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Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 1 year, 1 month ago

A page of energy issues and a homework page


"You'll never get funding for that!" "Why not?" "Because it sounds like it might work." - Joke that did the rounds of the US nuclear establishment in the late 1970s


Experimental_Breeder_Reactor_II (EBR-2) was a prototype Integral_fast_reactor  (IFR) and a small and successful power station. And it's about time we built the next prototype using its unique and proven technology. We should call it EBR-3 to finally do justice to the pioneers who built EBR-2.


EBR-2 was quite simply the best fast reactor power station yet designed. The Americans got a remarkable number of things right. So many so right that they will still lead the world should they decide to do so, despite decades of work since then by Russia, France, India and China. EBR-2 was one of several fast reactors built in the USA, but by far the best.


The UK also built two fast reactor power units, at Dounreay, Dounreay Fast Reactor or DFR, first critical 1959, 14MWe loop-type with primary and secondary NaK cooling, and Prototype Fast Reactor  or PFR, first critical 1974, 250MWe, pool type with primary and secondary liquid sodium cooling. And as with the USA, in hindsight it's rather sad that they didn't go further. But they didn't, and EBR-2 was far more innovative and seems to have been far superior to their efforts anyway, despite being far smaller and a bit earlier then PFR.    


EBR-2 (first criticality 1965, 20MWe) was also 'way ahead of MSRE (also 1965), which generated no electricity at all (ie 0MWe, zero as in zero), and ITER (first fusion expected 2035 or later), which never will (so, also 0MWe). The original proposal for MSRE had both a breeder blanket and a small electrical output, but both were deleted from the design to save money. ITER will have test modules to develop the technology for Tritium breeding, but like MSRE its fuel will come from other (fission) reactors, and there will be no electrical output.


EBR-3 would be much better value for money than either MSRE or ITER, particularly as its predecessor both fuelled itself and generated electricity, while neither ITER nor MSRE as built were designed to achieve either of these milestones. EBR-2 was designed to do both, and did.





EBR-2 was a sodium-cooled fast reactor. But it had a few features that were and are uncommon or even in some cases unique.


One of the vital things they did was on-site reprocessing. But this was done by pyroprocessing and electrorefining rather than by the established solvent-based methods.


And this is probably the whole reason the project was cancelled. Reprocessing became a political liability. Apparently recycling is good unless it's nuclear fuel!


To facilitate this processing, metal fuel was used, rather than the more common oxide.


And the other interesting thing about the fuel was, there was a third stage to the coolant. There were the normal primary and secondary sodium circuits, but before the heat even got to the primary coolant, there was a layer of sodium within the fuel element, between the fuel and the cladding.


EBR-3 should have all of these features. Its main differences should be that it should be bigger than EBR-2, and operate for longer, and not be cancelled three years before the completion of the approved program, and not then be neglected and allowed to deteriorate for years so that the costs of decommissioning escalate. (It would have been cheaper to complete the program, which included decommissioning, as it turned out, and the politicians who cancelled the program knew this when they made that choice. Bizarre? You bet.)



The interest in the Versatile_Test_Reactor is progress. But it will not be a prototype power station. The materials used in EBR-2 worked. They do not need further testing.


A decision on whether or not to build VTR is expected in 2022. 


Further reading

First a caution. You will see people who should know better say some rather strange things about EBR-2. (As I write these claims are both in various Wikipedia articles for example, and are both sourced there so it's not just a matter of removing them from Wikipedia.)


  • Some say that that no IFR has ever been built. EBR-2 generated electricity for thirteen years while configured as an IFR, so that's a rather strange claim. 
  • Some say that their pet designs are based on EBR-2 or on the IFR or both. That's encouraging in some ways! It confirms that the program is known in some circles at least to have been highly successful. But if on examination, it turns out that key features of the IFR are omitted from these supposed successors, it's again a rather strange claim. And those I've examined did not have any of the three key features mentioned above. 


For more details of what EBR-2 really set out to achieve and what was really achieved, just borrow or buy a copy of Plentiful Energy, published 2011 and still in print.


Written for the non-specialist by the experts who were there and saw it from the inside, it is a darned good read.  But like all nuclear homework, depending on what other sources you have become accustomed to trust, you may find it rather challenging. And as with A Brief History of Time, Mortal Error and Origin of Species, if you do read it, you will quickly come to the appalling conclusion that most of those who claim to have read it have not actually bothered to do so. You have been warned!


Which is of course part of the reason they make rather strange claims, such as that no IFR has been built, and that their pet designs are based on it when they aren't at all. Another factor here is that, not seeing any need to check their facts, they assume that you won't check them either. See how to reveal yourself without really trying.


So I invite you to prove them wrong. It is not difficult to do. And it's quite often hilarious. Gotta laugh or cry.


And I hope this will teach you something that sadly, many people never learn. Happy reading!


See also




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