Congress needs to look hard at the rationale for a fast reactor program.
Late last year, the Energy Department (DOE) began work on a new flagship nuclear project, the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR), a sodium-cooled fast reactor. If completed, the project will dominate nuclear power research at DOE. The department’s objective is to provide the groundwork for building lots of fast-power reactors. This was a dream of the old Atomic Energy Commission, DOE’s predecessor agency. The dream is back. But before this goes any further, Congress needs to ask, what is the question to which the VTR is the answer? It won’t be cheap and there are some serious drawbacks in cost, safety, but mainly in its effect on nonproliferation.