I happen to believe that the future of human society is closely tied to the future of nuclear power. That future in turn is closely related to the vision that the early nuclear pioneers created. They fully foresaw public mistrust of the ability of nuclear technologists to resolve problems which people believe are associated with nuclear power. Those problems were all anticipated by the band of brilliant Manhattan Project scientists, who undertook to understand the full social implications of what they had accomplished. With prophet clarity they foresaw public mistrust of nuclear power, but they also foresaw that with public acceptance a new route to virtually unlimited energy for a long period of time was available.
65 years later human society faces an energy crisis, and those long ago foreseen fears still haunts the public. Solutions to the problems are available, but the public will not accept them unless it can trust the community of scientists, engineers and other nuclear advocates who offer them.
Public trust cannot be earned, unless that community is open and honest with the public, lays its cards on the table, adopts an inclusive standard for dialogue with its serious critics, and makes its its internal discussions and debates open to the public.
Early this week, Rod Adams posted a July 4th open letter from selected members of the pro-nuclear community to President Obama. The overt purpose of the letter was to encourage the support of the Obama administration to support nuclear power. But the Obama Administration already supports nuclear power. The real purpose of the letter does not emerge until the the letter's third paragraph.
At the same time, we should reinstate our program to develop and demonstrate the technology conceived by Enrico Fermi and his colleagues. It was their intent to extract virtually all of the energy contained in uranium by using fast-spectrum reactors operating on recycled fuel. It was never intended that we would limit our nuclear power capability indefinitely to the approximately 1% recovery that we achieve now. And as a bonus, this technology transforms nuclear waste from the perceived 10,000-year problem to a 500-year solution.If 0ne speaks of Enrico Fermi and and his colleagues in the contest of Breeder Reactors, one ought to add other illustrious names, Eugene Wigner and Alvin Weinberg, who were Fermi's colleagues on the famous New Piles Committee, where the breeder reactor was first discussed. Does Fermi desirve more credit for the breeder than Eugene Wigner who invented the sodium cooled reactor, the reactor that is at the heart of the sodium fast breeder?
Thus the letter to President Obama features a slight of notable nuclear pioneers who made significant contributions to the breeder concept. The omission was deliberate and it waspolit9cally motivated. The reason why the names of illustrious breeder reactor pioneers were excluded from the letter is simple, both Wigner and Weinberg were excluded from the letter is simple, both were critical of sodium cooled fast breeders, and both believed that fluid core/fluid fuel thermal thorium breeder reactors, offered a better opportunity for a sustainable nuclear future. Alvin Weinberg, in particular, went on, with Eugene Wigner's encouragement, went on to participate and lead in the development of of a superior breeding technology, a technology which the July 4th letter to the President attempts to hide.
The writers of July 4th wish to hide from the President knowledge of Wigner and Weinberg's criticisms of fast rectors and of the development by Oak Ridge National Laboratory of a safe, plutonium free alternative to the fast breeder, TheMoltvery significant questions about the motives of en Salt Breeder Reactor, or as it is currently known, the LFTR . THE PRESIDENT SHOULD BE INFORMED ABOUT THE EXISTENCE OF AN ACCEPTABLE ALTERNATIVE TO THE FAST BREEDER. The failure of the July 4th letter to inform the President about the LFTR does the president, the United States of America and the human population of the Earth a disservice. Why people who portray themselves as representatives of the nuclear community to so misrepresent the history of breeder technology, and to slight a potentially vitally important energy option in an era of an increasingly desperate energy situation raises
The letter to the President was conceived of in secret, and its actual content was controlled by a small group of people who wished to control the letter's agenda. That agenda emerges as much ffrom what the letter does not say, as from what it does say, Not only does the July 4 letter ignore a potentially superior and potentially more acceptable to the public nuclear breeding option to the public, but it largely ignores emerging commercial options that use existing fast breeder technology. Notable among these options are the ARC-100 which is closely based on well tested EBR-II technology. Thus the letter writers appear more interested in further research and development rather than reaping the fruits of the 25 billion dollars f research money the government has already invested in fast breeder research. There things that the Obama administration could do to help bring that technology to market, that would not involve a large future research investment.
Secondly, although the letter mentions that,
France, Russia, China, India, Korea, and Japan are already firing up the next generation of nuclear plants, derived and improved from designs we created in our youth more than half a century ago. Over 400 commercial nuclear power plants, and a comparable number of naval vessels, have operated for decades with unprecedented reliability and radiological safety. No non-nuclear system works as well. The principle of breeding more fuel than is used has also been widely demonstrated in several countries, including the U.S. Liquid metal-cooled, fast-spectrum technology is also demonstrated by extended operation of theFFTF in Washington State and the EBR II in Idaho.While mentioning fast breeder R&D programs in other countries, the writers fail to suggest the possibility that the United States could benefit more by close involvement in these research probrams. In particular, India has announced a large R&D program to be undertaken during the next 15 years, that would perform all of the R&D tasks the letter writers have in mind. Collaboration with Indian fast breeder research will get us everything a go-it-alone research program would, at a fraction of the cost.
The July 4th letter was conceived of without widespread input from the pro-niclear community, and whil most of us would agree with many of the statements of that letter, we do not all agree with its emphasis on fast breeder technology, to the exclusion of other potentially more promising muclear breeding technologies. Guidance for the creation of the letter came from a small group of people, who are not interested in the input of views from other members of the pro-nuclear community. These people are not interested in open and honest within the pro-nuclear community, or in gaining widespread acceptance a statement of our views. They prefer secret deliberations, to open and public airing of our views. In short they do not offer a viable path forward toward the fulfillment of the promise offered by nuclear technology to our society.