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Review of Doe’s Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program
nuclear power plants would be governed and to finalize the licensed designs to a point that project and private investment decisions on new plant constructions can be firmly based.
Generation IV. This nuclear energy systems initiative addresses fundamental R&D necessary to ensure the viability of future nuclear energy systems. The initiative is intended to address concepts that excel in safety, cost effectiveness, sustainability, and proliferation resistance and that will be attractive to the private sector for commercial development and deployment. With international participation, the initiative developed a technology roadmap that identified the six most promising nuclear energy systems, paying attention to the complete fuel cycle, power conversion, waste management, and other nuclear infrastructure issues. The concepts it identified are (1) the very-high-temperature reactor (VHTR), (2) the supercritical water-cooled reactor (SCWR), (3) the gas-cooled fast reactor (GFR), (4) the lead-cooled fast reactor (LFR), (5) the sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR), and (6) the molten salt reactor (MSR). The roadmap also serves as the basis for organizing national, bilateral, and multilateral research and development activities for the development of Generation IV systems.
Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative. This initiative conducts R&D on enabling technologies, demonstrating nuclear-based hydrogen production technologies and studying potential hydrogen production approaches in support of the President’s Hydrogen Fuel Initiative. The objective is to develop technologies that will use nuclear-generated heat to produce bulk hydrogen at a cost competitive with that of other alternative transportation fuels. Approaches such as high-temperature electrolysis and various thermochemical water-splitting cycles are being considered.
Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (AFCI). This initiative develops and demonstrates fuel cycles that could have substantial environmental, nonproliferation, and economic advantages over the once-through fuel cycle. Specifically, it is investigating (1) the development of separations technologies for spent nuclear fuel; (2) the development of advanced, proliferation-resistant reactor fuels that will enable the consumption of plutonium from accumulated spent fuel, thus extracting more useful energy from spent fuel materials; and (3) transmutation engineering for minor actinides and long-lived fission products from spent fuel. The initiative is also developing systems analysis tools to formulate, assess, and guide program activities and a transmutation education activity that includes support of young U.S. scientists and engineers studying science and technology issues related to transmutation and advanced nuclear fuel cycle systems.
Idaho Facilities Management. This program maintains DOE facilities at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) that are related to the above-mentioned R&D programs. (The FY 2006 PBR specifically asks that the relationship between the Idaho facilities management program and NE’s R&D program be evaluated.)
EVOLVING PROJECT SCOPE
In response to the FY 2006 PBR, NRC established the Committee on Review of DOE’s Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program. The statement of task for the committee closely matched that of the effort described in the above-mentioned prospectus, except that it introduced two issues that somewhat extended the scope. One was the appropriate federal role relative to that of “public, nongovernmental (including universities) and international efforts.” The other charged the committee with examining program management and organization, among other things, that might be “key[s] to success of the [technical] program.”
Following the required appropriations and procurement cycle, the committee first met on August 24, 2006, more than 18 months after the request for the study first appeared in the FY 2006 PBR. During the interim period, however, NE’s research program changed significantly. EPAct05 authorized expanded initiatives for the nuclear program and also resulted in the establishment of a new position, assistant secretary for nuclear energy, within DOE. Even more important was the public emergence in early 2006 of a major programmatic initiative—the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). GNEP’s stated technical objective is to develop, demonstrate, and deploy technologies to reprocess spent reactor fuel in a way that minimizes the risk of fissile material being diverted, reduces the volume of waste in long-term storage, and recovers the energy available in the unused portion of the spent fuel. If executed as envisioned by its advocates, GNEP would result in the construction of commercial scale facilities for spent fuel reprocessing and disposal by burning4 the resultant plutonium and minor actinides together in advanced burner reactors, thereby reducing the radioactive burden on the waste repository. As proposed, GNEP would cost billions of dollars over several decades.
The GNEP initiative had major budgetary implications in the nearer term as well. To accommodate GNEP, the FY 2007 PBR proposed to increase the AFCI budget5 by $154 million, from $79 million to $243 million, while increasing the total NE budget by only $98 million. This proposal would thus have resulted in $56 million being drawn from other NE programs to fund GNEP. However, the Congress did not pass a FY 2007 appropriation for NE; instead it authorized a continuing resolution for the full year, which contained $167 million for the GNEP program through the AFCI account. The FY 2008 PBR includes $395 million for GNEP and $672 million for research and development. Between the FY 2006 appropriation and the FY 2008 request, the NE research and development budget would rise by more than 150 percent (this does not include funding for the Idaho Facilities Man-
In this context, “burn” does not mean to incinerate or combust; it means to convert heavy elements into lighter elements through the process of nuclear fission.
The GNEP funds are carried under the AFCI budget line since there has been no such line for GNEP itself.