by Susan von Borstel
For most of my life I could not have used the words, "peace" and "nuclear", in the same sentence. Now I can't seem to separate them. Research into the current solutions to the world's greatest challenges; peace, climate change and competition for resources tell me that while solar, wind and other renewables will help, they are "too little, too late". There is plenty of debate about whether these renewables can supply enough power to replace the CO2 emitters like oil and coal power (which kills 100,000 people world wide annually). Our grandchildren's lives hang in the balance. We need reliable, clean, safe power within the next few decades. Seeking worldwide control of oil by force or using prodigious amounts of water to extract oil from shale as recently touted by Big Oil are not the answers.
Luckily, there is hope. A new program exists that mitigates man's contribution to global warming, allowing time for renewables like solar and wind to prove themselves, but backs them up with a reliable and safe alternative. This alternative is to have the Nuclear regulatory Commission quickly certify General Electric's PRISM Integral Fast Reactor (IFR). With directives from the Obama administration we could certify and build the first working 360MW PRISM reactor within five years. If, in five years, renewables are found to be insufficient to end our need for dirty energy like coal and gas, we can begin one of the largest public works projects in history in terms of jobs and benefits to mankind by installing PRISMs on decommissioned nuclear and coal power plant sites, as well as building new plants. Like coal, gas, wood or any fuel that is used to heat water to run a steam generator, the PRISM reactor creates heat. It consists of 30-foot-wide 360-megawatt modules buried underground. Multiple PRISMS can be placed on a site as needed. They are modular and relatively quick to build. It's life insurance for our grandchildren. Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, has laid out this plan of action to combat climate change and I believe it would circumvent resulting resource wars.
PRISM reactors are a new, safe (they physically can't melt down), modular (very economical), available way to harness the power of the atom. They turn our stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel into electrical power. We have enough free fuel on earth for hundreds of years, already mined. Whereas the nuclear power plants in use today around the world utilize less than 1% of the energy available in the mined uranium, the PRISM can utilize 100% and turn it into clean electricity. The PRISM's economical energy provides added benefits. Desalination of ocean water will be increasingly necessary as the planet heats and glaciers that supply tens of millions of people melt away. 70% of the earth is covered with water and only 2.5% of that is fresh water. 70% of the fresh water is frozen at the poles. Over 2,000,000 people a year die from a lack of clean water. Fast reactor technology has already been proven for desalination in Kazakhstan where a similar reactor was used to produce energy and fresh water for over 30 years starting back in the Seventies. It was shut down in 1999 at the end of its planned life.
Most opponents to nuclear technologies cite statistics from our 2nd generation nuclear reactors. There are approximately one hundred 2nd generation nuclear power reactors in operation in the U.S. They currently produce 20% of our electricity, eliminating 400,000,000 tons of CO2 every year from coal and other dirty power producers. PRISM reactors are 4th generation and are far superior in every way. Joseph Shuster, the author of Beyond Fossil Fools, explores the viability of renewable energy sources. He says, "Only nuclear energy delivered by modern fast neutron reactors (i.e. PRISM reactors) can rescue the world from energy disaster, simple as that". The IFR was painstakingly prepared for us by the dedicated scientists at Argonne National Laboratory in Idaho beginning 48 years ago. Due to anti-nuclear politics it was shelved in 1994 just when it was proven and ready for prime time. Today, world peace and stability demand adequate clean power. PRISMs get rid of nuclear waste economically, provide safe electric power, can help with water shortages and are ready to be approved and built. They are the answer we've been looking for. Local author Tom Blees recently published "Prescription for the Planet" The Painless Remedy for Our Energy and Environmental Crises", a book on peaceful energy solutions including the Integral Fast Reactor. He will speak about this subject, and its growing acceptance among scientists and politicians, at the Avid Reader in Davis on February 7th at 7:30 pm. Please come, listen, and join the discussion following his talk.