Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2021
Promoters of “advanced” nuclear reactors tout them as the best future energy source, but the reality is familiar and dismal. A new analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that new reactor designs generate large volumes of radioactive wastes (same as always), are no safer to operate than old designs, and actually increase the risk of radioactive materials falling into the wrong hands.
Untested new designs, often promoted by companies that have lost money from the closure of old reactors, are usually called molten salt reactors, sodium-cooled fast reactors, or high-temperature gas reactors, and are as unsafe as they sound, the UCS says. The schemes all require fuel reprocessing or special uranium fuel, both of which involve complicated supply chains and encourage nuclear terrorism. As usual, questions about long-term storage of (especially liquid) radioactive waste created by the reactors go unanswered by proponents.
This makes it doubly dissapointing that in his recent infrastructure plan President Biden included new reactors as an “important technology.” Tests to establish that the new designs are at all safe will take years. By the time any new designs are properly tested, the UCS said, scientists and engineers could have used government funding to scale-up safe, cheaper, and more reliable renewables like wind and solar. Advancing with nuclear likely leaves us with old fashioned problems that are hugely expensive, dangerous from the start, and deadly waste generators.
— “3 Advanced Reactor Systems to Watch by 2030,” Energy.gov, April 12; “Not So Advanced,” Natural Resources Defense Council, March 24; “Scientists Say Advanced Nuclear Reactors Not Safer than Conventional Plants,” Insurance Journal, March 22; “‘Advanced’ Isn’t Always Better,” Union of Concerned Scientists, March 18, 2021