Clean Power

Published on December 6th, 2011 | by Glenn Meyers


Our Nuclear Trash Heap Needs IFRs

December 6th, 2011 by  

Argonne National Laboratory conducted testing on IFRs

Many energy experts may regard Guardian columnist George Monbiot as a nuclear firebrand who’s been tipped with an environmental persuasion. But his Dec. 5 column – A Waste of Waste  – is a document that should be read by all persons with an interest in our planet’s energy requirements, regardless of their position on nuclear energy following the ongoing problems taking place at Japan’s Fukoshima nuclear facility.

Make no mistake: Monbiot, an environmental crusader with considerable and logical history, has asked an important question regarding our management of  nuclear waste: “Why bury nuclear waste, when it could meet the world’s energy needs?”

He cites the important, must-read 2008 book by environmentalist Tom Blees, “Prescription for the Planet  where he presents information from study scientists about the remarkable, yet untapped potential of integral fast reactors (short form – IFRs) that were developed at the Argonne National Laboratory between 1984 and 1994 before being shut down and dismantled under U.S. Congressional order during the administration of President Bill Clinton.

Reason to be concerned? Monbiot addresses the anti-nuclear movement head-on: “Anti-nuclear campaigners have generated as much mumbo-jumbo as creationists, anti-vaccine scaremongers, homeopaths and climate change deniers. In all cases, the scientific process has been thrown into reverse: people have begun with their conclusions, then frantically sought evidence to support them.

Try the considerable amount of waste generated from the manufacture of nuclear weapons. “Is it really waste,” Monbiot asks, “or could it be used another way?” Can the green mantra – “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” – be made into a viable solution when it comes to discussions about nuclear waste?

Using information from Blees obtained from scientists who worked on the Integral Fast Reactor Project, Monbiot writes, “These are nuclear power stations which can run on what old nuclear plants have left behind. Conventional nuclear power uses just 0.6% of the energy contained in the uranium that fuels it. Integral fast reactors can use almost all the rest.”

Whether naysayer or supporter of anything with the term nuclear in its foundation, it must be conceded that we have an extraordinary amount of nuclear waste on this planet of ours – enough, argue Monbiot and Blees, to meet the world’s energy needs for several hundred years, with little in the way of carbon emissions. (See Blees’ insightful 27-minute interview on You Tube.)

IFRs need to be loaded with fissile material (uranium-233, uranium-235, and plutonium-239) only once, after which they can keep recycling ever more of its energy, until a small fraction of the waste remains.

Renewable energy can and should be a dynamic part of this solution. It is unable to scale up to the demand for electricity anywhere near fast enough. In an interview, Blees refers to a Scientific American study regarding meeting our electrical demand with solar energy which surmised we needed 39,000 square miles of solar panels just to meet 69 percent of electrical demand in the United States.

Monbiot concludes with this sobering, but accurate perspective: “So we environmentalists have a choice. We can’t wish the waste away. Either it is stored and then buried. Or it is turned into mox fuels. Or it is used to power IFRs. The decision is being made at the moment, and we should determine where we stand. I suggest we take the radical step of using science, not superstition, as our guide.”

A growing number of people need to study and share this concern.

Photo: Michael Kappel

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About the Author

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

  • Very good idea of reautilización. Vote for it. I hope that further research on renewable energy but I also want not waste money on investments that should go to another place.

  • The comment format here is annoying, each reply gets narrower…


    IFR operates according to the immutable laws of physics, it is inherently safe. It will use up nuclear ‘waste’, from other commercial reactors and stockpiles of plutonium.

    What, exactly, is your objection? Is it nuclear energy in general? Is it the nuclear power industry? Simply damning Gen IV nuclear by association is not a valid objection.

  • BlueRock

    Exactly. I attacked and refuted the arguments. QED: no ad hominem.

    * “One of the most widely misused terms on the Net is “ad hominem”. It is most often introduced into a discussion by certain delicate types, delicate of personality and mind, whenever their opponents resort to a bit of sarcasm. As soon as the suspicion of an insult appears, they summon the angels of ad hominem to smite down their foes, before ascending to argument heaven in a blaze of sanctimonious glory.”

    I’m not the one making incredible claims. It’s not for me to refute them. Incredible claims require incredible evidence. IFRs have failed to deliver for decades. This is just more of the never-ending claims of the nuke industry that the *next* design will be perfect and solve all problems. See “too cheap to meter”.

    Yes, the only viable ‘solution’ seems to be to bury the waste at massive cost and massive risk to future generations. That’s part of the reason that intelligent, informed people campaign against nuclear.

    • Personally, I’m not a ‘certain delicate type’. If you were to attack me personally I would give it right back to you, and any such reply would be dripping with sarcasm.

      Your ad hominem fallacy fallacy link conveniently confirms my point, “…the attack must be used for the purpose of undermining the argument…” There’s no reason to minimize, or assign a negative label to, those who support IFR technology, other than an attempt to undermine their argument when you don’t have facts on your side.

      There is incredible evidence on IFR’s side, you choose to ignore it. The fact that the IFR at Argonne ran incident-free for 30 years, safely shutting itself down when external power and cooling were cut off to test the physics-based safety systems.

      Burying radioactive waste is not a solution, it’s passing the buck, hoping a future generation well come up with some magical solution to render it harmless. Ain’t gonna happen.

      • BlueRock

        Clearly you are very upset about this alleged ad hominem that you have provided no evidence for. Someone who claims that 2 + 2 = 5 is an idiot. Someone who claims that they have invented a time machine is delusional.

        Nope. You’re wrong again. The Argonne experiment ran for 10 years intermittently. You need to concentrate on the difference between *experiments* that run for short periods of time and commercial reactors that are economically viable. They are not the same thing.

        So, you claim no future generation will come up with a “magical solution to render it harmless” – but you imagine we have now? Hmmmm.

    • “IFRs have failed to deliver for decades.”

      Citation needed. And make sure it supports your claim that IFRs failed to deliver, not other unrelated fast reactor designs.

      Hint: you cant, because they already delivered (EBR-II), and the project was shut down only because of politics, not technological or economic problems. Read up on history of EBR-II and IFR.

      • BlueRock

        That 60 MW experimental reactor that ran intermittently for 5 years in the 1960s sure was exciting. 😉

  • amgodehteman

    I think Glenn Meyers, George Monbiot and others who believe in these IFR’s should tell their nuclearists to use their IFR’s to up all the nuclear waste created at Hanford. Challenge the pro nukers who claim they can. Do not put down anti-nuclear people who know a big lie when they hear one..

    • Is your use of the term ‘nuclearist’ a conscious attempt to lump those who support nuclear power in with those who advocate nuclear weapons for maintaining national defense?

  • Howard Butts

    I know there are on the right track, rather than store it use it all up.
    As far a the 39,000 square miles of solar panels to meet power needs of the U.S needs if every one would just install them on there houses and Waly world in the US we would be responsible for our own energy needs and then some.

    • amgodehteman

      This is wishful thinking on your part. The IFR’s are just a nuclearist pipedream

      • EBR-II disagrees with you. Google it, you wont hear about it from Greenpeace.

        Anti-nuclear propaganda in this thread is ridiculous. “X” cannot work because “Y” have not worked is a logical fallacy.

        The fact is, predecessor of IFR ran with zero issues for 30 years. The fact is, IFR can get us rid of the waste problem. You cant refute the facts, thus you resort to strawmans (other older breeders which had problems, but are not IFR). Simple as that. All while offering no solution for existing waste problem (and no, burying it is no solution).

  • BlueRock

    Disappointing to see this pro-nuke apologetics here.

    Monbiot’s credibility on energy is subterranean – citing him weakens any claims, rather than strengthen.

    He has now latched on to nuke vapourware – fast breeder reactors – in his crusade:

    * Despite the fact that fast breeder development began in 1944, now some 65 year later, of the 438 operational nuclear power reactors worldwide, only one of these, the BN-600 in Russia, is a commercial-size fast reactor and it hardly qualifies as a successful breeder. The Soviet Union/Russia never closed the fuel cycle and has yet to fuel BN-600 with plutonium.

    * “The International Panel on Fissile Materials … argues that the track record of all fast breeder reactor programs demonstrates that sodium-cooled reactors cannot serve as a major part of the long-term nuclear waste disposal solution. …”fast breeder” reactors already have been the focus of more than $50 billion in development spending, including more than $10 billion each by the U.S., Japan and Russia. … none of these efforts has produced a reactor that is anywhere near economically competitive with light-water reactors … After six decades and the expenditure of the equivalent of tens of billions of dollars, the promise of breeder reactors remains largely unfulfilled and efforts to commercialize them have been steadily cut back in most countries. The reactors have been plagued by high costs, often multi-year downtime for repairs, multiple safety problems, and unresolved proliferation risks.”

    > Monbiot addresses the anti-nuclear movement head-on: “Anti-nuclear campaigners have generated as much mumbo-jumbo as creationists…”

    That’s a description that applies to Monbiot himself. He has built his argument on false claims and nonsense. He now tries to dismiss the entire anti-nuclear argument by cherry picking the output of two fringe people: Chris Busby and Helen Caldicott. Monbiot has become intellecutally dishonest in his pro-nuke crusade. Some analysis here:

    > He cites the important, must-read 2008 book by environmentalist Tom Blees…

    I note the nuke lobby often label anyone who sings their song as an “environmentalist”. There is no major environmental organisation that supports nukes.

    Blees is a nuke apologist first and foremost, maybe an environmentalist distant second. Maybe.

    > Renewable energy can and should be a dynamic part of this solution.

    * Renewable Energies and Base Load Power Plants Are Essentially Incompatible.

    * Nuclear Power And Renewable Energy Not Compatible.

    > It is unable to scale up to the demand for electricity anywhere near fast enough.

    Nonsense. Germany have gone from ~0% to over 20% in just over a decade.That deployment will accelerate now they are shutting down their nukes.

    More renewable energy was deployed in Europe and the US last year than fossils + nukes combined.

    The reality is that renewables can rapidly scale. It’s nukes that are incapable:

    * Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change. “In combination with renewables supplying up to 40% of supply in 2050, it would require more than a doubling of nuclear reactors to stabilise CO2 at 2000 levels. That would mean a new nuke coming online every 15 days on average between 2010 and 2050.”

    * Nuclear power and climate change. “A doubling of nuclear power would reduce global greenhouse emissions by only 5%.”

    > Monbiot concludes with this sobering, but accurate perspective…

    There is nothing accurate about it. Monbiot has succumbed to the nuke curse and now believes technology that does not exist is going to save the world.

    > “I suggest we take the radical step of using science, not superstition, as our guide.”

    Monbiot’s attempts to dismiss everyone who disagrees with him as being driven by “superstition” is a demonstration of desperation and dishonesty.

    • Ad hominem attacks on those offering up solutions doesn’t really add to the dialog.

      For starters, I suggest reading this interview with Dr. Charles Till, nuclear physicist, and he was associate lab director at Argonne National Laboratory West in Idaho, and the co-developer of the Integral Fast Reactor.

      • Anonymous

        Here’s something interesting from the 1996 interview you link. When Till is asked about renewables:

        “Q: What about Solar?

        A: Solar? No.

        Q: Wind?

        A: No. Small amounts. Small amounts only. The simplest form of pencil calculation will tell you that. But you know, energy has to be produced for modern society on a huge scale. The only way you can do that is with energy sources that have concentrated energy in them: coal, oil, natural gas. And the quintessential example of it is nuclear, where the energy is so concentrated, you have something to work [with]. With solar, your main problem is gathering it. In nuclear, it’s there. It’s been gathered.”

        How a decade and a half changes things. We’ve now got solar producing electricity at grid parity and being installed in ever increasing amounts. On its way to being a major provider of electricity.

        And wind is already producing more electricity in some countries than is nuclear.

        Thanks for that look back into history when we thought nuclear might be our power source of the future.

      • BlueRock

        I don’t think you understand what ‘ad hominem’ means.

        But let’s stick to the facts.

        The fact is that what Monbiot is advocating, and the author here is applauding, is nothing but nuke industry vapourware. It’s yet another ploy for them to syphon *billions* of $$$s in charity out of taxpayers.

        * It’s time to give up on breeder reactors. Since the dawn of the nuclear age, nuclear energy advocates have **dreamed** of a reactor that could produce more fuel than it used. More than 60 years and $100 billion later, that vision remains as far from reality as ever.

        I’m afraid your 13-year old interview with a nuke engineer does not change these things.

        The only place an IFR exists is on the sales brochure of a nuke corporation that is looking for billions of $$$s to try and build one. No guarantees it will succeed, no guarantees how long it will take, no guarantees that it will be commercially viable.

        It’s just another block in the massive Nuclear Ponzi Scheme.

        • When you attack the messenger, you’re employing ad hominem, plain and simple. You cannot dismiss the technology by dismissing those who support it.

          I provided a link to that interview just to hold the door open, hoping you’d be interested in seeing what’s on the other side. There’s plenty more hard data and evidence to support what Dr. Till said. BTW, he’s nuclear physicist, not a ‘nuke engineer’.

          • Anonymous

            If the messenger is an idiot and you attack the messenger because he’s saying idiotic things then that’s criticism well aimed.

            It’s different from kicking the bike messenger down the stairs because he brought you a letter that you didn’t want. The bike messenger is just doing his job.

          • Nope, attacking the messenger is ad hominem regardless of reason. Attack WHAT he is saying – why IFRs or S-PRISM (not Monju or Superphenix or other old fast reactors – that would be strawman) cannot provide power and get us rid of nuclear waste. I bet you cant bring any technical argument to the discussion.

          • BlueRock

            Nope. Ad hominem is attacking an unrelated characteristic of someone instead of the argument.

            I know “what’s on the other side”. Fantasy and nonsense and vapourware and attempts to syphon billions more £££s and $$$s out of taxpayers. See my previous comment for details.

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