The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) project: Congress Q&A

For more info, see:
The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) project: A critical technology for controlling climate change

George Stanford answers a set of excellent questions posed by a congressional chief of staff:
Who is pushing it and what do they stand to gain? 
        It's being pushed by people who understand the urgency of the need to embark on a long-term, sustainable energy policy.  I don't think they have anything to gain, financially -- certainly I and my colleagues don't.  Corporations or consortia that get contracts might gain, but they don't seem to be pushing at this point.
Who is opposed to it?
        The main opposition comes from environmental groups with a strong financial interest in collecting contributions from a worried public.  While they tend to get many facts wrong, the fundamental flaw in their position is their failure to recognize that the world is turning more and more to nuclear power as an important part of their energy mix, and that U.S. leadership in the field is vital for preventing the largely unsafeguarded spread of weapons-capable technology.
        There also is a marked tendency to seriously overestimate the amount that intermittent, "renewable" sources such as wind and solar power can realistically contribute to the nation's energy mix.
Why did this project get killed in the first place?
        The Secretary of Energy, Hazel O'Leary, said this: "The Integral Fast Reactor program is inconsistent with the President's non-proliferation priorities for three basic reasons."  For a brief discussion of those reasons and their validity, see O'Leary Problems.pdf
Why it hasn't been part of the national energy discussion of the last
few years?
        For a confluence of reasons.
-  The program was killed before it was quite ready for commercial demonstration, so it could not be promoted as fully ready for deployment;
-  resumed federal support would have been needed, and nuclear power was politically incorrect;
-  global warming was not front-and-center, as it is now;
-  there did not seem to be an imminent energy shortage;
-  there was no entity that saw the potential for a near-term profit;
-  etc.
Has private money gotten behind this?
        General Electric claims to be willing and able to do a commercial demonstration.  I don't know how much of their own money they have invested.

Why should this be put into the stimulus next month without any
congressional deliberation, rather than have all of the issues looked at
by expert committees (like E&C) over the next several months as we draft
comprehensive climate-energy legislation?  "The sooner the better" isn't
really a convincing argument.
        The seed money needed for a commercial demo is a very tiny fraction of the proposed stimulus.  The main policy discussions would presumably come after the results of the demo are in.

Why this project deserves a billion dollar earmark more than the dozens
of other alternative energy technologies that have been put forward?
        While other energy-producing technologies might have one or more of the following features, the IFR technology offers this unique combination:
-  It is a technology for supplying baseload electricity -- an alternative to coal.  It produces no greenhouse gases or other atmospheric pollutants.  The intermittent sources, such as wind, solar, and tidal energy, cannot serve as baseload sources without hopelessly expensive backup or energy-storage facilities,
-  It can consume as fuel all but a residual 1% or less of the long-lived transuranic elements -- the ones that cause people to want to guarantee the integrity of the waste repository (such as Yucca Mountain) for a million years.  Waste from the IFR will decay to a level below any realistic concern in less than 500 years, and that can be managed relatively easily.
-  It can forestall the need for a new waste repository for decades, perhaps forever.
-  It has outstanding safety characteristics, including passive shutdown under off-normal conditions.
-  It is now ready for commercial demonstration, in contrast to other promising-on-paper nuclear-reactor concepts.
-  It can gradually consume the inventory of plutonium now accumulating in spent fuel around the world, until eventually the only (non-military) plutonium in the world is securely segregated in an operating reactor system.
-  It can rapidly degrade the excess weapons plutonium that is now on hand, destroying its weapons potential while providing energy.
-  Its fuel is readily recycled on site, with a non-aqueous process that is not capable of producing weapons-usable plutonium from used reactor fuel, eventually eliminating the need to transport spent fuel.
-  With on-site recycling, the only fuel input an IFR plant needs is U-238 (or other actinides) (one ton per GWe-yr) for makeup, and the only radioactive output is a ton of fission products, with a small amount of actinide contamination.
-  It is able to extract essentially all the energy that now remains in used reactor fuel -- 20 times as much as has been used so far.
-  By using depleted uranium as makeup fuel, it extracts from the mined uranium more than 100 times as much energy as now is used.
-  As a consequence, IFRs can supply the nation's energy without for the need for further mining for centuries, and with no more need for uranium enrichment, ever.

How many jobs will this create? (the primary purpose of the stimulus),
        I think most of the expenditures to establish the IFR technology would be (or could be) domestic, with domestic subcontractors, and there should be an international market for the finished product.  I'm no economist, but is it not true that the number of jobs per dollar spent domestically is more-or-less independent of what the money is spent on?

Anything else you can provide in the way of materials that back-up your
statements would be helpful as well
        The increasing use of nuclear power around the world means an increasing need for uranium-enrichment and fuel-reprocessing services.  Those are technologies that can be subverted to the production of weapons-usable uranium and plutonium, respectively.   Needed is some organized international means to provide such services, with an iron-clad guarantee that a nation will have access to fuel for its reactors even if it forgoes the acquisition of indigenous enrichment and reprocessing facilities.  The GNEP (Global Nuclear Energy Partnership) is an important step in that direction.  There currently are 25 nations signed up, but the process is sure to founder unless the United States becomes actively dedicated to its success.  The IFR fast-reactor technology plays an important role in any GNEP-type process.  Without U.S. leadership, it's hard to see the needed international arrangements coming to pass, and it will be every nation for itself.

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Other answers to the same question set:

IFR Q&A by George Stanford
IFR Q&A by Tom Blees
IFR Q&A by Steve Kirsch

Other documents of interest include:
O'Leary Problems.pdf (George Stanford explains why O'Leary's reasons for canceling the IFR don't make sense)
Plentiful Energy and the IFR Story: Article by Charles Till explaining the IFR (a must read)
Tell Barack Obama the Truth -- The Whole Truth (article by James Hansen on why restarting the IFR should be a priority)
Mark Lynas: the green heretic persecuted for his nuclear conversion (article by Mark Lynas)
The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) project: Q&A (summary of Q&A compiled by Steve Kirsch)