Initiative calls for clearer path to advanced reactor deployment

09 November 2016

Institutional and cultural changes are needed if advanced nuclear reactor designs are to progress from development to deployment by 2030, the Global Nexus Initiative (GNI) has said in a report to policymakers. The GNI has put forward ten policy recommendations to enable these changes.

According to the GNI - a joint project of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) and the Partnership for Global Security - advanced nuclear reactors have "the potential to be a more easily deployable and operationally flexible alternative to the large light water reactors that are dominant around the world today".

On 3 November, the GNI released a report - titled A Framework for Advanced Nuclear Reactor Deployment: Policy and Issues - based on discussions of its working group at its February 2016 workshop held in Washington, DC.

The report said, "Next generation nuclear reactors are at a critical crossroad between technology development and future deployment. Accelerating progress toward deployment of these new reactors is required if they are to meet the climate change and global energy needs of the mid-21st century and beyond." It added, "This transition from concept to commercialization needs to occur over a fairly rapid 10-15 year period and must be accompanied by a regulatory system that ensures the safety, security and proliferation resistance of this new reactor class."

While there are several advanced reactors under development, the GNI said "the path to widespread commercialization needs to be clearer and better supported. To achieve this, there are a number of impediments to deployment that need to be addressed."

The report introduces ten policy recommendations to address these issues, which include accelerating development, regulatory reform, financing, and safety and security.

In order to help meet international climate targets, advanced reactor designs need to reach demonstration and deployment within 10-15 years, GNI said. "Investment and development therefore need to be expedited," it said. The report recommends cost-sharing partnerships between government and private business to reduce the risk of investment and make more financing available.

The GNI also recommends development of a "phased and predictable" licensing structure. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's current regulations are designed for light water reactors, it said. "A new licensing process will need to be developed to account for new technologies, which encompass small modular light water reactors and advanced non-light water reactors."

The report suggest that investors will be more likely to commit to the development of advanced reactor designs if there is assurance that such a reactor can obtain an operating licence.

Advanced reactor designs should be "rigorously tested" to further strengthen technical systems and, in turn, public confidence, GNI said. It said it opposes the use of reactor designs that increase proliferation risk by breeding surplus plutonium or using highly enriched uranium.

"Achieving these goals requires institutional and cultural changes in how the next generation of nuclear power is developed, tested, regulated, deployed and managed," the report said.

NEI senior director of fuel cycle and technology policy Everett Redmond said development of next generation reactors "must be pursued with a strong sense of urgency if these reactors are to be available to support climate objectives".

The GNI - a two-year initiative - was launched in August 2015 to encourage international policy experts to work together to find ways to address climate change, nuclear energy and global security challenges. Its objective is to create a transparent and productive process to generate "realistic and actionable" policy recommendations.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News