Huff confirmed as DOE-NE1

Huff approved to head Office of Nuclear Energy

Katy Huff has been confirmed by the Senate to lead the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. I’d love to be happy about this confirmation, but I’m not, because Katy has taken a pretty hard-line opinion against thorium energy. What’s even more baffling about that to me is that I’ve personally explained how the whole thing works to her. Then she turned around and intentionally misrepresented thorium’s potential in Congressional hearings. I was shocked that scientist would ever do such a thing.

What happened to her? I don’t know, but I wonder if the hard-line anti-nuclear position of the DOE didn’t infect her, if she didn’t become “a company man” when she took up the job.

Here’s a transcript from testimony on October 21, 2021 from Katy Huff:

REP. CARLOS GIMENEZ: Thank you, thank you Mr. Chairman…Dr. Huff, I believe you have extensively studied thorium fuel cycles and molten-salt reactor technology in your career. Your predecessor in the Obama administration, Dr. Peter Lyons, testified to this committee in 2014 that thorium reactors are not an option that the US should be pursuing. He was also instrumental in implementing an MOU between the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the US Department of Energy. The report from the first executive committee meeting under that MOU mentions sodium cooled fast reactors once, gas cooled reactors are mentioned three times, but thorium molten-salt reactors are mentioned some 30 times. China’s spending about 3 billion dollars on these reactors; the first of them is should be coming online sometime later this month, I think it’s in Wuwei. Reports suggest that China intends to export these reactors as part of their Belt and Road Initiative. What should the DOE be doing to respond to these developments in China?

DR. KATY HUFF: Thank you for the question…um…you know (sigh) in…um…DOE-NE funds molten-salt reactors in multiple ways. Some thorium molten-salt reactor companies are interested in that work because the current sort of funding that we’ve implemented in the context of the risk-reduction awardees (ARDP) includes at least one device that can be fueled by either uranium or…uh…thorium…we do research in the fuel cycle area in molten-salt reactor fuel cycles that can leverage either uranium or thorium. When we think about the sort-of Chinese example that you’ve described, something I often think about…uh…comes back to an earlier question but…um…we demonstrated…uh…this kind of reactor in the earliest days of our research reactor program in the 50s and 60s and…um…have since determined that the thorium fuel cycle is not economic from in the United States this time so additional research to ensure that such a fuel cycle…uh…becomes economic might enable those companies to move forward, but generally speaking our view is that such a an approach would not be economic at this time given the amount of supply chain surety that we have in uranium instead. (nods head)

This is really baffling. We have nearly NO supply chain surety in uranium. We don’t mine it in the US, we don’t enrich it in the US with US-owned facilities, and we only process some of it into fuel. We are almost entirely dependent on other countries to mine and enrich our uranium. Several of those are rather hostile to our interests, most notably Russia. We have no disposal plan for uranium. Thorium molten-salt reactors don’t need special mining for thorium. It is an unwanted byproduct of rare-earth mining. They require no enrichment. Thorium only has one naturally-occurring isotope. Proper use of thorium very nearly eliminates the production of long-lived transuranic waste. What we really need for thorium is our American supply of uranium-233, and the DOE is determined to destroy it at the behest of TerraPower.

REP. CARLOS GIMENEZ: But that we shut that (down) demonstration project back in the 60s or 70s…right? We’ve shut down. Is that correct?

DR. KATY HUFF: Uh yes sir you’ll be excited to know that one of the risk production awardees is a collaboration between Southern Company and TerraPower on a molten chloride reactor experiment that we’re really excited about seeing revive that activity in a new and more modern…uh…technological direction.

TerraPower is NOT working on a reactor for thorium. They are building a fast-spectrum molten-salt reactor specifically to breed uranium to plutonium. They have repeatedly stated that they have no plans to use thorium in their design, and even if they did, their reactor is not configured to use thorium efficiently. Thorium reactors need integrated chemical processing. TerraPower is completely allergic to the idea, and all of their reactors avoid chemical processing entirely. This is why their reactor designs get such poor fuel efficiency, even worse than today’s light-water reactors. To make matters even worse, their molten-salt reactor relies on 20% enriched uranium (HALEU) which is only available commercially from Russia and will probably remain that way for a decade or more. TerraPower’s molten-salt reactor design hasn’t even reached a “proof-of-concept” stage. Fluoride molten-salt reactors passed that threshold back in 1954. Even if the DOE builds this reactor with TerraPower the technology will only be at about the stage fluoride reactors were back in the era of black-and-white television. To characterize what they are doing as a “more modern technological direction” really strains the definition of those words. Even if TerraPower builds their chloride reactor fueled by Russian HALEU, they’ll be using fuel less efficiently than today’s inefficient reactors, and producing even more dangerous long-term waste filled with weapons-grade plutonium and high-assay uranium. None of these developments advance American competitiveness or capability. Actually they retard it.

REP. CARLOS GIMENEZ: Are the Chinese doing a…are they utilizing advances in technology in the last 40 years in order to make this more economical?

DR. KATY HUFF: Yes sir. You’ll be excited to know that one of the Risk Reduction awardees is a collaboration between Southern Company and TerraPower on a Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment. We’re really excited about seeing that activity revive in a new and more modern technological direction.

REP. CARLOS GIMENEZ: Are the Chinese utilizing advances in technology in the last 40 years to make this more economical?

DR. KATY HUFF: Yes, as will our Risk Reduction awardee project.

REP. CARLOS GIMENEZ: In light of the fact that they’re moving forward, if it proves to be successful, will the United States be following suit, or are we going to go some other direction?

DR. KATY HUFF: That’s a great question…that we will have to determine at a later time. I’ll say that it is certainly the case that there are other motivations for a molten-salt thorium reactor fuel cycles, that are closer to a proliferation concern, uh, that China…may be interested in, and we may need to factor that into the…sorta…possible motivations.

REP. CARLOS GIMENEZ: Okay, last question, when was when was the last nuclear facility in the United States put into operation?

DR. KATY HUFF: The um…completion…I’ll have to get the the year dates…maybe Todd remembers the most recent…when um…(long pause)

DR. TODD ALLEN: Yeah, I think it was…within the last decade, right? The plant in Tennessee that had been started (Watts Bar unit 2) and then stopped and then they refinished it…um so we had a long stretch where we had completed all the light water reactors…we had none, and it was roughly—I don’t have a date in front of me—roughly ten-ish years ago, we completed one, and now we’ve got two in Georgia that are getting close to completion.

REP. CARLOS GIMENEZ: Well, the reason I asked the question is that, I’ve, you know, had extensive conversations…uh…with people in the power industry and they said—and the one in Georgia is way over budget, way out, you know, beyond its time—and that power companies are just not looking at nuclear power as a viable option because of whatever reason. I mean, it may be regulatory reasons etc, but we need to do a better job of incentivizing this, because this is the way that we can get that zero carbon…uh…eco…or you know electricity production and energy production in the future. Renewables are great, but they’re not predictable, and so we need something predictable and the only thing that I know that produces electricity with zero emissions that is completely predictable is nuclear power and so we really need to do a better job as a country of trying to move this along. Thank you and I yield back my time.

By the way, here’s a list of thorium-related publications that include Katy Huff as a co-author:

October 2017
Full-Core Analysis of Thorium-Fueled Molten Salt Breeder Reactor Using the SERPENT 2 Monte Carlo Code
Andrei Rykhlevskii, Alexander Lindsay, Kathryn Huff
MSBR-71 reactor design analysis

October 2017
Online Reprocessing Simulation for Thorium-Fueled Molten-Salt Breeder Reactor
Andrei Rykhlevskii, Alexander Lindsay, Kathryn Huff
MSBR-71 unit cell analysis

September 2018
Modeling and Simulation of online reprocessing in the thorium-fueled molten-salt breeder reactor
Andrei Rykhlevskii, Jin Whan Bae, Kathryn D. Huff
MSBR-71 reactor design analysis

May 2019
Whole core analysis of the single-fluid double-zone thorium molten salt reactor (SD-TMSR)
O. Ashraf, Andrei Rykhlevskii, G.V. Tikhomirov, Kathryn D. Huff
Chinese SD-TMSR reactor design analysis

November 2019
Strategies for thorium fuel cycle transition in the SD-TMSR
O. Ashraf, Andrei Rykhlevskii, G.V. Tikhomirov, Kathryn D. Huff
Chinese SD-TMSR reactor design analysis

July 2020
Preliminary design of control rods in the single-fluid double-zone thorium molten-salt reactor (SD-TMSR)
O. Ashraf, Andrei Rykhlevskii, G.V. Tikhomirov, Kathryn D. Huff
Chinese SD-TMSR reactor design analysis

I’m baffled why Katy Huff is co-authoring all these papers with Russians about thorium MSRs and sending them money from her ARPA-E grant, which was supposedly about Transatomic’s reactor design, except that Transatomic went bankrupt right around the time Katy was getting the money.

3 thoughts on “Huff confirmed as DOE-NE1

  1. I’m not sure why you’re surprised. The Biden is either maliciously incompetent or incompetent to the degree it appears malicious.

  2. Certainly not the main point of the post, but I must say it is rather upseting to read an appeal to the same rethorical tactics of the anti-nuclearites to diss on a cousin design to the one you champion.

    Chloride reactors have for too long remained as paper reactors, given that they are the most promising embodiment of a fast-spectrum system -a fact that paradoxically was recognized in this same blog more than a decade ago (https://energyfromthorium.com/2009/05/25/the-ifr-the-lcfr-and-the-the-lftr/). It stands to reason that the first criticality of a molten chloride reactor experiment should be an event to be welcomed and celebrated, no matter the particular characters involved (i.e., TerraPower and it’s relentless insistence on the once-through cycle), and no matter what type of machine one thinks will ultimately prove to be the best in the very long term.

    Yet saying that a fast chloride MSR will produce “even more dangerous long-term waste filled with weapons-grade plutonium and high-assay uranium” is exactly the kind of talking points used to stop civilian nuclear power from playing any role in the world, that is, by appeal to bloated radwaste and weapons proliferation reflexive fears among the non-versed. This behavior is short of self-destructive.

    In fact, such game can be -and it often has been- played against the thermal fluoride system of the sort Flibe Energy puts forward: that the pure Thorium cycle involves fluorinating pure U-233, which is by definition weapons-grade material akin to HEU, and moreover, that there exist technical paths (even if convoluted) to eliminate U-232 self-protection as long as Protactinium is extracted to decay outside the reactor. Likewise regarding waste: the furious frequency of online reprocessing required to maintain core reactivity by a thermal breeder fueled with Thorium is also often touted as an deal-breaker. When coupled to the unavoidable loses beared by any real chemical separation (i.e., of salt-seeking fission products and actinides), the cumulative discharge of radioactive wastes can become comparable or even superior to that of a fast-spectrum breeder, as the latter allowing for higher per-reactor-pass burnups and thus requires much less frequent fuel reprocessing to keep it going.

    Are these arguments valid against thermal fluoride breeders? I for one don’t think so: as it has been argued repeatedly elsewhere, there’s no nuclear fuel cycle immune to proliferation concerns -concerns which are anyway a political problem at its root, one that is best tackled through safeguards and diplomacy, not a never ending tower of over-engineered barriers. And regarding waste, we also have to acknowledge it’s extremely small and self-contained volume as produced even by today’s once-through U-235-burning fleet, let alone anything coming out of a thermal breeder’s operation: it’s by any balanced perspective a non-issue, whatever the realized reprocessing loses.

    But of course, exactly the same counter-points regarding waste and proliferation apply to the molten chloride breeder, either to the U-Pu or the Th-U fuel cycle as both -unlike in a thermal fluoride reactor- can potentially be run in a fast chloride fleet. Not acknowledging this fact, and instead using the arguments of the industry’s political opponents to try and discredit competing ideas to the one you’ve voluntarily chosen to attach your name to, only works to debase your own credibility in the eyes of those who can see the move.

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