VI . Political Obstacles to Direction Change
The industry has been pushed into this calamitous corner by successive US governments under Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton, halting work on the Closed cycle. Carter banned recycling after the Three Mile Island accident which killed nobody and released insignificant radiation.
All the TMI players were at fault but, for similar reasons, Japan went on to lose 3 more old US reactors at Fukushima. Again, no harm from radiation was caused, as documented by the International Commission on Radiological Protection [ICRP,2014], [Allison, 2009]. The USA and the IAEA are tenacious in pursuit of potential proliferation issues but, collectively with vendors like GE and other nuclear organisations, do not pursue real safety breaches.
Reagan dismantled much of the Fusion energy programme to divert resources to Star Wars, a technically unworkable scheme. The decline of Fusion in the USA continues today.
The US position has influenced the EU so that Germany is closing nuclear plants in favour of coal, French socialists propose to close the most successful nuclear industry in the world, and the UK is turning slowly back to nuclear.
France and the USA built most of the world’s reactors between 1970 and 1990 at a rate of 14 per year. At 18 GW-e per year the USA can replace its aging fleet and reach 625 GW-e, including 100 Breeder Reactors, to end coal by 2050. However, changing direction rapidly has limitations. Top of the list are:
The nuclear industry has failed to make its case.
It could take a full 8 year term of the next US government to authorise the Recycling and Fast Reactor projects. Similar delays may occur in the EU.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (2013) bureaucrats declare that it could take 20 years to develop the regulations. They have no mission or funds to regulate Fast reactors or advanced recycling.
Scientists find it hard to be heard. One quote – on GM organisms – is typical: The belief of the new President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, is that: ‘ … The EU Commission should be in a position to give the view of democratically elected governments at least the same weight as scientific advice …’
China is pushing hard with a Thorium data sharing agreement with ORNL, licences for PWR technology from Areva and Westinghouse for their Chinese designs, and a strong Fusion programme aiming to bypass the international project, ITER. China has set the standard but they will not build 50 reactors a year world-wide.
Our politicians must find alternative advisors, uproot their obstacles to nuclear energy, restore national nuclear laboratories, and change the public image. The knowledge and skills are there and the energy industry, including nuclear, is expert at managing projects of this magnitude. There is not a mountain to climb, just a better direction to go in. The USA looks like a lost cause, leaving others to seize the commercial opportunity valued in $Trillions.
What is shown here is that the Open cycle must be abandoned by everyone to escape the Path to Failure. The Closed cycle prospectus is compelling but persuading the voting population to lose their acquired fears of nuclear power and radiation will be hard. Only public opinion has the power to persuade politicians to move quickly.
The full text of this course on Nuclear Fuel Cycles can be downloaded from the Nuclear Library, Overviews, as a pdf.
Allison, W., 2009: ‘Radiation and Reason’, York Publishing, UK.
BP 2014: Statistical Review of World Energy, 2014:
IAEA 2011 Red Book, latest edition:
McNamara, 2006: Uranium – What is to be done?
McNamara, Oct. 2013: 21st Century Spent Fuel Management:
A turning point lecture on the long term prospects for Nuclear and Fusion energy. (20 min. read)
McNamara 2007, Carbon Free Electricity, Powerpoint.
RT 2014: Russia Today:
* South Korea, 2014: WorldWideScience.org:
Till & Chang, 2011: ‘Plentiful Energy’,
Tokamak Energy 2014:
WNA: World Nuclear Association, 2014: ‘Information Library: Supply of Uranium, Appendix 1’:
Xu Hongjie,China, 2013: Video on Chinese Thorium Project
New technologies create vast wealth and profit. This is illustrated by my article at
Fusion Risks, Innovation & Funding.
1. Does the comparison between China and the West have any impact?
2. How can alternative scientific views get political attention?
3. Are the right people being appointed as heads of agencies and departments?
4. How deep should changes go?Are scattered University labs and facilities sufficient to the tasks ahead?
5. Will new companies and enterprises simply replace the old energy companies or can they adapt?
6. Governments support wind farms for permanently high priced electricity. Should this investment be diverted to Nuclear?