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The Silver Bullet in Climate Stabilization

The Silver Bullet in Climate Stabilization

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Published by Mord Bogie
A stealth technology, suppressed by the Clinton administration, can produce inexhaustible, clean, safe, proliferation-resistant electricity, with waste that needs isolation for only hundreds of years rather than tens of thousands. Emitting no greenhouse gases, it is the key to stop global warming.
A stealth technology, suppressed by the Clinton administration, can produce inexhaustible, clean, safe, proliferation-resistant electricity, with waste that needs isolation for only hundreds of years rather than tens of thousands. Emitting no greenhouse gases, it is the key to stop global warming.

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Published by: Mord Bogie on May 14, 2012
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05/15/2012

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In 1994, the Clinton administration induced Congress to terminate development of the
Integral Fast Reactor
(IFR) at Argonne National Laboratory, describing it asunnecessary, and told its developers to shut up about it. Thus a technology that hasbeen called thesilver bulletwe need to stop global warming disappeared into amemory hole.What is this technology about?As World War II ended, the US started researching civilian uses of nuclear fission,specifically to heat water for steam turbines that generate electricity. The researchproceeded on
two tracks
: (1) “thermal” reactors that
consume
their fission fuel—uranium enriched by increasing the proportion of its “fissile” (readily fissionable)isotope, U-235, from less than one percent to about four percent; and (2) breederreactors that optionally
replenish
their fission fuel— plutonium bred from the “fertile”isotope, U-238, that comprises 99 percent of natural uranium. While thermal reactorscreate plutonium as a byproduct and fission it, plutonium is the primary fission fuel of breeder reactors while uranium is their breeding fuel. Thermal reactors
moderate
” the speed of the neutrons created by fission becauseslow neutrons do a better job at fissioning U-235 than fast neutrons. Breeder reactorsdon’t moderate because fast neutrons produce more (fast) neutrons in fissioningplutonium than slow neutrons do and accordingly produce a higher breeding ratio. Of the neutrons produced by a fission, all but the one that is needed to perpetuate thefission chain reaction are potentially available for breeding, which occurs when U-238“captures“ a neutron and becomes (through transmutation) fissile plutonium Pu-239.What emerged as the standard for commercial nuclear power was the “2
nd
generation” thermal
Light Water Reactor
(LWR), the first of which was installed atShippingport, PA in 1957. LWR uses uranium oxide as a fuel and light (ordinary)water as both a coolant and a moderator. Todaymore than 350commercial reactorsare operating in 27 countries, including 100 in the US that produce 20 percent of theelectricity.Meanwhile,
breeder development
continued at Argonne. In 1964 the ExperimentalBreeder Reactor II (EBR-II) started up to test what eventually became the IFR andkept going for 30 years. Instead of a water coolant, IFR uses liquid metal sodium,which doesn’t moderate neutron speed. As a fission fuel it settled on a solid metalalloy consisting of uranium enriched with plutonium and mixed with zirconium insomething like a 70-20-10% ratio, with uranium used by itself as a fertile “blanket”around the fuel assemblies when IFR is operating as a breeder. The choice of 
metal fuel
is unique among current “4
th
generation” breedertechnologies and has important advantages. Foremost among them is its inherentsafety, which in the last analysis means not letting any radiation escape into theoutside world.
Metal expands when heated
by fission, and when it gets too hot the expansionallows more neutrons to run away, thus “passively” reducing or even stopping fissionand lowering the temperature. In public tests conducted in 1986, neither loss of theinternal coolant flow nor loss of the heat sink transferring heat to the steam turbine—the causes of all three of the operating LWR accidents at Chernobyl, Three Mile Islandand Fukushima—made EBR-II fail. Given “a couple of chances to melt down” andrelease radiation, as one of the nuclear engineerscommented, “It politely refusedboth times.”

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