Archive for the ‘Integral Fast Reactors’ Category

Integral Fast Reactors – dispelling the pro nuclear propaganda about them

September 12, 2016

NuClear News August 16  Integral Fast Reactors (IFRs) George Monbiot told the Radio 4’s Today Programme on the 29th July that the “humungous waste problem at Sellafield could be turned into a humungous asset by using a technology such as Integral Fast Reactors (IFR) to turn it into an energy source.” He said “it gets rid of the waste, and according to one estimate could provide all the UK’s energy needs for 500 years.” He said that instead of wasting our money on Hinkley Point C Government should invest in the development of IFRs to “see if we can use it to crack two problems at once – our nuclear waste mountain [and] create a massive source of low carbon energy”. The only problem is, as Professor Catherine Mitchell just had time to point out, it wouldn’t work. To claim that they are proliferation resistant and help “use up waste” is just plain wrong.

The IFR would be a liquid-sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactor. The use of liquid sodium as a coolant has proved to be a huge problem in the past – it catches fire on contact with air. Over the years the world’s leading nuclear technologists have built about three dozen sodium-cooled fast reactors. Of the 22 whose histories are mostly reported, over half had sodium leaks, four suffered fuel damage (including two partial meltdowns), several others had serious accidents, most were prematurely closed, and only six succeeded. As Dr. Tom Cochran of NRDC notes, fast reactor programs were tried in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the USSR, and the US and Soviet Navies. All failed. After a half-century and tens of billions of dollars, the world has one operational commercial-sized fast reactor (Russia’s BN600) out of 438 commercial power reactors, and it’s not fuelled with plutonium.

IFRs would require an ambitious new nuclear fuel cycle because they would be fuelled with a metallic alloy of uranium and plutonium. In theory they would operate in conjunction with onsite ‘pyroprocessing’ to separate plutonium and other long-lived radioisotopes. Unlike the reprocessing plants currently at Sellafield they wouldn’t separate pure plutonium, but would keep the plutonium mixed with other long-lived radioisotopes.

Its novel technology, replacing solvents and aqueous chemistry of current reprocessing with high-temperature pyrometallurgy and electrorefining, would incur different but major challenges, greater technical risks and repair problems, and speculative but probably worse economics. Reprocessing of any kind makes waste management more difficult and complex, increases the volume and diversity of waste streams, increases by several- to many-fold the cost of nuclear fuelling, and separates bomb-usable material that can’t be adequately measured or protected. In the UK the Government would be unlikely to want to see more plutonium separated so any IFR built here – at least to begin with – would probably just be used to use up our huge stockpile of plutonium. The problem is that the plutonium is stored as plutonium oxide which would have to be converted to plutonium metal probably involving the fluorination of plutonium dioxide, normally with highly corrosive hydrogen fluoride, to produce plutonium fluoride, which is subsequently reduced using high purity calcium metal to produce metallic plutonium and a calcium fluoride slag.

IFRs are often claimed to “burn up nuclear waste” and make its “time of concern … less than 500 years” rather than 10,000-100,000 years or more. That’s wrong: most of the radioactivity comes from fission products, including very long lived isotopes like iodine-129 and technicium-99, and their mix is broadly similar in any nuclear fuel cycle.

IFRs’ wastes may contain less transuranics, but at prohibitive cost and with worse occupational exposures, routine releases, accident and terrorism risks, proliferation, and disposal needs for intermediate- and low-level wastes. It’s simply a dishonest fantasy to claim, that such hypothetical and uneconomic proposals can deal with the humungous waste problem at Sellafield.

It is claimed that IFRs could produce lots of greenhouse-friendly energy and while they’re at it they can ‘eat’ nuclear waste and convert fissile materials, which might otherwise find their way into nuclear weapons, into useful energy. Too good to be true? Sadly, yes. Nuclear engineer Dave Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned Scientists writes: “The IFR looks good on paper. So good, in fact, that we should leave it on paper. For it only gets ugly in moving from blueprint to backyard.”

Integral Fast Nuclear Reactors (IFRs) good only on paper

February 2, 2015

New’ reactor types are all nuclear pie in the sky Ecologist Dr Jim Green 2nd October 2014

“………Integral Fast Reactors (IFRs) are a case in point. According to the lobbyists they are ready to roll, will be cheap to build and operate, couldn’t be used to feed WMD proliferation, etc. The US and UK governments have been analysing the potential of IFRs.

The UK government found that:

  • the facilities have not been industrially demonstrated;
  • waste disposal issues remain unresolved and could be further complicated if it is deemed necessary to remove sodium from spent fuel to facilitate disposal; and
  • little could be ascertained about cost since General Electric Hitachi refuses to release estimates of capital and operating costs, saying they are “commercially sensitive”.

The US government has also considered the use of IFRs (which it calls Advanced Disposition Reactors – ADR) to manage US plutonium stockpiles and concluded that:

  • the ADR approach would be more than twice as expensive as all the other options under consideration;
  • it would take 18 years to construct an ADR and associated facilities; and
  • the ADR option is associated with “significant technical risk”.

Unsurprisingly, the IFR rhetoric doesn’t match the sober assessments of the UK and US governments. As nuclear engineer Dave Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned
Scientists puts it:

“The IFR looks good on paper. So good, in fact, that we should leave it on paper. For it only gets ugly in moving from blueprint to backyard.”……….

The latest confidence trick- PRISM – Power Reactor Innovative Small Module

December 29, 2013

The plutonium stockpile poses enormous problems for the government. Not only is it highly radioactive and an immense potential danger to health, it is also a target for terrorist attacks and for anyone interested in stealing nuclear weapons-grade material.

The NDA’s report to DECC is understood to conclude that the Prism fast reactor is as credible as the two other options based on Mox fuel, even though GE-Hitachi has not yet built a commercial-scale plant for burning plutonium waste. DECC, however, has refused to release the report under a Freedom of Information request 

It is understood that the NDA has been impressed by proposals from GE-Hitachi to build a pair of its Prism fast reactors on the Sellafield site,

Revealed: UK Government’s radical plan to ‘burn up’ UK’s mountain of plutonium 28 Nove 13 A radical plan to dispose of Britain’s huge store of civil plutonium – the biggest in the world – by “burning” it in a new type of fast reactor is now officially one of three “credible options” being considered by the Government, The Independent understands. However, further delays have hit attempts to make a final decision on what to do with the growing plutonium stockpile which has been a recurring headache for successive governments over the past three decades.

The stock of plutonium, one of the most dangerous radioactive substances and the element of nuclear bombs, has already exceeded 100 tonnes and is likely to grow to as much as 140 tonnes by 2020, bolstered by a recent decision to include foreign plutonium from imported nuclear waste.

Ministers had pledged to resolve the plutonium problem in a public consultation but are sitting on a secret report by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) which is believed to confirm that there are now three “credible options” for dealing with the plutonium stored at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria.

The original “preferred option” was to convert the plutonium into a form of nuclear fuel called mixed oxide (Mox) and then to burn this in conventional nuclear reactors. However, serious questions have been raised about this proposal in the light of the expensive failure of a previous £1.4bn Mox plant at Sellafield, which had to be closed in 2011.

Two other options are now on the table, according to the NDA report. One involves a Canadian nuclear power plant called a Candu reactor which will burn a simpler form of Mox fuel. The other more radical proposal is to burn the plutonium directly in a fast reactor built by GE-Hitachi.

The NDA report, which is classified as commercially confidentially, was itself delayed by several months before being submitted in August to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The Government’s response to it was supposed to have been published within weeks but has now been delayed until next year – to the consternation of the companies involved in the consultation process.

The plutonium stockpile poses enormous problems for the government. Not only is it highly radioactive and an immense potential danger to health, it is also a target for terrorist attacks and for anyone interested in stealing nuclear weapons-grade material.

The NDA’s report to DECC is understood to conclude that the Prism fast reactor is as credible as the two other options based on Mox fuel, even though GE-Hitachi has not yet built a commercial-scale plant for burning plutonium waste. DECC, however, has refused to release the report under a Freedom of Information request, saying that publishing its contents could jeopardise future commercial negotiations.

The Independent also understands that DECC is seeking the views of the National Security Council, chaired by the Prime Minster David Cameron, before it releases its public position statement on what should be done with the plutonium stockpile – such is the sensitivity of the issue.

One industry insider said that the delay by DECC may in part be due to the intense negotiations over the strike price for electricity generated by the new nuclear power station at Hinckley Point in Somerset. But another reason is the undoubted sensitivity of any future decision over which option to go for when dealing with the growing plutonium problem.

Although the final contract is unlikely to be signed before 2015, both Candu and GE-Hitachi are keen to know whether they are still in the race for tendering against the French company Areva, which was originally hoping win the contract to build a £3bn Mox plant for plutonium disposal without running up against any competitors.

A previous public consultation process led the NDA to recommend the conversion of the plutonium into Mox fuel, which would in itself make it less attractive to terrorists. However, Sellafield has a poor record of producing viable Mox fuel and there are no power stations in the UK willing to burn it given that uranium fuel is much cheaper.

However, over the past two years the NDA has performed a U-turn over another option, which is to burn the plutonium directly in a purpose-built fast reactor. Ironically this was the original intention 40 years ago and the reason for building up a plutonium stockpile in the first place, but Britain’s own fast-reactor programme was abandoned in the 1990s.

It is understood that the NDA has been impressed by proposals from GE-Hitachi to build a pair of its Prism fast reactors on the Sellafield site, which could in theory burn the plutonium stockpile for up to 60 years, making it safe as well as generating carbon-free electricity.

Pyroprocessing -Integral Fast Nuclear Reactors (IFRs) – the dishonest hype

December 29, 2013

Other Department of Energy studies showed that pyroprocessing, by generating large quantities of low-level nuclear waste and contaminated uranium, greatly increases the volume of nuclear waste requiring disposal, contradicting “Pandora’s Promise’s” claim it would reduce the amount of waste.

Scientist: Film hypes the promise of advanced nuclear technology By Edwin Lyman,  CNN November 7, 2013  In his zeal to promote nuclear power, filmmaker Robert Stone inserted numerous half-truths and less-than-half-truths in his new documentary “Pandora’s Promise,”  One of Stone’s more misleading allegations was that scientists at a U.S. research facility, the Argonne National Laboratory, were on the verge of developing a breakthrough technology that could solve nuclear power’s numerous problems when the Clinton administration and its allies in Congress shut the program in 1994 for purely political reasons.

Like the story of Pandora itself, the tale of the integral fast reactor (IFR) — or at least the version presented in the movie — is more myth than reality. In the final assessment, the concept’s drawbacks greatly outweighed its advantages. The government had sound reasons to stanch the flow of taxpayer dollars to a costly, flawed project that also was undermining U.S. efforts to reduce the risks of nuclear terrorism and proliferation around the world…….

What did “Pandora’s Promise” leave out? First, it does not clearly explain what a “fast reactor” is and how it differs from the water-cooled reactors in use today. Most operating reactors use a type of fuel called “low-enriched” uranium, which cannot be used directly to make a nuclear weapon and poses a low security risk. The spent fuel from these water-cooled reactors contains weapon-usable plutonium as a byproduct, but it is very hard to make into a bomb because it is mixed with uranium and highly radioactive fission products.

Fast reactors, on the other hand, are far more dangerous because they typically require fuels made from plutonium or “highly enriched” uranium that can be used to make nuclear weapons.


In fact, fast reactors can be operated as “breeders” that produce more plutonium than they consume. To produce the large quantities of plutonium needed to fuel fast reactors, spent fuel from conventional reactors has to be reprocessed — chemically processed to separate plutonium from the other constituents. Facilities that produce plutonium fuel must have strong protections against diversion and theft. All too often, however, security at such facilities is inadequate.

In the IFR concept, which was never actually realized in practice, reactor-spent fuel would be reprocessed using a technology called pyroprocessing, and the extracted plutonium would be fabricated into new fuel. IFR advocates have long asserted that pyroprocessing is not a proliferation risk because the plutonium it separates is not completely purified.

But a 2008 U.S. Department of Energy review — which confirmed many previous studies — concluded that pyroprocessing and similar technologies would “greatly reduce barriers to theft, misuse or further processing, even without separation of pure plutonium.”

See the Department of Energy review here (PDF)

Other Department of Energy studies showed that pyroprocessing, by generating large quantities of low-level nuclear waste and contaminated uranium, greatly increases the volume of nuclear waste requiring disposal, contradicting “Pandora’s Promise’s” claim it would reduce the amount of waste.

See Union of Concerned Scientists fact sheet (PDF)

And what about Till’s claim that the IFR can’t melt down? It’s false.

“Pandora’s Promise” referenced two successful safety tests conducted in 1986 at a small demonstration fast reactor in Idaho called the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II). But EBR-II operators scripted these tests to ensure the desired outcome, a luxury not available in the real world. Meanwhile, the EBR-II’s predecessor, the EBR-I, had a partial fuel meltdown in 1955, and a similar reactor, Fermi 1 near Detroit, had a partial fuel meltdown in 1966.

See U.S. Department of Energy information posted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (PDF)

Moreover, fast reactors have inherent instabilities that make them far more dangerous than light-water reactors under certain accident conditions, conditions that were studiously avoided in the 1986 dog-and-pony show at EBR-II.

Perhaps the biggest myth in the film is the notion that all U.S. research on fast reactors was terminated.

In fact, the IFR program’s demise was a shutdown in name only. The Department of Energy has continued to fund research and development on fast reactor technology to the tune of tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars a year. The IFR Fuel Reprocessing Facility in Idaho shown in the film — in reality, a plant called the Fuel Conditioning Facility — has been operating for decades, essentially as a jobs program, to reprocess spent fuel from the now-defunct EBR-II, despite the system’s serious problems. In 2000, the Department of Energy promised that all the fuel would be processed by around 2007. Three years later, it delayed the projected completion date to 2030.

Till’s assertion in “Pandora’s Promise” that “we know how to do these things” does not square with the difficulties the Department of Energy has encountered in trying to operate this troubled plant.

But if CNN viewers are persuaded by the “Pandora’s Promise” IFR sales pitch and think the federal government should throw even more good taxpayer money after bad, I have two words of advice: Caveat emptor.

The very serious drawbacks of Integral Fast Nuclear Reactors

December 29, 2013

Nuclear energy film overstates positives, underplays negatives By Ralph Cavanagh and Tom Cochran,   CNN November 6, 2013 – ”………The still-unrealized Integral Fast Reactor is the real star of the film, along with the nation of France, whose nuclear generation program is extolled as “one of the most inspiring stories ever” (“the trains are electric powered, they have clean air, and they have the cheapest electricity in Europe”). Nuclear power debates are the only places where you will ever see those at the conservative edge of the political spectrum argue that the United States should reorganize its economy to be more like France.

The Clinton administration killed the Integral Fast Reactor in 1994 because of concern over the potential diversion of the plutonium fuel by terrorists and non-nuclear weapon states of concern. Yet the film’s closing argument is that a “fourth-generation” reactor modeled on the Integral Fast Reactor will sweep the globe, burning waste created by the first three generations and “solving” the nagging problem of long-term disposal of nuclear waste. The film fails to mention that this would take hundreds to thousands of plutonium-fueled reactors operating over hundreds of years, resulting most likely in an increase in the releases of radioactivity to the environment as a consequence of operations by the Integral Fast Reactor’s fuel processing and fabricating facilities.

The film invokes Bill Gates as one of many forward-thinking new investors in nuclear innovation, but surely even Gates would recoil from the Integral Fast Reactor’s poor economic outlook compared to conventional reactors and the financial risks associated with building just one Integral Fast Reactor, let alone a global fleet of them. The film fails to acknowledge that the flagship fast reactor development efforts in the United States, France, Germany, Japan and Italy all failed, and that fast reactors were abandoned by both the U.S. and Soviet navies, hardly a strong selling point for resurrecting the Integral Fast Reactor program………..

Risky new technology proposed as Britain agonises over its Sellafield waste bin

July 21, 2012

It is the task of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to clean all this up. The plans are to pay the French company Areva, who have proved their technology works, to build a new mixed oxide fuel (MOX) plant.
The other option is to let the US-Japanese GE-Hitachi build a new fast PRISM reactor on the site to burn the plutonium and produce electricity. This is a more elegant engineering option but the reactor is totally unproven and is decades away from completion.

Sellafield: The dangers of Britain’s nuclear dustbin RT, 10 July, 2012“…….Cold war legacy   Behind the razor wire, security guards and public relations campaigns,
Sellafield is home to some of the most radioactive buildings in Europe.
The UK has the largest stockpile of Plutonium anywhere in the world and it’s all stored at Sellafield. Plutonium is used for the manufacture of nuclear weapons and is extremely radioactive with a half-life of 25,000 years. (more…)

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

July 21, 2012

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. (more…)

UK’s plutonium problem – “fast nuclear Reactors” are not the solution

July 20, 2012

Ultimately, however, the core problem may be that such new reactors don’t eliminate theuclear 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.  

Can Fast Reactors Speedily Solve Plutonium Problems? The U.K. is grappling with how to get rid of weapons-grade plutonium and may employ a novel reactor design to consume it Scientific American By David Biello  | March 21, 2012 The U.K. has nearly 100 metric tons of plutonium—dubbed “the element from hell” by some—that it doesn’t know what to do with. The island nation does not need the potent powder to construct more nuclear weapons, and spends billions of British pounds to ensure that others don’t steal it for that purpose. The unstable element, which will remain radioactive for millennia, is the residue of ill-fated efforts to recycle used nuclear fuel.

One solution under consideration is to recycle the plutonium yet further—by using it as fuel in a pair of new, so-called “fast” reactors. Such nuclear reactors can actually “consume” plutonium via fission (transforming it into other forms of nuclear waste that are not as useful for weapons). The U.K. is considering a plan to build two of General Electric’s PRISM fast reactors, the latest in a series of fast-reactor designs that for several decades have attempted with mixed success to handle plutonium and other radioactive waste from nuclear power. (more…)

– Integral Fast Nuclear Reactors (IFRs), including Thorium ones

June 10, 2012

Are New Types of Reactors Needed for the U.S. Nuclear Renaissance? Scientific American By David Biello  | February 19, 2010 |  “……  struggles to find a permanent resting place for nuclear waste has prompted some to resurrect an idea that stretches back to the Manhattan Project: so-called fast-neutron reactors that can consume nuclear waste through fission. Whether it is billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates touting a new design for a traveling-wave reactor or the South Korean government promoting spent fuel reprocessing and fast breeder reactors, observers and governments seem to think it is time to reconsider fast reactors—despite the fact that the designs have a mixed track record. Since the 1950s, roughly $100 billion has been spent on the research and development of such reactors around the world, yet there is currently only one producing electricity—the BN-600 reactor in Russia, operational since 1980…..

Going fast with sodium
The most prevalent type of fast-neutron reactor, so-called because the neutrons used to initiate the fission chain reaction are traveling faster than neutrons moderated bywater in conventional nuclear reactors, operate at temperatures as high as 550 degrees Celsius and use liquid sodium instead of water as a coolant. Sodium burns explosively when exposed to either air or water, necessitating elaborate safety controls…..

But attempts to make that technology commercial have largely failed, mostly because of difficulties with controlling sodium fires and the steam generators that transfer heat from the sodium to water…….

The French Superphenix sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactor operated successfully for more than a decade—but only produced electricity 7 percent of the time, “one of the lowest load factors in nuclear history,” said nuclear consultant Mycle Schneider, an IPFM member during the call. An accident at the plant cost one engineer his life and injured four other people when a leftover tank with roughly 100 kilograms of sodium residue exploded, according to Schneider.

Further, such reactors require that the spent nuclear fuel be reprocessed, a technical program that involves extracting plutonium and other fissile materials from the depleted uranium fuel rods. Such elements can then be used in the fast-neutron reactor or mixed with uranium to form so-called mixed oxide (MOX) fuel and deployed in a more traditional nuclear reactor. The U.S. had such a program until the 1970s that was briefly resuscitated by the second Bush administration; it was again shelved by the Obama administration in 2009.

Of course, such plutonium and highly enriched uranium are also exactly the isotopes used to fashion nuclear weapons, making the materials security threats. Already, the world has roughly 250 metric tons of such spare plutonium stockpiled, largely concentrated in the U.K. and France, that has been reprocessed but never used as nuclear reactor fuel. That’s enough to make 30,000 “Nagasaki-size” nuclear bombs, according to von Hippel……..

Fears of such a uranium shortage led India, which has limited natural supplies of the nuclear fuel, to explore another fissile element, thorium, as an alternative. Wrapping highly fissile plutonium in a thorium blanket could produce enough nuclear fuel indefinitely, according to the vision laid out by the architect of India’s nuclear program, physicist Homi J. Bhabha, in 1954. The Indian government is currently building such a prototype fast breeder reactor, despite limited success with a precursor, said Princeton physicist M. V. Ramana during the IPFM call. “The cost of electricity is 80 percent higher than from heavy-water reactors,” he added. Uranium prices would need to increase 15-fold from current levels of roughly $80 per kilogram to make it economically attractive…..

Fast-neutron reactors would not improve the economics of nuclear power based on past experience, ….

As far back as 1956, Adm. Hyman Rickover, who oversaw both the Navy’s nuclear-propulsion efforts as well as the dawn of the civilian nuclear power industry, cited such sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactors as “expensive to build, complex to operate, susceptible to prolonged shutdown as a result of even minor malfunctions, and difficult and time-consuming to repair.” That judgment remains despite six decades and $100 billion of global effort, according to physicist Michael Dittmar of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich who wrote, “ideas about near-future commercial fission breeder reactors are nothing but wishful thinking” in a November 2009 analysis.

“For that $100 billion we did learn some things,” remarked physicist Thomas Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, during the IPFM call. “We learned that fast reactors were going to cost substantially more than light-water reactors…[and]…that, relative to thermal reactors, they’re not very reliable.”….

And even if a fleet of fast-neutron reactors were built, Cochran noted, “you’re not going to eliminate the need for a geologic repository.”