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Generation IV

Generation IV nuclear waste claims debunked

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#872-873
4784
07/03/2019
Article

Lindsay Krall and Allison Macfarlane have written an important article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists debunking claims that certain Generation IV reactor concepts promise major advantages with respect to nuclear waste management.1 Krall is a post-doctoral fellow at the George Washington University. Macfarlane is a professor at the same university, a former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission from July 2012 to December 2014, and a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future from 2010 to 2012.

Krall and Macfarlane focus on molten salt reactors and sodium-cooled fast reactors, and draw on the experiences of the US Experimental Breeder Reactor II and the US Molten Salt Reactor Experiment.

The article abstract notes that Generation IV developers and advocates "are receiving substantial funding on the pretense that extraordinary waste management benefits can be reaped through adoption of these technologies" yet "molten salt reactors and sodium-cooled fast reactors – due to the unusual chemical compositions of their fuels – will actually exacerbate spent fuel storage and disposal issues."

Here is the concluding section of the article:

"The core propositions of non-traditional reactor proponents – improved economics, proliferation resistance, safety margins, and waste management – should be re-evaluated. The metrics used to support the waste management claims – i.e. reduced actinide mass and total radiotoxicity beyond 300 years – are insufficient to critically assess the short- and long-term safety, economics, and proliferation resistance of the proposed fuel cycles.

"Furthermore, the promised (albeit irrelevant) actinide reductions are only attainable given exceptional technological requirements, including commercial-scale spent fuel treatment, reprocessing, and conditioning facilities. These will create low- and intermediate-level waste streams destined for geologic disposal, in addition to the intrinsic high-level fission product waste that will also require conditioning and disposal.

"Before construction of non-traditional reactors begins, the economic implications of the back end of these non-traditional fuel cycles must be analyzed in detail; disposal costs may be unpalatable. The reprocessing/treatment and conditioning of the spent fuel will entail costs, as will storage and transportation of the chemically reactive fuels. These are in addition to the cost of managing high-activity operational wastes, e.g. those originating from molten salt reactor filter systems. Finally, decommissioning the reactors and processing their chemically reactive coolants represents a substantial undertaking and another source of non-traditional waste. ...

"Issues of spent fuel management (beyond temporary storage in cooling pools, aka "wet storage") fall outside the scope of the NRC's reactor design certification process, which is regularly denounced by nuclear advocates as narrowly applicable to light water reactor technology and insufficiently responsive to new reactor designs. Nevertheless, new reactor licensing is contingent on broader policies, including the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and the Continued Storage Rule. Those policies are based on the results of radionuclide dispersion models described in environmental impact statements. But the fuel and barrier degradation mechanisms tested in these models were specific to oxide-based spent fuels, which are inert, compared to the compounds that non-traditional reactors will discharge.

"The Continued Storage Rule explicitly excludes most non-oxide fuels, including those from sodium-cooled fast reactors, from the environmental impact statement. Clearly, storage and disposal of non-oxide commercial fuels should require updated assessments and adjudication.

"Finally, treatment of spent fuels from non-traditional reactors, which by Energy Department precedent is only feasible through their respective (re)processing technologies, raises concerns over proliferation and fissile material diversion. Pyroprocessing and fluoride volatility-reductive extraction systems optimized for spent fuel treatment can – through minor changes to the chemical conditions – also extract plutonium (or uranium 233 bred from thorium). Separation from lethal fission products would eliminate the radiological barriers protecting the fuel from intruders seeking to obtain and purify fissile material. Accordingly, cost and risk assessments of predisposal spent fuel treatments must also account for proliferation safeguards.

"Radioactive waste cannot be "burned"; fission of actinides, the source of nuclear heat, inevitably generates fission products. Since some of these will be radiotoxic for thousands of years, these high-level wastes should be disposed of in stable waste forms and geologic repositories. But the waste estimates propagated by nuclear advocates account only for the bare mass of fission products, rather than that of the conditioned waste form and associated repository requirements.

"These estimates further assume that the efficiency of actinide fission will surge, but this actually relies on several rounds of recycling using immature reprocessing technologies. The low- and intermediate-level wastes that will be generated by these activities will also be destined for geologic disposal but have been neglected in the waste estimates. More important, reprocessing remains a security liability of dubious economic benefit, so the apparent need to adopt these technologies simply to prepare non-traditional spent fuels for storage and disposal is a major disadvantage relative to light water reactors. Theoretical burnups for fast and molten salt reactors are too low to justify the inflated back-end costs and risks, the latter of which may include a commercial path to proliferation.

"Reductions in spent fuel volume, longevity, and total radiotoxicity may be realized by breeding and burning fissile material in non-traditional reactors. But those relatively small reductions are of little value in repository planning, so utilization of these metrics is misleading to policy-makers and the general public. We urge policy-makers to critically assess non-traditional fuel cycles, including the feasibility of managing their unusual waste streams, any loopholes that could commit the American public to financing quasi-reprocessing operations, and the motivation to rapidly deploy these technologies. If decarbonization of the economy by 2050 is the end-goal, a more pragmatic path to success involves improvements to light water reactor technologies, adoption of Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations on spent fuel management, and strong incentives for commercially mature, carbon-free energy technologies."

Pyroprocessing: the integral fast reactor waste fiasco

In theory, integral fast reactors (IFRs) would gobble up nuclear waste and convert it into low-carbon electricity. In practice, the IFR R&D program in Idaho has left a legacy of troublesome waste. This saga is detailed in a 2017 article2 and a longer report3 by the Union of Concerned Scientists' senior scientist Ed Lyman. This will be of particular relevance if the US Department of Energy proceeds with its plan to support the construction of a 'versatile test reactor' based on GE-Hitachi's 'Power Reactor Innovative Small Module' (PRISM) design, which is based on IFR designs.4

Lyman notes that the IFR concept "has attracted numerous staunch advocates" but their "interest has been driven largely by idealized studies on paper and not by facts derived from actual experience."2 He discusses the IFR prototype built at Idaho ‒ the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II), which ceased operation in 1994 ‒ and subsequent efforts by the Department of Energy (DOE) to treat 26 metric tons of sodium-bonded metallic spent fuel from the EBR-II reactor with pyroprocessing, ostensibly to convert the waste to forms that would be safer for disposal in a geological repository. A secondary goal was to demonstrate the viability of pyroprocessing ‒ but the program has instead demonstrated the serious shortcomings of this technology.

Lyman writes:2

"Pyroprocessing is a form of spent fuel reprocessing that dissolves metal-based spent fuel in a molten salt bath (as distinguished from conventional reprocessing, which dissolves spent fuel in water-based acid solutions). Understandably, given all its problems, DOE has been reluctant to release public information on this program, which has largely operated under the radar since 2000.

"The FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] documents we obtained have revealed yet another DOE tale of vast sums of public money being wasted on an unproven technology that has fallen far short of the unrealistic projections that DOE used to sell the project to Congress, the state of Idaho and the public. However, it is not too late to pull the plug on this program, and potentially save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. …

"Pyroprocessing was billed as a simpler, cheaper and more compact alternative to the conventional aqueous reprocessing plants that have been operated in France, the United Kingdom, Japan and other countries.

"Although DOE shut down the EBR-II in 1994 (the reactor part of the IFR program), it allowed work at the pyroprocessing facility to proceed. It justified this by asserting that the leftover spent fuel from the EBR-II could not be directly disposed of in the planned Yucca Mountain repository because of the potential safety issues associated with presence of metallic sodium in the spent fuel elements, which was used to "bond" the fuel to the metallic cladding that encased it. (Metallic sodium reacts violently with water and air.)

"Pyroprocessing would separate the sodium from other spent fuel constituents and neutralize it. DOE decided in 2000 to use pyroprocessing for the entire inventory of leftover EBR-II spent fuel – both "driver" and "blanket" fuel – even though it acknowledged that there were simpler methods to remove the sodium from the lightly irradiated blanket fuel, which constituted nearly 90% of the inventory.

"However, as the FOIA documents reveal in detail, the pyroprocessing technology simply has not worked well and has fallen far short of initial predictions. Although DOE initially claimed that the entire inventory would be processed by 2007, as of the end of Fiscal Year 2016, only about 15% of the roughly 26 metric tons of spent fuel had been processed. Over $210 million has been spent, at an average cost of over $60,000 per kilogram of fuel treated. At this rate, it will take until the end of the century to complete pyroprocessing of the entire inventory, at an additional cost of over $1 billion.

"But even that assumes, unrealistically, that the equipment will continue to be usable for this extended time period. Moreover, there is a significant fraction of spent fuel in storage that has degraded and may not be a candidate for pyroprocessing in any event. …

"What exactly is the pyroprocessing of this fuel accomplishing? Instead of making management and disposal of the spent fuel simpler and safer, it has created an even bigger mess. …

"[P]yroprocessing has taken one potentially difficult form of nuclear waste and converted it into multiple challenging forms of nuclear waste. DOE has spent hundreds of millions of dollars only to magnify, rather than simplify, the waste problem. This is especially outrageous in light of other FOIA documents that indicate that DOE never definitively concluded that the sodium-bonded spent fuel was unsafe to directly dispose of in the first place. But it insisted on pursuing pyroprocessing rather than conducting studies that might have shown it was unnecessary.

"Everyone with an interest in pyroprocessing should reassess their views given the real-world problems experienced in implementing the technology over the last 20 years at INL. They should also note that the variant of the process being used to treat the EBR-II spent fuel is less complex than the process that would be needed to extract plutonium and other actinides to produce fresh fuel for fast reactors. In other words, the technology is a long way from being demonstrated as a practical approach for electricity production."

References:

1. Lindsay Krall and Allison Macfarlane, 2018, 'Burning waste or playing with fire? Waste management considerations for non-traditional reactors', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 74:5, pp.326-334, https://tandfonline.com/doi/10.1080/00963402.2018.1507791

2. Ed Lyman / Union of Concerned Scientists, 12 Aug 2017, 'The Pyroprocessing Files', http://allthingsnuclear.org/elyman/the-pyroprocessing-files

3. Edwin Lyman, 2017, 'External Assessment of the U.S. Sodium-Bonded Spent Fuel Treatment Program', https://s3.amazonaws.com/ucs-documents/nuclear-power/Pyroprocessing/IAEA...

4. World Nuclear Association, 15 Nov 2018, 'PRISM selected for US test reactor programme', http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/PRISM-selected-for-US-test-re...

Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #867 - 15 October 2018

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#867
15/10/2018
Article

Transatomic Gen IV startup shuts down

We wrote about Transatomic Power's proposed molten salt reactor (MSR) in the last issue of Nuclear Monitor.1 Since then, the startup has shut down.2,3

Transatomic had raised more than US$4 million from Founders Fund, Acadia Woods Partners, and others. But it was unable to raise US$15 million required for the next phase of the project.

In 2016, following the revelation of false calculations, Transatomic abandoned its plan to use waste (spent fuel) as fuel and it abandoned the associated claim that its 'Waste-Annihilating Molten-Salt Reactor' could "generate up to 75 times more electricity per ton of mined uranium than a light-water reactor".4 Its waste-annihilating reactor was reinvented as a waste-producing, uranium fueled reactor.

Transatomic co-founder Leslie Dewan put a positive spin on the company's collapse: "Today the advanced nuclear technology sector is thriving, with over 70 advanced reactor projects in progress, financing actively flowing to new technologies, promising engagement with the NRC, multiple films and TV documentaries covering innovations, and even bipartisan political support."2

According to the Third Way pro-nuclear lobby group, "at least five companies are already working with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to prepare for licensing".5 In other words, not one of the Gen IV startups has gone further than to notify the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of their intent to engage in regulatory interactions ‒ and only five have taken that modest step.6

1. Nuclear Monitor #866, 24 Sept 2018, Film review: 'The New Fire' and the old Gen IV rhetoric, https://wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/866/nuclear-monitor-866-24...

2. Leslie Dewan, Sept 2018, 'Open-Sourcing Our Reactor Design, and the Future of Transatomic', www.transatomicpower.com/open-source/

3. Energy Central, 2 Oct 2018, 'Transatomic Folds Its Tent ‒ Its Legacy May Live On', www.energycentral.com/c/ec/transatomic-folds-its-tent-its-leagcy-may-live

4. James Temple, 24 Feb 2017, 'Nuclear Energy Startup Transatomic Backtracks on Key Promises', www.technologyreview.com/s/603731/nuclear-energy-startup-transatomic-bac...

5. John Milko, Todd Allen, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, 8 Feb 2018, 'Keeping Up with the Advanced Nuclear Industry', www.thirdway.org/graphic/keeping-up-with-the-advanced-nuclear-industry

6. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 'Advanced Reactors (non-LWR designs)', accessed 3 October 2018.


USA: Another nuclear power plant bites the dust

Exelon Generation's Oyster Creek nuclear power plant was retired from service on September 17 yesterday after almost 49 years of electricity generation. The single-unit boiling water reactor was the oldest operating nuclear power plant in the USA.1

"It's a sombre day," said Tim Moore, the plant's vice-president. "We watched emotionally as our reactor shut down for the very last time."2

"We're seeing the economic conditions regarding nuclear power plants erode," said Exelon spokesperson Dave Tillman.2

Oyster Creek was licensed to operate until 2029, but Exelon decided in 2010 to retire the plant early after revisions to New Jersey's water use rules would have required it to build new cooling towers at an estimated cost of more than US$800 million. Exelon announced in February this year that the plant, which was required to close by the end of 2019 under an agreement with the State of New Jersey, would cease operations at the end of its current operating cycle.1

400‒500 staff were employed at Oyster Creek and about 300 will be retained to carry out decommissioning work.

Environmentalists had long sought the shutdown of Oyster Creek over the years, citing corrosion that dangerously thinned its reactor vessel, and the leak of radioactive tritium into groundwater on the plant site. Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, called Oyster Creek "a disaster waiting to happen. By closing early, it will help protect both the environment and public safety. We've been fighting this plant for more than 15 years and this closure is long overdue."2

Oyster Creek is the seventh permanent reactor shutdown in the US in recent years (2013 ‒ San Onofre 2 & 3, Crystal River, Kewaunee; 2014 ‒ Vermont Yankee; 2016 ‒ Fort Calhoun). Many others are slated for closure over the coming decade although state government bailouts are slowing that attrition.3 A little over half of the 48 operational reactors in the US have been operating for 40 years or more4 and the average age is 38 years.5

Exelon's senior vice president William Von Hoene said earlier this year: "I don't think we're building any more nuclear plants in the United States. I don't think it's ever going to happen ... They are too expensive to construct, relative to the world in which we now live."6

1. World Nuclear Association, 18 Sept 2018, 'Oyster Creek retires after 49 years', www.world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Oyster-Creek-retires-after-49-years

2. Wayne Parry / Associated Press, 17 Sept 2018, 'Long held as oldest in US, New Jersey nuclear plant closes', https://nationalpost.com/pmn/news-pmn/oyster-creek-oldest-nuclear-plant-...

3. www.beyondnuclear.org/reactors-are-closing/

4. https://pris.iaea.org/PRIS/CountryStatistics/CountryDetails.aspx?current=US

5. https://www.worldnuclearreport.org/World-Nuclear-Industry-Status-Report-...

6. Steven Dolley, 18 April 2018, 'No new nuclear units will be built in US due to high cost: Exelon official' www.platts.com/latest-news/electric-power/washington/no-new-nuclear-unit...

Generation IV nuclear waste claims debunked

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#866
4751
24/09/2018
Article

Lindsay Krall and Allison Macfarlane have written an important article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists debunking claims that certain Generation IV reactor concepts promise major advantages with respect to nuclear waste management. Krall is a post-doctoral fellow at the George Washington University. Macfarlane is a professor at the same university, a former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission from July 2012 to December 2014, and a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future from 2010 to 2012.

Krall and Macfarlane focus on molten salt reactors and sodium-cooled fast reactors, and draw on the experiences of the US Experimental Breeder Reactor II and the US Molten Salt Reactor Experiment.

The article abstract notes that Generation IV developers and advocates "are receiving substantial funding on the pretense that extraordinary waste management benefits can be reaped through adoption of these technologies" yet "molten salt reactors and sodium-cooled fast reactors – due to the unusual chemical compositions of their fuels – will actually exacerbate spent fuel storage and disposal issues."

Here is the concluding section of the article:

"The core propositions of non-traditional reactor proponents – improved economics, proliferation resistance, safety margins, and waste management – should be re-evaluated. The metrics used to support the waste management claims – i.e. reduced actinide mass and total radiotoxicity beyond 300 years – are insufficient to critically assess the short- and long-term safety, economics, and proliferation resistance of the proposed fuel cycles.

"Furthermore, the promised (albeit irrelevant) actinide reductions are only attainable given exceptional technological requirements, including commercial-scale spent fuel treatment, reprocessing, and conditioning facilities. These will create low- and intermediate-level waste streams destined for geologic disposal, in addition to the intrinsic high-level fission product waste that will also require conditioning and disposal.

"Before construction of non-traditional reactors begins, the economic implications of the back end of these non-traditional fuel cycles must be analyzed in detail; disposal costs may be unpalatable. The reprocessing/treatment and conditioning of the spent fuel will entail costs, as will storage and transportation of the chemically reactive fuels. These are in addition to the cost of managing high-activity operational wastes, e.g. those originating from molten salt reactor filter systems. Finally, decommissioning the reactors and processing their chemically reactive coolants represents a substantial undertaking and another source of non-traditional waste. ...

"Issues of spent fuel management (beyond temporary storage in cooling pools, aka "wet storage") fall outside the scope of the NRC's reactor design certification process, which is regularly denounced by nuclear advocates as narrowly applicable to light water reactor technology and insufficiently responsive to new reactor designs. Nevertheless, new reactor licensing is contingent on broader policies, including the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and the Continued Storage Rule. Those policies are based on the results of radionuclide dispersion models described in environmental impact statements. But the fuel and barrier degradation mechanisms tested in these models were specific to oxide-based spent fuels, which are inert, compared to the compounds that non-traditional reactors will discharge.

"The Continued Storage Rule explicitly excludes most non-oxide fuels, including those from sodium-cooled fast reactors, from the environmental impact statement. Clearly, storage and disposal of non-oxide commercial fuels should require updated assessments and adjudication.

"Finally, treatment of spent fuels from non-traditional reactors, which by Energy Department precedent is only feasible through their respective (re)processing technologies, raises concerns over proliferation and fissile material diversion. Pyroprocessing and fluoride volatility-reductive extraction systems optimized for spent fuel treatment can – through minor changes to the chemical conditions – also extract plutonium (or uranium 233 bred from thorium). Separation from lethal fission products would eliminate the radiological barriers protecting the fuel from intruders seeking to obtain and purify fissile material. Accordingly, cost and risk assessments of predisposal spent fuel treatments must also account for proliferation safeguards.

"Radioactive waste cannot be "burned"; fission of actinides, the source of nuclear heat, inevitably generates fission products. Since some of these will be radiotoxic for thousands of years, these high-level wastes should be disposed of in stable waste forms and geologic repositories. But the waste estimates propagated by nuclear advocates account only for the bare mass of fission products, rather than that of the conditioned waste form and associated repository requirements.

"These estimates further assume that the efficiency of actinide fission will surge, but this actually relies on several rounds of recycling using immature reprocessing technologies. The low- and intermediate-level wastes that will be generated by these activities will also be destined for geologic disposal but have been neglected in the waste estimates. More important, reprocessing remains a security liability of dubious economic benefit, so the apparent need to adopt these technologies simply to prepare non-traditional spent fuels for storage and disposal is a major disadvantage relative to light water reactors. Theoretical burnups for fast and molten salt reactors are too low to justify the inflated back-end costs and risks, the latter of which may include a commercial path to proliferation.

"Reductions in spent fuel volume, longevity, and total radiotoxicity may be realized by breeding and burning fissile material in non-traditional reactors. But those relatively small reductions are of little value in repository planning, so utilization of these metrics is misleading to policy-makers and the general public. We urge policy-makers to critically assess non-traditional fuel cycles, including the feasibility of managing their unusual waste streams, any loopholes that could commit the American public to financing quasi-reprocessing operations, and the motivation to rapidly deploy these technologies. If decarbonization of the economy by 2050 is the end-goal, a more pragmatic path to success involves improvements to light water reactor technologies, adoption of Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations on spent fuel management, and strong incentives for commercially mature, carbon-free energy technologies."

Lindsay Krall and Allison Macfarlane, 2018, 'Burning waste or playing with fire? Waste management considerations for non-traditional reactors', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 74:5, pp.326-334, https://tandfonline.com/doi/10.1080/00963402.2018.1507791

Film review: 'The New Fire' and the old Gen IV rhetoric

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#866
4750
24/09/2018
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

The New Fire is a pro-nuclear propaganda film directed and produced by musician and film-maker David Schumacher. It's similar in some respects to the 2013 film Pandora's Promise.1,2 The New Fire premiere was held in October 2017 and it can be streamed online from 18 October 2018.

Promotional material claims that the film lacked "a supportive grant" (and celebrity endorsements and the backing of a major NGO) but the end-credits list numerous financial contributors: Berk Foundation, Isdell Foundation, Steven & Michele Kirsch Foundation, Rachel Pritzker, Roland Pritzker, Ray Rothrock, and Eric Uhrhane.

The film includes interviews with around 30 people (an overwhelming majority of them male) interspersed with footage of interviewees walking into buildings, and interviewees smiling. The musical underlay is a tedious drone ‒ a disappointment given Schumacher's musical background. A highlight is hearing Eric Meyer ‒ an opera singer turned pro-nuclear activist ‒ bursting into song at various locations around the COP21 climate conference in Paris in December 2015, while he and his colleagues handed out free copies of the pro-nuclear book Climate Gamble.

Interviewees are mostly aging but the film's main message is that young entrepreneurs may save the planet and its inhabitants with their Generation IV reactor projects. The film's website states: "David Schumacher's film focuses on how the generation facing the most severe impact of climate change is fighting back with ingenuity and hope. The New Fire tells a provocative and startlingly positive story about a planet in crisis and the young heroes who are trying to save it."3

Schumacher writes (in the press kit): "These brilliant young people – some of the most gifted engineers of their generation, who in all likelihood could have cashed in for a fortune by doing something else – believe deeply that nuclear power could play a key role in saving the planet. And they are acting on that conviction. They did the research. They raised the money. They used cutting edge computer technology to perfect their designs. They are the new face of nuclear power, and to me, the newest and most unlikely climate heroes."

These climate heroes are contrasted with anti-nuclear environmentalists. One interviewee says that "people of our generation are the first ones that have the opportunity to look at nuclear power without all the emotional baggage that previous generations have felt." Another argues that anti-nuclear environmentalists are "very good, decent, smart people" but the "organizational DNA … that they have inherited is strongly anti-nuclear." Another argues that environmental organizations "have been using nuclear power as a whipping boy for decades to raise funds". Another interviewee attributes opposition to nuclear power to an "irrational fear of the unknown" (which surely poses a problem for the exotic Generation IV concepts promoted in the film) and another says that "once people sort of understand what's going on with nuclear, they are much more open to it".

The film trots out the usual anti-renewables tropes and falsehoods: 100% renewables is "just a fantasy", renewables can contribute up to 20% of power supply and the remainder must be baseload: fossil fuels or nuclear power.

In rural Senegal, solar power has brought many benefits but places like Senegalese capital Dakar, with a population of one million, need electricity whether the sun is shining or not. A Senegalese man interviewed in the film states: "Many places in Africa definitely need a low cost, reliable, carbon neutral power plant that provides electricity 24/7. Nuclear offers one of the best options we have to do that kind of baseload." The film doesn't explain how a 1,000 MW nuclear plant would fit into Senegal's electricity grid, which has a total installed capacity of 633 MW.4 The 'microreactors' featured in The New Fire might help … if they existed.

Accidents such as those at Fukushima and Chernobyl get in the news because they are "so unusual" according to interviewee Ken Caldeira. And they get in the news, he might have added, because of the estimated death tolls (in the thousands for Fukushima5, ranging to tens of thousands for Chernobyl6), the costs (around US$700 billion for Chernobyl7, and US$192 billion (and counting) for Fukushima8), the evacuation of 160,000 people after the Fukushima disaster and the permanent relocation of over 350,000 people after the Chernobyl disaster.9

"Most people understand that it's impossible for a nuclear power plant to literally explode in the sense of an atomic explosion", an interviewee states. And most people understand that chemical and steam explosions at Chernobyl and Fukushima spread radionuclides over vast distances. The interviewee wants to change the name of nuclear power plants to avoid any conflation between nuclear power and weapons. Evidently he didn't get the memo that the potential to use nuclear power plants (and related facilities) to produce weapons is fast becoming one of the industry's key marketing points.

Conspicuously absent from the film's list of interviewees is pro-nuclear lobbyist Michael Shellenberger. We've taken Shellenberger to task for his litany of falsehoods on nuclear and energy issues10 and his bizarre conversion into an advocate of worldwide nuclear weapons proliferation.11 But a recent article by Shellenberger on Generation IV nuclear technology is informative and insightful ‒ and directly at odds with the propaganda in The New Fire.12

So, let's compare the Generation IV commentary in The New Fire with that in Shellenberger's recent article.

Transatomic Power's molten salt reactor concept

The film spends most of its time promoting Generation IV reactor projects including Transatomic Power's molten salt reactor (MSR) concept.

Scott Nolan from venture capital firm Founders Fund says that Transatomic satisfies his four concerns about nuclear power: safety, waste, cost, proliferation. And he's right ‒ Transatomic's MSRs are faultless on all four counts, because they don't exist. It's doubtful whether they would satisfy any of the four criteria if they did actually exist.

Shellenberger quotes Admiral Hyman Rickover, who played a leading role in the development of nuclear-powered and armed submarines and aircraft carriers in the US: "Any plant you haven't built yet is always more efficient than the one you have built. This is obvious. They are all efficient when you haven't done anything on them, in the talking stage. Then they are all efficient, they are all cheap. They are all easy to build, and none have any problems."

Shellenberger goes on to say:12

"The radical innovation fantasy rests upon design essentialism and reactor reductionism. We conflate the 2-D design with a 3-D design which we conflate with actual building plans which we conflate with a test reactor which we conflate with a full-sized power plant.

"These unconscious conflations blind us to the many, inevitable, and sometimes catastrophic "unknowns" that only become apparent through the building and operating of a real world plant. They can be small, like the need for a midget welder, or massive, like the manufacturing failures of the AP1000.

"Some of the biggest unknowns have to do with radically altering the existing nuclear workforce, supply chain, and regulations. Such wholesale transformations of the actually existing nuclear industry are, literally and figuratively, outside the frame of alternative designs.

"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face," a wise man once said. The debacles with the AP1000 and EPR are just the latest episodes of nuclear reactor designers getting punched in the face by reality."

Shellenberger comments on MSR technology:12

"New designs often solve one problem while creating new ones. For example, a test reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory used chemical salts with uranium fuel dissolved within, instead of water surrounding solid uranium fuel. "The distinctive advantage of such a reactor was that it avoided the expensive process of fabricating fuel elements, moderator, control rods, and other high-precision core components," noted Hewlett and Holl.

"In the eyes of many nuclear scientists and engineers these advantages made the homogeneous reactor potentially the most promising of all types under study, but once again the experiment did not reveal how the tricky problems of handling a highly radioactive and corrosive fluid were to be resolved."

In The New Fire, Mark Massie from Transatomic promotes a "simpler approach that gives you safety through physics, and there's no way to break physics". True, you can't break physics, but highly radioactive and corrosive fluids in MSRs could break and rust pipes and other machinery.

Leslie Dewan from Transatomic trots out the silliest advantage attributed to MSRs: that they are meltdown-proof. Of course they are meltdown-proof ‒ and not just in the sense that they don't exist. The fuel is liquid. You can't melt liquids. MSR liquid fuel is susceptible to dispersion in the event of steam explosions or chemical explosions or fire, perhaps more so than solid fuels.

Michael Short from MIT says in the film that over the next 2‒3 years they should have preliminary answers as to whether the materials in Transatomic MSRs are going to survive the problems of corrosion and radiation resistance. In other words, they are working on the problems ‒ but there's no guarantee of progress let alone success.

Dewan claims that Transatomic took an earlier MSR design from Oak Ridge and "we were able to make it 20 times as power dense, much more compact, orders of magnitude cheaper, and so we are commercializing our design for a new type of reactor that can consume existing stockpiles of nuclear waste."

Likewise, Jessica Lovering from the Breakthrough Institute says: "Waste is a concern for a lot of people. For a lot of people it's their first concern about nuclear power. But what's really amazing about it is that most of what we call nuclear waste could actually be used again for fuel. And if you use it again for fuel, you don't have to store it for tens of thousands of years. With these advanced reactors you can close the fuel cycle, you can start using up spent fuel, recycling it, turning it into new fuel over and over again."

But in fact, prototype MSRs and fast neutron reactors produce troublesome waste streams (even more so than conventional light-water reactors) and they don't obviate the need for deep geological repositories. A recent article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists ‒ co-authored by a former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission ‒ states that "molten salt reactors and sodium-cooled fast reactors – due to the unusual chemical compositions of their fuels – will actually exacerbate spent fuel storage and disposal issues."13 It also raises proliferation concerns about 'integral fast reactor' and MSR technology: "Pyroprocessing and fluoride volatility-reductive extraction systems optimized for spent fuel treatment can – through minor changes to the chemical conditions – also extract plutonium (or uranium 233 bred from thorium)."

Near the end of the film, it states: "Transatomic encountered challenges with its original design, and is now moving forward with an updated reactor that uses uranium fuel." Transatomic's claim that its 'Waste-Annihilating Molten-Salt Reactor' could "generate up to 75 times more electricity per ton of mined uranium than a light-water reactor" was severely downgraded to "more than twice" after calculation errors were discovered. And the company now says that a reactor based on the current design would not use waste as fuel and thus would "not reduce existing stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel".14,15

So much for all the waste-to-fuel rhetoric scattered throughout The New Fire.

Michael Short from MIT claims MSRs will cost a "couple of billion dollars" and Dewan claims they will be "orders of magnitude cheaper" than the Oak Ridge experimental MSR. In their imaginations, perhaps. Shellenberger notes that "in the popular media and among policymakers, there has remained a widespread faith that what will make nuclear power cheaper is not greater experience but rather greater novelty. How else to explain the excitement for reactor designs invented by teenagers in their garages and famous software developers [Bill Gates / TerraPower] with zero experience whatsoever building or operating a nuclear plant?"12

Shellenberger continues:12

"Rather than address the public's fears, nuclear industry leaders, scientists, and engineers have for decades repeatedly retreated to their comfort zone: reactor design innovation. Designers say the problem isn't that innovation has been too radical, but that it hasn't been radical enough. If only the coolant were different, the reactors smaller, and the building methods less conventional, they insist, nuclear plants would be easier and cheaper to build.

"Unfortunately, the historical record is clear: the more radical the design, the higher the cost. This is true not only with the dominant water-cooled designs but also with the more exotic designs ‒ and particularly sodium-cooled ones."

Oklo's sodium-cooled fast neutron microreactor

The New Fire promotes Oklo's sodium-cooled fast neutron microreactor concept, and TerraPower's sodium-cooled fast neutron 'traveling wave' reactor (TerraPower is also exploring a molten chloride fast reactor concept).

Oklo co-founder Jacob DeWitte says: "There's this huge, awesome opportunity in off-grid markets, where they need power and they are relying on diesel generators … We were talking to some of these communities and we realized they use diesel because it's the most energy dense fuel they know of. And I was like, man, nuclear power's two million times as energy dense … And they were like, 'Wait, are you serious, can you build a reactor that would be at that size?' And I said, 'Sure'."

Which is all well and good apart from the claim that Oklo could build such a reactor: the company has a myriad of economic, technological and regulatory hurdles to overcome. The film claims that Oklo "has begun submission of its reactor's license application to the [US] Nuclear Regulatory Commission" but according to the NRC, Oklo is a "pre-applicant" that has gone no further than to notify the NRC of its intention to "engage in regulatory interactions".16

There's lots of rhetoric in the film about small reactors that "you can role … off the assembly line like Boeings", factory-fabricated reactors that "can look a lot like Ikea furniture", economies of scale once there is a mass market for small reactors, and mass-produced reactors leading to "a big transition to clean energy globally". But first you would need to invest billions to set up the infrastructure to mass produce reactors ‒ and no-one has any intention of making that investment. And there's no mass market for small reactors ‒ there is scarcely any market at all.17

TerraPower

TerraPower is one step ahead of Transatomic and Oklo ‒ it has some serious funding. But it's still a long way off ‒ Nick Touran from TerraPower says in the film that tests will "take years" and the company is investing in a project with "really long horizons … [it] may take a very long time".

TerraPower's sodium-cooled fast neutron reactor remains a paper reactor. Shellenberger writes:12

"In 2008, The New Yorker profiled Nathan Myhrvold, a former Microsoft executive, on his plans to re-invent nuclear power with Bill Gates. Nuclear scientist Edward "Teller had this idea way back when that you could make a very safe, passive nuclear reactor," Myhrvold explained. "No moving parts. Proliferation-resistant. Dead simple."

"Gates and Myhrvold started a company, Terrapower, that will break ground next year in China on a test reactor. "TerraPower's engineers," wrote a reporter recently, will "find out if their design really works."

"And yet the history of nuclear power suggests we should have more modest expectations. While a nuclear reactor "experiment often produced valuable clues," Hewlett and Holl wrote, "it almost never revealed a clear pathway to success." ...

"For example, in 1951, a reactor in Idaho used sodium rather than water to cool the uranium ‒ like Terrapower's design proposes to do. "The facility verified scientific principles," Hewlett and Holl noted, but "did not address the host of extraordinary difficult engineering problems." ...

"Why do so many entrepreneurs, journalists, and policy analysts get the basic economics of nuclear power so terribly wrong? In part, everybody's confusing nuclear reactor designs with real world nuclear plants. Consider how frequently advocates of novel nuclear designs use the future or even present tense to describe qualities and behaviors of reactors when they should be using future conditional tense.

"Terrapower's reactor, an IEEE Spectrum reporter noted "will be able to use depleted uranium ... the heat will be absorbed by a looping stream of liquid sodium ... Terrapower's reactor stays cool".

"Given that such "reactors" do not actually exist as real world machines, and only exist as computer-aided designs, it is misleading to claim that Terrapower's reactor "will" be able to do anything. The appropriate verbs for that sentence are "might," "may," and "could." ...

"Myhrvold expressed great confidence that he had proven that Terrapower's nuclear plant could run on nuclear waste at a low cost. How could he be so sure? He had modeled it. "Lowell and I had a month-long, no-holds-barred nuclear-physics battle. He didn't believe waste would work. It turns out it does." Myhrvold grinned. "He concedes it now."

"Rickover was unsparing in his judgement of this kind of thinking. "I believe this confusion stems from a failure to distinguish between the academic and the practical," he wrote. "The academic-reactor designer is a dilettante. He has not had to assume any real responsibility in connection with his projects. He is free to luxuriate in elegant ideas, the practical shortcomings of which can be relegated to the category of 'mere technical details.'""

www.newfiremovie.com

www.facebook.com/NewFireMovie/

www.twitter.com/newfiremovie

www.vimeo.com/240644902

www.youtube.com/channel/UCda0hiEct_t1dNnoX5BNH2g

References:

1. Nuclear Monitor #764, 'Pandora's Promise' Propaganda, 28 June 2013, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/764/pandoras-promise-propaganda

2. Nuclear Monitor #773, 'Pandora's Propaganda', 21 Nov 2013, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/773/pandoras-propaganda

3. https://newfiremovie.com/

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_Senegal

5. Ian Fairlie, 2 April 2014, 'New UNSCEAR Report on Fukushima: Collective Doses', www.ianfairlie.org/news/new-unscear-report-on-fukushima-collective-doses/

6. 24 April 2014, 'The Chernobyl Death Toll', Nuclear Monitor #785, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/785/chernobyl-death-toll

7. Jonathan Samet and Joann Seo, 2016, 'The Financial Costs of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Disaster: A Review of the Literature', www.greencross.ch/uploads/media/2016_chernobyl_costs_report.pdf

8. Nuclear Monitor #836, 16 Dec 2016, 'The economic impacts of the Fukushima disaster', www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/836/economic-impacts-fukushima...

9. World Health Organization, 13 April 2016, 'World Health Organization report explains the health impacts of the world's worst-ever civil nuclear accident', www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2006/pr20/en/

10. Nuclear Monitor #853, 30 Oct 2017, 'Exposing the misinformation of Michael Shellenberger and 'Environmental Progress'', www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/853/exposing-misinformation-mi...

11. Nuclear Monitor #865, 6 Sept 2018, 'Nuclear lobbyist Michael Shellenberger learns to love the bomb, goes down a rabbit hole', www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/865/nuclear-monitor-865-6-sept...

12. Michael Shellenberger, 18 July 2018, 'If Radical Innovation Makes Nuclear Power Expensive, Why Do We Think It Will Make Nuclear Cheap?', www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2018/07/18/if-radical-innovati...

13. Lindsay Krall and Allison Macfarlane, 2018, 'Burning waste or playing with fire? Waste management considerations for non-traditional reactors', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 74:5, pp.326-334, https://tandfonline.com/doi/10.1080/00963402.2018.1507791

14. James Temple, 24 Feb 2017, 'Nuclear Energy Startup Transatomic Backtracks on Key Promises', www.technologyreview.com/s/603731/nuclear-energy-startup-transatomic-bac...

15. Nuclear Monitor #849, 25 Aug 2017, 'James Hansen's Generation IV nuclear fallacies and fantasies', www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/849/james-hansens-generation-i...

16. NRC, 'Advanced Reactors (non-LWR designs)', www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/advanced.html, accessed 16 Sept 2018

17. Nuclear Monitor #800, 19 March 2015, 'Small modular reactors: a chicken-and-egg situation', www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/800/small-modular-reactors-chi...


Transatomic Gen IV startup shuts down

Nuclear Monitor #867, 15 October 2018, https://wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/867/nuclear-monitor-867-15...

We wrote about Transatomic Power's proposed molten salt reactor (MSR) in the last issue of Nuclear Monitor.1 Since then, the startup has shut down.2,3

Transatomic had raised more than US$4 million from Founders Fund, Acadia Woods Partners, and others. But it was unable to raise US$15 million required for the next phase of the project.

In 2016, following the revelation of false calculations, Transatomic abandoned its plan to use waste (spent fuel) as fuel and it abandoned the associated claim that its 'Waste-Annihilating Molten-Salt Reactor' could "generate up to 75 times more electricity per ton of mined uranium than a light-water reactor".4 Its waste-annihilating reactor was reinvented as a waste-producing, uranium fueled reactor.

Transatomic co-founder Leslie Dewan put a positive spin on the company's collapse: "Today the advanced nuclear technology sector is thriving, with over 70 advanced reactor projects in progress, financing actively flowing to new technologies, promising engagement with the NRC, multiple films and TV documentaries covering innovations, and even bipartisan political support."2

According to the Third Way pro-nuclear lobby group, "at least five companies are already working with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to prepare for licensing".5 In other words, not one of the Gen IV startups has gone further than to notify the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of their intent to engage in regulatory interactions ‒ and only five have taken that modest step.6

1. Nuclear Monitor #866, 24 Sept 2018, Film review: 'The New Fire' and the old Gen IV rhetoric, https://wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/866/nuclear-monitor-866-24...

2. Leslie Dewan, Sept 2018, 'Open-Sourcing Our Reactor Design, and the Future of Transatomic', www.transatomicpower.com/open-source/

3. Energy Central, 2 Oct 2018, 'Transatomic Folds Its Tent ‒ Its Legacy May Live On', www.energycentral.com/c/ec/transatomic-folds-its-tent-its-leagcy-may-live

4. James Temple, 24 Feb 2017, 'Nuclear Energy Startup Transatomic Backtracks on Key Promises', www.technologyreview.com/s/603731/nuclear-energy-startup-transatomic-bac...

5. John Milko, Todd Allen, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, 8 Feb 2018, 'Keeping Up with the Advanced Nuclear Industry', www.thirdway.org/graphic/keeping-up-with-the-advanced-nuclear-industry

6. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 'Advanced Reactors (non-LWR designs)', accessed 3 October 2018.

Pyroprocessing: the integral fast reactor waste fiasco

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#849
4671
25/08/2017
Article

In theory, integral fast reactors (IFRs) would gobble up nuclear waste and convert it into low-carbon electricity. In practice, the IFR R&D program in Idaho has left a legacy of troublesome waste. This saga is detailed in a recent article1 and a longer report2 by the Union of Concerned Scientists' senior scientist Ed Lyman.

Lyman notes that the IFR concept "has attracted numerous staunch advocates" but their "interest has been driven largely by idealized studies on paper and not by facts derived from actual experience."1 He discusses the IFR prototype built at Idaho ‒ the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II), which ceased operation in 1994 ‒ and subsequent efforts by the Department of Energy (DOE) to treat 26 metric tons of "sodium-bonded" metallic spent fuel from the EBR-II reactor with pyroprocessing, ostensibly to convert the waste to forms that would be safer for disposal in a geological repository. A secondary goal was to demonstrate the viability of pyroprocessing ‒ but the program has instead demonstrated the serious shortcomings of this technology.

Lyman writes:1

"Pyroprocessing is a form of spent fuel reprocessing that dissolves metal-based spent fuel in a molten salt bath (as distinguished from conventional reprocessing, which dissolves spent fuel in water-based acid solutions). Understandably, given all its problems, DOE has been reluctant to release public information on this program, which has largely operated under the radar since 2000.

"The FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] documents we obtained have revealed yet another DOE tale of vast sums of public money being wasted on an unproven technology that has fallen far short of the unrealistic projections that DOE used to sell the project to Congress, the state of Idaho and the public. However, it is not too late to pull the plug on this program, and potentially save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. …

"Pyroprocessing was billed as a simpler, cheaper and more compact alternative to the conventional aqueous reprocessing plants that have been operated in France, the United Kingdom, Japan and other countries.

"Although DOE shut down the EBR-II in 1994 (the reactor part of the IFR program), it allowed work at the pyroprocessing facility to proceed. It justified this by asserting that the leftover spent fuel from the EBR-II could not be directly disposed of in the planned Yucca Mountain repository because of the potential safety issues associated with presence of metallic sodium in the spent fuel elements, which was used to "bond" the fuel to the metallic cladding that encased it. (Metallic sodium reacts violently with water and air.)

"Pyroprocessing would separate the sodium from other spent fuel constituents and neutralize it. DOE decided in 2000 to use pyroprocessing for the entire inventory of leftover EBR-II spent fuel – both "driver" and "blanket" fuel – even though it acknowledged that there were simpler methods to remove the sodium from the lightly irradiated blanket fuel, which constituted nearly 90% of the inventory.

"However, as the FOIA documents reveal in detail, the pyroprocessing technology simply has not worked well and has fallen far short of initial predictions. Although DOE initially claimed that the entire inventory would be processed by 2007, as of the end of Fiscal Year 2016, only about 15% of the roughly 26 metric tons of spent fuel had been processed. Over $210 million has been spent, at an average cost of over $60,000 per kilogram of fuel treated. At this rate, it will take until the end of the century to complete pyroprocessing of the entire inventory, at an additional cost of over $1 billion.

"But even that assumes, unrealistically, that the equipment will continue to be usable for this extended time period. Moreover, there is a significant fraction of spent fuel in storage that has degraded and may not be a candidate for pyroprocessing in any event. …

"What exactly is the pyroprocessing of this fuel accomplishing? Instead of making management and disposal of the spent fuel simpler and safer, it has created an even bigger mess. …

"[P]yroprocessing has taken one potentially difficult form of nuclear waste and converted it into multiple challenging forms of nuclear waste. DOE has spent hundreds of millions of dollars only to magnify, rather than simplify, the waste problem. This is especially outrageous in light of other FOIA documents that indicate that DOE never definitively concluded that the sodium-bonded spent fuel was unsafe to directly dispose of in the first place. But it insisted on pursuing pyroprocessing rather than conducting studies that might have shown it was unnecessary.

"Everyone with an interest in pyroprocessing should reassess their views given the real-world problems experienced in implementing the technology over the last 20 years at INL. They should also note that the variant of the process being used to treat the EBR-II spent fuel is less complex than the process that would be needed to extract plutonium and other actinides to produce fresh fuel for fast reactors. In other words, the technology is a long way from being demonstrated as a practical approach for electricity production."

References:

1. Ed Lyman / Union of Concerned Scientists, 12 Aug 2017, 'The Pyroprocessing Files', http://allthingsnuclear.org/elyman/the-pyroprocessing-files

2. Edwin Lyman, 2017, 'External Assessment of the U.S. Sodium-Bonded Spent Fuel Treatment Program', https://s3.amazonaws.com/ucs-documents/nuclear-power/Pyroprocessing/IAEA...

James Hansen's Generation IV nuclear fallacies and fantasies

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#849
4670
25/08/2017
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

The two young co-founders of nuclear engineering start-up Transatomic Power were embarrassed earlier this year when their claims about their molten salt reactor design were debunked, forcing some major retractions.1

The claims of MIT nuclear engineering graduate students – Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie – were trumpeted in MIT's Technology Review under the headline, 'What if we could build a nuclear reactor that costs half as much, consumes nuclear waste, and will never melt down?'2

The Technology Review puff-piece said Dewan "introduced new materials and a new shape that allowed her to increase power output by 30 times. As a result, the reactor is now so compact that a version large enough for a power plant can be built in a factory and shipped by rail to a plant site, which is potentially cheaper than the current practice of building nuclear reactors on site. The reactor also makes more efficient use of the energy in nuclear fuel. It can consume about one ton of nuclear waste a year, leaving just four kilograms behind. Dewan's name for the technology: the Waste-Annihilating Molten-Salt Reactor."2

A February 2017 article in MIT's Technology Review ‒ this one far more critical ‒ said: "Those lofty claims helped it raise millions in venture capital, secure a series of glowing media profiles (including in this publication), and draw a rock-star lineup of technical advisors."1

MIT physics professor Kord Smith debunked a number of Transatomic's key claims. Smith says he asked Transatomic to run a test which, he says, confirmed that "their claims were completely untrue."1

Transatomic's claim that the 'Waste-Annihilating Molten-Salt Reactor' could "generate up to 75 times more electricity per ton of mined uranium than a light-water reactor" was severely downgraded to "more than twice."1 And the company abandoned its waste-to-fuel claims and now says that a reactor based on the current design would not use waste as fuel and thus would "not reduce existing stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel".1

Hansen's Generation IV propaganda

Kennedy Maize wrote about Transatomic's troubles in Power Magazine: "[T]his was another case of technology hubris, an all-to-common malady in energy, where hyperbolic claims are frequent and technology journalists all too credulous."3 Pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman said that "other start-ups with audacious claims are likely to receive similar levels of scrutiny" and that it "may have the effect of putting other nuclear energy entrepreneurs on notice that they too may get the same enhanced levels of analysis of their claims."4

Well, yes, others making false claims about Generation IV reactor concepts might receive similar levels of scrutiny ... or they might not. Arguably the greatest sin of the Transatomic founders was not that they inadvertently spread misinformation, but that they are young, and in Dewan's case, female. Aging men seem to have a free pass to peddle as much misinformation as they like without the public shaming that the Transatomic founders have been subjected to. A case in point is climate scientist James Hansen. We've repeatedly drawn attention to Hansen's nuclear misinformation in Nuclear Monitor5-9 ‒ but you'd struggle to find any critical commentary outside the environmental and anti-nuclear literature.

Hansen states that a total requirement of 115 new reactor start-ups per year to 2050 would be required to replace fossil fuel electricity generation ‒ a total of about 4,000 reactors.10 Let's assume that Generation IV reactors do the heavy lifting, and let's generously assume that mass production of Generation IV reactors begins in 2030. That would necessitate about 200 reactor start-ups per year from 2030 to 2050 ‒ or four every week. Good luck with that.

Moreover, the assumption that mass production of Generation IV reactors might begin in or around 2030 is unrealistic. A report by the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety − a government authority under the Ministries of Defense, the Environment, Industry, Research, and Health − states: "There is still much R&D to be done to develop the Generation IV nuclear reactors, as well as for the fuel cycle and the associated waste management which depends on the system chosen."11

Likewise, a US Government Accountability Office report on the status of small modular reactors (SMRs) and other 'advanced' reactor concepts in the US concluded: "Both light water SMRs and advanced reactors face additional challenges related to the time, cost, and uncertainty associated with developing, certifying or licensing, and deploying new reactor technology, with advanced reactor designs generally facing greater challenges than light water SMR designs. It is a multi-decade process, with costs up to $1 billion to $2 billion, to design and certify or license the reactor design, and there is an additional construction cost of several billion dollars more per power plant."12

An analysis recently published in the peer-reviewed literature found that the US government has wasted billions of dollars on Generation IV R&D with little to show for it.13 Lead researcher Dr Ahmed Abdulla, from the University of California, said that "despite repeated commitments to non-light water reactors, and substantial investments ... (more than $2 billion of public money), no such design is remotely ready for deployment today."14

Weapons

In a nutshell, Hansen and other propagandists claim that some Generation IV reactors are a triple threat: they can convert weapons-usable (fissile) material and long-lived nuclear waste into low-carbon electricity. Let's take the weapons and waste issues in turn.

Hansen says Generation IV reactors can be made "more resistant to weapons proliferation than today's reactors"15 and "modern nuclear technology can reduce proliferation risks".16 But are new reactors being made more resistant to weapons proliferation and are they reducing proliferation risks? In a word: No. Fast neutron reactors have been used for weapons production in the past (e.g. by France17) and will likely be used for weapons production in future (e.g. by India).

India plans to produce weapons-grade plutonium in fast breeder reactors for use as driver fuel in thorium reactors.18 Compared to conventional uranium reactors, India's plan is far worse on both proliferation and security grounds. To make matters worse, India refuses to place its fast breeder / thorium program under IAEA safeguards.19

Hansen claims that thorium-based fuel cycles are "inherently proliferation-resistant".20 That's garbage ‒ thorium has been used to produce fissile material (uranium-233) for nuclear weapons tests.21 Again, India's plans provide a striking real-world refutation of Hansen's dangerous misinformation.

Hansen states that if "designed properly", fast neutron reactors would generate "nothing suitable for weapons".20 What does that even mean? Are we meant to ignore actual and potential links between Generation IV nuclear technology and WMD proliferation on the grounds that the reactors weren't built "properly"? And if we take Hansen's statement literally, no reactors produce material suitable for weapons ‒ the fissile material must always be separated from irradiated materials ‒ in which case all reactors can be said to be "designed properly". Hooray.

Hansen claims that integral fast reactors (IFR) ‒ a non-existent variant of fast neutron reactors ‒ "could be inherently free from the risk of proliferation".22 That's another dangerous falsehood.23 Dr George Stanford, who worked on an IFR R&D program in the US, notes that proliferators "could do [with IFRs] what they could do with any other reactor − operate it on a special cycle to produce good quality weapons material."24

Hansen acknowledges that "nuclear does pose unique safety and proliferation concerns that must be addressed with strong and binding international standards and safeguards."10 There's no doubting that the safeguards systems needs strengthening.25 In articles and speeches during his tenure as the Director General of the IAEA from 1997‒2009, Dr Mohamed ElBaradei said that the Agency's basic rights of inspection are "fairly limited", that the safeguards system suffers from "vulnerabilities" and "clearly needs reinforcement", that efforts to improve the system were "half-hearted", and that the safeguards system operated on a "shoestring budget ... comparable to that of a local police department".

Hansen says he was converted to the cause of Generation IV nuclear technology by Tom Blees, whose 2008 book 'Prescription for the Planet' argues the case for IFRs.26 But Hansen evidently missed those sections of the book where Blees argues for radically strengthened safeguards including the creation of an international strike-force on full standby to attend promptly to any detected attempts to misuse or to divert nuclear materials. Blees also argues that "privatized nuclear power should be outlawed worldwide" and that nuclear power must either be internationalized or banned to deal with the "shadowy threat of nuclear proliferation".26

So what is James Hansen doing about the WMD proliferation problem and the demonstrably inadequate nuclear safeguards system? This is one of the great ironies of Hansen's nuclear advocacy ‒ he does absolutely nothing other than making demonstrably false claims about the potential of Generation IV concepts to solve the problems, and repeatedly slagging off at organizations with a strong track record of campaigning for improvements to the safeguards system.27

Waste

Hansen claims that "modern nuclear technology can ... solve the waste disposal problem by burning current waste and using fuel more efficiently."16 He elaborates: "Nuclear "waste": it is not waste, it is fuel for 4th generation reactors! Current ('slow') nuclear reactors are lightwater reactors that 'burn' less than 1% of the energy in the original uranium ore, leaving a waste pile that is radioactive for more than 10,000 years. The 4th generation reactors can 'burn' this waste, as well as excess nuclear weapons material, leaving a much smaller waste pile with radioactive half-life measured in decades rather than millennia, thus minimizing the nuclear waste problem. The economic value of current nuclear waste, if used as a fuel for 4th generation reactors, is trillions of dollars."28

But even if IFRs ‒ Hansen's favored Generation IV concept ‒ worked as hoped, they would still leave residual actinides, and long-lived fission products, and long-lived intermediate-level waste in the form of reactor and reprocessing components ... all of it requiring deep geological disposal. UC Berkeley nuclear engineer Prof. Per Peterson notes in an article published by the pro-nuclear Breakthrough Institute: "Even integral fast reactors (IFRs), which recycle most of their waste, leave behind materials that have been contaminated by transuranic elements and so cannot avoid the need to develop deep geologic disposal."29

So if IFRs don't obviate the need for deep geological repositories, what problem do they solve? They don't solve the WMD proliferation problem associated with nuclear power. They would make more efficient use of finite uranium ... but uranium is plentiful.

In theory, IFRs would gobble up nuclear waste and convert it into low-carbon electricity. In practice, the IFR R&D program in Idaho has left a legacy of troublesome waste. This saga is detailed in a recent article31 and a longer report32 by the Union of Concerned Scientists' senior scientist Ed Lyman (see the following article in this issue of Nuclear Monitor). Lyman states that attempts to treat IFR spent fuel with pyroprocessing have not made management and disposal of the spent fuel simpler and safer, they have "created an even bigger mess".31

Japan is about to get first-hand experience of the waste legacy associated with Generation IV reactors in light of the decision to decommission the Monju fast spectrum reactor. Decommissioning Monju has a hefty price-tag ‒ far more than for conventional light-water reactors. According to a 2012 estimate by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, decommissioning Monju will cost an estimated ¥300 billion (US$2.74bn; €2.33bn).30 That estimate includes ¥20 billion to remove spent fuel from the reactor ‒ but no allowance is made for the cost of disposing of the spent fuel, and in any case Japan has no deep geological repository to dispose of the waste.

Generation IV economics

Hansen claimed in 2012 that IFRs could generate electricity "at a cost per kW less than coal."33,34 He was closer to the mark in 2008 when he said of IFRs: "I do not have the expertise or insight to evaluate the cost and technology readiness estimates" of IFR advocate Tom Blees and the "overwhelming impression that I get ... is that Blees is a great optimist."35

The US Government Accountability Office's 2015 report noted that technical challenges facing SMRs and advanced reactors may result in higher-cost reactors than anticipated, making them less competitive with large light-water reactors or power plants using other fuels.36

A 2015 pro-nuclear puff-piece by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) arrived at the disingenuous conclusion that nuclear power is "an attractive low-carbon technology in the absence of cost overruns and with low financing costs".37 But the IEA/NEA report made no effort to spin the economics of Generation IV nuclear concepts, stating that "generation IV technologies aim to be at least as competitive as generation III technologies ... though the additional complexity of these designs, the need to develop a specific supply chain for these reactors and the development of the associated fuel cycles will make this a challenging task."37

The late Michael Mariotte commented on the IEA/NEA report: "So, at best the Generation IV reactors are aiming to be as competitive as the current − and economically failing − Generation III reactors. And even realizing that inadequate goal will be "challenging." The report might as well have recommended to Generation IV developers not to bother."38

Of course, Hansen isn't the only person peddling misinformation about Generation IV economics. A recent report states that the "cost estimates from some advanced reactor companies ‒ if accurate ‒ suggest that these technologies could revolutionize the way we think about the cost, availability, and environmental consequences of energy generation."39 To estimate the costs of Generation IV nuclear concepts, the researchers simply asked companies involved in R&D projects to supply the information!

The researchers did at least have the decency to qualify their findings: "There is inherent and significant uncertainty in projecting NOAK [nth-of-a-kind] costs from a group of companies that have not yet built a single commercial-scale demonstration reactor, let alone a first commercial plant. Without a commercial-scale plant as a reference, it is difficult to reliably estimate the costs of building out the manufacturing capacity needed to achieve the NOAK costs being reported; many questions still remain unanswered ‒ what scale of investments will be needed to launch the supply chain; what type of capacity building will be needed for the supply chain, and so forth."39

Hansen has doubled down on his nuclear advocacy, undeterred by the Fukushima disaster; undeterred by the economic disasters of nuclear power in the US, the UK, France, Finland and elsewhere; and undeterred by the spectacular growth of renewables and the spectacular cost reductions. He needs to take his own advice. Peter Bradford, adjunct professor at Vermont Law School and a former US Nuclear Regulatory Commission member, said in response to a 2015 letter10 co-authored by Hansen:40

"The Hansen letter contains these remarkably unself-aware sentences:

'To solve the climate problem, policy must be based on facts and not on prejudice.'

'The climate issue is too important for us to delude ourselves with wishful thinking.'

'The future of our planet and our descendants depends on basing decisions on facts, and letting go of long held biases when it comes to nuclear power.'

Amen, brother."

References:

1. James Temple, 24 Feb 2017, 'Nuclear Energy Startup Transatomic Backtracks on Key Promises', www.technologyreview.com/s/603731/nuclear-energy-startup-transatomic-bac...

2. Kevin Bullis, 2013, 'What if we could build a nuclear reactor that costs half as much, consumes nuclear waste, and will never melt down?', www.technologyreview.com/lists/innovators-under-35/2013/pioneer/leslie-d...

3. Kennedy Maize, 8 March 2017, 'Molten Salt Reactor Claims Melt Down Under Scrutiny', www.powermag.com/blog/molten-salt-reactor-claims-melt-down-under-scrutiny/

4. Dan Yurman, 26 Feb 2017, 'An Up & Down Week for Developers of Advanced Reactors', https://neutronbytes.com/2017/02/26/an-up-down-week-for-developers-of-ad...

5. Nuclear Monitor #814, 18 Nov 2015, 'James Hansen's nuclear fantasies', www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/814/james-hansens-nuclear-fant...

6. Nuclear Monitor #776, 24 Jan 2014, 'Environmentalists urge Hansen to rethink nuclear', www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/776/nuclear-news

7. Michael Mariotte, 21 April 2016, 'How low can they go? Hansen, Shellenberger shilling for Exelon', Nuclear Monitor #822, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/822/how-low-can-they-go-hansen...

8. M.V. Ramana, 3 Dec 2015, 'Betting on the wrong horse: Fast reactors and climate change', Nuclear Monitor #815, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/815/betting-wrong-horse-fast-r...

9. Michael Mariotte, 9 Jan 2014, 'The grassroots response to Dr. James Hansen's call for more nukes', http://safeenergy.org/2014/01/09/the-grassroots-response-to-Dr.-James-Ha...

10. James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley, 4 Dec 2015, 'Nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change', www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/03/nuclear-power-paves-the-only...

11. IRSN, 2015, 'Review of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems', www.irsn.fr/EN/newsroom/News/Pages/20150427_Generation-IV-nuclear-energy... Direct download: www.irsn.fr/EN/newsroom/News/Documents/IRSN_Report-GenIV_04-2015.pdf

12. U.S. Government Accountability Office, July 2015, 'Nuclear Reactors: Status and challenges in development and deployment of new commercial concepts', GAO-15-652, www.gao.gov/assets/680/671686.pdf

13. A. Abdulla et al., 10 Aug 2017, 'A retrospective analysis of funding and focus in US advanced fission innovation', http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa7f10/meta;jsession...

14. 9 Aug 2017, 'Analysis highlights failings in US's advanced nuclear program', https://phys.org/news/2017-08-analysis-highlights-advanced-nuclear.html

15. James Hansen, 7 June 2014, 'Scientists can help in planet's carbon cut', http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2014-06/07/content_17570035.htm

16. K. Caldeira, K. Emanuel, J. Hansen, and T. Wigley, 3 Nov 2013, 'Top climate change scientists' letter to policy influencers', http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/03/world/nuclear-energy-climate-change-sc...

17. See pp.44-45 in Mycle Schneider, 2009, 'Fast Breeder Reactors in France', Science and Global Security, 17:36–53, www.princeton.edu/sgs/publications/sgs/archive/17-1-Schneider-FBR-France...

18. John Carlson, 2014, submission to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Parliament of Australia, www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=79a1a29e-5691-4299-8923-06e633780d4...

19. John Carlson, 2015, first supplementary submission to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Parliament of Australia, www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=cd70cb45-f71e-4d95-a2f5-dab0f986c0a...

20. P. Kharecha et al., 2010, 'Options for near-term phaseout of CO2 emissions from coal use in the United States', Environmental Science & Technology, 44, 4050-4062, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es903884a

21. Nuclear Monitor #801, 9 April 2015, 'Thor-bores and uro-sceptics: thorium's friendly fire', www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/801/thor-bores-and-uro-sceptic...

22. Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen, March 2013, 'Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power', Environment, Science and Technology, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es3051197

23. http://archive.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/nfc/power-weapons/g4nw

24. George Stanford, 18 Sept 2010, 'IFR FaD 7 – Q&A on Integral Fast Reactors', http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/09/18/ifr-fad-7/

25. See section 2.12, pp.100ff, in Friends of the Earth et al., 2015, 'Submission to the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission', www.archive.foe.org.au/sites/default/files/NFCRC%20submission%20FoEA%20A...

26. Tom Blees, 2008, 'Prescription for the Planet', www.thesciencecouncil.com/pdfs/P4TP4U.pdf

27. http://archive.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/oz/u/safeguards

28. James Hansen, 2011, 'Baby Lauren and the Kool-Aid', www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2011/20110729_BabyLauren.pdf

29. Breakthrough Institute, 5 May 2014, 'Cheap Nuclear', http://theenergycollective.com/breakthroughinstitut/376966/cheap-nuclear

30. Reiji Yoshida, 21 Sept 2016, 'Japan to scrap troubled ¥1 trillion Monju fast-breeder reactor', www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/09/21/national/japans-cabinet-hold-meetin...

31. Ed Lyman / Union of Concerned Scientists, 12 Aug 2017, 'The Pyroprocessing Files', http://allthingsnuclear.org/elyman/the-pyroprocessing-files

32. Edwin Lyman, 2017, 'External Assessment of the U.S. Sodium-Bonded Spent Fuel Treatment Program', https://s3.amazonaws.com/ucs-documents/nuclear-power/Pyroprocessing/IAEA...

33. Mark Halper, 20 July 2012, 'Richard Branson urges Obama to back next-generation nuclear technology', www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jul/20/richard-branson-obama-nuclea...

34. 27 Dec 2012, 'Have you heard the one about the Entrepreneur, the Climate Scientist and the Nuclear Engineer?', http://prismsuk.blogspot.com.au/2012/

35. James Hansen, 2008, 'Trip Report – Nuclear Power', http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/20080804_TripReport.pdf

36. U.S. Government Accountability Office, July 2015, 'Nuclear Reactors: Status and challenges in development and deployment of new commercial concepts', GAO-15-652, www.gao.gov/assets/680/671686.pdf

37. International Energy Agency (IEA) and OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), 2015, 'Projected Costs of Generating Electricity', www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/ElecCost2015.pdf

38. Michael Mariotte, 'Nuclear advocates fight back with wishful thinking', Nuclear Monitor #810, 9 Sept 2015, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/810/nuclear-advocates-fight-ba...

39. Energy Innovation Reform Project Report Prepared by the Energy Options Network, 2017, 'What Will Advanced Nuclear Power Plants Cost? A Standardized Cost Analysis of Advanced Nuclear Technologies in Commercial Development', http://innovationreform.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Advanced-Nuclear-...

40. Peter A. Bradford, 17 Dec 2015, 'The experts on nuclear power and climate change', http://thebulletin.org/experts-nuclear-power-and-climate-change8996

Back to the future: old nukes for new

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#844
4650
25/05/2017
David Elliot
Article

Nuclear Power: Past, Present and Future

David Elliott

May 2017, 80 Pages

Morgan & Claypool Publishers

Available for purchase as a paperback or ebook from http://bit.ly/2pIIX9Q

In his latest book, David Elliot ‒ who worked initially with the UK Atomic Energy Authority and is now an Emeritus Professor at The Open University ‒ offers both a history and analysis of nuclear power. That's quite an accomplishment in a short (80-page) book. 'Nuclear Power: Past, Present and Future' is particularly useful in its discussion of 'Generation IV' nuclear power concepts, many of which were studied and discarded decades ago. To purchase the book (and read a sample chapter) visit: http://bit.ly/2pIIX9Q

Here David discusses some key themes in his book:

In 1965, Fred Lee, the UK's then Minister of Power, famously told the House of Commons that 'we have hit the jackpot this time,' with the Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR). That was maybe a reference back to an earlier episode, when expansive claims were made that the ZETA nuclear fusion test plant heralded a global breakthrough ‒ it didn't. Unfortunately, things also went very wrong as the AGR programme unfolded. The first station, on the south Kent coast, was Dungeness B. It was ordered in 1965, but did not start up until 1982, over 17 years later, by which time its cost had reached more than five times the initial estimate, and its output had been scaled down by over 20%. In 1985, two decades after the original order, the second reactor at the station had only just started up. Atomic Power Constructions, the company that won the Dungeness B contract in 1965, had by 1970 collapsed in total technical, managerial and financial disarray.

Project disasters like that might be seen as part of the learning process, though the UK seems hell bent on a repeat, with EDF's £24bn Hinkley EPR project, to be followed perhaps by more, with a variety of new 'first of kind' reactors projects being proposed. As Peter Atherton put it in evidence to a Lords committee: 'we will be building four different reactor types, with at least five different manufacturers, simultaneously. That is industrial insanity'.

While some nuclear enthusiasts hope that these Generation III reactors, like the EPR or its rivals, will be successful, there is also pressure to move on to new technology and so called Generation IV options, including liquid sodium-cooled fast neutron breeder reactors, helium-cooled high temperature reactors and thorium-fuelled molten salt reactors, at various scales. As I describe in my new book Nuclear Power: Past, Present and Future, many of them are in fact old ideas that were looked at in the early days and mostly abandoned. There were certainly problems with some of these early experimental reactors, some of them quite dramatic.

Examples include the fire at the Simi Valley Sodium Reactor in 1959, and the explosion at the 3MW experimental SL-1 reactor at the US National Reactor Testing Site in Idaho in 1961, which killed three operators. Better known perhaps was and the core melt down of the Fermi Breeder reactor near Detroit in 1966. Sodium fires have been a major problem with many of the subsequent fast neutron reactor projects around the world, for example in France, Japan and Russia.

For good or ill, ideas like this are back on the agenda, albeit in revised forms. That includes the currently much promoted idea of scaling down to small modular reactors ‒ SMRs. In theory they can be mass produced, so cutting costs. Not everyone is convinced: scaling down doesn't necessarily reduce complexity and it's that that may be the main cost driver. One cost offsetting option is to locate them in or near cities so that the waste heat they produce can feed into district heating networks. But given the safety and security risks, will anyone accept them in their backyard? And like all nuclear plants, they will produce dangerous long lived wastes that have to be dealt with.

Fast neutron breeder reactors can produce new plutonium fuel from otherwise unused uranium-238 and may also be able to burn up some wastes, as in the Integral Fast Reactor concept and also the Traveling Wave Reactor variant. Molten Salt Reactors using thorium may be able to do this without producing plutonium or using liquid metals for cooling. Both approaches are being promoted, but both have problems, as was found in the early days. Certainly fast breeder reactors were subsequently mostly sidelined as expensive and unreliable. And as heightening nuclear weapons proliferation risks. The US gave up on them in the 1970s, France and the UK in the 1990s. Japan soldiered on, but has now abandoned its troubled Monju plant. For the moment it's mainly Russia that has continued, including with a molten lead cooled reactor, although India also has a fast reactor programme, linked to its thorium reactors plans.

Thorium was used as a fuel for some reactors in some early experiments and is now being promoted again- there is more of it available globally than uranium. But there are problems. It isn't fissile, but neutrons, fast or slow, provided by uranium 235 or plutonium fission, can convert Thorium 232 into fissile U233. However, on the way to that, a very radioactive isotope, U232, is produced, which makes working with the fuel hard. Another isotope, U234 is also produced by neutron absorption. Ideally, to maximise U233 production, that should be avoided, but experts are apparently divided on whether this can be done effectively.

The use of molten salts may help with some of these problems, perhaps making it easier to play with the nuclear chemistry and tap off unwanted by-products, but it is far from proven technically or economically. The economics is certainly challenging. Nuclear plants of any sort may not be competitive in the emerging electricity market, as renewables get ever cheaper and their market share expands, but some nuclear options might be able to compete in the heat and synfuel markets. However, even that is unclear- renewables may also be able to compete in meeting these end uses, with fewer side effects.

Back in the 1950s, President Eisenhower launched Atoms for Peace initiative, promising US aid with the world-wide development of bountiful nuclear energy, and that idea has lingered on. In 2006, under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) backed by President George W Bush, US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said that 'GNEP brings the promise of virtually limitless energy to emerging economies around the globe'. After Fukushima and the economic challenges to nuclear presented by gas and renewables, GNEP was in effect abandoned and we don't hear rhetoric like that so much: nuclear is on the defensive, only supplying 11% of global electricity as against 25% from renewables, with the cost of the later falling rapidly, while nuclear costs seem to be rising inexorable. Whether the new Generation of technologies will be able to resuscitate it remains to be seen. It doesn't seem a good bet.

Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #823 - 4 May 2016

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#823
04/05/2016
Shorts

The checkered history of high-temperature gas-cooled reactors

Princeton University academic M.V. Ramana has written a useful summary of the troubled history of high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGR) including the pebble-bed reactor sub-type. In the past, both Germany and the United States spent large amounts of money to design and construct HTGRs, four of which fed electricity into the grid. Other countries have also invested in HTGR technology. Ramana's analysis is of more than historical interest as several countries are either considering the construction of new HTGRs or pursuing research into the field.

Ramana writes:

"Proponents of HTGRs often claim that their designs have a long pedigree. ... But if one examines that very same experience more closely – looking in particular at the HTGRs that were constructed in Western Europe and the United States to feed power into the electric grid – then one comes to other conclusions. This history suggests that while HTGRs may look attractive on paper, their performance leaves much to be desired. The technology may be something that looks better on paper than in the real world ...

"Although Germany abandoned this technology, it did migrate to other countries, including China and South Africa. Of these, the latter case is instructive: South Africa pursued the construction of a pebble-bed reactor for a decade, and spent over a billion dollars, only to abandon it in 2009 because it just did not make sense economically. Although sold by its proponents as innovative and economically competitive until its cancellation, the South African pebble-bed reactor project is now being cited as a case study in failure. How good the Chinese experience with the HTGR will be remains to be seen. ...

"From these experiences in operating HTGRs, we can take away several lessons – the most important being that HTGRs are prone to a wide variety of small failures, including graphite dust accumulation, ingress of water or oil, and fuel failures. Some of these could be the trigger for larger failures or accidents, with more severe consequences. ... Other problems could make the consequences of a severe accident worse: For example, pebble compaction and breakage could lead to accelerated diffusion of fission products such as radioactive cesium and strontium outside the pebbles, and a potentially larger radioactive release in the event of a severe accident. ...

"Discussions of the commercial viability of HTGRs almost invariably focus on the expected higher capital costs per unit of generation capacity (dollars per kilowatts) in comparison with light water reactors, and potential ways for lowering those. In other words, the main challenge they foresee is that of building these reactors cheaply enough. But what they implicitly or explicitly assume is that HTGRs would operate as well as current light water reactors – which is simply not the case, if history is any guide. ...

"Although there has been much positive promotional hype associated with high-temperature reactors, the decades of experience that researchers have acquired in operating HTGRs has seldom been considered. Press releases from the many companies developing or selling HTGRs or project plans in countries seeking to purchase or construct HTGRs neither tell you that not a single HTGR-termed "commercial" has proven financially viable nor do they mention that all the HTGRs were shut down well before the operating periods envisioned for them. This is typical of the nuclear industry, which practices selective remembrance, choosing to forget or underplay earlier failures."

M. V. Ramana, April 2016, 'The checkered operational history of high-temperature gas-cooled reactors', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00963402.2016.1170395


All Belgians likely to be issued with iodine tablets

The entire population of Belgium is likely to be issued with iodine tablets, which help reduce radiation build-up in the thyroid gland in the event of a nuclear accident or terrorist attack.

"Before, the iodine pills were only given to people living in a perimeter of 20 kms — now we are going to take measures for people within 100 kms," Health Minister Maggie De Block said on April 28. "We will provide iodine pills in the whole country."

All 11 million Belgians live within 100 km of a nuclear power plant when reactors in Belgium, France and the Netherlands are taken into account.

The announcement followed advice from Belgium's Superior Health Council. The Health Ministry said it would take the advice into account as it revises safety protocols to be finalized before the end of the year, but the Minister's statements indicate that a firm decision to accept the advice has already been taken.

"We are a very small and densely populated country surrounded by nuclear power plants both in our country and neighboring countries" and iodine pills are "cheap and efficient," said Nele Scheerlinck, a spokeswoman for the Federal Authority for Nuclear Control.

Belgium's nuclear industry has been subject to numerous security threats and scares as discussed in Nuclear Monitor #822. In addition, there are serious safety concerns including multiple cracks discovered in the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 pressure vessels and a controversial decision to allow the reactors to restart. German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said last month that Belgium should take offline Doel 3 and Tihange 2, which are close to the German border, because of safety concerns.

www.nbcnews.com/news/world/belgium-issues-iodine-pills-all-citizens-nucl...

www.theage.com.au/world/belgians-to-be-issued-antiradiation-tablets-amid...

www.wsj.com/articles/belgium-mulls-mass-iodide-handout-to-settle-nuclear...

www.politico.eu/article/belgium-looking-into-dispensing-iodine-in-case-o...


Protesters break into Finnish nuclear site, police attack

On Chernobyl Day, April 26, anti-nuclear protesters broke in to a Finnish construction site for a nuclear reactor to be supplied by Russia's Rosatom. Protesters said more than 100 people participated, while police estimated that close to 50 protesters gathered near the Fennovoima site and around 40 were detained. One group broke into the site while others lay down on the road leading to the site's entrance.

"We want to remind people that the Chernobyl plant was built by Rosatom's predecessor. I wouldn't do business with anyone with that kind of history," said Venla Simonen from the Stop Fennovoima protest group.

Site works have been ongoing for one year, and a protest camp has recently celebrated its first anniversary. The camp was able to stay inside the construction area over five months and was able to slow down construction works. During the summer of 2015, dozens of blockades took place. In September, after an eviction that lasted eight days, the camp moved outside the construction site to continue its activities with help from local supporters. Blockades and other activity against nuclear power did not stop at any point.

Protesters organized multiple actions in the week around Chernobyl Day. They blocked the road to the Fennovoima-Rosatom site on April 28 before the police attacked. Some people locked themselves together with pipelocks and some of the people locked on to heavy barrels. The activists had locked themselves to locks inside the barrels, and there were activists locked on to the barrel-activists, so they formed a human chain to block the traffic on the road.

It took almost three hours for the police to arrive at the blockade. But when they came there was a lot of them and they had riot equipment and police dogs. A helicopter circulated around the area. Police used rubber bullets and pepper spray and dismantled the blockade. Many protesters were taken to the custody. Police also attacked and destroyed two protest camp sites at the Fennovoima site.

Protesters said: "We don't accept giving in to repression and police violence, and the struggle against Fennovoima will continue. Now we'll need everyone to help build up the camp again, and to continue the fight and actions against Fennovoima. We invite comrades to this fight where ever you are – let's aim our actions towards the companies which are working with Fennovoima, the embassies of Finland, or the local police."

Sources and more information:

https://fennovoima.no.com/

www.nuclear-heritage.net/index.php/Finland:_Reclaim_The_Cape_action_week

https://takku.net/index.php?topic=In_English

The steady decline of nuclear power in Europe

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#822
4554
21/04/2016
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

The European Commission (EC) released its 'Communication on a Nuclear Illustrative Programme' (PINC) in early April, along with a 'Staff Working Document' which informs the main report.1,2 The report covers all aspects of civil nuclear programs in the EU, with an emphasis on required investments. Periodic publication of PINC reports is a requirement under Article 40 of the Euratom Treaty.

The report states that nuclear power produces 27% of electricity averaged across EU countries, the same amount as renewables. There are 129 nuclear power reactors in operation in 14 EU countries, with a total capacity of 120 gigawatts (GW).

The report predicts a decline in EU nuclear capacity up to 2025, followed by a slight increase, but nuclear capacity of 95‒105 GW in 2050 is still projected to be below the current level of 120 GW. Nuclear power's contribution to total EU electricity generation is expected to fall from 27% now to 17‒21% in 2050.

Thus the EC anticipates a continuation of a pattern of decline that is already underway in the EU: since the PINC 2007 report, no new reactor has come online, no reactor construction has begun, no new reactor has been ordered since Flamanville-3 in 2007, no new reactor has been connected to the grid since Cernavoda-2 in Romania in 2007, and 21 fewer reactors are operating (a 14% decline).

New build projects are "envisaged" in 10 EU countries:

  • Four reactors are under construction ‒ in Finland, France and Slovakia.
  • Reactor projects in Finland, Hungary and the UK are undergoing licensing processes.
  • Reactors projects are at a "preparatory stage" in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.

EU reactors are, on average, 29 years old. The PINC report notes that without lifetime extension programs, 90% of the existing reactors would be shut down by 2030. The EC anticipates that there will be many reactor lifetime extensions and that by 2030 the majority of the fleet will be operating beyond its original design life. The EC also anticipates 80 GW of new capacity added by 2050, with France and the UK accounting for about two-thirds of the 80 GW.

The closure of a large majority of existing EU reactors by 2050 is beyond dispute, whereas the predictions regarding lifetime extensions and new build are highly uncertain. The PINC report notes that "there is of course a high degree of uncertainty as regards long term projected nuclear capacity" and that "only a small share of investments" in lifetime extensions or new build have already been approved by national authorities.

Thus the PINC report is highly speculative regarding lifetime extensions and new build, yet it still projects a decline in nuclear capacity.

Safety

The PINC report is quite superficial for an analysis of civil nuclear programs in Europe. It ignores a raft of issues that ought to be addressed and it deals in generalizations and euphemisms. On safety, for example, the PINC report states that nuclear reactor safety standards in the EU are "high" but "further improvements" are required, it is "crucial to ensure the swift and thorough implementation of the legislation adopted post-Fukushima", and the reactor fleet "is aging and significant investments are needed where Member States opt for a lifetime extension of some reactors (and related safety improvements)".

In a detailed review of a draft of the PINC report, WISE Paris corrects the EC's errors and fills in the gaps.3 PINC congratulates the EU for its role in ensuring the adoption of the 'Vienna declaration', by which Contracting Parties to the IAEA Convention on Nuclear Safety committed to improve safety standards. WISE Paris points out that the IAEA Convention meeting was a flop, with the abandonment of proposed changes that would mandate upgrades to post-Fukushima safety standards.

WISE Paris notes that the PINC report is silent on uneven and inadequate emergency plans. And the PINC report is silent on the related issue of cross-border concerns and the need to address them. For example France has several aging nuclear plants that are unsettling its neighbors.4 Luxembourg has offered to help finance the closure of an aging French nuclear plant near its border. Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said on April 11 that an accident at the Cattenom plant could "wipe the duchy off the map". In March, Germany demanded the closure of France's oldest nuclear plant, Fessenheim, near the German and Swiss borders.

Whereas the PINC 2008 report recommended that "a more coherent and harmonised liability scheme should be developed to ensure a comparable level of protection for citizens", PINC 2016 is silent on the issue of liability arrangements.

Generation IV reactors and small modular reactors

The PINC report acknowledges that fast reactors and other Generation IV concepts are going nowhere fast, but instead of saying that directly it says that some Generation IV research programs "may already advance significantly by 2050."

The PINC Staff Working Document states: "Full recycling remains for the moment a long term prospect and is in principle only feasible with the use of fast neutron reactors, which can be optimised to consume the plutonium and uranium efficiently and/or to incinerate long-lived minor actinides. Due to several uncertainties around the deployment of this type of reactors, including their high capital costs, the possibility of closing the fuel cycle has not been foreseen in this Staff Working Document."

The Staff Working Document notes that the nuclear industry has been considering the deployment of commercial small modular reactors (SMRs) since the 1950s, but little has come of it and only four SMRs are under construction in the world ‒ three water-cooled reactors (CAREM-25 in Argentina, KLT-40S and ABV-6M61 in Russia) and one gas-cooled reactor (HTR-PM in China). The absence of a licensed SMR design in the market "is a major challenge", the Staff Working Document notes.

The Staff Working Document notes that the cost of investment per kW is likely to be higher for SMRs compared to larger reactors. It drily notes that claims supporting SMR economics ‒ which emphasize standardization, learning effects, cost sharing and modularization ‒ "are difficult to quantify due to the lack of existing examples".

The Staff Working Document further states: "Due to the loss of economies of scale, the decommissioning and waste management unit costs of SMR will probably be higher than those of a large reactor (some analyses state that between two and three times higher)."

Nuclear economics

The PINC report notes that "new build projects in Europe are experiencing significant delays and cost overruns." The report points to broader problems with nuclear economics:

"The ongoing constructions of European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) in Finland and France have experienced significant cost overruns (more than 3 times over original budget each). Even though these are first-of-a-kind models with expectedly higher unit costs, they are also consistent with the industry's historical trend of cost escalation. In France, for example, and in spite of some favorable conditions that include centralized decision making, high degree of standardization and regulatory stability, construction costs per MWe in 1974 were 3 times lower than those of the units connected to the grid after 1990."

But the PINC report blends that sober reflection with wishful thinking such as this:

"Some new, first of a kind projects in the EU have experienced delays and cost overruns. Future projects using the same technology should benefit from the experience gained and cost-reduction opportunities, provided that an appropriate policy is established."

WISE Paris notes that current new build figures are far greater than the figures provided in the PINC 2007 report. PINC 2007 said that "a new nuclear plant involves an investment in the range of €2 to 3.5 billion (for 1000 MWe to 1600 MWe respectively)".

WISE Paris also notes that the latest PINC report envisages a reduction in average construction times, but historical data provided in the PINC report itself shows that the average reactor construction times in Europe have increased from one decade to the next since the 1950s.

Waste management and decommissioning

The PINC report states that Europe is "moving to a phase" where the back end of the fuel cycle ‒ i.e. waste management and decommissioning ‒ "will receive much greater attention". The report states:

"The back-end of the fuel cycle will need increasing levels of attention. It is estimated that more than 50 of the 129 reactors currently in operation in the EU are to be shut down by 2025. Careful planning and enhanced cooperation among Member States will be needed. Politically sensitive decisions will have to be taken by all EU Member States operating nuclear power plants regarding geological disposal and long-term management of radioactive waste. It is important not to postpone actions and investment decisions on these issues."

The report notes that there is little experience with decommissioning: 89 power reactors have been permanently shut down in Europe as of October 2015, but only three have been completely decommissioned (all in Germany).

The report states that, based on information provided by EU Member States, €253 billion (US$287b) will be needed for nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste management until 2050, comprising €123 billion for decommissioning and €130 billion for spent fuel and radioactive waste management including deep geological disposal. Barely half of the required back-end investments have been set aside to date ‒ €133 billion of €253 billion.

WISE Paris notes that the true costs are likely to far exceed the EC's figure of €253 billion. The PINC report provides a very low estimate for reactor decommissioning and waste management costs, and it completely ignores other nuclear facilities (enrichment, reprocessing etc.) such as those at Sellafield in the UK, and La Hague and Marcoule in France. WISE Paris estimates costs of over €480 billion (US$545b), comprising €110 billion for geological disposal, €300 billion for decommissioning of reactors and other nuclear facilities, and €73.9 billion for other waste management costs.

WISE Paris summarizes: "The investment needs presented by PINC 2016 are a groundless mix of underestimated costs applied to overestimated projections. Investment needs in new reactors and LTO [lifetime extensions] could be underestimated by one third and at least half respectively, making it even less likely that these investments are made. The Commission also appears to underestimate by more than half the possible costs for decommissioning and waste disposal, through a mix of low assumptions and omissions."

Green Member of the European Parliament Claude Turmes told Energy Post that the wide gap between committed funds and required funds for decommissioning and waste management amounts to an unfair advantage for nuclear power and should be investigated: "The European Commission now has a duty under the EU Treaty to follow up on the polluter pays principle. ... I think the PINC provides enough ground for a state aid investigation. If the money is missing, then the question is, 'who steps in?'"5

References:

1. European Commission, 4 April 2016, 'Nuclear Illustrative Programme', http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/1/2016/EN/1-2016-177-EN-F1-1...
2. European Commission, 4 April 2016, 'Commission Staff Working Document, Accompanying the document: Communication from the Commission, Nuclear Illustrative Programme presented under Article 40 of the Euratom Treaty', https://ec.europa.eu/energy/sites/ener/files/documents/1_EN_autre_docume...

3. Yves Marignac and Manon Besnard / WISE Paris, 15 March 2016, 'PINC 2016 ‒ the Nuclear Illusory Programme', commissioned by Greens/EFA, http://rebecca-harms.de/post/pinc-2016-the-nuclear-illusory-programme-27914

Direct download: www.greens-efa.eu/fileadmin/dam/Documents/Studies/160314-WISE-Paris-PINC...

4. 12 April 2016, 'Luxembourg offers France money to close nuclear plant', http://en.rfi.fr/france/20160412-luxembourg-offers-france-money-close-nu...

5. Sonja van Renssen, 19 April 2016, 'EC expects large nuclear new-build programme despite escalating costs', www.energypost.eu/eu-expects-large-nuclear-new-build-programme-despite-e...

Diminishing prospects for MOX and integral fast reactors

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#810
4494
09/09/2015
Jim Green - Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

A non-existent reactor type called the 'integral fast reactor' (IFR) has some prominent champions, including climate scientist James Hansen. Supporters are beguiled by the prospect of nuclear waste and weapons-usable material being used as fuel to generate low-carbon power − helping to address three problems at once.

The theoretical attractiveness fades away when the real-world history of fast reactors is considered: they have proven to be accident-prone, expensive white elephants, and they have contributed to weapons proliferation.

Both the US and the UK governments have been considering building IFRs. The primary purpose in both countries would be to provide a degree of proliferation resistance to stockpiles of separated plutonium. For Hansen and other IFR supporters, the significance of the US and UK proposals is that the construction of IFRs in those countries could kick-start a much greater worldwide deployment.

However, it seems increasingly unlikely that IFRs will be built in the US or the UK ... and no other country is seriously considering building them.

The latest report on US plutonium disposition options signals a shift away from using mixed uranium/plutonium (MOX) fuel in favor of disposal − and it didn't consider IFRs to be worthy of detailed consideration. The study − commissioned by the Department of Energy (DoE) and produced by a 'Red Team' of experts from US nuclear laboratories, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the commercial nuclear power industry − was leaked to the Union of Concerned Scientists and has been posted on the UCS website.1,2

The plutonium in question is 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium from the US nuclear weapons program (with Russia having also agreed to remove the same amount of plutonium from its military stockpile). The partially built MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina has proven to be an expensive white elephant. The DoE Red Team report details the "difficult, downward spiraling circumstances" that have plagued the MOX program and contributed to the delays and massive cost overruns at the MOX facility.

The UCS notes that the estimated life-cycle cost of the MOX facility has ballooned from US$1.6 billion (€1.43b) to more than US$30 billion (€26.9b), and the DoE report notes that the cost of the MOX approach for plutonium disposition has "increased dramatically".

The World Nuclear Association has crunched the numbers: "Despite being 60% built, the MOX plant still needs some 15 years of construction work, said the leaked report, and then about three years of commissioning. Once in operation the plant would work through the plutonium over about 10 years with this 28-year program to cost $700-800 million per year − a total of $19.6−22.4 billion on top of what has already been spent."3

The DoE Red Team report states that it may not be possible to get sufficient reactors to use MOX fuel to make the approach viable − and that it may struggle get utilities to use MOX fuel even if it is given away for free (!) and even in markets where additional costs (e.g. licensing costs to enable the use of MOX fuel) can be passed directly on to consumers.

The DoE Red Team report promotes a 'Dilute and Dispose' option − downblending or diluting plutonium with adulterating material and then disposing of it. The DoE has already used that method to dispose of several tons of plutonium. DoE proposes disposal of the 34 metric tons of downblended plutonium in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico.

WIPP would also be required if the MOX approach is pursued. WIPP has been closed since a February 2014 underground chemical explosion but the Red Team anticipates that it will re-open in the coming years and could be available for downblended waste (or MOX waste).

Don Hancock from the Albuquerque-based Southwest Information and Research Center opposes the MOX project but is sceptical about disposal at WIPP, saying the DoE should review other options including storing the plutonium at the Savannah River Site or the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, where thousands of plutonium pits are already warehoused. Hancock said: "The Red Team or the Union of Concerned Scientists may be confident that WIPP will reopen in a few years, but I don't see any real basis for that. Going from one bad idea to another bad idea is not the solution to this problem."4

Integral fast reactors

IFRs − also called PRISM or Advanced Disposition Reactors (ADR) − have been considered for plutonium disposition in the US. The ADR concept is similar to General Electric Hitachi's PRISM according to the DoE.

Last year a DoE Working Group concluded that the ADR approach would be more than twice as expensive as all the other options under consideration for plutonium disposition; that it would take 18 years to construct an ADR and associated facilities; and that the ADR option is associated with "significant technical risk".5

The 2014 DoE Working Group report stated:

"Irradiation of plutonium fuel in fast reactors ... faces two major technical challenges: the first involves the design, construction, start-up, and licensing of a multi-billion dollar prototype modular, pool-type advanced fast-spectrum burner reactor; and the second involves the design and construction of the metal fuel fabrication in an existing facility. As with any initial design and construction of a first-of-a-kind prototype, significant challenges are endemic to the endeavor, however DoE has thirty years of experience with metal fuel fabrication and irradiation. The metal fuel fabrication facility challenges include: scale-up of the metal fuel fabrication process that has been operated only at a pilot scale, and performing modifications to an existing, aging, secure facility ... Potential new problems also may arise during the engineering and procurement of the fuel fabrication process to meet NRC's stringent Quality Assurance requirements for Nuclear Power Plants and Fuel Reprocessing Plants."

In short, the ADR option is associated with "significant technical risk" according to the 2014 DoE report, and metal fuel fabrication faces "significant technical challenges" and has only been operated at the pilot scale.

If the August 2015 DoE Red Team report is any guide, the IFR/ADR option is dead and buried in the US. The Red Team didn't even consider IFR/ADR worthy of detailed consideration:1

"The ADR option involves a capital investment similar in magnitude to the MFFF [Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility] but with all of the risks associated with first of-a kind new reactor construction (e.g., liquid metal fast reactor), and this complex nuclear facility construction has not even been proposed yet for a Critical Decision (CD)-0. Choosing the ADR option would be akin to choosing to do the MOX approach all over again, but without a directly relevant and easily accessible reference facility/operation (such as exists for MOX in France) to provide a leg up on experience and design. Consequently, the remainder of this Red Team report focuses exclusively on the MOX approach and the Dilute and Dispose option, and enhancements thereof."

The DoE Red Team report states that the IFR/ADR option has "large uncertainties in siting, licensing, cost, technology demonstration, and other factors". It states that the IFR/ADR option "could become more viable in the future" if fast reactors were to become part of the overall U.S. nuclear energy strategy.

IFR/PRISM/ADR advocates argued in 2011 that the first PRISM could be built in the US by 2016.6 However the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to receive a licensing submission from General Electric Hitachi and there are no concrete plans for PRISMs in the US let alone any concrete pours.

IFRs in the UK?

The UK government is also considering building IFRs for plutonium disposition. Specifically, General Electric Hitachi (GEH) is promoting 'Power Reactor Innovative Small Module' (PRISM) fast reactors.7

The UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) released a position paper in January 2014 outlining potential options for future management of separated plutonium stockpiles.8 The NDA report stated that reuse in Candu reactors "remains a credible option", that MOX is a "credible and technically mature option", while PRISM "should also be considered credible, although further investigation may change this view."

The NDA report stated that the facilities required by the PRISM approach have not been industrially demonstrated, so further development work needs to be undertaken with the cost and time to complete this work yet to be defined in detail. GEH estimates that licensing these first of a kind PRISM reactors would take around six years. GEH envisages first irradiation (following development, licensing and construction) in 14−18 years but the NDA considers that timeframe "ambitious considering delivery performance norms currently seen in the UK and European nuclear landscape".

As in the US, the likelihood of IFR/ADR/PRISM reactors being built in the UK seems to be diminishing. An August 2015 report states that the Canadian Candu option seems to be emerging as a favorite for plutonium disposition in the UK, and that GEH is 'hedging its bets' by working with Candu Energy to develop the Candu approach.9,10

References:

1. Thom Mason et al., 13 August 2015, 'Final Report of the Plutonium Disposition Red Team', for the US Department of Energy, www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2015/08/final-pu-disposition-r...

2. UCS, 20 Aug 2015, 'DOE Study Concludes MOX Facility More Expensive, Much Riskier than Disposing of Surplus Plutonium at New Mexico Repository', www.ucsusa.org/new/press_release/doe-mox-study-0521

3. World Nuclear News, 21 Aug 2015, 'Disposal beats MOX in US comparison', www.world-nuclear-news.org/WR-Disposal-beats-MOX-in-US-comparison-210815...

4. Patrick Malone and Douglas Birch, 22 Aug 2015, Sante Fe New Mexican, www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/report-pressures-congress-to-k...

5. US Department of Energy, April 2014, 'Report of the Plutonium Disposition Working Group: Analysis of Surplus Weapon Grade Plutonium Disposition Options', www.nnsa.energy.gov/sites/default/files/nnsa/04-14-inlinefiles/SurplusPu...

6. 'Disposal of UK plutonium stocks with a climate change focus', http://bravenewclimate.com/2011/06/04/uk-pu-cc/

7. http://gehitachiprism.com

8. UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Jan 2014, 'Progress on approaches to the management of separated plutonium – Position Paper', www.nda.gov.uk/publication/progress-on-approaches-to-the-management-of-s...

9. Newswire 29th June 2015 http://www.newswire.ca/en/story/1563539/ge-hitachi-nuclear-energy-canada...

10. August 2015, 'Slow Progress on Plutonium Stockpiles', nuClear news No.76, www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/nuclearnews/NuClearNewsNo76.pdf

Nuclear advocates fight back with wishful thinking

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#810
4493
09/09/2015
Michael Mariotte − President of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service
Article

It must be rough to be a nuclear power advocate these days: clean renewable energy is cleaning nuclear's clock in the marketplace; energy efficiency programs are working and causing electricity demand to remain stable and even fall in some regions; despite decades of industry effort radioactive waste remains an intractable problem; and Fukushima's fallout − both literal and metaphoric − continues to cast a pall over the industry's future.

Where new reactors are being built, they are − predictably − behind schedule and over-budget; while even many existing reactors, although their capital costs were paid off years ago, can't compete and face potential shutdown because of operating and maintenance costs that are proving to be too high to manage.

Not surprisingly, the nuclear industry is fighting back. After all, what other choice does it have? But a major new report by established nuclear advocates indicate that the only ammunition left in their arsenal is wishful thinking. The study, 'Projected Costs of Generating Electricity', is jointly produced by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and its sister organization in the OECD, the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA).1

It's an update of a study last produced in 2010 and despite the headlines being pushed by the industry, which claim nuclear power is economically competitive with other generating technologies, it doesn't actually say that at all. But perhaps that's to be expected by an organization now headed by former US Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner William Magwood and devoted to the promotion of nuclear power.

As Jan Haverkamp of Greenpeace International explains:

"You can see the NEA's bias very clearly in slide 112 (part of the public presentation on the report's release), where the title is: "Nuclear: an attractive low-carbon technology in the absence of cost overruns and with low financing costs" ... which shows clearly where the problem is. To call this "attractive" but then sidelining two of the inherent financial issues with the resource is tendentious to say the least. Apart from not including costs like those for clean-up after severe accidents, an insecure cost idea of waste management, and a preferential liability capping scheme with government back-up."

Exactly. If you assume there are no economic problems with nuclear power, then it looks just great. The problem is that in real life, nuclear power's financing costs are not low − they are extremely high because nuclear reactors are considered, for good reason, by investors to be very risky undertakings. One reason they are risky, and thus incur high financing costs, is that they are notorious for their cost overruns.

As if to slap its Paris-based companion the NEA in its face with cold reality, Electricite de France underscored new nuclear power's fundamental economic problems, announcing that the EPR reactor it is building in Flamanville, France, is another year behind schedule and its cost is now projected at triple its original 2007 estimate.3

The IEA/NEA study calculates the levelized lifetime cost of electricity for reactors based on a 60-year lifespan at an 85% capacity factor, even though the study itself admits the global capacity factor in 2013 was only 82.4% and has dropped a bit since the 2010's study reference point of 2008. So the study thus assumes a lifetime that no reactor has yet reached, and that many reactors globally will not even attempt to reach (see below), at a capacity factor higher than has been attained and when the trend is in the opposite direction. Even manipulating the numbers like that, however, only gets the IEA/NEA back to its starting point of needing both the unattainable low financing costs and absence of cost overruns to make new nuclear appear economic.

As for that 60-year lifespan, while most U.S. reactors already have received license extensions allowing their 60-year operation, that is not the case globally (nor is it at all clear that a piece of paper allowing operation will be sufficient on either an economic or safety basis to enable operation). And a new report from a company called Globaldata projects that the number of reactors expected to seek license extensions globally will decline until 2025 (at least).4 Globaldata senior analyst Reddy Nagatham said: "This will be most notable in Europe, where the capacity of NPPs starting PLEX operations is expected to drop almost sevenfold from approximately 8.3 GW this year to 1.2 GW by the end of 2025."

Of course, the shorter a reactor's lifetime, the higher its lifetime cost of electricity will be.

As Greenpeace's Jan Haverkamp points out, the IEA/NEA appears to have a specific endgame in mind: "This study clearly targets the Paris COP [UN climate conference in December 2015] and tries to instill the idea that nuclear needs to get subsidies in the form of credit guarantees and price guarantees and then that will be the silver bullet."

And that brings us back to that more familiar refrain from the nuclear industry: give us more ratepayer bailouts and more taxpayer subsidies and everything will be just fine. The problem for the industry is that fewer and fewer people are singing that song.

Small modular reactors and Generation IV reactors

Nor should the industry look for help from the trendy new kids on the block: small modular reactors (SMRs) and Generation IV technologies. The report predicts that electricity costs from SMRs will typically be 50−100% higher than for current large reactors, although it holds out some hope that large volume production of SMRs could help reduce costs − if that large volume production is comprised of "a sufficiently large number of identical SMR designs ... built and replicated in factory assembly workshops." Not very likely unless the industry accepts a socialist approach to reactor manufacturing, which is even less likely than that the approach would lead to any significant cost savings.

As for Generation IV reactors, the report at its most optimistic can only say: "In terms of generation costs, generation IV technologies aim to be at least as competitive as generation III technologies ... though the additional complexity of these designs, the need to develop a specific supply chain for these reactors and the development of the associated fuel cycles will make this a challenging task."

So, at best the Generation IV reactors are aiming to be as competitive as the current − and economically failing − Generation III reactors. And even realizing that inadequate goal will be "challenging." The report might as well have recommended to Generation IV developers not to bother.

Another problem with the report is that the IEA − perhaps at the urging of the NEA − simply assumes that the electrical grid of the future will be the same as it is today, despite the rapid pace of change across the world but especially in the IEA's European home base.

In fact, if there is a real takeaway from the report, it is from the headline on the IEA's website rather than any nuclear publication: 'Joint IEA-NEA report details plunge in costs of producing electricity from renewables.'5

Yes, while the nuclear industry has been attempting to frame the report as good news for nuclear power, the real findings of the report are in the stunning drop in renewables costs. Onshore wind, according to the report, is the cheapest power source of any examined. Solar power, except residential rooftop, is increasingly competitive and will drop further, unencumbered by the high financing charges and cost overruns experienced by nuclear.

It's good to see IEA say something favorable about renewables. As we reported last year, the organization has been notoriously wrong on the deployment of renewables over the years, greatly underprojecting their growth and compiling a simply embarrassing record.6

References:

1. International Energy Agency (IEA) and OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), 2015, 'Projected Costs of Generating Electricity':

Media release: www.iea.org/newsroomandevents/news/2015/august/joint-iea-nea-report-deta...

Executive Summary: www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/ElecCost2015SUM.pdf

Purchase full report: www.iea.org/bookshop/711-Projected_Costs_of_Generating_Electricity

2. www.iea.org/media/presentations/150831_ProjectedCostsOfGeneratingElectri...

3. WNN, 3 Sept 2015, 'Flamanville EPR timetable and costs revised', www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-Flamanville-EPR-timetable-and-costs-revise...

4. Phil Allan, 2 Sept 2015, 'Fukushima fallout leading to decline in nuclear generation', www.energyvoice.com/otherenergy/86661/fukishima-fallout-leading-to-decli...

5. IEA, 31 Aug 2015, 'Joint IEA-NEA report details plunge in costs of producing electricity from renewables', www.iea.org/newsroomandevents/news/2015/august/joint-iea-nea-report-deta...

6. Michael Mariotte, 17 July 2014, 'IEA "experts" not particularly expert', http://safeenergy.org/2014/07/17/iea-experts-not-particularly-expert/

US Government Accountability Office pours cold water on advanced reactor concepts

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#810
4491
09/09/2015
Jim Green - Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report on the status of small modular reactors (SMRs) and other new reactor concepts in the US.

Let's begin with the downbeat conclusion of the GAO report:

"While light water SMRs and advanced reactors may provide some benefits, their development and deployment face a number of challenges. Both SMRs and advanced reactors require additional technical and engineering work to demonstrate reactor safety and economics, although light water SMRs generally face fewer technical challenges than advanced reactors because of their similarities to the existing large LWR [light water] reactors. Depending on how they are resolved, these technical challenges may result in higher-cost reactors than anticipated, making them less competitive with large LWRs or power plants using other fuels. ...

"Both light water SMRs and advanced reactors face additional challenges related to the time, cost, and uncertainty associated with developing, certifying or licensing, and deploying new reactor technology, with advanced reactor designs generally facing greater challenges than light water SMR designs. It is a multi-decade process, with costs up to $1 billion to $2 billion, to design and certify or license the reactor design, and there is an additional construction cost of several billion dollars more per power plant.

"Furthermore, the licensing process can have uncertainties associated with it, particularly for advanced reactor designs. A reactor designer would need to obtain investors or otherwise commit to this development cost years in advance of when the reactor design would be certified or available for licensing and construction, making demand (and customers) for the reactor uncertain. For example, the price of competing power production facilities may make a nuclear plant unattractive without favorable rates set by a public authority or long term prior purchase agreements, and accidents such as Fukushima as well as the ongoing need for a long-term solution for spent nuclear fuel may affect the public perception of reactor safety. These challenges will need to be addressed if the capabilities and diversification of energy sources that light water SMRs and advanced reactors can provide are to be realized."

Many of the same reasons explain the failure of the Next Generation Nuclear Plant Project. Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the US Department of Energy (DoE) was to deploy a prototype 'next generation' reactor using advanced technology to generate electricity, produce hydrogen, or both, by the end of fiscal year 2021. However, in 2011, DoE decided not to proceed with the deployment phase of the project.

Small modular reactors

Four companies have considered developing SMRs in the US in recent years. NuScale has a cost-sharing agreement such that the DoE will pay as much as half of NuScale's costs − up to $217 million (€194m) over five years − for SMR design certification. NuScale expects to submit a design certification application to NRC in late 2016, and may begin operating its first SMR in 2023 or 2024. (However the timeframe is unrealistic, and the project may be abandoned − as other SMR projects have.)

The other three companies are a long way behind NuScale:

  • mPower, a subsidiary of Babcock & Wilcox, enjoyed a cost-sharing agreement with the DoE but in 2014 scaled back its R&D efforts because of a lack of committed customers and a lack of investors.
  • Holtec says it is continuing R&D work, but does not have a detailed schedule.
  • In 2014 Westinghouse suspended its efforts to certify its SMR design, because of a lack of committed customers (and the lack of a DoE cost-sharing agreement).

The GAO report states that the development of light water SMRs may proceed without serious difficulties as they are based on existing light water reactor technology. That said, standardization is a key pillar of SMR rhetoric, and members of an expert group convened by the GAO noted that component standardization has proven challenging for the construction of the larger Westinghouse AP1000 that has some modular components.

Another pillar of SMR rhetoric is mass production (to make them economic), and the development of a massive construction chain to allow for mass production is a radically different proposition to NuScale's plan to build just one reactor over the next decade.

Not-so-advanced reactor concepts

According to the GAO report, SMRs and new reactor concepts "face some common challenges such as long time frames and high costs associated with the shift from development to deployment − that is, in the construction of the first commercial reactors of a particular type."

The report notes the US government's generous financial support for utilities developing SMRs and advanced reactor concepts − DoE provided US$152.5 million (€137m) in fiscal year 2015 alone. Advanced reactor concepts attracting DoE largesse are the high temperature gas cooled reactor, the sodium cooled fast reactor, and to a lesser extent the molten salt reactor (specifically, a sub-type known as the fluoride salt cooled high temperature reactor).

DoE and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) officials do not expect applications for advanced reactors for at least five years. In other words, an application may (or may not) be submitted some time between five years and five centuries from now.

Advanced reactor designers told the GAO that they have been challenged to find investors due to the lengthy timeframe, costs, and uncertainty. Advanced reactor concepts face greater technical challenges than light water SMRs because of fundamental design differences. Thus designers have significantly more R&D issues to resolve, including in areas such as materials studies and fuel certification, coolant chemistry studies, and safety analysis. Some members of the expert group convened by the GAO noted a potential need for new test facilities to support this work. Furthermore, according to reactor designers, certifying or licensing an advanced reactor may be particularly time-consuming and difficult, adding to the already considerable economic uncertainty for the applicants.

The process of developing and certifying a specific reactor design can take 10 years or more for design work and nearly 3.5 years, as a best case, for NRC certification. Even that timeframe is more hope than expectation. Recent light water reactor design certifications, for the Westinghouse AP1000 and the GE Hitachi ESBWR, have taken about 15 and 11 years respectively. Both the AP1000 and ESBWR are modifications of long-established reactor types, so considerably longer timeframes can be expected for advanced concepts.

The cost to develop and certify a design can range from US$1−2 billion (€0.9−1.8b). Developers hope that costs can be reduced as they move from certification to the construction of a first-of-a-kind plant to the construction of multiple plants. But the GAO report notes that those hopes may be unfounded:

"[S]ome studies suggest that existing, large LWRs have not greatly benefitted from industry-wide standardization or learning to date for reasons including intermittent development and production. In fact, some studies have found that "reverse or negative learning" occurs when increased complexity or operation experience leads to newer safety standards. On a related point, another reactor designer said that the cost and schedule difficulties associated with building the first new design that has been certified by the NRC and started construction in the United States in three decades − the Westinghouse AP1000, a recently designed large LWR − have made it harder for light water SMRs to obtain financing because high-profile problems have made nuclear reactors in general less attractive. ... The AP1000 was the first new design that has been certified by the NRC and started construction in the United States in three decades. However, construction problems, including supply chain and regulatory issues, have resulted in cost and schedule increases."

US Government Accountability Office, July 2015, 'Nuclear Reactors: Status and challenges in development and deployment of new commercial concepts', GAO-15-652, www.gao.gov/assets/680/671686.pdf

French government agency sceptical about Gen IV reactors

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#803
4470
07/05/2015
Article

The French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) has produced an important critique of Generation IV nuclear power concepts.1 IRSN is a government authority with 1,790 staff under the joint authority of the Ministries of Defense, the Environment, Industry, Research, and Health.

There are numerous critical analyses of Generation IV concepts by independent experts2, but the IRSN critique is the first from the government of a country with an extensive nuclear industry.

The IRSN report focuses on the six Generation IV concepts prioritised by the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), which brings together 12 countries with an interest in new reactor types, plus Euratom. France is itself one of the countries involved in the GIF.

The six concepts prioritised by the GIF are:

  • Sodium cooled Fast Reactors (SFR);
  • Very High Temperature Reactors, with thermal neutron spectrum (VHTR);
  • Gas-cooled Fast Reactors (GFR);
  • Lead-cooled Fast Reactors (LFR) or Lead-Bismuth (LB) cooled Fast Reactors;
  • Molten Salt Reactors (MSR), with fast or thermal neutron spectrum; and
  • SuperCritical Water Reactors (SCWR), with fast or thermal neutron spectrum.

The report states: "There is still much R&D to be done to develop the Generation IV nuclear reactors, as well as for the fuel cycle and the associated waste management which depends on the system chosen."

IRSN considers the SFR system to be the only one to have reached a degree of maturity compatible with the construction of a reactor prototype during the first half of this century − and even the development of an SFR prototype would require further preliminary studies and technological developments.

Only SFR and VHTR systems can boast operating experience. IRSN states: "No operating experience feedback from the other four systems studied can be put to direct use. The technological difficulties involved rule out any industrial deployment of these systems within the time frame considered [mid century]."

The report says that for LFR and GFR systems, small prototypes might be built by mid-century. For MSR and SCWR systems, there "is no likelihood of even an experimental or prototype MSR or SCWR being built during the first half of this century" and "it seems hard to imagine any reactor being built before the end of the century".

IRSN notes that it is difficult to thoroughly evaluate safety and radiation protection standards of Generation IV systems as some concepts have already been partially tried and tested, while others are still in the early stages of development.

IRSN is sceptical about safety claims: "At the present stage of development, IRSN does not notice evidence that leads to conclude that the systems under review are likely to offer a significantly improved level of safety compared with Generation III reactors, except perhaps for the VHTR ..." Moreover the VHTR system could bring about significant safety improvements "but only by significantly limiting unit power".

The report notes that the safety of fast reactors can be problematic because of high operating temperatures and the toxicity and corrosive nature of most coolants considered. It says that issues arising from the Fukushima disaster require detailed examination, such as: choice of coolant; operating temperatures and power densities (which are generally higher for Generation IV concepts); and in some cases, fuel reprocessing facilities that present the risk of toxic releases.

The report is unenthusiastic about research into transmutation of minor actinides (long-lived waste products in spent fuel), saying that "this option offers only a very slight advantage in terms of inventory reduction and geological waste repository volume when set against the induced safety and radiation protection constraints for fuel cycle facilities, reactors and transport." It notes that ASN, the French nuclear safety authority, has recently announced that minor actinide transmutation would not be a deciding factor in the choice of a future reactor system.

The reports findings on the six GIF concepts are briefly summarised here:

Sodium-cooled Fast Reactors (SFR)

The main safety advantage is the use of low-pressure liquid coolant. The normal operating temperature of this coolant is significantly lower than its boiling point, allowing a grace period of several hours during loss-of-cooling events. The advantage gained from the high boiling point of sodium, however, must be weighed against the fact that the structural integrity of the reactor cannot be guaranteed near this temperature.

The use of sodium also comes with a number of drawbacks due to its high reactivity not only with water and air, but also with MOX fuel.

It seems possible for SFR technology to reach a safety level at least equivalent to that of Generation III pressurised water reactors, but IRSN is unable to determine whether it could significantly exceed this level, in view of design differences and the current state of knowledge and research.

Very High Temperature Reactors (VHTR)

The VHTR benefits from the operating experience feedback obtained from High Temperature Reactors (HTR).

This technology is intrinsically safe with respect to loss of cooling, which means that it could be used to design a reactor that does not require an active decay heat removal system. The VHTR system could therefore bring about significant safety improvements compared with Generation III reactors, especially regarding core melt prevention.

VHTR safety performance can only be guaranteed by significantly limiting unit power.

The feasibility of the system has yet to be determined and will chiefly depend on the development of fuels and materials capable of withstanding high temperatures; the currently considered operating temperature of around 1000°C is close to the transformation temperature of materials commonly used in the nuclear industry.

Lead-cooled Fast Reactors (LFR)

Unlike sodium, lead does not react violently with water or air.

The thermal inertia associated with the large volume of lead used and its very high density results in long grace periods in the event of loss of cooling.

In addition, the high boiling point at atmospheric pressure is a guarantee of high margins under normal operating conditions and rules out the risk of coolant boiling.

The main drawback of lead-cooled (or lead-bismuth cooled) reactors is that the coolant tends to corrode and erode stainless steel structures.

LFR safety is reliant on operating procedures, which does not seem desirable in a Generation IV reactor.

The highly toxic nature of lead and its related products, especially polonium-210, produced when lead-bismuth is used, raises the problem of potential environmental impact.
IRSN is unable to determine whether the LFR system could guarantee a significantly higher safety level than Generation III reactors.

Various technical hurdles need to be overcome before a reactor of this type could be considered.

Gas-cooled Fast Reactors (GFR)

Given the current state of GFR development, construction of an industrial prototype reactor would not be technically feasible. GFR specifications are highly ambitious and raise a number of technological problems that are still a long way from being solved.

From the safety point of view, the GFR does not display any intrinsic quality likely to lead to a significant improvement over Generation III reactors.

Molten Salt Reactors (MSR)

The MSR differs considerably from the other systems proposed by the GIF. The main differences are that the coolant and fuel are mixed in some models and that liquid fuel is used.

The MSR has several advantages, including its burning, breeding and actinide-recycling capabilities.

Its intrinsic neutron properties could be put to good use as, in theory, they should allow highly stable reactor operation. The very low thermal inertia of salt and very high operating temperatures of the system, however, call for the use of fuel salt drainage devices. System safety depends mainly on the reliability and performance of these devices.

Salt has some drawbacks − it is corrosive and has a relatively high crystallisation temperature.

The reactor must also be coupled to a salt processing unit and the system safety analysis must take into account the coupling of the two facilities.

Consideration must be given to the high toxicity of some salts and substances generated by the processes used in the salt processing unit.

The feasibility of fuel salt processing remains to be demonstrated.

SuperCritical-Water-cooled Reactors (SCWR)

The SCWR is the only system selected by GIF that uses water as a coolant. The SCWR is seen as a further development of existing water reactors and thus benefits from operating experience feedback, especially from boiling water reactors. Its chief advantage is economic.

While the use of supercritical water avoids problems relating to the phase change from liquid to vapour, it does not present any intrinsic advantage in terms of safety.

Thermal inertia is very low, for example, when the reactor is shut down.

The use of supercritical water in a nuclear reactor raises many questions, in particular its behaviour under neutron flux.

At the current stage of development, it is impossible to ascertain whether the system will eventually become significantly safer than Generation III reactors.

References:

1. IRSN, 2015, 'Review of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems', www.irsn.fr/EN/newsroom/News/Pages/20150427_Generation-IV-nuclear-energy...

Direct download: www.irsn.fr/EN/newsroom/News/Documents/IRSN_Report-GenIV_04-2015.pdf

2. See for example:

International Panel on Fissile Materials, 2010, 'Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status', www.ipfmlibrary.org/rr08.pdf

Helmut Hirsch, Oda Becker, Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt, April 2005, 'Nuclear Reactor Hazards: Ongoing Dangers of Operating Nuclear Technology in the 21st Century', www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/nuclearreactorhazards

Thor-bores and uro-sceptics: thorium's friendly fire

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#801
4458
09/04/2015
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

Many Nuclear Monitor readers will be familiar with the tiresome rhetoric of thorium enthusiasts − let's call them thor-bores. Their arguments have little merit but they refuse to go away.

Here's a thor-bore in full flight − a science journalist who should know better:

"Thorium is a superior nuclear fuel to uranium in almost every conceivable way ... If there is such a thing as green nuclear power, thorium is it. ... For one, a thorium-powered nuclear reactor can never undergo a meltdown. It just can't. ... Thorium is also thoroughly useless for making nuclear weapons. ... But wait, there's more. Thorium doesn't only produce less waste, it can be used to consume existing waste."1
Thankfully, there is a healthy degree of scepticism about thorium, even among nuclear industry insiders, experts and enthusiasts (other than the thor-bores themselves, of course). Some of that 'friendly fire' is noted here.

Readiness

The World Nuclear Association (WNA) notes that the commercialization of thorium fuels faces some "significant hurdles in terms of building an economic case to undertake the necessary development work." The WNA states:

"A great deal of testing, analysis and licensing and qualification work is required before any thorium fuel can enter into service. This is expensive and will not eventuate without a clear business case and government support. Also, uranium is abundant and cheap and forms only a small part of the cost of nuclear electricity generation, so there are no real incentives for investment in a new fuel type that may save uranium resources.

"Other impediments to the development of thorium fuel cycle are the higher cost of fuel fabrication and the cost of reprocessing to provide the fissile plutonium driver material. The high cost of fuel fabrication (for solid fuel) is due partly to the high level of radioactivity that builds up in U-233 chemically separated from the irradiated thorium fuel. Separated U-233 is always contaminated with traces of U-232 which decays (with a 69-year half-life) to daughter nuclides such as thallium-208 that are high-energy gamma emitters. Although this confers proliferation resistance to the fuel cycle by making U-233 hard to handle and easy to detect, it results in increased costs. There are similar problems in recycling thorium itself due to highly radioactive Th-228 (an alpha emitter with two-year half life) present."2

A 2012 report by the UK National Nuclear Laboratory states:

"NNL has assessed the Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) of the thorium fuel cycle. For all of the system options more work is needed at the fundamental level to establish the basic knowledge and understanding. Thorium reprocessing and waste management are poorly understood. The thorium fuel cycle cannot be considered to be mature in any area."3

Fiona Rayment from the UK National Nuclear Laboratory states:

"It is conceivable that thorium could be introduced in current generation reactors within about 15 years, if there was a clear economic benefit to utilities. This would be a once-through fuel cycle that would partly realise the strategic benefits of thorium.

"To obtain the full strategic benefit of the thorium fuel cycle would require recycle, for which the technological development timescale is longer, probably 25 to 30 years.

"To develop radical new reactor designs, specifically designed around thorium, would take at least 30 years. It will therefore be some time before the thorium fuel cycle can realistically be expected to make a significant contribution to emissions reductions targets."4

Thorium is no 'silver bullet'

Do thorium reactors potentially offer significant advantages compared to conventional uranium reactors?

Nuclear physicist Prof. George Dracoulis states: "Some of the rhetoric associated with thorium gives the impression that thorium is, somehow, magical. In reality it isn't."5

The UK National Nuclear Laboratory report argues that thorium has "theoretical advantages regarding sustainability, reducing radiotoxicity and reducing proliferation risk" but that "while there is some justification for these benefits, they are often over stated." The report further states that the purported benefits "have yet to be demonstrated or substantiated, particularly in a commercial or regulatory environment."3

The UK National Nuclear Laboratory report is sceptical about safety claims:

"Thorium fuelled reactors have already been advocated as being inherently safer than LWRs [light water reactors], but the basis of these claims is not sufficiently substantiated and will not be for many years, if at all."3

False distinction

Thor-bores posit a sharp distinction between thorium and uranium. But there is little to distinguish the two. A much more important distinction is between conventional reactor technology and some 'Generation IV' concepts − in particular, those based on repeated (or continuous) fuel recycling and the 'breeding' of fissile isotopes from fertile isotopes (Th-232>U-233 or U-238>Pu-239).

A report by the Idaho National Laboratory states:

"For fuel type, either uranium-based or thorium-based, it is only in the case of continuous recycle where these two fuel types exhibit different characteristics, and it is important to emphasize that this difference only exists for a fissile breeder strategy. The comparison between the thorium/U-233 and uranium/Pu-239 option shows that the thorium option would have lower, but probably not significantly lower, TRU [transuranic waste] inventory and disposal requirements, both having essentially equivalent proliferation risks.

"For these reasons, the choice between uranium-based fuel and thorium-based fuels is seen basically as one of preference, with no fundamental difference in addressing the nuclear power issues.

"Since no infrastructure currently exists in the U.S. for thorium-based fuels, and processing of thorium-based fuels is at a lower level of technical maturity when compared to processing of uranium-based fuels, costs and RD&D requirements for using thorium are anticipated to be higher."7

George Dracoulis takes issue with the "particularly silly claim" by a science journalist (and many others) that almost all the thorium is usable as fuel compared to just 0.7% of uranium (i.e. uranium-235), and that thorium can therefore power civilization for millennia. Dracoulis states:

"In fact, in that sense, none of the thorium is usable since it is not fissile. The comparison should be with the analogous fertile isotope uranium-238, which makes up nearly 100% of natural uranium. If you wanted to go that way (breeding that is), there is already enough uranium-238 to 'power civilization for millennia'."5

Some Generation IV concepts promise major advantages, such as the potential to use long-lived nuclear waste and weapons-usable material (esp. plutonium) as reactor fuel. On the other hand, Generation IV concepts are generally those that face the greatest technical challenges and are the furthest away from commercial deployment; and they will gobble up a great deal of R&D funding before they gobble up any waste or weapons material.

Moreover, uranium/plutonium fast reactor technology might more accurately be described as failed Generation I technology. The first reactor to produce electricity − the EBR-I fast reactor in the US, a.k.a. Zinn's Infernal Pile − suffered a partial fuel meltdown in 1955. The subsequent history of fast reactors has largely been one of extremely expensive, underperforming and accident-prone reactors which have contributed far more to WMD proliferation problems than to the resolution of those problems.

Most importantly, whether Generation IV concepts deliver on their potential depends on a myriad of factors − not just the resolution of technical challenges. India's fast reactor / thorium program illustrates how badly things can go wrong, and it illustrates problems that can't be solved with technical innovation. John Carlson, a nuclear advocate and former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, writes:

"India has a plan to produce [weapons-grade] plutonium in fast breeder reactors for use as driver fuel in thorium reactors. This is problematic on non-proliferation and nuclear security grounds. Pakistan believes the real purpose of the fast breeder program is to produce plutonium for weapons (so this plan raises tensions between the two countries); and transport and use of weapons-grade plutonium in civil reactors presents a serious terrorism risk (weapons-grade material would be a priority target for seizure by terrorists)."8

Generation IV thorium concepts such as molten salt reactors (MSR) have a lengthy, uncertain R&D road ahead of them − notwithstanding the fact that there is some previous R&D to build upon.4,9

Kirk Sorensen, founder of a US firm which aims to build a demonstration 'liquid fluoride thorium reactor' (a type of MSR), notes that "several technical hurdles" confront thorium-fuelled MSRs, including materials corrosion, reactor control and in-line processing of the fuel.4

George Dracoulis writes:

"MSRs are not currently available at an industrial scale, but test reactors with different configurations have operated for extended periods in the past. But there are a number of technical challenges that have been encountered along the way. One such challenge is that the hot beryllium and lithium "salts" – in which the fuel and heavy wastes are dissolved – are highly reactive and corrosive. Building a large-scale system that can operate reliably for decades is non-trivial. That said, many of the components have been the subject of extensive research programs."10

Weapons proliferation

Claims that thorium reactors would be proliferation-resistant or proliferation-proof do not stand up to scrutiny.11 Irradiation of thorium-232 produces uranium-233, which can be and has been used in nuclear weapons.

The World Nuclear Association states:

"The USA produced about 2 tonnes of U-233 from thorium during the 'Cold War', at various levels of chemical and isotopic purity, in plutonium production reactors. It is possible to use U-233 in a nuclear weapon, and in 1955 the USA detonated a device with a plutonium-U-233 composite pit, in Operation Teapot. The explosive yield was less than anticipated, at 22 kilotons. In 1998 India detonated a very small device based on U-233 called Shakti V."2

According to Assoc. Prof. Nigel Marks, both the US and the USSR tested uranium-233 bombs in 1955.6

Uranium-233 is contaminated with uranium-232 but there are ways around that problem. Kang and von Hippel note:

"[J]ust as it is possible to produce weapon-grade plutonium in low-burnup fuel, it is also practical to use heavy-water reactors to produce U-233 containing only a few ppm of U-232 if the thorium is segregated in "target" channels and discharged a few times more frequently than the natural-uranium "driver" fuel."12

John Carlson discusses the proliferation risks associated with thorium:

"The thorium fuel cycle has similarities to the fast neutron fuel cycle – it depends on breeding fissile material (U-233) in the reactor, and reprocessing to recover this fissile material for recycle. ...

"Proponents argue that the thorium fuel cycle is proliferation resistant because it does not produce plutonium. Proponents claim that it is not practicable to use U-233 for nuclear weapons.

"There is no doubt that use of U-233 for nuclear weapons would present significant technical difficulties, due to the high gamma radiation and heat output arising from decay of U-232 which is unavoidably produced with U-233. Heat levels would become excessive within a few weeks, degrading the high explosive and electronic components of a weapon and making use of U‑233 impracticable for stockpiled weapons. However, it would be possible to develop strategies to deal with these drawbacks, e.g. designing weapons where the fissile "pit" (the core of the nuclear weapon) is not inserted until required, and where ongoing production and treatment of U-233 allows for pits to be continually replaced. This might not be practical for a large arsenal, but could certainly be done on a small scale.

"In addition, there are other considerations. A thorium reactor requires initial core fuel – LEU or plutonium – until it reaches the point where it is producing sufficient U-233 for self-sustainability, so the cycle is not entirely free of issues applying to the uranium fuel cycle (i.e. requirement for enrichment or reprocessing). Further, while the thorium cycle can be self-sustaining on produced U‑233, it is much more efficient if the U-233 is supplemented by additional "driver" fuel, such as LEU or plutonium. For example, India, which has spent some decades developing a comprehensive thorium fuel cycle concept, is proposing production of weapons grade plutonium in fast breeder reactors specifically for use as driver fuel for thorium reactors. This approach has obvious problems in terms of proliferation and terrorism risks.

"A concept for a liquid fuel thorium reactor is under consideration (in which the thorium/uranium fuel would be dissolved in molten fluoride salts), which would avoid the need for reprocessing to separate U-233. If it proceeds, this concept would have non-proliferation advantages.

"Finally, it cannot be excluded that a thorium reactor – as in the case of other reactors – could be used for plutonium production through irradiation of uranium targets.

"Arguments that the thorium fuel cycle is inherently proliferation resistant are overstated. In some circumstances the thorium cycle could involve significant proliferation risks."13

Sometimes thor-bores posit conspiracy theories. Former International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Hans Blix said "it is almost impossible to make a bomb out of thorium" and thorium is being held back by the "vested interests" of the uranium-based nuclear industry.14

But Julian Kelly from Thor Energy, a Norwegian company developing and testing thorium-plutonium fuels for use in commercial light water reactors, states:

"Conspiracy theories about funding denials for thorium work are for the entertainment sector. A greater risk is that there will be a classic R&D bubble [that] divides R&D effort and investment into fragmented camps and feifdoms."4

Thor-bores and uro-sceptics

Might the considered opinions of nuclear insiders, experts and enthusiasts help to shut the thor-bores up? Perhaps not − critics are dismissed with claims that they have ideological or financial connections to the vested interests of the uranium-based nuclear industry, or they are dismissed with claims that they are ideologically opposed to all things nuclear. But we live in hope.

Thor-bores do serve one useful purpose − they sometimes serve up pointed criticisms of the uranium fuel cycle. In other words, some thor-bores are uro-sceptics. For example, thorium enthusiast and former Shell executive John Hofmeister states:

"The days of nuclear power based upon uranium-based fission are coming to a close because the fear of nuclear proliferation, the reality of nuclear waste and the difficulty of managing it have proven too difficult over time."15

References:
1. Tim Dean, 16 March 2011, 'The greener nuclear alternative', www.abc.net.au/unleashed/45178.html
2. www.world-nuclear.org/info/Current-and-Future-Generation/Thorium/
3. UK National Nuclear Laboratory Ltd., 5 March 2012, 'Comparison of thorium and uranium fuel cycles', www.decc.gov.uk/assets/decc/11/meeting-energy-demand/nuclear/6300-compar...
4. Stephen Harris, 9 Jan 2014, 'Your questions answered: thorium-powered nuclear', www.theengineer.co.uk/energy-and-environment/in-depth/your-questions-ans...
5. George Dracoulis, 5 Aug 2011, 'Thorium is no silver bullet when it comes to nuclear energy, but it could play a role', http://theconversation.com/thorium-is-no-silver-bullet-when-it-comes-to-...
6. Nigel Marks, 2 March 2015, 'Should Australia consider thorium nuclear power?', http://theconversation.com/should-australia-consider-thorium-nuclear-pow...
7. Idaho National Laboratory, Sept 2009, 'AFCI Options Study', INL/EXT-10-17639, www.inl.gov/technicalpublications/Documents/4480296.pdf
8. John Carlson, 2014, submission to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Parliament of Australia, www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=79a1a29e-5691-4299-8923-06e633780d4...
9. Oliver Tickell, August/September 2012, 'Thorium: Not 'green', not 'viable', and not likely', www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/nuclearnews/NuClearNewsNo43.pdf
10. George Dracoulis, 19 Dec 2011, 'Thoughts from a thorium 'symposium'', http://theconversation.com/thoughts-from-a-thorium-symposium-4545
11. www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/nfc/power-weapons/thorium
12. Jungmin Kang and Frank N. von Hippel, 2001, "U-232 and the Proliferation-Resistance of U-233 in Spent Fuel", Science & Global Security, Volume 9, pp.1-32, www.princeton.edu/sgs/publications/sgs/pdf/9_1kang.pdf
13. John Carlson, 2009, 'Introduction to the Concept of Proliferation Resistance', www.foe.org.au/sites/default/files/Carlson%20ASNO%20ICNND%20Prolif%20Res...
14. Herman Trabish, 10 Dec 2013, 'Thorium Reactors: Nuclear Redemption or Nuclear Hazard?', http://theenergycollective.com/hermantrabish/314771/thorium-reactors-nuc...
15. Pia Akerman, 7 Oct 2013, 'Ex-Shell boss issues nuclear call', The Australian, www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/policy/ex-shell-boss-issues-nu...
 

An open letter to nuclear lobbyists in response to their open letter to environmentalists

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#796
4437
19/12/2014
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

A group of conservation scientists has published an open letter urging environmentalists to reconsider their opposition to nuclear power.1 The letter is an initiative of Australian academics Barry Brook and Corey Bradshaw, and has been endorsed by 69 (other) scientists from Australia, Canada, China, Finland, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Norway, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.

The co-signatories "support the broad conclusions drawn in the article 'Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation', published in Conservation Biology."2 The open letter states: "Brook and Bradshaw argue that the full gamut of electricity-generation sources − including nuclear power − must be deployed to replace the burning of fossil fuels, if we are to have any chance of mitigating severe climate change."

So, here's my open letter in response to the open letter initiated by Brook and Bradshaw:

Dear conservation scientists,

Space constraints prohibit the usual niceties that accompany open letters so I'll get straight to the point. If you want environmentalists to support nuclear power, get off your backsides and do something about the all-too-obvious problems associated with the technology. Start with the proliferation problem since the multifaceted and repeatedly-demonstrated links between the 'peaceful atom' and nuclear weapons proliferation pose profound risks and greatly trouble environmentalists and many others besides.3

The Brook/Bradshaw journal article (rightly) emphasises the importance of biodiversity − but even a relatively modest exchange of some dozens of nuclear weapons could profoundly effect biodiversity, and large-scale nuclear warfare undoubtedly would.4

As Australian scientist Dr Mark Diesendorf notes: "On top of the perennial challenges of global poverty and injustice, the two biggest threats facing human civilisation in the 21st century are climate change and nuclear war. It would be absurd to respond to one by increasing the risks of the other. Yet that is what nuclear power does."5

The Brook/Bradshaw article ranks power sources according to seven criteria: greenhouse gas emissions, cost, dispatchability, land use, safety (fatalities), solid waste, and radiotoxic waste. WMD proliferation is excluded. By all means ignore lesser concerns to avoid a book-length analysis, but to ignore the link between nuclear power and weapons is disingenuous and the comparative analysis of power sources is a case of rubbish in, rubbish out.

Integral fast reactors

While Brook and Bradshaw exclude WMD proliferation from their comparative assessment of power sources, their journal article does address the topic. They promote the 'integral fast reactor' (IFR) that was the subject of R&D in the US until was abandoned in the 1990s.6 If they existed, IFRs would be metal-fuelled, sodium-cooled, fast neutron reactors.

Brook and Bradshaw write: "The IFR technology in particular also counters one of the principal concerns regarding nuclear expansion − the proliferation of nuclear weapons − because its electrorefining-based fuel-recycling system cannot separate weapons-grade fissile material."

But Brook's claim that IFRs "cannot be used to generate weapons-grade material"7 is false.8 IFR advocate Tom Blees notes that: "IFRs are certainly not the panacea that removes all threat of proliferation, and extracting plutonium from it would require the same sort of techniques as extracting it from spent fuel from light water reactors."9 George Stanford, who worked on an IFR research program in the US, states: "If not properly safeguarded, [countries] could do [with IFRs] what they could do with any other reactor – operate it on a special cycle to produce good quality weapons material."10

The presentation of IFRs by Brook and Bradshaw contrasts sharply with the sober assessments of the UK and US governments. An April 2014 US government report notes that pursuit of IFR technology would be associated with "significant technical risk" and that it would take 18 years to construct an IFR and associated facilities.11 A recent UK government report notes that IFR facilities have not been industrially demonstrated, waste disposal issues remain unresolved, and little can be ascertained about cost.12

Brook and Bradshaw argue that "the large-scale deployment of fast reactor technology would result in all of the nuclear-waste and depleted-uranium stockpiles generated over the last 50 years being consumed as fuel." Seriously? An infinitely more likely outcome would be some fast reactors consuming waste and weapons-useable material while other fast reactors and conventional uranium reactors continue to produce such materials.

The Brook/Bradshaw article ignores the sad reality of fast reactor technology: over US$50 billion (€40.2b) invested, unreliable reactors, numerous fires and other accidents, and one after another country abandoning the technology.13

Moreover, fast reactors have worsened, not lessened, proliferation problems. John Carlson, former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office, discusses a topical example: "India has a plan to produce such [weapon grade] plutonium in fast breeder reactors for use as driver fuel in thorium reactors. This is problematic on non-proliferation and nuclear security grounds. Pakistan believes the real purpose of the fast breeder program is to produce plutonium for weapons (so this plan raises tensions between the two countries); and transport and use of weapons-grade plutonium in civil reactors presents a serious terrorism risk (weapons-grade material would be a priority target for seizure by terrorists)."14

The fast reactor techno-utopia presented by Brook and Bradshaw is attractive. Back in the real world, there's much more about fast reactors to oppose than to support. And the large-scale deployment of Generation IV reactor technology is further away than they care to admit. The Generation IV International Forum website states: "It will take at least two or three decades before the deployment of commercial Gen IV systems. In the meantime, a number of prototypes will need to be built and operated. The Gen IV concepts currently under investigation are not all on the same timeline and some might not even reach the stage of commercial exploitation."15

Creative accounting and jiggery-pokery

Brook and Bradshaw also counter proliferation concerns with the following argument: "Nuclear power is deployed commercially in countries whose joint energy intensity is such that they collectively constitute 80% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. If one adds to this tally those nations that are actively planning nuclear deployment or already have scientific or medical research reactors, this figure rises to over 90%. As a consequence, displacement of fossil fuels by an expanding nuclear-energy sector would not lead to a large increase in the number of countries with access to nuclear resources and expertise."

The premise is correct − countries operating reactors account for a large majority of greenhouse emissions. But even by the most expansive estimate − Brook's16 − less than one-third of all countries have some sort of weapons capability, either through the operation of reactors or an alliance with a nuclear weapons state. So the conclusion − that nuclear power expansion "would not lead to a large increase in the number of countries with access to nuclear resources and expertise" − is nonsense and one wonders how such jiggery-pokery could find its way into a peer-reviewed journal.

The power−weapons conundrum is neatly summarised by former US Vice-President Al Gore: "For eight years in the White House, every weapons-proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program. And if we ever got to the point where we wanted to use nuclear reactors to back out a lot of coal ... then we'd have to put them in so many places we'd run that proliferation risk right off the reasonability scale."17

Safeguards

Apart from the their misinformation about IFRs, and their nonsense argument about the proliferation implications of expanding nuclear power, Brook and Bradshaw add one further comment about proliferation: "Nuclear weapons proliferation is a complex political issue, with or without commercial nuclear power plants, and is under strong international oversight."

Oddly, Brook and Bradshaw cite a book by IFR advocate Tom Blees in support of that statement.18 But Blees argues for the establishment of an international strike force on full standby to attend promptly to any detected attempts to misuse or to divert nuclear materials (p.269). That is a far cry from the International Atomic Energy Agency's safeguards system. In articles and speeches during his tenure as the Director General of the IAEA from 1997−2009, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei said that the Agency's basic rights of inspection are "fairly limited", that the safeguards system suffers from "vulnerabilities" and "clearly needs reinforcement", that efforts to improve the system have been "half-hearted", and that the safeguards system operates on a "shoestring budget ... comparable to that of a local police department".

Moreover, Blees argues that: "Privatized nuclear power should be outlawed worldwide, with complete international control of not only the entire fuel cycle but also the engineering, construction, and operation of all nuclear power plants. Only in this way will safety and proliferation issues be satisfactorily dealt with. Anything short of that opens up a Pandora's box of inevitable problems." (p.303)

Blees doesn't argue that the nuclear industry is subject to strong international oversight − he argues that "fissile material should all be subject to rigorous international oversight" (emphasis added).19

Of course, the flaws in the nuclear safeguards system are not set in stone.20 And this gets me back to my original point: if nuclear lobbyists want environmentalists to support nuclear power, they need to get off their backsides and do something about the all-too-obvious problems such as the inadequate safeguards system. Environmentalists have a long record of working on these problems and the lack of support from nuclear lobbyists has not gone unnoticed.

To give an example of a topical point of intervention, Canada has agreed to supply uranium and nuclear technology to India with greatly reduced safeguards and non-proliferation standards, Australia seems likely to follow suit, and those precedents will likely lead to a broader weakening of international safeguards (and make it that much more difficult for nuclear lobbyists to win support from environmentalists and others). The seriousness of the problem has been acknowledged by, among others, a former Chair of the IAEA Board of Governors21 and a former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office.14 It is a live debate in numerous nuclear exporting countries and there isn't a moment to lose.

Nuclear lobbyists should join environmentalists in campaigning for a strengthening of the safeguards system and against efforts to weaken the system. But Brook and Bradshaw have never made even the slightest contribution to efforts to strengthen safeguards, and it's a safe bet that the same could be said of the other signatories to their open letter.

To mention just one more point of intervention, the separation and stockpiling of plutonium from power reactor spent fuel increases proliferation risks. There is virtually no demand for the uranium or plutonium separated at reprocessing plants, and no repositories for the high-level waste stream. Yet reprocessing continues, the global stockpile of separated plutonium increases year after year and now stands at around 260 tons.22 It's a problem that needs to be solved; it's a problem that can be solved.

Endorsing the wishful thinking and misinformation presented in the Brook/Bradshaw journal article is no substitute for an honest acknowledgement of the proliferation problems associated with nuclear power, coupled with serious, sustained efforts to solve those problems.

References:

1. 15 Dec 2014, 'An Open Letter to Environmentalists on Nuclear Energy', http://bravenewclimate.com/2014/12/15/an-open-letter-to-environmentalist...
2. Brook, B. W., and C. J. A. Bradshaw. 2014. Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation. Conservation Biology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cobi.12433
3. www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/nfc/power-weapons
4. www.nucleardarkness.org/index2.php
5. Dr Mark Diesendorf, University of NSW, 'Need energy? Forget nuclear and go natural', 14 Oct 2009, www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/need-energy-forget-nuclear...
6. http://foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/nfc/power/ifrs
7. Barry Brook, 9 June 2009, 'Nuking green myths', The Australian, http://web.archive.org/web/20090611042943/http://www.theaustralian.news....
8. www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/nfc/power-weapons/g4nw
9. http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/02/12/integral-fast-reactors-for-the-mas...
10. http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/09/18/ifr-fad-7/
11. US Department of Energy, April 2014, 'Report of the Plutonium Disposition Working Group: Analysis of Surplus  Weapon‐Grade Plutonium Disposition Options', www.nnsa.energy.gov/sites/default/files/nnsa/04-14-inlinefiles/SurplusPu...
See also 'Generation IV reactor R&D', www.wiseinternational.org/node/4251
12. UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, January 2014, 'Progress on approaches to the management of separated plutonium – Position Paper', www.nda.gov.uk/news/pu-management-approach.cfm
See also: 'Will PRISM solve the UK's plutonium problem?', www.wiseinternational.org/node/4048
13. International Panel on Fissile Materials, 2010, 'Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status', www.ipfmlibrary.org/rr08.pdf
14. www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=79a1a29e-5691-4299-8923-06e633780d4...
15. www.gen-4.org/gif/jcms/c_41890/faq-2
16. http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/11/06/carbon-emissions-nuclear-capable-c...
17. David Roberts, 10 May 2006, 'An interview with accidental movie star Al Gore', www.grist.org/article/roberts2
18. Blees T. 2008. 'Prescription for the planet: the painless remedy for our energy & environmental crises'. BookSurge, Charleston, South Carolina.
19. http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/02/21/response-to-an-integral-fast-react...
20. www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/oz/u/safeguards
21. www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=eeed39e8-2c3c-400b-a9ff-4d744da48c4...
www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=9b3d0478-c3ad-4d97-a1c2-5747f1265eb...
22. Fissile Materials Working Group, 6 May 2013, 'How do you solve a problem like plutonium?', www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/columnists/fissile-materials-working-gro...

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