Yucca Mountain is Dead! Long Live Fast Breeders?!

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The Obama administration's new budget essentially kills the Yucca mountain radioactive waste repository project. The original goal was to build a facility in which to safely store high level radioactive wastes from America's 104 nuclear power reactors. Anti-nuke environmentalist ideologues have long opposed the Yucca mountain facility. Their goal is make nuclear power impractical by blocking the waste disposal stream. But perhaps they've outfoxed themselves.

nukepower

The new budget promises that the Obama administration will  "devise a new strategy toward nuclear waste disposal." Well, there is already a strategy that will work, using fast breeder reactors to burn up waste and simultaneously produce more reactor fuel. At the nuclearinfo site, a group of Australian physicists explains:

Natural Uranium consists of 0.7% 235U and 99.3% 238U. All commercial Power reactors used in the world today utilize the 235U component in natural Uranium as the primary means of maintaining a chain reaction. The most troublesome component of nuclear waste are the tran-Uranic elements that occur when 238U captures a neutron and transmutes to 239Pu. Further neutron captures on this element lead to a buildup of long-lived transuranic nuclei. However 239Pu is also fertile and undergoes fission like 235U. Advanced reactor designs exploit this to convert the 238U to 239Pu. If the reactor avoids the slowing down, "thermalization" of neutrons, there are sufficient excess neutrons that it is possible to convert more 238U to 239Pu than 235U is consumed. These reactors use the unmoderated "fast" neutrons directly produced via the fission process.

Thus these reactors "breed" 239Pu from 238U and so produce more fuel than they consume. The use of fast-breeder technology makes it possible to increase the efficiency of Uranium use by over a factor of 50. It is then possible to exploit the vast quantities of depleted Uranium stockpiled around the world to generate electricity. In addition the excess neutrons can be used to transmute the long-lived transuranic waste from current Nuclear Power reactors to ever-heavier isotopes until they eventually fission. Thus these reactors can be used to "burn" the most troublesome component of nuclear waste.

And there's more—thorium breeder reactors:

Thorium is an element that is 3 times more abundant than Uranium on earth. It has a single stable isotope 232Th. In a nuclear reactor this isotope can capture a neutron and be converted to 233U. 233U undergoes fission like 235U and 239Pu. However when 233U fissions it releases more neutrons than either 235U or 239Pu. Consequently it is possible to to construct a breeder reactor that utilizes thermal neutrons to both generate energy and to breed 233U from Thorium given sufficient initial quantities of 233U mixed with 232Th.

A further advantage of Thorium breeders is that the amount of transuranic waste is vastly decreased compared to a Uranium or Plutonium based reactor.

If the Obama administration believes that it can persuade reactionary environmentalists into accepting thousands of miles of new high voltage power lines strung across the countryside, surely it will have no trouble talking them into fast breeder reactors.

Hat tip to Steve Skutnik.

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  1. I think that if you promise liberals that fast-breeder reactors make a perfect fit with high-speed rail, you’ll have a deal.

  2. Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.

  3. I’ve long wondered why we don’t recycle and reuse spent nuclear fuel like France.

  4. If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits eighty-eight miles per hour… you’re gonna see some serious shit.

  5. I’m sure that in 1985 plutonium is available in every corner drugstore, but in 1955 it’s a little hard to come by.

  6. I’ve long wondered why we don’t recycle and reuse spent nuclear fuel like France.

    Superficially the reason is that we are “concerned about nulcear proliferation.” But in reality, the main reason is that we don’t want to allow IAEA to monitor us as France does.

  7. Radical environmentalists don’t want any kind of nuclear power, because they don’t want any kind of industrial society at all. Rather, they want to go “back to the Pleistocene”. That this would entail a 99%+ reduction in the world population is seen a positive feature.

    They do want to be in the remaining 1% of course. It’s only “fair”.

  8. domo,

    What? Why can’t we just pull a Louis the 14th and declare, “We are the IAEA” and tell everyone to fuck off? I keep expecting every year at the UN, our ambassador to present a check for the year’s funding and just say, “What’s that? We’re the greatest? I can’t hear you.”

  9. Your mom’s a tran-Uranic element! Ha!

  10. I’m all for breeder reactors but the fact remains that much in the way of nuclear waste is not reusable. It must be disposed of.

    In an e-mail, Stephanie Mueller wrote

    The new administration is starting the process of finding a better solution for management of our nuclear waste.

    Starting?
    How much WTF is in that statement?

    From the U.S. Department of Energy website

    In 1982, Congress established a national policy to solve the problem of nuclear waste disposal.

    Nine fucking gigabucks and twenty seven goddam years later, the exact same wasteful, unnecessary and incompetent United States Department of Energy decides it is “STARTING” the process?

    I guess just storing the dangerous toxic and radioactive shit at hundreds on non-secure sites strewn about the country is good to go for another #$%&@! quarter of a fucking century!

    Steven Chu, you and I both know Yucca mountain is not the perfect place to store radioactive waste. We both also know that the perfect place doesn’t fucking exist, and Yucca mountain is a huge improvement compared to the status quo.

    Fuck, fuck and FUCK!!!

    If the Obama administration believes that it can persuade reactionary environmentalists into accepting thousands of miles of new high voltage power lines strung across the countryside, surely it will have no trouble talking them into fast breeder reactors.

    I’m going to LMAO watching Greenpeace and Earth First nutcases fight everything this administration attempts regarding energy policy tooth and nail.

    Lawyers will continue to rake in the cash.

  11. Naga, if I had my way, we’d just bulldoze them into the east river.

  12. Radical environmentalists don’t want any kind of nuclear power, because they don’t want any kind of industrial society at all. Rather, they want to go “back to the Pleistocene”. That this would entail a 99%+ reduction in the world population is seen a positive feature.

    The best way to destroy an idea is to turn it into an -ism.

  13. Fast breeders and spent fuel recycling is a great alternative to long term storage of transuranic compounds. What the story fails to mention is that Yucca was going to be a repository for many other harmful materials, AND that many of the storage means would also facilitate future reuse.

    Additionally what is not considered is the LIFESPAN of nuclear facilities. Many of these new plants will have only a 30 year lifespan, and most of the current nuclear sites in the US are reaching the end of their respective lifecycles. The waste may be nearly permanant, but the structures are far from it. The waste stream that would make their way to Yucca also included those materials, icluding peices of the decomishined plants. These materials are not recyclable, nor is there any other proposal to deal with them. The failure in the logic here stems from the common misconception and confusion between ‘radioactive’ and ‘contaminated’. Those materials that are radioactive may be recyclable, those are are contanminated are essentially very dangerous garbage.

    Finally, the amount of material currently in the US far exceeds the present designed capacity at Yucca, and we have yet to begin large scale decomission/deconstruction. The environmental contingent should take a long hard look at the outcome of having radiological sites scattered about the country with no feasible means of long term safe storage alternatives. The fact of the matter is before we condem this plan and implement fast breeder reactors for the national nuclear power grid, we should develop the infrastructure to deal with the material we have already generated for the last 65 years.

  14. If I were a socialist president, worshiped by millions and unconcerned about Constitutional limits, I’d spend the stimulus on fusion research. Screw it, let’s swing for the fences! Woo-hoo!

    Fortunately, I’m no such thing.

  15. J sub D,

    My understanding is that the a years power production for a French person results in a dime sized piece of nuclear waste. That is about 70-90 m^3 of waste a year for America if we were 100% nuclear. Since the stuff drops by 99.9% after 40 years (if done right) you have a very small small storage problem.

  16. transuranics have the problem of being longed lived, but being so long lived (millions of years) their curie content is mitigated somehwat. And as stated, they can be reused.

    the fisson products and fisson product daughters are the problematic stuff; they can’t be reused (as fuel), and their half lifes are long enough so 5*t1/2 is a long ass time, but short enough (hundreds/thousands of years) that they’re fairly active emitters.

  17. EMPyre,

    The contaminated material (concrete, containment vessels etc.) has a short half life compared to the unprocessed wastestream, correct?

  18. domo-
    It depends if it’s contaminated or activated, two slightly different things.

    Contaminated is generally shorter lived than activated. Plus you can ‘de-contaminate’ contamintated material i.e. seperate the radiocative particulate matter from the surfaces of the bulk material. Activated means random atoms of the bulk material have transmuted into radioactive isotopes.

  19. Plus you can ‘de-contaminate’ contamintated material i.e. seperate the radiocative particulate matter from the surfaces of the bulk material.

    I should add though, that in general this ain’t cheap.

  20. Radical environmentalists should be pro-nuclear waste. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster:

    In the years since the disaster, the exclusion zone abandoned by humans has become a haven for wildlife, with nature reserves declared (Belarus) or proposed (Ukraine) for the area. Many species of wild animals and birds, which were not seen in the area prior to the disaster, are now plentiful due to the absence of humans.[58]

    A robot sent into the reactor itself has returned with samples of black, melanin-rich fungi that are growing on the reactor’s walls.

  21. Domo:
    Umm don’t think so… Its still contaminated with uranic and transuranic compounds, among other nasties. I the half life for U235 is 7.038×10^8 years. Granted U232 is only 70 years, but we’re not dealing with that. Besides the issue is these compounds literally impregnate the other materials.

    Also as I stated the plan at Yucca was not just this stuff but other hazardous materials. Additinoally, a farily sizable issue is that our understanding of nuclear science is still rather infantile. In that regards much of the waste and contamination for pioneering work contains a lot of ‘unknowns’.

    finally something I failed to mention above is that a large portion of the waste already created is not just from power generation… Decomissioned nuclear weapons, the facilities and wastes generated in their development are also an issue as far as storage goes. Much of those waste streams involve Pultonium, which makes Uranium look like cotton candy. Yucca woud have take substantial quantities of that material.

  22. promise liberals that fast-breeder reactors make a perfect fit with high-speed rail, you’ll have a deal.

    No, only if you call the project “sustainable, organic, multicultural high-speed rail”.

  23. EMPyre,

    My view has been that Yucca mtn was a flawed concept because it was intended to store useful isotopes like Plutonium from waste streams and therefore the plan was effectively to waste them instead of reusing them. My view is that reprocessing

    But the structures are a real concern. They do wear out regularly, and to the degree that bulk materials have long lifed radioactive materials irreversably impregnated in them, we will need a site like Yucca to store them safely. I presume, however, if it’s too hard to remove the radioactive elements from the contaminated bulk materials, that actually makes those materials good candidates for long term storage.

  24. I meant to add to the 2nd para, that reprocessing eliminates the nastiest stuff that Yucca would have to take – though not necessarily the largest volume of stuff.

  25. Oh, slightly off-topic, but not really, the Obama administration had promised to kill off old cold-war era military projects. And then he found out they provided jobs.

    So that puts him in an interesting position. Keep his promise to cut wasteful military projects such as the F-22, or “keep or save” 3.5 million jobs. This is too delicious.

  26. “Radical environmentalists should be pro-nuclear waste”

    Not exactly, but close in a way. The Scientific Alliance (UK) newsletter has the following discussion in the context of several prominent climate campaigners confessing their sins of having been anti-nuclear activists:

    Having lobbied successfully against nuclear power for many years, they now confess they were wrong, because the context has changed. In the words of Mark Lynas “In retrospect, it will come to be seen as an enormous mistake for which the earth’s climate is now paying the price. To give an example, the environmentalists stopped a nuclear plant in Austria from being switched on, a colossal waste of money, and instead [Austria] built two coal plants.”

    It’s not in the same league as Ulriche Meinhof’s change of heart and regret for the deaths which the Red Army Faction was responsible for, but this particular gang of four must now live with what they believe to be the negative consequences of their earlier actions.

  27. My understanding is that the a years power production for a French person results in a dime sized piece of nuclear waste. That is about 70-90 m^3 of waste a year for America if we were 100% nuclear. Since the stuff drops by 99.9% after 40 years (if done right) you have a very small small storage problem.

    From our own useless Department of Energy.
    More here.

    Apparently the French have more problems with the issue than you realize.

  28. Let’s make a deal. D.C. can become the 51st state if it agrees to be the nation’s waste depository site. (Sort of like the sign posted in many restrooms: “Flush twice; it’s a long way to Washington.”)

  29. Let’s make a deal. D.C. can become the 51st state if it agrees to be the nation’s waste depository site.

    The Capitol Building already is the nation’s waste depository.

    You’ll need something else.

  30. “A robot sent into the reactor itself has returned with samples of black, melanin-rich fungi that are growing on the reactor’s walls.”

    Black, melanin-rich fungi that taste just like truffles.

  31. Domo:
    Your thought on Yucca being long term storage is only half right… It was designed to store this stuff indefinately, that’s true. however the contanment methods to be implemented would have allowed the eventual reprocess if ever it was deem economical.

    That of course is the problem, what do we do first, store this nasty stuff we already have, or leave it where it is while we develop a recycling strategy. Right now its (or would have been with Yucca) cheaper to store it centrally, but that may change now. the opposite is true in France because they planned ahead of time and built breeders. The thought process wasn’t in place here and as a result we are playing catch up.

    Creech:
    Kind thought DC was already the nations’ waste depository… πŸ˜‰

  32. J Sub D

    I dunno – still seems orders of magnitudes less difficult than carbon capture and sequestration (not that I think it needed under any circumstances) though it certainly seems my estmate of 90 m^3 is way off.

  33. EMPyre, thanks for the info – I didn’t know that they intended to pull it back out and reprocess eventually. That certainly makes me wish we could have it back.

  34. I’ve long wondered why we don’t recycle and reuse spent nuclear fuel like France.

    Jimmy Carter.

    He is history’s greatest monster after all.

  35. I dunno – still seems orders of magnitudes less difficult than carbon capture and sequestration …

    No shit, Sherlock. πŸ˜‰ Yucca mountain is fine. As I pointed out above, it ain’t perfect, nothing else is either.

  36. In the years since the disaster, the exclusion zone abandoned by humans has become a haven for wildlife, with nature reserves declared (Belarus) or proposed (Ukraine) for the area. Many species of wild animals and birds, which were not seen in the area prior to the disaster, are now plentiful due to the absence of humans.[58]

    Also, with higher background radiation, the mutation rate should be higher leader to a proliferation of new species, offsetting (slightly) loss of species elsewhere.

  37. Most people never bothered to read the plan on Yucca after the words ‘National Nuclear Repository’. Seems to be the General apathy towards most political ventures… You have to remember that yes, these are govenment ventures, but the plans and implementation comes for the private sector, and they think about this stuff. It all comes down to the dollar, the govenment can decide they’re not getting sued, the contractor that plans, builds, and implements has no such luxury. Trust the plan was VERY well thought out, as are the plans for waste stream processing/peraration from around the country.

  38. I don’t know, I like wind and solar due to their decentralized nature even being able to create your own energy at your home or business. Seems like it promotes more individual liberty. The investments from the private sector in recent years seem to agree with the promise of them as well, Washington is the only place they still debate nuclear as an option and we know their history on having good judgement.

  39. Also, with higher background radiation, the mutation rate should be higher leader to a proliferation of new species, offsetting (slightly) loss of species elsewhere.

    I just had a good laugh pictureing the face my friend the eco-lawyer would make upon hearing this argument. Something akin to having me suggest she fist a basketball…

  40. I don’t know, I like wind and solar due to their decentralized nature even being able to create your own energy at your home or business. Seems like it promotes more individual liberty.

    I’d be ok with people having individual sized nuclear power, technology permitting…

  41. I just had a good laugh pictureing the face my friend the eco-lawyer would make upon hearing this argument

    Let me know the result. πŸ™‚

  42. My stimulus package would have spent at least $500 billion on new nuclear power plants, breeder reactors and other disposal issues. Fusion isn’t going to be viable in our lifetimes. Although thanks to significant research spending in the past, Daddy is able to meet my exhorbinant rent demands.

  43. Nine fucking gigabucks and twenty seven goddam years later, the exact same wasteful, unnecessary and incompetent United States Department of Energy decides it is “STARTING” the process?

    Hey, digging holes in the ground and filling them back up is the classic government make work program. Even better if it’s a high-tech hole.

  44. “Well, there is already a strategy that will work, using fast breeder reactors to burn up waste and simultaneously produce more reactor fuel.”

    So, we have actually had an ability to generate electricity using a renewable fuel source that produces no carbon emissions and provides a stable baseload source of power but the powers that be think it’s much better to putz around with higher costs sources of energy like windmills and solar energy.

    Makes perfect sense – if one is an eco-socialist wacko. To anyone else, it’s lunacy.

  45. Wind and Solar are all fine and dandy, but they currently are only affordable via subsides, which is not a long term solution. Advancements are needed big time before they have any hope of making a dent in our power needs. Shoot, hydro is currently a WAY better option than solar. It all comes down to the efficency and most of the ‘green’ energies just aren’t there yet.

  46. Gilbert:
    We don’t have the technology yet. We didn’t build breeder reactors. The facilities would need to be constructed. The fast-track plan the was proposed during the last admin would have allowed upt 30 new facilites to built within the next decade, now who knows what will happen. Additionally those new facilities were NOT breeder plants. In order to fast track those I imagine DOE would need to re-vamp their ‘off-the-shelf’ nuclear plant designs for the recycling reactor.

  47. I just had a good laugh pictureing the face my friend the eco-lawyer would make upon hearing this argument. Something akin to having me suggest she fist a basketball…

    Let me know the result. πŸ™‚

    Hell, film it.

    …oh wait, you meant the result of hearing the argument.

  48. The fact that the administration just ruled that nuclear plants have to be able to withstand a commercial jetliner hit shows me there’s not much hope for more nukes. You’d think impregnable cockpits and adequate pilot screening would be enough.

  49. James:
    You could always put the facility underground…

  50. “We don’t have the technology yet. We didn’t build breeder reactors”

    I know – I meant there was known technology available to do and we’ve done nothing to utilitze it.

    How long has this country been jacking around with trying to push all sorts of “alternative” energy?

    Ever since the Jimmy Carter era I believe, – synthetic fuel, etc.

    The government has been pushing all sorts of crap that is uneconomical but doesn’t even consider these breeder reactors.

    That’s ridiculous.

  51. If the Taliban in Afghanistan can build bunkers we can’t bust open, why can’t we build hardened nukes?

  52. Gilbert:
    What’s rediculous is that for once the government didn’t take the ‘we know better than you’ approach when it comes to nuclear power. People got scared of nuclear after 3-mile island, and Chernobyl. Nobody wanted it there backyard, and as a result the US halted construction on new plants and bankrupted others during their construction. We are now left with almost no clear nuclear energy policy, no means by which to manage wastes that have already been created, no solid plans for the future, and worst of all, almost no nuclear industry. We can’t just decide to go build new plants now, its not just a shift in policy.

    The fact is very few companies have the knowledge to build a plant, and the engineering has change so much since the last one was completed. Heck, those plants were barely computerized when they were running. Now the design is on computer instead of paper and pencil… Its not just the big guys either, you have any idea how many sub-contractors and suppliers are need to put together one of these plants? Those people don’t even exist anymore. Any one wishing to fill those voids has to go through mountains of certification that go into not only work quality, but also staffing. This country got so scared by the word nuclear that we killed the industry and are so affraid that now even commercial generating stations are treated as military complexes with the same level of security and controls. It is not a helpful situation. Nuclear is as I see it about the only option right now, and I’d even, as some one else mentioned, support personalized generate plants. A ‘Mr. Fusion’ if you will. Seriously…

  53. Cooling ponds might be tough underground. I think Democrats will block nuclear power every way they can without saying they don’t want it.

  54. Environmentalists are the worst sort of luddites.

  55. James:
    Yeah that’s true, but you could easily build a double or triple redundant system of ponds. Just make sure the switching valves are underground, and the ponds are far enought apart that even a fully loaded A380 couldn’t take them all out. Trust me, we could beuild these things. Hell we shoudl build these things.

    Nooge:
    Agreed. Also, what’s a big word for people who fail to rationall examine a problem using logic instead of emotional bias founded in their own misunderstanding, cuase environmentalist are usually the worst type of that too.

  56. “Environmentalists are the worst sort of luddites.”

    It’s too bad we don’t have a time machine that we could use to send them all back to the stone age.

    Then they could find out how they’d like REALLY communing with nature.

  57. We have the technology, we can rebuild it (sic.)

    http://www.thoriumpower.com/

  58. why throw away good energy? they can be transmutated into something that can be reused to produce nuclear power or simply use the waste in radioisotope thermoelectric generators.

  59. Considering it is only a matter of time before another country nukes us, super-fortifying our power plants seems overkill.

  60. I see no evidence in this that the Obama administration has any intention of funding breeder reactor technology, despite the pleas of Australian physicists.

    This proves, again, that Obama is not serious about global warming, and his energy agenda is simply a means of funneling cash to favored constituencies.

  61. disclaimer up front: I am the biggest idiot in the room.

    What would happen to a rocket with a payload of nuke waste launched at the sun? Would we see an increase in radiation back here at home?

  62. What would happen to a rocket with a payload of nuke waste launched at the sun? Would we see an increase in radiation back here at home?

    Not so ya’d notice.

    But people keep worrying about the niggling little detail of the launch…

  63. Wind and solar need subsidies! Hello, wake up and smell the coffee! Nuclear is about as subsidy-hungry as you can get. Accidents are subsidized through the Price-Anderson Act, and as for the rest, nothing has changed since the 1950’s, when “electricity too cheap to meter” was first peddled by the big corporations. Just now, Georgia state legislators are trying to get the electricity consumers to pay $1.6 billion in advance for nuclear electricity which won’t be generated for another six years.

    As well, Nuclear electricity has been, is and always will be a route to nuclear weapons. And no-one I know considers fission or fusion bombs to be “green” weapons.

    The item below is a transcript of an editorial written in 1952 by T Keith Glennan, then Chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission.

    The editorial below makes unmistakably clear that the birth of the nuclear electricity program was necessarily based on the production of plutonium for bombs. One key sentences states that:

    ” … there now exists a basis for the creation of semirisk industrial nuclear- power enterprise while the military demand for plutonium continues.”

    Semirisk meant subsidised.

    Ironically, the editorial, toward its conclusion, says:

    “A multitude of other factors also must be considered, such as preferential
    position, adequate security measures, suitable safety precautions, public
    liability, and international relations. None of these problems admits to an
    easy solution.. If such were the case, this whole matter would have been
    solved long ago because many able minds have thought long and hard on these
    points.”

    The problem of nuclear waste, low-level or high-level, is not even mentioned.

    === Glennan, T. K — Editorial — Reactor Science and Technology Vol 2
    No 3 — October 1952 ======

    Editorial

    For those of us who look forward to the day when American industry will no
    longer be the hired hand of government in atomic energy affairs but will
    assume a role of equal responsibility this issue of Reactor Science and
    Technology strikes a hopeful note. I would prefer to use the stronger
    adjective promising, but I fear it would ill serve the future progress of
    the industrial participation program to appear overly optimistic at this
    stage. Formidable problems must be overcome before the seeds already sewn
    can bear fruit. Yet when we compare these problems to those which have been
    solved thus far in the atomic energy program, we have reason to believe that
    given faith, time, sustained effort, money and patience, the goal of
    industrial nuclear power can be achieved.

    The Atomic Energy Commission and its staff, during its early stewardship of
    the program, speculated at length on ways of bringing industry into the
    atomic energy picture on a more realistic basis, consistent with our normal
    competitive private enterprise economy. It remained however for Dr. Charles
    A Thomas, then Executive Vice-President of Monsanto Chemical Co., to
    crystallize this thought into a definite, concrete proposal. On June 20,
    1950, Dr. Thomas sent the Commission a letter, stating that he believed the
    time was ripe for industry, with its own capital, to design, construct and
    operate reactors for the production of plutonium and power. This suggestion
    was based on the following assumptions: that the long-term military
    requirements for plutonium exceeded the then existing and planned production
    facilities; that it would be desirable to reduce the cost of existing and
    planned production facilities; that it would be desirable to reduce the cost
    of this metal to the government; that it would likewise be desirable to make
    use of the large quantities of heat attending the production of plutonium
    and not being utilized under existing conditions; and, finally, that the
    most nearly practicable use of such heat would be for the generation of
    useful quantities of electric power. It was Dr. Thomas’s contention that
    the program he envisaged would accomplish these objectives and, at the same
    time, would offer industry an opportunity to contribute to the reactor
    program directly and to earn a profit which could be related to the effort
    put forth.

    Meantime a second proposal, rather similar in objective to the Monsanto
    approach, had been received from the officers of the Dow Chemical Co. and
    the Detroit Edison Company. The Commission addressed itself to a serious
    consideration of these suggestions and arrived at a basis on which it was
    willing to support the study phase of such programs. A public announcement
    was issued by the Commission on Jan 28, 1951, setting forth the general
    policy which had guided the consideration of these propositions and opening
    the door for further proposals from qualified groups. It was emphasized
    that in agreeing to such studies the Commission was not entering into any
    commitment to continue beyond the study phase. This public notice elicited
    further interest, and on May 16, 1951, it was announced that a maximum of
    four industrial study groups would be considered for the initial program.
    By early June agreements had been signed with the four groups, and the
    studies which are digested in the following pages had been set in motion. A
    maximum period of one year was permitted for the study. Under terms of the
    agreement, the contracting parties were to carry out a survey and study of
    the Commission’s reactor development activities: (1) to determine the
    engineering feasibility of their designing, constructing and operating a
    materials- and power- producing reactor; (2) to examine the economic and
    technical aspects of building this reactor in the next few years; (3) to
    determine the research and development work needed, if any, before such a
    reactor project could be undertaken; and (4) to offer recommendations in a
    report to the Commission concerning such a reactor project and industry’s
    role in undertaking it and carrying it out. So much for the background
    involved. What do these studies show?

    It would be futile in this space to attempt an assessment of the conclusions
    reached. However a few points do seem to warrant comment. First, the
    sophistication and engineering excellence of these reports stand as a real
    tribute to the scientists and engineers associated with the Commission’s
    reactor program. Because of their efforts, a wealth of technological data
    was available, enabling the study groups to move rapidly on their
    assignment.

    Second, all parties concur in the belief that dual- purpose reactors are
    technically feasible and could be operated in such a fashion that the power
    credit would reduce the cost of plutonium by a considerable amount.
    Conversely, all groups agree that no reactor could be constructed in the
    very near future which would be economic on the basis of power generation
    alone. The significance of these conclusions should not be overlooked.
    They imply that there now exists a basis for the creation of semirisk
    industrial nuclear- power enterprise while the military demand for plutonium
    continues. In pointing up the many paths by which one can approach this
    goal, it is interesting to note that each of the groups settled on a
    different reactor type as holding the greatest promise from the group’s
    particular point of view.

    As a final comment on the reports, it should be noted that all four
    groups wish to continue their efforts into a second phase. This would seem
    to represent a vote of confidence in nuclear power. Were this concept of a
    dual-purpose reactor devoid of substance, it hardly seems likely that all
    parties would continue to show interest in further association with the
    field.

    This now brings us to the vital question: Where do we go from here? As
    this journal goes to press the problem is being debated by the Commission.
    No final decision has been reached. Certainly the time is not yet
    appropriate for a final answer. The second phase of this program, although
    intended for prosecution at a more specific engineering level and with
    somewhat greater effort, will still be operating at a relatively low rate of
    expenditure. It is when we move into phase three, that is, make commitments
    for the actual design and construction of a specific reactor, that weighty
    financial decisions must be made. Still it is not too early to start facing
    these future questions. Among the more critical seem to be the following:

    1. Can and will the Commission permit private industry to construct,
    own and operate a dual- purpose reactor with the electric power generated
    therefrom to be sold and distributed by a private- investment-owned company?
    2. Can and will the Commission make available to private industry the
    fuel needed for the initial operation of such a reactor and give assurances
    that continued operation will not be interrupted or curtailed by government
    order?
    3. Can and will the Commission establish a price policy and a contract
    that will provide for the purchase of the products of a reactor in order
    that such projects will be economically feasible in the near future?
    4. What will be the policy of the Commission on the issue of patents
    and licenses?

    A multitude of other factors also must be considered, such as preferential
    position, adequate security measures, suitable safety precautions, public
    liability, and international relations. None of these problems admits to an
    easy solution.. If such were the case, this whole matter would have been
    solved long ago because many able minds have thought long and hard on these
    points.

    That difficulties are involved, however, cannot be used as an excuse to
    ignore or side-step this pressing issue. The declaration of policy in the
    Atomic Energy Act of 1946 places on us a responsibility that cannot be
    evaded. This policy states that “subject at all times to the paramount
    objective of assuring the common defense and security, the development and
    utilization of atomic energy shall, so far as practicable, be directed
    toward improving the public welfare, increasing the standard of living,
    strengthening free competition in private enterprise, and promoting world
    peace. It is by no means certain that “assuring the common defense and
    security” is completely achieved solely through the ever increasing stock
    piles of nuclear weapons.

    T Keith Glennan
    Atomic Energy Commission

    ============= other items in the issue of RS&T, from the table of contents
    =

    Monsanto Chemical Company – Union Electric Company
    Plutonium-Power Reactor Feasability Study [page 9]

    Commonwealth Edison – Public Service Company
    Report on Power Generation Using Nuclear Energy [page 29]

    Pacific Gas and Electric Company – Bechtel Corporation
    Industrial Reactor Study [page 81]

    Dow Chemical Company – Detroit Edison Company
    Study of Materials-and Power-Producing Reactors [pp105 – 114]

    Glennan, T. K — Editorial — Reactor Science and Technology Vol 2 No 3 — October 1952

  64. “devise a new strategy toward nuclear waste disposal”?

    How’s this for a strategy? Let the nuclear industry assume the full costs of its entire production chain, from the mining of uranium to the disposal of waste, along with the full cost of insurance against liability?

    But just try getting THAT one past the pro-nuke ideologues.

    As a Westinghouse official put it in 1953, “If you were to inquire whether Westinghouse might consider putting up its own money.., we would have to say ‘No.'”

  65. Ah!!! My eyes!!! Use a link next time, dick!!!

  66. I would like to clarify three points in this “discussion”. First, Yucca was never intended to take non-fuel-related waste material, which some here refer to as “structural material”. All of that waste goes to low-level waste repositories, of which only 3 exist(I believe), but which have their own peculiar siting problem. The decommissioning of several plants (e.g., Yankee Rowe, Conn. Yankee, Maine Yankee) demonstrated that it could be done relatively economically. All of the low-level waste from those plants ended up in Barnwell, including the pressure vessels, which were the most radioactive, from activation products.

    Second, Yucca was intended to stay “unsealed” for 200 years after it opened. This means that the people who came up with the plan realized that some day somewone would want to get to all that spent fuel and reprocess it, so they decided that it would be relatively easy to just unlock the doors on the tunnels and back the trains out. A simpler and cheaper plan would have to have built a big concrete pad next to the mountain and left the waste on the concrete pad, in dry storage casks, but that would not have met the goal of “demonstrating” that waste could be disposed of. This is the big enviro, political buggaboo, and with Yucca, the argument could be made that the “problem” was solved”.

    Third, the Bush administration re-started the recycling breeder program about 3 years ago, with DOE doing a bunch of work on plant designs and program plans. The new administration did not revive this – it was already in the works. However, both the Buch and Obama administrations are going to have to convince the enviros that this is a good idea, and given their propensity to drive us back to subsistence existence, it is unlikely to happen.

    I will also agree with the comments that the amount of expertise in the industry is quite low, because the entire business went dormant after TMI and Chernobyl. This is NOT a good thing, and the French are even finding it hard to pour nuclear-grade concrete for new plants because they don’t have contractors who are used to doing it.

    I used to work to the NRC, and was in charge of licensing nuclear fuel there, so I know a bit about this. Now retired, living in France, where we don’t worry about our electricity supply.

  67. One more comment, regarding the clip about “dual-purpose” reactors, and the comment that reactors are also intended to breed Pu for weapons. Only one of the countries that has built nuclear weapons has a used commercial reactor designs to create the Pu in the weapons – India, which took the CANDU design that was not supposed to be used for this purpose, and bred the PU. The CANDU design comes from Canada, which does not, to my knowledge, possess nuclear weapons. The clip you quote was from a time when the supply of uranium was thought to be tight, and the govt was controlling its usage because the govt wanted it for weapons. Commercial industry wanted to make money out of this new technology (surprise, surprise), and they thought that if they were allowed to do so, they could operate dual-use reactors.

    Unfortunately for those who try to sell this concept , it never panned out that way. In the US, there are NO dual-purpose reactors making electricity. DOE operated one in Hanford till Chernobyl tarred it because it was a graphite reactor. The Fermi 1 design would have produced PU with large amounts of higher atomic weight isotopes that would not be suitable for weapons. The French and Japanese breeder designs operate under the same fuel burnup regimen. The only two designs worldwide that are operating and suitable for this purpose are the RBMK (Chernobyl) and the CANDU.

    The Russians pursued this because they were more “rational” than the US, and could not see any purpose to throwing all that energy away. The US, being such a rich and moral country, doesn’t worry about such matters.

  68. the statement “239Pu is also fertile and undergoes fission like 235U” is not true. 239Pu is fissile and will undergo fission with thermal neutrons, like 235U.

    238U is fertile.

  69. AV sez Black, melanin-rich fungi that taste just like truffles.

    You know you just created a market in France for Ukrainian truffles.

    One of my perpetual wonders is what made the first person eat some particular food that 99% of humanity would never consume. Sure, I’ll eat an occasional oyster, but if no one ever had, would you be the first? Or even the second? Oh, sure Grog, you say it good, but I think it make me puke if I do.

  70. rxc:
    I’d like to add one point you your comments re nuclear waste. Which is that low-level radioactive waste isn’t nearly as dangerous as it is made out to be anyway. There is no empirical evidence that low-level radiation (below the threshold of background radiation) has any health effects at all. The rationale for controlling low-level radiation doses is based on a theoretical projection from the effects of high dosages. A linear projection.

    The only long-term data we have for low level radiation comes from people in Japan or near Chernobyl who were exposed to low level (but NOT high level) radiation. In those cases there are no observable effects that can be distinguished from statistical noise.

    In other words, we should be wondering what all the fuss is about nuclear waste in the first place. If low-level radiation has at best marginal effects on health, why are we being so paranoid about how the waste is stored?

  71. I have to do research on this, but surely there is a way to burn coal without releasing radioactive and toxic particles. Isn’t this the cheapest way to get power?

  72. OK I’m back with research.

    Here’s EPA Particulate Standards updated in 2006. Looks like they based their standards on the health effects of plant emissions.

    What is the big deal about coal? Carbon dioxide is a red herring.

  73. Bill Clinton pulled the plug (so to speak) on the Integral Fast reactor project in the 90s. Jimmy Carter phohibited the reprocessing of nuclear material in the USA in the name of “non proliferation”. Both of these decisions were short-sighted and foolhardy in a nation so reliant on fossil fuels.

    First thing Obama should do is undo these poor decisions by his Democratic predecessors.

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