Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative

The NHI program is aimed at developing new technologies to produce hydrogen and oxygen with high efficiency using nuclear energy. The focus of the program is the use of high-temperature process heat as the main energy input for the production of hydrogen, which promises significantly higher efficiency and lower cost than conventional low-temperature electrolysis. These processes involve challenging high-temperature materials problems, which are being addressed with laboratory-scale research at this time for three primary hydrogen production methods. Major technology downselections to allow testing at the pilot and engineering demonstration scales are scheduled for 2011 and 2015, respectively.

NHI is well formulated to identify and develop workable technologies, but the schedules and budgets need to be adjusted to assure appropriate coupling to the larger NGNP program.

With regard to the NHI program, the committee recommends the following:

Recommendation 3-8. DOE should expand NHI program interactions with industrial and international research organizations experienced in chemical processes and operating temperatures similar to those in thermochemical water splitting. NE should also broaden the hydrogen production system performance metrics beyond economics—for example, it could use the Generation IV performance metrics of economics, safety, and sustainability.

Other Generation IV Nuclear Energy System Programs

Finding 3-4. The second major concept for development in the Generation IV program, the SFR program, seems vague at this time and appears to involve selected studies of technology issues that are principally beneficial for commercialization rather than being explicitly linked to long-term nuclear energy technology needs.

Finding 3-5. The committee is concerned that the Generation IV concept evaluation criteria for reactor development adopted by the Generation IV Technology Roadmap were not applied in the selection of the VHTR and SFR. The Generation IV R&D priorities have been shifting, with minimum discussion of criteria and alternatives.

Finding 3-6. The program resources are barely adequate for basic studies related to NGNP and the VHTR design and entirely inadequate for exploring the SFR at a research level (unless the new GNEP program also includes basic research components), for investigating other reactor concepts, and for developing crosscutting reactor technology systems.

Finding 3-7. The use of the Generation IV program metrics to compare the high-temperature reactors and fast-reactor systems for dual missions—a process heat mission and a fuel cycle flexibility mission—appears to be absent from the current program.

With regard to the other Generation IV nuclear energy system programs, the committee recommends the following:

Recommendation 3-9. Within the Generation IV program, NE should modestly and reasonably support long-term base technology options other than the VHTR and the SFR, particularly for actinide management, using thermal and fast reactors and appropriate fuels.

Recommendation 3-10. Though NE currently focuses on the VHTR for process heat and the SFR for advanced fuel cycles, it should assess the cost-benefit of a single reactor system design to meet both needs.

Recommendation 3-11. Funding for NGNP and NHI should be increased if the schedule is to be accelerated to attract more industrial support.


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