5

Conclusions and Recommendations

The Committee was requested to analyze the technological and institutional alternatives to retain an option for future U.S. nuclear power deployment.

A premise of the Senate report directing this study is “that nuclear fission remains an important option for meeting our electric energy requirements and maintaining a balanced national energy policy.” The Committee was not asked to examine this premise, and it did not do so. The Committee consisted of members with widely ranging views on the desirability of nuclear power. Nevertheless, all members approached the Committee's charge from the perspective of what would be necessary if we are to retain nuclear power as an option for meeting U.S. electric energy requirements, without attempting to achieve consensus on whether or not it should be retained. The Committee's conclusions and recommendations should be read in this context.

The Committee's review and analyses have been presented in previous chapters. Here the Committee consolidates the conclusions and recommendations found in the previous chapters and adds some additional conclusions and recommendations based upon some of the previous statements. The Committee also includes some conclusions and recommendations that are not explicitly based upon the earlier chapters but stem from the considerable experience of the Committee members.

Most of the following discussion contains conclusions. There also are a few recommendations. Where the recommendations appear they are identified as such by bold italicized type.

GENERAL CONCLUSIONS

In 1989, nuclear plants produced about 19 percent of the United States ' electricity, 77 percent of France's electricity, 26 percent of Japan's electricity, and 33 percent of West Germany's electricity. However, expansion of commercial nuclear energy has virtually halted in the United States. In other countries, too, growth of nuclear generation has slowed or stopped. The reasons in the United States include reduced growth in demand for electricity, high costs, regulatory uncertainty, and public opinion. In the United States, concern for safety, the economics of nuclear power, and waste disposal issues adversely affect the general acceptance of nuclear power.



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



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE 5 Conclusions and Recommendations The Committee was requested to analyze the technological and institutional alternatives to retain an option for future U.S. nuclear power deployment. A premise of the Senate report directing this study is “that nuclear fission remains an important option for meeting our electric energy requirements and maintaining a balanced national energy policy.” The Committee was not asked to examine this premise, and it did not do so. The Committee consisted of members with widely ranging views on the desirability of nuclear power. Nevertheless, all members approached the Committee's charge from the perspective of what would be necessary if we are to retain nuclear power as an option for meeting U.S. electric energy requirements, without attempting to achieve consensus on whether or not it should be retained. The Committee's conclusions and recommendations should be read in this context. The Committee's review and analyses have been presented in previous chapters. Here the Committee consolidates the conclusions and recommendations found in the previous chapters and adds some additional conclusions and recommendations based upon some of the previous statements. The Committee also includes some conclusions and recommendations that are not explicitly based upon the earlier chapters but stem from the considerable experience of the Committee members. Most of the following discussion contains conclusions. There also are a few recommendations. Where the recommendations appear they are identified as such by bold italicized type. GENERAL CONCLUSIONS In 1989, nuclear plants produced about 19 percent of the United States ' electricity, 77 percent of France's electricity, 26 percent of Japan's electricity, and 33 percent of West Germany's electricity. However, expansion of commercial nuclear energy has virtually halted in the United States. In other countries, too, growth of nuclear generation has slowed or stopped. The reasons in the United States include reduced growth in demand for electricity, high costs, regulatory uncertainty, and public opinion. In the United States, concern for safety, the economics of nuclear power, and waste disposal issues adversely affect the general acceptance of nuclear power.

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE Electricity Demand Estimated growth in summer peak demand for electricity in the United States has fallen from the 1974 projection of more than 7 percent per year to a relatively steady level of about 2 percent per year. Plant orders based on the projections resulted in cancellations, extended construction schedules, and excess capacity during much of the 1970s and 1980s. The excess capacity has diminished in the past five years, and ten year projections (at approximately 2 percent per year) suggest a need for new capacity in the 1990s and beyond. To meet near-term anticipated demand, bidding by non-utility generators and energy efficiency providers is establishing a trend for utilities acquiring a substantial portion of this new generating capacity from others. Reliance on non-utility generators does not now favor large scale baseload technologies. Nuclear power plants emit neither precursors to acid rain nor gases that contribute to global warming, like carbon dioxide. Both of these environmental issues are currently of great concern. New regulations to address these issues will lead to increases in the costs of electricity produced by combustion of coal, one of nuclear power's main competitors. Increased costs for coal-generated electricity will also benefit alternate energy sources that do not emit these pollutants. Costs Major deterrents for new U.S. nuclear plant orders include high capital carrying charges, driven by high construction costs and extended construction times, as well as the risk of not recovering all construction costs. Construction Costs Construction costs are hard to establish, with no central source, and inconsistent data from several sources. Available data show a wide range of costs for U.S. nuclear plants, with the most expensive costing three times more (in dollars per kilowatt electric) than the least expensive in the same year of commercial operation. In the post-Three Mile Island era, the cost increases have been much larger. Considerable design modification and retrofitting to meet new regulations contributed to cost increases. From 1971 to 1980, the most expensive nuclear plant (in constant dollars) increased by 30 percent. The highest cost for a nuclear plant beginning commercial operation in the United States was twice as expensive (in constant dollars) from 1981 to 1984 as it was from 1977 to 1980.

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE Construction Time Although plant size also increased, the average time to construct a U.S. nuclear plant went from about 5 years prior to 1975 to about 12 years from 1985 to 1989. U.S. construction times are much longer than those in other major nuclear countries, except for the United Kingdom. Over the period 1978 to 1989, the U.S. average construction time was nearly twice that of France and more than twice that of Japan. Prudency Billions of dollars in disallowances of recovery of costs from utility ratepayers have made utilities and the financial community leery of further investments in nuclear power plants. During the 1980s, rate base disallowances by state regulators totaled about $14 billion for nuclear plants, but only about $0.7 billion for non-nuclear plants. Operation Operation and maintenance (O&M) costs for U.S. nuclear plants have increased faster than for coal plants. Over the decade of the 1980s, U.S. nuclear O&M-plus-fuel costs grew from nearly half to about the same as those for fossil fueled plants, a significant shift in relative advantage. Performance On average, U.S. nuclear plants have poorer capacity factors compared to those of plants in other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. On a lifetime basis, the United States is barely above 60 percent capacity factor, while France and Japan are at 68 percent, and West Germany is at 74 percent. Moreover, through 1988 12 U.S. plants were in the bottom 22. However, some U.S. plants do very well: 3 of the top 22 OECD plants through 1988 were U.S. U.S. plants averaged 65 percent in 1988, 63 percent in 1989, and 68 percent in 1990. Except for capacity factors, the performance indicators of U.S. nuclear plants have improved significantly over the past several years. If the industry is to achieve parity with the operating performance in other countries, it must carefully examine its failure to achieve its own goal in this area and develop improved strategies, including better management practices. Such practices are important if the generators are to develop confidence that the new generation of plants can achieve the higher load factors estimated by the vendors.

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE Public Attitudes There has been substantial opposition to new plants. The failure to solve the high-level radioactive waste disposal problem has harmed nuclear power's public image. It is the Committee's opinion, based upon our experience, that, more recently, an inability of states, that are members of regional compact commissions, to site low-level radioactive waste facilities has also harmed nuclear power's public image. Several factors seem to influence the public to have a less than positive attitude toward new nuclear plants: no perceived urgency for new capacity; nuclear power is believed to be more costly than alternatives; concerns that nuclear power is not safe enough; little trust in government or industry advocates of nuclear power; concerns about the health effects of low-level radiation; concerns that there is no safe way to dispose of high-level waste; and concerns about proliferation of nuclear weapons. The Committee concludes that the following would improve public opinion of nuclear power: a recognized need for a greater electrical supply that can best be met by large plants; economic sanctions or public policies imposed to reduce fossil fuel burning; maintaining the safe operation of existing nuclear plants and informing the public; providing the opportunity for meaningful public participation in nuclear power issues, including generation planning, siting, and oversight; better communication on the risk of low-level radiation; resolving the high-level waste disposal issue; and assurance that a revival of nuclear power would not increase proliferation of nuclear weapons. Safety As a result of operating experience, improved O&M training programs, safety research, better inspections, and productive use of probabilistic risk analysis, safety is continually improved. The Committee concludes that the risk to the health of the public from the operation of current reactors in the United States is very small. In this fundamental sense, current reactors are safe. However, a significant segment of the public has a different perception and also believes that the level of safety can and should be increased. The

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE development of advanced reactors is in part an attempt to respond to this public attitude. Institutional Changes The Committee believes that large-scale deployment of new nuclear power plants will require significant changes by both industry and government. Industry One of the most important factors affecting the future of nuclear power in the United States is its cost in relation to alternatives and the recovery of these capital and operating charges through rates that are charged for the electricity produced. Chapter 2 of this report deals with these issues in some detail. As stated there, the industry must develop better methods for managing the design and construction of nuclear plants. Arrangements among the participants that would assure timely, economical, and high-quality construction of new nuclear plants, the Committee believes, will be prerequisites to an adequate degree of assurance of capital cost recovery from state regulatory authorities in advance of construction. The development of state prudency laws also can provide a positive response to this issue. The Committee and others are well aware of the increases in nuclear plant construction and operating costs over the last 20 years and the extension of plant construction schedules over this same period. 1 The Committee believes there are many reasons for these increases but is unable to disaggregate the cost effect among these reasons with any meaningful precision. Like others, the Committee believes that the financial community and the generators must both be satisfied that significant improvements can be achieved before new plants can be ordered. In addition, the Committee believes that greater confidence in the control of costs can be realized with plant designs that are more nearly complete before construction begins, plants that are easier to construct, use of better construction and management methods, and business arrangements among the participants that provide stronger incentives for cost-effective, timely completion of projects. It is the Committee's opinion, based upon our experience, that the principal participants in the nuclear industry--utilities, architect-engineers, and suppliers –should begin now to work out the full range of contractual arrangements for advanced nuclear power plants. Such arrangements would 1   See discussion of costs and construction schedules in Chapter 2.

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE increase the confidence of state regulatory bodies and others that the principal participants in advanced nuclear power plant projects will be financially accountable for the quality, timeliness, and economy of their products and services. Inadequate management practices have been identified at some U.S. utilities, large and small public and private. Because of the high visibility of nuclear power and the responsibility for public safety, a consistently higher level of demonstrated utility management practices is essential before the U.S. public's attitude about nuclear power is likely to improve. Over the past decade, utilities have steadily strengthened their ability to be responsible for the safety of their plants. Their actions include the formation and support of industry institutions, including the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO). Self-assessment and peer oversight through INPO are acknowledged to be strong and effective means of improving the performance of U.S. nuclear power plants. The Committee believes that such industry self-improvement, accountability, and self-regulation efforts improve the ability to retain nuclear power as an option for meeting U.S. electric energy requirements. The Committee encourages industry efforts to reduce reliance on the adversarial approach to issue resolution. It is the Committee's opinion, based upon our experience, that the nuclear industry should continue to take the initiative to bring the standards of every American nuclear plant up to those of the best plants in the United States and the world. Chronic poor performers should be identified publicly and should face the threat of insurance cancellations. Every U.S. nuclear utility should continue its full-fledged participation in INPO; any new operators should be required to become members through insurance prerequisites or other institutional mechanisms. Standardization. The Committee views a high degree of standardization as very important for the retention of nuclear power as an option for meeting U.S. electric energy requirements. There is not a uniformly accepted definition of standardization. The industry, under the auspices of the Nuclear Power Oversight Committee, has developed a position paper on standardization that provides definitions of the various phases of standardization and expresses an industry commitment to standardization. The Committee believes that a strong and sustained commitment by the principal participants will be required to realize the potential benefits of standardization (of families of plants) in the diverse U.S. economy. It is the Committee's opinion, based upon our experience, that the following will be necessary:

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE Families of standardized plants will be important for ensuring the highest levels of safety and for realizing the potential economic benefits of new nuclear plants. Families of standardized plants will allow standardized approaches to plant modification, maintenance, operation, and training. Customers, whether utilities or other entities, must insist on standardization before an order is placed, during construction, and throughout the life of the plant. Suppliers must take standardization into account early in planning and marketing. Any supplier of standardized units will need the experience and resources for a long-term commitment. Antitrust considerations will have to be properly taken into account to develop standardized plants. Nuclear Regulatory Commission An obstacle to continued nuclear power development has been the uncertainties in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) licensing process. Because the current regulatory framework was mainly intended for light water reactors (LWR) with active safety systems and because regulatory standards were developed piecemeal over many years, without review and consolidation, the regulations should be critically reviewed and modified (or replaced with a more coherent body of regulations) for advanced reactors of other types. The Committee recommends that NRC comprehensively review its regulations to prepare for advance reactors, in particular. LWRs with passive safety features. The review should proceed from first principles to develop a coherent, consistent set of regulations. The Committee concludes that NRC should improve the quality of its regulation of existing and future nuclear power plants, including tighter management controls over all of its interactions with licensees and consistency of regional activities. Industry has proposed such to NRC. The Committee encourages efforts by NRC to reduce reliance on the adversarial approach to issue resolution. The Committee recommends that NRC encourage industry self-improvement, accountability, and self-regulation initiatives. While federal regulation plays an important safety role, it must not be allowed to detract from or undermine the accountability of utilities and their line management organizations for the safety of their plants. It is the Committee's expectation that economic incentive programs instituted by state regulatory bodies will continue for nuclear power plant operators. Properly formulated and administered, these programs should improve the economic performance of nuclear plants, and they may also enhance safety. However, they do have the potential to provide incentives counter to safety. The Committee believes that such programs should focus

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE on economic incentives and avoid incentives that can directly affect plant safety. On July 18, 1991 NRC issued a Nuclear Regulatory Commission Policy Statement which expressed concern that such incentive programs may adversely affect safety and commits NRC to monitoring such programs. A joint industry/state study of economic incentive programs could help assure that such programs do not interfere with the safe operation of nuclear power plants. It is the Committee's opinion, based upon our experience, that NRC should continue to exercise its federally mandated preemptive authority over the regulation of commercial nuclear power plant safety if the activities of state government agencies (or other public or private agencies) run counter to nuclear safety. Such activities would include those that individually or in the aggregate interfere with the ability of the organization with direct responsibility for nuclear plant safety (the organization licensed by the Commission to operate the plant) to meet this responsibility. The Committee urges close industry-state cooperation in the safety area. It is also the Committee's opinion, based upon our experience, that the industry must have confidence in the stability of NRC's licensing process. Suppliers and utilities need assurance that licensing has become and will remain a manageable process that appropriately limits the late introduction of new issues. It is likely that, if the possibility of a second hearing before a nuclear plant can be authorized to operate is to be reduced or eliminated, legislation will be necessary. The nuclear industry is convinced that such legislation will be required to increase utility and investor confidence to retain nuclear power as an option for meeting U.S. electric energy requirements. The Committee concurs. It is the Committee's opinion, based upon our experience, that potential nuclear power plant sponsors must not face large unanticipated cost increases as a result of mid-course regulatory changes, such as backfits. NRC 's new licensing rule, 10 CFR Part 52, provides needed incentives for standardized designs. Industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission The U.S. system of nuclear regulation is inherently adversarial, but mitigation of unnecessary tension in the relations between NRC and its nuclear power licensees would, in the Committee's opinion, improve the regulatory environment and enhance public health and safety. Thus, the Committee commends the efforts by both NRC and the industry to work

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE more cooperatively together and encourages both to continue and strengthen these efforts. Department of Energy Lack of resolution of the high-level waste problem jeopardizes future nuclear power development. The Committee believes that the legal status of the Yucca Mountain site for a geologic repository should be resolved soon, and that the Department of Energy's (DOE) program to investigate this site should be continued. In addition, a contingency plan must be developed to store high-level radioactive waste in surface storage facilities pending the availability of the geologic repository. Environmental Protection Agency The problems associated with establishing a high-level waste site at Yucca Mountain are exacerbated by the requirement that, before operation of a repository begins, DOE must demonstrate to NRC that the repository will perform to standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). NRC's staff has strongly questioned the workability of these quantitative requirements, as have the National Research Council's Radioactive Waste Management Board and others. The Committee concludes that the EPA standard for disposal of high-level waste will have to be reevaluated to ensure that a standard that is both adequate and feasible is applied to the geologic waste repository. Administration and Congress The Price-Anderson Act will expire in 2002. The Committee sought to discover whether or not such protection would be required for advanced reactors. The clear impression the Committee received from industry representatives was that some such protection would continue to be needed, although some Committee members believe that this was an expression of desire rather than of need. At the very least, renewal of Price-Anderson in 2002 would be viewed by the industry as a supportive action by Congress and would eliminate the potential disruptive effect of developing alternative liability arrangements with the insurance industry. Failure to renew Price-Anderson in 2002 would raise a new impediment to nuclear power plant orders as well as possibly reduce an assured source of funds to accident victims.

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE Other The Committee believes that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) approach to safety investigations, as a substitute for the present NRC approach, has merit. In view of the infrequent nature of the activities of such a committee, it may be feasible for it to be established on an ad hoc basis and report directly to the NRC chairman. Therefore, the Committee recommends that such a small safety review entity be established. Before the establishment of such an activity, its charter should be carefully defined, along with a clear delineation of the classes of accidents it would investigate. Its location in the government and its reporting channels should also be specified. The function of this group would parallel those of NTSB. Specifically, the group would conduct independent public investigations of serious incidents and accidents at nuclear power plants and would publish reports evaluating the causes of these events. This group would have only a small administrative structure and would bring in independent experts, including those from both industry and government, to conduct its investigations. It is the Committee's opinion, based upon our experience, that responsible arrangements must be negotiated between sponsors and economic regulators to provide reasonable assurances of complete cost recovery for nuclear power plant sponsors. Without such assurances, private investment capital is not likely to flow to this technology. In Chapter 2, the Committee addressed the non-recovery of utility costs in rate proceedings and concluded that better methods of dealing with this issue must be established. The Committee was impressed with proposals for periodic reviews of construction progress and costs--“rolling prudency” determinations--as one method for managing the risks of cost recovery. The Committee believes that enactment of such legislation could remove much of the investor risk and uncertainty currently associated with state regulatory treatment of new power plant construction, and could therefore help retain nuclear power as an option for meeting U.S. electric energy requirements. On balance, however, unless many states adopt this or similar legislation, it is the Committee's view that substantial assurances probably cannot be given, especially in advance of plant construction, that all costs incurred in building nuclear plants will be allowed into rate bases. The Committee notes the current trend toward economic deregulation of electric power generation. It is presently unclear whether this trend is compatible with substantial additions of large-scale, utility-owned, baseload generating capacity, and with nuclear power plants in particular.

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE It is the Committee's opinion, based upon our experience, that regional low-level radioactive waste compact commissions must continue to establish disposal sites. Summary The institutional challenges are clearly substantial. If they are to be met, the Committee believes that the Federal government must decide, as a matter of national policy, whether a strong and growing nuclear power program is vital to the economic, environmental, and strategic interests of the American people. Only with such a clearly stated policy, enunciated by the President and backed by the Congress through appropriate statutory changes and appropriations, will it be possible to effect the institutional changes necessary to return the flow of capital and human resources required to properly employ this technology. Alternative Reactor Technologies Advanced reactors are now in design or development. They are being designed to be simpler, and, if design goals are realized, these plants will be safer than existing reactors. The design requirements for the advanced reactors are more stringent than the NRC safety goal policy. If final safety designs of advanced reactors, and especially those with passive safety features, are as indicated to this Committee, an attractive feature of them should be the significant reduction in system complexity and corresponding improvement in operability. While difficult to quantify, the benefit of improvements in the operator 's ability to monitor the plant and respond to system degradations may well equal or exceed that of other proposed safety improvements. The reactor concepts assessed by the Committee were the large evolutionary LWRs, the mid-sized LWRs with passive safety features,2 the Canadian deuterium uranium (CANDU) heavy water reactor, the modular high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (MHTGR), the safe integral reactor (SIR), the process inherent ultimate safety (PIUS) reactor, and the liquid metal reactor (LMR). The Committee developed the following criteria for comparing these reactor concepts: 2   The term “passive safety features” refers to the use of gravity, natural circulation, and stored energy to provide essential safety functions in such LWRs.

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE safety in operation; economy of construction and operation; suitability for future deployment in the U.S. market; fuel cycle and environmental considerations; safeguards for resistance to diversion and sabotage; technology risk and development schedule; and amenability to efficient and predictable licensing. With regard to advanced designs, the Committee reached the following conclusions. Large Evolutionary Light Water Reactors The large evolutionary LWRs offer the most mature technology. The first standardized design to be certified in the United States is likely to be an evolutionary LWR. The Committee sees no need for federal research and development (R&D) funding for these concepts, although federal funding could accelerate the certification process. Mid-sized Light Water Reactors with Passive Safety Features The mid-sized LWRs with passive safety features are designed to be simpler, with modular construction to reduce construction times and costs, and to improve operations. They are likely the next to be certified. Because there is no experience in building such plants, cost projections for the first plant are clearly uncertain. To reduce the economic uncertainties it will be necessary to demonstrate the construction technology and improved operating performance. These reactors differ from current reactors in construction approach, plant configuration, and safety features. These differences do not appear so great as to require that a first plant be built for NRC certification. While a prototype in the traditional sense will not be required, the Committee concludes that no first-plant mid-sized LWR with passive safety features is likely to be certified and built without government incentives, in the form of shared funding or financial guarantees. CANDU Heavy Water Reactor The Committee judges that the CANDU ranks below the advanced mid-sized LWRs in market potential. The CANDU-3 reactor is farther along in design than the mid-sized LWRs with passive safety features. However, it has not entered NRC's design certification process. Commission requirements are complex and different from those in Canada so that U.S. certification

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE could be a lengthy process. However, the CANDU reactor can probably be licensed in this century. The heavy water reactor is a mature design, and Canadian entry into the U.S. marketplace would give added insurance of adequate nuclear capacity if it is needed in the future. But the CANDU does not offer advantages sufficient to justify U.S. government assistance to initiate and conduct its licensing review. Modular High-Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactor The MHTGR posed a difficult set of questions for the Committee. U.S. and foreign experience with commercial gas-cooled reactors has not been good. A consortium of industry and utility people continue to promote federal funding and to express interest in the concept, while none has committed to an order. The reactor, as presently configured, is located below ground level and does not have a conventional containment. The basic rationale of the designers is that a containment is not needed because of the safety features inherent in the properties of the fuel. However, the Committee was not convinced by the presentations that the core damage frequency for the MHTGR has been demonstrated to be low enough to make a containment structure unnecessary. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory estimates that data to confirm fuel performance will not be available before 1994. The Committee believes that reliance on the defense-in-depth concept must be retained, and accurate evaluation of safety will require evaluation of a detailed design. A demonstration plant for the MHTGR could be licensed slightly after the turn of the century, with certification following demonstration of successful operation. The MHTGR needs an extensive R&D program to achieve commercial readiness in the early part of the next century. The construction and operation of a first plant would likely be required before design certification. Recognizing the opposite conclusion of the MHTGR proponents, the Committee was not convinced that a foreseeable commercial market exists for MHTGR-produced process heat, which is the unique strategic capability of the MHTGR. Based on the Committee 's view on containment requirements, and the economics and technology issues, the Committee judged the market potential for the MHTGR to be low. The Committee believes that no funds should be allocated for development of high-temperature gas-cooled reactor technology within the commercial nuclear power development budget of DOE.

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE Safe Integral Reactor and Process Inherent Ultimate Safety Reactor The other advanced light water designs the Committee examined were the United Kingdom and U.S. SIR and the Swedish PIUS reactor. The Committee believes there is no near-term U.S. market for SIR and PIUS. The development risks for SIR and PIUS are greater than for the other LWRs and CANDU-3. The lack of operational and regulatory experience for these two is expected to significantly delay their acceptance by utilities. SIR and PIUS need much R&D, and a first plant will probably be required before design certification is approved. The Committee concluded that no Federal funds should be allocated for R&D on SIR or PIUS. Liquid Metal Reactor LMRs offer advantages because of their potential ability to provide a long-term energy supply through a nearly complete use of uranium resources. Were the nuclear option to be chosen, and large scale deployment follow, at some point uranium supplies at competitive prices might be exhausted. Breeder reactors offer the possibility of extending fissionable fuel supplies well past the next century. In addition, actinides, including those from LWR spent fuel, can undergo fission without significantly affecting performance of an advanced LMR, transmuting the actinides to fission products, most of which, except for technetium, carbon, and some others of little import, have half-lives very much shorter than the actinides. (Actinides are among the materials of greatest concern in nuclear waste disposal beyond about 300 years.) However, substantial further research is required to establish (1) the technical and the economic feasibility of recycling in LMRs actinides recovered from LWR spent fuel, and (2) whether high-recovery recycling of transuranics and their transmutation can, in fact, benefit waste disposal. Assuming success, it would still be necessary to dispose of high-level waste, although the waste would largely consist of significantly shorter-lived fission products. Special attention will be necessary to ensure that the LMR's reprocessing facilities are not vulnerable to sabotage or to theft of plutonium. The unique property of the LMR, fuel breeding, might lead to a U.S. market, but only in the long term. From the viewpoint of commercial licensing, it is far behind the evolutionary and mid-sized LWRs with passive safety features in having a commercial design available for review. A federally funded program, including one or more first plants, will be required before any LMR concept would be accepted by U.S. utilities.

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE Net Assessment The Committee could not make any meaningful quantitative comparison of the relative safety of the various advanced reactor designs. The Committee believes that each of the concepts considered can be designed and operated to meet or closely approach the safety objectives currently proposed for future, advanced LWRs. The different advanced reactor designs employ different mixes of active and passive safety features. The Committee believes that there currently is no single optimal approach to improved safety. Dependence on passive safety features does not, of itself, ensure greater safety. The Committee believes that a prudent design course retains the historical defense-in-depth approach. The economic projections are highly uncertain, first, because past experience suggests higher costs, longer construction times, and lower availabilities than projected and, second, because of different assumptions and levels of maturity among the designs. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) data, which the Committee believes to be more reliable than that of the vendors, indicate that the large evolutionary LWRs are likely to be the least costly to build and operate on a cost per kilowatt electric or kilowatt hour basis, while the high-temperature gas-cooled reactors and LMRs are likely to be the most expensive. EPRI puts the mid-sized LWRs with passive safety features between the two extremes. Although there are definite differences in the fuel cycle characteristics of the advanced reactors, fuel cycle considerations did not offer much in the way of discrimination among reactors, nor did safeguards and security considerations, particularly for deployment in the United States. However, the CANDU (with on-line refueling and heavy water) and the LMR (with reprocessing) will require special attention to safeguards. SIR, MHTGR, PIUS, and LMR are not likely to be deployed for commercial use in the United States, at least within the next 20 years. The development required for commercialization of any of these concepts is substantial. It is the Committee's overall assessment that the large evolutionary LWRs and the mid-sized LWRs with passive safety features rank highest relative to the Committee 's evaluation criteria. The evolutionary reactors could be ready for deployment by 2000, and the mid-sized could be ready for initial plant construction soon after 2000. The Committee's evaluations and overall assessment are summarized in Figure 5-1.

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE FIGURE 5.1 Assessment of advanced reactor technologies. This table is an attempt to summarize the Committee's qualitative rankings of selected reactor types against each other, without reference either to an absolute standard or to the performance of any other energy resource options, This evaluation was based on the Committee's professional judgment.

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE The Committee has concluded the following: Safety and cost are the most important characteristics for future nuclear power plants. LWRs of the large evolutionary and the mid-sized advanced designs offer the best potential for competitive costs (in that order). Safety benefits among all reactor types appear to be about equal at this stage in the design process. Safety must be achieved by attention to all failure modes and levels of design by a multiplicity of safety barriers and features. Consequently, in the absence of detailed engineering design and because of the lack of construction and operating experience with the actual concepts, vendor claims of safety superiority among conceptual designs cannot be substantiated. LWRs can be deployed to meet electricity production needs for the first quarter of the next century: The evolutionary LWRs are further developed and, because of international projects, are most complete in design. They are likely to be the first plants certified by NRC. They are expected to be the first of the advanced reactors available for commercial use and could operate in the 2000 to 2005 time frame. Compared to current reactors, significant improvements in safety appear likely. Compared to recently completed high-cost reactors, significant improvements also appear possible in cost if institutional barriers are resolved. While little or no federal funding is deemed necessary to complete the process, such funding could accelerate the process. Because of the large size and capital investment of evolutionary reactors, utilities that might order nuclear plants may be reluctant to do so. If nuclear power plants are to be available to a broader range of potential U.S. generators, the development of the mid-sized plants with passive safety features is important. These reactors are progressing in their designs, through DOE and industry funding, toward certification in the 1995 to 2000 time frame. The Committee believes such funding will be necessary to complete the process. While a prototype in the traditional sense will not be required, federal funding will likely be required for the first mid-sized LWR with passive safety features to be ordered. Government incentives, in the form of shared funding or financial guarantees, would likely accelerate the next order for a light water plant. The Committee has not addressed what type of government assistance should be provided nor whether the first advanced light water plant should be a large evolutionary LWR or a mid-sized passive LWR. The CANDU-3 reactor is relatively advanced in design but represents technology that has not been licensed in the United States. The Committee did not find compelling reasons for federal funding to the vendor to support the licensing.

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE SIR and PIUS, while offering potentially attractive safety features, are unlikely to be ready for commercial use until after 2010. This alone may limit their market potential. Funding priority for research on these reactor systems is considered by the Committee to be low. MHTGRs also offer potential safety features and possible process heat applications that could be attractive in the market place. However, based on the extensive experience base with light water technology in the United States, the lack of success with commercial use of gas technology, the likely higher costs of this technology compared with the alternatives, and the substantial development costs that are still required before certification,3 the Committee concluded that the MHTGR had a low market potential. The Committee considered the possibility that the MHTGR might be selected as the new tritium production reactor for defense purposes and noted the vendor association's estimated reduction in development costs for a commercial version of the MHTGR. However, the Committee concluded, for the reasons summarized above, that the commercial MHTGR should be given low priority for federal funding. LMR technology also provides enhanced safety features, but its uniqueness lies in the potential for extending fuel resources through breeding. While the market potential is low in the near term (before the second quarter of the next century), it could be an important long-term technology, especially if it can be demonstrated to be economic. The Committee believes that the LMR should have the highest priority for long-term nuclear technology development. The problems of proliferation and physical security posed by the various technologies are different and require continued attention. Special attention will need to be paid to the LMR. Alternative Research and Development Programs The Committee developed three alternative R&D programs, each of which contains three common research elements: (1) reactor research using federal facilities. The experimental breeder reactor-II, hot fuel examination facility/south, and fuel manufacturing facility are retained for the LMR; (2) university research programs; and (3) improved performance and life extension programs for existing U.S. nuclear power plants. 3   The Gas Cooled Reactor Associates estimates that, if the MHTGR is selected as the new tritium production reactor, development costs for a commercial MHTGR could be reduced from about $1 billion to $0.3 - 0.6 billion.[DOE, 1990 in Chapter 3]

OCR for page 180
NUCLEAR POWER: TECHNICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE FUTURE The Committee concluded that federal support for development of a commercial version of the MHTGR should be a low priority. However, the fundamental design strategy of the MHTGR is based upon the integrity of the fuel (=1600°C) under operation and accident conditions. There are other potentially significant uses for such fuel, in particular, space propulsion. Consequently, the Committee believes that DOE should consider maintaining a coated fuel particle research program within that part of DOE focused on space reactors. Alternative 1 adds funding to assist development of the mid-sized LWRs with passive safety features. Alternative 2 adds a LMR development program and associated facilities--the transient reactor test facility, the zero power physics reactor, the Energy Technology Engineering Center, and either the hot fuel examination facility/north in Idaho or the Hanford hot fuel examination facility. This alternative would also include limited research to examine the feasibility of recycling actinides from LWR spent fuel, utilizing the LMR. Finally, Alternative 3 adds the fast flux test facility and increases LMR funding to accelerate reactor and integral fast reactor fuel cycle development and examination of actinide recycle of LWR spent fuel. None of the three alternatives contain funding for development of the MHTGR, SIR, PIUS, or CANDU-3. Significant analysis and research is required to assess both the technical and economic feasibility of recycling actinides from LWR spent fuel. The Committee notes that a study of separations technology and transmutation systems was initiated in 1991 by DOE through the National Research Council's Board on Radioactive Waste Management. It is the Committee's judgment that Alternative 2 should be followed because it: provides adequate support for the most promising near-term reactor technologies; provides sufficient support for LMR development to maintain the technical capabilities of the LMR R&D community; would support deployment of LMRs to breed fuel by the second quarter of the next century should that be needed; and would maintain a research program in support of both existing and advanced reactors.