February 18, 2009

Electric Power Research Institute and Idaho National Lab Energy Strategy Recommendation

A 16 page Strategy for Nuclear Energy Research and Development has been put together by Idaho National Labs and the Electric Power Research Institute.

Six goals are defined to achieve this vision:
1) Maintain today’s nuclear fleet of light water reactors
2) Significantly expand the fleet with advanced light water reactors
3) Develop non-electric applications for high-temperature reactors
4) Assure safe, long-term used fuel management
5) Assure long-term nuclear sustainability
6) Strengthen United States leadership internationally

Specific objectives are developed for each goal, and R&D to support them is summarized in three technology areas:
• Light water reactor (LWR) and advanced light water reactor (ALWR) R&D
• High-temperature reactor (HTR) R&D
• Fast reactor and advanced fuel cycle (including waste management) R&D

Total funding needs from government and industry for the proposed research agenda covering the initial 2010-2015 period are estimated at $3.5 billion.

Maintain Today’s Nuclear Fleet of Light Water Reactors
This gives rise to two objectives for today’s nuclear fleet:
1.1 Successfully achieve planned life extensions for existing LWRs to 60 years, and then further extend operating licenses beyond 60 years (nominally 80 years)
1.2 Maintain the superior safety, high reliability and economic performance of existing LWRs throughout their full lifetime.

The first objective was also the subject of a 2008 workshop co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on plant life extension R&D, entitled Life Beyond Sixty. A survey of nuclear utility executives conducted in late 2007 showed strong support for pursuing plant re licensing beyond the current 60 years. As discussed in its Long-Term Research Activities, NRC anticipates initial utility requests for life extension beyond 60 years to be submitted in the 2014 to 2019 timeframe, necessitating a concerted effort over the next 5-10 years to enable this option.

Successfully operating the fleet to 60, 80, or even more years will require research into additional technology and process improvements, both to meet the challenges of advancing nuclear plant age and to maintain performance

Significantly Expand the Fleet with Advanced Light Water Reactors

The EPRI PRISM analysis suggests that 20 GWe of additional nuclear capacity could be installed by 2020, which would contribute 10% of the needed CO2 reduction for the U.S. primary energy supply. This gives rise to four objectives for the new ALWRs to be built:
2.1 Successfully license, construct and operate new ALWR designs to firmly establish their viability and to provide assurance that additional plants will be built and operated at competitive capital and production costs
2.2 Address infrastructure shortfalls that could limit ALWR deployment in large numbers, enabling new plant build rates in the United States of five or more per year by 2020
2.3 Adapt lessons learned from the first ALWRs and innovate new technologies that will further improve safety, reliability, and economic performance over the life of the plants
2.4 Maintain safe and reliable used fuel management systems.

Develop Non-Electric Applications for High-Temperature Reactors

Currently, 35% of U.S. natural gas consumption, or 8 quadrillion Btu/year, is devoted to industrial use. About 80% of this amount is used to supply process heat in oil refineries and petrochemical plants; the remaining 20% feeds and fuels the production of hydrogen through steam reforming of methane. Price increases over the past decade have pushed about one-half of domestic fertilizer and methanol production offshore, taking jobs out of the United States and impacting the cost and availability of these commodities. Process heat and hydrogen generated by nuclear energy has the potential to restore these domestic industries and reduce the heavy demand on natural gas for the production of transportation fuels.

The following objectives are envisioned:
3.1 Develop high-temperature gas-cooled reactor technology with successful demonstration of process heat delivery and prototypical hydrogen production
3.2 Commercialize HTRs to address a significant fraction of the consumption of natural gas from industrial process heat.

External forces could impact these two objectives. For example, large-scale deployment of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) may drive expansion of baseload electricity needs. Desalination of seawater could present another important application: While reverse osmosis plants powered by nuclear electricity may be the more likely prospect, the use of process heat in distillation-based processes remains a possibility.

Assure Safe, Long-Term Used Fuel Management

The following objectives are envisioned:
4.1 Expand interim storage to safely store used fuel for long-term recycling and/or disposal
4.2 Develop mined geological repository capacity, with first priority given to the disposal of the fraction of used fuels that offer little or no economic potential for recycle
4.3 Advance a new generation of LWR fuel that would enable a reduction in the volume of LWR fuel requiring storage, transportation and disposal.

Assure Long-Term Nuclear Sustainability

Fast reactor and nuclear fuel reprocessing technologies could enable uranium fuel resources to sustain world energy supplies from nuclear power for centuries. About 100 times more energy is available in the used fuel and enrichment tails than the amount extracted in the first cycle through a light water reactor. Extracting the additional energy involves recycling U-238 and long-lived transuranics in fast reactors. Recycling in fast reactors also has the ability to reduce the amount of waste sent to geologic disposal, although low-level and greater-than-class C waste volumes will increase if recycling is implemented.

Fast reactors produce electricity at roughly the same efficiency as LWRs and ALWRs. Their capital costs are projected to be higher than ALWRs, necessitating R&D to reduce these costs. Fast reactor designs may range from ‘breeders’ that can produce more usable nuclear fuel than they consume (i.e., with a high conversion ratio) to ‘burners’ (i.e., producing less new fuel but consuming more transuranic elements, with a low conversion ratio).

From the Report: Overall, a decision about mid-century regarding the closing of the fuel cycle with fast reactors would be informed through two objectives:

5.1 Advance fast reactor technology, including reprocessing and fast reactor fuel fabrication, to a level of confidence sufficient to show that if and when used LWR fuel is separated and reprocessed, reactors capable of consuming the actinides will be available and economically feasible
5.2 Demonstrate and gain operational experience with LWR and ALWR used fuel reprocessing and fast reactors, eventually to a level of full-scale operation on the order of 100 reactor-years.

NOTE: I believe that a faster move to better reactors like Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors is possible. 10 years to develop the deep burn reactors.

Fast Reactor and Fuel Cycle R&D
Fast reactor and fuel cycle development is necessary to support nuclear fuel recycling efforts. R&D is needed in three broad areas: (1) LWR used fuel separation and re fabrication into fast reactor fuel, (2) fast reactor core and systems design and technology, and (3) fast reactor used fuel separation and re fabrication into fast reactor fuel. Each is presented below assuming aqueous reprocessing for LWR fuels and sodium-cooled fast reactors with electrochemical processing. While other technologies may ultimately be selected to perform these functions, these technologies are representative of the R&D needed.

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