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on January 4, 2012
The subtitle of Till and Chang's book "Plentiful Energy" is "The complex history of a simple reactor technology, with emphasis on its scientific bases for non-specialists". The key here is that, akin to powered flight, the technology for fully and safely recycling nuclear fuel turns out to be rather simple and elegant, in hindsight, but it was hard to establish this fact - hence the complex history. Like with aviation, there have been many prototype `fast reactors' of various flavors, and all have had problems.

This wonderful book by fast-reactor pioneers Charles Till and Yoon Chang, two of the foundational developers of the IFR during the fabulously productive years of research and development at the Argonne National Laboratory from the 1980s to early 1990s, explains in lucid terms the historical, philosophical and technical basis for truly sustainable nuclear energy. It's quite a story.

Imagine a reactor that passively responds to critical stressors of the kind that befell Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima by shutting down without human operators even needing to intervene. Or one that includes a secure recycling and remote fabrication system that, almost Midas like, is able to turn uranium or even old `nuclear waste' from contemporary reactors into an inexhaustible (and zero-carbon) fuel, as well as simultaneously solving the socio-political problem of long-term disposal.

Reading this book will allow you to understand how this technological wizardry is performed and why other fast reactor options never quite worked out. Moreover, you'll have a much deeper appreciation of the true potential of fission energy in a low-carbon and energy-hungry world - and an insight into what has stopped it reaching its potential, to date. There is something here for the non-specialist scientist and engineer, but also for the historian, social scientist, and media commenter. It is wrapped up in a grand narrative and an inspiring vision that will appeal to people from all walks of life - indeed anyone who cares about humanity's future and wants to leave a bright legacy for future generations that is not darkened by the manifold problems associated with extracting and burning ever dwindling and environmentally damaging forms of fossil carbon, like coal, oil and gas.

For the sake of averting crises of energy scarcity, mitigating the ever mounting global problem of anthropogenic climate change, as well as drastically reducing the pressure on society to make huge swathes of productive landscapes hostage to biofuels and other diffuse forms of energy collection, we need to continue the historical impetus towards ever more energy-dense fuels. For this sustainable nuclear technology, the sky is the limit.

Barry W. Brook
Professor of Climate Science and Conservation Biology
The University of Adelaide
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on January 3, 2012
Plentiful Energy describes, in plain language, the record of an exceptionally efficient nuclear-waste-burning power reactor facility of tomorrow that was built yesterday (1964), was proven, was operated flawlessly for 30 years, and was then shut down by Congress. It is a personal tale by the authors, Charles Till and Yoon Chang, who were instrumental in the scientific success of this nuclear plant at the Argonne National Laboratories in Idaho. Their pride speaks volumes for this American scientific accomplishment and their agony is palpable in their account of the politics that stopped the most important advance in safe nuclear physics and engineering, with safety levels that would have avoided the consequences of Fukushima Daiichi, of Three-Mile-Island and of Chernobyl.

The book, sprinkled copiously with why's and wherefore's and their answers, is intended for the non-specialist and for the non-technical reader. It meets this goal admirably, in that the neophyte will enjoy the very human aspects of the science while wanting to skim over some of the scientific details, whereas the more expert in nuclear matters would want more technical details than are given. The latter can dig into the numerous references. All in all it is a very readable educational book about a most important chapter in American scientific history. Nuclear proponents might well rejoice in the potential outlined and despair in the potential foregone. Antinuclear advocates might want to reconsider their stance in light of the potential of eliminating existing nuclear fuel waste. Politicians may shake their heads at the decisions of their predecessors in light of current nuclear waste policy difficulties. Most of all it is a thought-provoking read.

Of the fourteen chapters in the book the first four are devoted to the human elements of the science, the people, the interactions and the relationship of nuclear energy to other energy sources. Only then are we introduced to the thinking that led to the choices of the specific power plant design.

The reactor facility that was chosen incorporated only two major components that together constituted the IFR, the Integral Fast Reactor facility. The first was a sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactor, the metal-fueled EBR-II, capable at that time already of consuming in one pass 20% of nuclear uranium fuel or of used nuclear fuel waste that includes long-lived plutonium, americium, curium, etc. No power reactor can claim this, even today, where all water-cooled reactors consume less than 1% of the mined uranium. Those 20% uranium or other heavy atoms are turned into smaller atoms whose radioactivity decays to background levels in two to three hundred years as opposed to the several hundred thousand years for the original plutoniums. The second component was a pyroprocessor, an electrorefiner operating at high temperature in a molten salt bath, which separated the smaller atoms from the remaining 80% uranium and other heavy atoms. These heavy atoms, still being fuel, could be topped up with 20% used nuclear fuel waste from other reactors or depleted uranium from reprocessing plants, and cycled back into the reactor for further rounds of 20% utilization. Thus in five cycles one complete reactor-full of fuel or of currently stored used nuclear fuel waste would be completely consumed.

The authors make it clear that this complete 100% utilization of nuclear fuel from whatever existing source would increase or extend the energy from nuclear power reactors about 100-fold over current fuel consumption levels. This is carbon-free power for electricity or for use as industrial and private heat available for a very long time, centuries, while using up currently stored nuclear fuel waste in the process. Just as clear is the message that the long-term radioactive burden of that waste is reduced by a factor of 1000 to 100,000 as it is consumed, depending on what level is used as a background comparison. There would be no highly radioactive long-lived heavy atoms left at all above background levels. Likewise, after 300 years, even strontium-90 is gone and so is cesium-137, the most worrisome remaining radioactive isotopes among the small atom products.

The book was written after the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe in Japan. Therefore a complete chapter, Chapter 7, is devoted to a discussion of safety of the EBR-II reactor. Detailed characteristics are described for continual non-power-requiring removal of decay heat from the reactor core (the bane of the Fukushima Daiichi and of the Three-Mile-Island reactors), and for reactor shut down without human or automated intervention under conditions of no cooling for the reactor core (the cause of the Chernobyl disaster). The EBR-II reactor at full power was tested under these rather severe conditions in 1986 and passed easily even with deliberately inactivated control rods. Its safety features are a proven fact, not calculated probabilities. Thus this fast-neutron reactor, operating in the U.S.A. from 1964 to 1994, would have avoided the sequellae of all three major nuclear happenings.

The book is well worth the read. I could not put it down until I had read it twice.

Peter Ottensmeyer
Professor Emeritus
University of Toronto
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on May 28, 2012
"Plentiful Energy" by C. E. Till and Y.I. Chang. The story of the integral fast reactor, a technology for closing the nuclear fuel cycle and solving the energy problem for a century, and a story of how not to run a government energy development program, unfortunately ours. The IFR can recycle and fully use its fuel, starting with the transuranics in the spent nuclear fuel sitting around the country, and it is passively safe--two enormous advantages over present nuclear power reactors. This is an inspiring story of a scientific program developed to provide unlimited energy for a century with a passively safe, proliferation-resistant reactor, and a discouraging story of the anti-nukes who managed to embed themselves in democratic administrations and kill the program. Carter, Clinton and now Obama all paid off the anti-nuclear movement, which helped put them in office, with actions that were cheap to them in political capital, but terribly expensive for the future of the country. Till and Chang led the development of the IFR and were at the center of the story they relate.
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on January 12, 2012
This book provides an inside look at the history, technology and political aspects of one of the most important energy technology developments in nuclear power. It provides important insight into how decisions are made in our political system, sometimes contrary to the best technical decisions. I recommend this book to anyone interested in energy policy development for the U.S.
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on March 7, 2012
This is an excellent book by two distinguished scientists. What they have written is extremely important to the energy picture for the entire world. Having participated in the develpment of the fast breeder reactor and being involved with almost all the major events described in the book, I can categorically state that Drs. Till and Chang have captured the essence of the importance of the IFR. While there a couple of places where the non-technical person might be left wondering, their questions will be answered as they continue reading. The IFR is really as good as they say!
To ignore the research is to pass up one of the finest solutions to energy needs that we have to date.

Thanks Chuck and Yoon!

Dick
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on January 27, 2012
The idea of nuclear power technology that generates enough fuel to sustain expanding energy consumption, the "Plentiful Energy" of this book, was originated by Enrico Fermi after the successful operation of Chicago Pile 1 (CP-1) in 1942. His idea was to develop a nuclear technology that produced more fuel than it consumed. He identified the basic elements of the required reactor and fuel technology: a nuclear reactor operating with "fast" (high energy) neutrons, and a closed "integral" fuel cycle. Walter Zinn, a co-worker of Fermi at CP-1 and the first Director of Argonne National Laboratory, carried this idea into experimental research and development. The authors of this book built on Zinn's work, directing a program at Argonne to mature the technology toward commercial application, with emphasis on reactor safety and fuel cycle economics.

This book tells the technical story of the Integral Fast Reactor project at Argonne National Laboratory from 1984 to 1994. The scope of the story is broad and whole. The depth of the details may sometimes be challenging for the general reader. But the essence of the book is the record of scientific research and development at the highest level, reflecting the level of accomplishment attainable by dedicated scientists and engineers. The authors make the case that the Integral Fast Reactor technology, grown from early concepts, can be the basis for an inexhaustible future energy source.
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on February 5, 2012
The authors set out to write a history with an emphasis on its scientific foundations for technical non-specialists. In that they have succeeded. Where Tom Blees "Prescription for the Planet" provided a good layperson's introduction to the IFR, this book provides a more thorough insider's history and provides an excellent non-specialist technical description of fast reactor technology. The arrow of industrial history points towards higher density and safer energy sources, suggesting that fast reactor technology will eventually achieve large scale penetration - China is so confident of its Russian derived technology, that it has already committed to a fast reactor program that will overtake their already large-scale light water reactor program by mid-century. That the "climate change sympathetic" Clinton administration could cancel the IFR project is testamant to the diabolical internal contradictions sometimes evident in energy politics. Perhaps the IFR will be like the Apple Newton of the same era - ahead of its time, but a prelude to the eventual iPhone that defined smart-phone technology.
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on February 24, 2012
This timely book covers the 60 years of history of nuclear power from the perspective of the leading US research lab. Of real interest is that the conclusions represent results of 40 years of in-depth study and experimentation and 30 years of operation of an integrated fast reactor (IFR).

The book has an approachable style, with remarkably clear explanations of some extremely complex issues. Each chapter has a good introduction and a clear summary conclusion. While the nuclear chemistry is beyond most people's understanding, there is ample text explanation and summary of the results and implications. For those with the science background, there is a very complete bibliography. There are occasional lapses in editing, but these do not interrupt the flow.

The book shows that the USA, and other nations with nuclear power, have an abundant supply of ready-made fuel to power our economies for centuries while we clean up two serious long-term problems: nuclear 'waste' and the nuclear materials from nuclear warheads. Current nuclear reactors, whether light-water, heavy-water (Candu) or boiling water, utilize only 0.7% of the energy in their nuclear fuel. The rest is discarded, leaving dangerous nuclear 'waste'. The de-activated warheads contain the material needed to produce bombs (obviously). These are serious problems which cannot be ignored. Fortunately this 'waste' is best disposed of by using as fuel - the Plentiful Energy of the title.

The technology they propose is the integrated fast reactor (IFR). The technology is proven with 30 years of continuous operating experience. The authors were deeply involved in the design and operation - they do know what they are talking about. This is not a journalist's or ghost writer's account 'as told to'.

The term 'integrated' refers to the processes to fully utilize and re-process the waste fuel until the radiation hazard is reduced by a factor of over 1000. With the integrated process fuel never leaves the facility so there is no risk of it being stolen or risk of accident in transit. The reactor is not pressurized so can't 'burst' or explode. The fuel must be contained within shielding at all times so theft is not an issue. The fuel includes actinides which make it useless for bombs (nations have tried and it doesn't work). Once the fuel has been fully utilized there is a lot less of it, and what is left over needs to be stored for only 100 years instead of over 100,000 years. And best of all, it fully utilizes the wasted 99% of the nuclear energy - i.e. over 100 times the energy generated in the old nuclear power plant. Truly plentiful energy through a truly integrated solution that will clean up a lot of the mess made in the last 50 years.

Nukes provide about 17% of USA electrical energy - the current spent-fuel at those reactors could fuel the nation for centuries.
In the UK in 2012 it is proposed that these technologies be used to deal with their spent-fuel and nuclear armaments, which will generate sufficient power for the nation for 500 years.

It is unfortunate that few will be prepared to approach this book with an open mind. The book does not gloss over the risks arising from the mistakes that led to the current state of nuclear power - many mistakes were made. Ignoring the problems won't help any more than exaggerating them. Fortunately the authors' perspective allows them to both acknowledge the problems and address many common misunderstandings which lead to exaggerated claims, while providing positive proven solutions. The authors have applied a great deal of thought with many other very intelligent people over 40 years to address these problems, and spent billions of dollars to develop these integrated technologies. It would be a shame for ignorance to prevail, preventing us from taking advantage of this work and leaving us with the mess made of nuclear technologies and weapons in the 20th century.
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on February 6, 2012
The authors of this book and their team were about to lead the US and the world into a technology of abundant, safe and clean electrical power. It was frustrated by ignorance, prejudice and political expediency. It will eventually come but probably through China and Russia.
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on November 26, 2012
I needed to learn more about how it worked, and whether I could be satisfied as to its safety. It seems safe enough to me, and would guarantee our fuel supply for tens of thousands of years. It could support an industrial economy the way wind and solar never could. This is my image of an open future.
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