1
Introduction

Growing energy demands, emerging concerns about the emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion, the increasing and volatile price of natural gas, and a sustained period of successful operation for the existing fleet of nuclear power plants have resulted in a renewal of interest in nuclear power in the United States. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct05) advanced this interest by authorizing a number of initiatives intended to both accelerate new nuclear plant construction in the near term and spur longer-term research and development (R&D). Partly as a result of EPAct05, the nuclear power industry is considering applications for the construction of new light water reactor power plants in the United States. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) reports that it expects 21 applications for 32 new units between 2007 and 2009.1

The government plays a significant role in guiding the future of nuclear power. The nuclear industry in the United States is closely regulated to promote safe and secure power plant operation. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 and its 1987 amendments make the government responsible for long-term management of spent reactor fuel. In addition, because power plant construction can be an expensive and lengthy process with substantial uncertainties, particularly those associated with regulatory and environmental permitting, the industry looks to government for assistance in managing the risks of investing in the first new reactors ordered in the United States since 1973.

The Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is a major agent of the government’s responsibility for advancing nuclear power. Specifically, NE takes its mission to be as follows:

… to lead the DOE investment in the development and exploration of advanced nuclear science and technology. NE leads the Government’s efforts to develop new nuclear energy generation technologies; to develop advanced, proliferation-resistant nuclear fuel technologies that maximize energy from nuclear fuel; and to maintain and enhance the national nuclear technology infrastructure.2

One consequence of the renewed interest in nuclear power for the NE mission has been a rapid growth in the NE research budget: by nearly 70 percent from the $193 million appropriated in FY 2003 to $320 million in FY 2006.3 The turnaround over a longer period was even more dramatic; in FY 1998 the NE research budget had collapsed to $2.2 million. In light of this growth, the FY 2006 President’s Budget Request (PBR) asked for funds to be set aside for the National Academy of Sciences to review the NE research programs and budget and to recommend priorities for the programs given the likelihood of constrained budget levels in the future (DOE, 2005). Following passage by Congress of the FY 2006 budget, the National Research Council (NRC) developed a statement of task (Appendix F) for a “comprehensive, independent evaluation of DOE’s nuclear energy program’s goals and plans, and processes for establishing program priorities and oversight (including the method for determining the relative allocation of budgetary resources).”

At the time the statement of task was approved, the scope of the project focused on five elements of the NE program, which were described in the prospectus for the study approved by the National Academies:

  • Nuclear Power 2010. This is a joint government/industry cost-shared effort comprising technology development and demonstration activities that advance the National Energy Policy goals of enhancing energy independence and reliability and expanding the contribution of nuclear power to the U.S. energy portfolio. Its current focus is to demonstrate the revised licensing process by which the next generation of

1

 From the September 11, 2007, version of http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-licensing/new-licensing-files/expected-new-rx-applications.pdf.

2

 From the statement of mission available at http://www.ne.doe.gov/. Last accessed January 28, 2007.

3

These are totals only for programs within the scope of this project.



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1 introduction Growing energy demands, emerging concerns about the liferation-resistant nuclear fuel technologies that maximize energy from nuclear fuel; and to maintain and enhance the emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion, the national nuclear technology infrastructure.2 increasing and volatile price of natural gas, and a sustained period of successful operation for the existing fleet of nuclear One consequence of the renewed interest in nuclear power plants have resulted in a renewal of interest in nuclear power for the NE mission has been a rapid growth in the NE power in the United States. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 research budget: by nearly 70 percent from the $193 million (EPAct05) advanced this interest by authorizing a number appropriated in FY 2003 to $320 million in FY 2006. 3 The of initiatives intended to both accelerate new nuclear plant turnaround over a longer period was even more dramatic; construction in the near term and spur longer-term research in FY 1998 the NE research budget had collapsed to $2.2 and development (R&D). Partly as a result of EPAct05, the million. In light of this growth, the FY 2006 President’s nuclear power industry is considering applications for the Budget Request (PBR) asked for funds to be set aside for construction of new light water reactor power plants in the the National Academy of Sciences to review the NE research United States. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission programs and budget and to recommend priorities for the (USNRC) reports that it expects 21 applications for 32 new programs given the likelihood of constrained budget levels units between 2007 and 2009.1 in the future (DOE, 2005). Following passage by Congress The government plays a significant role in guiding the of the FY 2006 budget, the National Research Council future of nuclear power. The nuclear industry in the United (NRC) developed a statement of task (Appendix F) for a States is closely regulated to promote safe and secure power “comprehensive, independent evaluation of DOE’s nuclear plant operation. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 and energy program’s goals and plans, and processes for es- its 1987 amendments make the government responsible for tablishing program priorities and oversight (including the long-term management of spent reactor fuel. In addition, method for determining the relative allocation of budgetary because power plant construction can be an expensive and resources).” lengthy process with substantial uncertainties, particularly At the time the statement of task was approved, the scope those associated with regulatory and environmental permit- of the project focused on five elements of the NE program, ting, the industry looks to government for assistance in man- which were described in the prospectus for the study ap- aging the risks of investing in the first new reactors ordered proved by the National Academies: in the United States since 1973. The Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) at the U.S. Depart- • Nuclear Power 00. This is a joint government/in- ment of Energy (DOE) is a major agent of the government’s dustry cost-shared effort comprising technology develop- responsibility for advancing nuclear power. Specifically, NE ment and demonstration activities that advance the National takes its mission to be as follows: Energy Policy goals of enhancing energy independence and reliability and expanding the contribution of nuclear power to . . . to lead the DOE investment in the development and the U.S. energy portfolio. Its current focus is to demonstrate exploration of advanced nuclear science and technology. the revised licensing process by which the next generation of NE leads the Government’s efforts to develop new nuclear energy generation technologies; to develop advanced, pro- 2 From the statement of mission available at http://www.ne.doe.gov/. Last 1 From the September 11, 2007, version of http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/ accessed January 28, 2007. 3These are totals only for programs within the scope of this project. new-licensing/new-licensing-files/expected-new-rx-applications.pdf. 

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

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 INTRODUCTION agement account, which would increase from $99 million to that these documents provide an adequate basis for its overall $104 million). Table 1-1 summarizes the budget history of assessment of GNEP but recognizes that they fall far short of the NE program. the documentation needed for a detailed review. The GNEP Technology Development Plan was released late in the report process, but because it included a disclaimer that the plans The commiTTee’s aPProach To eValUaTioN it contained did “not necessarily reflect the views and deci- The above-mentioned developments created two issues sions of the Department of Energy,” the committee could not for the committee. First, the program for which the statement accept it as DOE policy. of task was written changed significantly between the time of The other elements of the program were evaluated in the statement of task and the start of the committee’s work. more conventional terms, although each required its own Second, the dominant new program—GNEP—lacked the approach: technical documentation, program plans, and program man- agement organization that would ordinarily form the basis for • Nuclear Power 2010 is not a research program but is an evaluation of program content and budget priorities. The designed to help mitigate the risk that industry will decide to committee believes that it has adapted to these developments build the first new nuclear power plant. The committee has in a way that is consistent with the statement of task and the evaluated it using the elements of the statement of task as structure of today’s NE program. the principal criteria. In the case of GNEP/AFCI, the committee relied on • The scope of the Generation IV program and the the Mission Need for GNEP, the GNEP Implementation Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative (NHI) program has changed as Strategy, and the GNEP Strategic Plan documents for its a result of GNEP. Within the Generation IV program, the evaluation (see Chapter 4 for further discussion). Although committee has focused on the Next Generation Nuclear Plant these appear to be the authoritative descriptions of the GNEP (NGNP) research effort because the fast spectrum reactor program, the GNEP Implementation Strategy and the GNEP research that was part of this program has been considered Strategic Plan documents were not made public until well in GNEP. While hydrogen production remains a goal of the after the committee started its work. The committee believes NGNP program, a number of process heat applications are TABLE 1-1 Office of Nuclear Energy Budget History FY 2003 to FY 2008 (thousands of dollars) Comparable Appropriations Actual Appropriations FY 2007 FY 2008 Program FY 2003 FY 2004 FY 2005 FY 2006 CR Request Nuclear energy plant optimization 4,806 2,863 2,412 0 0 0 Nuclear Energy Research Initiative 17,413 6,410 2,416 0 0 0 Nuclear Power 2010 31,579 19,360 49,605 65,340 80,291 114,000 Generation IV 16,940 26,981 38,828 53,263 35,586 36,145 Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative 2,000 6,201 8,682 24,057 19,265 22,600 Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative 57,292 65,750 66,407 78,408 167,484 395,000 Subtotal, R&D 130,030 127,565 168,350 221,068 302,626 567,745 Idaho facilities management 62,983 75,534 122,320 99,358 100,358 104,713 Total reviewed accounts 193,013 203,099 290,670 320,426 402,984 672,458 Radiological facilities management 62,928 63,431 68,563 54,049 46,775 53,021 Safeguards and security 52,560 56,654 58,103 71,285 72,946 72,946 University programs 18,034 23,055 23,810 26,730 16,547 0 Program direction 57,909 60,256 60,076 60,498 62,652 76,224 Total energy supply 271,307 291,186 393,339 430,565 482,191 801,703 Total NE budget 375,441 402,804 521,903 532,988 601,904 874,649 NOTE: CR, continuing resolution. Budget history for selected NE programs. NE is funded primarily from the Energy Supply and Conservation appropriations account, but the total NE budget for each year includes some funding from other accounts. The FY 2003 to FY 2005 columns are comparable appropriations, which means that they include funding from other accounts, but for similar activities. Revised updated budget numbers, which were not available to the com- mittee during its study, can be obtained from Patrick Holman, DOE NE. SOURCES: DOE (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007); the FY 2007 CR appropriations and some FY 2006 appropriations were supplied to NRC staff by DOE on March 9, 2007.

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 REVIEW OF DOE’S NUCLEAR ENERGY RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM possible as well, and these have been considered. Because The committee’s second observation is that predicting this is a well-documented research program, the committee the course of nuclear technology development over the next has used appropriate criteria from the Program Assessment several decades entails substantial uncertainties. Indeed, and Review Tool (PART)6 process in its evaluation, as well the committee heard presentations from several respected as the elements of the statement of task. analysts about how this development might take place. Their • The committee focused chiefly on the Idaho Facilities views of the technological future differed in important ways. Management program because it is a major line in the NE An important reason for this divergence is that the develop- budget—on the order of $100 million annually. This program ment of new nuclear technology requires a planning horizon is only one element of the Ten-Year Site Plan for INL. It measured in decades, in no small part because of the capital supports chiefly the building of infrastructure at INL as well intensity of the commercial nuclear energy sector. Over such as technical programs that are not funded through program a time period, the committee believes that the success of vari- channels. The committee has used DOE’s criteria for the ous candidate technologies will depend on policy and other quality of laboratory infrastructure to evaluate this program forces outside the control of any NE technology development and has examined whether the proposed program is consis- program. For example, tent with its recommendations for other programs. • Waste management options and associated regulatory regimes and their likely acceptance by the public range from The commiTTee’s PersPecTiVe oN The long-term storage at reactor sites or centralized interim stor- Ne research ProGram age, to direct disposal of all spent fuel in geologic reposito- Despite the changes in program and budget experienced ries, as well as reduced waste forms envisioned by GNEP. by the NE research program, there are some constant features • As yet unformulated environmental policy, especially that set the context for the committee’s evaluation approach, regarding climate change, could have decisive impacts on the which was influenced by two observations. One is that while attractiveness of nuclear power. the details of the NE program have shifted considerably, its • Opinion on the cost and availability of natural uranium high-level goals have changed little if at all. While stated and associated enrichment capacity varies widely: some say in somewhat different words in various reports, the com- it will be abundant, others say it will be “limited.” mittee believes that a reasonable summary of the goals for • If the near-term reprocessing options being pursued by technology development in support of the NE mission is as other countries were to become established commercially, follows: the resulting waste management regimes would compete with the GNEP concept. • Assist the nuclear industry in providing for the safe, se- • Other countries might succeed in the development of cure, and effective operation of nuclear power plants already next-generation nuclear technologies. in service, the anticipated growth in the next generation of • Nonproliferation and physical protection regimes are light water reactors, and associated fuel cycle facilities. in flux, especially as international agreements continue to • Provide for nuclear power at a cost that will be competi- evolve. tive with other energy sources over time. • Success of competing energy sources, such as clean • Support a safe and publicly acceptable domestic coal, would affect the need for nuclear power. waste management system, including options for long-term • The rate of near-term expansion of nuclear power disposal of the related waste forms. (The principal DOE plants, both domestically and internationally, would matter responsibility for this function lies with its Office of Civilian since it drives the timing and need for advanced reactors and Radioactive Waste Management.) fuel cycle technology. • Provide for effective proliferation resistance and physi- cal protection of nuclear energy systems, both at home and in How these uncertainties affect the elements of the NE support of international nonproliferation and nuclear security program is discussed at the appropriate place in the balance regimes. of this report. In general, however, the committee’s view • Create economical and environmentally acceptable is that to select the winning technology path from among nuclear power options for assuring long-term nonnuclear en- the options known today would be very premature. This ergy supplies while displacing insecure and polluting energy conclusion is especially relevant for research that serves sources; such options include electricity production, hydro- long-term objectives, such as GNEP/AFCI, Generation IV, gen production, process heat, and water desalinization. and NHI. Chapters 2 through 5 summarize the committee’s evalua- tion of each of the programs within the statement of task. A concluding chapter presents recommendations on program 6 PART is used by the Office of Management and Budget to assess the management of federal programs and contains specific criteria for that balance and priorities among the programs, as well as mecha- purpose.

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 INTRODUCTION nisms for maintaining oversight of the programs as external conditions inevitably change. reFereNces Department of Energy (DOE). 2004. Department of Energy FY2005 Congressional Budget Request. Available at http://www.cfo.doe.gov/ budget/. DOE. 2005. Department of Energy FY2006 Congressional Budget Request. DOE. 2006. Department of Energy FY2007 Congressional Budget Request. DOE. 2007. Department of Energy FY2008 Congressional Budget Request.