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How to make energy while reducing the danger of nuclear waste and nuclear war:

All we would have to do is further develop the design of EBR II so that it is commercially viable. EBR II is an experimental nuclear reactor (Experimantal Breeder Reactor II) at the Argonne West complex of Argonne National Laboratory in Idaho. It has several big advantages over the more commonly used BWR and PWR designs:

  • Like any breeder reactor, EBR II can use leftover neutron to recycle actinide nuclear wastes like uranium-238 into nuclear fuel that can be reused, but unlike most breeder reactors,
  • It uses an experimental fuel recycling process in which weapons grade plutonium is not isolated,
  • and is so complete that the only remaining nuclear wastes have a half life of 200 years or so. (Typical waste left over from conventional reactors has a half life of about 10000 years)
  • It is very efficient with the fuel that it burns in the first place, with over 15% of it being used up the first time it is put in the reactor, as opposed to the 2-3% burn rate of conventional reactors<./li>
  • Its reactor vessel is designed in such a way that if the coolant pumps were to fail, the liquid sodium coolant would still continue to circulate due to natural convection.
  • Even if coolant flow is somehow blocked and the reactor core begins to overheat, the fuel expands from the heat until it fills the zirconium alloy fuel rods, slowing the neutron speed to the point where a nuclear chain reaction cannot be sustained, thus shutting down the reactor and preventing meltdown.

If we just built a few of these reactors, we could eventually eliminate the need for a massive national nuclear waste repository in Nevada because we could remove the most dangerous components of our existing nuclear waste that requires it to be stored in places that will be geologically sound for eons to come. If we had more reactors, we could also have an easier time buying cold war-era weapons grade plutonium from the Russians and burning it in our reactors to prevent it from ending up in the hands of terrorists. Oh, and did I mention that during this obvious plan of action we would be creating energy, something that has become a scarce and pricey commodity in the U.S. lately, especially in California. And no particulates, sulfur dioxide, or greenhouse gases would be produced in the process.

But alas... Nuclear power isn't as popular anymore due to a few serious accidents caused by clumsy Soviets and their badly designed reactors, and a moderate accident in the U.S. that destroyed a reactor and exposed the entire town in which it resides to the equivalent of one hospital X-ray. The EBR II program was cut in 1994 by President Clinton as part of a bill to cut funding for outmoded technologies. Of course, that was when power shortages and global warming were considered far less of a problem. In 2001, however, we have two cronies of crude in office who will remain unconcerned about greenhouse gases until the right-sagging court that elected them is submerged due to polar icecap melting. Luckily, they are also considering an alternative polluting power source: nuclear. Since you can’t ask for anything too farsighted from a Republican, being cleaner than coal and more feasible than solar or wind isn’t too bad. They are particularly interested in pebble-bed reactors, but in my opinion an EBR II-style solution would be more effective in that it disposes of long-lived waste, rather than creates it.

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