Monday, May 3, 2010

Milton Shaw's Over Selling of the LMFBR

WASH-1184 COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS OF THE U.S. BREEDER REACTOR PROGRAM. Updated (1970) played an important role in supporting the decision by the Nixon administration to support the Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor development, while abandoning the alternative Molten Salt Breeder Reactor concept developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. WASH-1184 was a revision of WASH-1126 which in turn was a product of cost benefit analyses of the long term nuclear power options which the AEC believed were available to the United States in the late 1960's. These cost benefit assessments would have conducted under the supervision of Milton Shaw who was the Director of the AECs’ Division of Reactor Development and Technology. The text of WASH-1184 strongly suggested that the Molten Salt Breeder Reactor had not been included in the USAEC's on going breeder cost benefit analysis despite a vigorous championing of that technology, by ORNL Director and famed reactor scientist, Alvin Weinberg, who had invented the Light Water Reactor, and had suggested his invention to Hyman Rickover as a means of powering Navy submarines. Shaw, and Rickover had himself been trained in reactor technology at Oak Ridge in a program that Weinberg had supervised.

Weinberg's contentions about the MSBR were supported by a large body of research which indicated that the MSBR was viable, and likely to be a safe and cost effective source of future electricity. Thus Shaw appears to have chosen to have ignored questions about the cost effectiveness of the MSBR in AEC breeder cost effectiveness studies which he directed. This choice has never been fully explained.

It appears likely that Milton Shaw was pushing LMFBR development, perhaps, it was alleged at the time, even to the extent of diverting money meant for Light Water Reactor safety research, to LMFBR development.

A study of AEC/DoE LMFBR cost assess made between the late 1960's and mid 1970's found steadily rising estimated costs for the LMFBR. It would appear that the late 1960's LMFBR cost estimate, which would have been referenced by the Nixon administration in its choice to support LMFB technology involved a direct cost of $2.2 billion. The total breeder program development cost of was estimated to run to $4.4 billion. WASH-1184 estimated direct costs for a LMFBR development program to run to $2.5 Billion with total breeder development costs dropping to $3.8 Billion. This drop was largely due to a drop in support of alternative breeder technology from $0.8 billion to $100 million. This accounting ploy allowed WASH-1184 to claim an overall program cost drop at a time when LMFBR cost estimates were rising.

In the WA~H-1535, DRAFT EIS (1973-74) LMFBR cost estimates had risen to $4.0 Billion, while in WASH-1535, PFEIS, LMFBR cost estimates had risen to $6.5 billion.

The 1975 Natural Resources Defense Council, paper Bypassing the Breeder, Reported that the initial estimate for the Clinch River Breeder Reactor was around $400 hundred million,
In a 1972 Memorandum of Understanding its cost was estimated at $700 million, two-thirds coming from the AEC and with the AEC (now ERDA) assuming an open-ended risk (i.~., all the cost overruns). This estimate was $150 ao $200 million higher than an AEC estimate only six months previous. In March 1974, it was reported that CRBR project officials are "focusing on some major steps that they hope will hold the total costs for the plant will be under 1.0 Billion'.
In July (1974) it was reported that the CRBR project would cost $1.6 - $2.0 bi11ion,-- and in September it was pegged at $1.736 billion.
In 1983, shortly before the plug on the Clinch River Breeder was pulled by Congress, the GAO estimated its cost at $8.0 billion.

The LMFBR made an easy target for nuclear critics like the Natural Resources Defense Council. All they had to do was lay out the facts. President Nixon, had admitted,
all this business about breeder reactors and nuclear energy is over my head
Bypassing the Breeder stated,
the LMFBR has been oversold by its proponents to the poin~ that it is now one of the great white elephants of the day.
Indeed it was. Part of that overselling was of course the invidious comparison of the of the MSBR to the LMFBR found in WASH-1222, which states,
Significant experience with the Light Water Reactor- (LWR), the High Temperature Gas-cooled Reactor ~(HTGR)and the Liquid Metal-cooled Fast Breeder Reac.tor (LMFBR) has been gbined over the past two~decades pertaining to the 'efforts that are~required to-develop and advances nuclear reactors to the point of public and commercial acceptance.
In light of the subsequent history of the LMFBR Milton Shaw's WASH-1184 claim that,
The substantial benefits to be realized from the breeder were clearly brought out it» a 1968 AEC Study entitled "Cost-Benefit Analysis of the U.S. Breeder Program" subsequently published as WASH 1126. This Study indicated that the readily quantifiable benefits of a successful commercial breeder in the form of reduced cost of electrical energy, reductions in ureuiium ore requirements and separative work demand, increased Plutonium production, and use of the depleted uranium byproduct from the diffusion plants would exceed the development costs of the breeder by a significant amount. Other benefits, quantifiable and non-quantifiable, such as those associated with reductions in air pollution and enhanced social values through the availability of low-cost electricity were noted. It is apparent that the results of this Study in combination with other important national studies on alternative energy production systems contributed in a major way to achieving the consensus of support which this developed for the breeder program.
WASH-1184 certainly did not demonstrate what it claimed, that it was possible, by use of LMFBR reactors to lower electrical costs, and indeed even recent Indian FBR developments, have not shown that LMFBRs are capable of producing electricity at a lower cost than PHWRs. Shaw's preposterous overselling of LMFBR technology is further illustrated by this statement,
Recognizing the rapidly changing nature of the U.S. energy program, it was decided to update the 1968 Study. The updating, started in 1970, which is reported in this docimient, indicates that the anticipated benefits are about twice as large as reported in the 1968 Study. This is attributable primarily to the greater electrical energy demands that are now being projected, the increase in the cost of fossil fuels since performing the last study, and the increased cost of uranium separative work which tends to improve the competitive position of the breeder over light water reactors.
It is quite clear that the AEC's late 1960's early to mid 1970's attempt to establish a case for the LMFBR was very poorly executed. In addition the AEC, under the direction of Milton Shaw made a deliberate attempt to exclude the potentially far more viable MSBR from serious consideration as a future American breeder reactor. Even worse is the role that these early assessments have played in creating the continuing illusion that liquid sodium cooled breeder reactors such as the Integral Fast Reactor have some sort of inside track as a future low cost energy source. The world and the American people clearly need other lest problematic long term nuclear choices.

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