Near the end of 2010, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a summary of a report titled The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle as part of its MIT Energy Initiative. The complete report was released a few months ago. The conclusions published that report initiated a virtual firestorm of reaction among the members of the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) Study group who strongly disagreed with the authors.
Steve Kirsh, an IFR group member challenges, "I have an all-star team of people I can assemble to debate your position on the urgency of fast reactors (top DOE brass, nuclear industry, environmental leaders, etc). You pick the place and time."
Though there are a number of specific recommendations provided in the report, the following quote from the “Study Context” provides a good summary of why the fast reactor advocates were so dismayed by the report.
For decades, the discussion about future nuclear fuel cycles has been dominated by the expectation that a closed fuel cycle based on plutonium startup of fast reactors would eventually be deployed. However, this expectation is rooted in an out-of-date understanding about uranium scarcity. Our reexamination of fuel cycles suggests that there are many more viable fuel cycle options and that the optimum choice among them faces great uncertainty—some economic, such as the cost of advanced reactors, some technical such as implications for waste management, and some societal, such as the scale of nuclear power deployment and the management of nuclear proliferation risks. Greater clarity should emerge over the next few decades, assuming that the needed research is carried out for technological alternatives and that the global response to climate change risk mitigation comes together. A key message from our work is that we can and should preserve our options for fuel cycle choices by continuing with the open fuel cycle, implementing a system for managed LWR spent fuel storage, developing a geological repository, and researching technology alternatives appropriate to a range of nuclear energy futures.
The group of fast reactor supporters includes some notable scientists and engineers whose list of professional accomplishments is at least as long as those of the people who produced the MIT report. In addition, it includes people like Charles Till and Yoon Chang who were intimately involved in the US’s multi-decade long fast reactor development and demonstration program that resulted in demonstrating a passively safe, sodium cooled reactor and an integral recycling system based on metallic fuel and pyroprocessing.
That effort, known as the Integral Fast Reactor, was not just based on an out-dated concept of uranium availability, but also on the keen recognition that the public wants a clear solution to “the nuclear waste