Plan implies that these analyses will be part of a business plan to be provided to the Secretary of Energy in June 2008. The committee does not find it credible that such analyses, with uncertainties, can be accomplished by that time. Even implementing an effort to develop such a plan, which would imply that a credible decision can be made by June 2008, is a matter of concern to the committee.

Furthermore, it seems likely that the GNEP fuel cycle will be more costly to operate than some other options. GNEP objectives are satisfied only with transitional or sustained recycles that require partial or full participation by fast reactors. Fast reactors complicate the selection of advanced fuel cycles since their estimated capital costs are currently expected to be 10-50 percent higher than those of LWRs, according to a Harvard study (Bunn et al., 2003, p. 68). Similarly, a preliminary predecisional economic evaluation (Crozat, 2007, p. 8) shows that the cost of nuclear electricity for an SFR would be $71/MWh compared to $56/MWh for an LWR. If that difference is reasonably accurate, producers of nuclear electricity will balk at adopting fast reactors or subsidizing them through an increase in the Nuclear Waste Fund fee, which is only $1/MWh, for thermal reactors.

Finally, a thorough economic analysis should consider several questions not apparent in the work made available to the committee. For example, closed fuel cycle cost analyses seem to have been carried out without considering temporal coordination of the components of GNEP. DOE apparently fails to recognize the crucial importance of the timing of the required separation and fast reactor facilities as well as of the time required to develop qualified fuel and its recycling in fast reactors. For a number of reasons, fuel cycle costs would rise if the separation facilities are ready but the fast reactor requires many more years to be deployed. One reason is that the TRUs separated from spent fuel would have to be stored in the interim. Moreover, the GNEP program would suffer long delays from time spent qualifying new fuels with each successive recycle. The committee is concerned that the plan to move rapidly to recycling and fast reactors has no economic basis.

International Aspects

One international aspect of the GNEP plan falls within the purview of this study. Because the United States has far less experience with fast reactors and recycling than other nations that are potential partners in the program, it is very important to make the program a truly cooperative one, to allow American scientists and engineers to learn from the previous work of their counterparts, and to shape the research and engineering program to be as efficient a win-win program as possible for all the participating nations. For this reason it would be very desirable as GNEP goes forward to enhance the international collaboration that was initiated with the Generation IV Technology Roadmap. One example is the area of waste separation and fuel preparation. While the proposed GNEP plan names UREX+1A as the most favored and presumably first method it wishes to pursue, other nations appear to favor other methods with which they have more experience. If GNEP is to really be an international collaboration, it is crucial that all the participating nations share the knowledge and experience each accumulates as new technologies evolve.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The committee concludes that the rationale for the GNEP program, as expressed through the stated goals, objectives, and criteria, has been unpersuasive. The program is premised on an accelerated deployment strategy that will create significant technical and financial risks by prematurely narrowing the technical options. Moreover, there has been insufficient external input, including independent, thorough peer review of GNEP.

In light of the foregoing, the committee finds as follows:


Finding 4-1. Domestic waste management, security, and fuel supply needs are not adequate to justify early deployment of commercial-scale reprocessing and fast reactor facilities.


Finding 4-2. The state of knowledge surrounding the technologies required for achieving the goals of GNEP is still at an early stage, at best a stage where one can justify beginning to work at an engineering scale. However it seems to the committee that DOE has given more weight to schedule than to conservative economics and technology. To carry out or even initiate efforts on a scale larger than the engineering scale in the next decade would be inconsistent with safe economic and technical practice.


Finding 4-3. The cost of the GNEP program is acknowledged by DOE not to be commercially competitive under present circumstances. There is no economic justification for proceeding with this program at anything approaching commercial scale. Continued research and development are the appropriate level of activity, given the current state of knowledge.


Finding 4-4. Several fuel cycles could potentially form the basis for a recycling system. However none of the cycles proposed, including UREX+ and the sodium fast reactor, is sufficiently reliable and well understood to justify commercial-scale construction at this time.


Finding 4-5. The qualification of multiply-recycled transuranic fuel is far from reaching a stage of demonstrated reliability.


In short, all committee members agree that the GNEP program should not go forward as is and that it should be replaced by a less aggressive research program. Nonetheless,



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement