received 30 or so indications of interest from utility companies, with a number of those indications moving forward to more formal consideration. Most of these plants would be based on evolutionary improvements of existing designs with some improved safety features. Plants also could be built that incorporate advanced concepts developed through nuclear research and development programs.
The MIT report (Deutch and Moniz, 2003) argued for public support for a limited number of “first mover” power plants that represent safety-enhancing evolutionary reactor design. “If we want to demonstrate what the performance of these new plants will be technically and what their construction will look like in the new regulatory environment, … we need to get out there and build some plants,” said Moniz. “You want to build a few of each design to establish the cost performance, the construction performance, and to [assess] the regulatory regime. Then it has to compete in the marketplace.”
Another economic consideration involves the licensing of existing and future plants, Ray Orbach pointed out later in the summit. At a recent workshop on nuclear power, engineers in the nuclear industry were asked what their greatest problem was. Their response was, “cracks,” Orbach said. Licensing of existing plants was extended from 40 to 60 years in the past. The issues associated with extending licenses to 80 years, which would substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions, are now being examined. “We are now trying to extend the licensing [of nuclear plants] for 20 more years,” said Orbach. But “there are real problems associated with fission energy, not the least of which are the materials issues surrounding the reactor itself.” The Department of Energy is now funding research in materials science, nuclear physics, and advanced computing designed to understand and control processes that occur during nuclear power generation. For example, Orbach mentioned the possibility of developing self-healing materials that would reduce the problems observed in current reactors.
Steven Specker also emphasized that careful planning today can do much to extend the lifetimes of current and future generations of nuclear power plants. “It’s like your own health,” he said. “You better start taking care of yourself now. And we need to be doing things on today’s plants that would allow [their lifetimes] to be extended.”
As Orbach observed, the spent fuel that emerges from nuclear power plants still has a lot of energy left in it. By disposing of that fuel, the remaining energy is wasted. In addition, if the price of uranium increases, the energy left in spent fuel becomes even more valuable.
To extract this energy, the current administration has proposed a global nuclear energy partnership that would reprocess spent fuel in specialized reac-