b'C HAPTER T WENT Y -F OURT H E U RA N I U M T RA I L F A D E SWe are eliminating programs that are no longer needed, such as nuclear power research and development. (Applause.)President Bill Clinton, State of the Union Address, 1993T years, this solid little sodium-cooled had the additional benefit of not causingreactor had run safely and reliably, con- corrosion or the crud that went with it. 2he technicians tributing electricity steadily to the Site.loaded EBR-II with the new IFR fuel The coolant, which had a poor reputa- The designers of the IFR fuel felt that itspins. Made of plutonium, uranium, and tion among some engineers because it safety reliability rested on the fact thatzirconium, the fuel pins conducted heat reacts with water and air, in fact con- hot metal expands. If the pencil-thin fuelwell, a virtue that helped to keep the ducted heat (very well) and operated at pins overheated, the metal would swelltemperature of the fuel low. atmospheric pressure. The piping was and the plutonium and uranium atomsFurthermore, the first test assemblies never subjected to the stresses intro- would move farther apart from onehad achieved a nineteen to twenty per- duced to a system when water circulat- another and lose reactivity. If the coolantcent burnup rate, which was far better ed under high pressure. In practical failed to circulate for some reason, thethan what Charles Till considered nec- experience, the sodium coolant had chain reaction should shut down beforeessary for commercial feasibility. proved to be a non-problem. Sodium the fuel could melt, all without any helpCommercial water-moderat- from scram buttons or con-ed reactors were still averag- trol rods.ing only three to four percentburnup. If the rest of the IFR At least, that was the prin-tests went as well as the fuel ciple to be proved. As inburnup demonstration, the the exciting days of theIFR might change the world 1950s, Argonne invited dis-of nuclear energy rather dra- tinguished visitors from allmatically. 1 over the worldutilityexecutives, scientists, andThis April day in 1986 was representatives of govern-the moment to prove that a mentsto witness whatnuclear reactor could be safe they hoped would be a his-because of the natural laws toric day. The plan was toof physics, not because of simulate a complete electri-complex, highly engineered Argonne National Laboratory-West 13277-29 cal blackout occurringemergency systems and consistent Visitors at EBR-II during the first test on April 3, while the reactor operated at full power.human performance. The reactor sat in 1986, watch gauges that show the coolant They would initiate two types of acci-EBR-IIs tank of liquid sodium coolant, temperature riseand fallafter the coolant pump dents that day. In the first, the pumpsready for the test. For over twenty failed. would fail to move the coolant, pre-234'