Study: Not so fast on GNEP

-A A +A
By Roger Snodgrass

At the same time, the committee suggested slowing down the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, a global effort led by the U.S. to reprocess spent fuel for use by partner nations.

The National Academy of Sciences study was commissioned by DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy, to focus on five elements of its program, which has altogether experienced a 70-percent spurt of growth since 2003.

The scientists and engineers of the academies backed a joint DOE-industry initiative, Nuclear Power 2010, as its highest priority. The program is supposed to identify appropriate sites in the U.S., help accelerate designs and safety approvals for advanced light water reactor plants, and speed up regulatory approvals with one-step construction and operating licenses.

The authors said good progress has been made in some areas on NP 2010, but noted that no funding has been requested and the pace is "far slower" than was proposed.

"There is considerable support for the 2010 program," said Warren F. Miller, a member of the review committee. Miller is the associate director of the Nuclear Security Science and Policy Institute at Texas, A&M. and was deputy laboratory director for science and technology at Los Alamos National Laboratory, among other senior positions.

On GNEP, Miller said, "There was a feeling that the department was rushing faster than national needs justify."

The basic concept for GNEP is to recycle plutonium-rich fuel rods from existing nuclear plants for use in a fleet of advanced nuclear reactors that would consume more of what would otherwise be high-level waste and therefore leave less high-level waste for disposal.

The U.S. has signed on 16 partners around the world in order to support nuclear power development. GNEP, it is claimed, would lower the risk of nuclear proliferation and provide a reliable fuel supply to participants.

"There's a feeling that the technologies need a lot more work to come to a commercial fruition," said Miller. "There's no reason to make this into a Manhattan Project, where you try to speed this up because there is an overwhelming need for the product."

Senior DOE officials disagreed with the report's recommendations on GNEP. Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dennis Spurgeon said the rejections were based on faulty premises: that DOE had already selected the separation technologies that will be deployed and the scale of the facilities to be built.

Worldwide nuclear power growth is needed "to meet demand and confront climate change," the DOE said in a prepared statement. "(T)he administration is making the tough choices, not settling for the status quo that the report's authors suggest."

Warren said the committee was told that in order for the U.S. to influence the direction of reprocessing technologies, in order to make them more reprocessing resistant and less risky, the assistant secretary had expressed an imperative, "that we have to get into the game."

"We didn't accept that argument," Warren said. "A more modest scale up would get us into the game."

The committee suggested going back to a previous reprocessing plan known as the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative, which seeks many of the same goals on a less aggressive schedule.

"Such a program should be paced by national needs, taking into account economics, technological readiness, national security, energy security and other considerations," the authors wrote.

GNEP is the subject of an ongoing programmatic environmental impact statement, which includes LANL as one of several sites under consideration for an advanced fuel cycle research facility.

The committee also evaluated GEN IV, the Next Generation Nuclear Power Plant, the National Hydrogen Initiative and the status of facilities at the Idaho National Laboratory, where GEN IV and other nuclear research projects are centered.

On the web:

Full study - http://books. nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11998

Brief - www.nationalacademies.org/includes/NERBa.pdf