Rickover on Academic Reactors and the Case of Amory Lovins

In his recent essay, “New” Nuclear Reactors, Same Old Story, Amory Lovins quoted from testimony which Hyman Rickover gave to Congress in 1953 on “real” and “academic” reactors. Lovins stated:

No new kind of reactor is likely to be much, if at all, cheaper than today’s LWRs, which remain grossly uncompetitive and are getting more so despite five decades of maturation. “New reactors” are precisely the “paper reactors” Admiral Rickover described in 1953:

But in fact in 1953 Rickover described the mistaken concepts about reactors by poorly informed, self styled experts, who seek by posing as authorities on issues about which they know nothing, to mislead decision makers and the public. Alexander De Volpi a retired nuclear scientist who spent his career ant Argonne National Laboratory researching nuclear weapons control and proliferation issues recently observed about Lovins:

when it comes to his renderings on nuclear-reactor life-extensions, subsidies, capacities, performance, underfilled expectations, unauthorized Chinese reactors — and so on, all without caveats —Lovins’ strident anti-nuclear messages come off as a stalking horses for an evangelical agenda.

In short, Lovins’ latest publication, “The Nuclear Illusion,” lacking the fundamentals of a scientific discourse, would be better titled, “The Nuclear Illusionist.”

Here then are Rickovers 1953 words to Congress.

Rickover continued

ideas in reports and orally to those who will listen. Since they are unaware of the real but hidden difficulties of their plans, they speak of with great facility and confidence. Those involved with practical reactors, humbled by their experience, speak less and worry more.

Yet it is incumbent on those in high positions to reach wise decisions, and it is reasonable and important that the public be correctly informed. It is incumbent on all of us to state the facts as forthrightly as possible. Although it is impossible to have reactor ideas labeled as “practical” or “academic” by the authors, it is worthwhile for both the authors and the audience to bear in mind this distinction and to be guided thereby.

Thus if we are to follow Dr. De Volpi’s line of reasoning, it is Amory Lovins himself, who is expressing what can best be described as “academic” views on reactors.

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