Thursday, January 5, 2012

Plentiful Energy – the book on the Integral Fast Reactor

Plentiful Energy: The Story of the Integral Fast Reactor: The complex history of a simple reactor technology, with emphasis on its scientific bases for non-specialists [Paperback] Charles E. Till (Author), Yoon Il Chang  (Author) (Available on Amazon)  

The subtitle of the book is “The complex history of a simple reactor technology, with emphasis on its scientific basis for non-specialists.”

Written by the two leading engineers and Argonne National Laboratory, Associate Directors behind the integral fast reactor, Dr. Charles E. Till and Dr. Yoon Il Chang, it is a landmark in the sustainable energy literature.

The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) (Chang 1988) is a fast reactor system developed at Argonne National Laboratory in the decade 1984 to 1994. The IFR project developed the technology for a complete system; the reactor, the entire fuel cycle and the waste management technologies were all included in the development program.

The reactor concept had important features and characteristics that were completely new and fuel cycle and waste management technologies that were entirely new developments.

The reactor is a “fast reactor”– that is, the chain reaction is maintained by neutrons with high energy, not moderated by water, and which produces its own fuel. The IFR reactor, which is cooled by liquid metal sodium, and associated fuel cycle, is a closed system. Electrical power is generated, and new fissile fuel is produced to replace the fuel burned.

Its used fuel is processed for recycling by pyroprocessing – a new development – and waste is put in final form for disposal.

The scale and duration of the project and its funding made it one of the largest nuclear energy R&D program of its day. Its purpose was the development of a long term new energy source, capable of meeting the nation’s electrical energy needs.

ANL West
ANL-W the home of IFR
Safety, non-proliferation and waste toxicity properties were improved as well, these three the characteristics most commonly cited in opposition to nuclear power. Yet, most of the development had been done when the program was abruptly cancelled by the newly elected Clinton Administration.

In his 1994 State of the Union address the president stated that “unnecessary programs in advanced reactor development will be terminated.” The IFR was that program. By 1998 the Clinton Administration has for all intents and purposes zeroed out all nuclear energy R&D funding.

Paradoxically, this policy decision was driven by then VP Al Gore who later won a Nobel Prize for his work on global warming. It is a continuing mystery why Gore has been so hostile to an energy source that does not emit greenhouse gases and is, fundamentally, a replacement technology for coal and natural gas in providing base load power.

Accessible to the non-technical reader
This book gives the real story of the IFR, written by the two nuclear scientists who were most deeply involved in its conception, the development of its R&D program, and its management. The authors felt there is room for a volume that, while accurate technically, is written in a manner accessible to the non-specialist and even to the non-technical reader who simply wants to know what this technology is about.

For more details check out Barry Brook’s blog post, and the back story of his role in the book’s publication, at Brave New Climate.

For more details on how the IFR technology has a new life, see my blog post at ANS Nuclear Cafe on the PRISM reactor being proposed for use in the UK to burn that nation’s plutonium stockpile.

Additionally, last November at the ANS winter meeting, I interviewed John Sackett, who was a senior manager at ANL-W, on his current work to close regulatory gaps for licensing the IFR.  Check the links at the end of that post for the technical papers on the project.

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donb said...

There was also a video put out in 1993 (on VHS) called "Integral Fast Reactor: Energy for Tomorrow". I bought a copy at the time. I don't know if is still available.

Rod Adams said...


The actual Clinton quote:

"We are eliminating programs that are no longer needed such as nuclear power research and development."

You can watch a video clip of that section of the speech at

That announcement and its chilling effect was broader than just ending the IFR.