Ep 266: Wacław Gudowski - Prof. Emeritus, Royal Institute of Technology KTH Stockholm
Waclaw’s beginning of career (2:00)
2:00-6:07 (Wacław explains how he became a nuclear physicist, his PhD and Post-doctorate
Q. How did young Waclaw decide to become a nuclear physicist in the first place?
A. Wacław wanted to become a nuclear physicist as far as he remembers. I studied nuclear
physics in Cracow university of Science and Technology, did his PhD in former Soviet Union, at
the Joint Institut for Nuclear Research. He was designing the moving reflector for the research
fast reactor, cooled with liquid sodium, which is called in Russian IBR-2 or in English Pulsed fast
reactor. And this reactor got supercritical on prompt neutrons. Such reactor wouldn’t be allowed
to be licensed today, not in the current licensing environment. This reactor works until today,
with the same design of the moving reflector. One week after his PhD defence, he left as a post
doc to Sweden. He never intended to stay in Sweden more than 6 months, but it became his
whole adult life. When Wacław arrived in 1983 it was the peak of antinuclear action - 3 years
before Chernobyl accident, but Sweden was extremely heavily affected by TMI. In 1980, the
country had a referendum and they decided, that all the nuclear power should be shut down in
20 years, which, as we know, didn’t finally happen. It was a very deep crisis in the research,
Relations with Swedish government in the period of discriminatory, anti-nuclear law
6:07- 12:13 (Wacław talks about relations with Swedish government between 1980 and 2006,
when the antinuclear law was lifted, including creation and performance of Swedish Nuclear
Q. Communication saved Swedish nuclear in 1980 and it needs to save it also now, because
the industry is diverting again from nuclear towards other sources of energy.
A. Wacław is convinced that in 5 years Sweden will be building a new reactor. Since the
referendum it was forbidden by law to develop new nuclear power under the thread of 4 years of
prison. Waclaw challenged this law a few times, e.g. in 1992 he reported himself to the police
saying that he wants to be arrested for plans of building a new reactor. He worked for 20y with
the parliaments - sometimes he was speaking to 1 person in the room, sometimes 200. The
anti-nuclear law was very harming for the industry, and also for the science, but it forced the
scientific environment to create a new mechanism to fund the university research. It was called
Swedish Nuclear Center, financed by industry, but the decision where the funds should go, was
up to the governing body of the entity. It also made possible to create a good master program.
This way around 200 000 swedish crowns [around 20 mln USD] to various Swedish universities.
Waclaw is very proud that they succeeded to disconnect the investors from the decision-
makers, because it created free research opportunities and at that time research on
transmutation florished, Sweden started the research on Accelerator Driven System and part of
the research on Generation IV reactors, because they were unconstraint in the choice of topics.
Development of Accelerator Driven Systems (ADS) concept leading to MYRRHA project
12:13-19:42 (Prof. Gudowski explains his involveent in ADS development and gives some
insights on MYRRHA project)
Q. Next thing I want to talk about is ADS.
A. Wacław is the author of the acronyme ADS. In 1994 he was a coordinator of the IAEA status
report on transmutation research. Due to various constraints of IAEA, the name of this activity
couldn’t relate to many features of this technology like ‘transmutation of waste’ or ‘reactors’, so
finally Acceleator Driven Systems was the optimum. Wacław was the coordinator of the first
European ADS project focused on impact of ADS on nuclear power safety, in parallel with Carlo
Rubia [CERN], who was working on nuclear cross-sections and other fundamental aspects.
Prof. Gudowski was at the very first step of development of MYRRHA – European ADS project
being constructed in Belgium. Wacław contributed to establishing a relation between former
weapon experts in Russia and the world community of the physicists – forming International
Science and Technology Center (ISTC), which managed to draw the know-how from the lead-
bismuth technology of submarine propulsion reactors into the civil world. ISTC planned to patent
this technology, but finally it was decided to publish all the data, which accelerated the
business-like activities and intensive research in this topic, in Europe, Russia, China, South
Korea. MYRRHA was born thanks to international activities. In Europe such activities it take a
long time, in the meantime, China is moving much faster with the construction and develoment
of new reactors, but also with ADS, an example being a laboratory in Hefei.
Timing and financial problems of reactor projects (19:42)
19:42-23:04 (Wacław states that the issues of current construction times come down to
politicizing decisions about nuclear and lack of political will to support nuclear)
Q. You’ve seen many countries with many working cultures, why does it take so long in Europe?
A. Wacław thinks that the reason is no common political will. The issue of nuclear power was so
unnecessarily politicized, politicians are, instead of setting the rules for the development, they
are trying to make the decisions that should belong to the experts. Also, we deployed so many
reactors, 150 reactors in Europe in only 20 years, it was almost too much to incorporate that.
Unfortunately it is not good for technology to move with jumps, it’s better when it develops more
smoothly, but still political will is the key.
Looking back, there were two financing models implemented – in the US it was private market
model, in Europe – state-level decisions, but in both cases we failed in the harmonic
development. The problem comes back to political will which is the function of very unsettled
public acceptance. For some reason public opinion was unnecessarily coupled with nuclear
weapons. History shows however that there is no correlation between nuclear power program
and weapon program, but this link was misused by some people.
Communication and teaching experience (23:04)
23:04 – 29:33 (Prof. Gudowski describes the role of Technology Empowered Education and
explains why reactor physics is a fascinating subject)
Q. You need knowledgeable society to distinguish these two things, You focused a lot on
communication and teaching students, incorporating e-learning in your teaching activities.
A. Wacław always considered e-learning as a very important aid in studies, although social
interaction between students and the teacher is still crucial. He supports Technology
Empowered Education, which gives more freedom of expression during the interaction time,
explaining basic concepts and exercises in the digital form.
Wacław, a former teacher of reactor physics, says that it is the key to make nuclear power safe.
And it can be really fantastic because it is very simple – an order of magnitude easier than e.g.
weather prediction – the “boring” things you can leave for the computers. Wacław gives his
recognition to the nuclear data files creation – in his eyes one of the most efficient scientific
cooperations, that has overcome the limitations of the cold war, but is not much appreciated
Small reactors as a frontline development (29:33)
29:33-33:28 (Wacław sees small reactors as the crucial solution to be applied soon)
Q: can you pinpoint some other developments in nuclear physics, so that we have the feeling
what is its frontline right now?
A: Wacław advises to come back to the smaller reactors, which would be closer to the
communities, much safer, because decay heat would be also smaller, it would be much easier
to handle any incidents. He says that people have right to be afraid, so we should show them
that nuclear can be smaller, safer, and that it is better than any other energy solution.
Renewables have a big problem with the density of the power, while nuclear is very
Generation IV and evaluation of nuclear technologies of the future(33:28)
33:28-38:10 (Prof. Gudowski talks about the involvement in High Temperature Reactors and
why fission has more perspectives for the future than fusion)
Q: Small like the HTRs, you were also involved in the HTR project. Are there any Generation IV
technologies that will not stand the test of time?
A: Wacław’s first project was High Temperature gas cooled Reactor, for gasification and
liquification of coal, performed still in Poland in the middle of 70s. After almost 50 years he is
coming back to that. Wacław acknowledges that the HTRs were good designs, which, in the
course of history, lost against LWRs. Wacław sees the future for HTRs in production of high
temperature heat, hydrogen production for transportation. Wacław’s most favorable reactor
types from Gen IV are Lead-Bismuth and HTR.
Wacław decided not to criticize other Generation IV solutions, but he favors any of Gen IV
technologies to fusion technologies. He points out to the limits in resources of lithium in fusion
technology, that has to compete with battery industry to acquire raw material. In comparison,
taking uranium and thorium, we have resources for the future fission projects and these
elements have no use in other branches of industry.
Used fuel management (38:10)
38:10-45:30 (Prof. Gudowski states, that nuclear industry should think about back-end of the
Q: What bothers me in utilizing this almost limitless energy from fission is that some designs
treat their reactors like batteries, not caring about processing of the waste after period of
A. Wacław’s message is that back-end of the fuel cycle should not be ignored. It was done in
the past and we are paying heavy bills for it now. There will be no new acceptable reactor types
for the public without clear solution for the back-end. Independently of possible processing of
the used fuel, we need to have an ultimate solution – geological storage. This could be
discussed on international level, in the past we didn’t want to dump all the waste to the
developing countries, which was a thread, but he considers partner agreements between
countries of equal economic status as a valid opportunity. Waclaw is not supporting
decentralised final waste storage. He supports spreading the message to the people, that the
capabilities of detection of radiation are many orders of magnitude more sensitive, than the
amount of radiation that can influence our health. However, the fact that people don’t know that
means, that we failed in education of the public. If you don’t know things you are much more
prone to manipulation and fear.
Generation III+ vs. Generation IV implementation (45:30)
45:30-52:55 (Wacław explains, that decision about technology choice and location should be
Q: In the future, should we keep on pursuing the generation III+ or strike straight with
Generation IV in several years?
A. We should ask the customers, industry, what they want – denationalize the power. For
example in Poland for the first time a private company wants to build a reactor for its needs. If
you ask them what they want, they will probably prefer smaller reactor for their factory. The
post-pandemic time will change our way of thinking. There will be a certain level of de-
globalization, there will be more discussion of more autonomy. Maybe industruy and
communities will want a smaller unit. There should be decentralization of this decision -
government should watch the rules, not be involved in the choices – they should be based on
customer and technological solution. However, we shouldn’t wait with anything, waiting means
freezing the competences. Wacław’s strong conviction is also that heat from the power plant
should not be dumped, but electricity and heat production should always be combined. Apart
from that, transmutation studies should be continued, with e.g. one ADS supporting four
Future of nuclear (53:23)
53:23-55:07 (Wacław sums up his views in what should the future look like)
Q. What do you want to see in nuclear?
A.Nuclear is a part of solution for the sustainable, ecological and environmentally friendly
energy mix. We will never manage a good energy system without nuclear power. It has so many
benefits, that all the risks are, firstly, under control, and they are much less important than the
benefits we can have from nuclear. And for nuclear we need only uranium and thorium and
there is no other use for these materials for human beings. And we can run the system for
hundreds of years if we design a good breeding reactors followed by good ADS system.