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How Can Nuclear Energy Build Trust in a Time When Denying Science is Rampant?

Recent public outcry as a measles outbreak has managed to impact much of North America has once again showed the nature of public deniers of science. In this case it is concerns about vaccinations that have led to numerous children falling sick with measles. While not considered a highly risky disease, some children get very sick and some may actually die. The main concern is that it is very contagious so that without vaccinations it moves quickly within a community to infect large numbers of people, greatly increasing the public risk.

This is only the most recent large scale public outcry where science is ignored. It is the same as those who deny climate change and those who deny the safety and benefits of nuclear power.

April 15, 2014

The role of nuclear power in combating climate change has once again been demonstrated in the most recent update of the IEA Nuclear Power Roadmap.

  • Based on the 2 degrees Celsius (°C) scenario (2DS) – nuclear power would continue to play a major role in lowering emissions from the power sector, while improving security of energy supply, supporting fuel diversity and providing large-scale electricity at stable production costs.
  • Global installed capacity would need to more than double from current levels of 396 gigawatts (GW) to reach 930 GW in 2050, with nuclear power representing 17% of global electricity production and a formidable growth for the nuclear industry.
  • Governments have a role to play in ensuring a stable, long-term investment framework that allows capital-intensive projects to be developed and provides adequate electricity prices over the long term for all low-carbon technologies. Governments should also continue to support nuclear research and development (R&D), especially in the area of nuclear safety, advanced fuel cycles, waste management and innovative designs.

This means that a larger commitment to nuclear power is an important element of any strategy that has a chance of getting climate change under control.

The report also notes that public acceptance continues to be one of the major impediments to a stronger commitment to nuclear power in many markets. Concerns about safety, costs and waste disposal continue today; the same issues as they were back when I started work in this industry more than 30 years ago. While science can clearly demonstrate that nuclear power has benefited the environment, by avoiding significant amounts of pollutants and carbon emissions; is very safe; and that waste management is more of a social issue than a technical one: public attitudes remain very hard to change.

Generally the public has very different views on key issues than scientists. In this year’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) a significant number of discussions were about how the public thinks about science issues and how scientists communicate about their work. On key issues the difference in opinion according to PEW research is striking. While 57% of the public believe that eating GMO food is unsafe, 88% of scientists believe the opposite. Only 68% of adults believe vaccinations should be mandatory while scientists are at 86%. And finally only 50% of the public believe that climate change is man-made while 87% of scientists believe in man-made climate change. Clearly there is a huge gap between science and public beliefs. We in the nuclear industry are not the only ones to suffer from this lack of effective communication.

I have long noted when told the industry must better educate the public that in reality, the public does not want an industry science lesson which tends to be the approach most used in the past. In fact, when this approach fails, experts just shake their heads and try again. In reality what the public want to know is that the industry is safe, and that this safety is in the hands of experts that they trust to deliver upon this promise. We see that one of the largest impacts of the Fukushima accident in Japan is the loss of trust in both the utility and government by the population. The impact to the public of this is significant – the health impacts of the fear of radiation and the accident is far larger than the actual health impacts of any radiation to the public.

Trust is not something that is built overnight. It takes years, even decades to develop trust with the public – and only a moment to destroy it. People are skeptical (as they should be) and unfortunately are always ready to believe stories that discredit those they don’t trust.

So why do I bring up the measles outbreak? Because we finally have an incident where the public seems outraged at deniers and supportive of science. Measles vaccinations are safe. Millions of doses have been safely given to children over decades. They save lives. And those that disagree have been putting not only their children at risk but also the children of their neighbours and colleagues. One has to ask, how can any educated, concerned adult put his or her own children at risk? Clearly they believe that the risk of vaccination is higher than the risk of the disease. In the midst of all of this, recent news surveys are showing that significant numbers of people still believe the vaccination can put their children at risk. This is just not the case given the science.

It was said best by a mother in Pickering Ontario who has already lost a young child to illness and who now has her baby at risk, “If you have chosen to not vaccinate yourself or your child, I blame you,” she writes. “You have stood on the shoulders of our collective protection for too long. From that high height, we have given you the PRIVILEGE of our protection, for free. And in return, you gave me this week. A week from hell. Wherein I don’t know if my BABY will develop something that has DEATH as a potential outcome.”

It is essential to understand these words. It is easy to oppose something when you are already benefiting from it. Yes, don’t vaccinate your child because you know the risk of disease is low since all others are vaccinated, oppose GMO foods when you have ample safe food to eat while others are starving, and oppose climate change while you have reliable electricity and relatively clean air while others can’t breathe and are the first to suffer the consequences.

There seems to be a large scale shift from public good to individual good in society these days. Trust in government, scientists and other institutions is very low. The public is not willing to accept that these institutions have their back so they quickly rush to beliefs that are not supported by science with the resulting ultimate negative impacts on society. To be fair these beliefs come because many of these institutions that were trusted in the past have let the public down. And in this day of instant news and social media, it is easy to attack, but then interest is lost by the time the truth comes out and only a small subset of those who read the original story of concern remain interested enough to see the truth when it comes out.

Trust – it is essential for the future of nuclear power. The public must trust the industry to deliver on its promise of developing and operating safe, reliable and economic nuclear plants. They must trust the government to provide a strong regulator to oversee the industry and ensure public safety. This industry is dependent upon this trust if it is to flourish.

Building trust in science is a task that goes well beyond the nuclear industry. Yes, scientists have much work to do to build that trust with the public and government, but governments must then ensure that they use science as a basis for policy. While it remains reasonable to question the results of science, it is not reasonable to base policy on the assumption that science is wrong. Government in all countries need science advisers in key positions to ensure that real science is heard when policy is being made.

The media is also part of the solution. Poor reporting looking for the sensationalist point of view is not helpful. Science journalists must be the ones to cover science issues and they must take the time to report on them correctly. Just this week there was a fascinating editorial in the Canadian newspaper, the Globe and Mail when a reader complained about the lack of “balance” on the vaccination issue. The response by the Globe is important reading,” The reader is correct that news stories should be fair and balanced, but if The Globe were to include someone “credible” from the anti-vaxxer community, that would be false balance….False balance is when journalists twist themselves into a knot to try to balance scientific and expert views with someone whose views are not fact-based, expert or scientific….. False balance is not only poor journalism, it can harm the readers’ understanding because it suggests there is a balance between the views. In politics, for example, it is important and responsible to offer fair weight to different parties’ views. It is not responsible to offer equal weight to science versus flimsy beliefs.”

The issue is that most people today listen to those they are familiar with and trust and discount those they don’t know. Therefore nothing is more important than the scientific community listening to and speaking with the public in a way that earns their trust. Getting this done is essential to all of our futures. The work ahead of us all to build trust in science is huge and it will take a long time but we must be relentless in our efforts to make this happen.

Given the public push back in this measles outbreak, we can ask – is this the beginning of a new opportunity for dialogue on issues that are supported by science? Is the public starting to understand that their beliefs may be hurting them more than helping? If so, then we need to ensure that the nuclear industry is continuing to deliver open, honest and transparent information in support of its benefits while clearly explaining the magnitude of the risks. Science is on our side. Now it’s time to make a strong case to the public.

Milton Caplan's picture

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Bill Hannahan's picture
Bill Hannahan on Feb 25, 2015 10:58 am GMT

Simple question, simple answer, fix the education system.

Make it as competitive as the fast food or car industry. Give parents an informed choice, make schools compete for students based on their performance. The money goes with the student. Make sure risk/benefit/cost analysis is in the curriculum.

 Allow private school systems to compete with the government on a level playing field.


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 25, 2015 10:13 pm GMT

Bill, really? Auction off education to the highest bidder? The system you describe is the antithesis of a level playing field.

You seem to think highly-motivated third graders in Bed-Stuy can hop in a car and drive to the upper East side to attend the best schools there – and their parents can pay for it. No. The solution lies in fixing our public school system so that everyone – not just the rich – have the ability to become well-informed, productive members of society.

Anyone who flippantly assumes what worked for McDonald’s will work for education didn’t do his homework.

Jerry Nolan's picture
Jerry Nolan on Feb 25, 2015 5:52 pm GMT


Most private schools are oriented toward religion and away from science. My siblings and I were sent to a private grade school that attempted to brainwash us with religious doctrine. Science was simply not taught in this school. My siblings are now science illiterates. Fortunately I went to a public high school where I learned about the scientific method, chemistry, physics, and biology. I fell in love with science and rejected the supernatural beliefs of religion. I adamantly oppose giving tax money to support private schools that can teach anti-science religious doctrine. We have a hard enough time dealing with public school boards that are often at risk of being taken over by religious zealots.


Max Kennedy's picture
Max Kennedy on Feb 25, 2015 8:04 pm GMT

Accepting Nuclear is not a matter of scientific denial but of science.  The cost over-runs have been tremendous, the generation of waste that will be dangerous for tens of thousands of years significant, accidents such as Fukashima currently making aquatic biota measurably radioactive and bioconcentrating and so on.  Fantastic promises are made but instead of proposing to build trial reactors, such as those presumed to be fueled with waste and detoxify it, they push for large scale building programs.  Add in the need for governments, for which read the taxpayer, to take on the insurance risks for the industry and you have an overall bad deal.  Nuclear requires a slow but steady approach, build it, test it then apply what you have learned to build something safe.  Include the decommisioning cycle in this process before expecting the tech to be readily acceptable.  It is the science that is against large scale nuclear adoption.  Want to change that, prove it!

Bill Hannahan's picture
Bill Hannahan on Feb 25, 2015 11:05 pm GMT

 Bob wrote

“Auction off education to the highest bidder?” 

No, the price is fixed, the variable is quality. The process is as follows.

1… Determine what constitutes a good education.

2… Develop a test that accurately measures performance against this standard.

3… Publish the results and let parents choose.

“You seem to think highly-motivated third graders in Bed-Stuy can hop in a car and drive to the upper East side to attend the best schools there – and their parents can pay for it. No.”

You could not be more wrong. NYC spends about 20K per student /year.

If Bill Gates or any entrepreneur wants to make a fortune in education, he would not go to the upper east side, he would go to Bed-Stuy, renovate an old building, hire good highly motivated teachers, and develop innovative educational techniques.

Students would stream out of the warehouse public schools for a better life. 1,000 students at 20K per student is $20 million per year, serious money. But that cannot happen until the money goes with the student.

Would this system be perfect, no. Would the first few years be chaotic, yes. But, after 5 years, students in NYC would be getting a better education. Public school teachers would have to work to keep their students and their paychecks.

Today the only way to make a fortune is education is to build an exclusive school in the upper east side. That needs to change.

Bob, do you you think the government would do a better job if it had a monopoly on fast food, manufacturing cars, growing and selling food, oil and gas,  etc. The Soviet Union tried that.

Education is to important to be left to the government.

Why do you believe the government can do a better job with a non competitive monopoly. I do not call for closure of the public school system. The worst thing that could happen under my proposal is that there would be no change.


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 25, 2015 10:49 pm GMT

Jerry, I went to a private grammar school which was religion-neutral but with decidedly experimental leanings. They had all sorts of supposedly progressive methods of getting kids to learn, some of which, in retrospect, were downright wacky.

I arrived at public high school enrolled in the honors math program, and feeling pretty damn smart. On the first day of class we were given a test to gauge the depth of everyone’s math knowledge, and when it was handed to me I had no idea what I was looking at. I scored below every one of the public grammar school students.

My parents believed they were doing what was best for me, but at least in terms of math they had spent a lot of money for an inferior education. We don’t need to throw public money down that drain.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 25, 2015 11:38 pm GMT

Bill – charter schools. It’s happening right now, and it’s a keystone in Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top program.

Here’s how it’s playing out: the best charter schools only accept the best students, and in many cases the ones with parents rich enough to contribute to school fund drives. So any have-not student who wants to learn, with real potential, is left in the dust.

It’s turning K-12 into a college admissions carnival, and it’s a disaster.

Comparing public education to the Soviet Union is red-baiting B.S. Public education in the U.S. goes back three and a half centuries and it’s by far the best way to educate kids in a democratic society.

The current problem in public education is not government but teachers unions, which very much like Standard Oil are using their monopoly to enrich their membership at the expense of customers – in this case, taxpayers. We need to revisit the Sherman Antitrust Act to help break the stranglehold teachers’ unions have on education. Giving choice back to school boards would be the best way to give taxpayers – and their kids – some bang for the buck.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Feb 26, 2015 7:06 am GMT

Excellent! The case for science would prove that a nuclear buildup would be intrinsically much cheaper than what it is today.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Feb 26, 2015 7:31 am GMT

All the supposed issues with nuclear can be resolved (or already are) once looked at from the scientific point of view.

Nuclear is an insurance against fossil fueled depletion into hot planet – but we are not building sufficient coverage!

Bill Hannahan's picture
Bill Hannahan on Feb 26, 2015 9:41 am GMT

“Public education in the U.S. goes back three and a half centuries and it’s by far the best way to educate kids in a democratic society.”

You are joking right? Why are our kids 30 something in math and science despite the highest cost? Charter schools are not the solution just a different problem. Commercial schools would not be allowed to cherry pick. Limited capacity would be filled by lottery.

Competition breeds Excellence, nothing else works as well. The worst thing that could happen under my proposal is that there would be no change.


Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Feb 26, 2015 10:45 am GMT

1… Determine what constitutes a good education.”

I suppose this is part of the problem.

In my country, the most recently developed curriculum for school chidren includes such things as the ‘fact’ that nuclear power and solar power are mutually exclusive technologies. Children are now instructed that a choice for nuclear means solar power must be excluded, and vice versa. And since solar power is a technology that should clearly should not be excluded (despite it’s drawbacks), it follows automatically that school children are taught that we ‘must’ discard nuclear power. Nice!

Additionally, the ‘fact’ that nuclear energy is ‘dirty’ has been laid down in EU law, forcing teachers to ‘correct’ schoolchildren who dare to suggest it is as clean as anything (which it is, as all serious studies of external costs of energy conclude, time and time again.)

Bill Hannahan's picture
Bill Hannahan on Feb 26, 2015 10:19 am GMT

Bob, With a competitive education system, that schools math deficiency would have been immediately evident in the test results available to all parents. The school would have been forced to get its act together or go out of business for lack of students.

You would have arrived in high school well educated in math and all other subjects, and your parents would have more money in their retirement savings because your school, private or public, would have been paid by the government.


Max Kennedy's picture
Max Kennedy on Feb 26, 2015 12:21 pm GMT

All the supposed issues have been THEORETICALLY  solved.  SMOP!!  Nuclear has a very bad record of not living up to the hype.   Build 1 of these so called improved reactors that uses old spent fuel, or whatever the new design of choice happens to be, and PROVE IT!  Which means run it through a life cycle to determine the unforseen problems, which we always seem to hear about only after it will take many hundreds of millions to fix. If it’s so good you should be able to find willing private investors AND private insurance!  The rhetoric isn’t good enough!

Max Kennedy's picture
Max Kennedy on Feb 26, 2015 12:37 pm GMT

Bill, your belief in the failed ideal of competition is quite disturbing considering the lessons extant today and from history!  Historically education was private and only for the wealthy.  The modern corollary of this is the increasing disparity of wealth.  That disparity is the natural state of such an economic based system.  Education is simply another form of wealth which will become hoarded by the rich.  Privatizing education is overall the very worst thing you could do and would insure a system of haves and have nots!

Max Kennedy's picture
Max Kennedy on Feb 26, 2015 12:44 pm GMT

Sorry Bill, competition breeds disparity.  Cooperation breeds excellence.  Human society succeeded through cooperation! Privatizing inevitably leads to haves and have nots!  Basic needs and services should never be private, education falls into that!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 26, 2015 5:16 pm GMT

Bill, why is public education in Finland ranked #1 in the world? It’s obviously not a problem with the concept.

Finland actually pays less per student than the U.S. The difference is non-performing teachers are fired in a heartbeat. No coddling. They’re paid the equivalent of doctors, so competition is high, and the equivalent of a three-year master’s degree is required.

Most charter schools are exactly the same as the “commercial schools” you envision. An exception are Green Dot charters, which have taken failing public schools, thrown out the teacher’s union, and started from scratch as a private contractor of the State of California. They’ve had impressive results, but there’s very little difference between Green Dot and a well-run school district minus the union: they’re publicly funded, under tight regulation by the state, they don’t accept a dime in tuition, and there’s none of this “lottery” nonsense, which leaves kids whose parents pay just as much as everyone else at the mercy of chance for a decent education.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Feb 26, 2015 5:05 pm GMT

How can we have confident investors without a single commercial scale molten salt reactor? Politics chose the route contrary to what the inventer of the MSR made possible – and fired him (Alvin Weinberg was also co-inventor of the LWR). Now, we just have updated versions of a 1970’s machine – no wonder “nobody” wants to invest.

France has proven that even old technology prevented a lot of excess CO2, a long time ago, too. This PROVES that the tech is possible in an environment without a bunch of morons – Nixon, Clinton, and Kerry, (and many others) are/were against advanced reactors and which terminated ALL advanced reactor research – NO excuse for their in-actions! Now, we just have high insurance costs and almost no hope in preventing hot planet.

Jerry Nolan's picture
Jerry Nolan on Feb 26, 2015 5:46 pm GMT


Max, You say “Build 1 of these so called improved reactors that uses old spent fuel, or whatever the new design of choice happens to be, and PROVE IT!” The Russians PROVED IT with their BN800 fast breeder reactor that can be configured to burn waste from old reactors or generate more fuel. It is based on their BN600 research reactor that has been generating electricity since 1980. This is the same fast breeder reactor design the U.S. developed and almost completed when the Clinton Administration shut it down.



In China, Canada and China have a cooperative project that has successfully developed a CANDU reactor that is burning waste from old reactors.



Why isn’t the U.S. working on Gen IV reactors in its national labs? I suggest that is because the U.S. culture has come to believe that everything can best be done by private enterprise. This is proving false as small companies spring up to develop Gen IV reactors they are finding they can’t find funding to build the reactor. This is the problem my favorite company, Kirk Sorenson’s Flibe energy has run up against. Investors want quick returns on their investments and that can’t happen as long as the NRC continues to act as a road block to nuclear development.


Max Kennedy's picture
Max Kennedy on Feb 26, 2015 6:04 pm GMT

Am not familiar with the russian BN800, can you provide links to analysis of it?  Additionally, can we trust any claims by the Russians.  History has shown they are won’t to sweep any problems under the rug if it would diminish their prestige so am not confident I would fully trust Russian data.  That said it is promising.  Though overall I am not for nuclear I would certainly be supportive of building a full scale commercial unit to thoroughly test.  If it works, great.  Just wouldn’t build right next to a large population centre.  Similar for Thorium reactors.

As to the question of investment.  I can see your point.  If however such a project were undertaken with public $ for the public good the public, and NOT private companies, should benefit.  If however such is successful history has shown that private concerns raise a hue and cry about unfair competition and inevitably expect to reap the benefit.  How would you suggest this public risk for private reward dichotomy be addressed?

I do not think that asking for the claims to be proven is too much.

Max Kennedy's picture
Max Kennedy on Feb 26, 2015 6:42 pm GMT

As indicated to Jerry above am generally not in favour of nuclear, there are other technologies that also have significant potential.  Am however in favour of knowledge and reality.  To you I also ask about the dichotomy of public risk for private gain and would say am in favour of building 1 full scale commercial proof of concept.  That is for each major type possible not just 1 reactor.  Then making informed decisions based on what is learned but with the caveat that the public took the risk and has to be repaid for that risk.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 26, 2015 7:03 pm GMT

Joris, thanks for that perspective.

Determining what constitutes a good education is indeed no small task. You’ve probably heard that in the State of Kansas, public educators are legally not permitted to rule out a supernatural or theistic source for life, and “Intelligent Design” must be considered a viable alternative to evolution.

Americans are world leaders at spreading anti-science dogma.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Feb 26, 2015 7:23 pm GMT

I’ll summerize what I have already said: The lack of R&D is the reason why America has not proved it – France did. However, I would much prefer that to be the molten salt reactor (or similar). TAP, Thorcon, Terrestrial Energy, and many others have plans – just no national labs time!

We need to prevent hot planet with the quickest intrinsic reliable power technology available – NOW, and get rid of excessive regs so that the costs of standardization can come down greatly – mass producing in assembly lines, installation, wastes handling and reprocessing (and simple on site storage which has never hurt anybody)!

Bill Hannahan's picture
Bill Hannahan on Feb 26, 2015 7:29 pm GMT


Max wrote,

“Bill, your belief in the failed ideal of competition is quite disturbing considering the lessons extant today and from history!”

So Max, You want to go back to communism, socialism, emperor…. What system created the most prosperous nations in human history?

 “Historically education was private and only for the wealthy.”

 In some places now QUALITY education is private and only available for the wealthy because private schools have to compete for customers, public schools do not.

“The modern corollary of this is the increasing disparity of wealth. That disparity is the natural state of such an economic based system.”

That is more political than educational. Death taxes should increase 5% per year until they reach 100%. There would still be a few wealthy people, but they would all be self made.

“Education is simply another form of wealth which will become hoarded by the rich.  Privatizing education is overall the very worst thing you could do and would insure a system of haves and have nots!”

You have not read my comments carefully. The truth is the exact opposite.The worst thing that could happen under my proposal is that there would be no change.



Bill Hannahan's picture
Bill Hannahan on Feb 26, 2015 7:55 pm GMT

“competition breeds disparity.  Cooperation breeds excellence.”

Really, so Airbus and Boeing, Ford and GM, Mercedes and BMW, they don’t compete, they cooperate?

“Human society succeeded through cooperation! Privatizing inevitably leads to haves and have nots!”

Max, there are no have nots when every kid comes with a check for $20,000. The worst thing that could happen under my proposal is that there would be no change.


Bill Hannahan's picture
Bill Hannahan on Feb 26, 2015 9:09 pm GMT
I support the construction of advanced versions of water moderated reactors that are proven safe, such as the AP1000 and ESBWR. I support R&D for molten salt reactors from the most simple designs to breeder designs.
I believe that all fast neutron solid fuel reactors should be immediately shut down and defueled, because they have not been proven safe against high reactivity rate super prompt criticality accidents, by fundamental principles of physics.
Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 26, 2015 9:09 pm GMT

Bill, “back to communism”? When was communism the rule of law in the U.S., or are you red-baiting again?

Representative democracy in the U.S. has always been a blend of capitalism and socialism – or you live in some feudal area of the U.S. with which I’m not familiar. One where privatized fire and police departments answer the calls of their richest customers first, and a judicial system where for-hire judges deliver whatever result is most lucrative.

You have to start with a level playing field – one where all young Americans have equal access to a quality education. It’s a promise on which capitalism is unable to deliver.

Jerry Nolan's picture
Jerry Nolan on Feb 26, 2015 9:09 pm GMT

Here are two links that I like:

Of course you can google BN800 reactor and get more. 

You ask “can we trust any claims by Russians”.   Do you know what I mean when I say you are setting yourself up for a “sputnik moment” if you underestimate Russia’s prowess in science? 

Jerry Nolan's picture
Jerry Nolan on Feb 26, 2015 10:04 pm GMT

Proven safe you say?  Should we not fly in airplanes until they are proven safe?  Should we not ride in automobiles until they are proven safe?  What does proven safe mean?   Have Gen II and III reactors been proven safe?  Does some 400 years of breeder reactor experience prove it safe?  Does 35 years of running the BN600 prove it safe? 

I read the debates you engaged in on the links you sent, and I would judge that you lost those debates fair and square.  The other guys made more sense.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Feb 26, 2015 11:46 pm GMT

I can’t agree with you.

I also read those links and I think Bill has a point. Fast reactors do have significantly lower margins of error than thermal or fuel salt based reactors, and they require much larger amounts of fuel. An unfortunate combination that’s inherent.

But because I think solid fuel fast breeders are easier and cheaper to build and operate – specifically due to their lack of corrosion issues and relative conceptual simplicity – and because I think they can be run safely enough where it would take far more than mere human error to cause a serious accident, and because I believe we need to expand nuclear capacity rather quickly, I do not agree with Bill that they should not be built at all.

MSRs need to be developed as well, but if they can’t compete quickly and readily with coal – which I get the impression they can’t – then they will be useless in the fight against climate change. They will not help keep coal in the ground.

MSR technology is being demonstrated today in several countries, as are solid fueled breeders. Infighting between MSR and solid fueled breeder proponents does not seem helpful to the cause of solving climate change, energy poverty, resource wars, pollution, etc, in a timely way.


Jerry Nolan's picture
Jerry Nolan on Feb 27, 2015 12:02 am GMT

Well, I don’t think you or I or Bill will have much to say about what type of fast breeder reactor the Russians build.  I hope the Chinese succeed with the molten salt reactor and I wish the U.S. could be working on MSR’s in the national labs.  But I also have confidence in Russian science.  I suspect they probably are aware of the problems with solid fuel breeders, but I also suspect they have found a solution or they would not be at the current stage of development, i.e., a commercial fast breeder.  China is their first customer.  China is careful and would not be buying into it if it weren’t ready.  BTW, I like China’s “all of the above” approach to all nuclear reactor designs and there huge investment in wind, solar, and hydro.  If only the U.S.’s “all of the above” approach was as serious and thorough.

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Feb 27, 2015 11:25 am GMT


I also have trust in Russian scientific competence and I am very happy with their impressive progress concerning the demonstration and commercialisation of sodium cooled fast reactors.

If you read Bill Hannahan’s criticism of solid fueled reactors here and elsewhere, I think you’ll find his concern is directed solely at the possibility of creating a sizeable and extremely polluting nuclear explosion by deliberately sabotaging and abusing such reactors and/or their fuel assemblies. The possibility of creating such a nuclear explosion with genIII reactors or liquid fueled reactors is far smaller or nill. This is an inherent weakness of solid fueled breeders which can only be mitigated, but not eliminated. If I understand it correctly, this is what bothers Bill Hannahan and prompts him to oppose solid fueled breeders and support liquid fueled ones instead.

Bill Hannahan's picture
Bill Hannahan on Feb 27, 2015 9:16 am GMT

“Does 35 years of running the BN600 prove it safe?”

Not at all. The supersonic Concord had one accident. Without that accident you would call it the safest airliner ever built. With that accident it is arguably one of the most dangerous airliners ever built.

Germany lost 30% of its F104’s to accidents. It was nicknamed the widowmaker. If only one F104 was made, it probably would have made it to the bone-yard without an accident. Would that have proved the widowmaker was safe?

If the BN600 is your best argument, you do not have much of an argument.


Jerry Nolan's picture
Jerry Nolan on Feb 27, 2015 4:10 pm GMT

Max, I should also have included a link about the CANDU reactor that can burn waste from old reactors.  Here’s a good link:


Max Kennedy's picture
Max Kennedy on Feb 27, 2015 4:29 pm GMT

Not questioning their prowess Jerry.  They have top notch scientists.  Am questioning whether any problems they may have had would be accurately reported, which is where my concern lies.  And a Sputnik moment is beep…..beep…..beep?!  Yes I can google it but then there is the winnowing of the wheat from the chaff which the net doesn’t do so great at times.  Am always willing to listen to those that have already gone the route instead of re-inventing the wheel.  Thanks for the Candu reactor link as well.

Grace Adams's picture
Grace Adams on Mar 3, 2015 8:53 am GMT

United States of America is a fascist state fully owned by too big to fail international corporations.  Because of that another done in the name of the public good already BELONGS to the too big to fail international corporations that OWN the United States of America.  At best by the miracle of a “free market economy”, once federal government has done all the R&D and declared it in the public domain, a bunch of fat cat investors including several too big to fail banks will make their second fortunes and the public will get somewhat more reliable electric power and maybe even some relief from catastrophic climate change for not too horribly much more money than their current electric bills.

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