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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Two responses to the U.S. BRC on the nuclear fuel cycle

Two responses to the U.S. BRC on the nuclear fuel cycle

Barry Brook | 8 September 2011 at 12:34 PM | Categories: Nuclear, Policy | URL: http://wp.me/piCIJ-1iL
The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear future was charged by President Barack Obama with recommending ways to move forward with used nuclear fuel in light of the closing of the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository project (details on NEI Notes). They released a 192-page draft in late July report that is currently open for public comment. Below I publish two responses, by Bill Hannum and Jan van Erp, that are particularly relevant to the Integral Fast Reactor -- a much-discussed technology on BNC.
By: William Hannum, PhD. (reactor physics and safety, former Deputy Director General of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, Paris, France)
As someone who has spent his entire professional career in peaceful nuclear power development, and who has been involved in many of the key aspects of this development, I have followed the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) with considerable interest. The July 2011 Draft Report appears to be thoughtful and carefully prepared. While it includes useful recommendations, I believe the priorities are misplaced. The result is a report focused on managing the problem, rather than on resolving it.

The first key recommendation in the report addresses the process for identifying an acceptable repository site, without focusing on why it is currently unreasonable to that expect a new, more gentile effort will be more successful than Yucca Mountain. The problem is not lack of consultation and discussion. As long as the basic criteria are based on a Linear-no-threshold (LNT) approach, applied over a period of 100,000 or 1,000,000 years, there will never be an adequate technical approach for nuclear waste disposal. As an aside, I don’t know what the population is assumed to be 100,000 years from now, but some assumption for that is implicit in the EPA criteria. Until there is agreement on more credible criteria than those applied to Yucca Mountain, it is a waste of time, money and credibility to discuss disposal. Extended storage should be assumed.
Second, the report gives passing reference to “game-changing” technologies. There is one technology, the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), which is sufficiently advanced that it is ready for a make-or-break demonstration. Not the least of the potential features of fast reactor recycle (as with IFR) is that it eliminates, essentially forever, the need for a second repository. Yet, this is among the lowest of DOE priorities. The draft report implicitly states that DOE has proven itself incompetent to manage the nuclear waste program. Your report fails to recommend that DOE, or some other agency, should realign reactor development priorities and pursue immediate game-changers that will resolve the spent-fuel dilemma. This should be a primary recommendation, not an incidental afterthought.
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