Fast-neutron reactors can be configured to produce more fuel than they consume, which would increase the already-existing plutonium economy. Even in light-water reactors, a significant fraction of the electricity is generated by fission of plutonium created within the fuel by neutron transmutation of otherwise non-fissile 238U. Excess plutonium can be used to start additional reactors. When sufficient breeder reactors are in service, it will never again be necessary to enrich uranium. This would reduce the cost of fuel, and one who then claims to need to enrich uranium for municipal electricity service would be exposed as a liar who has a weapons program.
Plutonium is not the most toxic substance known. It is less chemotoxic than lead but dangerously radiotoxic if ingested or inhaled; yttrium-90 is 375 times more radiotoxic.
Concerns have been expressed about high-level radioactive waste shipping accidents. With on-site fuel reprocessing, there would be no need for used fuel shipment, and only small and infrequent shipments of fissionable actinides for new reactors, and fission products as impervious insoluble ceramics. At a 5% breeding rate, an IFR could breed enough fissionable material to start a new reactor, eight to ten tonnes, about one cubic meter, every 14 years. Fifty tonnes of natural or depleted uranium, about eight cubic meters, enough for a one GWe reactor's entire service life, could be delivered when the reactor is started.
The current U.S. inventory of fissionable materials is 900 tonnes in the form of used fuel, plus 225 tonnes of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. This is enough to start 110-140 GWe of IFR capacity, and there are no other ideas for its use. At the 5% IFR breeding rate, helped along by used fuel from still-operating light-water reactors, the U.S. reactor fleet could reach 1,700 GWe capacity in 50-60 years without enriching any new uranium, or sooner by enriching uranium, eventually consuming the entire stock of decommissioned weapons and used fuel - which nothing else can do.
A study commissioned by Tony Blair's government and led by Sir Nicholas Stern, former World Bank chief economist and vice president, concluded developed nations should invest 1% of GDP to reduce CO2 emissions by 25-70%, and another 1% to cope with climate change. Spending 2% of U.S. GDP during the 50-60 years required to deploy an all-IFR energy economy would cost at least $20 trillion.
Improvements to the electrical grid necessary to use dispersed and variable sources such as wind and solar would add $4-5 trillion. Storage to mitigate variability would have additional unknown cost.
Deploying 1,700 GWe of IFR capacity would cost $2.1-3.7 trillion, depending upon how quickly experience and economies of scale reduce costs, and would reduce net CO2 emissions by well over 95%.
Russia and France have had sodium-cooled fast-neutron breeder reactors since 1973. China has contracted to buy a BN-800 fast-neutron reactor from Russia. The BN-1200 is under development. India is developing fast-neutron breeder reactors to exploit their vast thorium reserves. American nuclear engineers and scientists are retiring and dying faster than new ones are being prepared. America will soon be a third-world country in energy technology.
Conservation, solar, wind, hydro, and minor renewable players such as tides, waves, geothermal, ocean currents, and biofuels cannot do anything to mitigate the ``nuclear waste'' problem.
The five oft-cited objections to nuclear power are all baseless.
It is clearly obvious that nuclear power in the form of safe fast-neutron breeder reactors with on-site electrorefining must be a necessary (and economical) part of the American energy economy. Should the United States develop the technology, or buy it from France, Russia, China and India?
The sooner we start, the better off we will be.