A Sound Energy Policy for the United States

Subject: In the 1970s the United States was leading the world in energy developments for future deployment. Since then the United States has completely decimated that existing energy development and deployment capability by eliminating all United States capacity for energy system deployment. Further, DOE is saying a decision will be made by 2030 on what power source to pursue. By 2030 the United States, at the present DOE rate, will not have the capacity to pursue any new energy source. Action: DOE must be selecting a future energy source now, based on sound existing knowledge and putting all required infrastructure in place, for the United States to be successful in energy deployment in the future. 2030 is too late. Future discoveries can be factored into the mix when they are proven. Opposition: Obviously all those against the United States are happy with the present approach of study, study, study, and Oh, now we don’t have the capability to do anything. Guess we will have to pursue our present course of using expensive (dependent) oil and continue to denude our country to obtain more coal (both cases adding to air pollution). The national laboratories are pursuing their pie in the sky schemes to further their continued financial support by DOE. The public, spurned by the unknowledgeable media, in their ignorance, are afraid of rational power development, especially if it involves use of the existing 700 years of US electrical energy fuel supply, Depleted Uranium Hexafloride material. Supporters: Who is for a Sound Energy Policy for the United States? Rational people, recognizing the facts and as a result the potential for the United States, are frustrated that the potential is not being soundly pursued. I’m sure all utility executives recognize the future potential for the United States. Surprising enough, many Environmentalists who are not anti-American are starting to support nuclear power because it is clean. In the words spoken by Burt Rutan during the X-plane’s historic space flights: “Engineering is just the details, but the will and courage to do it makes the difference”.

Thank you President Carter

Thank you President Carter and, your supporting politicians, government employees, the media and the misguided public. The US has depleted Uranium Hexafloride (DUF6) in sufficient quantity to supply US Electrical Energy needs for 700 years, a fuel supply, already mined and milled, worth at least $ 70 trillion, if used in a US developed technology.

What is required in the US to make use of that DUF6? We would need:

  1. Experienced technical manpower
  2. Development facilities to evaluate untried components
  3. Critical facilities to check out the reactor core configurations
  4. A manufacturing infrastructure to manufacture the reactor plant equipment
  5. Separation facilities needed downstream to prepare reactor fuel from the blanket assemblies
  6. Construction contractors to build the unique facilities
  7. Experienced manpower to man and operate items 2 through 6 above

Items 1 through 7 above would take about 50 years if we want to proceed with a design that utilizes the existing 700 years of US electrical energy fuel (i.e. DUF6) starting now. Where do we stand with these needs today?

  1. The Congress and President Carter shut down the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Plant (CRBRP) allowing an over $1 billion investment to be destroyed. The country, in addition to loosing its $1 billion investment lost thousands of experienced technical employees across the country, in addition to losing active manufacturing facilities and their employees.
  2. In the late 1970s the following facilities existed:
    • EBR-II an experimental breeder reactor had been running developmental tests for about 20 years.
    • FFTF - Fast Flux Test Facility started developmental testing operations achieving the highest availability of any nuclear plant at that time.
    • The Savanna River Separations facility.
    • Idaho (Argonne National laboratory) Critical Assembly used to compare reactor core configurations against calculations.
    • An industry capable of manufacturing, in addition to Light Water Reactor components, components for FFTF and CRBRP.
    • Rockwell, Westinghouse, General Electric and other companies test facilities existed for development testing of various FFTF and CRBRP unique components.

At this time all of the above mentioned facilities and their experienced personnel are gone. DOE not only shutdown FFTF, but they are in process of completing its deactivation and closure.* DOE is presently contracting with France for the processing (separation) of 34 tons of Plutonium (We can’t do it ourselves since Savanna River separation plant was shut down).** So what do we have now?

  1. DOE is now attempting to dispose of the 700 years of US Electrical Power fuel (i.e. DUF6) with no mention of its future use or the loss of $70 trillion by disposing of it.
  2. Without: reactor development facilities; experienced technical personnel; a manufacturing infrastructure; separations plant; or experienced operators, we are back to the period just after World War II.
  3. It would probably take at least 30 years for the US to get back the where we were in the late 1970s.
  4. Meanwhile DOE says a decision will be made on what new plant to pursue in the year 2030. Lets see, 2030 plus at least 50 years to the point of building a plant on the utility grid, that takes us to the year 2080 before we can produce economical electrical power utilizing the already mined and milled, 700 year US electrical energy fuel supply (i.e. DUF6), assuming the fuel still exists in a form that is economically useable. At this point in time, GE indicates that they already have a plant design they are ready to start deploying!

You may ask, What about the problems with TMI and Chernobyl? Nobody was harmed from TMI and the potential explosive release only existed in the eyes of the media and consequently in the minds of the public.*** Chernobyl, a Russian reactor without the safety requirements and containment of US reactors, did kill 33 operators and firemen at the site, but the UN reported no further implications to the public.**** Thank you President Carter, the Congress, the media, the uninformed public and recent follow up by DOE. None of you will be around by 2080, so I guess it’s no skin off your backs. I do observe that our Grandchildren and Great-Grandchildren will be at the mercy of the rest of the world and history has shown that under such circumstances, the results are catastrophic. I am reminded of the words of Burt Rutan at the second successful flight of his x-plane into space, September 2004: “Engineering is just the details, but the will and courage to do it makes the difference”. Do we have the will and courage to do it or will we continue to follow the present path to failure? Wake up America! The world is not kind to those who cannot plot a successful course.

Intro By Wolfe Hafele to the book "Fast Breeder Reactor"

It was as early as the 1940s that the special nature and the special role of Fast Breeder Reactors was recognized. While it is widely understood that nuclear energy is a qualitatively new dimension when compared with conventional energy sources, it is only through breeding that such a new dimension can become really operational. An easy way to point to a new dimension of nuclear energy is to consider the ratio of the energy content of 1 g of fissionable material to 1 g of carbon. It is close to 3 x 106, indeed a staggering number. But in normal reactors which essentially burn the fissile material, only about half a percent of the mined natural uranium can be used in this manner. And if eventually low grade ores are to be used when nuclear power is engaged at a globally significant scale, resources come into sight that might contain, for example, only 70 ppm of uranium. the effect is that this dilutes the factor 3 x 106 back to one: 3 x 106 x5 x 10 -3 x 7 x 10 -5 ~1. Nuclear energy thereby becomes degenerated to something that our century knows – fossil fuels. One might allude to it by calling such uses of uranium “yellow coal.” It is only through breeding that this can be avoided. Not half a percent but something like 60 % of the mined natural uranium thereby becomes accessible and this in turn also prevents falling back to low grade uranium ores, at least for the next thousand years of so. Or in other words, when engaged on a truly significant scale, nuclear energy becomes nuclear energy only through the breeder. Appreciating such relations requires a long range strategic view and risk analysis - this is where risk management software comes into play. One must be open minded to the future. Developing the breeder is a long term task; it turns out to be outside of the field of normal market forces. The importance of the ability to supply energy virtually on an infinite basis is only visible when viewed from a global, long-term perspective. The worldwide international Fast Breeder community has always had that in mind and this was and is what makes it an enthusiastic community. But not all quarters in the nations of the world have this perspective. And this has sometimes made the Fast Breeder development so advanced that it became isolated. Indeed, it goes without question that the development of the Fast Breeder can only be pursued when put on the sound basis and experience of the first generation of nuclear power plants, that of burner reactors and most notably here, the Light Water Reactor. For this first generation of nuclear power plants, the issue was not so much the long-range strategic view, but the near term necessity to demonstrate a cheap, competitive, and reliable production of electricity. This turned out to be a more complex and time-consuming task than originally anticipated. So, sometimes not much capacity and attention has been left for the development of the Fast Breeder. A second item becomes apparent when Fast Breeders are being developed: It then becomes necessary to close the nuclear fuel cycle, while in the case of the first generation of nuclear power plants this can in principle be delayed for a decade or two. In this respect as well, nuclear energy becomes nuclear energy through the breeder. The meticulousness which is required when a nuclear fuel cycle is to be operated is the price for the infinite supply of energy. The most general observation also applies in the case of the breeder: there is no such thing as a free lunch. The next decade will force all of us to take a global and long range view of the energy problem. Considering that, today, a major share of the world’s energy supply already comes from one single place on the globe, the Persian Gulf, then the global view is visibly forced upon all of us. There is no doubt that such a revelation of the dimensions of the energy problem will bring the breeder to its natural place. This might not happen at all places at the same time. The situation for Western Europe or japan is much more precarious than that of the United States or the Soviet Union. But after the year 2000, breeding at a globally significant scale will be a worldwide necessity. And this requires demonstation and testing. Doing this during the 1980s is rather too late than too soon. It is therefore very important that Alan E. Waltar and Albert B. Reynolds have accepted the task to write this book. It fills a long-standing gap as it collects and reviews otherwise wide-spread information about the Fast Breeder, thereby helping to identify and expand this body of knowledge. This will undoubtedly be of great help for teaching at universities. What must also be observed is the worldwide scope of the book. This is truly consistent with the wide-open international character of the Fast Breeder development work. So the book will also be used worldwide. May it serve its purpose and may it fulfill its badly needed function.

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