A form of energy that actually makes sense | TheUnion.com

A form of energy that actually makes sense

We can all agree, it would be great to get out from under the Middle East oil thumb, but have we thrown away our best chance so far over junk science and political correctness?

Presently fusion power is an illusion at best and perhaps it will never be perfected to the point that we can generate useable power.

Hydrogen sounds great but hydrogen isn’t an energy source, it’s an energy media and must be produced. It takes three times as much energy to produce hydrogen and chill it to a liquid (-400F) than hydrogen contains. The losses and many other problems go up from there.

What about solar? Solar is an energy source but it takes years to pay back the energy that it took to manufacture the solar cells in the first place and they have a life expectancy of between ten and twenty years. Without massive subsidies (other people’s money) for solar systems, solar energy is very expensive.

While energy conservation will help, the other existing alternate sources of energy will have an insignificant affect on fulfilling our energy needs.

I’ve been reading about an improved type of Fast Breeder Reactor, the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), which has proven to be able to revolutionize nuclear power. Yes! The ‘N’ word. Nuclear power brings with it uncertainties and fears for all of us. There’s Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and creating all of that radioactive waste to think about.

The Integral Fast Reactor:

• By their design and process they cannot melt down even if the cooling systems fail. They are passively safe. If they overheat they will just safely shut down due to the laws of physics without any intervention by human or safety systems.

• Taking into consideration the small percentage of the mined uranium that is utilized by current light water reactors, IFRs will use up to 99 percent of the available fuel as compared to the .5 percent in the current reactors and produce only a few percent of the nuclear waste.

• The waste IFRs produce is much shorter lived. Most of the waste will decay within tens of years and everything down to the same level of activity as the original uranium ore in a few hundred years, which is to be contrasted with the tens and hundreds of thousands of years for present reactor waste.

• They require only a simple fuel reprocessing system that could be done within the containment structure on the site, eliminating the hazards of transporting radioactive materials for reprocessing.

• They can use the fuel from decommissioned nuclear weapons and they don’t produce weapons grade nuclear materials as do current reactors.

• IFRs would be economical to build and maintain, depending on how many lawsuits are filed by the environmental organizations to stop their construction. The existing fuel supply will last for hundreds of years, no need to mine more uranium. Much of the current nuclear waste is from the mining and processing of nuclear materials. IFRs can use much of this waste.

You might think the environmental organizations would endorse IFR’s with much vigor, since there are no greenhouse gasses and no air pollution. And with all that cheap electricity, hydrogen powered vehicles begin to make a lot more sense. During non-peak demand periods, the surplus electricity could be used to generate hydrogen for your car, perhaps even at your own home eliminating the need to liquefy the hydrogen.

It seems the IFR fixes most all the serious problems with nuclear power except for one, the blind junk science mindset of the no nukes, no how, no way crowd.

France and Japan, two countries that presently rely heavily on nuclear energy, are investing in IFR technology. Will the United States wait until we are in a disastrous energy crises before we start moving in the direction of IFRs or a similar technology and then have to wait decades before plants can be built? I suspect so.


NOTE: The US had a working IFR test reactor and research program at the Argonne National Laboratory in Western Idaho. This project was shut down in 1994 for political reasons during the Clinton Administration just as they were proving the desirable characteristics of the Integral Fast Reactor.

I want to thank Dr. Charles Till, co-developer of the Integral Fast Reactor (EBR-II) at Argonne for his technical assistance.


Terry Robinson lives in Nevada City.

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