Nuclear vs Nuclear vs Nuclear

Another terrific George Monbiot essay. David MacKay has gone public with burning the UK nuclear ‘waste’. George explains that we have three technology choices to elect for waste: bury it, MOX recycle, IFR full recycle. George favors the GE Hitachi full reprocessing package; i.e., the IFR design.

Here’s a quick excerpt — more tomorrow.

We can’t wish nuclear waste away: we must choose one of three options for dealing with it.

By George Monbiot. Published on the Guardian’s website, 2nd February 2012

Duncan Clarke’s article in the Guardian today should cause even the most determined anti-nuclear campaigner to think long and hard about the choices that confront us. He reveals that David McKay, chief scientific adviser to the government’s energy department and author of Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air, has endorsed a remarkable estimate. The UK’s stockpile of nuclear waste could be used to generate enough low-carbon energy to run this country for 500 years.

If the material we have seen until now as waste is instead seen as fuel, it has the potential to solve three problems at once: the UK’s contribution to climate change, possible future energy shortfalls and a significant component of the massive bill – and massive headache – associated with cleaning up the current nuclear mess.

The technology with the potential to solve these problems is the fast reactor, ideally the integral fast reactor (IFR), about which I wrote in December. It exploits the fact that conventional nuclear power plants use just 0.6% of the energy contained in the uranium that fuels them. IFRs, once loaded with nuclear waste, can, in principle, keep recycling it until only a small fraction remains, producing energy as they do so.

(…) GE Hitachi has offered to build a fast reactor to consume the plutonium stockpile at Sellafield, though not yet the whole kit (the integral fast reactor). It has offered to do it within five years, and to carry the cost if it doesn’t work out. This is the proposal the government is now considering. I would like to see it go further and examine the case for the full works: an integral fast reactor (incorporating a reprocessing plant) that generates much more energy from the waste pile.

Read the whole thing »

I confess to being a bit excited to see George taking up this vital issue. And the extent of the commentary he is generating. Read the comments – see what you think. So far I would rate about 25% of the comments as being constructive and engaged. And less than 50% are of the typical unthinking anti-nuclear sort. Those comments are usually being thoroughly refuted by multiple contributors.

1 thought on “Nuclear vs Nuclear vs Nuclear

  1. This approach has potential. However, one of the things about it that makes me uneasy is that it uses sodium to transfer the heat to the steam generator. We all know what happens when sodium comes into contact with water. Using sodium in that manner creates a risk that is probably better to avoid. Although a sodium accident may not endanger the public, it has the potential to do considerable and extensive damage to the reactor and surrounding equipment.

    Probably a better approach would be the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR). It too can be used to “burn” existing nuclear waste as fuel and should be safer and much less expensive.

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