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Improving the Assessment of the Proliferation Risk of Nuclear Fuel Cycles (2013)

Chapter: 5 Identification of R&D for Improving Assessments

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Suggested Citation:"5 Identification of R&D for Improving Assessments." National Research Council. 2013. Improving the Assessment of the Proliferation Risk of Nuclear Fuel Cycles. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18335.
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5

IDENTIFICATION OF R&D FOR IMPROVING ASSESSMENTS

This chapter continues to look at ways to improve the utility of proliferation risk assessment. This chapter assesses whether the application of additional R&D research could improve the utility for decisions makers of the existing predefined framework methodologies or potential new methods (see Task 4 of the study charge):

TASK 4: Identify R&D and other opportunities for improving the utility for decision makers of current and potential new approaches to the assessment of proliferation risk.

In previous chapters, the committee found that although the predefined frameworks provide a good structure for identifying intrinsic and extrinsic barriers to proliferation, they address a subset of issues and questions faced by policy makers and have not highlighted significantly new or different findings. Additionally, the committee observes that policy makers have shown little interest in using them, and few examples could be found in which they informed decision making. Policy makers and decision makers prefer using multidisciplinary teams to provide technical analysis of proliferation risk coupled with their own knowledge to address specific nonproliferation issues (NRC 2011a, Bedell 2012, Goorevich 2012, Owens-Davis 2012, Stratford 2012). In addition, we note that many suggest that the overall risk that a country will pursue nuclear weapons is dominated by security, political, and cultural issues and not by the deployment of a particular fuel cycle. In addition, problems with the implementation of the predefined frameworks for the assessment of proliferation resistance were identified, including lack of documentation in selecting and eliciting experts, and accounting for sensitivities and uncertainties.

Given these considerations, the committee notes that a sufficient number and variety of framework methodologies exist to address the subset of questions related to proliferation resistance, and do not recommend R&D to develop more methodologies or to extend them to evaluating proliferation risk. The committee observes that there might be benefit in reanalysis of existing predefined framework assessments using improved expert elicitation practices and uncertainty and sensitivity analyses in order to increase the credibility and confidence of the results. However, the committee also notes that the

Suggested Citation:"5 Identification of R&D for Improving Assessments." National Research Council. 2013. Improving the Assessment of the Proliferation Risk of Nuclear Fuel Cycles. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18335.
×

applicability of these proliferation resistance studies remains of very limited value to policy makers for reasons mentioned previously: limited scope and lack of significantly new or different conclusions.

Because deployment of a future fuel cycle would not occur until 20 or 30 years in the future, the details of the facility design (e.g., technical design features, operational modalities, institutional arrangements, and safeguards measures) may not be known for deployments of future fuel cycle facilities.20 Also, further technical details about the new fuel cycle may emerge throughout the development process, such as piping and placement of parts of the facilities. These factors will strongly affect the final proliferation resistance of a fuel cycle facility. As was shown with nuclear safety risk assessments in Chapter 4, details can strongly affect the final risk.

Because proliferation resistance assessments for potential future fuel cycles have limited information on technical design features, operational modalities, institutional arrangements, and safeguards measures, the cost and time of executing a predefined framework is difficult to justify. For R&D decisions, it would be more useful to simplify analysis to address a few key questions, tailored to the level of known detail. As the technology is developed and closer to deployment, many more details may be known and the use of a predefined framework may be justified for determining proliferation resistance.

In Chapter 2, the committee noted several examples of nonproliferation policy makers and decision makers using a checklist of high-level questions to consistently address proliferation risk–related issues. For example, all Nuclear Cooperation Agreements (NCAs) have requirements that are addressed in the Nuclear Proliferation Assessment Statement (NPAS), and the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Nuclear Controls uses a set of seven questions that must be answered for each export review that is performed.

FINDING 4.1: The committee has identified several specific applications as opportunities in which the current predefined frameworks could provide value and utility to decision makers as long as the shortcomings in their execution are addressed. While aware of their existence, decision and policy makers have rarely used predefined framework assessments to inform their decisions. They have noted that the predefined frameworks have not highlighted previously unknown proliferation issues related to nuclear fuel cycles. Because these issues are not addressed by expansion or further development of existing predefined frameworks, the committee does not support a new or expanding R&D program.

The committee found that the predefined frameworks have value in the following applications:

_______________

20 Even as facilities are designed and built, it is unlikely that these details will be readily available, especially for some countries in which the United States may have proliferation concerns. This does not mean that policy makers do not use technical assessments. As mentioned in Chapter 1, they have repeatedly chosen case-by-case technical analyses.

Suggested Citation:"5 Identification of R&D for Improving Assessments." National Research Council. 2013. Improving the Assessment of the Proliferation Risk of Nuclear Fuel Cycles. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18335.
×

1) comparing the proliferation resistance of fuel cycles and identifying locations to apply safeguards or material monitoring,

2) educational applications (e.g. academic applications or informing new nuclear energy states about nuclear fuel cycles ),

3) enabling consistent communication with international partners or the public on nuclear energy decisions by providing analysis through the application of a predefined, internationally accepted and known methodology.

RECOMMENDATION 4.1: The committee recommends that fuel cycle R&D decisions include proliferation resistance (rather than proliferation risk) as one factor among others (such as cost and safety) to guide those decisions. Technical assessments are limited by the availability of technical details associated with future nuclear fuel cycles. Therefore, the committee recommends that DOE-NE and NNSA jointly decide upon a set of high-level questions comparing the proliferation resistance of proposed future fuel cycles to the current once-through fuel cycles to determine as early as possible in their development whether the former have significantly different intrinsic proliferation resistance (either for the better or for the worse). Assessments should be revisited at key milestones throughout the technologies’ development and eventual deployment; they should become more detailed as appropriate as new and better information and data emerge.

In determining the set of questions, it may not be necessary to start with a blank sheet of paper. For example, a useful list of high-level questions might be based on questions such as those identified in Chapter 2 of this report.

The committee was briefed on the current proliferation risk assessment approach that DOE-NE plans to take for its selection of next-generation nuclear energy systems. The proposed approach acknowledges that it is not possible to assess country-specific factors (e.g., intent, regional stability, technical capability) for all of the proposed systems (Wigeland 2012). However, the proposed approach considers the materials and quantities that would be created by the proposed fuel cycle and rates them against a Figure of Merit (FOM). By focusing solely on the FOM, there are other aspects of proliferation resistance that could be overlooked. For example, the FOM approach does not consider what processing steps would be needed to convert a “low risk” material into a “higher risk” material, which was a problem for pyroprocessing.

The committee notes that the questions developed by NE and NNSA could be answered by a variety of approaches (case-by-case, subject matter expert analysis, policymaker knowledge, expert checklists, or even simplified frameworks), but the committee also notes that the amount of data available should guide the choice of the method. Also, a comparison with the “current once-through fuel cycle” can be revisited in the future as aspects of the current fuel cycle (e.g., fuel type and burnup) evolve.

Suggested Citation:"5 Identification of R&D for Improving Assessments." National Research Council. 2013. Improving the Assessment of the Proliferation Risk of Nuclear Fuel Cycles. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18335.
×
Page 48
Suggested Citation:"5 Identification of R&D for Improving Assessments." National Research Council. 2013. Improving the Assessment of the Proliferation Risk of Nuclear Fuel Cycles. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18335.
×
Page 49
Suggested Citation:"5 Identification of R&D for Improving Assessments." National Research Council. 2013. Improving the Assessment of the Proliferation Risk of Nuclear Fuel Cycles. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18335.
×
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The material that sustains the nuclear reactions that produce energy can also be used to make nuclear weapons—and therefore, the development of nuclear energy is one of multiple pathways to proliferation for a non-nuclear weapon state. There is a tension between the development of future nuclear fuel cycles and managing the risk of proliferation as the number of existing and future nuclear energy systems expands throughout the world. As the Department of Energy (DOE) and other parts of the government make decisions about future nuclear fuel cycles, DOE would like to improve proliferation assessments to better inform those decisions.

Improving the Assessment of the Proliferation Risk of Nuclear Fuel Cycles considers how the current methods of quantification of proliferation risk are being used and implemented, how other approaches to risk assessment can contribute to improving the utility of assessments for policy and decision makers. The study also seeks to understand the extent to which technical analysis of proliferation risk could be improved for policy makers through research and development.

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