Summary of open letter from Arnold Gundersen to Bill Gates

Bill Gates is proposing to build a sodium-cooled Small Modular Reactor (SMR) in Wyoming. Nuclear expert Arnold Gundersen has written an open letter detailing why it’s a very bad idea. Below are some highlights. Anything in quotation marks is a direct quote from Gundersen’s letter. The full text of Gundersen’s letter can be found here.

“World-renowned energy economist Mycle Schneider calls Natrium and the other proposed conceptual reactors ‘PowerPoint Reactors’ as none are close to being fully designed.”

“The Union of Concerned Scientists recently (2021) completed an exhaustive study (that says in part): “Nearly all of the NLWRs currently on the drawing board fail to provide significant enough improvements over LWRs to justify their considerable risks.”

“According to Scientific American (2014) Sodium has significant disadvantages. On contact with air, it burns; plunged into water, it explodes.”

Fermi I, a commercial-sized fast-breeder reactor now owned by DTE Energy, operated in Michigan from 1963 to 1966 “The benefits were negative. Barely three years after Fermi 1 came online, a partial fuel meltdown in 1966 brought it down.”

“Beginning in 1950, the Navy attempted to develop a sodium-cooled reactor for the Seawolf submarine.” (It operated from April 1957 until early 1959, then the nuclear plant was placed inside a stainless steel tank and deposited on the ocean floor 120 miles east of Maryland. Since then its whereabouts are unknown).

(The Navy discontinued its use of) “…the sodium-powered reactor due to its leaks, volatility, sodium-reactor repairs take too long, and radiation exposure to workers was too high.” 

Tennessee’s Clinch River project was discontinued in 1984 without ever becoming operational. It had been under development for about 30 years. Tests on video showed: “concrete exploding when it came in contact with liquid sodium.”

A sodium-cooled fast breeder reactor was built at the Monju site in Fukui Prefecture, Japan. Construction proceeded between 1986 and 1994. Emergency shut down in 1995 after four months operation due to a sodium leak and fire. “Monju was restarted in 2010 and operated for less than one year when the equipment used for refueling fell into the reactor while refueling was in progress. It never restarted…Monju’s costs ultimately exceeded $11 Billion.”

France, arguably the world leader in nuclear technology, considered and rejected sodium reactors. “…given the repeated failures of sodium-cooled technology in Japan and the U.S., and with the falling price of renewable power, in 2019, France chose not to pursue the path…”

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