In its effort to revive a moribund US nuclear industry, the Trump administration has put itself in the hands of our national laboratories. The laboratories have used the opportunity to reach for the public purse to pursue their nuclear dream, the same one that they have had since the beginning of the nuclear age, and that now has nothing to do with the country’s energy needs. The starting point on their wish list is a multibillion-dollar “Versatile Test Reactor” at the Idaho national laboratory, to test fuel for a new generation of advanced “fast” plutonium-fueled reactors. In their excitement over the fast breeder, the nuclear community ignored the consequences of feeding plutonium, a fuel but also a nuclear explosive, into commercial channels throughout the country, and ultimately the world. In 1976, to the dismay of fast-breeder enthusiasts, President Gerald Ford announced that US non-proliferation objectives would take precedence and put the technology on the shelf. He added that we could develop nuclear energy perfectly well without it. Jimmy Carter continued these restrictive policies with respect to plutonium. The first surge of interest in fast breeders the 1960s had a certain rational basis in resource economics, even though it got the basic facts wrong about the scarcity of uranium. The second surge, during the George W. Bush administration, however poorly conceived and opportunistic, was an effort to take advantage of a real public concern about disposal of nuclear waste. The current third push, using the Versatile Test Reactor as the thin end of a larger wedge of government support for fast breeder reactors, is based far less on economics or concern about waste than purely on patriotic slogans. We don’t need it. Congress should say, “No.”
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 4th June 2019 read more »
The Energy Department’s most environmentally important and technically ambitious project to clean up Cold War nuclear weapons waste has stalled, putting at jeopardy an already long-delayed effort to protect the Columbia River in central Washington. In a terse letter last week, state officials said the environmental project is at risk of violating key federal court orders that established deadlines after past ones were repeatedly missed.
LA Times 4th June 2019 read more »