US needs new approach to advanced reactor demonstration, report says

21 May 2019

The US Department of Energy (DOE) should learn from the legacy of the NASA commercial orbital transportation services (COTS) programme to return the USA to a leadership role in nuclear energy, the Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) says in a report issued today.

Market share for commercial global launch services, 2010-2017 (Image: NIA)

The report, Enabling Nuclear Innovation: In Search of a SpaceX for Nuclear Energy, reviews key features of the COTS programme, presents the results of a survey of advanced nuclear energy companies, and recommends policy priorities that can support the demonstration of transformative nuclear energy technologies.

"Nuclear energy is a vital element in helping the world to avoid the worst impacts of climate change," said Ashley Finan, executive director of the NIA. "And US leadership in the field serves US economic, environmental, and security interests. Nuclear energy needs a turnaround like the one NASA assisted SpaceX in achieving for rocket launch services."

NASA hired a venture capitalist as part of its COTS programme and asked companies to propose development milestones and associated payments for meeting them. This gave the companies "greater flexibility to map their path to success", NIA said, and also allowed both NASA and its private partners "to focus their energies on outcomes, rather than paperwork".

NASA and the US Air Force also served as early customers for SpaceX, and the report examines how federal agencies, such as DOE and Department of Defense (DOD), could procure electricity and/or heat from advanced reactor projects, NIA said.

"The combination of a payment-for-milestones approach to developing rocket technologies along with early federal procurements produced a game-changer," said Matt Bowen, author of the report. "That's what the federal government should be aiming for in advanced reactor space.

NIA recommends that: the DOE uses a "payment-for-milestones" approach in its public-private partnerships with advanced reactor companies; the White House issues an executive order directing federal agencies to procure their power from low-emission technologies, including advanced reactors; Congress sets zero-carbon electricity targets for federal agencies; and the DOD and DOE seek opportunities to take power from advanced reactor projects.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News