Discussions
Spell checking: Press the CTRL or COMMAND key then click on the underlined misspelled word.
Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 1, 2021

Emily, that funding for VTR has been cancelled is tragic, but I can hardly say unexpected. Some historical perspective -

Since the 1960s the Rockefeller Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the American Petroleum Institute, and an unending list of proxy organizations have been enlisted to further the business interests of the world's most lucrative product: oil. Early on, nuclear energy was recognized as a threat to those interests. It had nothing to do with carbon emissions, the significance of which was barely understood at the time, but that a nearly-unlimited supply of energy had become available from uranium, a nearly-ubiquitous resource. That electricity could be "too cheap to meter" was not an overstatement - it had the potential to render oil (and natural gas, and coal) obsolete.

One of the most successful marketing strategies adopted to counter the threat was mongering fear. With the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis fresh in mind, associating nuclear weapons with nuclear energy had already shown promise for slowing public acceptance. So funds were allocated for what would be, after oil, the industry's second-most lucrative investment: anti-nuclear activism:

"Friends of the Earth was founded in 1969 in San Francisco by David Brower, Donald Aitken and Gary Soucie after Brower's split with the Sierra Club because of the latter's positive approach [support] to nuclear energy. The founding donation of $500,000 (in 2019 USD) was provided by Robert Orville Anderson, the owner of Atlantic Richfield Oil Company."

As nuclear energy marshalled on into the 1970s, however, it seemed to be less dangerous than Friends of the Earth portrayed it to be. A secondary strategy (nicknamed "Just Around the Corner-ism") suggested harvesting energy from the atom, though currently "unsafe", might one day prove useful if the kinks could be worked out. It just needed time, they claimed, knowing time could be stretched indefinitely. Nuclear energy was re-christened "advanced nuclear" - a technology that was just around the corner, they said. 

Fast forward to 2021, and the VTR will finally put advanced nuclear within reach. Left with no other options funding is cancelled - and that the world's most lucrative industry played a central role is indeniable.

What are the "legislative opportunities to rectify this error" to which you refer?

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Oct 4, 2021

The VTR only function is to develop fast reactors. Such machines have a dismal track record in terms of technical, operational, safety and economic competitiveness. Further, the machines require reprocessing of spent fuel and that is a huge can of worms in and of itself.

Taxpayer support for nuclear development is better spent on other reactor types that have a much better shot at being competitive.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 5, 2021

"Such machines have a dismal track record in terms of technical, operational, safety and economic competitiveness."

The IFR excelled in all of those aspects. According to Argonne National Laboratory It "was ready for prime time" when the program was cancelled in 1994 by John Kerry and Bill Clinton - not for safety or economic concerns, but political ones.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Oct 5, 2021

Sodium cooled reactors have been multi-billion dollar failures in France, Japan and other countries. Too hard to operate owing to the fact sodium catches fire in air and reacts violently with water. Then there is the problem of sodium voids in the core (e.g. caused by boiling if sodium gets too hot from flow blockages) causing the the reactor to become highly unstable. 

Sodium reactors are more trouble than they are worth. Pragmatic engineering conclusion.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 6, 2021

Be sure to inform Putin his BN-800 sodium-cooled reactor at Beloyarsk has been a multi-billion dollar failure. By all appearances, it seems to be generating 800 MW of zero-carbon energy, powered by nuclear waste, efficiently and safely. Online since 2016, the reactor had its first refueling in February - one-third the downtime of a pressurized water reactor.

The U.S. could only hope to be so un-pragmatic.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Oct 6, 2021

Construction of the BN-800 began in 1984 and 1st criticality occurred in 2014. The machine is being used to dispose of plutonium from Russian weapons stockpiles.  The machine is not being used to produce more nuclear fuel; it is not being used as a breeder reactor.
The machine can be easily re-configured to produce super grade plutonium for weapons. That is the main reason the Russians are pursuing the technology, not withstanding their claims of supporting the development of a closed fuel cycle.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 6, 2021

"The machine can be easily re-configured to produce super grade plutonium for weapons. That is the main reason the Russians are pursuing the technology..."


Then why would Putin be using the machine to "dispose of plutonium from Russian weapons stockpiles"?

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Oct 7, 2021

Because Putin signed a deal (treaty) with the US that the machine would be used to help dispose of Russian plutonium  weapons. I believe the US part of the deal was to use US weapon’s plutonium or possibly down blended U235 in US commercial reactors (mixed oxide fuel).
 

However, the treaty was mute as to what the Russians could use their machine for after the weapon’s plutonium was disposed of. In point of fact, the core can be easily reconfigured to produce super grade plutonium for weapons.

Not sure which US administration/state department fell for the clever Russian maneuver.  Appears to be somewhere in the 1990’s which points to President Bill Clinton.

In my view, is a one of many examples of State Department wizards engaged in political activities while not having the common sense to see beyond the end of their nose. Seems to be a common trait among Democrats.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 8, 2021

Actually "Megatons to Megawatts" was initiated by George H. W. Bush in 1992 and signed into law by Bill Clinton a year later. By any standard it was a spectacular success: the equivalent of 20,008 Soviet warheads of uranium was converted to nuclear fuel. For a period of twenty years, it provided 10% of U.S. electricity with no carbon emissions.

But if any president didn't have the the common sense to see beyond the end of their nose, that would have to be George H.W. Bush. Seems to be a common trait among Republicans.

 

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Oct 11, 2021

The US approach used existing reactors. The Russians could have done the same thing without using the BN class fast reactors. Using a BN class reactor left them the capability to readily produce nuclear weapons in the future, if they so desire. Out smarted by the Russians once again.

Thanks for digging deeper into the issue. Looks like being dim-witted can apply to both Democratic and Republican administrations! Common thread might be the State Department, which appears to be staffed by career bureaucrats answerable to no one.

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »