Integral Fast Reactors- the nuclear lobby’s new con job

In dispraise of Integral Fast Nuclear Reactors  Independent Australia, 5 July 12, Can only nuclear technocrats discuss nuclear issues — leaving the great unwashed out of the debate? Noel Wauchope considers the latest – but not necessarily the greatest  nuclear gizmo — Integral Fast Reactors. “….. It must be reassuring to the nuclear lobby to know that the great unwashed, the hoi polloi, the peasantry, have no idea about the differences between the various types of nuclear reactors now in operation — the Generation 2 and Generation 3 reactors. Let alone the new developing blueprints of Generation IV: Integral Fast Reactors, Lead Cooled Fast Reactors, Molten Salt Reactors, Sodium Cooled Fast reactors, Thorium Liquid Fuel reactors; the peasant mind boggles! And wait, like those old TV commercials – there’s more! – Generation V is now in the minds and on some bits of paper of the nuclear boffins.

Well, the nuclear priesthood is pretty safe in all this. They keep the argument narrowly technical, with pages and pages on the various technicalities of cooling systems, reprocessing of fuel systems, passive safety systems and so on; in other words, they induce in the public a kind of mindless torpor as they dazzle us with science.

At the same time, the nuclear priesthood, like some gifted but autistic child with specialist knowledge in just one area, seems to have little grasp of other issues concerning nuclear power — blinkered as they are in their apparent view that the technicalities are the whole story.  This is the case with their latest propaganda for the ‘Integral Fast Reactor’ or IFR.

For instance, they ignore the fact that IFRs needs plutonium or enriched uranium as fuel. So, to have fast reactors, Australia would need to import these, or set up nuclear reprocessing or uranium enrichment here. This would also involve issues such as cost, politics, public opinion, issues concerning our growing renewable energy systems, radioactive waste storage — just to mention some of the more obvious of the considerable obstacles to Australia ever getting fast reactors. Nuclear lobbyists seem naively oblivious to the importance of these factors in the minds of the general public……

The Integral Fast Reactor is, after all, just another type of nuclear reactor — it runs on radioactive fuel, provides heat to make electricity and produces radioactive waste. It also uses reprocessed nuclear wastes for its fuel, therefore nuclear reprocessing plants would be needed. So far, all existing nuclear reprocessing has proved to be an expensive failure. For instance, the USA’s MOX reprocessing fuel plant is still under construction — it has cost billions of dollars, is over budget and also behind schedule. In Japan, the super expensive Monju prototype fast breeder reactor is costing 1,000 times more than conventional reactors to run………

As these fast reactors need to get the weapons grade plutonium and/or enriched uranium, these materials have to be procured from somewhere.  The nuclear lobby portrays this as a benefit to the world, by using up the existing plutonium and so on.  Now, I don’t know whether they say this out of naiveté or hypocrisy, but the obvious reality is that the old-fashioned Generation 3 and 4 reactors will have to be kept going – or uranium enrichment and reprocessing will have to keep going – to turn out more plutonium, which must then travel to the new IFRs. Of course, all this flies in the face of President Obama’s move to limit nuclear weapons proliferation, the New START treaty with Russia, which depends on confining the spread of uranium enrichment and weapons grade plutonium…….

there’s that final problem of the wastes

David Biello from the Scientific American comments:

‘Ultimately, however, the core problem may be that such new reactors don’t eliminate the nuclear waste that has piled up, so much as transmute it. Even with a fleet of such fast reactors, nations would nonetheless require an ultimate home for radioactive waste, one reason that a 2010 M.I.T. report on spent nuclear fuel dismissed such fast reactors.’…..

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