Sunday, February 24, 2008

Some concluding remarks about WASH-1222

I have argued that WASH-1222 was a bureaucratic hatchet job. It was designed as part of Milton's Shaw's concerted program to kill off the Molten Salt Reactor. I would also like to note that WASH-1222 should be read in light of a closely related event, the firing of Alvin Weinberg as Director of ORNL. I believe that the WASH-1222 and the firing of Weinberg were part of a single bureaucratic move by Shaw to gain control of the American nuclear establishment, and to control the future direction of nuclear technology and of the nuclear industry in the United States. Indeed I believe that despite his 1973 firing by Dixie Lee Ray, Shaw largely achieved his objectives. The United States Nuclear Industry still largely carries Milton Shaw's imprint. Unfortunately the legacy of problems left by Shaw's fundamentally flawed vision is still with us. The mistrust of nuclear safety and of the governmental regulation of the nuclear industry is still widespread in American society, and represents a significant handicap in the fight against global warming.

The 1970 Bureau of Mines Mineral Yearbook reported:

"[The] AEC also requested proposals for a design study of a 1,000-megawatt molten-salt
breeder reactor (MSBR). There was also a significant increase in private efforts involving this concept. The Molten Salt Breeder Reactor Associates, an association of five electric utility companies and a consulting engineering firm, completed Phase I of their study of the MSBR. In addition, 15 utility companies and six major industrial companies formed the Molten Salt Group, which will jointly study MSBR technology, including the feasibility of thorium
as a fuel.12"

The footnote cited "Wall Street Journal. V. 176, No. 29, Aug. 10, 1970, p. 17."

Contrary to WASH-1222 there was by 1970 considerable industrial interest in MSR technology.

Among the reports on the MSR by private industrial groups and their consultants were:

Molten-Salt Breeder Reactor Associates Staff, Final Report, Phase I Study—Project for
Investigation of Molten-Salt Breeder Reactor, Black & Veatch Consulting Engineers,
Kansas City, Mo. (1970).

Evaluation of a 1000-MWe Molten-Salt Breeder Reactor, Technical Report of the
Molten-Salt Group, Part II, Ebasco Services, Inc., October 1971.

Molten-Salt Reactor Technology, Technical Report of the Molten-Salt Group, Part I,
Ebasco Services, Inc., December 1971.

1000-MW(e) Molten-Salt Breeder Reactor Conceptual Design Study, Final Report—
Task I, Ebasco Services, Inc., New York, February 1972.

Shaw had managed to abort an important industrial development and his destructive action had profoundly negative implications for the energy future of the United States.

Shaw's vision was also flawed by his failure to recognize that problems like "nuclear waste" and "nuclear proliferation" could and should be solved by a radical change in reactor design. The MSR possessed the potential to resolve these issues. Failure to move forward on MSR technology meant that the best chance to address major public concerns about nuclear technology was ignored.

In 2008 MSR technology remains potentially the best single too for responding to the challenge posed by global warming, and peak fossil fuel energy. Yet the molten salt reactor is today little known and almost entirely ignored by decision makers. This should not be its fate, considering the potential that it brings.


DW said...

Wonderful series Charles, especially your interjected comments where appropriate.

I will do my best to publicize this 4 part explanation of the Shaw/WASH-1222 assault on a rational nuclear fission program in the US. We are indeed still paying for this error.

David Waltes

DV8 2XL said...

An important series as well as fascinating, the history of how and why these decisions were made should not be lost. It's a over used but none the less true adage that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

It's good that a new generation hear this story.


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