Critique of MIT future of nuclear fuel cycle study

MIT (energy initiative) recently released a controversial and well-publicized report on the future of the nuclear fuel cycle. In it, they argue that there is sufficient uranium to allow ongoing deployment of water-cooled reactors for many decades; they recommend that no far-reaching decision be made yet on the ultimate disposal of the ‘spent’ nuclear fuel so produced and suggest that research on technical solutions can be ongoing over this period, with no particular urgency.

Below, on behalf of the members of the Science Council for Global Initiatives, I present a critique of this report which focuses on its core arguments — and their inherent weaknesses.

A printable 6-page PDF version of the critique can be downloaded here.


Critique of “The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: An Interdisciplinary MIT Study (2011)”

Developed by the Science Council for Global Initiatives, led by Dr. Yoon I. Chang (Contact:

1. The Study recommendations on actions to deal with spent nuclear fuel and waste do not recognize the importance of the technological options to reduce the radiological toxicity, which could have great impact on waste management.

One of the main Study recommendations is:

Planning for long term interim storage of spent fuel – on the scale of a century – should be an integral part of nuclear fuel cycle design.

This recommendation is based on an implicit assumption that spent nuclear fuel is a de-facto waste form destined for ultimate disposal, and that it would take a long time to develop repositories. The Study ponders whether the spent nuclear fuel is a resource or a waste. Since the Study speculates on a large supply of low-price uranium that will continue to meet rising demand for many decades, the value of spent fuel as a resource is diminished. However, there is another dimension to this equation. The actinides contained in the spent fuel are potentially a valuable resource. They are also a long-term radiological risk, and thus must be managed accordingly. The radiological toxicity of the LWR spent fuel constituents is presented in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Radiological toxicity of LWR spent fuel constituents as a function of time

Radiological toxicity here is a relative measure of the cancer risk if ingested or inhaled, which we have normalized to that of the original natural uranium ore. As mined, the ore contains uranium along with decay products that have accumulated by its (very slow) decay over millennia. Normalization to the natural uranium ore from which the spent fuel originated is a useful but somewhat arbitrary relative standard. If the radiological toxicity drops below the natural uranium ore level we would be disposing of nuclear wastes that had no greater hazard than the uranium found naturally. The point at which the radiological toxicity curve crosses the natural uranium line then can be defined (at least loosely) as an effective lifetime of the waste components.

For all practical purposes, the radiological toxicity due to the fission product portion of the waste decays with (approximately) a 30 year half-life, due to the dominance of strontium and cesium isotopes. It drops below the natural uranium ore level in about 300 years, and becomes harmless in well under 1,000 years. On the other hand, the radiotoxicity level associated with the actinide portion stays far above that of natural uranium ore for a very long time, and remains at least three orders of magnitude higher than that for the fission products for hundreds of thousands of years. This is why following the National Academy of Sciences Committee recommendation, the EPA standards and NRC regulations for the Yucca Mountain repository extended the regulatory timeframe from the original 10,000 years to one million years.

The important point is this: if 99.9% of actinides could be removed from the waste form, then the radiological toxicity of the remaining 0.1% actinides would stay below the level of natural uranium ore at all times and the effective lifetime of the waste would be dictated by the fission products. If the actinides were mostly removed from the waste stream, the EPA standards and the NRC regulations [whether they cover 10,000 years or millions of years] can be met on an a priori basis.

Needless to say, this is an extraordinarily important fact, and the MIT Study ignored it.

2. The role of fast reactors in the analysis of future fuel cycle options is misrepresented and therefore its impact is grossly underestimated.

A system analysis of future fuel cycle options performed by the MIT Study reached the following conclusion:

A key finding of this analysis is that reactors with conversion ratios much higher than one are not materially advantageous for a sustainable fuel cycle – a conversion ratio near unity is acceptable and has multiple advantages.

In assessing the impact of fast reactors on the uranium resource requirements, the above conclusion was reached because of a combination of several incorrect assumptions regarding fast reactor characteristics:

• The analysis used Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor (PRISM Mod B) as the representative fast breeder reactor design, with a specific inventory (kg fissile material per megawatt electric) about a factor of two too high. The specific actinide inventory is presented here in Figure 2 as a function of the reactor size.

Figure 2. Specific Inventory vs. Reactor Size (MWe)

• A breeding gain of 0.23 was assumed, which is too low by a factor of two or three. The breeding ratio potential for what we’ll call “advanced” fast reactors is presented in Figure 3 for various fuel types. Here, breeding ratio is the net gain in fissile material over some period of time, compared to the fissile loss from power generation. The metal fuel developed during the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) program has become the reference fuel in the U.S. It has a breeding ratio potential in the range of 1.50–1.65. In the early years of deployment, the high breeding gain is not needed, but it is there from the start, and it can be used by simply deploying more U-238 “blankets”—reflector regions actually—to capture a higher fraction of the neutrons leaving the core. If you don’t need the plutonium early in fast reactor deployment, you would not load full blankets. A key advantage of the fast reactor design is that the plutonium production rate can be easily tailored to plutonium demand.

Figure 3. Range of Breeding Ratios

• The Study states that breeders require a higher fissile inventory than fast burners, to compensate for a higher neutron absorption rate in the blanket. This statement is flatly wrong, indicative of inadequate knowledge of fast reactors.

• When there is a sufficient fissile inventory coming from LWRs, the initial fast reactors do not need to breed, and the blankets can be replaced with reflectors. As the demand for breeding plutonium grows over time, the “burner reactors” can be converted back to breeders. However, continuing to build burners when the fast reactor introduction is constrained by fissile availability is not a viable strategy, which was the focus of the Study.

• The Study assumes that “All spent fuel is cooled for 5 years before it is reprocessed and recycled as fuel.” That is perhaps realistic for LWR fuel, but pyroprocessing of fast-reactor fuel can be done while the fuel is still hot, typically after one year cooling for handling purposes. Application of five-year cooling to fast reactors results in a serious overestimate of the ex-core fissile requirement, with a consequent underestimate of the fast reactor’s potential market penetration.

• In the Study, fast reactors are deployed in large numbers only after ~2065 and hence have limited influence on the uranium consumption through 2100. In this case, the uranium requirements are dominated by the large number of LWRs built continuously through this century. If the time horizon is extended, the difference between with and without breeder reactors becomes much more pronounced.

Figure 4. Example scenario for worldwide nuclear energy growth

An example of nuclear fuel cycle system analysis more properly done is illustrated in Figures 4 and 5. These figures depict a scenario for world-wide nuclear energy growth, and the impact of fast reactors on the cumulative uranium requirement is very clear. The introduction of breeders can cap the LWR capacity (Figure 4) and hence also cap the ultimate uranium requirements (Figure 5). The divergence of the cumulative uranium requirements (Figure 5) will continue to widen if the plot is extended beyond 2100.

Figure 5. Uranium resource requirements and availability for nuclear growth scenarios with and without fast reactors

3. Fast reactors are critically needed for both limitless energy supply and for waste management.

The public views adequate nuclear waste management as a critical linchpin in further development of nuclear energy. The technical community, therefore, needs to provide a practical approach to deal with the waste issue. The Fukushima accidents call attention to the importance of managing spent fuel safely. It appears the best technical approach is extracting the actinides from spent fuel, which reduces the effective lifetime of nuclear wastes from ~300,000 years to ~300 years. Extracting actinides (and using them to generate power) is by far the best technical approach to dealing with nuclear wastes. The MIT Study fails to mention this important possibility.

If actinide extraction is chosen as a pathway for waste “disposal,” the recovered actinides still must be transmuted to fissile material or fissioned directly. This can be done only in fast reactors. Actinides can be burned in fast reactors, generating energy and at the same time creating more fissile material for the future. A key advantage of fast reactors is that they can be utilized as “burners” when excess plutonium inventories exist, and then converted to “breeders” whenever needed. Only fast reactors can satisfy the waste-disposal mission simply and effectively while extending utilization of the uranium resources by more than two orders of magnitude. Thermal reactors—such as LWRs and high-temperature gas-cooled reactors—utilize less than 1% of uranium resources, even with recycling of plutonium and some of the uranium. Thermal-spectrum reactors, even optimized, can extend the resource utilization only marginally, and they cannot burn actinides effectively.

Actinide recycling also requires an efficient processing technology, with improved economics and nonproliferation characteristics. The pyroprocessing technique based on electrorefining, developed in the IFR program, has the potential to recover the actinides from LWR spent fuel as well as to fully recycle fuel in fast reactors. The fundamentals of pyroprocessing have already been demonstrated – this is not new science.

The technology is now ready for pilot-scale demonstration, and it should be given the highest priority. We do not need decades of R&D to pursue all esoteric ideas. We already have in our hands the most advanced technology, technology that no other countries possess.

The MIT Study also talks about the inter-generational equity considerations. We believe that our generation should demonstrate the technologies that will solve the energy supply and waste management problems, rather than proposing a century-long interim storage of the spent nuclear fuel.


  1. It is all well and good to continue to call for new reactor designs and new fuel cycles, but at some point some hard realities are going to kick in. I recognize this type of report. It’s the sort of thing I was involved with writing on occasion, when the company I was working for at the moment was thinking of investing a great deal of money in something that would cause a great deal of trouble if it didn’t pan out. When you are about to bet the farm on something, you need to know what the minimum performance of some new technology might be if the all the rosy estimates that the sales people and other boosters wind up being at the lower end of the ranges.

    While I don’t agree with this report in total, it is best to remember that regardless of the advantages of breeders and new fuel cycles, they will have to fit into the real world, and answer to real world economic imperatives, which in the electric power business are not that simple.


  2. Does this reference some other documents that explain how some of these conclusions were reached? For example, giving the details of the other reactor variants than PRISM mod B , and how the inventory stays almost constant moving from that to SAFR?


  3. DV82XL,

    I think you are missing the point. The MIT study is not written for electricity utilities pondering expanding their capacity. It is written as a long term perspective for the US government. From that viewpoint it seems to me that the above criticisms as spot on.

    As Barry remarks, spent fuel and waste management is one of the most important issues in public acceptance of nuclear power. The procrastination in the US on this issue is causing on-going damage.


  4. Centralized temporary (up to 100 years) Federally protected storage facilities for spent fuel established in every State the produces it would seems fair to me– unless there are other States willing to accept spent fuel from other States.

    But there’s really no need to reprocess spent fuel right now with uranium prices so low. So simply storing it would be better, IMO.

    Part of the money the utilities pay to the Federal government for spent fuel disposal, IMO, should be used to provide annual grants to various US companies funding their own commercial breeder technology programs with the goal of having full scale demonstration models fully tested over several years in order to be commercially ready by the year 2030.


  5. Planning for long term interim storage of spent fuel – on the scale of a century – should be an integral part of nuclear fuel cycle design.

    I tend to agree with the MIT recommendation discussed in your point #1. My reason is that I feel we just need to get on with what we’ve got now, as a first step, without complicating the issue any further and without providing never ending excuses for delay while we try to develop and prove a better solution. I am happy to go ahead with Gen II or Gen III whichever will give the lowest LCOE (through life cost of electricity all costs included).

    I don’t believe we have a reliable cost estimate for Gen IV and I think it could be decades until they are economically viable. So I feel we need to get on with rolling out the least cost option now while the countries that have Gen IV programs proceed with development and commercialisation of Gen IV. Our focus in Australia should be on removing the impediments to low cost nuclear power. This would include an effective education program.

    I’d say we should allow researchers to continue to play with waste disposal, while in practice we continue to store waste in casks until we are ready to reuse it in Gen IV’s

    I agree that “a large supply of low-price uranium that will continue to meet rising demand for many decades, the value of spent fuel as a resource is diminished.

    The critical point that this discussion misses, and many discussions miss, is that the key driver for roll out of nuclear is the LCOE. If we want to roll out nuclear, we need to get the LCOE down. I’ve argued here how we should tackle that in Australia:

    Nuclear cheaper than coal in Australia. How?

    More on this thread:

    2. The role of fast reactors in the analysis of future fuel cycle options is misrepresented and therefore its impact is grossly underestimated.

    As mentioned in the previous point, I feel arguments about the details of the Gen IV technologies and which will be the best Gen IV is irrelevant now. Let the RD&D continue while we focus on what we need to do to get Gen II or Gen III rolled out at an LCOE less than coal. There is simply too little focus on what we need to do to get LCOE of nuclear to be less than coal. This issue is primarily to do with policy, legislation and regulation.

    Uranium resources are not going to be an issue for a very long time. Focusing on this is a diversion and delaying tactic. It is an excuse to stall progress. BTW, the line called “Undiscovered resources” on Figure 5 looks wrong. What is the basis for it?

    3. Fast reactors are critically needed for both limitless energy supply and for waste management.

    Eventually yes. But first we need to get started rolling out Gen II or Gen III.

    The public views adequate nuclear waste management as a critical linchpin in further development of nuclear energy.

    The Greens and the so called ‘environmental NGO’s’ will always find some excuse to incite fear in the public. Instead of trying to continually dance to their tune, we need to focus on simply rolling out the proven technologies such as used in France. The effort should be on getting the Labor Party to change its anti nuclear policy at its Nation Conference this year and then getting it to lead on implementing nuclear. If a key environmental NGO could be persuaded to lead that would be a great help. We’d be on our way.

    Discussions about the “best technical solution” is irrelevant in the absence of reliable LCOE for the proposed system. We are a very long time away from having that.


  6. @quokka, I’m not missing the point of the post, nor of the report.

    Look. right now there are several products on the market, like the CANDU 6E which are proven, ready to build designs. In the case of the CANDU (because I am most familiar with it) you can plank down your money, and schedule a dispatch of power in three years. Same with a few other products. This is right now.

    Chasing after better designs can come later. If the name of the game is GHG abatement, this is the route that we have to take for the present.

    Frankly I am getting a bit put off by those who seem to think that good enough is the enemy of better, and want to use this crises to push their favorite GEN IV ideas and imply that they are closer to real products than they are.

    The fact remains that in the US, the government is going to have to pick a winner in the Gen IV sweepstakes, some ideologies notwithstanding, because the funding has to come from somewhere, and the private sector won’t invest in something that has a chance of being sunk on the whim of the regulator. Furthermore, while America is not bankrupt by any means, it’s not in a position financially for Moon shot/Manhattan Project spending at this time, and the government needs to be circumspect before lavishing money on unproven ideas. Bluntly no other nation can afford to do this ether anymore.


  7. @DV82XL

    Furthermore, while America is not bankrupt by any means, it’s not in a position financially for Moon shot/Manhattan Project spending at this time, and the government needs to be circumspect before lavishing money on unproven ideas. Bluntly no other nation can afford to do this ether anymore.

    I don’t buy this at all. The US annual military budget is what? – something like $650 billion. And that is before the costs of whatever war they happen to be engaged in. The total cost of four thousand odd F35 strike fighters is protected at $1.3 trillion. But they can’t find a few billion per year for serious Gen IV initiative? I simply do not believe that cost is the issue.
    This is starting to edge in to an off topic philosophical discussion about the USA and how it spends its money.I’m not sure that is relevant to the current thread. Please bring it back in line.


  8. In any scenario, there will be slow neutron reactors, if only because the LWRs etc already built will continue to operate. Tom Blees would have us burn all their used fuel leaving no actinides behind.

    If they only use 0.5% of the original uranium ore, then we would need 200 fast reactors to burn all of the actinides input to every slow reactor. If you ignore the depleted uranium and consider only a 5% enriched fuel then burning up all the used fuel still requires 20 fast reactors for every slow one.

    If however, much of the uranium is extracted from the recycling actinides, that is, allow it to enrich in plutonium (partially, of course, dare I say anything else?), the ratio comes closer to one fast reactor for every slow one.

    Of equivalent generating capacity, that is. The larger fast fission cross-section for Pu240 compared to U238 would allow a smaller core mass for a fast burner. Similarly, not being breeders, they could be smaller powered and more of them.

    Extensions to power distribution around a country could then be done by trucking fuel back and forth between the big and small reactors, instead of criss-crossing the country with more copper cables.

    Fast reactors will have their day yet.


  9. We have been promised a post which critiques the MIT study for some time and I have been looking forward to it. Now that it has arrived, I have to confess to being somewhat disappointed. In trying to identify why this is the case, I have to pick on two aspects:
    1) There is no acknowledgement that any Gen IV technology other than metal fuelled, sodium cooled fast reactors can meet the perceived problems of waste and sustainability.
    2) The post tends to ignore economics. It is possible to argue that, certainly in developing countries, coal will remain the preferred route to electricity production unless and until nuclear can match or beat its costs. If this argument is accepted, it also follows that current nuclear designs will be favoured over Gen IV designs unless there is a strong case that the latter will produce electricity more cheaply than the former.

    I appreciate that SCGI is an organisation that was created primarily to promote Prism-type reactors and is thus unlikely to offer sustenance to potential competitors. However, I think the post would have been enhanced by an initial acknowledgement of that fact, given that the title, SCGI, does not make this implicit. I would add, however, that I would dearly like to see a pilot-scale demonstration of the IFR as soon as possible, given acceptance of the claim that it is technologically ready and requires, unlike its competitors, no further expensive R&D. Simultaneously, I would also like to see continued efforts to push molten salt designs forward and doubt that this will happen sufficiently quickly without funding from a government or consortium of governments, a point made by DV82XL.


  10. Unfortunately this Critique does not document its claims. I am not going to say that these claims are false, but simply that I am unfamiliar with sources that support these claims. Thermal thorium breeders are capable of operating at a one to one conversion ratio with small fissile inventories. In fact such small fissile inventories that higher breeding ratios are not required to produce sustainable large scale nuclear power for tens of thousands of years. The one to one conversion ratio is very advantageous, as far as proliferation control is concerned. This is the primary reason why the MIT fuel cycle study concluded:

    “A key finding of this analysis is that reactors with conversion ratios much higher than one are not materially advantageous for a sustainable fuel cycle – a conversion ratio near unity is acceptable and has multiple advantages.”

    Not only are high breeding ratio IFRs not needed, but it is far from clear what research backsup the claim that they are capable a breeding ratio potential in the range of 1.50–1.65. I would like to see studies which support this claim, and further which would demonstrate that there are no serious safety or proliferation related problems associated with such a high breeding ratio. I would also like to see detailed reports that lay out a development program intended to bring a high breeding ratio IFR to a prototype stage together with estimated costs of that program.

    Finally, I would like to see a rational for developing high breeding ratio IFRs, as opposed to one to one thorium converters. Would the high breeding ratio IFRs have cost advantages compared to one to one thorium thermal converters?


  11. @quokka – With due respect for the moderator’s warning, my argument was that no country can afford to back all Gen IV options to see which one is best, but must rely on analysis like the report in question.


  12. Technically I can agree with most of the report. We aren’t running out of uranium at all, the so called waste problem is not a problem in any meaningful sense, and there’s no rush to change the existing storage methods.

    Politically, the report exacerbates the public concerns about the waste. My experience is that the public does not accept the rational truth that spent fuel is no problem in any meaningful sense. They have been deluded by Greenpeace, Sierra Club, big fossil interests that realise nuclear as a real threat, etc. and their own ignorance about nuclear technology has catalysed this problem.

    It would have been much more politically palatable to suggest that using advanced reactors and processing is a feasible and useful way forward. There should be a deadline and a reasonable budget suggestion for deploying the required technologies to avoid the critique of “kicking the can down the road”.

    One thing that has not been mentioned is the fact that plutonium-241 is an excellent fissile material available in fresh spent nuclear fuel, however it decays almost completely in a century so waiting a century before processing does mean the valuable plutonium-241 fissile material is almost completely lost. This makes the plutonium less useful. On the other hand processing too soon means lots of fission products around that are very radioactive making reprocessing more difficult.

    There is an optimum between these two, probably between 5 and 25 years is optimal waiting time for reprocessing spent fuel.

    It turns out that most of the existing spent fuel is in this age group, so one can get started processing batches right now.


  13. High breeding ratio IFRs means VERY fast spectrum, which means VERY large fissile startup. This is not very economical especially if using reprocessed plutonium, americium and curium from spent fuel (this is more expensive than mined uranium fissile startup). The cost of such fissile startup could be as large as 1 billion per GWe (using 100 dollars per gram fissile plutonium recovery cost and 10 tonnes fissile startup) This scenario hinges on very cheap reprocessing options for spent nuclear fuel to get started. Though 1 dollar per Watt is acceptable it looks bad to nuclear construction companies if there are other alternatives. I’d prefer a NaF-BeF2 coolant and a slightly slower spectrum for isobreeding (conversion ratio of 1.0). This will make the reactor cheaper, safer (no reactive sodium), more efficient (higher temp) and use less fissile (slight moderation from the coolant).


  14. I think there is room for thermal breeders such as LFTRs and fast breeders such as IFRs.

    The IFRs make startup U233 simply by isobreeding from thorium fertile, using spent fuel plutonium as startup. After running for a couple of decades or so, they will have converted all the plutonium into U233 which can be used to startup thermal spectrum LFTRs. 1 IFR can then startup 10 LFTRs. The IFR will then use a new charge of spent fuel plutonium and at the end this is again transposed to 10 LFTRs.

    This accellerates the transition towards Gen IV nuclear due to leveraging the strenghts of both IFRs and LFTRs.


  15. Cyril,
    I don’t understand why IFRs are needed to burn plutonium. Couldn’t a thermal molten salt reactor burn plutonium also?
    The disadvantage of developing both the IFR and the molten salt reactors is the cost of the first large scale reactor. A first-of-a-kind large reactor could cost 5 to 10 billion dollars and experience several first-of-a-kind delays. The US government does not have the resolve to fund a 10 billion dollar project that lasts 10 years (5 different house elections).
    Climate change will have to hurt a lot more before such projects will happen in the US. Maybe China will do the research and first-of-a-kind IFR and LFTR.


  16. Martin, LFTRs can be started on plutonium but it is very difficult to process plutonium out of the fluoride mixture, and thermal reactors need to process fast to breakeven on breeding. It would require something like liquid metal exchange or extremely corrosive oxididative flame fluorination. If these technologies are developed this can be done. If they are not available then it can’t.

    My assumption is that IFR could be there before LFTR, in which case the IFRs breeding capability can leverage later developed LFTRs startup.

    It is still possible to use a non-fuel-processing single fluid LFTR, started on spent fuel plutonium and fed extra spent fuel plutonium over its lifetime to make up for the reactivity lost to fission products. The large salt quantity will avoid solubility issues. If IFRs are not available then this can be done, even if they are available it would be an efficient way to use existing spent fuel resources. There’s only going to be enough spent fuel plutonium to build maybe 1 TWe of IFRs and breeding from that point to 10 TWe takes a very long time (too long in my opinion to be worth the hassle of surplus fissile breeding). But as a 1-2 step, fast reactors first then thermal isobreeding reactors, that is a very quick way to transition to gen IV nuclear for almost all the world’s energy needs.

    Your point that it requires the deployment of two reactors is a good one, if just one type is available for funding then my opinion is also inclined towards the LFTR.


  17. All reactors that I know of burn plutonium, or rather can burn it. The IFR depends on it as this is what it breeds. I don’t think plutonium can be breeded into U233, different decay cycle.

    Both IFR and LFTR need start up charges. The LFTR needs a smaller one but can, in theory, use any fissionable material: Pu, U233, U235.

    Both can eat the waste of LWRs albeit IFR is designed from the get go to do this after spent fuel is reshaped, I think, to be used in the IFR. LFTRs need to run on a different fluid salt inventory (chloride) and run with faster neutrons.

    Both technologies have their advocates. Two companies in the last few months got started in the US to deploy some sort of LFTR tech. See for more info.

    But this is a discussion among ourselves. To get this debate out there, and Gen IV generally, it needs to be pushed into the faces of the MIT gang that wrote this report. MIT often does revisions to their reports so it’s worth trying to get all these comments and Barry’s essay to them.


  18. Cyril R., Dr. Kazuo Furukawa estimates that he can have a Mini-Fuji MSR comercial prototype ready 6 years after he gets the initial investment with a larger 100MWe prototype ready within 12 years. The first fast Sodium cooled reactor (not a breeder) may be the ARC-100, which probably can be ready in 6 years. However, to get the IFR ready for breeding will require considerable R&D and to get it up to the 1.5 breeding ratio level will require considerably more. It is possible to design a U-235 fueled near breeder that will probably cost considerably less than to build in large numbers and which would require a much smaller fossile inventory that an IFR.


  19. David Walters, plutonium can be breeded into U233 by using spent solid oxide nuclear fuel plutonium as fissile and thorium as fertile. Using the waste of one cycle to transition to the other, it is almost poetic. But perhaps I’m a bit of a geek.

    I think the problem of seperating plutonium from molten fluoride in an online processing system should be underestimated. Such technology exists only theoretically, it has never been proven to work well even at lab scale tests. So I would be sceptical of thermal LFTRs started on plutonium. Its a great idea to develop these technologies because they can also be used to remove fluorinated spent fuel plutonium which is likely much cheaper and cleaner than PUREX. There’s some work on liquid aluminium exchange that is theoretically very promising.

    An easier path may be to use CANDU reactors with PuO2-ThO2 fuel, to breed U233, then fluorinate out the U233 to start up thermal LFTRs. This also matches with the development timeframe required to develop and deploy LFTRs. At least 30 years will be needed to get to the GWe deployment level of LFTR. In the meanwhile CANDUs can be used to make more plutonium at first and then use that plutonium in thorium-plutonium fuel CANDUs medium term, with LFTRs long term started up on the U233 CANDU waste. Fast reactors would not be needed in this triple phase development cycle.

    MIT has a lot of work on solid oxide fuel, uprates for PWRs etc. It makes sense that they’re biased against solid metal fuel and molten salt fuel.


  20. I have a strong objection to the relative dangers of long term (100k-1MM range) fission products

    Technetium-99 has a half life of 212,000 years, its 6% of yield and it bioaccumulates in the thyroid for example.

    The graph is most likely the external radiation threat that hardly affects the population because of shielding and the inverse square law. Now granted if there were emergency liquidation needed that graph might mean something but not what most consider the environmental impact which is internal radiation.


  21. The other 800lbs gorilla in the room here is that, as of this moment, there are no closed Brayton cycle turbine designs that are fully enough developed for commercial use. This is a non-trivial issue, particularly if, as many are assuming, helium is use as the working fluid. It’s not a case of taking off the shelf components and tweaking them, and very little work has been done as yet in this area.

    Without this part of the puzzle, a reactor, no mater how revolutionary or sophisticated is not going to make much of a difference.


  22. DV, we can get started with super ultracritical steam cycles, these have steam temps of 550 to 600 degrees Celcius, good enough for IFR and MSR, they have efficiencies around 45 percent, almost as good as the closed Brayton helium gadgets.

    Siemens is developing 700 degrees Celcius ultra super duper steam turbines which can be used in future designs as a future alternative to closed Brayton helium cycles, especially important if they don’t pan out.


  23. Environmentalist, technetium is high value, it can be easily seperated from spent fuel (eg by fluorination and sorption-desorption on fluoride pellet beds) in pure form. Its a great material for adding into nuclear metallic components such as pressure vessels, because it protects against oxidation and corrosion and is also resistant against fluorides (great for future LFTRs).

    Technetium is something we need a lot more of, not less.


  24. Environmentalist, Technetium-99 may not be too bad. My doctor made me drink it for a medical test some time ago. In fact it is injested 20,000,000 a year for medical tests. Either 20,000,000n million people are dying every year or doctors have good reasons for believing that Technetium-99 may not be all that dangerous.


  25. Environmentalist: From the same source you cited:

    What does Technetium-99 do once it gets into the body?
    Once in the human body, Tc-99 concentrates in the thyroid gland and the gastrointestinal tract. The body, however, excretes half of the ingested Tc-99 within 60 hours. It continues to excrete half of the remaining Tc-99 every 60 hours that follow. After 120 hours, only one-fourth of the ingested Tc-99 remains in the body. Nearly all of ingested technetium will be excreted from the body within a month.


  26. Charles, that’s not Tc-99, that’s Tc-99m.

    The chemical behaviour is exactly the same, but the nuclear behaviour is very different.

    Tc-99m is a gamma emitter with a 6 hour half-life and therefor has a very high specific activity but is gone very quickly; where as Tc-99 is a weak beta-emitter with a half-life of 211 000 years and therefor not very active at all but sticks around for a very long time.

    The short biological half-life and easy to shield soft beta rays makes this isotope even less concerning.


  27. The MIT executive summary discusses the option of fast reactors (not breeders) with low enriched uranium start up. I never knew of such a thing. Quote:

    Startup of fast reactors with low-enriched uranium rather than high-enriched uranium or
    plutonium thereby eliminating the need for reprocessing LWR SNF for closed fuel cycle startup.

    And what are “hard spectrum LWRs?” This is another option instead of fast reactors.


  28. Soylent, I was just playing around, but often the shorter the half life, the more dangerous. And a short lived gamma emitter is often considered more dangerous than a long lived and weak Beta emitter. So where does that leave Environmentalist?


  29. The technetium-99 “m” isomer is far more scary than the fission product technetium-99. The former will decay completely in the body, due to its short half life. Whereas the latter, the fission product “waste”, if ingested, will simply pass from your system before it gets a chance to decay even a fraction of a percent. Yet we use the more active “m” isomer for medical tracers.

    Yeah, its hard to see how anyone would worry about technetium-99. And technetium-99 is very valuable, its one of the few materials that provides protection to hot oxygen and halide ions. Very useful to add this to a pressure vessel or pool liner of a nuclear reactor. Too bad we don’t have enough technetium-99 yet. Better make some more, by building more nuclear reactors. ; )


  30. Barry,

    I am a Molten Salt Reactor researcher and advocate but certainly think the IFR should be developed as well (I think MSRs will greatly undercut them in costs though). The one thing I would caution you about is the “long lived waste” story of the IFR. The figure 2 you show does show how it is the actinides, particularly Pu that do form the problem. IFR advocates are “sometimes” quick to claim no Pu going to waste since it is all recycled back to burn off in the reactor. The truth of course is any process is rarely 100% effective and the IFR program had a goal of only losing 0.1% of the actinides to waste. A lot of effort went into getting the waste factor down but without much success in my opinion. A loss of 1% was about as good as things got (for example, from this Los Alamos review):

    “Advanced Nuclear Fuel Processing Options: Final Report” Oct 1997 LA-UR-98-2773

    I’ve also heard 3% loss was more typical and I think many involved doubt anything better than 0.5% could be obtained without driving costs through the roof.

    An IFR would process about 2000kg of Pu and higher actinides per year. At 3% loss this is 60 kg which is not all that much better than the 250 kg of LWR Once Through and leaves one way above the “uranium ore” level often used (which is of course ore of a full 200 tonnes U that a LWR needs). 1% is better at 20 kg but still at the 1000 year mark you’d have about 800 times as much higher actinide radiotoxicity than the fission products.

    MSRs on the other hand need only process very small amounts of higher actinides each year. Even denatured converter designs can do great if you just recover the actinides after using the salts for 10 to 30 years. Several 10s of grams per GWe year is typical with the usual 0.1% loss assumption. This is roughly at the post 1000 year fission product line for radiotoxicity.

    To sum up, IFR does have a good “long lived waste” story compared to LWRs but I think it often gets greatly oversold (not that I’m saying the MSR/LFTR community never oversells things!).

    David LeBlanc


  31. David, if memory serves, much of that actinide loss rate was for oxide fuel reprocessing, as the actinides were lost into the oxide dross that floated on the chloride baths. When using metal fuel, this loss mechanism would not be present, right?

    One crazy idea that we are thinking about it to use distillation of the metal, where most of the fission products are driven off by 2000 degrees Celcius temperature in a tunsten still with argon inerted atmosphere. The actinides stay behind in the still bottoms. This might work.

    Loading the denatured converter design with spent fuel plutonium rather than low enriched uranium may also be an attractive way to destroy plutonium while making high quality U233. Since there is no processing of fuel at all, there will be fewer proliferation constraints on running the reactor (similar to LWRs making high quality plutonium-239 in the first months of operation).


  32. “And a short lived gamma emitter is often considered more dangerous than a long lived and weak Beta emitter”

    Wrong, gamma emmiters are only more dangerous in external radiation because it is difficult to shield, and is very likely why its ingested because it leaves the body unmolested when compared to beta particles that does cause significant internal damage.

    Not to mention that we are talking about a single dose, if you repeated ingested (like it breaching into the water supply) the Tc-99m it would negatively affect your health precisely because of the Tc-99 it leaves behind after it decayed.

    The EPA considers Tc-99 a carcinogen, yes this will revive the LNT debate yet again but you can not just wish away human safety, the number of studies and the many decades of followup are not corners to be cut. The burden of proof is squarely on those that wish to profit.

    As for its reuse, how many reactors are there to begin with? wouldn’t they be already built before the waste already starts to ramp up? Tc-99 is 6% of all fission products and who knows if other particle cascades and isobars leave behind other isotopes with 100y-100ky half-lives. Not all isotopes decay into stable elements.


  33. Cyril,

    Trying to find actual IFR data is like pulling teeth sometimes, I’ve dug through countless documents to pull out numbers I can reference. The article I did list talking about 1% might have been for pyroprocessing of LWR oxide spent fuel. The range of 3% to a best hope of 0.5% comes by word of mouth from those involved and quite certain related to metal fuels. A question I asked at a nuclear conference a couple years back led to an exchange of many emails with several IFR folks that Dan Meneley here in Canada knew personally.

    Anyone with actual reports on the success or lack thereof I’d love to see.

    I quickly found a more recent document I have. From the IAEA 2010, “Assessment of partitioning processes for transmutation of actinides”. It lists pyroprocessing of oxide fuels as 99.3 to 99.7% recovery of Pu. For metals it lists 99.5% but with the added provision “to be demonstrated” which says to me they haven’t even shown 0.5% yet in practice.

    PUREX is better, at least 99.9% and I’ve seen 99.99% quoted.

    David LeBlanc


  34. @Gregory Meyerson:

    And what are “hard spectrum LWRs?” This is another option instead of fast reactors.

    See appendix B, starting on p. 192. They are LWRs with a much lower fraction of moderator (water).

    Water-cooled reactors can produce conversion ratios near unity if an epithermal (between thermal and fast) spectrum is achieved. This can be done by reducing the moderator-to-fuel ratio and/or using heavy water (D2O) as a coolant since it is a less efficient moderator.

    […] Boiling water breeders can afford to have higher pitch-to-diameter ratios relative to pressurized water breeders since the water density can be decreased by increasing the steam void fraction. The most recent work on light water breeders has been done by Hitachi [10] and JAEA [11, 12] on the RBWR (Resource-renewable Boiling Water Reactor) and FLWR (Innovative Water Reactor for FLexible fuel cycle), respectively. Both designs are retrofits for existing 3926-MWt Advanced Boiling Water Reactors where only the core is redesigned. Both have conversion ratios greater than 1.0 and a negative void coefficient by using axially heterogeneous fuel (alternating fissile/fertile zones), tight hexagonal pitch and hexagonal assemblies, and core average void fractions of ~0.60, higher than the typical ABWR void fraction of ~0.4.

    There’s more information here:

    [IAEA] Status of Advanced Light Water Reactor Designs 2004

    The RMWR core configuration consists of 900 hexagonal bundles as shown in Figures. 4.17-6 and 4.17-7. The rated core power is 3,926 MWt (1,356 MWe), which corresponds to around 100 kW/l power density. A Y-shaped control rod is adapted in the RMWR core instead of the cross-shaped one used in BWRs, because of better geometrical matching with the hexagonal fuel assembly design. The fuel assembly is in the triangular tight-lattice configuration and contains 217 rods. In order to attain the high conversion ratio, it is necessary to significantly reduce the water to fuel volume ratio in the core. The effective ratio considering the void fraction is less than 0.2 in the present design and about one tenth of that for the ABWR.

    Neutron spectrum

    Core & assembly configurations

    Axial core configuration (alternating fissile/fertile)


  35. @Environmentalist – You have no idea at all what you are talking about and are only trying to drag a red herring through this discussion.

    Waste management is not a huge problem now, nor will it get worse with any of the GEN IV designs being contemplated, in fact in is very likely to get better.

    Any hazmat, if not properly treated, and dealt with can cause trouble, in fact that’s what makes it hazmat in the first place. There are any number of ways to sequester radioactive material such that it can be disposed of safely using current off the shelf processes.

    This is a non-issue in any discussion of the IFR or its competitors.


  36. @DV82XL,
    “The fact remains that in the US, the government is going to have to pick a winner in the Gen IV sweepstakes, some ideologies notwithstanding, because the funding has to come from somewhere, and the private sector won’t invest in something that has a chance of being sunk on the whim of the regulator.”

    As you say, no private company is going to take a chance with the regulatory minefield in the USA. I guess the same goes for Germany and Japan.

    Furthermore, I can’t see the political will in the USA to pick winners, if it means spending money on something useful. To the contrary, winners like the IFR get aborted in the third trimester while weird reactors (potential winners?) like ADRs, MSRs and LTFRs will be underfunded or completely ignored.

    Forget the USA; look to Canada, Russia, China, India or even the Czech Republic for innovations in nuclear power.

    MSR designers might lead more fulfilling lives by relocating to more friendly jurisdictions.


  37. @ Cyril – True ultracritical steam cycles could be used, but again most of that work has been done for coal fired plants, and I am not so sure that it will be that easy to make a steam generator working at these temperatures powered by a reactor.

    Nevertheless, it is an area that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later in the product development cycle.


  38. Just for clarity, I’d add that to get the technetium-99m isomer you do not start from technetium-99. You start from molybdenum-99, typically produced by exposure of U-235 to a high neutron flux. It couldn’t reasonably be described as a product of nuclear waste, but it is definitely and only a product of a nuclear reactor.

    However I don’t know whether the fission product stripping proposed for LFTRs would produce a useful amount of Mo-99.


  39. There is a total absence of discussion of costs. Without mentioning costs I am left believing all these technologies are in the early R&D, not yet RD&D. Therefore, they are probably decades away fdrom being economically viable for roll out to countries like Australia.

    The result is that we are continuing to miss the windows of opportunity that present themselves from time to time. We’ve delayed 5 years since the Howard Government commissioned the Ziggy Switkowski Task Force to produce the “Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy” report for Australia. The government then pushed for nuclear to be part of the solution to cutting CO2 emissions along with their ETS. The opposition opposed nuclear and ran a scare campaign about nuclear at the election. We’ve delayed 5 years Again! (the last time this happened was in 1993).

    Australia’s research resources are focused on renewable energy, gas and CCS. There is no research effort being focussed on nuclear. And here we are spending our efforts talking about some pie-in-the-sky technologies that will not see the commercial light of day for decades.

    All this misdirected effort, interesting as it may be, simply muddies the waters, gives the less informed more to worry about and gives the anti-nukes more ammunition to run scare campaigns and further delay any progress.

    I wonder why we don’t focus our efforts on working out a practical, politically acceptable, program to remove the impediments to nuclear that would make it more costly that coal in Australia. Why don’t we put most of our effort into achieving that goal? That would be a valuable use of the highly knowledgeable resources that contribute on BNC.


  40. thanks uv (do you know dx?):

    those links picturing the sandwich core geometry (fertile/fissile) and the hexagonal shape were helpful, and cool.

    is the void fraction connected to spacing of the fuel rods? I’m assuming void fractions, sandwich geometry and hexagonal shape all facilitate heat and power dissipation. what is it about the hexagonal shape? anyone know?


  41. @Gregory Meyerson:

    The void fraction is the fraction by volume of moderator that exists in the form of steam.
    Steam filled voids have lower density than liquid water: so they don’t scatter neutrons as efficiently.

    In LWR designs as well as in HWR reactors that use heavy water both as coolant and as moderator there is a negative void coefficient of reactivity, meaning that the overall fission rate in the reactor
    will slow down as more voids are created in the moderator (due, say, to an increasing temperature or to a loss of coolant). This is a desirable feature: it tends to prevent a runaway reaction.

    I’m not completely sure of the reasons for the choice of the hexagonal lattice in these designs, but I suspect that it’s being done in an effort to achieve closer packing of the fuel rods. It’s certainly known that in 2 dimensions the packing of spheres on a hexagonal lattice achieves a greater density than the packing on a square lattice. But there may well be other considerations in a designing a reactor ….


  42. Peter Lang @ 9:26AM

    “here we are spending our efforts talking about some pie-in-the-sky technologies that will not see the commercial light of day for decades … I wonder why we don’t focus our efforts on working out a practical, politically acceptable, program to remove the impediments to nuclear that would make it more costly that coal in Australia.”

    Peter, how do you imagine that widespread adoption of current nuclear power plant technology – without a realistic and high expectation of Gen IV technology (a la Blees’ book) coming round the bend – is ever going to happen?

    Current nuclear generation technology is just a really, really hard sell. The prospect of hundreds or thousands of plants dotted around the globe designed by who knows and operated by who knows and regulated by who knows just blows up peoples’ hazard meters.

    IMO it can never be sale-able until Gen IV technology and its’ promises are ‘proven’ beyond reasonable doubt. Then Gen IV will be highly sale-able and transitioning via lesser nuclear technologies becomes highly sale-able.

    The urgent, urgent priority is to prove Gen IV and its’ promises.

    Being anti-nuclear before I heard Blees, and now pro-Gen IV after reading Prescription, I got the impression that it will not take decades to prove Gen IV (if investment is available). I got the impression that progress at Argonne was very substantial.

    What’s the truth?

    How much time and money is required to prove Gen IV?

    Prove it can burn 99% of the fuel? Prove it can burn spent fuel from lower tech nuclear plants? Prove that the waste is a much reduced problem? Prove that facility design is highly robust? Prove that Gen IV plants are a really, really hard & low value target for terrorists? Prove that the end-to-end fuel process is really, really unusable for weapons material? Prove that it is cost competitive with FF adjusted for carbon price?

    Is it 5 years and $1b? 10 years and $5b? 20 years and $10b? Can’t be longer/more than that, surely!

    Who is leading the charge to raise the money to prove the promise?

    Please tell me it’s being organised and coordinated by the key people who matter (gotta be only 30-40 on the planet); and not being left to a bunch of individual players working to their own agendas and for their own profit ambitions or whatever.
    Alan – please be aware that personal opinion presented as fact without supporting references violates BNC Comments Policy. Further breaches may be deleted.


  43. Alan,

    Your humble opinion and my most humble opinion have quite a gulf between them.

    1. I don’t buy the argument that Gen IV will be commercially available any time soon. The technology life cycle is such that it takes a long time to develop technologies that have an expected design life of 40 to 60 years. The improvements are incremental. The 50 years of development of Gen II and Gen III gives an idea of how long it will take to develop Gen IV until it is commercially viable. Australia would be absolutely nuts to try anything that isn’t well proven. It is for this reason that I would be happy to have well proven Gen II rather than Gen III if Gen II proves to be a lower cost option.

    2. You say existing technologies are a hard sell. I agree/ However, I also believe the majority of the Australian public is open minded and listening. I believe the lack of support for nuclear could change to majority support quite quickly if Labor changed its anti-nulcear policy at its National Conference this year. To do that, NSW needs to change its anti nuclear policy at its Conference in June or July this year – hence the urgency for BNC to focus on educating the opinion leaders in the Labor party and putting pressure on the Party to make this long overdue change

    3. Furthermore, if the environmental NGOs and Greens are serious about wanting to cut GHG emissions they will have to support nuclear. If they don’t then clearly GHG emissions is not the serious problem they would have us believe it is. It means thes groups are more interested in getting members and votes than in solving what they claim is a looking catastrophe.

    4. If we can’t roll out the available technology now, we’ll make very slow progress towards Gen I V. So we need to get on with the proven technologies.


    The prospect of hundreds or thousands of plants dotted around the globe designed by who knows and operated by who knows and regulated by who knows just blows up peoples’ hazard meters.

    What I see happening is we roll out the Gen II and Gen III now and as a result the development of Gen IV will be faster. It will be faster because of the drive for lower cost, not for greater safety or proliferation resistance, etc. It is cost and competition to make lower cost products, that drives development.

    6. Don’t believe Gen IV wont have problems and accidents. Of course they will. If we haven’t made good progress with Gen III then the first few accidents with Gen IV will do more harm than if the Gen II and Gen III were already well established.

    7. Just focus on the cost. That is where the real decisions are made. While nuclear is higher cost than coal, it is going nowhere fast.


    The urgent, urgent priority is to prove Gen IV and its’ promises.



    How much time and money is required to prove Gen IV?

    Realistically? Two to three decades to make it commercially viable and hundreds of billions of investment.

    10. What we need to focus on is removing the impediments to low cost nuclear. I’ve explained how this can be done – see link in my first comment on this thread:


  44. @Alan –

    Current nuclear generation technology is just a really, really hard sell. The prospect of hundreds or thousands of plants dotted around the globe designed by who knows and operated by who knows and regulated by who knows just blows up peoples’ hazard meters.

    I don’t know who these people are that you have arrogated yourself the right to speak on their behalf.

    Making broad statements on what the public’s opinion on any topic should be subject to the same burden of proof that any assertion in these pages: provide references and links to back up what is written, or have it redacted.

    Public attitudes are an important part of this debate, and having commenters making unsupported statements on this subject should no more be permitted than on any other aspect.
    Alan has been reminded of BNC Comments Policy and the need to substantiate opinion with refs.


  45. DV82XL:

    Why pick on Alan? He was stating his opinion as a response to Peter Lang’s equally unsubstantiated view that Gen IV technologies were “pie in the sky” and wouldn’t see the light of day for decades.

    Alan attempted to ask for clarification. PL responded that “hundreds of billions of investment” would be required to prove Gen IV, flatly contradicting the information given in the post which initiated this thread.

    I accept that many of us are irascible old men and enjoy squabbling. In this instance, while respecting your nuclear knowledge, I found your choice of target perplexing. (unnecessary inflammatory remark deleted)


  46. @Douglas Wise – I’m not picking on Alan, but I am getting fed up with commenters that make broad claims about public opinion without backing it up with something other than their say-so. if someone is making a claim about the public’s view on some matter, then there must be some polling data, or some reference back to some source, or the statements is indistinguishable from imagination.

    As I wrote, this is a very important part of the discussion, and should be held to the same standards as any other claim of fact. To let it go is not in keeping with the rules of debate that we are expected to work by, and I believe that would be an error.


  47. Peter Lang:

    Given the moderator’s request for references to back opinions, perhaps you would care to cite your evidence for suggesting that “hundreds of billions of investment would be needed to prove Gen IV”. (Snide remark deleted)


  48. How much time and money is required to prove Gen IV?

    Na-cooled fast reactors (including IFR with integral pyroprocessing), high-temperature TRISO-fuelled gas-cooled reactors, gas-cooled prismatic HTGRs, liquid-fluoride MSR and PbBi-cooled fast reactors are all already proven quite well at pilot-plant scale and beyond.


  49. Peter Lang, on 1 June 2011 at 12:32 PM said:

    7. Just focus on the cost. That is where the real decisions are made. While nuclear is higher cost than coal, it is going nowhere fast.
    Until we have a price on CO2 emissions nuclear or any other low CO2 energy is going to be higher cost than coal-fired power. That leaves either mandating low CO2 energy or subsidizing the cost( your suggestion for nuclear) and /or having a price on CO2 emissions high enough to shut down coal-fired.

    The simplest solution would be to have an increasing(1%-2% per year)
    low CO2 emission target( renewables plus nuclear), loan guarantees for the first 1GW of nuclear, solar and geothermal( we don’t need any for wind because we have already established costs and technical risks) and see what private capital will fund.


  50. DV, various companies such as Siemens are currently developing large non combustion steam turbines for application in a molten nitrate salt to steam generator design, using multi-reheat and economizers, in concentrated solar thermal power plants. I think this technology can be copied completely for an advanced reactor. The only component that needs to be developed is the intermediate heat exchanger, but this is a liquid to liquid heat exchanger (eg NaF-BeF2 to NaNO3-KNO3) and should be simple to develop, the only difference being the material used (Hastelloy N or X should work well).

    Nitrate salts are well proven for high temperature applications, especially the petrochemical industry likes them. I have a supplier which can deliver turnkey 40 MWth NaNO3-KNO3 loop modules at very low cost. 50 modules for a 2000 MWth reactor for example.


  51. Neil Howes, on 1 June 2011 at 6:29 PM said:

    Until we have a price on CO2 emissions nuclear or any other low CO2 energy is going to be higher cost than coal-fired power

    The ‘delivered’ price of coal varies substantially throughout the world. Comparative analysis of the cost of various energy options requires a specific location.


  52. @Cyril R – I’m not suggesting that these steam generators cannot be built, nor in fact that it is impossible to build closed cycle gas turbine systems, any more than I am suggesting MSR, IFR or any other Gen IV design cannot be built. The point I am making is that these are products yet, and represent yet another area of development the needs to be addressed where delays, and unexpected pitfalls can (and likely will) occur. This has to be considered in any prediction of when the full system will be ready to incorporate into a working power station.


  53. Has anyone seen the cost speculations around the Fukushima clean up? These numbers may turn out to be way off, and the range is large, but the numbers according to Marketwatch are 70-246 billion dollars.

    Now, there were estimates of up to 200 billion dollars for the BP cleanup, and the main estimate at this point turns out to be much lower, closer to 60-70 billion dollars. So: it’s hard to know what credence to put in these early estimates.

    I have two questions: one, to what extent is the high cost of this cleanup (should the high numbers turn out true) related to unjustified radiation fears? (costs of radiophobia, LNT, etc?)

    Second, what implications would this have for private industry undertaking massive nuclear builds? (I would assume it to be negative or nearly rule it out).

    This has negative implications for the Peter L nuclear strategy, it seems to me in that the state would play a very large role in any nuclear roll out and low cost nuclear will in fact have to be compatible with generation three plus safety advances.


  54. @DV82XL

    That is precisely my point, its hazmat and should remain so for 100,000 years not 100 years.

    IFR help with the long term waste mass/kWh ratio, however if NPP scales so does the waste disposal problem.

    Nuclear waste is universally waste, nobody wants it, nobody can recycle it, nobody can neutralize it (except for the obscenely expensive process of transmutation and this is relative to the isotope). IFR turns actinides into something that is not waste, but fission products still remain hazmat waste.


  55. Environmentalist, nothing in “nuclear waste” is real waste. Actinides can bu used in reactors, either as fissile fuel, or as fertile fuel sources. Fission products are marketable. Fission products are no more radioactive than background radiation sources, within 300 years. Your 100,000 years claim is downright dishonest.


  56. Gregory Meyerson, on 2 June 2011 at 12:46 AM said:

    Has anyone seen the cost speculations around the Fukushima clean up?

    The numbers include $54 billion for buying all the real estate within a 20 km radius and estimates of between $9 billion and $188 billion for decommissioning and $8 billion for short term compensation.


  57. Joffan, on 2 June 2011 at 2:04 AM said:

    is there any sense behind those decommissioning numbers or are they just somebody’s fantasy?

    An estimate with a range of a factor of 20 seems like nothing more then a WAG to me.

    On a May 20th earnings call with investors Tepco estimated 211 billion yen for achieving cold shutdown and another 187 billion yen for decommissioning costs.

    English Transcript of Tepco May 20th earnings call –

    Click to access 110531-e.pdf


  58. MIT has a different outlook than SCGI.

    It seems SCGI is advocating nuclear to save civilization. MIT has a more limited goal: it is seeking to “inform” a US debate about nuclear power.

    MIT is looking at the politics and trends and they are saying even as much as 1 terawatt of nuclear, globally, by 2050 may not be in the tea leaves. SCGI is probably thinking of a global nuclear power industry an order of magnitude and more larger than that.

    You can disagree with MIT about how urgent the development of nuclear power is without taking the position they don’t know technical issues as well as you do.

    Perhaps the fact that MIT seems less concerned about climate than SCGI can be explained by US politics. Eg: It so happens that the US nuclear industry has as one of its most prominent lobbyists, this is Patrick Moore, a climate science denier who asserts that the entire environmental movement is dominated by anti capitalist plotters. Moore says environmentalists actually don’t care about environment issues because these were all basically solved long ago. See: Patrick Moore in the Global Warming Swindle.

    If supposedly highly educated pro nuclear types are this far from seeing that climate is a problem, one might think, MIT is quite justified in being cautious about assuming the rest of civilization is about to become unified in seeing climate as a problem. See also Dan Yurman advocating we all should emulate Moore and become “environmentalists” like him. I critique Moore and Yurman in comments to that post.

    Clearly, MIT is also more concerned about nuclear proliferation than SCGI types seem to be. MIT points out that centrifuge technology is “difficult to master” compared to “plutonium separation from SNF” because Pu separation is a chemical process and the “basic approach is well known”. They refer readers actually wanting to construct their own bombs to The Los Alamos Primer, i.e. “the original lectures delivered to the wartime Los Alamos design team” as they note that highly enriched uranium is a great way to go, but they say this: “high yield reliable nuclear weapons are not required in many contexts: a crude lower nuclear yield device can be effective for national aims in regional contexts and for terrorist groups. This lower standard for nuclear explosives means that lower-grade fissionable materials can be used”

    Contrary to the SCGI #1 complaint, i.e. MIT assumes spent nuclear fuel is a waste that will have to be disposed of, MIT actually uses the words “at least some of” the SNF will have to be disposed of.

    I can’t understand your point #3. I.e. “The public views adequate nuclear waste management as a critical linchpin in further development of nuclear energy. The technical community, therefore, needs to provide a practical approach to deal with the waste issue”. You believe MIT doesn’t know this?

    The technical community in the US identified the waste problem as a political football that the technical community could solve if Congress let it decades ago. See:
    Rethinking High-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal:
    A Position Statement of the Board on Radioactive Waste Management This latest MIT report reaffirms that the waste issue is not seen by scientists as the problem some of the public think it is.

    Anyone might think SCGI could have found some good in what MIT has done and is doing. MIT argues and has been arguing for a long time, that the nuclear option should be kept open in case the US decides to take decisive action on climate. They are calling for attempting to rid the US industry of the “risk premium” on capital MIT says is decisive now in making nukes not competitive with fossil generators – this latest call is for the US government to “accelerate” its loan guarantee program for seven to ten nuclear plants.

    So the SGCI has this great solution. Fine. MIT seems to be saying the politics is not in the shape SGCI wishes it was, so let the waste sit in casks at a central facility, that’s good for at least 100 years, there isn’t a big problem with that, i.e. its cheap enough.

    The SGCI is welcome to convince the public that its better option is what the public wants. Why argue in this way with MIT?


  59. It seems to me, David Lewis, that Dan Yurman owes you an apology. I suspect he was unaware of Moore’s views, and didn’t want to admit a mistake.

    or tried to separate out the “Luddism” critique, with which he agrees, from the denialism. but I am being charitable.


  60. PS. I think statements about what the EPA, the NAS or the NRC (a part of the NAS) said or did not say should be backed up with quotes and references.

    I.e., your statement: ” This is why following the National Academy of Sciences Committee recommendation, the EPA standards and NRC regulations for the Yucca Mountain repository extended the regulatory timeframe from the original 10,000 years to one million years.”

    The NRC is a part of the NAS. The EPA is a separate organization. Also, my study so far indicates that the NRC and EPA disagreed on Yucca.

    The NRC found there was no scientific basis to limiting the compliance period to 10,000 years and instead advocated a time “up to the greatest risk of exposure” which in the case of actinide disposal would be of the order of 1,000,000 years.

    They don’t see the big problem with repositories, whether they are required to comply with some exposure standard modeled out to 10,000 years or 1,000,000 years. They don’t see a particular problem modelling what happens to a geological formation at either of these time periods – the longer one is “not appreciably more difficult than” the shorter one.

    As Robert Fri, the committee chair testified to the US Senate, there is no big problem, “provided… the public were prepared to accept that very low radiation doses pose negligibly small risks”.

    The NRC also reported “there is no scientific basis for incorporating the ALARA principle into the standard” for Yucca.

    Also, the NRC’s Fri testified: “the EPA…[decision as to what exposure limit to require at Yucca] is a place the Technical Bases for Yucca Mountain Standards committee specifically did not want to be”, because it “runs the risk of excessive conservatism”.


  61. The SGCI is welcome to convince the public that its better option is what the public wants. Why argue in this way with MIT? – David Lewis,

    Why indeed, and why found that argument on an unreferenced document? Several weeks ago included the MIT study in a discussion on Nuclear Green.

    I concluded this post with the assertion that: “Both the HTGR and the MSR offer potential advantages for industrial heat. The MSR would be the clear favorite for low cost industrial heat at temperaturs of up to 700 C, while the HTGR offers maximim heat of around 1000 degrees.”

    “For shipping propulsion, and load following, backup and peak generation capacity MSR technology offers attractive cost advantages. Even for a base load generation role, MSR technology would appear to offer a substantual cost advantage over LWRs.”

    I accepted the MIT contention that there was enough uranium for the time being, and assumed that MSR would primarily be uranium fueled in the short run. I conclude that UMSR will cost less than LWRs, and if that is the case, the IFR will be squeezed out of the market or even worse be still born. I suspect that some IFR backers are concerned about this.


  62. @Environmentalist – First as Charles points out, the longer the half-life, the less radioactive the isotope is. The claims made of 100,000 years are misleading as it uses endpoints that would render the sample totally radioactively inert, something that is not true of any random scoop of dirt from your back yard.

    Second the total mass of ‘waste’ from a fast spectrum reactor will amount to a golf ball per person pre lifetime. This is several magnitudes smaller than the cumulative waste from any other thermal generation.

    It is simply not a major issue.


  63. David Lewis: I agree mostly with your points, and I whole-heartedly agree that this SCGI document is sadly lacking in references, both to support the assertions you have noted and in general.

    I do want to just take up the issue of Patrick Moore’s stance. I don’t think the “anti-climate-change” was of any very virulent variety in Patrick Moore’s TEDxVancouver talk, for example, (I was looking for something reasonably recent, if you have anything better pls let me know) although I agree he overstated any hiatus in continuing warming, since 1998 was clearly not a “trend” year. You may of course choose to hear the doubt of change rather than the doubt of no-change, but I think he expresses both. And I do think that the Royal Society’s letter to which Moore responded (which you brought up in the Energy Collective comments) was indeed not in keeping with the level of debate I’d expect of such a body, as Moore responded. The message I hear from Moore is not that the environmental problems are solved, but that they are taken seriously by the powers-that-be, which was not the case before, making cooperation possible and often the more fruitful path for environmental protection.


  64. DV82XL, on 1 June 2011 at 2:56 PM said:

    “@Douglas Wise – I’m not picking on Alan, but I am getting fed up with commenters that make broad claims about public opinion without backing it up with something other than their say-so. if someone is making a claim about the public’s view on some matter, then there must be some polling data, or some reference back to some source, or the statements is indistinguishable from imagination.”

    Jeez, DV8 … I really like reading your technical contributions, but to pick on this nit!?

    OK. I am guilty of not referencing the bleeding obvious negative seismic shift in the nuclear power zeitgeist since that other seismic shift off Japan … Monbiot being a notable exception; and maybe Poland and Bulgaria!

    There are some representative links to recent polls down below.

    And, yes, I used the collective “peoples” when opining on ‘public’ reaction and it is now clear that I need to explain that this does not mean ‘all the public’ (when does it?) but ‘a materially significant population’ … I will put it down to regional comms style.

    So how much is materially significant in the nuclear debate? With pro/anti levels anywhere between 30/70 to 60/40 over my lifetime, I would say that a sustainable shift of 20-30% makes-or-breaks the case. I wonder what proportion of hazard meters went “ping” (or louder) in March.

    Peter L … I agree with a lot of your positions. But I cannot accept that an influencing strategy based on cost is sufficient? Cost competitiveness is a ticket-to-the-game … not a positive, just not a negative. Cost superiority would be a positive. Emissions reduction is a huge positive … but renewables claim that too. The unresolved perceived negatives of nuclear (waste, weapons, containment failure consequences) are the heart-and-soul of the opposition (see, for example, ).

    I haven’t seen any authoritative answers to my questions re Gen IV readiness and ‘proven’ benefits. I was hoping that the numerous subject matter experts here could illuminate.

    Peter L talks about 2-3 decades and hundreds of billions … Luke @ 1 June 6:08PM says “already proven quite well at pilot-plant scale and beyond” (I heard Tom say that and read the same in Prescription).

    Who has a reliable idea? Does SGCI? Should I relocate Blees’ book to the science fiction/fantasy section of my library? Maybe alongside Asimov’s “Foundation” series and the wonderful ‘psychohistory’ idea.

    March 2011, USA – – Civil Society Institute/OCR poll shows that a majority of Americans now favor halting new federal loan guarantees to support reactor construction; Gallup found 62 percent support for nuclear energy last March – the highest since the polling firm first asked the question in 1994 – support for new nuclear power has now dropped to 44 percent; new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press release Monday shows 39 percent now favoring more nuclear power while 52 percent oppose it – matching a September 2005 low in support for nuclear

    May 2011, USA – – Italy has now announced a freeze on all new construction, pending a review of safety test to be conducted on European nuclear power plants. China has announced a similar freeze on the construction of new nuclear plants. And in the U.S., polls indicate a dramatic drop in support for nuclear power

    April 2011, UK – – In Britain, 35 percent either strongly or slightly support a programme to replace the UK’s existing reactors, according to a GfK NOP survey commissioned by Friends of the Earth. In November 2010, the figure was 47 percent.
    Even in France, which produces 75 percent of its electricity in nuclear plants, recent polls show that more than 80 percent of the French want to replace atomic energy by renewables. About two thirds of those polled said they “fear” nuclear power plants

    May 2011, Australia – – >90% saying “No” … a clear example of hazard meters going “ping”

    March 2011, USA – – Support for new nuclear plants drops

    May 2011 – – Nuclear power opponents increase in 7 countries – The respondents in six countries other than Japan were asked how concerned they were that a major accident might occur at a nuclear power plant in their country. Out of the four options presented, “very concerned” and “somewhat concerned” accounted for a total of 82 percent in South Korea, 80 percent in Russia, and more than 70 percent in France, Germany and China

    And, of course, the Germans now plan to exit nuclear; and Barry and Ziggy both opine that the nuclear case has been set back years.


  65. @Alan _ I’m not picking a nit here, but trying to establish that hard numbers get used in this discussion because the public’s attitude is one of the most important, if not central factors in this debate, and I am getting tired of people (not you in particular) asserting this or that about this subject without hard numbers.

    I am also fed up with antinuclear zealots making claims about majority opinions on nuclear without backing them up, and it is time we drew the line

    Again it is not that I disagree with what you wrote per se, but a desire to introduce a bit of rigor in to this factor in the debate. I hope you see that this is important in itself, rather than see it as an attack on you or your position.


  66. Ted Rockwell put it succinctly in a post to the Canadian Nuclear list:

    [W]hy does anyone buy in on the myth that “nuclear waste” is a real-world problem?! It’s never hurt anyone, or the environment, so in what sense is it a problem? The quantity is trivial, compared to other wastes. The lethality is not unique. The fact that it “stays toxic for thousands of years” instead of forever, like non-nuclear wastes? Even by that measure, coal releases more curies per kilowatt-hour than nuclear. Even many of the same isotopes. And why is the Fukushima situation a “nuclear disaster” when no one, to my knowledge has even been injured, let alone killed, by radiation, where 10 to 20,000 have been killed by non-nuclear means.


  67. waste
    Adjective: (of a material, substance, or by-product) Eliminated or discarded as no longer useful or required after the completion of a process.

    I feel inclined to point out the hypocrisy of people who claim that there is “no solution to the waste problem”, and yet won’t support even Gen IV nuclear power plant designs which are the only means of reusing this resource – which by default means it is not actually waste at all. Why discard it, claiming it is “no longer useful” (by labelling it waste), when there is a bloody good use for it? And then top it off by not suggesting a better way of dealing with the once-used fuel they are so concerned about?


  68. @Joffan Moore is a paid pro nuclear lobbyist who happens to be a climate science denier. He often tries to make his beliefs about climate science obscure, because it is the stance of the nuclear industry that their product is low carbon energy and therefore it is part of the solution to the climate problem. Moore took up the cause of a competing industry when he wrote the Royal Society on behalf of Exxon-Mobil, an almost incomprehensible act except that it is an example of the conflict he experiences as a climate science denier who is paid to promote a product that bills itself as a solution to the problem he denies, i.e. climate change.

    The Royal Society in the UK had got an assurance from the UK branch plant operation of Exxon-Mobil that Exxon was not going to be funding climate deniers any more. Exxon did not stop funding these operations. The Royal Society then wrote their letter. The Royal Society is the oldest and one of the most respected scientific organizations in the world and it has taken a public stand that civilization is endangered by climate change and should take what Exxon would call very drastic action about it, such as eliminating 50% of global CO2 emissions by 2050. The Royal Society thought it was a serious issue that Exxon should lie in public to them about what they were doing behind the scenes to undermine public understanding of climate science.

    Moore suddenly decides to get involved. He writes to the Royal Society, about their criticism that Exxon broke its promise to stop funding climate science denial, that the Royal Society doesn’t know what science is. Its all too ludicrous. There are any number of reports confirming Moore’s stance on climate. I haven’t seen The Global Warming Swindle but he apparently is featured in that film spouting the theory that there is no environment movement, its all anti capitalist green on the outside red on the inside liars who want to bring down the Western world. I grew up in the same Canadian province Moore did. I have been aware of his attitude to climate change for many years. He didn’t respond to my invitation to debate him in public, made at the time I was a prominent voice in Canada favoring action to limit emissions. Moore writes, in his most recent book “There is no cause for alarm about climate change. The climate is always changing. Some of the proposed “solutions” would be far worse than any imaginable consequence of global warming, which will likely be mostly positive. Cooling is what we should fear”


  69. The Blees critique ends with a statement we do not need to look further than his choice of technology, because it is “the most advanced”. “It should be given the highest priority”.

    MIT directly addresses Blees and others who think like him with this:

    “Too much has changed to assume that the traditional fuel cycle futures chosen in the 1970s based on what was known at that time are appropriate for today. There is a window of time, if used wisely with a focused effort, to develop better fuel cycle options before major decisions to deploy advanced fuel cycles are made.” p14

    MIT appears to have and favor their own fast breeder plan, given the circumstances they see. They make repeated references to “hard spectrum (modified) LWRs”, i.e. fast reactors with a conversion ratio of 1, that can be started with “low enriched non-weapons usable (enrichment below 20%) uranium”, which could “enable full utilization of uranium and thorium resources”, a concept which they say originated with “recent work at MIT” – page 25.

    Blees should critique that. Why is his plan better? MIT sees any fuel cycle that so much as creates “weapons usable” material as more problematic than a fuel cycle that doesn’t. Its a point of view.

    Blees says MIT “ignored” what he calls an “extraordinarily important fact”, i.e. that according to him there would be no long term nuclear waste problem if everyone followed his plan. MIT didn’t ignore Blees’ idea. They disagree.

    MIT says no matter what plan is followed, “all fuel cycles generate long-lived radioactive wastes that can not be practically destroyed; thus, all fuel cycles require a geological repository to support the disposal of radioactive wastes”. Blees then says MIT don’t know what they are talking about. Fine. MIT doesn’t know what they are talking about. Blees, ex fisherman self educated on nuclear power, knows more.

    What seems more likely is that Blees didn’t understand the MIT report. It will be interesting to see if his claim stands up, i.e. that he knows more about nuclear waste and fast breeders than MIT. He should publish, with references, in a peer reviewed journal where, if he can convince enough of the nuclear scientific community, MIT will be forced to respond.

    MIT offers scenarios based on their perception of what the nuclear industry will do. Ernie Moniz, one of the MIT study co-chairs, has said elsewhere that the nuclear industry is “deeply conservative” which is why he feels they are most likely to build LWRs for the immediately foreseeable future, almost no matter what.

    Basically they conclude that the capital cost of anything new has to be lower than LWRs if there is to be any chance utility execs will be convinced they should invest in them. This isn’t MIT’s opinion about what they would do if they were kings for a day, its their opinion of what the “deeply conservative” nuclear industry will do. “If a new reactor type is demonstrated to be more economic than an LWR, it may drive many fuel cycle decisions” – p. 22 Note “may”. MIT is just guessing at what the utilities will do.

    Would you invest billions knowing some 1 in a 1000 year tsunami at Fukushima might cause a government to bankrupt your operation that is nowhere near the sea? If you had the choice, would you build the first fast breeder, or would you prefer to go with what made a lot of money for you in the past?

    How is the nuclear industry supposed to view its future as a solution to climate change when by far the majority of climate activists want the entire industry shut down no matter what implications there are for climate? (personal unsubstantiated opinion deleted)
    MIT isn’t with the many in the US nuclear industry on that one. They remind readers that the prime focus of their 2003 “The Future of Nuclear Power” report was the role nuclear power might have in avoiding greenhouse gas emissions. They emphasize that their “primary recommendation” at that time was for the US government to use loan guarantees to attempt to eliminate the “risk premium” charged by Wall Street on new nukes which by itself makes nuclear power uncompetitive with fossil power.

    They point out that “the urgency to address climate change has increased”, and they call in this report for that loan guarantee program to be accelerated. The designs that are licensed and ready to go are LWRs. MIT is predicting that if the US nuclear industry restarts its new build program, they’ll go with those. It sounds like a no-brainer.
    Your comment is full of unsubstantiated personal opinion and completely devoid of references. Future violations of the BNC Comments Policy may be deleted. Please read the Comments Policy on the ABOUT page before commenting again.


  70. MIT says no matter what plan is followed, “all fuel cycles generate long-lived radioactive wastes that can not be practically destroyed; thus, all fuel cycles require a geological repository to support the disposal of radioactive wastes”. Blees then says MIT don’t know what they are talking about. Fine. MIT doesn’t know what they are talking about. Blees, ex fisherman self educated on nuclear power, knows more.

    David Lewis, your criticism above of Tom Blees and the content of the SCGI critique is totally unfounded, and moreover, offensive in many parts. The critique of MIT was NOT written by Tom Blees; it was authored by various fast-reactor-specialist nuclear engineers and scientists who worked on the EBR-II reactor and IFR programme for decades. The document was then finalised and publicised by me, Tom and others on behalf of the SCGI organisation. The principle authors of this critique (see the members of SCGI here) know more about the technical and scientific basis of fast reactors than anyone else I could imagine. In sum, your pontificating and attempted chiding of Tom or me on these matters is frankly pathetic.

    No one who seriously supports nuclear power as a climate change solution is disagreeing that many, many current-generation LWR/HWRs need to be built, with urgency, over the next few decades. To claim otherwise is a straw man. The fundamental point of the above critique — and the real problem with the MIT recommendations — is that if you want the spent fuel problem to be dealt with in a timely manner (which will get the public onside and give the social license to build the multitude of LWRs required), we’d better start demonstrating the advanced fuel cycles NOW, rather than doing nothing but ‘researching’ the issues for decades to come.


  71. David Lewis, its perfectly possible to destroy long lived wastes using molten salt reactors, because these can use the thorium cycle that doesn’t make significant quantities of long lived actinide wastes in the first place, and have simple processing options that allow full recycle of the little that does get created.

    MIT is not very well cognitized on molten salt technology, and this is widely known among the research community. Its just not their thing.

    Also the notion that just because something is ‘long lived’ means it automatically requires geological storage is absolutely NUTS. Existing above ground storage is lowest risk and it is geological storage that is COMPLETELY *UNPROVEN*. The little experience we have suggests there is a significant risk of ground contamination and the costs are very very high, and needlessly so.

    We don’t have geological storage options for cleaning fluids, either. Yet cleaning fluids such as bleach remain toxic FOREVER. Methanol, nope no geological storage either. Cyanides, nope, neither.

    The whole ‘long term storage requires geological repositories’ notion is blatant repeating of nonsense by people who don’t think critically for themselves.

    Storing spent nuclear fuel is so pathetically easy its hard to see how the antis have been able to de-cognitize even clever people of the ‘problem’.

    If you don’t agree, I suggest visiting a dry cask storage facility. Its an eye-opener. Lots of wastes created by industry are a problem; nuclear waste just isn’t on the problem list.

    I find it funny and sad how non-problems can be mentally constructed into a ‘problem’ by blatant repetion and lies.


  72. its perfectly possible to destroy long lived wastes using molten salt reactors, because these can use the thorium cycle that doesn’t make significant quantities of long lived actinide wastes in the first place, and have simple processing options that allow full recycle of the little that does get created.

    Cyril, it may be true that MSRs can eventually fission the small amount of higher actinides that they produce, but I don’t see how they can be an effective solution in consuming current LWR/HWR and MOX spent fuel, nor for utilising the vast potential energy in already-mined stockpiles of accumulated U-238. See table of probabilities:


  73. Barry: I may have asked this before who knows how long ago, but are there any pieces written by SCGI laying out the principal differences between IFRs and LFTRs/MSRs?

    Or written by other reputable organizations/individuals?

    Question goes to David Le Blanc/Charles Barton as well.


  74. @ Cyril – Geological storage is unproven? Perhaps a review of Oklo is in order. However the lesson that gives us is different, and more in line with your “not really difficult” line, than the overkill proposals for deep disposal currently being pursued. Burial deep enough only to deter casual access and preferably to work in solid rock is quite sufficient for rational concerns. Disposal in abyssal mud is a little too terminal for my taste but perfectly safe and easy.

    And casks are adequate for a reasonably long term too as you say, but we should have some further disposal plan in place even if we later change course to a transmutation option.

    Barry – would you say that David Lewis is correct in his assertion that “by far the majority of climate activists want the entire [nuclear] industry shut down”? What about climate scientists?


  75. Joffan, it may be the majority of climate activists, but the majority might not be that much greater than 50%. I don’t know, but I agree that it is a real, ongoing problem that so many climate activists are stridently anti-nuclear. No argument there.

    As for climate scientists, it may be <50%, i.e. a minority. Many I've spoken to are ambivalent rather than anti and have been sold the '100% renewables can do it' line and not given it much more thought (since they don't consider energy economics/engineering to be their field).

    Greg, no, nothing like this exists as far as I'm aware — at least nothing written by IFR-scientists as opposed to some stuff written by Charles, Kirk etc.


  76. “it may be true that MSRs can eventually fission the small amount of higher actinides that they produce, but I don’t see how they can be an effective solution in consuming current LWR/HWR and MOX spent fuel, nor for utilising the vast potential. “- Barry Brook

    Barry, you have not payed sufficient attention to discussions on the Energy from Thorium discussion pages. In fact actinide disposal is possible at all neutron speed in Molten Salt Reactors. Fast fluoride and fast chloride reactors are possible and both would be excellent tools for actinide disposal, as well as breeding at a range that is significantly above a one to one ratio. Molten salt breeders can operate at twice the heat LMFBR, making them significantly more efficient.

    MSR fast breeders can operate on as uranium cycle breeders, or as mixed Thorium, and Uranium hybrids.


  77. Barry, one way to use existing spent fuel transuranics would be to startup thermal (big graphite core) once-through liquid fluoride thorium reactors. As these have no online processing they avoid the difficulties with seperating actinide trifluorides. They are essentially converter reactors, started with plutonium and fed extra top-up fissile plutonium to maintain criticality, with thorium as only fertile (beyond fertile plutonium of course). They should be able to burn down almost all of the transuranics in LWR wastes in one pass, about 20-30 year burnup, and fissile startup is considerably lower than the IFR.

    Molten salt reactors have homogeneous liquid fuel, which is advantageous for complex and differing actinide batches containing plutonium, americium and curium. This is much harder for solid fuel fabrication – but perhaps easier with metal fuel?

    IFRs would be great to gobble up the enrichment tails, though. Theoretically a chloride reactor can be even faster in spectrum than a sodium reactor, due to the salt expansion safety vector and the reduction in sodium (inelastic scatter) molar inventory per unit core volume (compact core). But these aren’t likely to be developed at all.


  78. Joffan, thanks for that information, I was exaggerating a bit much on the unproven factor ; )

    There seems to be a similarity with stereotypical pirates burying their treasure on remote islands – losing it forever of course rather than ever getting back to it.

    The pirate burying treasure (spent fuel) model does not entice me very much. In fact many of the fission product are platinum group metals, and fissile plutonium is worth far more than its weight in gold (literally!)


  79. Charles, I have been paying attention, but it remains the fact that the usually-discussed thermal MSRs are extremely inefficient at actinide consumption due to the very low transmutation probabilities, and I’m not seen anything convincing that the neutron economy would be sufficient. MSR fast breeders etc. are all just theoretical (i.e. an interesting idea, but let’s see the engineering demonstrations, and then we can understand what are the sticking points [if any]), as indeed are the vast majority of the MSR concepts being thrown around, including Kirk’s much-vaunted “LFTR”. I wish him well with this (and have no desire to become a Th-basher), but I equally don’t hold out any particular hope for this shiny new line of technology. My attitude is ‘we’ll see’. So many of your arguments are, and remain, beautiful castles in the sky.

    Molten salt breeders can operate at twice the heat LMFBR, making them significantly more efficient.

    Call me when the high-temperature materials science issues are worked out and demonstrated. I presume you know why the IFR is limited to <550C (cladding eutectic isses); the engineering for the LMFBRs has already been done, and done, and done, and we are not waiting for too many ‘what ifs’ and ‘here’s hopings’.


  80. The MSRE worked fine at 650 degrees C using 1960s technology. While more engineering work has to be done on MSRs as opposed to IFRs, I wouldn’t call the latter turnkey just yet. There are issues to be solve with respect to the actinide loss rate in the processing. I think the more important issue though will be public acceptance. People remember chemistry classes at school where water-sodium explosions were lots of fun. The logical mental connection for people is exploding reactors. There was a sodium cooled fast reactor build starting in the 1980s near the border here. It never finished due to public safety concerns; currently its an amusement park.


  81. David Lewis, no it is not reasonable to focus time, money and public attention into solving a problem that isn’t a problem. It makes it look like a problem, which *HAS BECOME* a problem. People don’t know what ‘the waste’ is. They don’t know about isotopes, half lives, biological half lives, or the difference between a lanthanide and an actinide. They are generally ignorant. But they’ve heard that geological storage is apparently necessary, so the stuff must be dangerous.

    It is reasonable to think in alternatives. While we were bickering about geological storage, thousands of people have just died prematurely due to fossil fuel pollution.

    We will not do this. We do not have a plan that adds up. We will continue to bicker. I know this now, judging by the responses. Nothing has changed since Three Mile Island – except that we use more energy and fossil fuels today.


  82. It would seem useful if the SCGI group and the EFT group could write up their own pieces for the public on IFR/LFTR or better yet a common document that used BNC to help clarify/fight out (in comradely way) the differences.

    Is the research to the point where BNC/EFT could open up an “open science” project on this question analogous to the renewables’ open science project?

    Such a project would not monopolize BNC space or nudge out attention to the necessity of encouraging more generation three builds (just to address the pragmatic concerns of DV/Peter L).

    Also, and this might go better elsewhere but I’ll risk moderator wrath:

    whether we’re talking about Tom Blees’ prescription for the planet or Greenpeace’s ideas for an “energy revolution” (don’t worry Tom: I’m not equating the two plans) or even Barry’s plan for 2060, none of these plans seems to square with understanding of energy transitions in a conflict ridden (the real) world. or even transitions as envisioned by analysts like Vaclav Smil–who is realistic about things like replacing trillions worth of sunk assets, but leaves out social conflicts.

    all these plans leave the real world out of the equation, eliminating much of its messiness and contradiction by invoking the manhattan project or apollo project or something like that–projects that don’t even make much sense as an analogy as they involve examples of “national will” at the height of that one nation’s global power.

    This is not really a criticism of the Barry/Tom scenarios. Any rational energy plan needs in fact, for analytical clarity, to factor out the social complexities. But, after that, the social complexities need to come back in. This would require putting an understanding of scientific/technological questions in a social scientific context.

    what would have to happen, what would have to be done for the real world energy transition? I have seen very little on this question of any worth. again, most invoke “political will,” which to me is more and more another way of invoking the supernatural.

    One interesting book on the problems I am trying to raise is Chris Martenson’s Crash Course. He does not set aside continued economic crises and resource crises (peak oil) when he analyzes energy transitions, but… his discussion of nuclear power pretty much stinks and as a result, he ends up in the return to a simpler life camp–his own utopianism.


  83. Barry @ 5:20AM

    “we’d better start demonstrating the advanced fuel cycles NOW, rather than doing nothing but ‘researching’ the issues for decades to come”

    Yes, yes, yes.

    So there are numerous advanced fuel cycle technologies, each in a state of technical/commercial readiness.

    It’ll come down to which can attract the capital to ‘prove’ their technical/commercial worth.


  84. Most of the people who comment on this site make perfect sense and the most of you support a rapid expansion of NPP capacity. Sadly, nobody is listening.

    Fukishima has proven more damaging than Chernobyl.

    Germany is going to phase out its NPPs even though the failure of its “Renewables” programs had previously forced them to extend the licences of nukes that should have been decommissioned.

    Japan is going to stop building NPPs even though the only viable alternative for them increases their dependence on imported of fossil fuels.

    We are seeing what someone called “The Madness of Crowds”. Sadly, nothing can be done until the lights start going out in these countries that were once mighty in industrial achievement.


  85. Gregory Meyerson, @ 2 June 2011 at 12:46 AM:

    This has negative implications for the Peter L nuclear strategy, it seems to me in that the state would play a very large role in any nuclear roll out and low cost nuclear will in fact have to be compatible with generation three plus safety advances.

    I understand where you are coming from. However, as I’ve said in our previous discussions about public versus private ownership, I just can’t see any western democracies going back 30 years to the days of public ownership of the electricity industry. We’ve moved forward for good reason. Here is a recently reported example: privately owned electricity system in Victoria (generation and wires) is about half the cost of electricity in NSW and Queensland. And, no, the cost of coal is not the reason.


  86. Alan, @ 2 June 2011 at 12:37 PM

    Peter L … I agree with a lot of your positions. But I cannot accept that an influencing strategy based on cost is sufficient? Cost competitiveness is a ticket-to-the-game … not a positive, just not a negative. Cost superiority would be a positive. Emissions reduction is a huge positive … but renewables claim that too. The unresolved perceived negatives of nuclear (waste, weapons, containment failure consequences) are the heart-and-soul of the opposition.

    I sort of agree and sort of don’t.

    Cost competitiveness AND zero emissions is more than “a ticket-to-the-game”. It is a positive.

    Cost superiority AND zero emissions is a very strong positive.

    I do not agree with this statement “Emissions reduction is a huge positive”. (deleted personal opinion unsubstantiated by refs) Renewables reduce emissions, but at huge cost. Australia is back pedalling fast on its subsidies for renewables.

    “The unresolved perceived negatives of nuclear”. These will be overcome by education. I am convinced (no reference required, it is IMHO!) the majority of the Australian public is open minded about nuclear and listening (despite your excellent references!!). If and when Labor dumps its anti-nuclear policy and decides to lead with a realistic solution for cutting emissions, then public opinion can be changed quite quickly. When the Greens and the environmental NGO’s decide that cutting emissions is what is important, then perhaps they might take the lead. If they ever become responsible (unlikely), they could lead and public opinion would change even more quickly. So to me the problem is, first we need the leadership of our government, and second we need a good education program. This would include faculties set up in universities to research and advise on the best and quickest way to implement least-cost, low-emissions electricity generation in Australia. I am convinced part of their solution would be to educate the public.

    The point I’d like to emphasise is that the decision on what technology to build boils down to cost. If it’s cheaper, the public will support it. They’ll get over all the emotional concerns. Education can work. They will listen to the message. But if it is more costly, the voters will not buy it. Cost is the key. Least cost opens the ears!!


  87. I agree I should have explained the reasoning behind my IMHO-comment that Gen IV will take two to three decades and hundreds of billions of dollars of investment before it is commercially viable. I’ll do so below.

    But first let me give this perspective. What I see happening is continual waste of time as our attention is diverted from the practicable and achievable to chase any number of “better” options. We’ve lost 50 years with one of the main two political parties in Australia totally opposed to nuclear power and using anti-nuclear scare campaigns as a means to win elections. Nuclear was put firmly back on the agenda by the Liberal-National Coalition and offered to the electorate in 1993 and 2007. On both occasions Labor ran an irresponsible anti-nuclear scare campaign. We’ve wasted about 5 years since the Howard Government’s “Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy” report was put forward in 2006 as an important policy option for reducing CO2 emissions.

    I am concerned that focusing on Gen IV in Australia is distracting attention from maintaining focus on addressing the education campaign that is needed in Australia on Gen II and Gen III. What we really need, this year, is to focus on convincing Labor to change its anti nuclear policy at its National Convention in December 2011, and the NSW Labor Party in about June or July 2011. It is quite clear that I am correct, when most of the BNC discussion is about Gen IV and almost no interest in the economic or policy debate.

    Back to the basis of my comment about cost and time required until Gen IV is commercially viable.

    By commercially viable I mean Gen IV cheaper than Gen II or Gen III and competitive with fossil fuel.

    It has taken more than 430 reactors (some have been shut down), to get water moderated reactors to where they are now. Because of their long life (40 to 60 years), it takes a long time to gain experience so that lessons learned can then be designed into the next version. Problems that show up in the latter half of a reactor’s life do not appear for over 20 years, so it is clear that it takes a very long time for improvements to be built in. One example I am familiar with is the splitting of the tubes in the Pickering CANDUs. This occurred after about 20 years of their life (from memory). The fix was then built into future designs. But the point is it takes a ling time for improvements to be implemented in technologies that have a 40 to 60 year life.

    Therefore, if we need to go through say three life cycles for a technology with a 60 year life to reach reasonable maturity, the time required to reach maturity is …

    This explains the technology life cycle.
    On this I’d put the existing nuclear technologies at “leading edge”, hydro and gas are “state of the art”, coal is “Dated”, oil is “obsolete” for electricity generation, solar and wind are “Bleeding Edge” because neither is commercially viable.

    It has taken the water cooled reactor over 50 years to get to where they are now. I cannot see how we can change to a completely new technology, scale it up to commercial size and expect it will be commercially viable significantly faster than the water cooled reactors.

    The time line is further complicated because with Gen IV we are looking at progressing a number of competing, but very different, designs. This will add to the cost.

    This is why I agree with Ziggy Switkowski’s statement that Gen IV is at least 20 years from being commercially viable. I believe it will be longer. I wouldn’t want Australia to touch them until many of a design had been running for at least 10 years.

    What about the cost? It has taken more than 430 reactors to get the costs of Gen II and Gen III to where they are now. There were only a few designs and since Gen I, nearly all have been water moderated. It strains credulity to believe that many different types of Gen IV could be developed through to commercially viable a lot faster or cheaper.

    Therefore, my simple calculation is 50 Gen IV reactors at average cost of $5 billion per GW = $250 billion.

    That is the basis of my IMHO-estimate.


  88. @Peter Lang : Totally agree with you re Gen 2 reactors.
    As DV remarked elsewhere , good enough is not the enemy of better.And indeed our main problem is politics. We still have a ban on any nuke power in Australia in the present regulatory climate. (deleted biased political comment as warned)


  89. @ Peter Lang, on 3 June 2011 at 4:19 PM:

    Peter is sufficiently experienced to know the difference between what he said and that which the Australian article, which he referenced, said.

    No, the cost of electricity in NSW is not and never has been twice the cost of Victorian electricity.

    The article was about transmission costs in States which are far larger than Victoria. I’m not even so sure that the transmission systems alone are cited as being twice the cost.

    Examination of NEM trading figures during the past 5 years or so will demonstrate adequately that the difference in wholesale price between these states is not large and swings both ways.

    So, when Peter Lang says “Here is a recently reported example: privately owned electricity system in Victoria (generation and wires) is about half the cost of electricity in NSW and Queensland.”, I have to call “foul!”.

    The generation costs are not part of the news item quoted.

    Perhaps BNC could publish an article by one such as Keith Orchison explaining how the NEM (National Electricity Market) works and how prices (wholesale and retail) are determined and how different States compare.

    One significant difference between NSW and Victoria about which Peter and I may well find common ground is the stupidly excessive Feed-in Tariff for domestic rooftop PV, which the new Premier is trying to reduce from 60 cents. per kWh, paid on GROSS generation. Even power used by the householder is paid for. All via other retail customers.

    Assuming that, say, 75% of domestic PV power is used within the dwelling (facts, anybody?), that is somewhat like being paid $2.40 per kWh sent out. In Victoria, the equivalent FiT is 40 cents, on a nett basis (If I have heard correctly).

    Wholesale generators in the NEM are lucky to average more than 6 cents per kWh.

    Now, that is something that should be changed, and soon.

    Imagine if NPP’s had access to a FiT of 60 cents per kWh, paid for all generation, whether required by the grid or not and Government backed, for their initial few years!

    That would indeed be interesting, but at least it would be low carbon and reliable and safer than PV.


  90. A reminder regarding supplying references. Except in the Open Threads, where comments policy is more relaxed, references/links must be supplied to support opinion on scientific/technical/political matters and the like. As I am part-time volunteer,BNC is not moderated 24/7, so some comments may not be moderated for several hours, and never overnight. Thus I rely(as do most moderated blogs -some even have an “Alert Moderator” button) on some in-put from commenters in pointing out violations of the comments policy which I may have missed. The alternative would be to have a permanent Pending list on all comments which would result in long delays for approval which occurs on other blogs.
    Incivility will not be tolerated as this inevitably leads to slanging matches which detract from the blog. As a reminder to established and new posters:

    BNC COMMENTS POLICY — I welcome comments, posts, suggestions and informed debate, from a wide range of perspectives. However, personal attacks, insulting/vulgar posts, or repetitious/false tirades will not be tolerated and can result in moderation or banning. Trolls will be warned, and then banned.
    CIVILITY– Clear-minded criticism is welcomed, but play the ball and not the person. Rudeness will not be tolerated. This includes speculation about motives or what ‘sort of person’ someone is. Civility, gentle humour and staying on topic are superior debating tools.
    RELEVANCE – Please maintain focus on the topic at hand. Do not attempt to solve big problems in a single comment, or to offer as fact what are simply opinions about complex matters.
    CITING LITERATURE AND OTHER SOURCES — appropriate and interesting citations and links within comments are welcomed, but please DO NOT cite material that you have not yourself read, digested and understood. As a general rule, please introduce any and every link or reference with a short description of the material, your judgement on its quality, and the specific reason you are including it (i.e. how it is relevant to the discussion).


  91. (deleted off-topic political)
    PL, UP and JB – The comments on this thread are drifting off on to commenter’s particular political stances and as such should be discussed on the Open Thread. As per this quote from the BNC comments policy:
    RELEVANCE – Please maintain focus on the topic at hand. Do not attempt to solve big problems in a single comment, or to offer as fact what are simply opinions about complex matters.
    Please get back on track.


  92. Peter Lang:

    I had hoped that this post would lead to a thread which would provide new discussion from the more technically aware on the pros and cons of the competing Gen IV designs. I believe Gregory Myerson and Alan, fellow non-technical types, were hoping for similar enlightenment. I even thought that David Lewis’ contributions might catalyse the discussion and therefore regret deletion of his second. I also considered that your description of Gen IV technologies as “pie in the sky” would provoke more discussion, given the very different claims made for the IFR at the top of the post. Kirk Sorensen has been making similar very optimistic assessments for the LFTR (see “Kirk Sorensen Interview with Jim Pupleva’s “Financial Sense”” on . Sorensen has, on occasions, been less than polite about the IFR and Barry now describes the LFTR and various other molten salt fuelled designs as “castles in the sky”. This can be construed as healthy competition between the in-crowd, but it hardly enlightens and informs non technical decision makers in the political and economic fields.

    Peter, I was interested in your justification of the “several decades and many billions of dollars” claim pertaining to Gen IVs. In summary, it amounted to the fact 50 x 1GW such reactors would cost $250 billion. This may be a higher figure in some nations than the equivalent amount of LWR power, but not necessarily in the States. (I accept that one has to be careful because some quoted costs relate to build only and some include all interest charges as well). Thus, I find your case against early introduction of Gen IVs less than compelling. However, I’m not saying you’re wrong. You may be surprised to learn that I, too, recognise the importance/necessity of reducing nuclear costs such as to be cheaper than those of coal. I would like to think that this might be achieved more quickly through certain Gen IV technologies than by adhering to the path you advocate. That said, I am not advocating delay in rolling out existing approved designs, merely that we should be rushing to investigate the newer ones in the hope that, if any produces power more cheaply, it can be used as soon as possible before we become locked into too many of the more expensive current types.

    IMO, based only upon what I have read, several of the Gen IV designs have the potential to be cheaper on the basis of not having to operate at high pressure. All designs that attempt to close the fuel cycle- breeders and iso breeders – seem to be once through reactors combined with a recycle of one sort or another, all of which give rise to various proliferation concerns among those who agonise over such matters and may require more R&D. Different designs appear to need different levels of R&D expenditure, but some of this expenditure can sometimes accelerate the development of more than one type of design.

    Some advocate an evolutionary approach involving greater conversion rather than fully closing the fuel cycle as a means of faster progress and less immediate research expenditure (e.g. Per Peterson and the Pebble Bed salt cooled HTR and David LeBlanc’s DMSR). The aim of producing power more cheaply appears to have been a major factor at the heart of these evolutionary approaches. Others, however, see the evolutionary approach as unnecessary and would prefer to reach full sustainability and closed cycles as soon as possible.

    It seems that one of the drawbacks of having so many possible paper designs is the confusion likely to be generated among those who determine funding. It is my understanding that the International Gen IV Forum was set up to produce a shortlist and, in fact, did so. Have there been any funding consequences? It seems absurd to claim that commercial demonstrators are X numbers of years away, because they always will be without any funding. Equally, the X time is likely to reduce according to level of funding – a little money over many years could equal a lot over very few.

    Could we have atechnically informed debate on these matters, either on this or another thread? I think David LeBlanc’s comment to Barry on this thread on 1st June at 5.08 am is an excellent example of what I would like to see. I hope Barry responds in kind. It could be very helpful for those of us who attempt to lobby for nuclear power and feel the need for further technical information. In naming David LeBlanc as an exemplar, I am in no way attempting to suggest thatI I am not also greatly helped by more regular commentators such as Cyril R, DV82XL, Charles Barton et al.


  93. @Douglas Wise
    Thank you for your comment, You saved me a good deal of effort in writing detailed responses to both. Let me note some points.
    I would like to point out that the HASTELLOY N is certified by the NRC for reactor core operations up to 705°C but is capable of withstanding 870°C. Hastelloy N was tested in the MSRE.

    Although LFTR development will require prolonged research, the MSRE demonstrated that the Uranium fueled Molten Salt Reactor is ready for commercial development. ORNL is working on the engineering of a small Molten Salt cooled uranium fueled comercial prototype, the SmAHTR.

    The SmAHTR can perform tasks that the IFR cannot touch. For example, offer Industrial process heat of up to 705°C now and as high as 1200°C later, and serve as the basis for a nuclear peak generation, back up generation system.

    As far as engineering stage both the IFR converter and the Molten Salt Reactor have past the proof of concept prototype stage, but the IFR total fuel cycle has not been tested yet, and thus the first commercial IFR, the ARC-100 is designed to operate as a once through converter with a high conversion ratio.

    The ARC-100 relies on the Brayton Cycle, and as you are aware Brayton Cycle generators are not even in development. The alternative is super critical steam, but it is unlikely that the NRC will approve a reactor that features a sodium-water super-critical steam generator.

    On the other hand ORNL designed a uranium fueled Molten-Salt Reactor Demonstration Reactor in the early 1970’s. Its design was “based on technology much of which was demonstrated by the MSRE.”

    The ORNL Report also stated,
    “An alternative approach to the development of a commercial MSBR has also evoked interest. This approach emphasizes more rapid attain- ment of commercial size but more gradual attainment of high performance. The step beyond the MSRE is construction of a 300-MW(e) Molten-Salt Demonstration Reactor(MSDR). The purpose of the MSDR would be to demonstrate the molten-salt reactor concept on a semi-commercial scale while requiring little development of basic technology beyond that demonstrated in the MSRE.”

    And, “the MSDR has only such chemical processing as was demonstrated in the MSRE and has no provision for removing fission product poisons on a short time cycle. This results in a much less complicated chemical processing plant, although it means that the reactor has a breeding ratio less than one and i s therefore a converter. The second major simplification i s that the power density was made low enough for the graphite core to last the 30-year design lifetime of the plant, thus simplifying the reactor vessel and eliminating the equipment for replacing the core.”

    The MSDR was designed generate power through the medium of superheated steam turbines. Gas turbines, and particularly CO2 turbines would be preferable, if available, but they are not an option yet. As it is the use of superheated steam would make the MSDR more efficient than Light Water Reactors. And super critical steam is a well tested technology that is safety compatible with molten salts.

    Thus a uranium fueled MS technology reactor is possible using only tested technology. That reactor would be quite possibly feature a higher burn ratios than LWRs as well as improved thermal efficiency. Such reactors might well cost significantly less than a LWR of similar power output. No such IFR is possible relying only on existing tested technology.


  94. @Barry
    I came across some statements today, that raise questions about Tom’s claims . Those statements appeared in
    “THE SODIUM-COOLED FAST REACTOR (SFR)” by M. J. Lineberry and T. R. Allen of Argonne National Laboratory

    Click to access Document.ashx

    This document is less than 10 years old, and thus is reasonably up to date. It describes SFR (including IFR) technology gaps:
    For the pyroprocess, viability issues include lack of experience with larger-scale plutonium and minor actinide recoveries, minimal experience with drawdown equipment for actinide removal from electrorefiner salts before processing, and minimal experience with ion exchange systems for reducing ceramic waste volume.

    For the reactor system, technology gaps exist in assurance or verification of passive safety, completion of the fuels database including establishing irradiation performance data for fuels fabricated with the new fuel cycle technologies, and developing in-service inspection and repair (in sodium) technologies.

    A key issue for the SFR is cost reduction to competitive levels. None of the SFRs constructed to date have been economical to build or operate.”

    The report goes on to mention theoretical studies in which “proponents conclude that both overnight cost and busbar cost can be comparable to or lower than those of the advanced LWRs. that suggest. But theoretical studies of reactor costs have often proved unreliable.

    The document also states R&D needs:

    “For the pyroprocess, two process steps and high- level waste volume reduction options have not been pursued beyond laboratory-scale testing. The first needed process step is the reduction of actinide oxides in LWR fuel to metal. Laboratory- scale tests have been performed to demonstrate process chemistry, but additional work is needed to progress to the engineering scale. The second needed step is to develop recovery processes for transuranics, including plutonium. With regard to volume reduction, additional process R&D could potentially increase fission product loading in the high-level waste and reduce total waste volumes. With regard to achieving the high recovery of transuranics, pyroprocessing has been developed to an engineering scale only for the recovery of uranium. Recovery of all transuranics including neptunium, americium, and curium has so far been demonstrated only at laboratory scale. Viability phase R&D is recommended to verify that all actinides can be recycled with low losses.

    Both the advanced aqueous process and the pyroprocess will be evaluated and adapted for application to other closed cycle Generation IV systems such as the Gas Fast Reactor (GFR), Lead-cooled Fast Reactor (LFR), and Supercritical Water Reactor (SCWR). This is primarily an issue at the head end of the process (where e.g., fuels from the GFR or LFR systems would be converted to oxide or metal and introduced into the processes described above), and at the tail end (where they would be reconverted to fuel feedstock). Feasibility evaluations and bench-scale testing would enable comparisons to be made between the advanced aqueous and pyroprocess options. ”

    The document also states,
    “The fuel options for the SFR are MOX and metal alloy. Either will contain a relatively small fraction of minor actinides and, with the low- decontamination fuel cycle processes contemplated, also a small amount of fission products. The presence of the minor actinides and fission products dictates that fuel fabrication be performed remotely. This creates the need to verify that this remotely fabricated fuel will perform adequately in the reactor. These minor actinide- bearing fuels also require further property assessment work for both MOX and metal fuels, but more importantly for metal fuels. Also for metal fuels, it is important to confirm fuel/cladding compatibility behavior when minor actinides and additional rare earth elements are present in the fuel.

    The SFR reactor system technology R&D is aimed at enhancing the economic competitiveness and plant availability. For example, development and/or selection of higher strength-to-weight structural materials for components and piping is important to development of an economically competitive plant. 12Cr ferritic steels, instead of austenitic steels, are viewed as promising structural materials for future plant components because of their superior elevated temperature strength and thermal properties, including high thermal conductivity and low thermal expansion coefficient. . . .

    Since many of the mechanisms that are relied upon for passively safe response can be predicted on a first-principles basis (for example, thermal expansion of the fuel and core grid plate structure), enough is now known to perform a conceptual design of a prototype reactor. R&D is recommended to evaluate physical phenomena and design features that can be important contributors to passive safety, and to establish coolability of fuel assemblies if damage should occur. This R&D would involve in-pile experiments, primarily on metal fuels, using a transient test facility.

    The second challenge requires analytical and experimental investigations of mechanisms that will assure passively safe response to bounding events that lead to fuel damage. The principal needs are to show that debris resulting from fuel failures is coolable within the reactor vessel, and to show that passive mechanisms exist to preclude recriticality in a damaged reactor. A program of out-of-pile experiments involving reactor materials is recommended for metal fuels, while in-pile investigations of design features for use with oxide fuel are now underway.”

    Clearly IFR R&D still has a ways to go, before the first commercial prototype sees the light of day.


  95. Charles Barton, I’m not going to attempt a point-by-point response to your latest barrage of comments. Suffice to say that the lead author of the SFR paper you cite, Mike Lineberry, is an active member of SCGI and a co-author of the Critique of the MIT study. These claims are not those of Tom Blees’, as I’ve already explained to David Lewis; they are the claims of SCGI’s nuclear engineers — the core IFR research team — which includes Mike Lineberry. Mike has been working at INL and ISU for the past 15 years on the pyroprocess (through to 2011, working on disposition and processing of EBR-II metal fuel). And to say things like: “technology gaps exist in assurance or verification of passive safety” — well, those actual tests for EBR-II from 1986 make your arguments on the MSR rather theoretical by comparison. Overall, the key difference between your knowledge of a system like the IFR and PRISM and that of Tom’s and mine, is not direct expertise (none of us being nuclear engineers or indeed people who research, engineer and operate fast reactors). No, it is that Tom and I talk long and deeply with those who are actually really knowledgeable about these systems and have seen all the promises and pitfalls, rather than just squeezing tidbits of poorly interpreted information from general literature.

    Charles, your attitude especially, but those of the “LFTR” cult in general, are frankly a really massive turn off. It’s no wonder I don’t bother participating in the EfT forum. It seems to me almost as if you keep trying to poke me with little pointed sticks, in some juvenile attempt to provoke me into starting to fight against your dream system and thereby forcing me to let people know that I think that ,whilst it might have some useful theoretically advantages, it will never work out in practice. But really, I just can’t be bothered, because ultimately my opinion on this matter counts about as much as yours on the IFR does.

    I’m not writing these BNC posts for the likes of intractables such as you (with apparently some massive chip on their shoulder based on a selective reading of history and some carry over of past disagreements between ORNL and Argonne scientists?). Actually, I’m just posting stuff like this on BNC as an information service for interested readers (because I find this all quite fascinating myself, and suspect that many other readers will too!). You need to keep in mind that the people who will be/are actually making the decisions on if and when to deploy these technologies are getting information straight from those most knowledgeable, those with deep experience with the design and operation of actual reactor systems. So I don’t care what you and your crowd think, or what castles in the sky you like to build — it’s all a bit of fun, I know. Go ahead and promote the MSR, find the folks to finance your ‘LFTR’ demonstration, get it built, let displace all other nuclear technology. If you succeed, and I’ll be lining up to buy you the first bottle of champagne.

    Meanwhile, in the real world, we at SCGI will continue to work hard behind the scenes to get the first IFR built, sooner than you’d think (or apparently hope).


  96. Barry, does the IFR run at atmospheric pressure or is it pressurized?

    I suggest a thread, a kind of open thread, but slightly more focused on “IFR vs LFTR: Which Way for Gen IV?”. It will be educational and fun at the same time. We can hash a lot of this out.

    I will make a generalized comment I make to most antis on the daily kos: all forms of Gen IV technology will be proofed, eventually. SCGI is “doing IFR”. The Chinese are “doing LFTR”. And then all sorts of others (I might add that Gen IV is up and running at the HTR in China right now and they are about to break ground on their 160MW version once the re-designed safety report comes through).

    My DK comments to the antis are this, FYI: you will continue for the next 60 year see all forms of energy production both R&Ded, Deployed, and Evolve. Nothing is really going away for good, and that includes coal. I say this because many/most believe that Fukushima has been the “Death Knell for the Nuclear Industry”. I note: “Not” and cite examples that most countries committed to nuclear are continuing.

    I firmly believe, on fuel cycles, that solid fueled Gen II+ (VVER 1200, CPR-1000, etc) and Gen III designs have a long and happy expansion ahead of them in terms of deployment. In fact, and I continue to argue even against my own LFTR comrades, that the success in terms of acceptance by the public of any Gen IV design is *wholly dependent* on the success of the the existing massive Gen II fleet and future designs.

    I’m somewhat iconclast in the Gen IV school because of this. I also advovate that custormers, not engineers, will decide the sizes and kind of deployment of Gen IV reactors. I personally advocate (and have had friendly debates with Charles on this) that larger, 1 to 2 GW LFTRs will be ‘as needed’ as a series of small ones: 5 200MW LFTRs do not equal 1 GW LFTR from a variety of perspectives including costs. More in another thread…



  97. David W, the IFR is not pressurised. The IFR is also being ‘proofed’ (again) in China — their CEFR, opened this year in Beijing, is essentially a blueprint of EBR-II (right down to being exactly the same 62.5 MWt).
    The Chinese Experimental Fast Reactor
    I otherwise agree with what you say, and will think about posting such a thread when I have more time to dedicate to its comments, i.e. when I return to Australia from my current leg of US/Canada travels.


  98. Excellent! It goes to show that there is no “winner” in this discussion, doesn’t it? At any rate, I look forward to continuing this. Are you coming to the West Coast?

    Barry: Been to Davis CA already, now in New York (Stony Brook), heading to Waterloo in Canada on the weekend


  99. Barry:

    Your response to Charles Barton strikes me as totally unacceptable. You appear to have forgotten all about your moderation policy, or, alternatively, to consider that it doesn’t apply to yourself. I suppose, if nothing else, it has provoked you into displaying the contempt you obviously feel for MSR concepts and their proponents, who base their arguments on tidbits of poorly interpreted information from the general literature (“useful theoretical advantages that will never work out in practice)

    You have superior knowledge – not, of course, that you have special expertise in the field, but because you mix with those who are real experts. This tends to ignore the following; The MIT authors might also have some knowledge of their own, which leads them to differing conclusions; David LeBlanc, an active nuclear scientist, has expressed the view on this thread that, while he supports fast breeders, he considers that solutions based on molten salt will prove significantly cheaper in the longer term – a claim which you have not graced with a response; Per Peterson has presented a post on this site, describing the Pebble Bed AHTR concept, designed to produce cheap power. in this post, he suggested that the IFR would be more expensive than LWRs and, I think, too expensive to deploy in the States.

    Charles Barton’s post quoted from a paper, a few years old, by Dr Lineberry and a co-author. This indicated that there was an apparently not inconsiderable list of issues still requiring R&D before the IFR could be tested at pilot scale. It may well be that these have been resolved in the interim period, justifying your claim that the “technology is now ready for pilot-scale demonstration.” All you said on the subject was that Dr Lineberry was party to your original document (leaving readers to infer whatever they chose).

    Instead of clarifying this issue, you intimate that you “can’t be bothered” and, instead, resort to ad hominem attack and refer to “massive chip on shoulder.” You go on to suggest that you only post this stuff (presumably the current post) for the interest of your readers here, intimating that their opinions don’t really matter, given that they won’t be taking any decisions and that those who do will have direct access to real experts. I wonder if you have any idea how arrogant this sounds.

    Arrogance, of course, is not unacceptable if aligned with infallible judgement. I could, I suppose, take the view that you have studied all aspects of the situation and have come to the only logical conclusion. I am certainly not in a position to disagree, but I would be far happier using a balanced and logical debate to help me arrive at my own conclusion rather than having to rely on blind faith in someone elses’s judgement, however much I might respect it in most matters.


  100. You’re welcome to your opinion Douglas, but I strongly disagree. Moreover, you seem to be getting more and more in the habit of chiding people and expressing disappointment, which is getting quite tiresome. If you wish to interpret my statements about blog comments ultimately not amounting to a hill of beans as somehow ‘arrogant’ then, once again, it’s your view. I disagree – I’m simply being realistic and trying to put things in perspective. Interesting as they are, discussions on BNC, NG, EfT and the like are not going to move the world.

    I wrote that post you refer to on the PB-AHTR, not Per. I was dismissing the MSR advocates’ criticisms of the IFR based on their tidbits; I made no special comment on the veracity or otherwise of their information on the MSR, other than I agree that one really ought to be built to show what advantages will remain theoretical and what will be proven out at the engineering scale, and what unforeseen problems will arise.

    I’m also sure Dr LeBlanc is a clever fellow and an excellent engineer, but with respect to fast reactors I’ll go straight to the horses’ mouth for my advice – those people who, over the last 50 years, have designed, built, tested and run SFRs in many and varied forms. That kind of hard-won knowledge and experience counts for plenty, in my book. Can the MSR advocates argue the same? (actually, I don’t care, because as I stated earlier, I’m not on a campaign to harangue them or to make any particular comment on the ‘LFTR’ concepts)


  101. Moderator, since John Bennetts’ comment at 3 June 2011 at 5:47 PM was not deleted from this thread, I feel it needs to be corrected on this thread.
    Fine Peter. I let John’s comment stand as it was in response to your political opines. That was against my better judgement – I knew from past experience it was likely to develop in to a political argy-bargy. So now his comment, this one of yours and any others pertaining to this political argument will be deleted from this thread. Take it to the Open Thread please


  102. John Bennetts,

    You are misrepresenting the article about the comparison of the cost of electricity in the fully privatised electricity system in Victoria and the publically owned electricity systems in NSW and Queensland. You may want to go to the source reporrt, you’ll find it more authoritative than Keith Orchison’s spin.
    Please supply a link to the source report so John and others may check it out.


  103. Moderator,

    I think you are doing an excellent job. BNC has improved enormously since you started.

    However, I do notice that there is a bit of a difference between the way people who fully support the BNC majority views are treated compared with those who don’t.
    Thank you Peter. Some Moderating will always be subjective, however it seems that regulars on BNC understand the rules and are more likely to stick by them than newcomers, and these, in the main of late,probably because of the Fukushima incident,have been those with opposing views. This applies particularly to the citation policy. Also refs to material already dealt with in depth by BNC cannot be expected to be supplied each and every time there is a query by someone who has not familiarised themselves with the blog.
    If you look back over the moderation you will find that regular commenters such as DV8, Ms. Perps, John Bennets, Douglas Wise to name a few, have all been moderated at some time. Conflicting views, and off-topic conversations are accommodated on BNC on the Open Threads(where commenting rules, with the exception of the civility policy,are relaxed such that they do not require references) and the Sceptics threads.Go to those threads and you will find all kinds of dissent, mostly un-moderated. There is no conspiracy to curtail dissenting comment.


  104. Douglas Wise,

    I would like to think that this might be achieved more quickly through certain Gen IV technologies than by adhering to the path you advocate.

    And that is the problem. You and others “would like to think”. You hope. Just like the renewable energy advocates “would like to think” and hope that somehow, someday, reality will no longer apply.

    By the way, I probably should have given a range. Something like:

    Based on past experience in nuclear and in other technologies (look up the technology life cycle) a realistic extimate for the cost to take about six competing Gen IV reactor types through to the point where some are commercially viable (ie LCOE less than Gen II or Gen III), we should anticipate we’d need to have built 50 to 100 reactors. Expect the average cost to be $5 to $10 billon/GW. So the total investment to get some of them through to commercially viable would be around (ball park) $250 to $1,000 billion.

    Does that help to clarify?


  105. Alan, on 1 June at 11:54 AM:

    As Douglas Wise observed, I don’t understand why you got ragged on for stating what seems like a pretty obvious statement that people are uncomfortable with relatively uncontrolled nuclear development around the world. As for Peter Lang’s comments about the time it will take to build Gen IV and make them ready for mass production, those are big assumptions that I believe will be proven wrong very soon. Barry said he’s going to post a piece very soon that I wrote for the UK government. In it I point out that Russia has decided to move quickly to build metal-fueled fast reactors, with or without the cooperation of the USA. The U.S. deputy secretary of energy, Dan Poneman, told Sergei Kirienko (director-general of Russia’s Rosatom nuclear agency) that we will cooperate with them on that.

    It should be noted that once the pilot IFR is up and running, beginning mass production will be a far simpler affair than building Gen III reactors (Peter, nobody is going to build Gen II reactors anymore), partly because they’re smaller, partly because they require no pressure vessels and are simpler in many respects. It would not surprise me at all to see the first one built within 5 years, and the cost will be minimal, not the vast sums Peter suggests. Probably $4-5 billion tops.


  106. Tom Blees,

    As for Peter Lang’s comments about the time it will take to build Gen IV and make them ready for mass production, those are big assumptions that I believe will be proven wrong very soon.

    Tom, I’d argue the big assumption is that Gen IV will be commercial any time soon. It flys in the face of all previous development times. Furthermore, it cannot be proved wrong until it is commercially viable.

    I believe you are being overly optimistic. Most researchers are optimistic and unrealistic about the cost and time it will take to get their product through to being commercially viable. Consider, for example, the history of solar thermal (or any other technology). David Mills has been telling anyone that would listen, for over 20 years, that solar thermal is baseload capable now and economically competitive now. He’s been saying that for over twenty years. Another example is the NEEDS (2007) report. It forecast the cost of solar thermal would drop about 30% between 2007 and 2010. Instead, it increased about 30%. Look how long it takes for the aircraft industry to evolve and that is despite aircraft having a shorter life expectancy than a nuclear power station and many more of each model are built, so they should improve much faster than a new nuclear technology. It doesn’t matter what technology you look at, the development time and the cost is far higher than expected.

    I think you are taking a bottom up approach to your estimating. But in so doing, you focus on what you know and you tend to miss the unknown-unknowns. That is why I’d suggest you should also take a top down approach. Once you’ve done top down estimating the next step is to explain why your bottom up approach leads you to believe Gen IV development will be so much cheaper and more rapid than history shows other technologies have been.


  107. Tom @

    “It would not surprise me at all to see the first one built within 5 years, and the cost will be minimal, not the vast sums Peter suggests. Probably $4-5 billion tops.”

    You have no idea how that resonates with my gut feel … here is an excerpt of an email I sent to a friend/colleague 2 days ago:

    “Left field, M … do you know of anyone or any energy/energy infrastructure investor that would/could look at integral fast reactor technology?

    I am guessing here, but given the apparent state of technology development from Argonne Labs (had 20MW prototype which ran for years) I’d say we’re talking $5b over 5-8 years (from a consortium) to prove the technology/commerciality with a single 350MW gen set.

    But … like all these things it will ramp up as stage-gates are passed so the capital requirement profile might be more like …

    Year $m
    1 25
    2 75
    3 200
    4 700
    5 1000
    6 1250
    7 1250
    8 500

    So it is a classic ‘reduce the risk’ with smaller capital chunks at first – place a bet.

    My interest derives from the efforts and association of Prof Barry Brook at Uni of Adelaide – he is a leader of the Science Council ( and it appears they are actively trying to put money/project together.”

    Peter L … I understand that commercial-grade technology matures (design problems worked out etc) and costs come down (expect 20% cost improvement per doubling of installs (I’ll track down reference link later).

    But I would argue that once a single industrial scale unit is built & run for a couple of years, there is sufficient performance data to reliably assess the technical & commercial potential. If the first ‘real’ install proves technical & commercial promise then the game changes materially.

    We’re not going to convince each other otherwise, I suspect.


  108. Barry:

    Thank you for responding and clarifying matters.

    1) I am sorry that you find my occasional expressions of disappointment tiresome (my wife has been telling me that I’m tiresome for 50 years!). They come from a sense of frustration that, after several years of discussions on blogs such as BNC, NG and EfT in which the merits of nuclear solutions to planetary boundaries have been constantly expounded, little real world progress seems to be being made. It was for this reason that I found Tom Blees’ subsequent comment relating to Russian developments with respect to metal fuelled fast breeders to be so heartening, particularly the fact that their effort would receive American co-operation. I hope this also covers the re- procressing side of things. Equally cheering, in some respects, is the relatively recent news that the Chinese are starting serious development work on LFTRs and fast reactors, the downside being that the West is likely to suffer further economic degradation if it fails to join the nuclear race.

    2) Charles Barton works tirelessly to promote the cause of nuclear power in general and molten salt solutions in particular. You, among other things, do the same, but with a penchant for fast breeders. In the past, each has appeared to acknowledge that there is scope for both types of technology, while giving reasons why each prefers his own – a totally reasonable state of affairs. However, in attempting to make the case for one technolgy type over another, is it entirely unreasonable to point to the perceived strengths of one’s preferred option and the weaknesses of one’s competitors? It seems that your reaction to Charles Barton’s questioning of the strength of the IFR case provoked an atypical response in you to play the man and not the ball. Rightly or wrongly, it appears to be the perception among many molten salt proponents that fast breeder supporters keep their information close to their chests and won’t divulge it, lest it be criticised. Even if true, it may not be fear of criticism, but the fact that the technology is closer to fruition and thus subject to commercial confidentiality agreements that makes frank discussion impossible. One is left to guess.

    3) I must admit that “the chip on shoulder” comment probably made me view the rest of your text in an adverse light. Thus, I misconstrued your “tidbits of poorly interpreted information” reference to one levelled against molten salt proponents in general rather than their specific criticisms of IFR. I apologise. Equally, I can now see that you didn’t actually mean to suggest that it was your view that, despite some theoretical advantages, MSRs would never work in practice, merely that you thought that it was the intention of some of the MSR proponents to provoke you into saying something that you didn’t really believe.

    4) I also accept that blog discussions aren’t going to move the world. Some are, however, convenient sources of good information and debate and provide the means to reach source material for non experts by the provision of citations. BNC is a shining example. Thus attribution of arrogance to your statement of the obvious was wrong and, again, I apologise. It was the “can’t be bothered” bit earlier that probably got to me unduly.

    5) Finally, genuine questions. Can we have a definition that differentiates pilot scale from commercial demonstrator? To what extent are pilot scale plants subject to regulatory control and, assuming they are, are the controls similar to those for commercial reactors or, in some ways, less stringent? To what extent would it be possible for national governments or even an international body to set up “nuclear parks” for the testing of competing designs at small scale? ( I have heard it mooted, but also that regulatory authorities would effectively block or slow progress to a crawl). Given that nuclear weapons states are in a position to manufacture bombs, why is it impossible for them to create “regulator-free zones” for reactor testing, given responsible alternative supervision? Are pilot-scale fast metal reactors being built in Russia because regulators would delay their construction in the States for decades?


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  110. “It should be noted that once the pilot IFR is up and running, beginning mass production will be a far simpler affair than building Gen III reactors (Peter, nobody is going to build Gen II reactors anymore), partly because they’re smaller, partly because they require no pressure vessels and are simpler in many respects. It would not surprise me at all to see the first one built within 5 years, and the cost will be minimal, not the vast sums Peter suggests. Probably $4-5 billion tops.” – Tom Blees

    This is an honest statement, and I will not challenge it. But a 5 year, 5 billion dollar R&D program might well produce a LFTR as well, and a Uranium fueled MSR comercial prototype that could do things the IFR cannot do, can be had for considerably less.


  111. On the narrow point of burning transuranics in MSRs, the Grenoble group has investigated this in detail and it works fine, whatever spectrum the reactor runs. page 6 of the pdf

    There is no conflict with the table of fission probabilities posted by Barry. Thermal reactors burn lransuranics less efficiently, but they need far less of them to start up. Displacing fossil fuels will need Gen iV reactors by the thousand, so whether 100 or 400 are needed to deal with the accumulated waste doesn’t matter that much.


  112. The oft-repeated criticism of the lack of references in the SCGI critique disregards who the members of SCGI are: Many of them are the very people who invented the IFR, as can be seen from their bios on the site. It’s not like they’re some guys who looked up their info on Wikipedia and spouted off on it. These guys have decades of experience building reactors and creating the entire IFR system. I think their credentials speak for themselves. The reason that my name is listed on the report for further contact is because I’m the president of SCGI. I was not the primary author of that critique.


  113. David Lewis, on 2 June at 4:32 AM:

    “Clearly, MIT is also more concerned about nuclear proliferation than SCGI types seem to be…”

    MIT pretty much ignores pyroprocessing’s built-in proliferation resistance, one of its most important features. In fact, the MIT report seems to go out of its way to ignore IFR-type reactors as much as possible. “SCGI types” are just as concerned about proliferation as anybody, which is precisely why we’d like to employ the most proliferation-resistant nuclear technology. That being said, the proliferation risk from spent power reactor fuel is usually greatly exaggerated since its isotopic mix is virtually useless for making nuclear weapons, even by a national lab. “SCGI types” understand this, so (if I might presume to speak for this type) just because we’re not running around with our hair on fire freaking out about terrorists making bombs out of spent reactor fuel doesn’t mean we’re not concerned about legitimate and reasonable proliferation issues.

    DL also writes: “You can disagree with MIT about how urgent the development of nuclear power is without taking the position they don’t know technical issues as well as you do.”

    When the report’s own words betray a lack of technical knowledge on some point(s) it is absolutely acceptable and responsible to point that out, as in any other use of the scientific method.

    More: “The SGCI is welcome to convince the public that its better option is what the public wants. Why argue in this way with MIT?”

    Because the successive MIT reports just keep kicking the can down the road, when we’ve already developed a system (at a cost of billions) that could and arguably should be deployed for a whole host of reasons, not only to solve the waste problem (sure, that’s a political problem, but politics drives policy). The MIT group has a distinct influence on policymakers, which is why SCGI feels that it’s necessary to tell the IFR story to those policymakers since it’s practically ignored by MIT. Researchers often like to perpetuate research and have little or no interest (or even an active disincentive) to promote deployment of technologies. Why on earth did we build the IFR and design its commercial-scale iteration (the PRISM and S-PRISM) if we’re not going to build the thing?


  114. David Lewis on June 3 @ 4:51: “MIT directly addresses Blees and others who think like him with this: ‘Too much has changed to assume that the traditional fuel cycle futures chosen in the 1970s based on what was known at that time are appropriate for today. There is a window of time, if used wisely with a focused effort, to develop better fuel cycle options before major decisions to deploy advanced fuel cycles are made.'”

    The IFR isn’t a product of the 70s. It was developed between 1984 and 1994. Again, MIT kicks the can down the road. Your further mocking of “my report” is misplaced since I wasn’t the critique’s lead author. Since several members of SCGI were involved the study was credited to the organization, as I pointed out a bit earlier. That being said, I did gladly eviscerate the early version of this MIT report in my book, and you’re welcome to critique that chapter at will.


  115. “The oft-repeated criticism of the lack of references in the SCGI critique disregards who the members of SCGI are: Many of them are the very people who invented the IFR, as can be seen from their bios on the site. It’s not like they’re some guys who looked up their info on Wikipedia and spouted off on it. These guys have decades of experience building reactors and creating the entire IFR system. I think their credentials speak for themselves. The reason that my name is listed on the report for further contact is because I’m the president of SCGI. I was not the primary author of that critique.” – Tom Blees

    Tom I find your attitude to be disappointing. I respect the scientists who are members of SCGI as scientists, not as oracles. What am I to think when I find that statements made by SCGI contradict statements made by some of the same scientists, in ANL or INL published papers? What am I to think if i find that scientists at Sandia National Laboratory may disagree with the conclusions of the Argonne and Idaho NL scientists who supposedly back up the SCGI’s authority?

    The press wants simple answers, and I don’t object to SCGI publishing unreferenced press releases, but this does not exempt SCGI from presenting scientific referenced cases for its contentions, if it wants to be taken seriously as a science based organization.


  116. Tom Blees, on 4 June 2011 at 10:05 AM said:
    “… nobody is going to build Gen II reactors anymore”

    Tom, the argument from authority isn’t going to convince people.
    People are skeptical about assertions without citations.
    I know it’s tedious to cite sources for statements.
    But without cites to sources it’s easy to sound confused or even wrong.

    When you said “nobody is going to build Gen II reactors anymore” you meant that once Gen4 infrastructure exists, in the future, some day, eventually, nobody will be starting to build any more Gen II reactors — but what you write sounds like you think nobody is going to be building more Gen II reactors in the near future.

    And that’ s easy to check. E.g.
    Nuclear Power in China (Updated 10 March 2011)

    “… In January 2011 a report from the State Council Research Office (SCRO), …
    more of the Generation-II CPR-1000 units are under construction or on order.

    Only China is building Gen-II units today in such large numbers, with 57 (53.14 GWe) on the books4.

    SCRO said that reactors built today should operate for 50 or 60 years, meaning a large fleet of Gen-II units will still be in operation into the 2070s …”

    Source is:

    Suggestion — try to be clearer about what’s hypothetical; the hypothetical future is very attractive and sounds wonderful. But to get there, you have to start from here where we are now and describe real steps — and cite sources for claims made.


  117. Hank, all exisiting builds are either Gen III (modern active designs) or Gen III+ (modern active designs with extra passive features). No Gen II are being built anymore. Gen III is being built since the 1990’s, being the ABWRs from Japan. Recently there is the EPR (Olkiluoto, and Flamanville) and the latest VVER (Russian PWR).

    Gen III+ is the AP-1000 (PWR, passive decay heat cooling), the ESBWR (BWR based on ABWR but with increased passive operation) and ACR-1000 (Candu).


  118. The ACR1000 seems to be in the selection process (GDA) in the British next reactor build series. It does have attractive features, though I’m with DV82XL on liking the more proven lower risk evolutionary CANDU-6. I hope they pick a 4-unit plant as the new build for my country. The latest are 4×750 MWe which is an impressive 3000 MWe station.

    I do like the idea of going to slightly enriched fuels to allow better uranium utilisation, down to about 100 tonnes U per GW year electricity, and increased burnup that will be required for future thorium cycles.

    The difference between Gen II and Gen III can be a bit of a grey area. An older Gen II reactor that has had numerous upgrades, extra redundancies, diversity, physical safety seperation and power uprates is very similar to Gen III. But Gen III+ is distinctly different, with safety related passive features such as passive core cooling and passive containment heat removal (using no electricity, just valves, some not even valves at all, such as ESBWR and Kerena with the full passive containment heat removing condenser racks).


  119. @Cyril R – AECL withdrew its request to have the ACR series approved for sale in the U.K., so it’s surprising that it would still be a contender there. The design is considered all but dead in Canada. As well if you want to burn SEU, one is able to in a CANDU 6E.


  120. I note that there’s a new study by MIT researchers in press in Energy Economics – “A methodology for calculating the levelized cost of electricity in nuclear power systems with fuel recycling”. It’s available here in full:

    It examines LCOE for three different fuel cycles: once through, twice through, and indefinite recycling (fast reactor cycle). Apparently this is the first proper LCOE formula attempt for a fast reactor cycle.

    The emphasis appears to be more focused on formulating a methodology for calculation of LCOE than on the actual LCOE results. But interestingly the preliminary results aren’t hugely different for the three cycles: 8.4 c/kWh for once through, 8.5 c/kWh twice through and 8.7 c/kWh for fast reactors. The result for the fast reactor cycle is actually lower than previous cost estimates using an ‘equilibrium cost’ methodology.

    I do note that all three of these results are substantially higher than most current levelised costs for nuclear energy in OECD nations, as given here: . I got a bit lost on some of the technical aspects of the paper, but assume this may well be due to the current legislative/political environment.

    Another thing I don’t understand is the huge difference in back-end fuel costs (i.e. storage/disposal etc.) between the cycles. The fast reactor cycle result is a good order of magnitude higher than once through. This is easily off set by the huge negative cost for front-end fuel, but I still don’t understand the reason for such a large difference.

    And glaringly obvious is the much higher capital cost for fast reactors. I wonder what the SCGI folk make of this.


  121. Well, decommissioning reprocessing facilities, and their lifetime wastes, is very expensive. Tens of billions kind of expensive. So there’s a big back-end cost factor. Not that it matters terribly – the back-end cost are easily paid for by a simple financing scheme; put a small charge per kWh on a bank account and watch the money pile up.


  122. The costs of mass-produced fast reactors are frequently baselessly exaggerated, completely ignoring Congressional testimony by GE of their best estimates, and likewise ignoring the repeatedly experienced cost savings of mass production. Likewise the costs of reprocessing facilities are extremely speculative. Perhaps we could ask the South Koreans how much it cost them to build their first pyroprocessing facility.

    This SCGI folk has long since given up any hope of MIT treating IFR systems with any kind of realism.


  123. I see no reason for options to be constrained or for promising technologies to be deferred indefinitely here; the simple fact of the matter is that fissile material, whether it be U-235, or U-233, or TrU, is a limited resource that may well impede rapid expansion in the near future in a world in which right now over a billion people lack access to electricity.

    There are many routes to achieve the twin goals of fuel economy and non-proliferation that are not being taken advantage of in addition to the SFRs and MSRs such as DUPIC recycling which was not mentioned at all in the MIT report. DUPIC is technically simpler and offers the advantages of greater resource economy (extracting 25-30% more energy than MOX), a much reduced waste stream, and less demand on world mining, milling, and enrichment services (by itself clearly a major anti-proliferation advantage of DUPIC over an otherwise unnecessary global LWR expansion).

    SFRs & MSRs ideally can be made to work synergistically as the latest French research seems to conclude by taking advantage of the high neutron flux of SFRs and the low fissile inventory requirements of MSRs; SFRs, while utilizing the enormous latent energy contained within the SNF & DU stockpiles, can breed U-233 in thorium radial blankets and supply “steady state” MSR iso-breeders with their initial fissile charges enabling a vary rapid MSR fleet expansion.


  124. > Cyril R., on 12 June 2011 at 4:25 AM said:
    > … all exisiting builds are either Gen III (modern active designs) or Gen III+
    > … No Gen II are being built anymore.

    Cyril, like Tom, you say you believe, but you don’t cite a source.

    I’ve looked. You know the CPR-1000 isn’t the same as the AP-1000, right?
    It’s an older, Chinese reactor. That’s what the quote talks about, they’re building more of that design.

    I think Barry and Jim Hansen and the other biologists are right about climate change, and for that reason agree with what they recommend.

    I worry about claims that can’t be cited to sources because skeptical readers will want to look at your sources for themselves.

    Trust isn’t the point; sources are needed. Here’s another story from the same original source also describing the CPR-1000:

    “Mar 18, 2011 … A report by the State Council Research Office, an independent body … an enhanced Generation 2 pressurized water design called CPR-1000. …

    Your source, whatever it is, disagrees. But what is your source?

    Do the Chinese just use a different naming system? Is the CPR-1000 design one that would — to the NRC if built in the US — be classified as a Gen III design?

    If that’s what you mean and what Tom means, say so, with a source, so people who look it up aren’t confused.


    “Opposition is true friendship” — Blake


  125. Report from a colleague who attended the IAEA Technical Working Group on Nuclear Fuel Cycle Options and Spent Fuel Management in Vienna this month:

    1. India is constructing a 500 MWe Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor. It was supposed to go on-line next year but will be delayed to 2014 due to lack of fuel supply. Following PFBR, they plan to construct 4 more 500 MWe units and then move on to 1000 MWe Commercial Fast Breeder Reactors. They are convinced of the merits of the IFR techonology, so they have been developing metal fuel fabrication line and irradiation testing in their Fast Breeder Test Reactor (60 MWth). They are also working on the pyroprocessing with 1-3 kg scale elctrorefining. They intend to use metal fuel and pyroproceesing in their Commercial Fast Breeder Reactors. Metal fuel in FBTR by 2016 and and in CFBR by 2026 and the pyroprocessing plants for both – small scale demo for FBTR fuel and then a commercial pyroprocessing plant for CFBRs.

    2. China has built China Experimental Fast Reactor and plans to have a 1000 MWe class fast reactor as a follow-on and also collaborate with Russia on two BN-800 (still under negotiation). They are interested in metal fuel and pyroprocessing by the time they reach commercial fast reactors.

    3. South Korea has been pursuing by far the most aggressive pyroprocessing development. At the moment, they are engaged in developing a joint feasibility study of pyroprocessing with U.S.

    4. Russia is constructing BN-800 and they have plans to design BN-1200 and also a multi-purpose fast reactor (100 MWth) to replace the role of BOR-60 in Dimitrovgrad. But they don’t have any plan for metal fuel nor our type of pyroprocessing though.


  126. Barry,

    Thanks for that update. The Russians, though, definitely are headed to metal fuel, as clearly and repeatedly stated by the director-general of Rosatom, Sergei Kirienko, at a recent event in Washington DC. In fact, they’re planning to modify their BN-600 so it can use metal fuel and begin to utilize some of their Pu from old weapons. Hopefully the US will be working on it with them to take advantage of our IFR development. We seem to be headed in that direction, despite the lack of progress within the USA.


  127. Hank, like I said, the distinction between Gen II and Gen III is not obvious. Gen III is a direct evolution from Gen II.

    The Wiki article gives the CPR as “Gen II+”

    I have to admit I didn’t know there was such a thing as Gen II+. Wiki even gives a Gen III++ category.

    It’s all marketing off course. Hardly worth arguing about. The only “hard” criterion is the core damage frequency, which must be lower than 10e-5 per year for Gen III. Gen III+ uses more passive features that give it even lower core damage frequencies. But the EPR has fewer passive features yet gets a core damage frequency lower than 10e-6 per year.

    I would prefer to not stare blindly on core damage frequencies, and put more emphasis on eliminating common mode failures and bad equipment design (such as venting the emergency steam lines to the upper portion of the building when the spent fuel pool is located there). I work with these probabilistic models on a daily basis and I can tell you what’s needed is more common sense and fewer complicated models that no one really understands yet everyone trusts.

    I’m sorry if I prefer reason over references sometimes. It is tiresome to me that people demand references to all sorts of glaringly obvious things.


  128. Thanks for that update Barry. Its great to get detailed and specific milestones for the technology development. Very encouraging developments in India where they seem to be staying on plan for a complex and ambitious deployment.


  129. The EPR has a pool of water in containment that absorbs heat through pipes under the core catcher. The question is how is that heat removed from containment. If its an active system that removes heat from the core catcher water coolant to the outside then this is not passive safety.


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