possible as well, and these have been considered. Because this is a well-documented research program, the committee has used appropriate criteria from the Program Assessment and Review Tool (PART)6 process in its evaluation, as well as the elements of the statement of task.

  • The committee focused chiefly on the Idaho Facilities Management program because it is a major line in the NE budget—on the order of $100 million annually. This program is only one element of the Ten-Year Site Plan for INL. It supports chiefly the building of infrastructure at INL as well as technical programs that are not funded through program channels. The committee has used DOE’s criteria for the quality of laboratory infrastructure to evaluate this program and has examined whether the proposed program is consistent with its recommendations for other programs.

THE COMMITTEE’S PERSPECTIVE ON THE NE RESEARCH PROGRAM

Despite the changes in program and budget experienced by the NE research program, there are some constant features that set the context for the committee’s evaluation approach, which was influenced by two observations. One is that while the details of the NE program have shifted considerably, its high-level goals have changed little if at all. While stated in somewhat different words in various reports, the committee believes that a reasonable summary of the goals for technology development in support of the NE mission is as follows:

  • Assist the nuclear industry in providing for the safe, secure, and effective operation of nuclear power plants already in service, the anticipated growth in the next generation of light water reactors, and associated fuel cycle facilities.

  • Provide for nuclear power at a cost that will be competitive with other energy sources over time.

  • Support a safe and publicly acceptable domestic waste management system, including options for long-term disposal of the related waste forms. (The principal DOE responsibility for this function lies with its Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.)

  • Provide for effective proliferation resistance and physical protection of nuclear energy systems, both at home and in support of international nonproliferation and nuclear security regimes.

  • Create economical and environmentally acceptable nuclear power options for assuring long-term nonnuclear energy supplies while displacing insecure and polluting energy sources; such options include electricity production, hydrogen production, process heat, and water desalinization.

The committee’s second observation is that predicting the course of nuclear technology development over the next several decades entails substantial uncertainties. Indeed, the committee heard presentations from several respected analysts about how this development might take place. Their views of the technological future differed in important ways. An important reason for this divergence is that the development of new nuclear technology requires a planning horizon measured in decades, in no small part because of the capital intensity of the commercial nuclear energy sector. Over such a time period, the committee believes that the success of various candidate technologies will depend on policy and other forces outside the control of any NE technology development program. For example,

  • Waste management options and associated regulatory regimes and their likely acceptance by the public range from long-term storage at reactor sites or centralized interim storage, to direct disposal of all spent fuel in geologic repositories, as well as reduced waste forms envisioned by GNEP.

  • As yet unformulated environmental policy, especially regarding climate change, could have decisive impacts on the attractiveness of nuclear power.

  • Opinion on the cost and availability of natural uranium and associated enrichment capacity varies widely: some say it will be abundant, others say it will be “limited.”

  • If the near-term reprocessing options being pursued by other countries were to become established commercially, the resulting waste management regimes would compete with the GNEP concept.

  • Other countries might succeed in the development of next-generation nuclear technologies.

  • Nonproliferation and physical protection regimes are in flux, especially as international agreements continue to evolve.

  • Success of competing energy sources, such as clean coal, would affect the need for nuclear power.

  • The rate of near-term expansion of nuclear power plants, both domestically and internationally, would matter since it drives the timing and need for advanced reactors and fuel cycle technology.

How these uncertainties affect the elements of the NE program is discussed at the appropriate place in the balance of this report. In general, however, the committee’s view is that to select the winning technology path from among the options known today would be very premature. This conclusion is especially relevant for research that serves long-term objectives, such as GNEP/AFCI, Generation IV, and NHI.

Chapters 2 through 5 summarize the committee’s evaluation of each of the programs within the statement of task. A concluding chapter presents recommendations on program balance and priorities among the programs, as well as mecha-

6

PART is used by the Office of Management and Budget to assess the management of federal programs and contains specific criteria for that purpose.



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