheaper alternative), it is unlikely that we’ll be able to keep CO2 under 450 ppm.

Today, the IFR is the only technology with the potential to displace the coal burner. That is why restarting the IFR is so critical and why Jim Hansen has listed it as one of the top five things we must do to avert a climate disaster.[2]

Without eliminating virtually all coal emissions by 2030, the sum total of all of our other climate mitigation efforts will be inconsequential. Hansen often refers to the near complete phase-out of coal emissions worldwide by 2030 as the sine qua non for climate stabilization (see for example, the top of page 6 in his August 4, 2008 trip report).

To stay under 450ppm, we would have to install about 13,000 GWe of new carbon-free power over the next 25 years. That number was calculated by Nathan Lewis of Caltech for the Atlantic, but others such as Saul Griffith have independently derived a very similar number and White House Science Advisor John Holdren used 5,600 GWe to 7,200 GWe in his presentation to the Energy Bar Association Annual Meeting on April 23, 2009. That means that if we want to save the planet, we must install more than 1 GWe per day of clean power every single day for the next 25 years. That is a very, very tough goal. It is equivalent to building one large nuclear reactor per day, or 1,500 huge wind turbines per day, or 80,000 37 foot diameter solar dishes covering 100 square miles every day, or some linear combination of these or other carbon free power generation technologies. Note that the required rate is actually higher than this because Hansen and Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the IPCC, now both agree that 350ppm is a more realistic “not to exceed” number (and we’ve already exceeded it).

Today, we are nowhere close to that installation rate with renewables alone. For example, in 2008, the average power delivered by solar worldwide was only 2 GWe (which is to be distinguished from the peak solar capacity of 13.4GWe). That is why every renewable expert at the 2009 Aspen Institute Environment Forum agreed that nuclear must be part of the solution. Al Gore also acknowledges that nuclear must play an important role.

Nuclear has always been the world’s largest source of carbon free power. In the US, for example, even though we haven’t built a new nuclear plant in the US for 30 years, nuclear still supplies 70% of our clean power!

Nuclear can be installed very rapidly; much more rapidly than renewables. For example, about two thirds of the currently operating 440 reactors around the world came online during a 10 year period between 1980 and 1990. So our best chance of meeting the required installation of new power goal and saving the planet is with an aggressive nuclear program.

Unlike renewables, nuclear generates base load power, reliably, regardless of weather. Nuclear also uses very little land area. It does not require the installation of new power lines since it can be installed where the power is needed. However, even with a very aggressive plan involving nuclear, it will still be extremely difficult to install clean power fast enough.

Unfortunately, even in the US, we have no plan to install the clean power we need fast enough to save the planet. Even if every country were to agree tomorrow to completely eliminate their coal plant emissions by 2030, how do we think they are actually going to achieve that? There is no White House plan that explains this. There is no DOE plan. There is no plan or strategy. The deadlines will come and go and most countries will profusely apologize for not meeting their goals, just like we have with most of the signers of the Kyoto Protocol today. Apologies are nice, but they will not restore the environment.

We need a strategy that is believable, practical, and affordable for countries to adopt. The IFR offers our best hope of being a centerpiece in such a strategy because it the only technology we know of that can provide an economically compelling reason to change.

Nuclear is our best clean power technology and the IFR is our best nuclear technology. DOE did a study in 2001-2002 of 19 different reactor designs on 27 different criteria. The IFR ranked #1. Over 242 experts from around the world participated in the study. It was the most comprehensive evaluation of competitive nuclear designs ever done. Top DOE nuclear management ignored the study because it didn’t endorse the design the Bush administration wanted.

The IFR has been sitting on the shelf for 15 years and the DOE currently has no plans to change that.

How does the US expect to be a leader in clean energy by ignoring our best nuclear technology? Nobody I’ve talked to has been able to answer that question.

IFRs are better than conventional nuclear in every dimension. Here are a few:

  1. Efficiency: IFRs are over 100 times more efficient than conventional nuclear. It extracts nearly 100% of the energy from nuclear material. Today’s nuclear reactors extract less than 1%. So you need only 1 ton of actinides each year to feed an IFR (we can use existing nuclear waste for this), whereas you need 100 tons of freshly mined uranium each year to extract enough material to feed a conventional nuclear plant.
  2. Unlimited power forever: IFRs can use virtually any actinide for fuel. Fast reactors with reprocessing are so efficient that even if we restrict ourselves to just our existing uranium resources, we can power the entire planet forever (the Sun will consume the Earth before we run out of material to fuel fast reactors). If we limited ourselves to using just our DU “waste” currently in storage, then using the IFR we can power the US for over 1,500 years without doing any new mining of uranium.[3]
  3. Exploits our largest energy resource: In the US, there is 10 times as much energy in the depleted uranium (DU) that is just sitting there as there is coal in the ground. This DU waste is our largest natural energy resource…but only if we have fast reactors. Otherwise, it is just waste. With fast reactors, virtually all our nuclear waste (from nuclear power plants, leftover from enrichment, and from decommissioned nuclear weapons)[4] becomes an energy asset worth about $30 trillion dollars…that’s not a typo…$30 trillion, not billion.[5] An 11 year old child was able to determine this from publicly available information in 2004.
  4. Safety: The IFR is safer than conventional nuclear because the reactors safely shut down based on the laws of physics if something goes wrong. Today’s third generation nuclear designs are very safe: 1 accident predicted every 29 million reactor years. The IFR should be even safer due to the passive safety inherent in the design. Also, IFRs are much safer than the coal plants they replace. Coal power plants are estimated to kill 24,000 Americans per year, due to lung disease as well as causing 40,000 heart attacks per year. Outside of the Soviet Union,[6] commercial nuclear has never killed even a single member of the public in its entire 50 year operating history.
  5. Proliferation resistant: The IFR is proliferation resistant on two counts.  First, the pyroprocess used to recycle the fuel does not and cannot produce plutonium with the chemical purity needed for nuclear weapon. One of the world’s top nuclear proliferation experts is strongly in favor of the IFR for this reason.   Second, if all reactors were IFRs, there would never again be need for enriched uranium. Because possession of a pyroprocessing facility could give a nation a leg up in a quest for a nuclear weapons capability, facilities for both reprocessing and uranium enrichment should be operated under strict international supervision. The need for international control is arguably the most compelling reason for the U.S. to proceed rapidly with the IFR.
  6. Consumes existing nuclear waste from nuclear reactors and weapons: Fast reactors consume our existing nuclear waste (from reactors and decommissioned weapons) and transforms it into elements that are safe after 300 years.
  7. Minimal waste: A 1 GWe IFR plant generates 1 ton of fission products each year that needs to be sequestered for 300 years until it is safe. A conventional nuclear plant of the same capacity creates about 100 tons of “waste” each year, containing isotopes that need to be sequestered for 1 million years according to the current US depository requirements. If you powered your entire life from IFRs, the amount of waste you’d generate would be smaller than 1 soda can and it would need to be stored for only 300 years.
  8. Nuclear material security: The nuclear material in the reactor or reprocessing facility would be too hot for a terrorist to handle. The nuclear material that leaves the site are the fission products which are completely useless for making a nuclear bomb.
  9. The IFR creates a huge economic opportunity for the US to be the leading clean energy supplier to the world. Nuclear is the lowest cost scalable energy technology we have and the IFR is our best nuclear technology. If we focus on the IFR and invest in ramping up the volumes and reducing the cost, the IFR will be cheapest power source that every country will want everywhere instead of coal. Our economy will benefit and our planet will too.

A brief history of the IFR

Developed in the last decades of the 20th century by a team of scientists at Argonne National Laboratory led by Charles Till. It used as a test bed a small fast reactor that first produced power in 1965 and ran for 30 years without incident.


In the 1970’s, the fast reactor  was the top energy priority of the President, Congress, and the Atomic Energy Commission. In 1971 Nixon said, “Our best hope today for meeting the Nation’s growing demand for economical clean energy lies with the fast breeder reactor.”

In his 1994 State of the Union address, President Clinton declared that the IFR was unnecessary and later that year Congress terminated the project. The scientists were ordered to dismantle the test reactor so it could never be restarted, and they came to understand that it would not be wise to criticize official policy so they stopped talking about it.

The IFR demonstrated that fast reactors can be operated for decades without incident or mishap and that the on-site reprocessing technique for removing the fission products and putting the material back into the reactor works.


  1. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu[7]
  2. White House Science Advisor John Holdren[8]
  3. James Hansen, Director, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
  4. Hans Bethe, Nobel laureate, Physics[9]
  5. Charles Till, Former Associate Director Argonne National Laboratory
  6. Yoon Chang, former Associate Laboratory Director, Argonne National Laboratory
  7. John Sackett, former Associate Director, Argonne National Laboratory
  8. Ray Hunter, former Deputy Director of the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
  9. Leonard Koch, 2004 winner of the Global Energy International Prize (equivalent to the Nobel prize for energy)
  10. California Lt. Governor John Garamendi
  11. Congressman Jerry McNerney
  12. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo
  13. Congresswoman Jackie Speier
  14. Senator Lamar Alexander
  15. Senator Jeff Bingaman[10]
  16. General Electric (who already has a plant design for the IFR ready to build)
  17. The American public, 59% of whom support nuclear power according to a March 2009 Gallup poll, despite zero PR by the nuclear industry.[11]
  18. Dean Warshawsky, Mayor of Los Altos Hills, CA


  1. We do not know of any members of Congress who oppose restarting the IFR. Most have never heard of it.
  2. Environmental groups, in general, do not like nuclear power. For example, environmental groups in Germany got Germany to ban nuclear power. The result is that Germany is forced to build more new coal plants…the worst possible outcome for the environment and exactly the opposite of what the green groups wanted. The green case against nuclear is based largely on dogma and myth. See Mark Lynas: the green heretic persecuted for his nuclear conversion which is an eye-opening account of a noted environmentalist who took an objective look at the facts. One of the top people at NRDC (speaking on his own behalf), says his only objection to the IFR is the cost competiveness of nuclear. GE says IFRs can be built in volume for $1,500 per kW which is cheaper than coal (and slightly less than the $2,000 per kW that the Chinese paid to construct Qinshan Phase 3 which was completed 52 days ahead of schedule and under budget in 2003). The NRDC spokesperson is skeptical of GE’s cost numbers for the IFR ($1,500 per kW).
  3. The Sierra Club is in the process of determining their position on the IFR.

You won’t have any trouble finding people who will throw darts at the IFR. They will argue it’s too expensive, unreliable, unproven, increases the proliferation risk, etc. These arguments lack credibility; they all fail in the face of the facts, e.g., the EBR-II and the Russian BN-600 experiences. These two reactors are are the “inconvenient truths” for the fast reactor skeptics.

Even if you believe all the arguments of the opposition and completely discount the arguments of the Argonne scientists who best know the technology, it doesn’t matter because we do not have an option: we have to make this work now. Renewables alone can’t kill coal in the time allotted. The point is:1) virtually every credible renewable expert agrees we cannot reduce our carbon emissions enough without nuclear, 2) the IFR is our best nuclear, 3) the IFR is the only technology we have with a realistic chance of replacing coal burners in a coal plant with a lower-cost carbon-free alternative.

So objections noted, but our planet is at stake and we have got to make this work. We should be joining together and doing things that our most credible scientists tell us we have to do to save our planet, rather than arguing amongst ourselves and debating what the optimum solution is. The time for debate is over. We are so late on deploying clean energy technologies that any new technology that has a realistic potential to make a significant positive impact should be welcomed with open arms by every human being.


“Within the next four decades, human civilisation must eliminate its use of fossil fuels and replace them with 10,000 gigawatts of reliable, sustainable power. The only realistic way that this extraordinary challenge can be met is with the rapid and large-scale deployment of nuclear power, on a worldwide basis, led by countries like the US, Russia, the EU, China and India. Generation III nuclear plants will be critical to this expansion over the short term, and Generation IV technology is the astoundingly attractive long-term prospect, with the IFR being the flagship Gen IV design. The urgency in getting the IFR commercialised and deploymed on an industrial scale cannot be overstated”.

— Professor Barry Brook, Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change, The University of Adelaide

  1. The climate crisis won’t wait. The sooner the IFR is perfected and deployed to eliminate emissions from coal plants, the better.
  2. You can’t expand nuclear in the US without a solution to the waste problem. For example, in California, you can’t build a new nuclear power plant until there is a federal waste repository.
  3. We need to do the technology transfer while the people who know how to do it are still alive. This technology is not trivial. No other country has been able to successfully replicate the IFR. If we wait 10 years, the people who built the IFR will all be dead. This could set the project back another decade or two.
  4. Ensures energy independence for the future. If the world ramps up conventional nuclear, we will run out of cheap nuclear fuel faster than many people think. For example, the Russians published a paper showing that in Russia, if they doubled their nuclear capacity in 20 years, they would run out of cheap nuclear fuel in as little as 25 years. (see the first paragraph of BN-800 as a New Stage in the Development of Fast Sodium-Cooled Reactors). With fast reactors in place, we never run out of fuel.
  5. Solves the waste problem now. President Obama has said nuclear power will not be expanded in the US until we have a solution to the waste problem. The IFR provides that solution since today’s “waste” now becomes valuable “fuel” for our future fast reactors. The only real waste, the fission products, are small and only need be stored for about 200 years. This is a trivial challenge compared to the problem we face today. Regarding storage today, the US government could make this offer any state willing to store nuclear waste: “if you store it, you can sell it.” So if one state stores all the nuclear waste, that state would own an asset with an eventual market value of $30 trillion dollars. What state can resist that offer? Instead of rejecting nuclear waste, every state would be clamoring to get its piece of this national asset. If all the states are foolish enough to reject that offer, a number of American Indian tribes have said they are more than happy to store the nuclear waste on their land so long as they can sell that “waste” to power fast reactors, whether in the US or other parts of the world. Senator Bingaman’s bill  in fact contemplates such compensation to a State and/or Indian tribe which hosts a repository.[12] The DOE would have to supervise the storage.
  6. The genie is out of the bottle: refusing to play will not make fast reactors go away and will ultimately make us less safe. If we don’t re-start our fast reactor technology, then other countries will take the lead. France, Russia, India, Japan, and China all have fast reactor programs and all are either operating fast reactors now, or soon will be. The US shut down our last remaining fast reactor 15 years ago. Leadership is important for two reasons: 1) if we fail to lead, we will have missed taking advantage of our superior technology and missed a major economic opportunity as the premiere supplier of clean power technology and 2) the nuclear industry is in far safer hands if the US leads the way than if we abdicate. For example, if Chernobyl had been a US reactor design, that accident could never have happened.
  7. No advantage to waiting. Fast reactors are the future of nuclear power. These reactors are better in every dimension than today’s nuclear designs. The sooner we transition to them and standardize them, and focus on getting the volumes up and the costs down, the lower our energy costs, the greater our impact on climate change, and the greater our chances of capturing the economic opportunity. There is no advantage to waiting to deploy these reactors. But we cannot deploy them until we build one first. We are way behind other countries. Russia has found that their fast reactors are their best performing reactors. China recently ordered two of the Russian BN-800 fast reactors. So while the Russians are the first country to be exporting commercial fast reactors and had no trouble getting $3.5B from the Russian government for their fast reactor program, the US hasn’t spent a dime exploiting the world’s best fast technology that we shelved in 1994 (which the Russians would love to get from us). That is not a winning strategy. It is a dumb strategy. We should either fish or cut bait on fast reactors. If we aren’t going to pursue them, then we should sell the technology to the Russians so we get at least some economic benefit from our research instead of zero. If we are going to pursue fast reactors, we need to get off our butts and build one now like our top Argonne scientists have been telling us for the last 15 years. If our objective is for Russia to lead the world on commercial advanced nuclear reactors, then we should keep doing what we are doing now, i.e., nothing.
  8. Building high dollar value nuclear reactors will help re-start our economy. Unlike with convention nuclear plants, the IFR reactors are built in a factory then shipped to the site on rail. We can re-tool idle factories, create jobs, and help reverse our trade deficit. Today, thanks to US government inaction, the Russians are the first to export commercial fast nuclear reactors. This is technology we invented and perfected.

Why Congress must order the DOE to build an IFR demo

Congresswoman Eshoo inquired about the IFR with the DOE and was told the following:

Although the IFR program per se is no longer active, research and development in sodium fast reactor and pyroprocessing technologies have continued.  In its FY 2010 budget, the Office of Nuclear Energy is requesting $153.8 million for Fuel Cycle Research and Development, a portion of which will continue research in IFR related technologies like metal fuel development and pyroprocessing.  Some additional funding is also requested in the Generation IV R&D activity to support sodium fast reactor work.  The precise distribution in FY 2010 for these activities will depend on the final appropriation.  Further research is needed to establish the scalability and economics of liquid metal and pyroprocessing technologies as well as their fuel cycle and proliferation-resistant benefits before they are ready for commercial consideration.

So DOE, if left alone, will just do more research. While the Russians are building commerical fast reactors for export, DOE wants to study it more.

Think back 44 years ago. The EBR-II sodium cooled fast reactor was designed and constructed in just a few years. That’s without the aid of computers. After over 30 years of operating experience, the original scientists who worked on the IFR say we are ready to build a full-scale demo plant now. That is their expert opinion.

Today, the DOE wants to do more research and they haven’t even committed to building a small test reactor. So we were further along 44 years ago than we are today. At least back then, we actually had an operating fast reactor. Forty four years ago, we had a “can do” attitude. Today, we’ve lost it. We have a “do more research” attitude.  Today we have no operating fast reactor of any kind and DOE has no plans to change that.

How is it that we need more research today, yet 44 years ago, we had sufficient research to design, build and operate a sodium cooled fast reactor? Did we lose all that knowledge? Did we not learn anything of value over the 30 years of operation?

Compare what is not happening in the US to what is happening in Russia today. They have been operating their BN-600 sodium-cooled fast breeder reactor without incident for the past 30 years. This is a commercial reactor, not a test reactor. And now they are building commercial fast reactors for the Chinese. So we are currently 30 years behind the Russians because DOE would rather to fund research rather than being forced to actually build something.

We are out of time.

If the government orders DOE to have a 300 MWe IFR plant built and operating in <8 years and they make it a priority, then DOE will get it done. Short of that, nothing will happen. It’s like JFK and putting a man on the moon. Without setting high expectations, nothing gets done. It’s clear that Congress has got to request it and set high goals (just like the Chinese do) because left alone, DOE will simply research fast reactors until the cows come home and nothing will get built. If Congress requests nothing, then that’s what we will get: nothing.

Next steps

“On the waste issue, GE has technology called PRISM reactors that we can employ …we can deal with nuclear waste through those reactors, but again, the decision to deploy that technology is really in the hands of the government. What China has done right though is they’ve set long-term policy with very very tall objectives. And the US has been very on and off, very short term.”

–   John Krenicki, president and CEO of GE Energy during interview on CNBC (Note: PRISM is GE’s commercial implementation of the IFR)

The House bill already allocates $10B for Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) and $0 for fast nuclear. Bingaman’s bill allocates $6.6 billion for 10 “early mover” large-scale CCS projects and $0 for fast nuclear.

The Boxer-Kerry Climate bill should be modified to provide DOE at least $3B to construct a demonstration IFR plant.

This would be a better use of public funds than CCS, because 1) there is a greater likelihood of a successful outcome with the IFR than with CCS, and 2) the IFR solution is a superior solution to CCS because the IFR reduces the cost of operating a power plant, whereas CCS will dramatically increase it. So even if CCS worked as designed, everyone will find a reason not to adopt it. Every country would be much more likely to adopt an IFR solution (that lowers costs) than a CCS solution (that increases costs).

So why are we allocating billions to CCS and zero to the IFR? It makes no sense. You’d only do that if you were 100% confident CCS would work and would negligibly increases costs and were 100% confident the IFR would fail. But it is much more likely that the IFR will work and CCS will fail.

There is over $20 billion dollars in the Nuclear Waste Fund. Senator Lindsay Graham introduced legislation in April to have all of it rebated to consumers. That’s a dumb idea; it would not move us closer to solving the waste problem. But taking some of that $20 billion dollars and investing it in building an IFR would be a brilliant move.

For further reading (Is the electronic version of this document with all the hyperlinks ([if you are reading a print version]) (My Huffington piece provides a good overview and has links to primary sources like the DOE study showing that the IFR is the best nuclear design ever invented.) (A PowerPoint that gives you the gist in the first 15 slides) (Article about the history and significance of the IFR) (A letter written to Senator Reid by the former #2 nuclear guy at DOE. Ray Hunter was at DOE for 30 years.) (Jim Hansen says IFR is priority #4 of the 5 things we must do [see bottom of page 7])

Senator Kempthorne wrote into the Congressional Record on the retirement of Charles Till:

But [Charles Till’s] greatest contribution, to both his discipline and to the world, lies in the development of the Integral Fast Reactor, the IFR. This inspired source of electrical power has the capability to achieve incredible efficiency in fuel use, while significantly lessening problems associated with reactor safety and nuclear waste. In 1986, the IFR showed that it can protect itself from overheating and meltdown. It does so through the natural physical properties of the materials used rather than by relying on operator intervention or an engineered safety system. The IFR was also designed to burn most of its own waste, as well as that of other reactors and the material from dismantled weapons. Unfortunately, this program was canceled just 2 short years before the proof of concept. I assure my colleagues someday our Nation will regret and reverse this shortsighted decision. But complete or not, the concept and the work done to prove it remain genius and a great contribution to the world. (Mark Lynas, a well known UK environmentalist, read about the IFR and he realized that the green groups had been pulling the wool over his eyes all these years. It is a great read if you have time) (This article talks about using the IFR to replace the burner in a coal plant. The comments on this article are also interesting reading. Some of the comments are from people who are misinformed, and some of the comments are actually very astute and accurate.) (This is my catch-all slide prezo of all IFR slides.)

[1] For example, China, in addition to completing the work on its own 65 MW experimental fast reactor at the China Institute of Atomic Energy (CIAE), just ordered two of the Russian BN-800 fast reactors.

[2] See the bottom of page 7 in Hansen’s Tell Barack Obama the Truth — The Whole Truth.

[3]The U.S. stockpile of DU amounts to about 700,000 tonnes, which is 7E5 reactor-years of power, or 7E5 x 8760 hours/yr x 1E6 kW/reactor = 6.1E15 kWhr of energy. The annual U.S electricity consumption these days is ~4E12 kWh. This works out to be 1,525 years of fuel.

[4] More than 99% of the current nuclear waste from nuclear power plants, uranium enrichment, and decommissioned nuclear weapons can be re-used to fuel fast reactors. The fission products, which comprise less than 1% by weight of our current nuclear waste, cannot be used for electric power generation, but everything else can. The DU comprises about 90% of the nuclear waste in the US today.

[5] The U.S. stockpile of DU amounts to about 700,000 tonnes, which is 7E5 reactor-years of power, or 7E5 x 8760 hours/yr x 1E6 kW/reactor = 6.1E15 kWhr of energy. At 0.5 cents per kWh, which is the current value of uranium for second generation reactors, this is $30 trillion dollars.

[6] The reactor design at Chernobyl would never have been approved in the US. If Chernobyl was a US-approved reactor design run in accordance with US standards that accident would not have happened.

[7] Chu has talked favorably about fast reactors and pyroprocessing which are the two key features of the IFR. Chu has not specifically mentioned the IFR by name, however.

[8] Holdren as not publicly announced his support of the IFR, but has spoken favorably about the IFR in private meetings.

[9] Bethe met with Till for a full day of briefings on the IFR before the project started. Bethe’s support was important for getting Congress to fund the IFR.

[10] Senator Bingaman has incorporated language into his bill (Section 313 of S.1462) which would allow DOE to lay the ground work for doing some of the planning necessary to restart the IFR. Bingaman prefers that Secretary Chu to lead on this issue rather than have it dictated by Congress.

[11] The public is uninformed about the IFR. The 59% approval is for nuclear power in general.

[12] S.1462, Section 604(d)(2) which can be found on page 329, line 16.


By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

106 replies on “The Integral Fast Reactor – Summary for Policy Makers”

Fine work, Barry! The global political idiocy and the tendency of our species to love inevitable suicide are a strong enemy of common sense and all clever and good ideas!


We all need to send this to our Federal Members – ASAP! I have sent a copy to Greg Hunt, who is my local member, and Shadow Minister for Environment and Climate Change. Come on people – get to it – it won’t take up much of your time to do this and could make a BIG difference in future policy.


Excellent summary! All the solar panels in the world produce as much power as two mid-sized nuclear plants– pretty shocking. We should definitely stop funding CCS coal– that won’t work, and even if it did global peak coal is 20 years off. We should also share IFR technology with Russia so more proliferation-proof fast reactors can be deployed around the world, and more quickly. More articles like this will be needed to convince environmentalists that they should support nuclear. Otherwise, insane shenanigans like this will continue to occur:


I wouldn’t lobby just opposition MPs as that could have the effect of making the Federal ALP dig in their heels. However Rudd did say one time he had $110m for a clean coal fund some of which would go to the ill fated FutureGen plant to be built in the US. If IFR research was based in the US then Australia chipping in wouldn’t be much different to developing US military aircraft on order. Some types of planes were probably already unnecessary a decade ago. However I think the best path for Australia would be to quickly build a Gen III as proof of the nuclear concept. Then talk IFR.

Zachary the link says that Germany burns 175 Mt a year of lignite. The figure for Australia is thought to be 65 Mt (all in Victoria) but statistics are years out of date. Coal in SA and WA is poor quality bituminous, not strictly lignite. However the first surprising development is that the Vics want to export some to India and secondly if the buyout price is right the lignite electricity generators will quit the industry altogether. Current talk is of replacing it with several GW of gas fired. No mention of nuclear.


John @ 5
I absolutely agree – this needs a bi-partisan approach. However, I think contacting one’s local member, as an interested constituent, is more likely to get a result. Mine just happens to be a Coalition MP:)


I think that more is to be lost than gained at the moment by arguing the LFTR verses the IFR case at the moment. My view is that LFTR advocates have been far more ready to recognized flaws in their favorite technology and look for ways to rectify them. In fact that process started as early as 1947, but people in Chicago were sure that people in Tennessee did not know what they were doing. It is quite clear from the first illustration in Steve’s post that the Oak Ridge scientists had a point, but that has yet to dawn on IFR advocates. The case that LFTRs capable of producing 13,000 GWe of electricity could be built in the next generation if there were a Manhattan project type approach to developing and deploying LFTRs. Accomplishing that with IFRs might well pose a considerably greater challenge, but I don’t think that Tom Blees, Barry Brook and Steve Kirsch are ready to hear that yet. I wish that Tom, Steve and Barry had talked to Kirk, David LeBlanc, David Walters and myself before they got so all fired excited about the IFR. There is no use in crying over spilt milk. What has been done is done,


Charles, where do you get the initial loadings for 13 TWe of LFTRs by 2050, assuming 1 tonne of fissile/GW and ~2200 t of Pu available in weapons, storage and (mostly) in LWR spent fuel?


I was asked by email about the economics of IFR relative to Gen III reactors. Here is my brief response (there is more in various posts and comments in the BNC archives):

Clearly, as a commercial IFR is yet to be built, this will remain unproven until a demonstration commercial-sized plant is built. This is the current imperative. A key importance of getting the IFR and other Gen IVs fast tracked is that they provide enormous social capital to allow for the necessary expansion of Gen III. If the waste problem and long-term fuel supply issue are not perceived as being ‘solved’, then we will struggle to get sufficient support for the sort of large-scale roll out that is require. So ‘proving’ up IFRs, as soon as possible, in one key part of the nuclear synergy, even if the economics of recycle are currently marginal.

Standardisation and modularity are clearly the game-changers for the nuclear power industry. For instance, Generation III and III+ light water reactors, which follow these principles, such as GE’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR), and Westinghouse’s AP-1000, cost around $1 to 2 billion per GW installed. Two ABWR were built in the late nineties in Japan for $1.4 B/GW within 36 months, and China has scheduled dozens of AP-1000 units, carrying a price tag of $1-2 B/GW. These are likely to most closely reflect the price tag attached to an S-PRISM (Super Power Reactor Innovative Small Module — a sodium-cooled fast spectrum reactor with metal fuel and one commercial blueprint for the IFR). GEH estimates the cost of an S-PRISM at $1.3 B/GW, with a high-end estimate for fast reactors of $2.5 B/GW. More details here:

Click to access pad0305dubberly.pdf

To quote: “The reference S-PRISM plant is made up of three power blocks, each of which contain two independent 1000 MWt reactor systems. Since each of the three power blocks has a net output of 760 MWe the total rating of a three power block site is 2280 MWe; however, the size of the site could be limited to 760 MWe until the utility decides to add the additional power blocks.”

They give some costs for 1000 MWt in Table III, but of course if you sum these you find they add to $173 million + $57 M design, + O&M and interest etc, i.e. at 3:1 MWt to MWe, that’s about $520 million/GW + O&M + interest. Costs have clearly risen since 2003, but they’re indicative of cost competitiveness once these units are licensed and start to be mass produced.


PBarry, we can run LWRs the Thorium Power fuel system and extract U-233 from the thorium seed pellets. Then extract the U-233 to start the LFTRs. With Graphite cores 500 kgs of U-235 is all we need to per GW of power. We can of course use Pu from spent fuel. Pu=239 and U-236 from weapons anf weapons stockpile. And of course we can seperate U-235 via laser and centrifuge. I grew up in the shadow of K-25, I think big in terms of U-235 separation.


I support both IFR and LFTR.

Ideally, what I’d like to see is a fission power system that runs on whatever is most convenient for you – any combination of any of natural uranium, natural thorium, depleted uranium, used LWR fuel, recycled U and reactor-grade Pu from LWR fuel, or HEU or weapons-grade Pu from weapons stockpiles. You just combine any mixture of the above according to what’s most convenient in your country. For example, many countries wouldn’t bother mining thorium if they’ve got depleted uranium or used LWR fuel which don’t require mining.

For this to work, I suspect the best approach might be a mixed-salt fluoride/chloride MSR where the F/Cl ratio can be dynamically adjusted on the fly to harden or soften the neutron spectrum according to what fuels are going in at a given point in time.

Many thorium proponents do sometimes tend to inadvertently – not deliberately – come across as kind of “damning with faint praise” any nuclear power technology which is not thorium/LFTR. It really needs to be stressed that even if MSRs are really safe, that doesn’t mean that alternative fission technologies are unsafe at all, and just because thorium is a vast resource and is very proliferation resistant, this doesn’t mean there is any problem with proliferation using uranium, nor is there any problem with uranium resources.


Luke it is not damning with faint praise, it is acknowledging the fact that Eugene Wigner and Alvin Weinberg were better reactor engineers that Enrico Fermi, and that they set up a better reactor design shop. When they ran into problems with sodium cooled reactors in 1947, they switched to a novel design that would over come the problems. Fermi’s crew, lacking any better idea, stuck doggedly to the bad design and tried to improve it,


#And think we can have a healthy discussion about IFR and LFTR (as opposed, maybe, to IFR vs LFTR) given the different stages…and “popularity” of the IFR as opposed to LFTR. I might add that Jim Hansen is also a LFTR endorser and you will find many experts endorsing both, for good reason.

#Charles does make a good point about self-criticism. I think, in reviewing discussions on both Kirks blog and Barry’s that Kirk’s folks (and I’m one) tend to really go after flaws in the LFTR paradigm on an almost regular basis. Of course the LFTR discussion there is a true discussion forum, not a blog, and has multiple running threads. I’d LOVE to see something like that for IFR discussisons.

#Startup charges. Consensus seems to be that there are several start up charge potentials for LFTR and it is one of the biggest issues or problems for LFTR deployment. But Charles point is a good one. Taking a cue from the 3 stage paradigm of India’s fast breeder program, the use of thorium blankets in LWR (or w/HWR) will be the initial U233 harvesting-for-startup charges. Additionally, both Pu and U235 *can* be used as well but with additional problems.



Right now any debate about advanced reactor design is somewhat premature. The main thrust should be to establish nuclear as the route to replace coal and gas for generation. At any rate I suspect that should the nuclear energy Renaissance come to pass, there will be work on both types anyway.


Barry, kudos to you and Steve for putting this together. I wish I had something like this for LFTR. Unfortunately, LFTR doesn’t have a huge commercial backer and hasn’t been the recipient of billions of dollars of funding across decades and nations like sodium-cooled fast breeders have.

Barry, I liked a lot of what you guys said but there was something you kept saying that really bugged me. That IFR was the “only” way. The only way to stop global warming. The only way to replace coal. The only way to generate clean energy.

Barry, you yourself have a great signature line where you say–there are two silver bullets, one of depleted uranium and one of thorium. So why the exclusive talk? Thorium/LFTR can replace coal plants, probably better because the peak operating temp of the fluoride salt is a whole lot closer to what the coal plant’s already operating at than the IFRs peak temp. LFTR can burn up nuclear waste, with different advantages and disadvantages than IFR.

I know that the depleted uranium/IFR paradigm can be made to work. It’s no secret that I think the thorium/LFTR paradigm will work better, but I’m surprised that decision-makers are being told by you guys that THIS reactor is the ONLY way to save the world. C’mon, you know that’s not true.


Thanks for your comments Kirk.

This piece above is of course Steve Kirsch’s Op Ed/summary, not mine, and he naturally says things differently to me. I didn’t edit the piece to fit my view of the relative merits of different technologies. That wasn’t the point of posting this. Indeed, I certainly don’t agree with everything (or even necessarily most things) that my Guest Posters say. One of the roles of my website is to host opinions of those who have ideas with merit, or who can say it well for particular audiences.

Steve doesn’t talk to scientists or engineers in this piece; he talks to policy makers, politicians and every day folk with an interest in clean technology development but with little idea of what the IFR, or indeed any nuclear power technology, is really about. If you want this type of ‘everyman’ advocacy, you need to talk harder to folk like Steve and get him on your track, rather than constraining yourself to the EfT forums, which I think are super, but are hardly accessible to the non-STE folk.

As you know, I support both the IFR and LFTR as hugely encouraging Gen IV technologies. I can see technical merits and demerits of both, and as such, strongly suspect that both the IFR and LFTR will ultimately be major components of our collective future energy supply. I favour, and most actively promote, the IFR at present, because it is closer to commercial reality. As you say, this development stage of the IFR is due in large part to the extra funding it has received historically, including the hugely successful 1984-1994 ANL programme led by Charles Till and Yoon Chang. That’s the reality, for better or worse (that depends on who you ask), but as Charles Barton quite rightly said, you can’t cry over spilt milk.



Presumably, the raison d’etre underlying the advocacy of IFR Technology arises from the need for deep and urgent cuts in carbon emissions, offering industry and consumers an alternative to coal and oil-based power plants.

If so, quite apart from the the severe risks of N-weapons proliferation and the cumulative radiation health risks indicated by medical authorities, discussed elsewhere, the TIME SCALE for replacement of C-energy with N-energy is mistaken.

If there is one thing climate science shows is that over the last 20 years or so IPCC and other climate change projection time tables have been “telescoped”, falling behind the progression of physical and chemical changes in the atmosphere and oceans, in terms of CO2 rise, temperature rise, ice melt rates, sea level rise rates, pace of desertification, storminess …

From the recent Oxford conference (28-30 October, 09), extreme changes are now forecast within a few decades, including uspecified timing of tipping points due to METHANE release, collapse of the North Atlantic Thermohaline circulation, intensification of cyclons …

In view of the cumulative nature of atmospheric CO2 and carbon cycle and ice/water albedo-flip feedbacks, the concept as if atmospheric CO2 levels can be “stabillized” thorugh emission reduction (inherent in some CSIRO reports, IPCC reports and derived reports such as the Garnaut Review) can no longer be sustained.

With this perspective, medium-term “solutions” in terms of CCS or IFR technologies would hardly apply: In view of the cumulative nature of atmospheric CO2 and the current CO2-EQUIVALENT level of 460 ppm (Copenhagen Synthehsis Report, May 2009), i.e. only 40 ppm below the upper treshold of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Had the political will existed, what would be needed includes:

(1) Immediate cuts in ALL carbon emissions on the scale of ~80 percent

(2) Diversion of humanity’s remaining resources (including the $trillion-scale military expenditure, multi-%billion-scale space expenditures etc.) to the development of fast-growing plant-based and chemical-based (Sodium hydroxide?) ATMOSPHERIC CO2 DRAW-DOWN TECHNOLOGIES, in order to reduce levels to well below 350 ppm CO2, the upper treshold indicated by Hansen et al., 2008.

While CO2 draw-down technologies are established in principle, their effective rate remains unproven in practice. On the other hand, it is hard to see how the rise of atmospheric CO2 to levels even higher than than 500 ppm can be halted?

As indicated by Schellnhuber’s report in the recent Oxford conference (summary appeneded separately), the alternative defies contemplation.

Andrew Glikson
Earth and paleoclimate research



Andrew Glikson@#20:

Given the political impossibility of just shutting thye industrialised world down to achieve an 80% emissions cut, what is your alternative power source if it in not nuclear? Please note that Peter Lang and Barry Brook have already demolished the case for ‘renewable’ power in the mind of anyone who has absorbed their argument. What is the non-nuclear alternative which would allow us to do this?

Or are you just saying that it’s too late in any case?


The fact that there won’t be enough new energy in time, clean, dirty or otherwise could be a mixed blessing. Some are predicting a crude oil depletion rate of 9% by 2015. Given recent political dithering that means that coal based alternatives won’t be ready either; examples are coal-to-liquids and electric vehicles charged by increased coal fired electricity.

If this correct there will be a global economic slowdown which will drag all fossil fuels with it. Or perhaps it will just prolong their use at a slower rate. The problem may be that there is no longer the investment climate to create low carbon alternatives. While so far the public has shrugged off droughts, floods, firestorms and so on they will demand action on expensive food and fuel.


“If you want this type of ‘everyman’ advocacy, you need to talk harder to folk like Steve and get him on your track, rather than constraining yourself to the EfT forums, which I think are super, but are hardly accessible to the non-STE folk.”

If you’re saying I need to be a better blogger, you’re absolutely right and I agree. But the EfT forums are public and anyone can join if they’re civil and want to talk nuclear. Also, we’re having a conference this next week in Washington DC that we’re inviting folks to attend. I wish we could get you (Barry), Steve, and Tom Blees but maybe at a future one we can.

You’ve got an industrial giant in the IFR camp, and we don’t have anything of the sort. Advantage to you. But we don’t have any metallic sodium or plutonium! ;-)


Response to Finrod comment # 23

According to the Stern Report it would take a fraction of the global GDP to convert to carbon-free energy. It may take much more than that, though compared with climate scenarios of 4 degrees, as detailed in the recent Oxford conference 28-30 September, the alternatives to effective mitigation defy contemplation.

According to many it may take a fundamental change in ways of life, as in a relevant comment by Stephen Moreland in Crikey 15 October:

“… When it comes to climate change, the choices between positive action and business as usual are clear, but I bet most people, even the people posting here, aren’t willing to make the many, seemingly hard, changes to their lives that we really need ALL people on the planet to make. Have you given up hooved red meat? Wine and dairy products? Driving to work? Plans for that trip to Europe or Bali with the kids next year? Products from overseas? The dream of a beach house? Signed up to certified Green Power? Moved your superannuation over to an ethical fund? Decided not to breed? I bet you’ve not done half of those things. Do you think we can reduce co2 levels without considering doing the above?

The truth is, if we are going to keep atmospheric carbon levels below a catastrophic level, you, me, and every one of the 6.8 million other buggers here should have started doing those things 20 years ago. Oh, sh-t.

The lesson I’ve learned is clear: when it comes to a choice between principle/social equity/sacrifice/effort versus self-interest/consumerism/fear/convenience, most people choose the former. Nations and governments choose the former. Obviously businesses, corporations, special interest groups (i.e. unions) choose the former. You might find a politician or two who might lip-sync support for the latter, but not at election time. Oh, sh-t.

In fact, in the political sphere, we don’t even have a language suitable to seriously debate short term self-interest and long term shared well-being. Have you heard Krudd or the Wongster mention the word “sacrifice”, or the phrase “changing our life styles and expectations”, or “live simply, so others (including non-vertebrates and plankton) can simply live”? They know that the ideas simply would be incomprehensible to the electorate, which has been born and raised on the (false) expectation of more more more and right now, thank you very much.

How would a political party go to an election as “Things are bound to get worse, but slightly less worse, under us”? Do you think cool Todd from The Gruen Transfer could sell the idea of Gandhi or David Suzuki as a pin-up boy to the X-Box generation via a stunning Labor Party TV ad campaign? Sh-t, yeah.

Homo sapiens are genetically and socio-politically incapable of weighing up long term versus short term and choosing long term. We’re not bred to think and act any further ahead than one generation. We can’t help ourselves from wanting more.

So the reality is this: We will experience runaway climate change. There will be mass extinctions. There will be millions, if not billions, of environmental refugees. In the end, it doesn’t matter what school one sweet four-year-old boy goes to next year, as long as I teach him the really important stuff — how to survive in a much harsher world.”



Thank you for posting this informative piece on the IFR. As Kirk has said, and as I told Steve in an email, I am not a big fan of exclusive talk by nukes favoring just one true way. In my opinion the real battle is between fission and combustion as the only ways to provide concentrated, reliable power that enables humans to do more work than they could otherwise do if dependent upon their own muscles or those of the few animals that they have domesticated.

I like fast reactors, liquid fluoride thorium reactors, gas cooled reactors, and even light water reactors. They all work well if properly engineered and operated; their potential benefit is huge compared to their competition. One of the reasons that neither the IFR or the LFTR has gotten the investment needed to move to commercialization is that they solve problems that are not really pressing. Their other challenge is that they require some substantial taxpayer dollars in a tax system where some of their competitors are politically influential taxpayers.

Scientists and engineers do not always understand people who operate in realms outside of rational logic – like money motivated businessmen, power motivated politicians and emotion motivated celebrities. However, in order to succeed in any battle, it is important to learn as much as possible about your opposition. Influential taxpayers like Peabody Coal, Rio Tinto, ExxonMobil, and Centennial Coal can cause efforts like the IFR to be derailed as soon as it looks like it will achieve success that threatens their business models.

Charles Till and Yoon Chang have written quite a bit ( about how the anti-nuclear Democrats in the Clinton Administration sabotaged their IFR project just as it was getting close to commercial proof, but they almost never mention the fact that the White House Chief of Staff and the Secretary of Energy in 1994 were both directly imported into politics from the natural gas industry and had real economic interests in slowing nuclear energy competition for gas.

Rod Adams
Fission Fan Forever


Kirsch’s post first appeared in Huffington Post in June. The same month GE-Hitachi testified before Congress asking for R&D support.

See my blog post for additional details.

FYI – the Clinton adm staffed out the Department of Energy with anti-nuclear activists from green groups under the direction of then VP Al Gore. By 1998, U.S. R&D spending on nuclear energy had dropped to record low levels resulting in the near shut down of the Idaho National Laboratory. A DOE Assistant Secretary under Clinton advocated a “clean & close” program for the nation’s center of nuclear energy R&D.

Funding for nuclear R&D under Obama has increased with modest gains for Generation IV reactors though none is for IFR nor LFTR. The current focus at the Idaho National Lab is on high temperature gas cooled reactors, e.g., graphite coated “pebbles.” The Department of Energy announced a
$40 million funding opportunity earlier this month for detailed design and cost information for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant NGNP

The real problem is that political decision makers in the US are still dithering over nuclear energy in general as evidenced by lack of progress over loan guarantees for new plants. Also, while Congress tinkers with cap-and-trade programs for fossil plants, it is not taking the more rigorous step of “decarbonization” of base load electricity supply sources.

Kudos to Kirsch and Barry Brook for publishing this material.

Dan Yurman ‘Idaho Samizdat’


Andrew Glikson@#27:

I see. So you are saying that it’s too late, the world is going down in flames for our sins, and that there’s nothing to be done about it, especially seeing as nuclear power has to be ruled out on the grounds that Ralph Nader once lied about the toxicity of plutonium, and that the probability of nuclear war will be increased by approximately zero if we use it.

You might be right about it being too late, but I can’t accept such a defeatist attitude. If you believe no solution exists, it’s easy to be comfortable with doing nothing, or falling back on failed proposals such as ‘renewables’ and ‘conservation’, secure in the knowledge that your sop to yourself in clinging to a false and dangerous energy paradigm does no real harm anyway, because you have convinced yourself that there is nothing to be done about the situation in any case.

Success or failure in the endevour to secure a sustainable environmental and industrial future is unlikely to be an “all-or-nothing” affair either way.We are way past the point we could have been at if nuclear power had been rolled out as projected in the Seventies, when the industry predicted that all US electrical generation would be nuclear by 2000. That attractive alternative universe has passed us by, and we must wear the consequences of our foolishness in that respect. That does not absolve us from the responsibility of correcting the dituation. It makes the correction much more pressing.

Collapsing in despair may be unavoidable for some, but to rouse from it simply to attempt to spread it to others… what can I say?


The political reality in Australia is that several gigawatts of gas fired capacity is likely to be installed in the next few years
That will probably displace some coal fired. However several new coal plants are likely to be approved if they promise to be ‘carbon capture ready’. Perhaps they should let bank robbers out of jail early if they promise to go to Sunday School.

It seems it will be gas-for-everything in the next decade. Some major truck and bus operators will switch to CNG in lieu of diesel, LNG exports will balance the trade books and gas will generate more electricity. Nobody considers that Australia could be repeating the mistake of the UK in relying upon a finite resource that will quickly decline.


John Newlands@#31:

It might not be a complete loss. NNadir has pointed out on the Energy from Thorium site that gas plants can burn DME if some replacement of the seals is done. DME synthesised from oxygen and CO2 using nuclear power could be used to fuel such plants for peaking.


Andrew Glikson, doomers such as yourself get short shrift in these discussions because they ultimately have nothing interesting or constructive to say, their only role is to be spoilers. Most contributors here are under no illusions about the technological or political difficulty of turning climate change around, or about the fact that we are already committed to irreplaceable species and habitat loss. The working presumption is a high probability of failure, environmentally speaking.

So what does your interjection add to the conversation? Only the invitation to convert a high probability of failure to a certainty. Thanks for your “contribution”.


Andrew Glikson (#20 and #27),

I suppose you recognise that it was the anti-nuclear brigade that shut down Australia’s nuclear program 35 years ago, and have prevented it being restarted ever since.

Therefore, it is the renewable researchers and advocates, that are a major cause of the position we are now in.

I hope you will be smart enough to help turn this situation around. I hope you will see the light, become rational, recognise and then start promoting rational solutions (not more of the pie-in-the-sky dreamer nonsense that got us into this position).


I recently read an article by three INEEL engineers in which they stated that it will take 15 years to build the first IFR. That’s too long to wait before taking other actions.

I don’t know about LFTR development time, but probably that takes too long.

Obtaining permissions for existing designs might also take too long, although one ought to get started.

What to do in the meantime?

Build lotsa CCGTs to replace coal. Those natgas units produce less than half the CO2 per kWh that coal does. Want to avoid the remaining CO2 emissions and also not draw down natgas supplies? Build the CCGTs next to an algae farm making biomethane; closed crbon cycle.

Timing is 4 years from go-ahead. So go ahead, already.

And, oh yes, appropriately sited and designied, could use a modest boost from wind/solar to do the heaavy pumping while the wind does blow or the sun does shine.

Or not, if that’s less expensive.

Whatever. Just start now, thank you.


David B, if you built a 540 MW CCGT next to an algae pond, the algae pond would evaporate in about 2 days as it heated up. A “pond” couldn’t handle that much CO2 and other stuff that comes with the gas emissions (although I would consider watching it become the largest algae-fizz in the world!). I think you’d need an algae lake to fulling appreciate what the burning of say, 40 million cubic feet a day of gas would do to a … “pond”…not to mention the algae!



David B:

The often repeated claim that nuclear plants take too long to build is disproven by many projects around the world that were completed in 5 years or less. If speed is of the essence in getting a major reduction in emissions, we simply need to expeditiously build a large number of new reactors – there are at least a half a dozen different companies and groups that are capable of the task and ready to go.

Each time a new large reactor begins operating, it will allow a large coal fired plant to stop operating, cutting the emission from that plant from about 44,000 tons per day of CO2 (assuming a 1200 MW plant) to ZERO.

When I get on an elevator, I appreciate the fact that the our rules in the US now state that there is NO SMOKING, not that only half of the smokers are allowed to light up. (There was a time in the distant past when it was legal to smoke on elevators and people like me had no power to stop the idiots who insisted it was their right to do so.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights


Response to comments by Nimrod (# 30) and Morgan (# 33):

What I was pointing out in my Comment “N-POWER AND CLIMATE MITIGATION TIME SCALES” (Comment # 20) is the TIME FACTOR, in view of reports in the recent Oxford conference.

Your comments appear to overlook my statement at the end of my comment (#20):

“Had the political will existed, what would be needed includes:

(1) Immediate cuts in ALL carbon emissions on the scale of ~80 percent.

(2) Diversion of humanity’s remaining resources (including the $trillion-scale military expenditure, multi-$billion-scale space expenditures etc.) to the development of fast-growing plant-based and chemical-based (Sodium hydroxide?) ATMOSPHERIC CO2 DRAW-DOWN TECHNOLOGIES, in order to reduce levels to well below 350 ppm CO2, the upper treshold indicated by Hansen et al., 2008.”

Consistent with Hansen et al. 2008 and other climate scientists.

Which means I DO see a chance, provided the political will exists.


OK Andrew, so lets turn this round to a positive statement. Given where we are today, what do you think we should do now, and into the next 10 years, and 20 years? What is the energy structure of a possible sustainable future, and a sensible transition plan towards it, that we can hope will save the furniture.

Just in broad sweep. I’m not out to nitpick the small stuff. What are the broad brushstrokes in the big picture?


David Walters (36) — It would be an algae farm; 1200 hectares of raceway algae ponds on 15000 hectares of land. I have little doubts that this will work, just some about the economics; a pilot project right away would be a good thing.

Rod Adams (37) — I agree. Unfortunately, none of those would be in Australia in the foreseeable future. Which was my point.


The gas rush could be a wrong move or a right move depending up long run transitions. To replace say 150 Mt a year of black and brown coal might use say 70 Mt a year of extra gas. The current export price of LNG is around $400 a tonne but that will probably go through the roof in the next 20 years even with stiff carbon taxes. Without a domestic set aside local generators will have to pay world parity prices. A cost benefit analysis would likely show that Gen III nuclear comes out way ahead despite the higher upfront costs. Just look at the Brits now they’ve squandered their North Sea reserves.

Whether those gas plants could one day run on DME created with the help of nuclear hydrogen is a bit pie in the sky. Nobody seems to know yet how much of the input energy is lost in the conversion.


John Newlands (41) — Which is why I suggest algae farms to produce biomethane. Certainly feasable, just uses a lot of sunny land.


Response to Morgan’s comment #39

John Holdern, Obama’s science advisor, compared the situation to a vehicle rushing toward a cliff in the fog where, in doubt, the breaks need to be applied first.

It comes back to the time constraint, time being of the essence.

I mean, the major economic effort, which in matrial terms translates to $$$, needs to go into deep cuts in emissions and efforts at developing and applying carbon draw-down technologies.

Parallel to this all available alternative energy sources, preferably the cleaner and safer ones, need to be applied to substitutes for fossil fuel-powered utilities and transport systems.

Whether priority will be given to nuclear, solar thermal, geothermal, wind, tide etc. is inherently an issue considered by the most competent authorities – including engineers, alternative energy experts, medical scientists (radiologists), economists etc.

No doubt there will be economic pain in the fast transition, though not nearly on the scale of the pain of 4 degrees C.


Andrew, I think we all agree that deep cuts in emissions, fast enough to make a difference, is whats required. What I was hoping to hear from you was how you think those deep cuts in emissions are going to happen. Handing it off to the “competent authorities” is just a hospital pass. I’m asking you what you think should be done.

Just saying “major economic effort .. needs to go into deep cuts in emission” and “all available alternative energy sources, preferably the cleaner and safer ones”, is content free handwaving. The serious effort to eliminate the handwaving, and put some actual content into these statements, is what has brought the discussion on this blog to its current point. Can you put some strategy behind your strategic aim?

On the question of timeframe, Barry has pointed out, its not just timeframe, its the total amount of CO2 produced, ever. An early deep cut to emissions is not sufficient. A slower but total reduction is required. Thats not to take anything away from the urgency, but just to point out a rapid reduction is not sufficient and there is a speed vs efficacy tradeoff in achieving the ultimate goal.

On the question of carbon drawdown, yes, this is necessary, and I’m very keen to discuss the possibilities. Bear in mind that a number of possible large scale atmospheric CO2 recovery are likely to be energy intensive.


Just to add some non-IFR discussion and some hot sauce:

Another option that has been presented optimistically is algae-produced biodiesel fuel: huge open tanks in the desert with algae doing the work. An analysis of some of the problems and limitations facing the algae approach begins: “Large-scale production of algae biodiesel is not a viable solution in the displacement of petroleum-based fuels…not competitive with more advanced and emerging renewable technologies…algae biodiesel has an approximate cost of $33/gallon…due in part to the energy required to circulate gases, fluids and other materials in the growth environment…While sunlight is an inexhaustible source, the energy and additional resources used in processing, refining and transporting the biodiesel are not…Although less land area is involved…there remains significant surface area involved…20% of the land in the United States would need to be devoted to algae production in order to match petroleum fuel consumption…there is no existing data that supports the theory that algae biofuel could be a viable solution.”

–Caroline de Monasterio, “Bleak Future for Mass Production of Algae Biodiesel”

Now, having said THAT, I find the factory produced, albeit more energy intensive factory-algae production interesting. I don’t think the book is out on this and I know we’ve talked about LFTR process heat and energy being a good source of power for such a project on different blogs. So I’m open.


There is no good reason why any power plant based on a common GenIII reactor design on the market today cannot be built in the same time-frame as any other thermal plant.

At the risk of being accused of boosterism, CANDU -type reactors can be built quickly and can be fueled without the need for enrichment facilities. If noT CANDU’s then similar offerings from NPCIL.

While PHWR technology has its issues, at the moment it is probably the fastest deployable nuclear power design available with build times in the 3-4 zone, if not delayed by bureaucracy, and barratry.


I see my third par above is rather poorly worded. I’ll try again.

A rapid cut to, say, 80% emissions reduction, is ultimately not good enough. Conversely, cutting emissions completely is not enough, if it takes too long. In committing to any emissions reduction strategy, the fastest path is not necessarily the best if it can’t take us the whole distance. If economic resources are limited, there’s a tradeoff between spending resources on a fast reduction vs. a complete reduction. If we had to delay a year or two to start truly massive CO2 reductions, that might be the right strategy for overall damage containment.


John, one can’t live by “it’s not enough”. Does anyone seriously believe we WILL cut and in fact, start sucking *enough* CO2 from the air in the time required? Assuming the time frame is at all accurate. Jim Hansen is one person I’m never inviting out for drink. He can depress a clown convention into committing mass suicide.

LFTR (maybe IFR?) can be a great source of energy from sucking CO2 out of the air. What to DO with that CO2? I haven’t a clue. Really…burying it, pumping down into the ocean…I don’t like it. To scary for my taste.

There are only a few really interesting scenerios with massive energy requirements that I’ve seen “floated” around.

1. Massive irrigation of dry areas of the planet with high-celluose plants and establishing an ecosystem over vast areas. Basically what in the U.S. we call “Prairie land” and what was most of the US Midwest until the 19th Century. This would require massive nuclear driven desalination. Eventually, maybe, a positive feed back loop in climate change around these areas would lower temperatures. Again, pie-in-the-sky. I heard one person at a lecture, generally a Malthusian type of reactionary poising as a “progressive” argue that if the US returned all farm land in the US to prairie, the CO2 issue would go away, that prairie was composed of that much CO2.

2. Massive winter time pumping of sea water onto existing glaciers in wintertime to create artificial growth on glaciers. I kid you know. Basically giant snow machines like they use in the Rockies to make snow on cold days. Just pump the water right back up again.

Glacial ice is actually compressed snow. I think it takes about 1 ft of snow to create 1 inch of ice. Don’t know this in metric. So, put up about, oh, 100 10MW pumps near your local glacier in January (in the north of the planet) and start pumping!

Other than this, the world is NOT going to stop ‘developing’ and improving it’s standard of living. It’s not and appeals are going to change it.



Response to John Morgan (comment #45)

Hi John, In your earlier comment (# 39) you stated: “Just in broad sweep. I’m not out to nitpick the small stuff. What are the broad brushstrokes in the big picture?”

Which is what I responded to in my comment #43.

Now, if you ask me what, in some detail, I would recommend ought to be done, I will try and respond in the following terms:

1. First, as you know, my main perspective is from Earth and climate science, i.e. history of the atmosphere in deep time with implications to the present.

2. Second, unlike the climate “sceptics” (I am aware you are not one of them), I have to place my trust in those whose lifelong work is in the relevant disciplines, namely biologists, microbiologists, botanists, foresters, medical specialists/radiologists, alternative energy engineers, engineers (I have to admit I have a somewhat lesser degree of trust in economics, for reasons I will not outline here).

3. With my limited knowedge in the above disciplines, I have to return to my original point. By analogy. For example, if a patient suffers from a dangerous infection, the right type of antipiotics needs to be applied at the right dose at the right time — with a parallel to the danerous build up of CO2-CH4-NxO radiative energy in the atmosphere.

4. With my limited knowedge of botany, fast growing plants (sugar canes, bamboos, lianas etc.) planted extensively around the world, as well as biochar, enhancing undergrowth, may help.

5. The technology of CO2 down-draw by “sodium trees” (sodium hydorxide) has been established in principle and is orders of magnitude simpler that, for example, space science or medical science. What is needed is rapid testing of the method and, where confirmed, the $trillions to implement it.

I have to go but will continue with further possible suggestions in the near future.



Andrew #51: You haven’t answered John’s main question. Where do you get the energy for (5)? [or for the processing involved in (4)]. If you cannot answer this, then your points 1-3 are nothing better than motherhood statements.


I suspect John Morgan’s question was concerning the technology of energy generation, rather than the technology of geoengineering.

I would also take you to task regarding slowing down spending on the world’s space programs. Space-based geoengineering may play a significant role in this drama in the decades to come. Given that the funding levels are chickenfeed compared to other government expenditures, I would think that the potential exists for a considerable funding boost in that area, rather than cutbacks.


More thoughts on the gas vs nuclear interplay. While most of the population lives in SE Australia local natural gas reserves are dwindling, with coal seam methane just at the development stage. NW Australia has plenty gas so there could be merit in Neil Howes suggestion of an HVDC cable linking the western and eastern grids. Rather than pipe the gas just pipe electricity at peak periods. While they are at it they can connect a Gen 3/desal on the SA west coast mainly for Olympic Dam but with export of surplus power.

If eastern Australia wants low carbon baseload they will have to find something cleaner than abundant coal but long term cheaper than dwindling gas. Either way electricity will get expensive due to carbon penalties (as promised) or local gas depletion.


Since time is supposedly short, nuclear reactors may not be produced fast enough and it’s doubtful that people will reduce their energy consumption then how about using geo-engineering techniques to remove the excess CO2 in the atmosphere?


Mark (55), I suspect that your average geoengineering project is going to require considerable quantities of reliable power, best provided by nuclear sources. Unlike some here, I would reckon nuclear power to be just about the easiest power source to roll out quickly on a large scale once the designs are finalised, the regulatory process completed, and production system set up. This is the process we are going through now with GenIII+. Once a certain amount of preperatory work is done, the floodgates will open.


A 12-member working group from Britain’s Royal Society made up of scientists, engineers, an economist, a social scientist, and a lawyer spent nearly a year examining geoengineering tactics and technologies. They looked at such schemes as fertilizing the oceans to suck down atmospheric carbon dioxide and orbiting giant mirrors to deflect sunlight. The subsequent report argues that many of the most-hyped geoengineering ideas are simply too risky, including the proposal to fertilize the ocean to create carbon-absorbing algae blooms. The conclusion was that most of the things that have gone wrong in the past have happened when we’ve tampered with large poorly understood systems, particularly biological ones.

Geoengineering is in the end just too damned hard, and too bloody dangerous to be considered as an option. There is nothing that would stop us from replacing all carbon burning power with nuclear withing a decade all over the industrialized world, if we had the will to do so. Nuclear reactors are not inherently complicated systems, nor do they require exceedingly high tolerance components, despite what people believe. There are many, many industrial plants that are more complex than a nuclear power station, and many that have a much greater potential to damage or destroy the communities in which they are placed, yet they get little notice.

We have to stop this stupid attempt to do anything and everything to avoid building power reactors – collectively we are behaving like an idiot that tries every different way to start a fire rather than use the matches that are beside him. Which would be funny if his family wasn’t freezing to death waiting.


For those readers who do not realise how fast the world is moving on nuclear, and on Gen IV, this just in:

China signs up Russian fast reactors. In the context of China’s expectation that fast neutron reactors will be predominant by mid century, a high-level agreement has been signed with Russia to start pre-project and design works for two commercial 880 MWe fast neutron reactors at coastal sites in China. This follows a call twelve months ago by a bilateral Nuclear Cooperation Commission for construction of a demonstration fast reactor similar to the BN-800 unit being built at Beloyarsk in Russia and due to start up in 2012. Earlier this year, St
Petersburg Atomenergopoekt said it was starting design work on a BN-800 reactor for China.

The project is expected to lead to bilateral cooperation on fuel cycles for fast reactors, and earlier this year China signed on to pursue R&D on this technology under a Generation IV (GIF) Framework Agreement, joining four other countries and EU (Euratom).

A 65 MWth fast neutron reactor – the Chinese Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) – is nearing completion at the China Institute of Atomic Energy (CIAE) near Beijing, being built by OKBM Afrikantov in collaboration with other Russian interests. It is expected to achieve criticality later this year. Commercial-scale fast reactors based on it were envisaged, but these may now give way to the Russian BN-800 line of development, which extends to 1200 and 1800 MWe designs.


Peter – The one problem that I have with the news story about Chinese purchases of Russian fast reactors is the word “predominant”. Fast reactors will certainly have a place in the power production world in mid century, but the Chinese are also planning to build hundreds of light water reactors and have a very interesting program for graphite moderated, gas-cooled high temperature pebble bed reactors.

The basic nuclear energy process is fission – anyone who believes that one particular implementation of fission is better than all others in all situations should take a good, hard look at the various implementations of the basic chemical process of combustion that all exist simultaneously and have varying advantages that depend on the location and specific application.

I am starting to figure out that the people who talk about one true way are doing that because they believe that government decision makers are demanding a simple story and that any complicating truth that there are many fission concepts worth investment will result in none of them receiving sufficient development funds.

Here is an idea – let’s all work together to attract more people like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Bob Metcalf to the technology. Unlike government functionaries who have to worry about elections every couple of years, those guys can be patient and handle complex technology stories where the judgement of which one is “best” can be worked out by the market. That path seems less hazardous to development than pursuing government funds – especially since the primary competition whose market dominance can be significantly harmed by allowing nuclear deployment has a LOT of influence in government funding allocations. It is certainly not beyond the pale for them to allow funding right up to the point of readiness for large scale deployment and then decide to yank it. (Seems to have happened more than once in our US history already. See, for example, the story of the IFR, the molten salt reactor, the High Temperature Gas Reactor, the nuclear propulsion reactor, and the Army package power reactors.)

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast


Hi Rod Adams #60,

The one problem that I have with the news story about Chinese purchases of Russian fast reactors is the word “predominant”. Fast reactors will certainly have a place in the power production world in mid century, but the Chinese are also planning to build hundreds of light water reactors and have a very interesting program for graphite moderated, gas-cooled high temperature pebble bed reactors.

I agree. Perhaps the author meant that the Chinese feel that, of the new reactors being installed in 2050, Gen IV will predominate. That is how I interpreted the statement.

Here is an idea – let’s all work together to attract more people like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Bob Metcalf to the technology.

I agree. Rupert Murdock would be a great place to start. He is influential and I know that people high in the Australian arm of his organisation need no convincing.

The basic nuclear energy process is fission – anyone who believes that one particular implementation of fission is better than all others in all situations should take a good, hard look at the various implementations of the basic chemical process of combustion that all exist simultaneously and have varying advantages that depend on the location and specific application.

I agree. I tend to believe what Ziggy Switkowski says about when Gen IV is likely to become a viable commercial option. I believe we should focus on getting the cost of nuclear power lower than coal in Australia. To achieve that we need to get safety to a level that is acceptable and commensurate with other industrial processes. We must massively reduce the bureaucractic impediments and the over-engineering. We need to explain to the voting public that nuclear is already about the safest of all the electricity generation options, and that nuclear waste is near a non issue from a technical perspective.

My reason for pasting the quote was to show, to those who who may not know, just how far behind is Australia on nuclear energy matters and how fast the rest of the developed and developing world is progressing. We are a back water on nuclear.


Peter – as a former manufacturer and operating engineer, the other thing that we need to do to lower cost is to improve on project management, supply chain efficiency, and replication of successful designs. Manufacturers drive out cost by doing the same thing over and over, making continuous improvements (not change for change sake) that reduce effort, material waste, and take advantage of learning curves.

It is important for people to understand that even the Gen II reactors currently in operation in the US are producing electricity for an average production cost that is about 30% less than the average production cost for “cheap” coal fired electrical power production. The capital cost of many of the operating plants was not excessive, though the last ones completed were very expensive due to delays, high finance charges, and the natural tendency of workers seeing the end of their employment to “milk” the last steps required for project completion.

What is the average production cost of coal fired power in Australia? Does it vary significantly with distance from the mine? I would guess that there are already locations where nuclear done right with existing designs could be cost competitive, though the mining and railroad industries will do all it can to increase the cost by adding delays. The visible effort will be done by the workers, but the real impact will come from the behind the scenes efforts of the people with a great deal of capital investment at stake.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast


Rod Adams #62)

Yes, thank you for the reminders. I agree.

This gives the latest projected costs for new entrant electricity generators in the National Electricity Market (in Australian $).

Capital cost, for new entrant, 2008-09 (see Table 35, p58)

Black coal, super critical, water cooled = $2,239/kW

Nuclear = $5,207/kW

The nuclear figure is high because of constraints applied by the market regulator, and because we have no capability at this time.

For interest, the recent wind farm developments have been in the range $2,200 to $2,500/kW.

LRMC (see Table 53, p86)

Black coal, super critical, water cooled, in Central NSW = $52/MWh

Nuclear (hypothetical) = $101

The other information you requested, such as cost of coal, etc, for each power station is included in the report.


Rod Adams #62,

You asked about coal haul distances. We are extremely lucky in Australia. Most of our major population centres are located close to high quality coal. Most of our power stations are within conveyor belt range of the coal mines. For others, the rail distance is short.


Peter Lang@#64:
We are extremely lucky in Australia. Most of our major population centres are located close to high quality coal.

True… for a given value of ‘lucky’, that is.


I continue to respond to Morgan’s Comment #45 and also to point # 52

Sources of Energy for (4) (planting of fast-growing trees/vegetation) and for (5) (CO2 draw-down).

These are not my fields of “expertise”, nor do they (I suspect) fall within the expertise of many/most of the above comentators.

Decisions regarding the selection and development of energy sources, to be made by independent panels of specialists (engineers, agriculturalists, medical people, economists), need to take into account, among other:

1. The pace at which energy utilities can be developed.
2. The respective efficiency of energy utilities.
3. The safety of energy utilities.
4. The cost of energy utilities.
5. The longevity of the energy source in question.
6. Capacity for base power grid connections.
7. Energy sources for transport systems.
8. Concentration vs dispersal of energy utilities.

Factor (8) is important.

The more concentrated energy utilities and the longer the transport/link distances, the more vulnerable the system to rising costs, breakdowns, sabbotage etc. By contrast, dispersal of energy utilities (cf. solar/voltaic, solar/thermal, wind, tide, possibly provision of fresh water by wind condensation method), the greater their flexible ability to provide local and regional grid-based power needs, as well as provide local employment.

The same applies for longevity of resources. Solar, wind and tide energy sources are open ended and long term, where costs would involve mainly maintenance. The notion as if solar, wind and tide-based power supplies are “unreliable” may be more a myth perpetated by current vested interests rather than an engineering reality (cf. Mark Diesendorf latest book ‘Greenhouse Solutions with Sustainable Energy’).

Inherently fast tracked reforestation programs require widely dispersed local energy sources. Energy requirements of geongineering projects depend on the types selected. In a fast-warming world long-range transport systems are both expensive as well as increasingly vulnerable.

A principal problem with current systems is that, all too often, government decisions are tied to vested interests, including mining interests. Decisions by independent panels need to be removed from such influences. Should independent panels decide that in some circumstances IFRs should be part of the mix, the decision would be made on basis of both economy and safety, including the safety of related transport system.

Finally, societies will need to choose their future trajectories. If open-ended growth in both the population and and material standards are aimed for, the point is reached where such is no longer sustained by global resources, or the ‘ecological footprint’ (currently 8-10 hectares per capita in the US, Canada, Australia, and 4-6 in western Europe).


Finrod #65,

Yes. I thought about that after I wrote it. Of course, I meant for the cost of electricity.

What these costs do point out is that we really do need to focus on how to make nuclear cheaper than coal in Australia if we want to maxiise the rate of cutting GHG emissions from electrcity generation.

I fear we are wandering all over the shop with agendas. Reducing the cost of nuclear in Australia is where the focus should be.

To achieve this we need to apply all Rod Adams said. But, we especially need to ensure we do not add high cost requirements. Examples of which would be: 1) power stations must not be on the coast, 2) power stations must be far from population centres, 3) safety requirements greater than is applied to other industrial plants for which we accept the level of safety (on a poroperly comparable basis).

I include this picture again, to show what I consider perfectly acceptable regarding siting.


Those new kwh figures all easily exceed the prices allegedly paid by aluminium smelters and other electrorefiners. The giveaway deal for Point Henry in Vic is apparently under review while Comalco, Nyrstar and Temco in Tas allegedly pay 1-3c. A German silicon refiner is being lured to Tas with offers of cheap power. The subsidy equivalent which I presume is normal price less actually paid works out around $150,000 per employee per year.

A carbon tax or ETS floor price of $20 per tonne of CO2 would add 2c per kwh on conventional black coal fired electricity. That’s from 2000c per 1000 kwh. For brown coal fired electricity make that 2.5c per kwh, more than doubling what Pt Henry allegedly pays. Surely households can get quick 10% savings from insulation and smart meters on offer. If aluminium smelters can’t make savings in line with long range carbon cuts perhaps they should move to Iceland. While that would mean less local jobs the freed up generation capacity would make the next round of carbon cuts easier. There’s the nub of carbon pricing; people will lose their jobs in a blaze of bad publicity while the benefits are diffused and subtle.


Andrew Glikson@#66:

Factor (8) is important.

The more concentrated energy utilities and the longer the transport/link distances, the more vulnerable the system to rising costs, breakdowns, sabbotage etc. By contrast, dispersal of energy utilities (cf. solar/voltaic, solar/thermal, wind, tide, possibly provision of fresh water by wind condensation method), the greater their flexible ability to provide local and regional grid-based power needs, as well as provide local employment.

The same applies for longevity of resources. Solar, wind and tide energy sources are open ended and long term, where costs would involve mainly maintenance. The notion as if solar, wind and tide-based power supplies are “unreliable” may be more a myth perpetated by current vested interests rather than an engineering reality (cf. Mark Diesendorf latest book ‘Greenhouse Solutions with Sustainable Energy’).

Seeing that solar and wind generators have much shorter lifespans than nuclear power stations, and require far more material resources per unit of power delivered (as well as being ridiculously more expensive, as Peter and Barry have already demonstrated), your contention that the main cost for them will be maintenance cannot be taken seriously. Nor can the assertion that needing to be widely distributed represents some kind of advantage.

Nuclear plants can be located near population centres, and can easily store enough fuel on-site for decades or centuries of operation if need be. The actual physical amount of material needed for fuel is so small that the notion of a supply disruption causing serious difficulties is laughable. The contention that ‘renewable’ sources such as solar and wind are more flexible than nuclear power goes beyond laughable. It reeks of refusal to look squarely at the facts.


I’m not sure *politically* at least now, one can site nukes, any kind of nuke, near a larger population center. At least in greenfield sites.

The problem with this, and why I’d oppose, say, building a LWR say, on the west side of Manhattan, has nothing do with safety. A modern GEN III reactor is VERY large. It’s a 4 to 5 year construction project, 24/7. I would never condemn anyone to living near such a site as their lives would be pretty much ruined with the heavy equipment, noise, rumbling of tractor trailers and and out. No, you want to avoid this if one can.

Now this is where my paradigm of site-specific design comes in. A set of *smaller* reactors could more easily be placed in heavier populated centers because their installation “clutter” is, at worse, no different than a modern office building is today.


Rod is an “ecumenical heavy metal purveyor of fission economy”. I tend to thorium, but it’s a sub-genre, really. As we speak, the Thorium Energy Alliance conference is going on right now in Washington, DC. Hopefully Kirk, Rod and others can report here on the event.

I’m for doing what works. The reason that the LFTR has achieved such a sub-niche in these discussions is because of it’s wide applicability. If “one kind” of reactor can work, why not use it? Why diversify.

Well, truthfully, we have no idea what or if there is a “one kind” can fill that role. This will be decades away and there may never be “one kind”. We can “see” one kind, often enough, but it’s only a vision, not a real world scenario. I’m as guilty as this as anyone.

It’s best to look at the ‘what, where, why’ for siting and using nukes. The site-specific paradigm might see, for example, the IFR be far more useful than the fast chloride version of the LFTR for eating LWR SNF. I don’t know that, but it’s possible thus that would change how we view the LFTR and its application. A set of mid-size LFTRs might be more appropriate strung out along a series of transmission sub-stations in California than, say a LWR centrally located or a whole bunch of smaller 50MW Adam’s Atomic Engines, depending on what the customer/operator’s needs are.

This is why Rod is basically correct. While a LFTR, IMO, ‘can do it all’ it doesn’t mean we really want it to. There may be other choices and they have to have equal access to the discussion venue for this to occur. We’ll all be better off for it.


David Welters@#71:
I’m not sure *politically* at least now, one can site nukes, any kind of nuke, near a larger population center. At least in greenfield sites.

This is Australia, David. A plant located 100km from the outskirts of a city is “near” it.


This thread is getting repetitious again. For a breath of reality, may I suggest the excellent discussion by Dr. Smil here: (and jump the first 5 minutes of sponsors & introduction if you can.)

It seems there is no reason to panic: the government will do something stupid anyway, and due to human nature we will not really get going until we forced to do so. The comments he makes at the end, about widespread technical illiteracy, are true I fear.

To repeat, one could build PBRs just as quickly as any other kind of power station, even if they are not the best solution. So time to build is not the problem.


David Walters — CSIRO finds that CO2 assisted algae farms are cost competative in generating electricty and making biodiesel:

As for captured CO2, Australia could use
In situ peridotite weathering:
at two locations in Westeren Austarlia, an stupendously large supply in Papua New Guinea and off shore north of there, or even New Calidonia. Since the weathering is a chemical reaciion, the CO2 is gone “forever”.



Click to access Climate%20Solutions%202%20-%20Full%20Report%5B1%5D.pdf


First-of-its-kind analysis answers key climate change question: Is there enough time to deliver low-carbon economy? London, 19th Oct 2009

Climate Risk (Europe) Ltd today launched results that aim to answer the question: how long will it take clean-tech industries to deliver a low-carbon economy? The results of the major modelling project indicate that only a five-year window remains to get all low-carbon industries onto an accelerated growth path.

The first-of-its-kind analysis, commissioned by international environmental organization WWF, shows that the most critical constraint to avoiding runaway climate change will be the time required to grow low-carbon industries.

To avoid dangerous warming of more than 2°C, global low-carbon re-industrialisation will have to be underway before 2014, the modeling finds. “This work brings some industrial realism to the climate change discussion,” said Dr Karl Mallon, who collaborated with ex-Cambridge physicist Dr Mark Hughes, both from the private-sector climate change risk specialists, Climate Risk Ltd. “So far we have heard from scientists who tell us what must be done, and economists who say how much it will cost,” Dr. Mallon said, “yet no one has stopped to ask industry how long will it take — and contrast that with how much time is actually available.” “In certain policy circles climate change is assumed to be an economic problem, yet this approach downplays the real-world physical constraints on skilled labour, equipment, production and capital. These will limit the speed of transition to a low-carbon economy.


Andrew, thanks for your responses at #51 and #66.

Barry (#52) was right, I really am asking, where’s the energy coming from?
Finrod (#53), I was thinking primarily of energy generation, but also about carbon drawdown energy requirements, particularly since Andrew raised it.

Andrew, your original post was on the speed of deployment of nuclear. As it happens, I woke this morning to see Barry’s put up another post on just this topic (he’s not only prolific, he reads minds!). If you look at the required deployment rates to reach 10 TW power by 2050, we have

Concrete: 5.9×10^5 tonne/day (wind); 2.2×10^5 tonne/day (CST); 9×10^4 tonne/day(Nuc)
Steel: 3.1×10^5 tonne/day (wind); 1.5×10^5 tonne/day (CST); 7.7×10^4 tonne/day(Nuc)
Land: 340 km^2/day (wind); 45 km^2/day (CST); 0.4 km^2/day (Nuc)

I don’t think you can make a case based on those numbers that solar or wind can be deployed faster than nuclear power, and I think that Barry has left some large contributors out of the solar and wind picture. If you want to make that case, give it a shot in the comments to the TCASE4 post.

Its still a big job, but I’m reminded of Winston Churchill’s assessment of democracy as the worst form of government, except for all the others. Its a bit like that with nuclear power as an energy source.

My original request to you, which I’d still like you to consider, is the broad brushstroke picture of our future energy structure if it is not to include coal. As a start, if you haven’t looked at David MacKay’s energy analysis, I’d urge you to look at his example energy plans for the UK, including particularly his carbon free no-nuke and carbon free lotsa-nuke plans (Plan G and Plan E). Bear in mind that these plans aren’t really costed, and take a naive approach to renewable capacity, ie, ignoring the constraints Peter Lang has discussed, which I think blows a big hole in the wind and solar contributions.

My point on carbon drawdown was that this is probably very energy intensive, in which case its an additional burden on top of the 10 TW demand figure. You could use plants to do drawdown, ie solar energy, ie you’re denying photosynthesis to the biosphere, and displacing food crops and habitat the same way biofuels do. Engineered processes of atmospheric carbon extraction are going to be driving backwards at least part of the thermodynamic cycle that gave us the CO2 in the first place, so they’re likely to take lots of power. Sodium trees – where does the NaOH come from? Electrolysis of seawater? GRL Cowan’s rock weathering suggestion might be a low energy option ..

This discussion is inherently multidisciplinary and few people could cover all the areas at an expert level – I certainly don’t. But I’m a big fan of diy epistemology, and try to follow the logic of the arguments through to the point where I can feel responsible for my own beliefs. There are people posting here who are experts in most of the disciplines you mentioned, and you have the opportunity to engage them directly, without even waiting for them to be collected into independent panels by someone,



John Morgan’ comment of 19.10.09

I refer to comments (26.10) by Dr Mark Dissendorf (Institute of Environmental Studies, University of New South Wales) regarding comparisons between wind and nuclear energy utilities:

1. In China wind power generating capacity has doubled every year for the past 5 years. There is no way that nuclear power could achieve such rapid growth. China is pulling out all stops to try to double its nuclear power capacity (from current level of 2.5% electricity) by 2020.

2. Wind turbines generate the energy required to build themselves within 3-7 months of operation, depending upon annual mean windspeed at the site. Nuclear power stations take 5-10 years.

3. According to a detailed study by Manfred Lenzen (a pro-nuclear nuclear physicist), life-cycle CO2 emissions from the nuclear fuel cycle, when uranium ore-grade is 0.15%, are 60 g/kWh, increasing to 130 g/kWh when ore declines to 0.01%. Lenzen excludes emissions from clean-up of uranium mine waste. For wind power, Lenzen obtains 13-40 g/kWh.

ISA (2006) Life Cycle Energy Balance and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Nuclear Energy in Australia, .
Lenzen, M. (2008) Life cycle energy and greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear energy: A review. Energy Conversion and Management 49:2178â?”99.



Been a while since we’ve seen you. Hope you haven’t spent all that time coming up with this.

1. In China wind power generating capacity has doubled every year for the past 5 years. There is no way that nuclear power could achieve such rapid growth. China is pulling out all stops to try to double its nuclear power capacity (from current level of 2.5% electricity) by 2020

Twice of next to nothing is pretty damn pitiful still. Fact is, the Chinese appear to be trying everything, including massively expanded nuclear. If their plans for nuclear come anywhere near to realisation (and there’s no reason to think they won’t), the Chinese will multiply their nuclear capacity several times over during the next decade. The ‘double’ quote is simply wrong. I mean hell… weren’t they trying for 70 GW by 2020 last year? And the figure keeps rising. I haven’t kept up with it, but ‘double’ is a woeful underestimate of where the Chinese intend to be with nuclear by then.

2. Wind turbines generate the energy required to build themselves within 3-7 months of operation, depending upon annual mean windspeed at the site. Nuclear power stations take 5-10 years.

Not from what I hear. My understanding is that nuclear power plantspay back their construction energy within ~2 months, and the entire lifetime operation/decommisioning within ~5 months. Check this out:

When you consider the larger quantity of material that goes into constructing a damn-near useless windfarm, you’ve got to wonder whether such a contraprtion could ever supply all the power needed for it’s construction and maintenance, let alone have net energy to run an industrial civilisation. Well, lets face it, it obviously can’t.

3. According to a detailed study by Manfred Lenzen (a pro-nuclear nuclear physicist), life-cycle CO2 emissions from the nuclear fuel cycle, when uranium ore-grade is 0.15%, are 60 g/kWh, increasing to 130 g/kWh when ore declines to 0.01%. Lenzen excludes emissions from clean-up of uranium mine waste. For wind power, Lenzen obtains 13-40 g/kWh.

Unless those figures are calculated for breeders, they’re irrelevant.


Andrew Glickson,

Can I suggest that you take each one of the points you have quoted from Dr Mark Diesendorf and look carefully at what is said. Analyse it yourself. Take point 1 for example. Ask yourself these questions:

1. What is the rate of growth of energy generation for nuclear and wind power in China in MWh/year. I presume you are aware how percentages can be used to distort and send a wrong message

2. How much of China’s wind power and nuclear power is able to provide power on demand 24/365?

3. If the wind power is not tied into the grid, and does not have energy storage, what is its real value (compared with nuclear and with fodssil fule generation)?

I hope you will analyse each of the points you quoted from Dr Mark Diesendorf, carefully, and post your conclusions here.


I’m a big fan of the IFR and have studied it and it’s fuel cycle at the University of Michigan dept. of nuclear engineering for several years now. I agree with most of the points here. Those of you who have heard from me before will recall that I’m a huge proponent of admitting shortcomings of great concepts. If we fail to acknowledge the down-sides of our proposed solutions, we fuel those who disagree with us. Every reasonable person knows that no concept is as perfect and as wonderful as its most die-hard fans often claim it is. So, for those of you who are shocked that the new world order has kept us from building these perfectly ideal systems, know that these shortcomings of the IFR are, in fact, real.

1) Anyone who operates and owns an IFR can get nuclear weapon material easily because of the reprocessing capabilities. Separating pure reactor-grade plutonium from a melted mix of actinides is taught on day one of nuclear chemistry. Just put the right voltage across, and bam. Oh, and, by the way, reactor grade Pu can be used to make weapons (easy source: harder source: acquaintances at Lawrence Livermore National Lab who were there when it was tried out). So you can’t just have everyone and anyone operating these things — only weapons states. That’s a big disadvantage for something you want to deploy on a global scale.

2) Reprocessing plants are expensive. Just ask France. Sure theirs is aqueous, but until we’ve seen full-scale pyro plants, we can’t go around guaranteeing that this stuff is going to be even at all reasonably cheap. All maintenance and maneuvers are done in hot cells. That’s difficult and expensive.

That’s all though. I think we can find ways to admit these things and still spark interest in policy makers, based on the excellent fuel utilization and emissions footprint. But without admitting shortcomings, you’re just adding to the hysterical confusion that is information on the internet.

I like the idea of having IFR actinide burners around the weapons states taking care of the long lived nuclear waste while other countries have reactors that don’t require enrichment or reprocessing.

One final note: statements like “The only technology we have with a realistic potential to save the planet.” invoke very hesitant looks from most reasonable members of the public, and of course from policy makers. For good reason, too! We need non-alarmist, unbiased, true info to really get anywhere in our energy problems or else we’re just feeding the flames of chaotic and meaningless argument. That is all.


Nick, thanks for your comments. I think your What is Nuclear site is a terrific resource. However, your statement:

Anyone who operates and owns an IFR can get nuclear weapon material easily because of the reprocessing capabilities. Separating pure reactor-grade plutonium from a melted mix of actinides is taught on day one of nuclear chemistry. Just put the right voltage across, and bam.

…was contrary to my understanding of pyroprocessing. But to be sure, I doubled checked, and got the following replies from two senior ANL reactor physicists/engineers:

Dr Yoon Chang said:

The bolded sentense is not correct. It implies electrorefining when he says “put right voltage across, and bam,” but electrorefining is incapable of separating pure plutonium from actinide mixture. As Prof. Per Peterson pointed out, the pyroprocessing product, if successfully diverted, can be a feed material for subsequent clandestine aqueous reprocessing. The pyroprocessing itself cannot be used to acquire weapons usable material.

As I indicated a couple of times already, the IFR/pyroprocessing is not proliferation-proof as with any other form of nuclear option and hence would not be deployed anywhere without due attention to safeguardability. As Tom Blees points out, the IFR can be deployed to replace 80% of the world’s energy and we don’t have to worry about the remaining 20%, at least for now.

The commenter also pointed out that reprocessing plants are expensive. This is absolutely true for conventional aqueous reprocessing. I believe pyroprocessing will be much more economic because of its simplicity. But this has not been demonstrated fully. That is why I am so focused on the necessity of a pilot scale (100 ton/yr) demonstration of LWR spent fuel.

Dr Bill Hannum said:

A slight elaboration on Yoon’s comment. The essence of electrorefining (e. g., electroplating) is, if you dissolve up a mixture, an electrical current will carry some materials more effectively than others. If one started with a pure mixture of plutonium and uranium, you could get some separation, but this situation does not occur. In producing plutonium, you necessarily produce fission products and other actinides, so the separation is “dirty,” which for our purposes is a good thing; no clean plutonium. As Yoon says, elecrtrorefining is incapable of separating pure plutonium from an actinide mixture.

If this were a simple process for separating plutonium, it is obvious the weapons programs would have adopted this long ago instead of the PUREX process. I guess none of the world’s weapons designers took chemistry where that writer did.

With regards to the possibility of creating a low yield nuclear bomb with reactor-grade Pu (which, as is pointed out above, cannot be obtained from an IFR without PUREX), this recent paper covers the issues very clearly:

Bombs, Reprocessing, and Reactor Grade Plutonium

Finally, Steve Kirsch (author of the above popular piece on the IFR makes the following point:

well, i have a question on his statement about my hype.

does HE know of any other technology that you can offer to a coal plant operator that will cause them to eliminate their coal emissions and save money at the same time while still supplying reliable baseload power on a 24×7 basis? If he doesn’t then my statement isn’t hype. It’s reality.


In response to the following statement about IFR: (source is Steve Kirsch as quoted by Barry Brook:

well, i have a question on his statement about my hype.

does HE know of any other technology that you can offer to a coal plant operator that will cause them to eliminate their coal emissions and save money at the same time while still supplying reliable baseload power on a 24×7 basis? If he doesn’t then my statement isn’t hype. It’s reality.

There are a variety of fission based reactor designs that can serve the same function. The key is matching the temperature to produce steam at a compatible temperature and pressure with the existing coal plant.

Jim Holm at has produced a wealth of information on the design considerations associated with replacing coal fired boilers with nuclear steam supply systems. The IFR is certainly not the only choice.

I am particularly intrigued by the scaled up versions of the high temperature pebble bed reactors that the Chinese are currently constructing. They happen to be just about the right size and temperature to replace coal fired boilers in the rapidly constructed series produced coal plants that have famously been erected at a rate of 1-2 per week for the past few years.

The Chinese have many reasons to be intrigued by the idea of replacing coal boilers with nuclear reactors, including a desire to have air that you can actually see through and a desire to free up railroad capacity that is currently stressed by carrying sufficient quantities of coal to the new power plants.

Pebble beds may not be “fast breeders” but uranium supplies are pretty abundant right now. In addition, there is a technical path for turning pebble beds into thermal or epithermal breeders that can achieve burn-ups that are many times higher than 2nd generation light water reactors.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast


Rod Adams,

Thank you for this link. Very interesting

It would seem to be a genuinely achievable solution to reducing the world’s CO2 emissions substantially and quickly.

Every year, Man produces 37 billion tons of CO2 and Nature removes 21. The excess 16 is Global Warming’s CO2.

8 are produced by a few supersized power plant boilers that can be replaced by a commercially available nuclear boiler.

This is the only possible way we can end half of Global Warming’s CO2.

Supersized boilers. They power only 2% of the world’s power plants but are making 53% of all Global Warming CO2. The world has about 5,000 supersized boilers in 1,200 huge power plants. Each one burns a mile-long train of coal every day.

Replacing the boilers for these coal fired power stations would cut CO2 emissions by close to 50%. Only the boilers need to be replaced, not the turbines, generators, transformers or transmission lines.

No need for an economy slowing CPRS!! Just replace the world’s largest coal fired boilers with nuclear boilers. Proceed in order of quantity of CO2 emissions per year.

By the way, download the book just 2.5 MB). I love the way hew writes. I love the bit about the author’s background.


Hi Barry: Thanks for liking my site. I’ve recently found yours and am very impressed at the discussions going on here! Nice job!

I stand corrected on the voltage comment. Chemistry was a while ago. The essence of my point is exactly as Prof. Per Peterson points out — that Plutonium is chemically separable from other actinides somehow. So, now the bad guys have to get a vat of acid and work the PUREX process (that’s right, my chemistry class showed that PUREX only requires 1 vat of acid as equipment ;). For the sake of argument, I typically take one of my favorite professor’s hyperbolic statement: “There’s nothing you can do to Plutonium that I can’t undo in my bathtub.” His tub should require lots of expensive equipment, chemistry, and shielding, but the essential shortcoming is undeniably valid and therefore should be acknowledged in such a presentation.

I absolutely agree with Dr. Yoo Chang that no nuclear options is proliferation-proof and that safeguardability is key. This is one of the disadvantages inherent to nuclear power and we as activists must work together to explain that we can set up systems to monitor and protect these reactors and this material. (Ideally, this wouldn’t involve the IDF.) One of the most potent arguments against nuclear right now is proliferation so if we don’t treat it thoroughly, our passions and dreams are out of luck.

And as for my questioning the absolute statements, various other reactor designs can theoretically do the deed, but certainly none of them have had as much research and work done as the IFR, at least not in the USA. A massive deployment of plug-in hybrids cars with smart-grid give-back capabilities integrates a lot of intermittency out of the renewables. Good carbon capture and storage would count.

Just the statement “save the world” is what I’m frowning most upon. This invokes the timeless apocalyptic emotions that lead to hysteria and poor decisions. First of all, the world lived through the impact of a 1km asteroid, or something similar. Sure the dinosaurs died but life and the earth were A-OK. So at least change the statement to “save humanity.” More seriously, any truly elegant, cheap, and harmonious technology should come into operation naturally, without needing to hold worldwide doom over everyone’s head. Most of us here know that nuclear power has the potential to be these things, especially through some form of breeding. The IFR, is an excellent step towards these ideals and will certainly be built by the wise winds of time. And some engineers.


As alluring as the idea is, the regulatory issues that would attend any coal-to-nuclear conversion would be staggering.

I suspect that the only way that this could be done effectively would be to brownfield the old plant (perhaps saving the switchyard) and build the NPP new, preferably by dropping in a modular plant. This would actually be easer than for most sites as a coal plant ether has a railhead or a fair sized port on the property, previously used to ship in fuel.



I agree with you ” the regulatory issues that would attend any coal-to-nuclear conversion would be staggering”.

But I am enjoying what I have read so far of his draft book that he has posted on the internet 3 days ago.

I like your bio, too! Very sane.


Hi Nick,

Electrolytic separation is a bit of a blunt instrument. The standard reduction potentials for the transuranics are roughly U -0.1 V, Np -0.3V, Pu -1.2V, Am -0.9V and Cm -1.2V. Add to that some random overpotentials from cell design and operation and it looks like you can probably separate U and Np from Pu and the higher actinides, but I don’t think you could separate Pu from Am or Cm – the reduction potentials are right on top of each other.

(Those are aqueous SRPs, not molten salt, but those values would till tell the same story.)

The resulting mix of Pu and higher elements is hot – thermally and radioactivity. The difficulty the heat problem poses to weapons designers is described in this 2004 paper:

Purex and Pyro are not the Same

The difficulty the bathtub separator has in chemically separating the plutonium can be inferred from some estimates from GRL Cowan (who I quoted back here):

” .. a CANDU fuel bundle, ten years after its retirement, can give a lethal radiation dose from 1 metre’s distance in 12 hours ..

Adding in the estimated ten times greater burnup and we get the ashes in IFR fuel, just before they are removed from it, making it ~20000 times more radioactive than the ashes in CANDU fuel after ten years.

In terms of foiling a theft attempt, this 20000 is bound to be a slight underestimate, because the radiation from fast-decaying isotopes is more penetrating, less likely to be absorbed within the fuel itself. So dividing the 12 hours by 20000 gives us a conservative estimate of how quick the supposed thief, having neglected to bring a 50-tonne self-propelled shielding flask, will decide to sit down for a little rest, and never get up again: two seconds. Whoa, I hadn’t known it was that quick.”

Turning IFR fuel into a bomb would require nation state capability in handling and reprocessing. The only entities that have that capability already either have the bomb or could build one by easier routes.

I saw your site first the first time the other day, too. I think what you’re doing is great.


With respect to coal to nuclear conversions, I recognize that the regulatory issues will be challenging, but I also see that there are some reasonably good opportunities to try out the idea and work to change what needs to be changed and to develop technical responses for those parts of the rules that need to remain in place.

Compared to the physical and technical challenges associated with capturing CO2 from flue gas, compressing it, transporting it to a suitable geologic formation, isolating it underground and then monitoring the reservoir to ensure that it is not leaking and does not have any potential for a rapid release of the stored product, I think that coal to nuclear is a far more solid path for a zero emission power source that takes advantage of existing infrastructure.

In one case, you almost have to do what I call “violating God’s law” in the other case you may have to change manmade laws. I am pretty confident that changing human origin rules – as hard as it can be – is easier than changing rules found in a physics book.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast


There are several advantages to doing what Rod notes above. Coal2nuclear has a direct *political* ‘connect-the-dots’ for people concerned with phasing out coal.

1. As the coal2nuclear site notes, the existence of the balance of plant, access to the plant via rail, river/canal, roads *already exists*.

2. Cooling water or tower facilities *and licensing* already in place.

3. Access to grid in place.

4. Laydown area for construction, already place

5. We turn ON the nuke, we turn OFF the coal and this is a hugely visual metaphor for many people and, I should add, something that cannot seriously be repeated with renewables.


Hi John:

Yeah, 20000x more radioactive than CANDU SNF is going to make my Prof.’s bathtub separation system more than a little difficult, and might lead him to get CANDU feed material rather than IFR. What you say about nation-states is my real concern. (I usually, and rightfully, laugh off concerns about terrorists sneaking into nuclear plants, carefully stealing from the spent-fuel pool, loading material onto trucks or trains, taking it off to their top secret $40 billion reprocessing facility, and making bombs out of it before anyone noticed. ) It’s the industrialized non-weapons states that worry me. Perhaps they would find easier ways, but if I had a few of these and decided I wanted weapons quickly, I’d probably go build an aqueous plant and take some of this crazy-radioactive stuff on over there. Even a fizzle can give one some headlines and money (see N. Korea).

But, the more I think about it, building an aqueous plant across the street and getting reactor grade plutonium could be done with any reactor technology (or weapons grade U233 with Th). So if the economics do end up working out, and if what you all say about getting plutonium out of IFRs with simple modifications being impossible, I guess I don’t see #1 as such a huge problem.

The previous post is relevant though. If China, Russia, USA, France, England, India, Pakistan, South Africa, and Israel built these things like crazy, I bet coal demand could go down quite a lot.


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