The Story of the Integral Fast Reactor: The complex history of a simple reactor technology, with emphasis on its scientific basis for non-specialists

Authored by Charles E. Till, Yoon Il Chang

plentiful-energy-coverThe Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) 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 "fast" neutrons with high energy - which produces its own fuel. The IFR reactor and associated fuel cycle is a closed system. Electrical power is generated, 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. All this is done on one self-sufficient site.

The scale and duration of the project and its funding made it the largest nuclear energy R and D program of its day. Its purpose was the development of a long-term massive new energy source, capable of meeting the nation's electrical energy needs in any amount, and for as long as it is needed, forever, if necessary. Safety, non-proliferation, and waste toxicity properties were improved as well, these three are the characteristics most commonly cited in opposition to nuclear power.

Development proceeded from success to success. Most of the development had been done when the program was abruptly canceled 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.

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 and D program, and its management.

Between the scientific and engineering papers and reports, and books on the IFR, and the non-technical and often impassioned dialogue that continues to this day on fast reactor technology, we 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 the authors:
Dr. CHARLES E. TILL received his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the Imperial College, University of London, in 1960. Early in his career, he worked on a variety of reactor concepts, including the U.K. gas-cooled reactor, the Canadian heavy water reactor, and the U.S. light water reactor upon joining Argonne National Laboratory in 1963. There, after a year or two, Dr. Till became deeply involved in the development of the fast breeder reactor. From 1980 onward, as Associate Laboratory Director for Engineering Research, Till led the large Argonne reactor development program for seventeen of its most innovative and productive years. He created the Integral Fast Reactor concept and spearheaded the development of its underlying technologies. An advanced reactor technology with revolutionary improvements in safety, nuclear waste disposal, and resource usage, this was a major effort involving a thousand to two thousand engineers and supporting staff and carried out over the ten-year period from 1984 to 1994 at Argonne's two sites, its main laboratory in Illinois, and its big reactor facilities on the desert in Idaho. A Fellow of the American Nuclear Society and recipient of its Walker Cisler Medal for distinguished contributions to fast reactor development, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1989.

Dr. YOON IL CHANG received his Ph.D. in nuclear science from the University of Michigan in 1971. After a short time at Nuclear Assurance Corporation working on nuclear fuel cycle services, he joined Argonne National Laboratory in 1974, hired initially by Till as a reactor analyst. With the initiation of the Integral Fast Reactor program in 1984, as Till's deputy and as the program's General Manager, he managed the program through its ten years of development. Bringing all the many parts on the IFR program together in a coherent and focused program, it was Chang who saw to its progress day by day, month by month. Upon Till's retirement in 1998, Dr. Chang succeeded him as Associate Laboratory Director for Engineering Research, and also served as Interim Laboratory Director. The recipient of outstanding alumni awards from the University of Michigan and Seoul National University, a Fellow of the American Nuclear Society, and recipient of its Walker Cisler Medal, he received the Department of Energy's Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award in 1994 for his technical leadership role in the IFR development.

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