June 10, 2012
Are New Types of Reactors Needed for the U.S. Nuclear Renaissance? Scientific American By David Biello | February 19, 2010 “……….Fears of such a uranium shortage led India, which has limited natural supplies of the nuclear fuel, to explore another fissile element, thorium, as an alternative. Wrapping highly fissile plutonium in a thorium blanket could produce enough nuclear fuel indefinitely, according to the vision laid out by the architect of India’s nuclear program, physicist Homi J. Bhabha, in 1954. The Indian government is currently building such a prototype fast breeder reactor, despite limited success with a precursor, said Princeton physicist M. V. Ramana during the IPFM call. “The cost of electricity is 80 percent higher than from heavy-water reactors,” he added. Uranium prices would need to increase 15-fold from current levels of roughly $80 per kilogram to make it economically attractive…..
Fast-neutron reactors would not improve the economics of nuclear power based on past experience, ….
As far back as 1956, Adm. Hyman Rickover, who oversaw both the Navy’s nuclear-propulsion efforts as well as the dawn of the civilian nuclear power industry, cited such sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactors as “expensive to build, complex to operate, susceptible to prolonged shutdown as a result of even minor malfunctions, and difficult and time-consuming to repair.” That judgment remains despite six decades and $100 billion of global effort, according to physicist Michael Dittmar of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich who wrote, “ideas about near-future commercial fission breeder reactors are nothing but wishful thinking” in a November 2009 analysis.
“For that $100 billion we did learn some things,” remarked physicist Thomas Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, during the IPFM call. “We learned that fast reactors were going to cost substantially more than light-water reactors…[and]…that, relative to thermal reactors, they’re not very reliable.”….
And even if a fleet of fast-neutron reactors were built, Cochran noted, “you’re not going to eliminate the need for a geologic repository.” http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=are-new-types-of-reactors-needed-for-nuclear-renaissance