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Home Dr. George S. Stanford

George Stanford - In Memoriam (Tom Blees

On October 7 we received the sad news of the passing of Dr. George Stanford, one of the original members of SCGI. George was the first of the IFR scientists I contacted when I began my research that resulted, years later, in the publication of Prescription for the Planet. After acting as my original IFR mentor, he soon introduced me to Charles Till and Yoon Chang. Thus began a constant years-long four-person email chain as the three of them tutored me—with endless patience—so that I might introduce a wider audience to the amazing technology that they had developed with their team at Argonne West.

That mentorship has continued to this day. Their tutelage not only changed my life but the lives of many others around the world who have come to understand the profound nature of IFR technology, that it can literally transform the planet if we are wise enough to deploy it.

Despite his failing health, George's mind was clear and his intellect razor-sharp right up to the end. He was always willing to contribute his insights and expertise whenever called upon to do so, which happened frequently. He was always generous with his time and never patronizing no matter how unschooled his questioner.

After several years of friendship, his wife Janet once told me that George loved being again immersed in the IFR culture, doing his best to finally see the commercial deployment of the system. Alas, the delay was too long. It will be with regret, but with profound gratitude, that we toast George Stanford when the ribbon is cut on the first PRISM reactor, an event that will hopefully happen soon enough so that the rest of his colleagues will still be here to see it.

Tom Blees


The IFR vs the LFTR: An Exchange of Emails

George S. Stanford, Per F. Peterson and Dan Meneley

G. Stanford wrote (11-29-10):

We'll see what others on this list have to say, but in my opinion, Carlsen's enthusiasm for thorium is premature, to say the least.  The ONLY significant advantage a thorium cycle would have over fast reactors with metallic fuel (IFR/PRISM) is its lower requirement for start up fissile.  That advantage is offset by the fact that the thorium reactor is at a stage of development roughly equivalent to where the IFR was in 1975 -- a promising idea with a lot of R&D needed to before it's ready for a commercial demonstration -- which puts its deployment about 20 years behind what could be the IFR's schedule.  The thorium community has not yet even agreed on what will be the optimum thorium technology to pursue.

I think that thorium should indeed be investigated as a possible future competitor for the IFR.   But what would be gained by putting off demonstrating the IFR/PRISM technology while waiting to see if thorium really lives up to its promise?  Nothing would be lost by getting a fleet of IFRs up and running.  They could be breeding fissile for decades while a possible thorium fleet gets up and running, and the IFR-bred fissile -- several times more than was started with -- could be used for expanding the hypothetical thorium fleet at the end of the IFRs' lifetimes.

Read more about the IFR vs. the LFTR


Is A Traveling Wave Reactor Better than an IFR?

Comments on TerraPower’s Travelling Wave Reactor (printable PDF version here)

By Dr George S. Stanford. George is is a nuclear reactor physicist, part of the team that developed the Integral Fast Reactor. He is now retired from Argonne National Laboratory after a career of experimental work pertaining to power-reactor safety. He is the co-author of Nuclear Shadowboxing: Contemporary Threats from Cold War Weaponry.

We hear from time to time about the Traveling Wave Reactor (TWR) that is being developed by TerraPower, an organization sponsored by Bill Gates. The developers are keeping many of the technical details to themselves. However, from the available info about the TWR, one can make some ball-park calculations. Some assumptions are necessary, because better numbers have not, to my knowledge, been revealed. If anyone has better info, please come forward.

Fact 1: In generating 1 GWe-yr of energy, any nuclear reactor necessarily fissions about 1 tonne of heavy metal, creating 1 tonne of fission products.

Fact 2: The TWR is based on the technology of the IFR (Integral Fast Reactor), developed at Argonne National Laboratory in the ’80s and ’90s — it uses metallic fuel and is cooled by liquid sodium. In effect, the TWR is a very large IFR (in size, not in GWe) that forgoes reprocessing, storing its fission products in the used part of the core (behind the traveling wave). This pushes the disposal problem perhaps 60 or more years into the future. Unlike the IFR, the TWR does not completely burn its fuel, and leaves behind a mixture of transuranic actinides — which perhaps eventually could be recycled (not clear).

Fact 3: In commercial readiness, the TWR is at least a decade or two behind the IFR.

Read more about the comparrison between Traveling Wave Reactors and IFR's


Why Forge Ahead With IFRs?

There are good reasons to forge ahead with IFRs.  Here are some:

1.  Eighty years of waste from 1000 (1-GWe) reactors would leave enough used fuel for 10 or 20 Yucca Mountains.

2. The environmental effects of accelerated uranium mining will impinge increasingly on the public's consciousness.  Resistance to uranium mining is already growing.

3.  The accumulating plutonium inventory will, rightly or wrongly, be seen as an ever-increasing proliferation risk,

4.  The multiplying need for uranium enrichment means the spread of centrifuge technology and loss of international control of that technology, with serious proliferation implications.

5.  Since China, India, Russia, et al. are forging ahead with their fast-reactor programs, technological leadership will continue to move in that direction.

6.  The concomitant spread of fuel-processing technology will mean loss of international control of that technology, with further serious proliferation implications.

7.  No nation can make nuclear weapons without either enrichment or reprocessing facilities, regardless of how many reactors it has.  The loss of U.S. technological leadership will mean the loss of ability to bring order to the global development and deployment of nuclear technology, with the consequent uninhibited spread of proliferation potential.

8.  The institutional knowledge of the U.S.-developed IFR technology is rapidly dying off, accelerating the North American descent to second-class technological status.


Reprocessing is the Answer

George S. Stanford, Gerald E. Marsh, and William Hannum


Article Highlights

  • Advancements in nuclear power should help the world move beyond fossil fuels.
  • In particular, spent fuel recycling with fast reactors would solve some of the most vexing problems facing conventional nuclear power.
  • Other benefits include reducing weapons proliferation risks and excess plutonium and uranium stockpiles.

Read more...

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George S. Stanford

George Stanford, Ph.D., is a nuclear reactor physicist, part of the team that developed the Integral Fast Reactor. He is now retired from Argonne National Laboratory after a career of experimental work pertaining to power-reactor safety. He is the co-author of Nuclear Shadowboxing: Contemporary Threats from Cold War Weaponry.