While the science community is feeling rather good, overall, about President Clinton's technology agenda, there's one curious slight: Funding for the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) has been dropped. Many scientists think the decision is shortsighted. In fact, a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences tagged the IFR as the No.1 priority in nuclear-reactor science.
The IFR program was originally launched by Argonne National Laboratory to develop a safer nuclear-power plant. But it evolved into something far more important: The reactor could burn the spent nuclear fuel from traditional nuclear plants--waste that will otherwise pose a radioactive threat for thousands of years. Moreover, the IFR should be able to burn the radioactive plutonium recovered from dismantled nuclear weapons. Tons of this nasty stuff have already piled up at a remote site near Amarillo, Tex.--with lots more to come. Without the IFR, this weapons-grade plutonium may have to be guarded night and day for centuries.