Is MIT Afraid to Debate Nuclear Report?

Earlier this year, the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) released a study entitled "The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle." The key recommendations of that study have been called into question by a group of prominent nuclear and climate change experts.
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Earlier this year, the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) released a study entitled "The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle."

The key recommendations of that study have been called into question by a group of prominent nuclear and climate change experts who challenged MIT to defend their study in a debate at a place and time of MIT's choosing.

MIT's response was effectively, "How about we talk about something else instead?"

I agree with the challengers. The recommendations in the MIT study are not only wrong, but they endanger the future of our planet.

I believe MIT must know this, which is why they refused to accept the challenge to debate from such a well-qualified group of experts. The experts challenging the MIT study include:
  • Congressman John Garamendi: former Lt. Governor of California and the most knowledgeable member of Congress on the nuclear fuel cycle
  • Dr. James Hansen: arguably one of the most brilliant climate scientists in the world
  • Dr. Yoon Chang: Distinguished Fellow at Argonne National Laboratories who headed up advanced nuclear development for over a decade
  • Professor Barry Brook: a highly respected climate scientist who is also an expert on fast spectrum nuclear reactors
  • Ray Hunter: former Deputy Director of the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) who was involved in civilian nuclear power at DOE for nearly 3 decades

If there is any lesson to be learned from Fukushima on a technical side, it is that we need to be pursuing even safer nuclear designs and we need to do something about all the stored waste. That means investing aggressively now in safer reactor designs (like the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR)) and in reactor designs that safely get rid of the waste (the IFR again). The MIT Report basically says it is OK to not do this for decades while various alternatives can be studied. That is stupid and wrong.

One of our country's best and brightest nuclear scientists is Chuck Till. I asked him how to best advance nuclear science and safety. His answer was unequivocal: you build them and you learn from your mistakes; you can only get so far with computer simulations. The MIT Report tells us not to do this...that we have plenty of time to decide what to do. That's just so incredibly wrong. We needed a safe way to dispose of the nuclear waste years ago. Fukushima confirmed that in spades.

We had a way to get rid of that waste, but we cancelled the project and MIT Energy Initiative head Professor Ernie Moniz says we shouldn't build an IFR for decades. He says "it is a low priority." That's bad advice. Doing so just opens the door to the next Fukushima which will lead to even more countries choosing to abandon nuclear for irrational reasons. But if we had a working new reactor design that shuts down safely in disasters with no power requirement, no operator intervention, and no safety systems, and a reactor design that consumes the dangerous waste product from today's nuclear reactors, the reaction to Fukushima would be a call to switch existing reactors to the new safer reactors.

The study recommendations would deny the world that choice. Even though we have a bird in the hand with the IFR which time and time again has proven itself up to the task (and was rated the single best nuclear design overall by an international panel of 242 nuclear experts), Moniz says "don't build it... keep waiting for something better; this is a low priority." It reminds me of the book Waiting for Godot. Godot never shows up. We have a "bird in the hand" solution now. We ought to build it now. If a better design comes along later, that's fine, we can switch horses at that time and ramp that up. But to hold off doing anything right now is just stupid, bad advice that should not be allowed to go unchallenged.

Is Professor Moniz afraid to defend his report? If he's right, he has nothing to fear.

Today, the challenge to debate from Congressman Garamendi, James Hansen, Yoon Chang, Barry Brook, and Ray Hunter remains unanswered.

All of my nuclear friends told me that MIT would never agree to a debate because Professor Moniz knows he'd lose badly.

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