Nuclear Energy

Published on February 28th, 2013 | by Jeremy Bloom


Mini Nuclear Reactors Earn Golden Fleece Award For Government Waste

February 28th, 2013 by  

Are mini nuclear reactors the future of high-end energy development — or a wasteful SimpsonsNuclearReactorgovernment boondoggle?

While it may or may not be great that profitable companies like Babcock & Wilcox and Toshiba are researching these mini or even micro reactors (don’t worry, they won’t fit in a suitcase, or even in your basement), the group Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) has dinged the program as its recipient of the 2013 Golden Fleece Award, for sucking down potentially half a billion dollars in taxpayer money.

“The nation is two days away from the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration,” notes Ryan Alexander, president of TCS. “But at the same time we are hearing the Department of Energy and the nuclear industry evangelizing about the benefits of small modular reactors. In reality, we cannot afford to pile more market-distorting subsidies to profitable companies on top of the billions of dollars we already gave away.”

Indeed, at a time when that much money could pay for some substantial  progress in growing fields like biofuels or solar power, you have to wonder why companies like Babcock & Wilcox need any help from the government at all. 

Possible benefits of the reactors:

  • Smaller and cheaper, so could be used to replace coal-fired plants. “We’re not trying to build a Rolls Royce; we’re trying to build a Ford.”
  • Self-contained and “plug and play”, so maybe safer.
  • Can be a painless source of off-grid power.
  • Could be 100% made in America.

But the TCS says the possible drawbacks are legion:

  • The energy they generate just won’t be cost-effective.
  • And that’s at current estimates — nuclear companies are notorious for over — estimating benefits and under-estimating costs.
  • Before anything can be built, it’ll take years for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to evaluate these new designs.
  • Each of these new reactors would be a potential terrorist target, multiplying the security nightmare.
  • And we still have no way of dealing with nuclear waste.

“The nuclear industry has a tradition of rushing forth to proclaim that a new technology, just around the corner, will take care of whatever problem exists,” says Autumn Hanna, senior program director for TCS. “Unfortunately, these technologies have an equally long tradition of expensive failure. If the industry believes in small modular reactors and a reactor in every backyard – great – but don’t expect the taxpayer to pick up the tab.”

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About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Closing this one. No time to waste on silly stuff.

  • TJ Johnson

    The author doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Molten salt “thorium” reactors are inherently safe (cannot melt down), produce no dangerous nuclear waste (nixon chose the heavy water type reactor because wanted the toxic waste for nuclear weapons), can use existing nuclear waste and weapons as fuel, can run for 30 to 50 years on a single fueling, can be made small enough to be portable, and have more energy potential than all existing fossil fuels, heavy water nuclear reactors, solar, wind, and water generators combined.

    Thorium is also waste byproduct of all mining, and is readily available. Wind and solar can not possibly meet our energy needs, and is too expensive anyway.

    The author clearly has not done his homework, and has an axe to grind…

  • fayettebill

    Most of you are woefully uninformed on LFTR’s.

    The abundance of the element thorium throughout the Earth’s crust promises widespread energy independence through Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) technology. With LFTR, a small handful of thorium can supply an individual’s lifetime energy needs; a small grain silo full could power North America for a year; and known thorium reserves could power society for thousands of years.
    LFTR is walk-away safe. LFTR operates at low pressure and is chemically and operationally stable. It shuts down passively and removes decay heat without human intervention or mechanical backup cooling systems, eliminating the possibility of overheating accident scenarios like those seen at Fukushima. Low pressures eliminate the need for massive pressure containment vessels and alleviate safety concerns of regulators and the public about high-pressure releases to the atmosphere.
    LFTR can produce not only safe, sustainable, carbon-free electricity, but life-saving medical radioisotopes, desalinated water and ammonia for agriculture, RTG radioisotopes for NASA, and synthesized fuels in the process.
    LFTR is more efficient, extracting significantly more energy from abundant, inexpensive thorium than solid-fuelled reactors can from more scarce and costly uranium. Conventional reactors consume less than one percent of their solid uranium fuel, leaving the rest of the fuel as waste. LFTR consumes 99% of its liquid thorium derived fuel, and the remaining one percent is even useful for space exploration.
    LFTR can fully consume long-lived plutonium and uranium fissile materials remaining in spent solid nuclear fuel stockpiles while bringing many gigawatts of LFTR power generation online, with thorium as the sole input thereafter. Most LFTR byproducts are stable within a decade and have commercial value; the remaining have a half-life of 30 years, decaying to stability within hundreds rather than tens of thousands of years.
    LFTR is a demonstrated technology, the physics and operational fundamentals of which were proven at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s pilot plant in the late 1960’s. Despite compelling advantages, LFTR development stalled when political and financial capital were concentrated instead on fast-spectrum plutonium breeding reactors.
    LFTR is proliferation resistant. Thorium and its derivative fuel, uranium-233, are highly unsuitable for nuclear weapons due to inherent production of other undesirable isotopes. Thus, none of the thousands of warheads in the world’s arsenals are based on the thorium fuel cycle. LFTR is unique in its ability to meet both energy generation and non-proliferation mandates.
    LFTRs can be mass produced in a factory and then delivered and reclaimed from utility sites as modular units. Factory LFTR module production offers reduced capital costs and rapid deployment to sites near the point of need, obviating long transmission lines.
    Liquid fuels cannot fail or meltdown. The liquid fuel form is LFTR’s key differentiator from conventional nuclear energy production. LFTR uses liquid FLiBe salts as both a fuel carrier and reactor coolant. The salts are chemically inert and will not react with flood waters, ground water or the atmosphere. Fuel can be added to the liquid salts and byproducts removed at any time, even while the reactor remains online.
    LFTR can provide both base power and peak power, following the demand for electricity imparted on it by the grid. LFTR’s responsiveness to energy demand makes it highly complementary to alternative energy sources.
    Learn more at and

    • NuclearPenguin

      Thank you very much for posting this! I’m researching molten salt thorium reactors for an essay, and the “Top Ten Attributes” paper is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks SO MUCH for posting your source!

  • Rob

    The video below might give some clues why renewables are not
    a good idea and why there will be a lot of soul searching in Europe soon

  • Madan Rajan

    By opposing nuclear power, you guys have made Coal almost the world’s fastest growing energy source, if you continue to do this way, soon all the ice in Arctic would have melted.

    We can support solar & wind, but cannot oppose nuclear power since it provides carbon free energy.

    BTW, last year, Germany’s carbon emissions has increased because of increase use of coal & gas in the place of nuclear.

    • 1- it’s an either or. baseload, super long startup nuclear power plants don’t fit with the grid of the future. flexible demand is needed. furthermore, nuclear is expensive and financially risky — there’s a reason why the free market will never fund it.

      2- renewables scale much faster. if we want to address global warming, we need fast deployment. that’s not nuclear.

      3- Germany’s coal use increased because cheap coal from the US beat out more expensive natural gas. check your facts, and don’t drink the Kool Aid.
      4- furthermore, with Germany’s leadership in wind and solar, it’s really the last country we should complain about. if its citizens don’t want to risk a Chernobyl in their backyards, that’s their (quite rational) decision.

      • Rob

        Expect a change in German politics maybe already with the coming
        elections or with the ones after. Hartz 4 recipients are finding it impossible
        to pay electricity bills now. There is no compulsory voting in Germany and environmentalist
        manages to get their followers organised better that the other parties this is
        about to change dramatically. Germans get fed up with present policies that
        created a cost of living increase with no benefit.

    • Actually nuclear power cannot reliably operate in warmer temperatures.

      And nuclear is hardly carbon free – a lot of carbon is expended during mining, transport, refining, enrichment, fuel rod fabrication, power plant construction, dry cask construction, and plant decommissioning – and the granddaddy of long term waste storage ALL take carbon.

      So, nuclear is NOT carbon free.


  • Ronald Brakels

    I’m so old I can remember when it was huge reactors that were supposed to give us cost effective nuclear power.

  • The thing that makes no sense to me about these “mini” reactors is that if they are self contained and you cannot refuel them because they are sealed – typical reactors have fuel rods that only last 3-6 years, so I fail to understand how this makes these more economical?

    Do we just bury these things after their fuel is spent, and hope they don’t leak anything in the next 50,000 years? Or do they have to be transported back to the place they were made and then decommissioned?

    There is a finite amount of uranium on the planet, so they are no better than oil or coal or gas in this regard. And we still have no blinking idea how we are going to deal with the poisonous and radioactive stuff they leave behind.

    Yucca Mountain is about 150 miles (as the crow flies) from Yosemite – and Yosemite is a super volcano! It is overdue for an eruption, naturally… What could go wrong?!


    • Rob

      For your information. Depending on the design the mini
      reactor it will need no refuelling for 25 to 35 years and is then removed with
      a truck complete for recycling. Typically, the amount of waste out of a mini
      reactor is about 5% of what you would get from a generation two reactor. This
      waste needs to be stored for about 300 Years but consist actually out of valuable
      metals; this waste can also be used to produce nuclear power sources similar to
      the ones used in the mars rover curiosity. The reactor needs no shielding or pressure vessel
      and no control system. The mini reactor is self-controlled by physics. While a
      generation two reactor needs to be controlled to stop a meltdown a mini rector
      needs to be setup so that it actually operates otherwise it turns itself off. Test
      reactors a presently built by China and Russia and they promises to produce
      power cheaper than from gas.

    • joel_b

      If the Yellowstone caldera erupts, I doubt anyone will care about some added radioactivity….

      • A lot of radioactive material kills over a far longer time scale than even a massive volcanic eruption.

        Also, the ground water study at Yucca Mountain used faked data, and I doubt it will ever get any nuclear waste. The bottom line is we still have NOT SOLUTION for long term nuclear waste…


    • Rockchair

      Yosemite is not a super volcano. Yellowstone is a supervolcano, and it is over 600 miles from Yucca Mountain..

      • Right, but nuclear power is still not worth the risk.

        • Rockchair

          Not to mention Yucca Mountain is on Shoshone Reservation land, and the tribal council has not offered the site to the US government for storage of nuclear waste.

          I was only clarifying the Yellowstone/Yosemite misstatement.

    • Bongstar420

      They are all recycled. They are once through because lowers like us who couldn’t get a billion dollars together aren’t trustworthy enough to have access to the internals.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Word salad.

  • ldlogic

    Hmm, not sure this article fits on a renewable energy site, seeing as how nuclear is not renewable or clean (go walk through the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi and Tchernobyl with no radiation protection).

    • We cover nuclear a bit because some people consider it clean. But, as I think is obvious, we don’t consider it intelligent technology for new power capacity.

      • nuclear power can be clean, although right now it is not. E.g. travelling wave reactor concept is far cleaner energy source than wind power. Also thorium / uranium / spent nuclear fuel reserves would last hundreds of millions of years and it would produces very little waste and is inherently safe. Too bad that it only works at drawing board, but not in the real life.

        Today there are no promising nuclear power concepts, because 4th gen nuclear is not economical and 3th gen nuclear produces far too much non-renewable waste to be considered clean. Also 3th gen nuclear is hardly economical.

        I think that there should be build prototypes of compact, maintenance free and self-contained nuclear reactors because we need then in near future Mars colonies. The launch costs are by itself so gigantic that it is irrelevant how economical LFTRs and TWRs are!

        • 1st two paragraphs: i agree. unfortunately, a lot of people don’t get this.
          3rd: no opinion on this matter.

          • Ronald Brakels

            On mars a constant supply of energy could be provided by heat pumps that operate off the temperature difference between the surface and a few meters underground. Or solar PV plus some storage could be built. Making pipes and panels is something a small colony could manage on their own using mostly local materials, which is something that’s not so easy to do with a nuclear reactor.

          • Yeah, i can’t say it sounded like an intelligent option to me. But I spend exactly 0 seconds a day thinking about inhabiting Mars, so i didn’t get into it. 😀

          • Ronald Brakels

            I’d like to move further away from the sun, but there’s no ozone layer on mars, so that’s not going to fix my sunburn problem.

          • Plus, you’d have no one to humor there. 😀

          • Bongstar420

            You aren’t going to find open space with a star lighting it that doesn’t have UV light.

            You have to live behind glass no matter what

          • Bongstar420

            Mars is still a fair sized gravity well and will serve mostly as a place to study or visit as a tourist. Its not like theres a reason to colonize the place when “space” is far more “available”

    • Bongstar420

      How is solar “renewable?”
      Its fusion powered and will run out of fuel eventually

      • Bob_Wallace

        Renewable energy is generally defined as energy that comes from resources which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain,…

        Non-renewable energy comes from sources which are finite and could be used up in a relatively short period.

        • Bongstar420

          The materials for manufacturing wind mills and solar panels are “renewable?”

          Thats a new one to me.

          Or does it only count for the energy source?

          Are you saying that Methane from Titan is “renewable” just because we couldn’t use it all in 10 generations?

          BTW, the more wind mills you set up, the less wind and heat convection occurs on the surface….the higher the temperatures get

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