IFR FaD Nuclear Policy

IFR FaD 9 – Summary of non-proliferation advantages of the Integral Fast Reactor

A fair amount of material has now accumulated on BNC regarding nuclear energy and the possible ‘proliferation’ implications of commercial nuclear power. Here is a list of the key posts:

Response to an Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) critique (Barry Brook, George Stanford, Tom Blees)

Carbon emissions and nuclear capable countries (Barry Brook)

Nuclear safeguards and Australian uranium export policy (Jim Green)

Analysis of the 2010 Nuclear Summit and the obsession with highly enriched uranium (DV82XL)

Q&A on Integral Fast Reactors – safe, abundant, non-polluting power (George Stanford)

Safeguarding the nuclear fuel cycle (Bill Hannum)

Yet despite having abundant factual information on proliferation risks and realities available to them, anti-nuclear ‘activists’ continue to badly misunderstand or deliberately misrepresent this issue. A recent and particularly egregious example, from Green’s senator Scott Ludlum, is here. This follows a consistent pattern of behaviour, as described in detail by Luke Weston here.

Given this context, below I provide a  summary the non-proliferation advantages of the IFR, from Charles Till and Yoon Chang of SCGI.



Steps in the electro-refining pyroprocess

In the late eighties and early nineties Argonne National Laboratory developed a fast reactor system that will supply electricity in any amount, forever, address specifically proliferation concerns related to aqueous reprocessing (PUREX), and provide greater depth of safety, less toxic waste, and real potential for satisfactory economics. The Integral Fast Reactor, or IFR, uses non-enriched uranium, otherwise useless, or used LWR fuel, useless too, and a waste disposal problem as well. The energy generated would be incomparably greater than all the fossil sources in the world could ever produce.

In 1994 though, the Administration abruptly stopped its development, citing proliferation concerns with fast reactors. This was a unilateral US decision. Other major nations did not agree. Today Russia, China, India and Japan have operating fast reactors in place along with PUREX reprocessing capability.

Efficient use of fuel requires reprocessing for re-use and return to the reactor, repeating the cycle over and over again. Over ninety percent is burned. An entirely new process, (pyroprocessing) was developed for this. Its product is primarily plutonium, in a mixture of several other elements. The mixture is well suited to fuel the fast reactor, but not to weapons. Electrochemical energies unique to each element, and the degree to which they differ, dictate what’s possible. The energies of the higher actinide elements such as neptunium and americium, highly radioactive, are so nearly the same as plutonium that they will not separate from it in the process.

Principle of the PUREX process for the separation of uranium and plutonium from fission products

These radiologically troublesome elements will always be present and the product will also be heavily diluted with uranium. The term “separated” plutonium has come into use to imply ready use in weapons. “Separated plutonium” in this sense is best applied to plutonium from present day, PUREX, reprocessing, which does separate very pure plutonium. The IFR process does not. The same term is not appropriate for the very different products of the two processes.

While in one or two cases U-235 has been used or proposed for use in weapons, nations that have developed nuclear weapons to date have all used plutonium at least 93% Pu-239, and of very high purity. Specialized knowledge, the freedom to test, chemistry (in all cases, PUREX), explosives, triggers, delivery, as well as the will to move ahead, cover, money, and so on – all are necessary. The point is many things are necessary, one of which is pure plutonium. The IFR process does not even supply that – plutonium clean of other highly radioactive elements.

Process operations, completely inaccessible, require high temperatures and are conducted remotely under very pure inert gas. This isn’t a process that can be done “in a garage.” A crude setup for PUREX processing can reprocess at room temperature in a normal atmosphere behind makeshift shielding. Further, if conventional PUREX reprocessing can be replaced by IFR processing commercially, there will certainly be a gain in the non-proliferation characteristics provided.

There are more advantages. Stymieing nuclear terrorism by “denaturing” and burning excess nuclear weapons materials of nuclear weapons states could be done several times faster than in the current generation of reactors and the used fuel burned in the IFR. Every scrap from the nuclear weapons programs can be fuel. There will be no inactive inventory of plutonium anywhere as a temptation for misuse. There will be no plutonium mine of used LWR fuel disposed of whole as is now proposed. Enriching uranium will be unnecessary in a mature IFR economy. Construction of a uranium enrichment facility or a PUREX type of facility would be prima-facie evidence of a nuclear weapons program.

In addition to non-proliferation advantages, sound nuclear waste management becomes possible, really for the first time. Construction of the key prototype facilities, an action plan for implementation of IFR technology, and resumption of R&D on the important development issues should go forward immediately. This is a beginning. This technology alone has the magnitude to deal with the energy issues now more and more obvious each day.


Some other useful quotes from Charles Till:

Q: So when you say the source is the waste, you’re saying you don’t have to mine any more uranium for a while. What could you use? Can you use weapons material? Can you use waste from reactors?

A: You could use any and all of those things. [If] the weapons stocks are being reduced, as they are today, an ideal way to use that plutonium would be in an IFR. If the policy of the nation were to allow recycling of spent fuel that is a problem now for present day plants, it would be a wonderful [fuel for IFRs]. If in fact IFRs use uranium so effectively, my guess is, you could probably make a few parts per million in sea water. It really does allow an energy source that is unlimited.

Q: Now, what about the issue of proliferation, the issue of making plutonium available to terrorists?

A: The object in the IFR demonstration was to invent, if you like, a process that did not allow separations of pure plutonium that would be necessary for weapons. In order to recycle, you need some kind of a chemical process. And the chemical process that was invented here at Argonne used quite different principles than present processes do. It allows the separation of that group of things that are useful, but not one from the other, so that you cannot separate plutonium purely from uranium and the other things. You can separate uranium, plutonium, and the other useful things from the fission products. So it does exactly what you want it to do. It gives you the new fuel, and it separates off the waste product, but it doesn’t allow careful distinguishing between the materials that are useful, such that you could use one or another of those materials for weapons.

Q: So it would be very difficult to handle for weapons, would it?

A: It’s impossible to handle for weapons, as it stands. It’s highly radioactive. It’s highly heat producing. It has all of the characteristics that make it extremely, well, make it impossible for someone to make a weapon.

Q: The argument most put on the Senate floor was that the IFR increases the risks of proliferation.

A: Yes. Well, it doesn’t. As simply as that. There’s no technical reason why one would make that argument. In order to produce weapons, you have to produce pure plutonium. The IFR process will not do that. The only possible argument that would hold any water whatsoever was that when showing people that plutonium is not the demon substance that it’s been advertised as being, that, in fact, it’s quite a workaday material, that in some way or other, the familiarity of it could be used to say that it doesn’t hold the terrors that it’s supposed to hold, and so, perhaps, more tempting in some way for someone to try to misuse it. But I mean, that’s a far-out kind of argument, it seems to me, compared to the unquestioned benefits from simply using this stuff to produce energy.

Q: But they were arguing that this made the world less safe. Would you say the opposite, or what?

A: No, I would say completely the opposite. Modern society runs on energy. This gives a wonderful, clean form of energy. Its possibility for misuse for weapons goes against the history of the development of nuclear energy over the last 50 years. If weapons are going to be produced, they’re going to be produced by making plutonium in facilities that specifically make weapons-grade plutonium, because that’s the kind that the weapon designer needs. The IFR doesn’t do that.

And here:

The IFR fuel and fuel processing lies in the fuel product itself as it comes from the refining process. The methods of reprocessing commercial nuclear fuel in current use in several nations (but not in the US ) were actually developed originally to provide very pure plutonium for use in nuclear weapons. The commercial plants have that same capability.

The IFR process, on the other hand, provided a fuel form with many different materials in it — next to useless for weapons purposes, but ideal as a fuel material. The process cannot purify plutonium from the IFR spent fuel — it is scientifically impossible for it to do so. The IFR technology should not contribute to weapons proliferation. On the contrary, if it replaces the present methods it should substantially reduce such risks.

The IFR refining process also produces a waste with less volume and a shortened radioactive life. The materials that are carried along in the fuel product that ruin its value for weapons are the very ones that give current nuclear ‘waste’ (more accurately, used fuel ) its long-lived radioactivity. But because they remain in the fuel throughout, they are burned up when recycled back into the reactor, and do not appear in the waste in any significant amount. The reduction in radioactive lifetime is dramatic — from tens of thousands of years down to a few hundred at most. And the IFR program included the development and proof testing of very stable, inert waste forms for final disposal.

… While all serious weapons development programs everywhere in the world have always taken place in huge laboratories, in specialized facilities, behind walls of secrecy, and there has been negligible involvement with civilian nuclear power, it is impossible to argue that there CAN be none. For this reason the IFR processes were specifically designed to further minimize such possibilities, and, if developed, they would have represented a significant advance over the present situation.

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.

20 replies on “IFR FaD 9 – Summary of non-proliferation advantages of the Integral Fast Reactor”

The energies of the higher actinide elements such as neptunium and americium, highly radioactive, are so nearly the same as plutonium that they will not separate from it in the process.

“Energies” is a bit generic – the technically correct terminology is “standard reduction potential”, which is, roughly, the voltage needed to be applied to electroplate out the metal you want to collect.

As you said, plutonium plates out at a potential too close to the other transuranics for it to be separated. The potentials for the relevant metals are:

U -0.1 V, Np -0.3V, Am -0.9V, Cm -1.2V, Pu -1.2V.

So you can see its impossible to clean up the plutonium from the curium, and I doubt its possible to pull out the americium, either.


I wrote about pyro separation and proliferation in response to Kaj Luuko in a post on IFR FAD 4, suggesting a possible way to subvert the electrorefining process to produce weapons grade plutonium, which I think is sufficiently on topic to repost here, so:

Kaj, thats the way I understand it. You could potentially produce a mixture of elements in which the plutonium is a good isotopic mix, but without a means of chemical separation, the other elements present will confound the weaponization. You could produce weaponizable plutonium from an IFR, but you would need to short cycle it, and you would need a PUREX type facility.

This is not quite the scenario you quote describes. They speculate about the production of chemically and isotopically pure (enough) plutonium just within the IFR by short cycling, and then separating the plutonium from the hot actinides within the pyroprocessing module.

This seems unlikely to me. The advantage of using electrolysis for reprocessing is that it is not a very good separation process. It has enough resolution to remove the neutron poisons from the fuel, but not enough to produce chemically pure plutonium.
In order to separate elements by electrolysis, you need them to have different reduction potentials – the voltage at which they change from salt to metal. The reduction potentials for some actinides are roughly:

U -0.1 V, Np -0.3V, Am -0.9V, Cm -1.2V, Pu -1.2V.

So the uranium is easily separated from the plutonium, but the plutonium is not easily separated from the americium, and can’t be separated from the curium.

The first step of the process is to dissolve the metal fuel in the salt bath, under an applied voltage. Then the uranium is plated out on an iron electrode at low voltage. Then the plutonium is captured in a second liquid cadmium electrode at a higher voltage. Because of the large reduction potential of plutonium, it will also capture the Cm, the Am, and anything else left in the salt bath with a reduction potential under -1.2V. This would include small amounts of quite a lot of isotopes, including some residual uranium since the first step will not be a perfect separation.

Your citation suggests three ways to produce weapons material from an IFR:

1) Use it to breed plutonium conventionally. But this requires PUREX refining to separate the plutonium.

2) Process multiple fuel batches just taking out the uranium in the first step of the separation, allowing the plutonium to accumulate in the salt bath. This will concentrate the plutonium in the bath. But it will also allow the other fission products to accumulate as well. I don’t see how this helps – you would still need further chemical refining of the recovered plutonium – PUREX again.

3) Take the recovered plutonium mixture, and run it through the process again and again to clean it up. But even this can’t separate contaminants that have reduction potentials close to plutonium. It would never clean the plutonium of curium, for instance, and I doubt it would be very effective for, say, the americium. You still need further chemical refining.

So I think the basic idea of the IFR as being unable to produce weapons material without an additional PUREX capability still stands. I don’t think this study claims otherwise, either, if you read carefully. I would also expect the additional intensive operations in the hot cell and deviation from standard operation would be easily detectable, and any attempts along these lines would not get very far.


Long before recent events here on BNC, I had come to the conclusion that it was counterproductive to belabour a point too stridently. As a consequence, I have not commented on this series of articles on the IFR. I have stated my opinion on the near-term commercial potential of GenIV designs more than once here, and many times elsewhere. However since one of my lead articles is mentioned in the post, I feel I should reiterate my position both on GenIV and proliferation.

Comparing the stage of development of the IFR with the development cycle of other technologies of similar complexity, it is abundantly clear to me that this design is, at the very least, a decade (if not two) from commercial viability. Although farther down the road than other GenIV concepts, at this stage there are too many unanswered practical engineering questions, there is not likely to be much interest by large investors, and there are several major regulatory hurdles yet to be addressed. In my opinion, the stridency that supporters of the IFR are demonstrating in the mater of proliferation, and the claimed utility of the design in solving this ‘problem,’ is nothing more than an attempt to generate legislative support for their project, to have it fast-tracked over other GenIV ideas.

As for the issue of proliferation itself, it remains one of the great con jobs of the nuclear age. Proliferation is not a technical problem, thus there is no technical solution. Any reactor type, and any fuel cycle can theoretically be perverted to make fissile material that can be made to go prompt critical. Practically however no modern power reactor can produce significant amounts of weapons-grade material such that it would be a temptation to some emerging nuclear state. All cadet nuclear weapons states have in fact built purpose designed breeder reactors to make plutonium for their programs, or have used HEU, enriched with indigenous technologies.

Talk of subnational groups making weapons with stolen spent fuel is simply ludicrous, and properly belongs as a plot device in the made for TV movies from whence it came.

Proliferation is a political issue, and a military issue, and its solution, (if in fact there is one) will be found in those arenas. It has nothing to do with nuclear power, reactor designs, or civil fuel-cycles, and those that are attempting to leverage this issue to claim their technologies are superior in this regard are doing no favours for nuclear power.


DV8, the main thrust of this argument from IFR proponents is NOT that the IFR is far superior to other nuclear technologies, from a technical basis, in providing ‘proliferation resistance’. It is that it provides no additional risk. The distinction is very important, because the Clinton Administration zeroed funding to the IFR in 1994 on the spurious grounds of increased proliferation risk from this, and indeed any other technological pathway that involved fast neutrons and/or fuel recycling. This was the sole justifying basis for its cancellation. So I argue your hypothesis on a push for special legislative support on these grounds Is incorrect.

A significant underpinning of the IFR advocacy IS that it provides an excellent ‘solution’ to the waste and sustainability ‘questions’, and although these are, in reality, quite manageable scientific and engineering matters in the short- to medium-term, they continue to constitute a major stumbling block in selling the idea of large-scale nuclear energy to the masses.


Something seems strange in your assessment from the electrode potentials. From the Nernst equation:-

E = E0 – (RT/zF)ln(concentration)

the separation ratio of the electrochemical process is given by

(Am/Pu) = exp{(potential dif.)*zF/RT}
= 784,000, which would be plenty.

On the other hand, my data book (CRC handbook, 74th ed) gives the electrode potentials as

Pu -2.031V, Cm -2.04V, Am -2.048V

With only 0.017 V to play with, the theoretical ratio drops to only about 2, but that is at zero current. Add in the overpotential needed to actually get any finite rate of deposition and there will be hardly any separation at all.

Do you have a source for the potential values you quoted? CRC is probably using values measured in water, so the situation for molten salt electrolyte could be very different – but I’m surprised they’re claiming 0.3V as impossibly close.

//Devil’s advocate//
If you really want to make high grade Pu from an IFR, you put some fuel elements of clean depleted uranium round the edges of the blanket, where the neutron flux is low, and run short cycles, setting the ‘special’ fuel elements aside. Then you get clean salt and cadmium for the eletrorefiners, and process them separately from the normal fuel. Any such activity would of course be obvious to onsite inspectors, and probably from orbit – no heat from the cooling towers during the frequent shutdowns. Attempting to run an IFR having evicted the IAEA must always be regarded as proliferation, and responded to accordingly.

I expect DV8 will be along shortly to make this point more clearly.


This is the crux of the problem. Antinuclear forces both the militant vocal wing, and the more dangerous fossil-fuel lobby, are not interested in solutions. They have created these false issues and they will not pack up their bags and go home just because one can make an argument that on particular design is better at dealing with these ‘problems.’ They will first, use the fact that we are taking these issues seriously as justification for bringing them up, and then spin them to tar the IFR with the same brush. The quotes from Charles Till on statements made in the on the Senate floor allude to this very process.

Second it still doesn’t change the fact that despite claims to the contrary, this technology is not ready, or even reasonably near a commercial product, while those designs that are, need to be built now, if nuclear energy is to have a positive impact on climate issues.

Like I wrote in my previous comment, I see no point in pushing my position in this mater here, too stridently. Clearly many have drank the Kool-aid on the IFR that don’t seem to have given it the sort of analysis that it warrants, or don’t have the background in having seen a new technology to launch to see the truth in what what they have been shown. I’m not going to bash my head against this sort of faith because it only makes enemies. I have said my piece on this matter.


LukeUK, I picked those figures some time ago from a few different sources, and I didn’t keep a record. But I think the difference between our numbers is the oxidation state. WebElements has values for many more oxidation states than the CRC Handbook, and I think what I did was quote the redox potentials for the lowest oxidation states. eg. from the plutonium page

Pu(3+) -> Pu(0) -2.0 V (your value)
Pu(1+) -> Pu(0) -1.2 V (my value)

I don’t know which of these oxidation states prevails in molten salt solution.

Your point about overpotential is important – to get these electroplating processes to go at a useful rate you need to apply a higher voltage than the SRP, and then you cross the threshold for other metals, which come along for the ride. Practically, you can’t separate a mess of materials with similar redox potentials.


For anybody following events in Japan, probably the only reliable source of information about the status of the shutdown reactors is the operator TEPCO. Their statements are here:

There has been an evacuation, but apparently no detected radiation release at this time.

NEI is tracking developments on Twitter:


It seems that the folks responsible for managing the development of the IFR – mostly ANL personnel – have become as hypersensitive to any sort of criticism – even when it’s clearly warranted – as has the institution which supplies their funding, US DOE. These folks respond to critics in the same fashion – stonewall/ignore the outsiders and “downsize” the insiders. Since researchers must possess curiosity to improve/develop a process and evincing it suggests that things might not be perfect, this sort of work culture tends to discourage initiative & inhibit progress. A immediately relevant example is the waste treatment system developed/promulgated for the IFR’s ElectroRefiner’s’ (ER) salt:. Back in the early 90’s (earlier?) somebody “important” apparently assumed that chlorine is HLW and therefore all waste form R&D performed since then by ANL’s worker bees has sought to “encapsulate” chloride salts within some sort of inorganic mineral matrix – the best candidate for which is sodalite, Unfortunately, since even sodalite can only immobilize about 7 wt% chloride, its synthetic analog, the “Ceramic Waste Form” , evinces a miserably low waste loading (meaning that a GWe-years worth of IFR power would require the manufacture of about 53 tonnes of CWF – contrast this to the 4.8 tonnes of glass generated from a GWe-year’s worth of PW/BWR fuel at modern PUREX reprocessing plants) . Furthermore, since CWF is also intrinsically difficult/expensive to produce, this seemingly never challenged scenario/assumption, represents a serious drawback to the overall IFR concept (remember, we’re pretending that a for-profit utility’s operators – not the government’s employees – will be making it). The solution to this is (or should be) pretty obvious to a chemist: boil off the chloride by heating the waste salt with phosphoric acid & then make iron phosphate glass out of what’s left (FP + alkali metals). Its highly probable (& recently, actually demonstrated) advantages include: a) 5-7 fold greater effective waste loading (i.e., 8-10 vs 53 tonnes of waste form/GWe-year) ; b) a more durable (less water soluble) waste form; c) it should enable facile process chemical recycle (of chloride); and d) it should be much easier/cheaper/safer to implement .

Unfortunately, 100% of the IFR experts who’ve seen this proposal so far (quite a few over the last half year) have chosen to stonewall it/me.

Does anybody want to see my “proof” (slides)?

Is there any way to post them on this blog ( 2.7 M pdf)?


1) in the above posting, (7th line) there should an “an” instead of “a ” before ‘immediately”

2) Towards the end , I should have said “100% of the CWF experts” – not 100% of the IFR experts (to my knowledge, there’s one exception )


I’m not a scientist, nuclear engineer and especially not an economist. I’m just a garden-variety, “registered independent” (US) voter, who has recently stumbled upon the IFR debate. I also grew up in the shadow, literally, of a CANDU power station in Canada, so I’ve actually lived through the emotional, economic and technical arguments of nuclear power from the perspective of a rate-payer/potential nuclear accident victim.

As a layman, it’s difficult to not be impressed with the potential of IFR technology. It’s also difficult to imagine it being deployed anytime soon. I read these technical debates about which technology is most prone to proliferation, and come away feeling that proponents and opponents alike have lost sight of the big picture… that all of their solutions are needed. Am I being so absolutely naive because I believe multiple generations of nuclear and renewables are all necessary components of the long range plan, and having proponents of those plans constantly arguing over whose is slightly better amounts to picking fly droppings out of the pepper?

The first thing that struck me when I read about the promise of fossil-fuel-free, almost unlimited power is:

1. If oil (or any fossil-fuel) is no longer in demand due to the cheap power from IFRs (or renewables for that matter), won’t that drive its price down to where the average citizen (me for instance, or possibly a utility) will be motivated to keep using old technology because it’s now cheaper to run than the new technology?

2. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it indirectly cause the prolonged usage of fossil-fueled technology for many decades after we had planned to eliminate it, and if so, what would that do to projected greenhouse gas models?

As I said, I’m no economist, so I’m probably looking at this from a flawed viewpoint. Could someone who is more familiar with the long-term, economic impact of energy cost cause and effect please answer this for me?


non-economist… do you use an i-pod or do you take advantage of the fact you can buy a 1970s turntable and old vinyl records for next to nothing at second hand shops?

Regardless… if enough reactors were built to make the price of coal plunge, then sure some fossil fuel plants may stay in service, but if there were no IFR reactors then they’d still be in service anyway. Also there would not be MORE coal stations because of this, as otherwise that would drive the price of coal back up again as there would still be demand.


Also non-economist, a drop in coal price to the extent that you suggest would make it uneconomical to mine coal (no profit). BHP, Rio Tinto and whoever are not going to keep digging it up if the market price is lousy. Mines will be shut down so that whatever demand remains (and lets not fool ourselves here there will still be years of demand for coal as various plants run out their economic life).

Basically, new products come to market all the time and displace old products. The new products are not reknowned for making old products more popular even if they are cheap.



Thank you for the input. I apologize if I came across as a critic of IFRs and new technology in general. I’m very much for IFRs and all other nuclear options as they fit the pragmatic realities of the real world. My philosophy on all things, from political spending policy to health care to education to technology, etc. is that it has to have long-term, pragmatic value in an overall strategy to reach a goal that has widespread benefits for the society it’s intended to benefit. Short-term thinking is expensive and unproductive.

My questions were based on my lack of understanding in macro-economics, and it seemed to me there was likely a well-known (to economists) model that explained it. The reason they concern me, is that opponents of any particular strategy, regardless of why they oppose it, will use whatever means they can to create a distraction.

For example, I only discovered that IFRs (in fact any nuclear technology beyond Gen II) existed in the last week or so, and only then because the Fukushima crisis prompted me to research what type of reactor it was, and how its “riskiness” compared to the CANDU next door to my family and friends. As a result, I found a lot of info on Gen III, III+, and IV technology pros and cons; most of which was written prior to 2009. It was mind-blowing! However, when I read all the critiques back and forth from the proponents and opponents (including the exchanges between BNC and FoE), not much has changed in several years. The arguments are still about “it doesn’t exist/Oh yes it does” and “it will increase proliferation/Oh no it won’t”.

I’m in my 60s, and I don’t like to think of myself as an easy sell. but after just 1 week of research I have no doubt that these, and just about every argument is moot, when framed in the big picture. IFR is a proven concept, with some limited practical demonstrations, with no greater chance of proliferation than any other nuclear technology, with tremendous upside for all if it works as advertised, and limited downside if it doesn’t . It simply cannot be excluded from any long range energy plan (Ex. Gen III now because it’s closer to ready, renewables from now until/if IFRs make them uneconomical, and masses of IFRs in 15 to 20 years when the world is sold on them. I know that doesn’t fit the urgency timeline of global warming, but I’m afraid that’s going to be the reality.

That said, I don’t see very many anti-nukes chucking in the towel and admitting it, even if they do believe it. That’s asking them to publicly denounce their life’s work, and that’s counter to human nature. Most cannot do that, and they shouldn’t be asked to. Let them continue to fight it until they fade away.

Likewise, no US politicians in their right minds are going to stick their necks out on a long range goal like IFR in 15 years, even if it was already working in several other countries. Certainly not in this climate of spending cuts and deficit reduction. They will, however, jump en masse on the bandwagon the nanosecond it becomes clear it’s supported by any significant block of the voting public. Not only that, but they’ll claim they’ve been for it from the outset, and “the other party” has tried to kill it. Because I’m an “independent”, both US parties seem to (or at least pretend to) care about what I think. So, how can I, as a proponent of this technology be part of a successful political solution that alienates liberals because it’s “nuclear”, and conservatives because it’s a threat to Big Oil and Big Business? In other words, is there a long-term, pragmatic “political” strategy movement that has been implemented or considered that I could support, that is as articulate as the technical movement? If so, where can I learn about it?

So, that’s why I asked the questions regarding the long range supply/demand issue of fossil fuels. My guess is that it would apply more to oil than coal, mainly because it’s relatively cheap to produce once you already have the wells drilled, and it would appeal to the typical American motorist to justify continuing to drive his SUV. I can guarantee that someone opposed to IFRs, irrespective of their motives, will use these economic arguments to justify their case at some time in the future. Furthermore, they will be scientists and economists bought and paid for by several special interest lobbies, and will have a very easy time discrediting the likes of me.

Yes Matt, I do have an iPOD, and I long ago got rid of my vinyl (although a few of them probably would be worth more than a new iPOD today). Not only that I no longer have any cassettes, CDs and very few DVDs. Why? For all the same reasons as above: long-term, pragmatic benefits… but not necessarily cheaper. :-)

My apologies for being long-winded and probably off topic too. I just wanted to clarify what I didn’t say very well on my original post.


I have a question regarding fast spectrum reactors:

There are several competing options with different types of coolant. You have liquid metal and gas-cooled reactors.
The IFR would be cooled by sodium, which ignites when it comes in contact with water. Other fast reactors (Soviet models) use lead as a coolant, which is safer. Why did they chose sodium for the IFR?


Greens have said that reprocessing is too expensive and that the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) will not be economically viable. They base their evidence on the economic failure of THORP reprocessing at Sizewell which used PUREX. They forget to tell us the IFR pyroprocessing has much lower cost than PUREX. Maybe 1/7 as much ( Roger Blomquist of ANL : )


ONLY fast reactors have significant (n, 2n) reactions. This reaction makes Pu-238 which can not be removed from Pu-239 because it is chemically the same, nearly the same weight so isotopic separation methods will not work. Pu-238 is a bad impurity for weapons grade plutonium. Low burnup, thermal spectrum, military grade reactors which are actually used to make weapons grade plutonium do not have significant (n, 2n) reactions. E.g. CANDU and Magnox reactors make no Pu-238 [ref 1]

In the (n, 2n) reaction, an atomic nucleus absorbs 1 neutron, and emits 2 others. E.g. U-238 + n -> U-237 + 2n. Quote [ref. 2]

A side reaction chain also produces Pu-238:
U-238 + n -> U-237 + 2n
U-237 -> (6.75 days, beta) -> Np-237
Np-237 + n -> Np-238
Np-238 -> (2.1 days, beta) -> Pu-238

This isotope (Pu-238) has a spontaneous fission rate, 1.1×10^6 fission/sec-kg (2.6 times that of Pu-240) and a very high heat output (567 W/kg). Its very high alpha activity (283 times higher than Pu-239) makes it a much more serious source of neutron emission from the alpha -> n reaction. In high-burnup commercial reactor fuels it makes up no more than one or two percent of plutonium composition in extracted plutonium, but even so the neutron production and heating can make it very troublesome. [ref 2]

1. World Nuclear Assoc. plutonium:
2. Nuclear weapons FAQ:


Leave a Reply (Markdown is enabled)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s