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Admiral Rickover’s ‘Paper Reactor’ memo

Admiral Rickover’s ‘Paper Reactor’ memo

2023-05-25 23:40:20

Hyman Rickover

Vital selections relative to the long run growth of atomic energy should steadily be
made by individuals who don’t essentially have an intimate information of the technical features
of reactors. These individuals are, nonetheless, concerned about what a reactor plant will do,
how a lot it would price, how lengthy it would take to construct, and the way lengthy and the way effectively it
will function. After they try and study these items, they turn out to be conscious of confusion
present within the reactor enterprise. There seems to be unresolved battle on virtually each
subject that arises.

I consider that this confusion stems from failure to tell apart between the educational and
the sensible. These obvious conflicts can often be defined solely when the assorted
features of the difficulty are resolved into their educational and sensible elements. To help in
this decision, it’s attainable to outline in a normal means these traits which
distinguish the one from the opposite.

An educational reactor or reactor plant virtually all the time has the next primary traits:

  1. It’s easy.
  2. It’s small.
  3. It’s low-cost.
  4. It’s mild.
  5. It may be constructed in a short time.
  6. It is extremely versatile in goal (“omnibus reactor”)
  7. Little or no growth is required. It is going to use largely “off-the-shelf” elements.
  8. The reactor is within the examine section. It’s not being constructed now.

However, a sensible reactor plant could be distinguished by the next
traits:

  1. It’s being constructed now.
  2. It’s delayed.
  3. It’s requiring an immense quantity of growth on apparently trivial objects.
    Corrosion, specifically, is an issue.
  4. It is extremely costly.
  5. It takes a very long time to construct due to the engineering growth issues.
  6. It’s giant.
  7. It’s heavy.
  8. It’s difficult.

A standard instance could be given to point the applying of the above generalities:

A reasonably typical educational energy reactor may use pure or barely enriched
uranium rods during which the burn-up is a minimal of 10,000 mwd / ton. The fission
merchandise are confined to the gasoline ingredient by a easy cladding approach. The weather
function in excessive strain water at 600 °F.1

Within the sensible reactor, difficulties are encountered. No ingredient of the above sort has
been carried to greater than 4000 mwd / ton. Eight years of labor at Hanford and associated
laboratories have failed to provide a cladding approach which supplies actually passable
efficiency in water at 200 °F. At 600 °F uranium reacts violently when uncovered to water.
The Chalk River expertise exhibits the issue of sustaining a plant during which some
fission merchandise have escaped.

The instruments of the academic-reactor designer are a bit of paper and a pencil with an
eraser. If a mistake is made, it may possibly all the time be erased and altered. If the practical-
reactor designer errs, he wears the error round his neck; it can’t be erased.
Everybody can see it.

The tutorial-reactor designer is a dilettante. He has not needed to assume any actual
accountability in connection along with his tasks. He’s free to luxuriate in elegant concepts,
the sensible shortcomings of which could be relegated to the class of “mere technical
particulars.” The sensible-reactor designer should stay with these identical technical particulars.
Though recalcitrant and awkward, they should be solved and can’t be delay till
tomorrow. Their options require man energy, time, and cash.

Sadly for individuals who should make far-reaching selections with out the good thing about an
intimate information of reactor expertise and sadly for the public, it
is far simpler to get the educational aspect of a problem than the sensible aspect. For a big
half these concerned with the educational reactors have extra inclination and time to current
their concepts in studies and orally to those that will pay attention. Since they’re innocently
unaware of the true however hidden difficulties of their plans, they converse with nice
facility and confidence. These concerned with sensible reactors, humbled by their
experiences, converse much less and fear extra.

But it’s incumbent on these in excessive locations to make smart selections, and it’s affordable
and essential that the general public be accurately knowledgeable. It’s consequently incumbent on all
of us to state the info as forthrightly as attainable. Though it’s in all probability unattainable
to have reactor concepts labeled as “sensible” or “educational” by the authors, it’s
value whereas for each the authors and the viewers to remember this distinction and to
be guided thereby.

See Also

H. G. Rickover
Captain, USN

June 5, 1953


Notes

*This can be a replica of Rickover’s well-known ‘paper reactor’ memo, revealed
on the internet by N. Touran on 2022-08-23. The unique was revealed in The Journal of Reactor
Science and Know-how, Quantity 3, No. 3 (which is assessed) and reproduced
many occasions, e.g. in Congressional
testimony
.

1 – Apparently, within the a long time after Rickover revealed this memo, we now
have reactors that get past 60,000 mwd/ton burnup utilizing low-enriched uranium in excessive
temperature/excessive strain water.

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