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Review of Doe’s Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program
for dual missions—a process heat mission and a fuel cycle flexibility mission—appears to be absent from the current program. For example, there is little attention to how either the VHTR or the SFR technology will compete with existing LWRs in the electricity market.
The program resources are barely adequate for basic studies related to NGNP and the VHTR design (NGNP construction will begin only after an industry alliance matches DOE funds). Thus the program funding level for these programs is inadequate for developing the SFR, investigating the other Generation IV reactor concepts, and developing crosscutting nuclear energy technologies. Currently there is little in the way of synergies that can come from R&D developments across reactor concepts.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Next-Generation Nuclear Plant
Finding 3-1. The NGNP program has well-established goals, decision points, and technical alternatives. The key technical alternatives are the fuel type, the heat transport working fluid and the IHX, and the hydrogen generation process. A key decision point is the nuclear licensing approach for NGNP. To keep to the apparently preferred schedule, which has a FY 2017 plant operations date, some of the technical decisions must be made quickly, so that detailed design, component and system testing, and licensing can be initiated. However, it is unlikely that operation can be achieved by 2017 due to significant funding gaps that developed in FY 2006 and FY 2007. These gaps affected the scope and schedule for the planned testing of fuel and structural materials as well as the heat transport equipment.
Finding 3-2. Little planning has been done on how the fuel for the NGNP would be supplied. There is a particle fuel R&D program, but it will take up to two decades to complete the development and testing of this new fuel.
Finding 3-3. The main risk associated with NGNP is that the total funding under the current business plan calls for the private sector to match the government (DOE) funding. So far, however, not a single program has been articulated that coordinates all the elements required to successfully commission the NGNP. The current disconnect between the base NGNP program plan and the complementary public/private partnership initiative must be resolved.
With regard to the NGNP program, the committee recommends the following:
Recommendation 3-1. A schedule that coordinates the required elements for public-private partnership, design evolution, defined regulatory approach, and R&D results should be articulated to enhance the potential for program success.
Recommendation 3-2. DOE should decide whether to pursue a different demonstration plant (perhaps a smaller one with less total energy output or a plant with fewer hydrogen production options or a more basic technology approach for the VHTR) with a smaller contribution from industry.
Recommendation 3-3. In assessing NGNP conceptual designs, NE should favor design approaches that can achieve a variety of objectives at an acceptable technical risk—for example, hydrogen production, other high-temperature process heat products, enabling deep-burn actinide management, and improving economics.
Recommendation 3-4. NE should size the NGNP reactor system to facilitate technology demonstration for future commercial units, including safety. Consistent with resources available, NE should adopt an appropriate power level to demonstrate components and functionality of practical significance to commercial size.
Recommendation 3-5. Because of the very high temperatures and severe material performance requirements for thermochemical water splitting, NE should maintain the flexibility to first operate the NGNP using high-temperature steam electrolysis.
Recommendation 3-6. DOE should focus on the following NGNP technologies that require significant development and ensure that sufficient funds are available to advance these technologies whether or not industry matching funds are available:
Advanced materials for in-reactor operation at temperatures above 900°C.
Fuel particles that can withstand high burn-up and adverse transients.
The heat transport system for process heat applications, specifically to improve its efficiency and reliability.
Waste management technologies related to commercial deployment.
Recommendation 3-7. To ensure good performance of NGNP-based hydrogen production, NE should put more emphasis on the following:
Conceptual integrated process development and optimizing plan flow sheets, before moving to engineering designs.
Selecting the interface between the reactor and the hydrogen plant.
Developing system performance tools to address unsteady conditions, such as plant start-up, plant trip, and maintenance needs.