Future Nuclear Policy

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.


By Barry Brook

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

154 replies on “Critique of MIT future of nuclear fuel cycle study”

(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.


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.


@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.


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.


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).


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…



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.


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



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.


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)


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


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.



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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


@Tom Blees

When you talk about a “pilot IFR” are you referring to a (possibly evolved) PRISM or something else?



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?


“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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


“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.


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.


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).


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).


@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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


> 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


Hank Roberts, on 13 June 2011 at 12:07 PM — The chinese company involved calls the CPR-1000 a Gen III design. It is computer contorlled so I suppose that qualifies it as more than Gen II+.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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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