By Ron Winslow                 (12/02/1988)
            Staff reporter of The Wall Street Journal
    From The Wall Street Journal, 1 December 1988, p. B2:6

              [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC]

     [Note by Freeman 10602PANC: Readers  of  AtE  could tell Mr 
Winslow a few things about `radioactive wastes' and the `greenhouse 
     [Note by Sysop:  I'll say they could. Winslow is typical of the 
WSJ Reporters: not vicious like the NYT's, but unwilling to do his 
home-work. He parrots nonsense not only about wastes and greenhouse 
effect, but about "scarcity of uranium" -- an element that is present 
EVERYWHERE, though admittedly only at a price. When a country, like 
Germany or Israel, is out of oil, it is out of it at ANY price. Not a 
terribly important point, but one that can escape only a sloppy 

BOULDER, Colo. -- A new type of nuclear reactor under development
at the Argonne National Laboratories can operate much more safely
that the current generation of nuclear plants and might solve the
most troublesome problems of nuclear waste, researchers claim.
   The so-called  Integral Fast  Reactor could  be operational by
the turn of  the century, its proponents  say.  Using a different
fuel  and reactor  coolant  than conventional  commercial nuclear
plants, the  IFR is a  breeder reactor using  a technology called
electrorefining  to  recycle  spent fuel.   In  this  process, it
returns the longest-lived  radioactive wastes to  the reactor and
consumes them in the fission process.
   If   such  a   process,   already  developed   in  small-scale
experiments,  proves workable  in  full-sized reactors,  it would
eliminate the  need to  find repository  sites that  would remain
stable  for  the   tens  of  thousands   of  years  required  for
radioactive elements to decay safely.

`Revolutionary Change'

   The experimental  reactor's various  advancements ``constitute
revolutionary  change'' in  nuclear  technology, said  Charles E.
Till, the associate laboratory director  in charge of the Argonne
program.  He  described the  new reactor  at the  Council for the
Advancement of Science Writing's annual meeting at the University
of Colorado here.
   The  U.S. nuclear  power industry  is  currently stymied  by a
combination  of operational  shortcomings and  political gridlock
that  have  undermined  public  and  investor  confidence  in the
technology.  But interest in nuclear power is reviving as concern
mounts over the greenhouse effect -- the widely predicted warming
of the Earth.   Unlike nuclear power, fossil  fuels such as coal,
oil  and  natural  gas  -- which  together  produce  most  of the
nation's   electricity   --  yield   significant   quantities  of
pollutants thought to cause the greenhouse effect.
   The Argonne reactor faces enormous political and technological
obstacles before it  reaches commercial operation.   As a breeder
reactor,  it produces  significant  amounts of  plutonium,  a key
ingredient in nuclear weapons.  Critics are certain to argue that
the  reactor  will  tempt  U.S.   energy  officials  to  use  the
technology for  military purposes,  and that  its wide commercial
adoption would  increase opportunities  for terrorists  to obtain
plutonium.  Mr.  Till said  the plutonium  would be  tainted with
impurities and  not readily suited  for bombs.  In  any event, he
said,  all  plutonium  would  be  recycled  and  consumed  in the

Efficiency Saves Scarce Uranium

   Despite such concerns, the IFR promises significant advantages
over present nuclear technology.  In commercial reactors, just 1%
of  the  uranium,  in  the form  of  uranium  oxide,  is actually
consumed  as the  reaction in  the core  produces heat,  Mr. Till
said.   The rest  is waste.   Fuel used  in the  Argonne reactor,
however, is a metallic alloy of uranium, plutonium and zirconium,
of which  15% to  20% is  burned and  the rest  is recycled until
nearly all useful components are consumed.
   Such breeder-induced  efficiency is crucial,  Mr. Till argued,
because  the   estimated  world-wide  supply   of  uranium  isn't
sufficient to ensure that nuclear power can play a long-term role
in mitigating  the impact  of global  warming.  Indeed,  Mr. Till
said, if current reactors replaced 40% of the world's fossil fuel
capacity, the  uranium to  power those  reactors would  last only
about  30 years.   ``This is  no solution  to a  long-term global
   The reactor has  already established in  an unusual experiment
that it is  what scientists describe  as ``inherently safe.''  In
April 1986, scientists at the reactor, located in Idaho, provoked
two separate loss-of-coolant accidents  of the kind that occurred
at  Three  Mile Island  and  Chernobyl.   In both  tests  the IFR
reactor's   temperature   spiked  quickly.    But,   without  any
intervention,  the   chain  reaction   stopped  and  temperatures
returned to normal in minutes.

Sodium Coolant, Metallic Fuel

   This safety improvement over current reactors is attributed to
the IFR's  coolant, liquid  sodium, and  to its  metallic nuclear
fuel.   Most  commercial  reactors  circulate  water  through the
reactor core  to extract  its heat,  and transfer  it outside the
reactor where it makes the  steam that turns a turbine generator.
But water  in the  core must  be kept  under more  than 100 times
atmospheric pressure to prevent its boiling away at the reactor's
normal  900-degree  operating temperatures.   Loss  of  the water
would allow the core to overheat  and melt.  Sodium has a boiling
point of 1,650 degrees and  readily absorbs the reactor's heat at
normal atmospheric pressure, a safety advantage in itself.
   At the same time, the metallic  fuel is a far better conductor
of heat than the oxide fuel  used in commercial reactors.  In any
overheating, the excess heat is quickly conducted to the coolant.
Moreover, as the heat spreads evenly through the fuel, everything
expands,  spreading  the  uranium  atoms  apart  and  slowing the
nuclear reactor without any human or mechanical intervention.
   Researchers are currently preparing  for full-scale testing of
the  electrorefining  process  that  both  breeds  new  fuel  and
eliminates the worst of the reactor's waste.  Under this process,
a  combination  of  high  temperatures  and  electrochemical  and
chemical  reactions separate  the components  of the  spent fuel.
The  useful portions  -- including  plutonium and  other elements
with very long half-lives -- can  then be returned to the reactor
as fresh fuel.
   The remaining waste would still take about 200 years to become
harmless, posing a disposal problem  with a much simpler solution
than waste that must be stored for as much as a million years.

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