In Chicago 70 years ago, a team of scientists lead by Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Enrico Fermi, created the first controlled nuclear fission. The Manhattan Project’s B-Reactor was fully operational in an incredibly short time. Plutonium was separated. This innovation, engineering and human effort brought an end to WWII. Nobel laureate Glenn Seaborg later called plutonium the most valuable material.
Dr. Fermi envisioned a future that needed abundant nuclear energy for the production of energy and isotopes. The raw material was uranium, and it was needed in abundance because of the scarcity of the fissile isotope of uranium – only 0.7% – that is 7 thousandths of natural pure uranium.
In today’s reactors this uranium isotope (235) is concentrated 5-6 times, the remaining uranium is waste (but not in Fermi’s vision). So today a ton of reactor fuel creates 5-6 tons of useless uranium (238) all mined from the earth.
The Cold War created a huge demand for Seaborg’s most valuable material. Uranium was prospected, found and mined worldwide.
The Cold War ended and the price of uranium collapsed.
But today there are 437 nuclear power reactors being operated and more are being built at an increasing rate. The price of uranium has increased to commercially profitable levels.
Dr. Fermi calculated that the uranium resource could be used much more efficiently with a fast reactor. In Idaho they built the Experimental Breeder Reactor(EBR) soon followed with the EBR-II.
These operations proved the dramatic increase in the production of energy from the uranium resource because 1) the fuel could be burned longer and 2) the uranium waste can be changed into usable fuel. They also proved that a fast reactor is, walk away, inherently safe.
The remarkable success of this science and technology lead the United States to embark upon building the breeder reactor as a cornerstone of the next generation energy policy of the USA. The Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF) was built to test and certify the MOX fuel for the Breeder Reactor. The FFTF was the most advanced nuclear test reactor in the world – probably still is today.
President Carter cancelled the breeder reactor for nuclear proliferation concerns. The hydrocarbon and rail lobby was concerned, too.
Idaho had proven a technically superior advancement of “metal” fuel made by pyroprocessing, and was anticipating the planned construction of the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) based on metal fuel and recycle via pyroprocessing.
The FFTF began to qualify/test the pyroprocessed, Idaho supplied “metal” fuel. All of these GenIV tests and operations were technically difficult but successful.
Dr. Fermi and his vision has achieved a level of scientific, technological and engineering success unparalleled in human history. He had demonstrated and proven the power of splitting the atom and the technical ability to harness/generate massive amounts of power/electricity. Plus, faced with an unsustainable inefficiency of the uranium resource, he designed a fission system, the sodium fast reactor, that would increase the usage of uranium by 1000’s of times – AND provide for the power production use of thorium, a most bountiful element.
In the U.S., Dr. Fermi and his vision have been laid to waste via politics; his (our) leadership in GenIV technology forfeited. 70 years and $100 billion of GenIV nuclear energy investment sunk — but the politicians say we won’t need it. On second thought, politicians do not understand the topic.
A favorite quote:
“Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good.”
“This report proposes potential research priorities for the Department of Energy (DOE) with the intent of improving the licensability of the Sodium Fast Reactor (SFR).”
Both Volume I and Volume II are available here for download – Suggestion: Read beginning from the end, p. 92 (the Final Remarks of Volume 1:
P. 92: “A more aggressive design, with different cladding options, higher burnups, possible use of TRU fuel elements or targets and advanced power conversion cycles, will likely require a new irradiation testing facility be built.”
P. 87: “Laboratory commenter # 1 stated that designing and building a test and/or demonstration facility was the most cost effective way to close the gaps identified in this report…”
P. 86: “Due to economic considerations, any gap requiring high-burnup metallic fuel is not likely to be filled in the foreseeable future. Without domestic fast neutron irradiation facilities, any new irradiations would need to be conducted in one of the few remaining international fast reactors. Due to host restrictions, these experiments would most likely be limited to pin scale tests. In order to remove regulatory hurdles associated with the identified high-burnup gaps, full assembly and/or full core experiments will be required.”
P, 83: “Even with a large budget, it may take at least 5 to 10 years to increase DOE SFR related staffing to the required levels to design and build a new irradiation facility. During this time, the relative advantages of TREAT and ACRR should be compared to determine which one, or both, facilities would provide the most cost-beneficial capability to satisfy SFR transient fuel testing requirements. That comparison is underway as part of the DOE-led Analysis of Alternatives for Resumption of Transient Testing of Nuclear Fuels and includes HFIR and ATR in addition to ACRR and TREAT. All relevant aspects of the four reactors, including facility modification and modernization, are being evaluated in terms of the capability of the reactor itself as well as the experiment-support facilities that would be available at each site, considering the entire range of physical capabilities needed to conduct the in-reactor transient testing required in the future.”
P. 56. Table 19. List of Current and Potential SFR Related Testing Facilities: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory: Currently Available – Radiochemical Processing Laboratory (RPL).
Volume I – Excerpts and snippets are supplied without commentary.
The World Nuclear Association (May 2012): The 400 MWt Fast Flux Test Facility was in full operation 1982-92 at Hanford as a major national research reactor. It was closed down at the end of 1993, and since 2001 it has been deactivated under care and maintenance pending possible decommissioning. However, in August 2006 the Department of Energy indicated that it could possibly be recommissioned as part of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership demonstration process.
Amazingly, the United States does not have a current energy policy? Will we advance, or will we retreat? The policy void is being populated by opinion from Universities, Commissions, Societies, Associations, international energy policies, low-cost natural gas, anti-nuke FUD, and social media ramblings.
The United States is becoming dependent on foreign research institutions because of very little investment in nuclear energy technologies and vast infrastructure has been laid to waste.
American Nuclear Society’s Mark Peters testified to Congress on June 6, 2012 about Recycling Used Nuclear Fuel. The testimony was timed to support the Republic of Korea’s intent to develop a technology called “pyroprocessing.” This technology is touted because plutonium is not uniquely separated. Plus the end product, metal reactor fuel pellets will be used in fast reactors where the constituents will be “burned” in the atomic fire, called fission. Bi-lateral negotiations between the USA and Korea are underway and Korean pyroprocessing is a big deal.
Pyroprocessing was developed at Idaho National Laboratory, the lead nuclear energy research institution during the operation of the EBR-II. The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) was the goal.
“The American Nuclear Society believes that nuclear fuel recycling has the potential to reclaim much of the residual energy in used fuel currently in storage as well as used fuel that will be produced in the future, and that recycling offers a proven alternative to direct disposal of used fuel in a geological repository… The United States should begin planning a thoughtful and orderly transition to nuclear fuel recycling in parallel with the development of a geologic repository….
“The ANS also believes that the United States should accelerate development of fast spectrum reactors, which are uniquely capable of generating energy while consuming long-lived waste… it should not be overlooked that the first electricity generated through nuclear energy was produced using a fast reactor.
“The American Nuclear Society believes that the development and deployment of advanced nuclear reactors based on fast-neutron fission technology is important to the sustainability, reliability, and security of the world’s long-term energy supply….”
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu will visit Hanford on Friday, June 15, 2012, to visit the Vit Plant and talk about the safety culture. He will also pass by the Fast Flux Test Facility which has been deactivated and is being maintained in Surveillance and Maintenance, its sodium systems under high purity inert argon gas.
Will we advance, or will we retreat?
Open Letter to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu
Pro-nuke euphoria followed President Obama’s generally welcomed pronouncement supporting nuclear power and your Facebook posting, http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=336162546856&comments#!/notes.php?id=79707582290
There is talk of a renaissance and environmentalists’ recognition that nuclear power can provide large amounts of carbon-free power that is always available.
But what is the status of your infrastructure from decades of decline?
Medical imaging is entering a crisis. Moly99, a reactor produced medical isotope is just becoming unavailable. 40,000 procedures a day are coming to a grinding stop. The U.S has no domestic supply for 40,000 procedures a day, and two international reactors have failed, simultaneously.
The Department has known of this deficiency since the 2001 Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement evaluation of the reactor infrastructure needed for medical isotopes.
Our deep space probes will remain at home because the Department cannot produce the Pu-238 required for space power because there is no domestic research reactor.
New civilian reactor concepts like the Traveling Wave, Pebble Bed, Molten Salt, etc,, require fuel and material testing for design and certification but there is no domestic reactor for such tests.
Many have asked the Department, “Isn’t it time to bring back the Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF)?”
The FFTF sits in cold standby, with deactivated systems, but maintained with protective argon gas.
You recently wrote,
“The closed fuel cycle cannot be implemented without a fast neutron spectrum…research is needed now to provide options for future policymakers…other nations are pursuing the technology…If the United States does not have a broad fast reactor research program we will have no opportunity to influence design of these foreign reactors from a vital national security perspective such as proliferation resistance.”
The FFTF now remains preserved giving “options for future policymakers.” This fully licensed test reactor has a certified 20 year full-power core life. Deactivated, yes; preserved, yes; and, recoverable, yes.
Will your upcoming Decision destroy the FFTF?
Draft TC&WM EIS which includes FFTF Decommission decision
January 26, 2010
Benton County sued DOE in November 2002 to stop liquid sodium drain and to stop the rush to destroy the Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF). Benton County argued that Decommissioning was not allowed, and DOE argued that only Deactivation was ongoing.
Benton County lost the case, but in Judge Shea’s Feb. 28, 2003, ORDER we won the knowledge that any action at FFTF must be accomplished under the rules of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA allows for Public Comment, the analysis of Alternatives, and the consideration of NEW Information.
The previous NEPA document is the Programmatic EIS that was completed in January 2001.
Very significant events and new information should be evaluated by DOE. Most significantly:
The medical isotope supply is in crisis due to aging international reactor infrastructure.
Domestic production of the isotope Pu-238 did not start and production planning has failed.
Record of Decision confirmed the need to reestablish a production capability.
DOE-IG “Continuing delays in reestablishing a domestic Pu-238 production capability could adversely impact the Department’s ability to meet its core national security mission, as well as those of the DoD, NASA, and other Government users.”
US purchase of Russian Pu-238 will end, and cannot be used for national security.
Civilian reactor R&D is constrained due to lack of testing and certification facilities and programs.
R&D projects and Intelectual Property are moving off-shore; to China, South Korea, India, Russia, Ukraine, France, Canada, et.al.
RL’s VIT plant needs ~70 MWe which could easily be supplied by the FFTF with a Power Block.
And most significantly, on December 22, 2009, DOE Secretary Steven Chu wrote:
“The closed fuel cycle cannot be implemented without a fast neutron spectrum…”
“…research is needed now to provide options for future policymakers.”
“The Administration had pledged that a Blue-Ribbon panel will consider all alternatives to Yucca Mt…”
“…other nations are pursuing the technology…”
“If the United States does not have a broad fast reactor research program we will have no opportunity to influence design of these foreign reactors from a vital national security perspective such as proliferation resistance.”
The FFTF in now in cold standby with the sodium system piping under argon cover gas, also known as Stage II Surveillance and Maintenance. Is that correct?
The April 2007 study accomplished by Columbia Basin Consulting Group for DOE’s GNEP concluded:
FFTF was a fully licensed nuclear reactor with a 20 year full power life.
Even though the liquid sodium coolant has been drained, FFTF could be restarted.
Then, the GNEP EIS was canceled.
In conclusion, with the minor yearly cost of Surveillance and Maintenance, I believe it is incumbent upon EM to preserve the reactor, as the NO ACTION alternative describes.
So as in Secretary Chu’s own words, “…to provide options for future policymakers.”
NEPA Planning – a Fast Flux Test Facility commentary
By: Carl Holder Monday, January 03, 2005
The motive for Benton County v US Department of Energy (DOE) in November 2002 was to find something, anything that would stop sodium drain at the Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF). Benton County lost the case, but won the knowledge that any action at FFTF must be accomplished under the rules of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). For this reason DOE is now preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the FFTF Closure Project. OK, so what?
DOE and Fluor Hanford had contracted the Closure activity under the rules of Comprehensive Environmental Remediation Liability Act (CERCLA), which is the “Superfund” legislation. OK, so what?
Superfund/CERCLA is for cleanup of an existing hazardous waste pile. NEPA is getting good information to make good decisions to continue to do a good job right.
Under no circumstance can the FFTF be considered a hazardous waste pile; not yet. There is no radioactive contamination in the 400 area today; but with the preferred alternative of entombment, there will be a new radioactive and chemically volatile waste dump, “repository” where the FFTF exists today.
But how did the process go off track? This is where the story gets real interesting. On December 14, 2001, Secretary Abraham approved following NEPA, deactivation of the FFTF (a last day Clinton Administration decision). Deactivation has been suspended many times since 1995. In fact, the 1995 Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) is the current authority at the plant.
On July 15, 2002, DOE Chief of Staff McSlarrow wrote that the Secretary directed decommissioning of the FFTF, but gave no legal direction (NEPA or CERCLA). It was DOE-Richland that began to use CERCLA in correspondence beginning on August 15, 2002. The wrong switch was thrown, and train was going down the wrong track (according to Judge Shea). This is important because under CERCLA, public input happens much later and is more restrictive, and the alternatives are narrowed considerably. In that CERCLA based FFTF Closure Project contract it said, “the facility will be entombed.”
Now DOE believes that it is back on track by giving us the Decommission Environmental Impact Statement. But they are not. OK, but why not?
The DOE has just notified of the Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for a segment of the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) that is/was flawed. But this is just symptomatic. The entire 2000 Nuclear Infrastructure-PEIS is suspect because national policy has changed, and new programmatic operations require a rapidly expanding need for neutrons, particularly fast neutrons.
Under Clinton, a new source of neutrons was not planned and the old sources, without the FFTF, were deemed to be adequate. Just now, Secretary Abraham has gone to France to buy access to fast neutrons at the Phenix, saying “this capability does not exist in the USA.” What?
The requirements for research neutrons are expanding greatly. The President’s National Energy Policy, programmatic change within DOE, and the Hydrogen Initiative create new emphasis and demand for neutrons. Fast neutrons are in high demand for work in fuel and transformation of nuclear waste. Dr. William Martin, Chairman the Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee (NERAC), 04/28/04, “recommends a study on the need for steady and fast neutron facilities in the U.S.”
With such dramatic new requirements for neutrons, particularly fast neutrons, and the possible reasonable alternative of the FFTF, under NEPA rules, in the Consolidation Environmental Impact Statement require that the facility cannot be destroyed prior to the Record of Decision. Under NEPA rules, all reasonable alternatives must be preserved, and the FFTF remains recoverable.
The decision to destroy the Fast Flux Test Facility must now be a new Secretarial decision, not based upon an interpretation of the 1995 FONSI, especially now that the Secretary has traveled to France to buy fast neutron capability. DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham has resigned!
“Nuclear energy technology has the potential to improve the quality of life for people around the world if we are successful in solving issues such as economics, waste and proliferation,” said DOE Secretary Abraham in Paris, France, August 24, 2004.
On October 23, 2003, Nobel Laureate Burton Richter, Chairman of a NERAC subcommittee reported, “The final demise of the FFTF is to be regretted. We do point out the limitations of foreign facilities.”
Proper Supplemental NEPA evaluation should prove to the nation that the FFTF is required if we are to be successful, in the U.S., in solving issues such as economics, waste and proliferation. The nation deserves this legally required and intelligent look into the future. The NEPA process requires that the public is involved.
To continue on the current track, specified under CERCLA, could prove very embarrassing to our nation, and illegal and costly for the perpetrators.
“Trouble ahead, Trouble behind, Casey Jones you’d better watch your speed.” Grateful Dead.
Carl Holder ©
Monday, January 03, 2005
The FFTF Decommission EIS took public scoping comments until October 8, 2004. Then this EIS was was rolled into the Tank Closure and Waste Management TC&WM EIS being performed by SAIC for DOE Richland Office. The Draft TC&WM EIS was published on November 4, 2009. DOE proposes to determine the final end state for the FFTF…
Public Comments are open through March 19, 2010. TC&WMEIS@saic.com or fax 888-785-2865 & contact your Senators and Representatives… and you are welcome to comment here, just click below where it says comment.
In the Draft EIS DOE select will select from three options for the FFTF:
No Action: FFTF is currently in Surveillance and Maintenance, or cold standby, the major feature being that sodium systems are maintained under inert covergas. The decision is 100 years of administrative controls total cost of $495 million.
Entombment: Would remove and dispose of a minimum amount of radioactive materials and entomb the rest. ~$260 million cost.
Removal: Would remove nearly all radioactive materials, including the reactor vessel, internal piping and equipment and attached depleted-uranium shield, and dispose of these materials onsite in an Integrated Disposal Facility. ~$270 million cost.
Other alternatives not evaluated:
Restart: DOE decided to shut down and deactivate FFTF (DOE 1995a,, 2000a).
Greenfield: A study in 2000 estimated decommission to Greenfield would cost $2 Billion. The Removal Option 3 is DOE response to Greenfield requests.
In a 2007 study funded by for Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), … the fully licensed FFTF could be restarted.
FFTF was considered in the Consolidation EIS, and GNEP EIS has been cancelled.
In a 2007 study funded by for Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), … the fully licensed FFTF could be restarted.
Thank you for your consideration.
Support: NO ACTION alternative for FFTF Decommission.
DOE offers three alternatives for the FFTF in the current Environment Impact Statement (EIS):
– maintain the current Surveillance & Maintenance (S&M) for 100 years. $2m/yr includes main feature: Maintain inert cover gas on piping.
(the preferred alternative)
They do not offer other alternatives:
Restart, or Greenfield – as each are expensive, $ and political.
Both alternatives: Entombment (the cheapest for destruction, $300m) and Removal; both create a CERCLA radioactive waste site – where none exists today.
Greenfield would remove all of the reactor and was expected to cost $2 billion in 2002. HOAN solicits money based upon this alternative.
A Restart study performed for DOE by CBCG in 2007 estimated restart to cost $500 million over 5 years for the fully licensed plant to support Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP).
In Benton County v DOE, February 2003, Judge Edward Shea ORDERED that DOE shall do a NEPA EIS prior to decommissioning the FFTF, then and now under deactivation, on and off since the 1995 EA & FONSI. Now in S&M, Phase II (cold standby).
The current National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) evaluation of alternatives has produced a Draft EIS (delayed by the Yucca Mt confounding failure). The current law of the land is Judge Shea’s 2003 Order and the 2000 NEPA Nuclear Infrastructure EIS that was decided by Secretary Richardson on his last day in office, January 2001. What a piece of work that ROD is.
All of these docs are available upon request. Also see file NEPA FFTF & Public Policy.
Due to the current political climate (local, state and national), rally to achieve the “NO ACTION” decision that preserves this test SFR for another day.
I have accepted an invitation to join a forum started at NUCLEARSTREET.com called New Social Media and Nuclear Energy by Dan Yurman a blogger at djysrv.blogspot.com, member of ANS, etc.
My oar in the water concerns that there is a lack of proper National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) analysis of Energy Policy, Energy Policy Planning, and Infrastructure availability.
In a number of critical areas of national policy, good analysis of alternatives is not being accomplished and decision making is being done for pure political motive irrespective of good science, inefficient use of scarce resources, and wanton disregard for basic economics and risk analysis.
The first posting in the new forum is by Ted Rockwell’s “Get the Nuclear Energy Facts.” Check it out… Under proper NEPA analysis, most would concur that abundant and sustainable nuclear power should be the highest national priority. Sorry… wind, solar and biomass should not be diverting all the money and attention.
Energy density rules…
National Environmetal Policy Act
The U.S. and Japan will begin to cooperate on “advanced fuel cycle technologies” for nuclear plants, or reprocessing nuclear waste, according to the Environmental Capital blog.
Reprocessing helps get rid of nuclear waste, which is why both France and Japan have been big advocates. The U.S. killed a reprocessing plan in the ’70s. Then, the Bush Administration began the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership which included reprocessing and sodium-cooled fast burner reactors. GNEP remains alive internationally; but, domestically advanced nuclear R&D is on life-support funding levels only.
In 2007, Columbia Basin Consulting Group studied the Hanford 400 Area for Advanced Nuclear R&D. Valuable facilities exist including the 400 megawatt Fast Flux Test Facility – now in mothballs – awaiting decision making at the DOE.
If the U.S. is serious about international collaboration, we would open up and make available the world’s most advanced fast reactor testing facilities for combined international use. Without these facilities, collaboration from our side has proven fickle.