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Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Jun 21, 2021

There is no particular need for fast reactors, of any type.

This class of reactors are designed to provide more fuel than they need. However, that presumes uranium is in short supply, but it is not. Uranium is likely to remain relatively low cost for quite some time.

Further, fast reactors require reprocessing facilities that cost tens of billions of dollars to build, with the fast reactors themselves in the billions and billions of dollars to build. Fast reactors also require more uranium for initial operation than conventional reactors - this is technical issue involving neutron absorption probabilities.

The economics of using fast reactors are utterly dismal, even assuming the machines can actually reliably operate. The historical record unquestionably demonstrates the machines are lucky to move beyond single digit capacity factors.

Finally, we have the issue of safety. Conventional reactors shut themselves down if they get too hot - basic physics involving spacing of moderating atoms. However, fast reactors are not moderated and that means fast reactors can surge in power and violently disassemble (kind of like Chernobyl, but fast reactors tend to be physically small, so the affected land area should be smaller). This issue is more the economics of cleaning up the mess, as the population can be moved away from the affected. The Fukushima event has cost Japan trillions of dollars, but the population was not particularly exposed to undue radiation.

Bottom line is the versatile test reactor is an exceptionally poor investment of taxpayer money.

Laura Scheele's picture
Laura Scheele on Jun 23, 2021

Hello Michael Keller,

Thanks for your reply! If you want the author of this article to see it, you would need to follow the link to the LinkedIn article by clicking on the "Read More" button above. In the interim, I'd like to clarify a few things about the Versatile Test Reactor:

A number of scientific, technical and policy-focused organizations have endorsed the need for advanced fission designs, including fast reactors, to realize a clean energy transition. An abbreviated list includes the Edison Electric Institute, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Partnerships for Global Security and the BiPartisan Policy Center. Their views on the need for fast reactors clearly differ from your own.

The Versatile Test Reactor is a net consumer of fissile material and does not "provide more fuel than [it] needs." 

Separation and recycling are not being considered in the Versatile Test Reactor (or, for that matter, in any U.S. designs).

The mission of the Versatile Test Reactor is planned to be an experimental reactor that researchers can use to test fuels, materials, sensors and components for advanced fission designs. It will not be a commercial reactor and will not produce electricity.

Finally, the fast reactors being considered today operate at atmospheric pressure and have strong passive and inherent safety characteristics. The operational simplicities, higher power densities, longer core life, and less reliance on active and expensive safety systems, should result in improved performance and economics.

Please feel free to visit inl.gov/vtr for more factual information.

Thanks again!

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Jun 24, 2021

Thanks Laura. My comments are not directed at you, but at the Department of Energy. The Versatile Test Reactor’s existence only supports fast reactor development and such reactors represent a very poor technical and economic choice by the DOE. This assessment has been made by many over the years, including Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear navy. The money is better spent on development of advanced reactors that have a realistic chance of providing reasonably priced energy. Considering the historical record of fast reactors and their need for horrendously expensive reprocessing facilities, fast reactors have zero chance of even being remotely competitive.

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