US fast-breeder policy
Date: Around 1993
I am concerned about the Japanese government's commitment to
developing the fast breeder reactor. General accounts of the fast breeder in
the popular press usually state something to the effect that it "produces more
fuel than it uses". However, without a market for this "fuel" it becomes
waste - high level radioactive waste. Considering that one potential market
for this "fuel" is the burgeoning third-world nuclear weapons industry, the
fuel may not go to waste after all. My question is this: What are the
potential US policy responses to the development of the fast breeder:
1) race to develop our own in the name of economic competition?
2) work toward a global ban on fast breeder development?
3) laissez faire? Is work on the US fast breeder program proceeding at
Argonne National Labs & Oak Ridge?
Work is proceeding on breeders at Argonne for one very exciting
reason. Breeders can not only extend the fuel supply, they can also transform
the part of the radioactive waste that is so long lived into material that
decays much faster. This has the potential of reprocessing the most dangerous
stuff into stuff that will lose its danger in 30 to 60 years. This is still
not great, but it is a vast improvement. The evidence is strong that we will
need the energy that breeders could give us in the far future. Breeders could
also contribute to making the waste easier to process. The US is not now
processing any fuel, but research is moving ahead on how to do this. In one
sense the Japanese are forward looking, but their environmental record is not
too good. It is probably good that we and the Japanese are researching this.
The environmental record needs to be made better, but this option is not
obviously so bad.
One of the important aspects of the IFR (Integral Fast Reactor)
which is being developed at Argonne, is that the fuel is processed at the
reactor. That is why it is called Integral. This greatly reduces the
possibility that any fuel could be diverted for terrorist purposes. For
anyone concerned about nuclear waste (and that should be all of us), the IFR
also offers the potential for being able to "burn up" much of the existing
waste that has been produced by conventional reactors.
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Update: June 2012