Advanced Nuclear Power and Fuel Cycle Technologies: Outlook and Policy Options

Advanced Nuclear Power and Fuel Cycle
Technologies: Outlook and Policy Options
July 11, 2008
Mark Holt
Specialist in Energy Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division

Advanced Nuclear Power and Fuel Cycle Technologies:
Outlook and Policy Options
Current U.S. nuclear energy policy focuses on the near-term construction of
improved versions of existing nuclear power plants. All of today’s U.S. nuclear
plants are light water reactors (LWRs), which are cooled by ordinary water. Under
current policy, the highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel from LWRs is to be
permanently disposed of in a deep underground repository.
The Bush Administration is also promoting an aggressive U.S. effort to move
beyond LWR technology into advanced reactors and fuel cycles. Specifically, the
Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), under the Department of Energy (DOE)
is developing advanced reprocessing (or recycling) technologies to extract plutonium
and uranium from spent nuclear fuel, as well as an advanced reactor that could fully
destroy long-lived radioactive isotopes. DOE’s Generation IV Nuclear Energy
Systems Initiative is developing other advanced reactor technologies that could be
safer than LWRs and produce high-temperature heat to make hydrogen.
DOE’s advanced nuclear technology programs date back to the early years of
the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1940s and 1950s. In particular, it was widely
believed that breeder reactors — designed to produce maximum amounts of
plutonium from natural uranium — would be necessary for providing sufficient fuel
for a large commercial nuclear power industry. Early research was also conducted
on a wide variety of other power reactor concepts, some of which are still under
active consideration.
Although long a goal of nuclear power proponents, the reprocessing of spent
nuclear fuel is also seen as a weapons proliferation risk, because plutonium extracted
for new reactor fuel can also be used for nuclear weapons. Therefore, a primary goal
of U.S. advanced fuel cycle programs, including GNEP, has been to develop
recycling technologies that would not produce pure plutonium that could easily be
diverted for weapons use. The “proliferation resistance” of these technologies is
subject to considerable debate.
Much of the current policy debate over advanced nuclear technologies is being
conducted in the appropriations process. For FY2009, the House Appropriations
Committee recommended no further funding for GNEP, although it increased
funding for the Generation IV program. Typically, the Senate is more supportive of
GNEP and reprocessing technologies.
Recent industry studies conducted for the GNEP program conclude that
advanced nuclear technologies will require many decades of government-supported
development before they reach the current stage of LWRs. Key questions before
Congress are whether the time has come to move beyond laboratory research on
advanced nuclear technologies to the next, more expensive, development stages and
what role, if any, the federal government should play.

Nuclear Technology Overview.......................................2
DOE Advanced Nuclear Programs....................................4
Global Nuclear Energy Partnership................................4
History ..................................................4
Current Program...........................................5
Funding .................................................7
Generation IV.................................................7
Time Lines and Options.............................................8
Industry Studies...............................................9
EnergySolutions, Shaw, and Westinghouse......................9
GE-Hitachi ...............................................9
General Atomics.........................................10
Areva ..................................................10
Policy Implications...........................................11

Advanced Nuclear Power and Fuel Cycle
Technologies: Outlook and Policy Options
All commercial nuclear power plants in the United States, as well as nearly all
nuclear plants worldwide, use light water reactor (LWR) technology that was initially
developed for naval propulsion. Cooled by ordinary water, LWRs in the early years
were widely considered to be an interim technology that would pave the way for
advanced nuclear concepts. After the early 1960s, the federal government focused
most of its nuclear power research and development efforts on breeder reactors and
high temperature reactors that could use uranium resources far more efficiently and
potentially operate more safely than LWRs.
However, four decades later, LWRs continue to dominate the nuclear power
industry, and are the only technology currently being considered for a new generation
of U.S. commercial reactors. Federal license applications for as many as 30 new
LWRs have been recently announced. The proposed new nuclear power plants
would begin coming on line around 2016 and operate for 60 years or longer. Under
that scenario, LWRs appear likely to dominate the nuclear power industry for decades
to come.
If the next generation of nuclear power plants consists of LWRs, what is the
potential role of advanced nuclear reactor and fuel cycle technologies? Do current
plans for a new generation of LWRs raise potential problems that advanced nuclear
technologies could or should address? Can new fuel cycle technologies reduce the
risk of nuclear weapons proliferation? What is the appropriate time frame for the
commercial deployment of new nuclear technology? This report provides
background and analysis to help Congress address those questions.
Prominent among the policy issues currently before Congress is the direction of
the existing nuclear energy programs in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). DOE
administers programs to encourage near-term construction of new LWRs, such as the
Nuclear Power 2010 program, which is paying half the cost of licensing and first-of-
a-kind engineering for new U.S. LWR designs, and loan guarantees for new reactors
now under consideration by U.S. utilities. DOE’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership
(GNEP) is developing advanced fuel cycle technologies that are intended to allow
greater worldwide use of nuclear power without increased weapons proliferation
risks. Advanced nuclear reactors that could increase efficiency and safety are being
developed by DOE’s Generation IV program, which is looking beyond today’s
“Generation III” light water reactors.
The priority given to these options depends not only on the characteristics of
existing and advanced nuclear technologies, but on the role that nuclear power is
expected to play in addressing national energy and environmental goals. For
example, if nuclear energy is seen as a key element in global climate change policy,

because of its low carbon dioxide emissions, the deployment of advanced reactor and
fuel cycle technologies could be considered to be more urgent than if nuclear power
is expected to have a limited long-term role because of economic, non-proliferation,
and safety concerns.
Nuclear Technology Overview
As their name implies, light water reactors use ordinary water for cooling the
reactor core and “moderating,” or slowing, the neutrons in a nuclear chain reaction.
The slower neutrons, called thermal neutrons, are highly efficient in causing fission
(splitting of nuclei) in certain isotopes of heavy elements, such as uranium 235 and
plutonium 239 (Pu-239). Therefore, a smaller percentage of those isotopes is needed
in nuclear fuel to sustain a nuclear chain reaction (in which neutrons released by
fissioned nuclei then induce fission in other nuclei, and so forth). The downside is
that thermal neutrons cannot efficiently induce fission in more than a few specific
Natural uranium has too low a concentration of U-235 (0.7%) to fuel an LWR
(the remainder is U-238), so the U-235 concentration must be increased (“enriched”)
to between 3% and 5%. In the reactor, the U-235 fissions, releasing energy, neutrons,
and fission products (highly radioactive fragments of U-235 nuclei). Some neutrons
are also absorbed by U-238 nuclei to create Pu-239, which itself may then fission.
After several years in an LWR, fuel assemblies will build up too many
neutron-absorbing fission products and become too depleted in fissile U-235 to
efficiently sustain a nuclear chain reaction. At that point, the assemblies are
considered spent nuclear fuel and removed from the reactor. LWR spent fuel
typically contains about 1% U-235, 1% plutonium, 4% fission products, and the
remainder U-238. Under current policy, the spent fuel is to be disposed of as waste,
although only a tiny fraction of the original natural uranium has been used. Long-1
lived plutonium and other actinides in the spent fuel pose a long-term hazard that
greatly increases the complexity of finding a suitable disposal site.
Reprocessing, or recycling, of spent nuclear fuel for use in “fast” reactors — in
which the neutrons are not slowed — is intended to address some of the
shortcomings of the LWR once-through fuel cycle. Fast neutrons are less effective
in inducing fission than thermal neutrons but can induce fission in all actinides,
including all plutonium isotopes. Therefore, nuclear fuel for a fast reactor must have
a higher proportion of fissionable isotopes than a thermal reactor to sustain a chain
reaction, but a larger number of different isotopes can constitute that fissionable
A fast reactor’s ability to fission all actinides makes it theoretically possible to
repeatedly separate those materials from spent fuel and feed them back into the
reactor until they are entirely fissioned. Fast reactors are also ideal for “breeding” the

1 Actinides consist of actinium and heavier elements in the periodic table.

maximum amount of Pu-239 from U-238, eventually converting virtually all of
natural uranium to useable nuclear fuel.
Current reprocessing programs are generally viewed by their proponents as
interim steps toward a commercial nuclear fuel cycle based on fast reactors, because
the benefits of limited recycling with LWRs are modest. Commercial-scale spent
fuel reprocessing is currently conducted in France, Britain, and Russia. The Pu-239
they produce is blended with uranium to make mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, in which
the Pu-239 largely substitutes for U-235. Two French reprocessing plants at La
Hague can each reprocess up to 800 metric tons of spent fuel per year, while Britain’s
THORP facility at Sellafield has a capacity of 900 metric tons per year. Russia has
a 400-ton plant at Ozersk, and Japan is building an 800-ton plant at Rokkasho to
succeed a 90-ton demonstration facility at Tokai Mura. Britain and France also have
older plants to reprocess gas-cooled reactor fuel, and India has a 275-ton plant.2
About 200 metric tons of MOX fuel is used annually, about 2% of new nuclear fuel,3
equivalent to about 2,000 metric tons of mined uranium.4
While long a goal of nuclear power proponents, the reprocessing or recycling
of spent nuclear fuel is also seen as a weapons proliferation risk, because plutonium
extracted for new reactor fuel can also be used for nuclear weapons. Therefore, a
primary goal of U.S. advanced fuel cycle programs, including GNEP, has been to
develop recycling technologies that would not produce pure plutonium that could
easily be diverted for weapons use. The “proliferation resistance” of these
technologies is subject to considerable debate.
Removing uranium from spent nuclear fuel through reprocessing would
eliminate most of the volume of radioactive material requiring disposal in a deep
geologic repository. In addition, the removal of plutonium and conversion to
shorter-lived fission products would eliminate most of the long-term (post-1,000
years) radioactivity in nuclear waste. But the waste resulting from reprocessing
would have nearly the same short-term radioactivity and heat as the original spent
fuel, because the reprocessing waste consists primarily of fission products, which
generate most of the radioactivity and heat in spent fuel. Because heat is the main
limiting factor on repository capacity, conventional reprocessing would not provide
major disposal benefits in the near term.
DOE is addressing that problem with a proposal to further separate the primary
heat-generating fission products — cesium 137 and strontium 90 — from high level
waste for separate storage and decay over several hundred years. That proposal would
greatly increase repository capacity, although it would require an alternative secure
storage system for the cesium and strontium that has yet to be designed.

2 World Nuclear Association, Processing of Used Nuclear Fuel for Recycle, March 2007,
at [].
3 World Nuclear Association, Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX), November 2006, at
[ h t t p : / / www.wor l d-nucl ear .or g/ i n f o / i n f ml ] .
4 World Nuclear Association, Uranium Markets, March 2007.

Safety and efficiency are other areas in which improvements have long been
envisioned over LWR technology. The primary safety vulnerability of LWRs is a
loss-of-coolant accident, in which the water level in the reactor falls below the
nuclear fuel. When the water is lost, the chain reaction stops, because the neutrons
are no longer moderated. But the heat of radioactive decay continues and will
quickly melt the nuclear fuel, as occurred during the 1979 Three Mile Island accident.
DOE’s Generation IV program is focusing on high temperature, gas-cooled reactors
that would use fuel whose melting point would be higher than the maximum reactor
temperature. The high operating temperature of such reactors would also result in
greater fuel efficiency and the potential for cost-effective production of hydrogen,
which could be used as a non-polluting transportation fuel. However, the
commercial viability of Generation IV reactors remains uncertain.
DOE Advanced Nuclear Programs
DOE’s advanced nuclear technology programs date back to the early years of
the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1940s and 1950s. In particular, it was widely
believed that breeder reactors would be necessary for providing sufficient fuel for a
commercial nuclear power industry. Early research was also conducted on a wide
variety of other power reactor concepts, some of which are still under active
consideration. The U.S. research effort on various advanced nuclear concepts has
waxed and waned during subsequent decades, sometimes resulting from changes in
Administrations. Technical and engineering advances have appeared to move some
of the technologies closer to commercial viability, but significantly greater federal
support would be necessary to move them beyond the indefinite research and
development stage.
Global Nuclear Energy Partnership
GNEP is the Bush Administration’s program for commercial deployment of
reprocessing or recycling of spent nuclear fuel. The program’s goal is to develop
“proliferation resistant” fuel cycle technologies — not producing pure plutonium —
that could be used around the world. Previous U.S. commercial reprocessing
programs have been blocked at least partly over concerns that they would encourage
other countries to begin separating weapons-useable plutonium.
History. The fundamental technology for spent fuel reprocessing is the
PUREX process (plutonium-uranium extraction) developed to provide pure
plutonium for nuclear weapons. A commercial PUREX plant operated from 1966
through 1972 in West Valley, New York, and two other commercial U.S. plants were
built but never operated.
Meanwhile, DOE and its predecessor agencies worked to develop fast breeder
reactors that could run on the reprocessed plutonium fuel. Major facilities included
Experimental Breeder Reactors I and II, which began operating in Idaho in 1951 and
1964, and the Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF), a larger fast reactor that began full
operation in Hanford, Washington, in 1982. FFTF was designed to pave the way for
the first U.S. commercial-scale breeder reactor, planned to begin construction near

Clinch River, Tennessee, in 1977. However, the Clinch River Breeder Reactor
(CRBR) and the federal government’s support for commercial reprocessing were
halted by President Carter in 1977 because of the nuclear proliferation issues noted
Upon taking office in 1981, President Reagan reversed the Carter policy and
restarted preparations for CRBR, but Congress eliminated further funding for the
project in 1983. DOE then turned to an alternative technology based on work carried
out at Experimental Breeder Reactor II (EBR-II), which used metal fuel that could
be recycled through pyroprocessing (melting and electrochemical separation) rather
than with the aqueous (water-based) PUREX process. Supporters of this program,
called the Integral Faster Reactor (IFR) and the Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor
(ALMR), contended that pyroprocessing would not produce a pure plutonium
product and could be carried out at a small scale at reactor sites, reducing weapons
proliferation risks.
The Clinton Administration, however, moved in 1993 to terminate DOE’s
advanced reactor programs, including shutdown of EBR-II. Congress agreed to the
proposed phaseout but continued funding for pyroprocessing technology as a way to
treat EBR-II spent fuel for eventual disposal.
Current Program. The George W. Bush Administration made energy policy
a high priority and placed particular emphasis on nuclear energy. The National
Energy Policy Development (NEPD) Group, headed by Vice President Cheney,
recommended in May 2001 that nuclear power be expanded in the United States and
that reprocessing once again become integral to the U.S. nuclear program:
!The NEPD Group recommends that, in the context of developing
advanced nuclear fuel cycles and next generation technologies for
nuclear energy, the United States should reexamine its policies to
allow for research, development and deployment of fuel
conditioning methods (such as pyroprocessing) that reduce waste
streams and enhance proliferation resistance. In doing so, the
United States will continue to discourage the accumulation of
separated plutonium, worldwide.
!The United States should also consider technologies (in
collaboration with international partners with highly developed fuel
cycles and a record of close cooperation) to develop reprocessing
and fuel treatment technologies that are cleaner, more efficient, less5
waste-intensive, and more proliferation-resistant.
The Bush Administration’s first major step toward implementing those
recommendations was to announce the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative in 2003
(AFCI), a DOE program to develop proliferation-resistant reprocessing technologies.
The program built on the ongoing pyroprocessing technology development effort and
reprocessing research conducted under other DOE nuclear programs. Much of the

5 National Energy Policy Development Group, National Energy Policy, May 16, 2001, p.


program’s research has focused on an aqueous separations technology called
UREX+, in which uranium and other elements are chemically removed from
dissolved spent fuel, leaving a mixture of plutonium and other highly radioactive
Congress provided $5 million above the Administration’s $63 million initial
request in FY2004 for AFCI, and the program received statutory authorization in the
Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58, Sec. 953), including support for
international cooperation.
The announcement of the GNEP initiative in February 2006 (as part of the
Administration’s FY2007 budget request) appeared to further address the 2001
reprocessing goals of the National Energy Policy Development Group. Using
reprocessing technologies to be developed by AFCI, GNEP envisioned a consortium
of nations with advanced nuclear technology that would guarantee to provide fuel
services and reactors to countries that would agree not to conduct fuel cycle
activities, such as enrichment and reprocessing.
GNEP has attracted significant international attention, but no country has yet
indicated interest in becoming solely a fuel recipient rather than a supplier. The
Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty guarantees the right of all participants to develop
fuel cycle facilities, and a GNEP Statement of Principles signed by the United States
and 15 other countries on September 16, 2007, preserves that right, while
encouraging the establishment of a “viable alternative to acquisition of sensitive fuel
cycle technologies.”6 According to DOE, GNEP currently has 21 member countries
and 17 candidates and observers.7
Although GNEP is largely conceptual at this point, DOE issued a Spent Nuclear
Fuel Recycling Program Plan in May 2006 that provided a general schedule for a
GNEP Technology Demonstration Program (TDP),8 which would develop the
necessary technologies to achieve GNEP’s goals. According to the Program Plan,
the first phase of the TDP, running through FY2006, consisted of “program definition
and development” and acceleration of AFCI. Phase 2, running through FY2008, was
to focus on the design of technology demonstration facilities, which then were to
begin operating during Phase 3, from FY2008 to FY2020. The National Academy
of Sciences in October 2007 strongly criticized DOE’s “aggressive” deployment
schedule for GNEP and recommended that the program instead focus on research and

6 See GNEP website at []
7 Members: Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, China, France, Ghana, Hungary, Italy, Japan,
Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russia, Senegal,
Slovenia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and United States. Candidates and Observers:
Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Libya, Mexico,
Morocco, Netherlands, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and
Turkey. []
8 DOE, Spent Nuclear Fuel Recycling Plan, Report to Congress, May 2006.

development.9 Similar criticism was raised in April 2008 by the Government
Accountability Office.10
As part of GNEP, AFCI is conducting R&D on an Advanced Burner Reactor
(ABR) that could destroy recycled plutonium and other long-lived radioactive
elements. The ABR is similar to a breeder reactor, except that its core would be
configured to produce less plutonium (from U-238) than it consumes, reducing
potential plutonium stockpiles.
Funding. AFCI, the primary funding component of GNEP, has received
steadily increased funding from Congress, but far less than requested during the past
two budget cycles. For FY2007, DOE sought $243.0 million and received $166.1
million, and for FY2008 the request of $395.0 million was cut to $179.4 million.
Typically, the Senate recommends more for the program than the House does, and
that pattern appears to be continuing for FY2009.
The FY2009 Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative funding request is $301.5 million,
nearly 70% above the FY2008 appropriation of $179.4 million but below the FY2008
request of $395.0 million. The House Appropriations Committee recommended
cutting AFCI to $90.0 million in FY2009, eliminating all funding for GNEP.11 The
remaining funds would be used for research on advanced fuel cycle technology, but
none could be used for design or construction of new facilities. The Committee
urged DOE to continue coordinating its fuel cycle research with other countries that
already have spent fuel recycling capability, but not with “countries aspiring to have
nuclear capabilities.”
FY2009 funding of $10.4 million was requested for conceptual design work on
an Advanced Fuel Cycle Facility (AFCF) to provide an engineering-scale
demonstration of AFCI technologies, according to the budget justification. The
FY2008 Consolidated Appropriations act rejected funding for development of AFCF,
as did the House Appropriations Committee for FY2009. DOE requested $18.0
million for the ABR program for FY2009, up from $11.7 million in FY2008. The
program is expected to focus on developing a sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR). The
House Appropriations Committee recommended no FY2009 funding for the ABR.
Generation IV
DOE describes “Generation IV” as advanced reactor technologies that could be
available for commercial deployment after 2030. These technologies are intended
to offer significant advantages over existing “Generation III” reactors (LWRs in the

9 National Academy of Sciences, Review of DOE’s Nuclear Energy Research and
Development Program, prepublication draft, October 2007.
10 Government Accountability Office, Global Nuclear Energy Partnership: DOE Should
Reassess Its Approach to Designing and Building Spent Nuclear Fuel Recycling Facilities,
GAO-08-483, April 2008.
11 The Committee voted on the FY2009 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill
on June 25, 2008, but has not filed a report. The draft report was accessed on

United States) in the areas of cost, safety, waste, and proliferation. DOE is
conducting some Generation IV research in cooperation with other countries through
the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), established in 2001.12
A technology roadmap issued by GIF and DOE in 2002 identified six
Generation IV nuclear technologies to pursue: fast neutron gas-cooled, lead-cooled,
sodium-cooled, molten salt, supercritical water-cooled, and very high temperature
reactors.13 These reactor concepts are not new, and some have been demonstrated at
the commercial scale, but none has been sufficiently developed for successful
The DOE Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems Initiative (Gen IV) is focusing
on a helium-cooled Very High Temperature Gas Reactor (VHTR) and conducting
cross-cutting research on materials and other areas that could apply to all reactor
technologies, including LWRs. The VHTR technology is being developed for the
Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Development of sodium-cooled fast reactors is being conducted by the AFCI program
as part of the ABR effort described above.
DOE requested $70.0 million for Gen IV for FY2009 — $44.9 million below
the FY2008 funding level of $114.9 million, which was nearly triple the
Administration’s FY2008 budget request of $36.1 million. The House
Appropriations Committee recommended an increase to $200.0 million.
Most of the FY2009 request — $59.5 million — is for the NGNP program. The
VHTR technology being developed by DOE uses helium as a coolant and coated-
particle fuel that can withstand temperatures up to 1,600 degrees celsius. Phase I
research on the NGNP is to continue until 2011, when a decision will be made on
moving to the Phase II design and construction stage, according to the FY2009 DOE
budget justification. The House Appropriations Committee provided $196.0 million
“to accelerate work” on NGNP — all but $4.0 million of the Committee’s total
funding level for the Generation IV program. The Energy Policy Act of 2005
authorizes $1.25 billion through FY2015 for NGNP development and construction
(Title VI, Subtitle C). The authorization requires that NGNP be based on research
conducted by the Generation IV program and be capable of producing electricity,
hydrogen, or both.
Time Lines and Options
DOE’s plans for commercial nuclear fuel recycling facilities are still being
formulated. The Department is currently preparing a draft Programmatic
Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for GNEP that will lead to decisions about

12 GIF active members are Canada, China, Euratom, France, Japan, Republic of Korea,
Russia, Switzerland, and the United States. []
13 DOE Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee and Generation IV International
Forum, A Technology Roadmap for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems, GIF-002-00,
December 2002.

development of an advanced fuel cycle research facility. The PEIS will not consider
the next stages of the program, which would include commercial-scale
reprocessing/recycling facilities and an advanced fast reactor, according to DOE.14
A schedule for completing this process has not been announced.
Industry Studies
To help determine the future direction of the GNEP program, DOE solicited
studies from four industry consortia. The four studies, released by DOE on May 28,
2008, describe concepts for advanced fuel recycling/reprocessing facilities, along
with general cost estimates and schedules. The four teams have signed cooperative
agreements with DOE to continue developing “conceptual designs, technology
development roadmaps, and business plans for potential deployment and
commercialization of recycling and reactor technologies” at least through FY2008
and possibly through FY2009. According to DOE, these additional studies will “help
inform a decision on the potential path forward for technologies and facilities
associated with domestic implementation of GNEP.”15
EnergySolutions, Shaw, and Westinghouse. EnergySolutions, a waste
treatment and disposal firm, Shaw Group, an engineering and construction firm, and
Westinghouse Electric Company, a reactor design firm, led an industry team that
proposed that aqueous reprocessing facilities to handle 1,500 metric tons per year of
LWR spent fuel begin operating by 2023. A fuel fabrication plant would be built to
supply MOX fuel to existing LWRs. Recycling facilities during this initial phase
would be funded and built by DOE.
The next phase of the EnergySolutions proposal would run from 2030 to 2049.
A 410 megawatt (electric) fast reactor would begin operating in 2033, with four
additional units starting up by 2045. Aqueous reprocessing capacity would be
expanded by 3,000 metric tons per year, and non-aqueous reprocessing facilities
would be added. In the final phase, 2050 through 2100, the fast reactor recycling
fleet would expand to 96 gigawatts (about the capacity of today’s U.S. LWR fleet),
and less aqueous reprocessing capacity would be needed.
A federal corporation would be established to sign long-term contracts with
industry for spent fuel recycling and fuel fabrication, build and operate a waste
repository, and transport spent fuel. The federal corporation’s funding would come
from nearly doubling the nuclear waste fee currently imposed on nuclear power
generation, from 1 mill per kilowatt-hour to 1.95 mills/kwh, assuming the previously
collected balance in the Nuclear Waste Fund (the Treasury account that holds the
waste fees) is not used. At the current rate of nuclear power generation, the proposed
fee would produce revenues of about $1.5 billion per year.
GE-Hitachi. A team led by General Electric Hitachi Nuclear Energy prepared
a proposal based on the IFR/ALMR program that was halted in 1993. The

14 [] accessed July 9, 2008.
15 DOE Office of Public Affairs, “DOE Releases Domestic Global Nuclear Energy
Partnership (GNEP) Industry Reports and Presentations,” May 28, 2008.

pyroprocessing facility that is proposed would use the electrometallurgical
separations process developed by the IFR program, with improvements that have
been made during the subsequent 15 years. The fast reactor is the Power Reactor
Inherently Safe Module (PRISM) that GE developed for the ALMR program, also
with subsequent refinements. According to the report, a power plant consisting of
six PRISM modules (totaling 1,866 megawatts electric, mwe), along with the
necessary reprocessing capacity, would consume 5,800 metric tons of LWR spent
fuel over its planned 60-year operating life.
The first phase of the GE-Hitachi proposal, taking about 20 years, would consist
of construction and operation of one or two PRISM modules. The second phase,
lasting about 10 years, would feature commercial deployment of at least one
Advanced Recycling Center (ARC), consisting of six PRISM modules and a
reprocessing and fuel fabrication facility. Multiple ARCs would be constructed in
the third phase, after 30 years.
General Atomics. General Atomics, long associated with gas-cooled reactor
technology, led a team that proposed a two-tier spent fuel recycling system. In the
first tier, LWR spent fuel would be sent to aqueous reprocessing plants to extract
nuclear fuel material to be used in high-temperature gas reactors, such as the type
being developed by the DOE Gen IV program. Because of their high fuel burnup, the
gas reactors would eliminate most plutonium and minor actinides. In the second tier,
spent fuel from the gas reactors would be pyroprocessed so that the remaining
plutonium and minor actinides could be fissioned in a fast reactor.
Under the team’s preferred scenario, LWRs would continue to be constructed
through 2050 (136 in all) and be phased out by 2110. The first gas-cooled reactor
module (385 mwe) would start up by 2025, and the first aqueous reprocessing center
would begin operation by about 2030. The aqueous reprocessing centers would have
a capacity of about 1,500 tons of LWR spent fuel per year and cost about $8.3 billion
to construct (in 2006 dollars). The first pyroprocessing facility would open in 2040,
and the first fast reactor would open by 2075. The team recommended that initial
facilities for the program be developed by a government corporation, which would
be privatized by 2035.
Areva. The French nuclear firm Areva, which has long experience with
commercial PUREX reprocessing plants in France, led a team that proposed
continued reliance on LWRs with a gradual buildup of fast reactors. Through 2019,
the team recommended that MOX fuel be tested in existing U.S. reactors, from
plutonium extracted from U.S.-origin spent fuel reprocessed overseas. The first 800-
ton per year aqueous recycling plant would open in 2023, with additional 800-ton
modules starting up in 2045 and 2070. A 500 mwe fast reactor would begin
operating in 2025, a 1,000 mwe reactor would open in 2035, and a 1,500 mwe reactor
would begin operating in 2050, with additional 1,500 mwe units starting up about
every two years thereafter. A government corporation would be established to run
the recycling program. Costs are estimated to be 10%-70% higher than the existing

1 mill/kwh nuclear waste fee.

Policy Implications
For Congress and other federal policymakers, issues posed by current GNEP and
Gen IV proposals are similar to those of the past several decades. The fundamental
policy question is whether the government should encourage the expansion of nuclear
power. The industry has long contended that new commercial reactors will not be
constructed without increased government incentives or subsidies. After the initial
federal push to commercialize nuclear power in the 1950s and 1960s, government
support waned to the point where a nuclear phaseout seemed possible. But nuclear
power proponents now contend that dramatic growth will be needed (with federal
support) to meet future energy demand in a carbon-constrained environment.
Such high-growth scenarios must overcome many of the same perceived
challenges that faced the optimistic initial expectations for nuclear power. If
dramatic growth were to finally occur, could light water reactors meet the challenge,
or is a transition to advanced nuclear technologies necessary? And if new
technologies will be needed, how urgently must the federal government move
As in the early years of the nuclear power program, a primary concern with
renewed nuclear power growth is long-term fuel supply, since LWRs can extract
energy from only a fraction of natural uranium. During the past two decades of
slowed U.S. and world nuclear power expansion, the only problem with uranium was
oversupply and chronically low prices. Supply has since tightened, but uranium
production capacity is expanding rapidly in response. Whether increased exploration
activity will result in higher worldwide resource estimates will have important
implications for this issue.
The long-proposed solution to the fuel problem — replacing LWRs with fast
breeder reactors — raises the nuclear weapons proliferation issue. LWR spent fuel
is highly resistant to proliferation at least for the first 100 years, although the
technology requires uranium enrichment facilities that may pose their own risks.
GNEP’s goal of expanding nuclear power while limiting the proliferation of fuel
cycle facilities is widely shared, but the success of the program’s current approach
remains uncertain.
Nuclear waste management has also been a longstanding problem in the United
States and the world. The once-through LWR fuel cycle requires extremely long-
term isolation of plutonium and other long-lived radionuclides. Reprocessing could
potentially shorten the disposal horizon and make siting easier for waste repositories.
But if long-term isolation is determined to be feasible, the waste disposal benefits of
reprocessing may become less significant.
Other anticipated benefits of advanced reactor technologies over LWRs include
improved safety, lower costs, and high-temperature heat production for hydrogen and
other industrial purposes. LWR technology has improved steadily in safety,
particularly in its vulnerability to loss-of-coolant accidents, and the projected risks
of the latest designs have been reduced one to two orders of magnitude below that of
existing reactors. Proposed Generation IV designs are intended to virtually eliminate

the major risk factors inherent in LWRs, although they may have other safety risks
that have yet to be as fully quantified.
New LWR designs are also intended to reduce costs from those incurred by
existing reactors, but cost estimates have recently escalated (along with those of all
competing power systems). Generation IV reactors are projected by their designers
to reduce both construction and operating costs, but these projections have yet to be
LWRs are limited to relatively low-temperature operation, so high-temperature
gas reactors could be the most practical technology for nuclear generation of
hydrogen as a transportation fuel. If hydrogen were to become a major transportation
fuel — which remains far from certain — nuclear power could begin to play a
significant role in replacing petroleum. However, more commercial attention has
recently been focused on battery-based electric vehicle systems, which could be
recharged by LWRs.
Recent U.S. nuclear energy policy has focused primarily on large government
incentives for private-sector construction of new LWRs, such as loan guarantees, tax
credits, and regulatory risk insurance. Imposition of federal controls on carbon
dioxide emissions would provide additional powerful incentives for LWR
construction. As shown by the industry studies described above, the advanced
nuclear technologies under development by GNEP and Gen IV will require many
years of government-supported development before they reach the current stage of
LWRs. The Bush Administration has renewed the federal research effort on these
technologies, so now the question before Congress is whether the time has come to
move to the next, more expensive, development stages.