Monday, May 3, 2010

Lovins addresses New Nuclear Power for DOD (Q&A 2 of 3)

This post asks Amory Lovins to respond more specifically to new technologies related to 3rd and particularly 4th generation reactors.

Question 2: Some make the case that recently popular, small, modular design reactors solve many of the challenges of the large, capital intensive, centralized predecessors. These are still just concepts at this time. Do you feel they're worth pursuing ... why or why not?
ABL: No. My paper "'New Nuclear Reactors, Same Old Story" summarizes why not. Again, the fundamental issue is economics. The systems needed to confine radiation and to manage and capture heat from any sort of reactor do not scale down well. The argument that offsetting and indeed greater economies can be obtained from mass production fails to note that the main competitors (efficiency and micropower) not only scale down well but are also decades ahead in capturing their own economies of mass production, so nuclear can never catch up. This conclusion does not depend on the specific technology proposed (Hyperion, NuScale, Toshiba 4S, etc.); it depends only on nuclear engineering basics and on the observed status and trajectory of competitors.
Another way of saying it is that simpler, more efficient approaches are readily available and so we shouldn't distract ourselves with nuclear. In the linked article, Lovins comes out swinging and never relents:
Novel [new] designs claimed to solve LWRsΚΌ problems of economics, proliferation, and waste .... But on closer examination, the two kinds most often promoted—Integral Fast Reactors (IFRs) and thorium reactors—reveal no economic, environmental, or security rationale, and the [business case] is unsound for any nuclear reactor.
My interpretation is that Lovins' case does not rely on fear or emotional appeal. It's not Three Mile Island. It's not Chernobyl. It's dollars and cents and other types of sense. In case you're joining late, opening round Question 1 was answered previously here. Stay tuned for the third and final question that asks Lovins to focus his nuclear thinking in particular on DOD applications. Anyone want to argue back?

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