Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why I object to subsidies for the IFR: The Argonne Lobby Enters the Nuclear Debate

The United States government has paid a very large sum of money - over twenty billion 2008 dollars on LMFBR development. The entire history of LMFBR is one of political influence overwhelming scientific judgment and good sense. Against MSR/LFTR the argument has been
repeatedly made that the the LMFBR is mature technology that does not pose significant technological challenges. Indeed LMFBR advocates repeatedly tell us how perfect, how flawless LMFBR/IFR technology is. How it is so safe that quite obviously not another cent need be spent on IFR safety research, how there are absolutely no IFR R&D problems that still need to be addressed. Then they start begging for money for another IFR R&D project, the building of a prototype. Since a private business has expressed interest in the development of IFR technology, why can't they invest in the prototype?

Why is it that the United States tax payers are expected to foot the bill for a commercial prototype, rather than the Japanese corporation that has expressed an interest in the developing commercial IFR technology? If the reactor is worth development, let the people who will profit from its development pay for it. What we have right now from Tom Blees, Steve Kirsch, and Barry Brook is a campaign in which they front for Argonne National Laboratory. The whole object of the campaign is to get the public to pay for more research and development on a reactor which Argonne National Laboratory, Tom Blees, Steve Kirsch, and Barry Brook all repeatedly tell us is already perfect, and hence needs no further development.

There are words for what Argonne is doing, and they are neither nice nor kind. If the United States is to spend more research dollars, we need to consider what has already been spent, and why our money did not get us more. We ought to consider whether there are other projects that would return us more on the tax payers dollar than Argonne National Laboratory's obsession with sodium-cooled reactor technology. Tom, Steve and Barry are acting as lobbies for Argonne National Laboratory. They are telling us why the US government should throw money into a money pit that Argonne has constructed. The name of the money pit is the IFR and we will go on throwing money into it as long as we go on playing Argonne's game. LMFBRs are the black holes of the energy game. Only the Indians seem capable of getting them right. ORNL rejected LMFBR technology during the Weinberg days. And Weinberg warned Argonne that they were making a mistake.

There are those who might also accuse me of being a lobbyist as well. It is true. I am Alvin Weinberg's lobbyist. But Alvin is dead. He does not want, not does he need taxpayers' money, but no doubt he would want his story heard.


donb said...

I believe that competition improves the breed. I also believe that history is history, and while we ignore it at our peril, we must not let it stop us from moving forward.

Given all this, we need to proceed with the design and development of two or even three Gen IV reactors. The LFTR and IRF look to be two promising candidates. All programs should be funded equally, to the point where there are several commercial demonstration reactors built and private industry can take over.

The best reactor will emerge from the competition. At this point, funding from the government should be shut off, and commercial development proceed. If the losing programs still appear promising, the designs can be picked up by private investors. Government can still assist by minimizing regulatory costs and delays for these investors.

Charles Barton said...

I am tempted to say something outrageous, but I won't. At the moment I am thinking that the LFTR project would be more likely of having success if it did not have government finances. Too many cooks spoil the broth, and with government finances, you are likely to get too many cooks.

donb said...

Charles, I agree with you more than you might think. To me, it is time to "put up or shut up" with regards to both the LFTR and the IFR. In my previous comments, I was assuming that significant R&D was still needed on both designs. From what you are saying, it is time (or past time) for commercial development.

The way to do this is to have commercial interests to step forward. Let's have a bidding competition. Make it attractive by transfering intellectual property rights. Surely the government can provide regulatory approvals quickly, perhaps at no cost. There may even be room for some government funds (in exchange for equity). But the private sector needs to have substantial skin in the game -- no "cost plus" contracts.


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