Integral Fast Reactor technology

nuclear_powerReading about an interesting form of nuclear power here, concerning this upcoming book. The Integral Fast Reactor design uses liquid sodium instead of water as the coolant, is passively safe, and addresses many of the concerns about nuclear proliferation, efficiency, and (in part) the long-term storage problems that beset nuclear power. From this interesting FAQ on IFR by proponent George S Stanford:

[The reactors] use liquid sodium for cooling and heat transfer, which makes the system intrinsically safer than one that uses water. That is because the molten sodium runs at atmospheric pressure, which means that there is no internal pressure to cause the type of accident that has to be carefully designed against in an LWR: a massive pipe rupture followed by “blowdown” of the coolant.

Also, sodium is not corrosive like water is.

There is a downside as well: sodium burns in air and reacts with water. As ever with nuclear technology, it seems there are downsides. However I (along with environmentalist George Monbiot) am getting the feeling that nuclear has to be part of the solution to the problems of anthropogenic climate change and peak oil.

[via The Yorkshire Ranter][image from mandj98 on flickr]

5 thoughts on “Integral Fast Reactor technology”

  1. Thanks for the link – I have also posted a review of Prescription for the Planet on my site now, which is now available for purchase on Amazon (i.e. no longer ‘upcoming’).

    Re: “There is a downside as well: sodium burns in air and reacts with water.”

    True, but sodium doesn’t react with stainless steel (the coolant housing), and it is topped with an inert argon layer (the coolant exchange room can also be filled with argon) – this makes it impossible for the sodium to burn. Also, sodium only burns explosively when atomised, which would not be the case here.

  2. Sodium is not corrosive??
    One of the main problems with the French fast breeder Superphénix was that the liquid sodium was so goddamn reactive that it kept eating through the cooling system. It got so bad that the availability was down to between 0 and 30%, and the reactor was eventually shut down.

    Not corrosive indeed.

  3. @2

    I never said sodium wasn’t corrosive, I said it didn’t corrode stainless steel, as was amply demonstrated in the EBR-II experimental reactor at Argonne. Are you claiming otherwise?

    Superphenix was an early learning-by-doing Fast Breeder reactor. You neglected to mention that the corrosion problems encountered at this reactor were rectified, and it subsequently reached 90% of the nominal 1.2GW power output.

  4. Fair enough Boris. But I think Stanford meant what I said, i.e. he was talking about the reactor housing and saying that sodium doesn’t corrode the steel ‘tub’, unlike is the case with the water coolant/moderator in LWR.

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