Nuclear Power – Unwanted and Unnecessary (Pt. 3)

This posting is a follow-on from the blog about the impacts of mining nuclear fuel (uranium) and is part three in a series highlighting other issues with nuclear power.  Please read parts one and/or two if you have not already done so.

Fourth generation nuclear reactors are considered by some to be the way forward, however, according to the Friends of the Earth Australia article Nuclear Weapons and ‘Fourth Generation’ Reactors:
“In short, IFRs [integral fast reactors] 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.’
Complete IFR systems don’t exist [my emphasis].  Fast neutron reactors exist but experience is limited and they have had a troubled history.  The pyroprocessing and waste transmutation technologies intended to operate as part of IFR systems are some distance from being mature.  But even if the technologies were fully developed and successfully integrated, IFRs would still fail a crucial test – they can too easily be used to produce fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

Creative Destruction? Cartoon

The Rocky Mountain Institute’s article ‘New’ Nuclear Reactors, Same Old Story casts doubts on fourth generation reactors and is worthwhile reading; these are a few quotes from the article:

  • “on closer examination, the two kinds most often promoted – Integral Fast Reactors (IFRs) and thorium reactors – reveal no economic, environmental, or security rationale, and the thesis is unsound for any nuclear reactor”;
  • “it’s feasible today to ‘burn’ plutonium in LWRs [light-water reactors], but this isn’t done much because it’s very costly, makes each kg of spent fuel 7× hotter, enhances risks, and makes certain transuranic isotopes that complicate operation.  IFRs could do the same thing with similar or greater problems, offering no advantage over LWRs in proliferation resistance, cost, or environment”; and
  • “every new type of reactor in history has been costlier, slower, and harder than projected.  IFRs’ low pressure, different safety profile, high temperature, and potentially higher thermal efficiency (if its helium turbines didn’t misbehave as they have in all previous reactor projects) come with countervailing disadvantages and costs that advocates assume away, contrary to all experience”.

As mentioned in Friends of the Earth Australia article Nuclear Weapons and ‘Fourth Generation’ Reactors, fourth generation reactors do not address the nuclear weapons proliferation issue.

Nuclear weapons proliferation due to nuclear power is a very serious consideration and Al Gore’s summary of the issue should give pause for thought:
“For eight years in the White House, every weapons-proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program.  And if we ever got to the point where we wanted to use nuclear reactors to back out a lot of coal… then we’d have to put them in so many places we’d run that proliferation risk right off the reasonability scale.”

David M. Davison


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