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America’s new nuclear reactors – after $2 billion in expenditures, none ready for deployment.

 DOE Advanced Nuclear Reactor Program Deemed Ineffective, American Institute of Physics , 7 Sept 17
According to a new report, the Department of Energy’s program to develop advanced nuclear reactors has shifted priorities too often and overspent on facility upkeep. After $2 billion in expenditures, no advanced design is ready for deployment.This article was first published in the Politics and Policy section of Physics Today.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) is unlikely to fulfill its mission of developing and demonstrating one or two advanced nuclear reactor technologies by mid-century, according to a new review of the program. In a report published in Environmental Research Letters in August, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, the Brookings Institution, and the University of California, San Diego, found fault with, among other things, NE’s overemphasis on light-water-reactor technologies…….

For advanced reactor and advanced fuel research over the 1998 to 2015 period reviewed by the authors, NE spent $2 billion, an amount they said is insufficient to ready even one advanced reactor design for commercial deployment. The authors estimated the cost of designing and licensing an advanced reactor to be $1 billion; demonstration at full scale would cost between $4 billion and $13 billion.

The report blamed NE’s ineffectiveness on a lack of “programmatic discipline.” The program’s funding focus has shifted frequently over the 18-year span, supporting a dozen different technologies at funding levels that were “too low to be relevant to actual commercialization.” Many of those efforts were discontinued during the review period………

Advanced reactor and fuel test facilities at Idaho National Laboratory consume up to half of NE’s budget. Some of those facilities, the report argued, are defense related and only marginally support NE’s core mission. But Lyons says NE doesn’t fund defense programs, and he notes that the U.S. Navy pays half the cost of operating Idaho’s Advanced Test Reactor.

The largest sustained NE R&D program during the review period was the $750 million Nuclear Power 2010, which supported development of two enhanced light-water-reactor designs through licensing and siting. Funding for that program was 57 percent greater than what was devoted to the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP), NE’s largest non-light-water advanced reactor program. The NGNP has effectively been terminated due to disputes over site location and the selection of a private-sector partner. ….

Lyons points out that the NGNP was conceived at a time when natural gas prices were at twice today’s levels and the economics of nuclear power was more compelling. He says the project failed mainly due to the unwillingness of industry to share its cost.

Most of the advanced reactor designs that NE has funded couldn’t use the tristructural-isotropic (TRISO) nuclear fuels that the DOE office spent $450 million to develop during the review period, the report stated. Consisting of tiny pellets of low-enriched uranium oxide encapsulated in four layers of carbon, pyrolytic carbon, and silicon carbide, TRISO fuel is more resistant to melting or rupture than today’s fuels are. But TRISO isn’t coupled to a specific reactor R&D program, and it is unclear what role the fuel would play in a transition to advanced reactors, the report said……


September 9, 2017 - Posted by | politics, USA

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