Energy Department wants to build nuclear test 'fast' reactor

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A new nuclear test reactor is needed as part of an effort to revamp the nation's fading nuclear power industry by developing safer fuel and power plants, the U.S. Department of Energy said Monday.

The federal agency said it will prepare an environmental impact statement as part of the process to build the test reactor in Idaho or Tennessee by the end of 2025. Public comments on the environmental review are being taken through Sept. 4.

The Versatile Test Reactor would be the first new test reactor built in the U.S. in decades and give the nation a dedicated "fast-neutron-spectrum" testing capability. Such reactors are called fast reactors.

"This testing capability is essential for the United States to modernize its nuclear energy infrastructure and for developing transformational nuclear energy technologies that reduce waste generation and enhance nuclear security," said U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry in a statement.

U.S. residents have been wary of nuclear since the core from Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island underwent a partial meltdown in 1979 in one of the nation's worst nuclear mishaps. That was followed by a reactor at the Chernobyl in Ukraine exploding and burning in 1986. In 2011, an earthquake and tsunami led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan where the cores of three reactors suffered meltdowns after cooling systems failed.

Federal officials say the proposed test reactor would help create new and safer fuels, materials and reactors being developed by civilian companies in the U.S.

"If this capability is not available to U.S. innovators as soon as possible, the ongoing shift of nuclear technology dominance to other international states such as China and the Russian Federation will accelerate, to the detriment of the U.S. nuclear industrial sector," said Rita Baranwal, the Energy Department's assistant secretary for Nuclear Energy.

The Energy Department had a fast reactor, the Experimental Breeder Reactor II, operating in eastern Idaho until it was shut down in 1994 as the nation turned away from nuclear power.

Edwin Lyman, senior scientist and acting director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit, said fast reactors such as the proposed Versatile Test Reactor are less safe than current reactors.

Most nuclear reactors in use now are "light-water" reactors fueled by uranium and cooled with water. Lyman said the test reactor will be cooled with harder to control liquid sodium and likely fueled by plutonium, increasing potential nuclear terrorism risks because plutonium can be used to make nuclear weapons.

"There is nothing good about these reactors," he said. "I think there is a love of plutonium in the (Energy) Department that is irrational."

Revamping the nation's nuclear power is part of a strategy to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by generating carbon-free electricity with nuclear power initiated under the Obama administration and continuing under the Trump administration, despite Trump's downplaying of global warming.

Reducing spent nuclear fuel, federal officials say, is also an objective of the new test reactor. The U.S. has no permanent repository for about 77,000 tons (70,000 metric tons) of radioactive spent fuel, stored mainly at the commercial plants where they were used to produce electricity.

But Lyman said fast reactors would produce waste even more hazardous and difficult to dispose.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, at the end of December, there were 98 nuclear reactors at 59 producing about 20% of the nation's energy. Most of the reactors are decades old, and many are having a tough time competing economically with other forms of production.

The Energy Department is considering building the test at the Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho or the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in eastern Tennessee.

On a related front, the Energy Department late last year restarted the Transient Test Reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory to test new nuclear fuels. That facility had been on standby since 1994.

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User comments

Aug 05, 2019
Thorium? Thorium Boy? Where are you? Looser.

Aug 06, 2019
Americans appear to have very short memories. The Three Mile Island failure caused them to think twice about using plutonium for power generation. A lot of effort has gone into the design and process requirements for a thorium based reactor which appears to have been totally ignored by the current nuclear decision makers. Thorium cannot "meltdown" so is inherently much, much safer than plutonium. Everything is ready to go using thorium yet the entrenched plutonium folks appear to have taken control of the process and are getting their way for that vastly inferior and dangerous power plant solution. Short sighted American business hard at work pushing their weight around again. Stupidity in action.

Aug 06, 2019
...Americans appear to have very short memories...
"The only victim of Three Mile Island was my friend Edward Teller.*"
"*He suffered a heart attack defending nuclear energy against the lies of Jane Fonda and others."
No one died from radiation; the radiation exposure was equivalent to a dental x-ray or a bunch of bananas.
Around one year after Three Mile Island, the Mount St Helens eruption released as much radioactive material as all nuclear weapons, as well polonium-210 worse than cesium-137 and protactinium-231 equivalent to plutonium-239 in terms of toxicity, and it was never mentioned by the mainstream mass media(in the pocket of the fossil fuels vested interests).

Aug 09, 2019
Oh, it's our rabid protector of chopped birds!

Go here:
and here:


Aug 09, 2019
Oh, it's our rabid protector of chopped birds!

Go here:

It says"Wind v fossil fuels
A study published in 2009 looking at the US and Europe estimated that wind farms were responsible for about 0.3 bird deaths for every 1GWh of electricity generated, compared with 5.2 deaths per 1GWh caused by fossil-fuelled power stations.

It said this would equate to the deaths, every year, in the US, of about 7,000 birds caused by wind turbines, 300,000 by nuclear plants and 14.5 million by power plants using fossil fuels."

and here:


Aug 10, 2019
It says"Wind v fossil fuels
Wind is not alternative to fossil fuels.
wind/solar = 20% bird-choppers/land-intensive monstrosities + 80% coal/oil/gas/fracking to compensate intermittencies.

Domestic cats kill common birds.
Wind turbines kill endangered birds, bats, bees, etc
"Wind farms may be contributing significantly to the 76% decline in insects in Germany"
"What house cats kill are small, common birds, like sparrows, robins and jays. Whatkills big, threatened, and endangered birds—birds that could go extinct—like hawks, eagles, owls, and condors, are wind turbines"

"Wind, solar, biomass and biofuels are extremely destructive to animals and the Earth. They are cures far worse than the disease"

Aug 15, 2019
Wind, solar, biomass and biofuels are extremely destructive to animals and the Earth
So are factories, cars, coal plants, fracking for oil and gas, nuclear power plants, cell phones etc. etc. etc. So you can go live in your cave, make your own clothes from grass, live off berries and leaves, and be careful not to step on any insects. We - will look to live in a technological world - and use the least damaging of energy sources - which is of course wind and solar. Moron.

Aug 16, 2019
...So are factories, cars, coal plants, fracking for oil and gas,...
Solar and wind don't exist without fossil-powered factories to manufacture them, without cars/trucks/ships to transport/install/maintain/repair/replace them, without coal/oil/gas/fracking backup plants to compensate fluctuations of production and demand. Solar and wind are parasites.

All forms of energy have vulnerabilities.
But only solar and wind are parasites, cannot survive without a host(a fossil-fueled grid) to compensate fluctuations of production & demand.

What about the waste?
Sunlight and Breeze are Renewable and Free, but Solar Panels and Windmills aren't. They don't grow on trees and don't last forever.
Intermittent renewables are neither cheap nor clean nor environmentally friendly.
They are Eco-hypocritical energy placebo solutions.
"ABC: Solar panels in Australia only lasting 3 to 9 years ABC"

Aug 16, 2019
Solar and wind don't exist without fossil-powered factories to manufacture them
Neither do nukes. But unlike nukes - wind and solar are providing cheap/clean energy. You want to screw the world with 12.5 cents a kwh power from Hinkley Point. We prefer to go with cheap - home grown wind and solar...

Aug 17, 2019
...wind and solar are providing cheap/clean energy...
"cheap" but "batteries not included" neither coal/gas-fired backup plants nor integration costs;
"clean" if you ignore how windmills and solar panels are manufactured/mined/transported/installed/maintained/repaired/recycled and discarded.

...We prefer to go with cheap - home grown wind and solar...
Most people who say "wind/solar is cheap", don't buy/use it to power their homes and electric cars; they stay connected to the fossil-fueled grid and/or use tons of fossil fuels instead of their beloved sunshine&breeze unicorn energy.
RE charlatans/"snake oil salesmen" don't "eat their own dog food" and want to sell it to others.

RE "snake oil salesmen" still continue propagandizing solar photovoltaic in regions of moderate insolation although there are already several studies/data showing it has poor "Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI)".

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