Clean the Cat Box

by Susan von Borstel

What if there was a cat box that was not only self-cleaning, but it recycled the waste into quality cat food? On a much larger scale a technology is now available to solve our energy crisis. It recycles the dangerous spent fuel we have created in our nuclear power plants into new fuel to make electric power. We have enough waste to power the world for several centuries.

If it's true, I would have thought everyone, especially the politicians, would have heard of this clean, safe, economical solution. Such an invention would, quite literally, save the planet from decay. It would solve the man-made part of global warming. It might be the most important invention in history.

There is a good reason why we haven't heard of it. Our best nuclear scientists invented the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) over a 30-year period ending in 1994 at Argonne National Lab in Idaho. They were assigned by congress to solve the problems of proliferation, spent fuel storage, fuel supply, and safety. Talk about visionary, long-term thinking!

Just as the resulting technology was ready to show to the public President Clinton, under pressure from anti-nuclear activists, canceled it. The scientists in Idaho were ordered by the Dept. of Energy to not publicize their accomplishments. Canceling the IFR was a huge mistake. At the time Senator Kempthorne said, "I assure my colleagues someday our nation will regret and reverse this shortsighted decision. But complete or not, the concept and the work done to prove it remain genius and a great contribution to the world."

The IFR is a fourth generation breeder reactor that provides a clean, inexhaustible source of power. It's comparatively cheap, with virtually no waste. It's inherently safe (if the cooling system shuts down for any reason, the reactor shuts down naturally rather than melting down). Best of all the dangerous spent fuel from our current nukes is recycled.

Everything about fourth generation power is different. We have to open our minds to new ideas to overcome aversions to all things 'nuclear.' A growing number of people, like Bill Gates, are now supporting 4th generation research. (Seattle Post Intelligencer)

General Electric has created a modular commercial fourth generation IFR plant design called the S-PRISM. GE is ready and willing to build a plant to demonstrate the technical feasibility of a commercial-scale operation. Are there any other promising technologies that have no emissions and the potential to displace coal plants (whose emissions kill around 25,000 people a year) that are ready to build and scale to the world's needs? Wind, solar and other renewables will help but they can't solve the whole problem.

We made a big investment to successfully develop safe, clean, economical, electric power generation in the Eighties and Nineties, and the technology is available today when we need it. That seems like a miracle to me.

Now we need another miracle: We need our government to get on board. We need the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to accelerate the approval of the plant design, and we need to allow utilities to start building this clean, safe kind of power plant. They can even be retrofit into existing nuclear and coal plants.

California has a ban on new nuclear plants until the waste problem is solved. Building S-PRISM IFR power plants solves the waste problem. Let's help make California a leader in encouraging our utilities to start developing this promising technology here. If California needs to change the law, let's change it quickly.

For around $50 million we could install an S-PRISM mockup reactor vessel to expedite certification and licensing by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That's a small price to pay to prove we have a silver bullet to solve the global warming problem. This is too good an opportunity to pass up.

I highly recommend the new book by Davis resident, Tom Blees, Prescription for the Planet (available at For ten years Tom consulted with the scientists who developed the IFR, and created a very readable, informative and even funny book that will change the way you see the world (and the news). It turns old fears into rational hope. The IFR is arguably the single most important thing we can do to stop global warming. I believe it's time to bring it out of the closet. More information is available at