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Letter to the President Concerning Climate Change and the Integral Fast Reactor

Letter to the President Concerning Climate Change and the Integral Fast Reactor

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Published by Mord Bogie
One-page letter to President Obama expresses why his political leadership is needed to fast-track development of the Integral Fast Reactor and stabilize the climate.
One-page letter to President Obama expresses why his political leadership is needed to fast-track development of the Integral Fast Reactor and stabilize the climate.

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Published by: Mord Bogie on May 21, 2012
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06/22/2012

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May 11, 2012 The Honorable Barack H.

Obama The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Climate Change and the Integral Fast Reactor Dear President Obama: I write as a private citizen on behalf of myself and my grandson, Cavanagh, age 4, and his sister or brother whose arrival is anticipated this fall. I believe that today civilization is facing its greatest threat ever in the form of climate change. The principal cause is industrialization’s reliance for energy on fossil fuels, which emit climate-changing greenhouse gases. The principal cure is a revolutionary new climate-stabilizing source of energy called the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR). The advantages of this technology are summarized in my one-page attachment to this letter. Forty-seven years ago President Johnson was warned by his science advisors that fossil fuel emissions could cause “uncontrollable” changes in climate—and he so warned Congress. Climate change is a global problem, of course, but the United States was then, as now, the leader of the free world community. It also happens to be the leader in climate change; its emissions of the most persistent greenhouse gas over the last century and a half are three times those of any other country. The United States should, therefore, be leading the world in a global response to climate change. Instead, it is doing, and has done, nothing. Churchill said you can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else. For my grandchildren’s sake, I hope that’s true, but my reading of history leads me to believe that doing the right thing always requires strong political leadership. It took all of FDR’s skill and commitment to prepare an isolationist-minded country for World War II; still, extension of the peacetime draft just four months before Pearl Harbor passed the House by only one vote. Preparing a conservative-minded country for a change to climate-stabilizing energy sources requires equal skill and commitment. Climatologist James Hansen wrote you (as President-elect) with three recommendations: phase out coal-fired power plants that don’t capture and store carbon emissions; enact a rising tax on fossil fuels with proceeds refunded to consumers; and fast-track the R&D of 4th-generation nuclear power such as the IFR. Last fall serial entrepreneur Steve Kirsch suggested (in a letter to your assistant Heather Zichal) that you meet with Charles Till, former director of IFR development at Argonne National Laboratory. I write to add my grandchildren’s voices and my own to theirs: IFR is the key to stabilizing the climate. Sincerely, Attachment: Integral Fast Reactor

Integral Fast Reactor Nuclear power systems create heat through nuclear fission for steam turbines to generate electricity. The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) is a nuclear power system developed at the US Argonne National Laboratory that replenishes, recycles, refines and fabricates its unique metallic fuel and meets all five criteria for 4th-generation nuclear power listed below. 1. Reduce the volume and toxicity of nuclear waste.
Existing nuclear light water reactors (LWRs) use only one percent of their uranium fuel and leave vast amounts of radioactive spent fuel including plutonium as toxic waste to be sequestered for multiple thousands of years. IFR pyroprocessing recycles its spent fuel until all the longest-lasting radioactive elements have been used up. Its much smaller amount of much less toxic waste needs to be sequestered for only 300 years. Pyroprocessing can also recycle LWR spent fuel for IFR use.

2. Keep nuclear materials unsuitable for direct use in weapons.
Nuclear fission weapons use uranium (as at Hiroshima) or plutonium (Nagasaki). While weapons-grade uranium has to be enriched to increase its fissile isotope, U-235, from under one percent of natural uranium to more than 80 percent, weapons-grade plutonium can be chemically separated from the uranium that breeds it. But in electro-refining during IFR pyroprocessing, plutonium is mixed with other elements that make it unsuitable for weapons.

3. Be passively safe based on characteristics inherent in the reactor design and materials.
Because its fuel is a solid metallic alloy, IFR responds automatically to overheating caused by loss of coolant flow (as at Chernobyl) or output heat sink (Three Mile Island, Fukushima) by slowing or shutting down its reactor power. Overheating causes metal fuel in core assemblies to expand, thereby increasing reactor size by a miniscule amount but enough to increase neutron leakage that reduces reactivity and overheating. Other features—liquid sodium metal coolant with high boiling temperature; large sodium-filled reactor pool resisting the temperature increase; and the weak effect in metal fuel of a natural (stored Doppler) tendency to increase reactivity—provide the time and safety margins for the thermal expansion to take effect. The metal fuel also has a low melting temperature; when all else fails, it will start melting and then disperse, reducing reactivity.

4. Provide a long-term energy source not limited by resources.
By recycling its used uranium fuel and the plutonium fuel that it breeds from uranium, IFR increases the productivity of mineable uranium a hundred-fold. (Plutonium, a natural element like uranium, has to be bred from uranium since it has no mineable sources.) If IFR or a similar breeder supplied all of the world’s needs for electricity, uranium supplies could last as long as the planet. Thus IFR is as “renewable” an energy source as solar, wind, water and geothermal.

5. Be economically competitive with other electricity sources.
Since IFR’s systems are small, simple and designed for remote manufacturing, its capital costs should be competitive. If the cost of waste storage are accounted for in the operating costs of LWRs and the negative externalities of greenhouse gases, toxic emissions and nonconventional mining in fossil fuel plants, IFR should be a runaway winner. Its 24/7 availability wherever steam turbines can operate should make it competitive with solar, wind, water and geothermal power.

In 1994 Congress upheld the President’s termination of IFR development as “unnecessary.”
References: Yoon I. Chang, “Advanced Nuclear System for the 21st Century” (2002), http://www.ipd.anl.gov/anlpubs/2002/04/42922.pdf; Charles E. Till, “Plentiful Energy and the IFR Story” (2005), http://www.sustainablenuclear.org/PADs/pad0509till.html; and Till and

Chang, Plentiful Energy: The Story of the Integral Fast Reactor (2011), ISBN 978-1466384606. (Revised 6/17/12)

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