Friday, February 8, 2008

INL/Nuclear Power Industry Strategic Plan for Light Water Reactors

Press release from Idaho National Lab:
EPRI, INL Announce Release of R&D Plan Focused on Near-Term Increase in Nuclear Energy Production

The Electric Power Research Institute and the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory today announced the public release of a joint INL/Nuclear Power Industry Strategic Plan for Light Water Reactor Research and Development. The plan was developed by an industry-lab team and reviewed and approved by the leadership of the INL's Utility Advisory Board and EPRI's Nuclear Power Council.

The plan sets forth two strategies that must be employed for nuclear energy to play a substantial role in meeting future U.S. energy needs. The first strategy is to efficiently construct and operate dozens of new nuclear power plants, starting in the next several years. The second is to maximize the contribution from our existing nuclear power fleet by extending the operating licenses. Implementing both of these strategies will require significant investment in research and development.

"Recent analysis by EPRI shows that all low-emission electricity technologies will be required to satisfy anticipated goals for reduced CO2 emissions - energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear energy, and clean coal with CO2 capture and sequestration" said Chris Larsen, vice president and chief nuclear officer for the Electric Power Research Institute. "Industry recognizes that LWR technology is mature and that industry should carry a large portion of the responsibility in maintaining this technology. However, this plan demonstrates that the magnitude of the challenges facing this nation require the active engagement and leadership of the Federal Government in achieving the stretch goals identified in the report."

The proposed industry/government cost-shared R&D effort set forth in the plan is focused on 10 objectives, six of which are considered to be of the highest priority. These high-priority objectives include:

Sustaining the high performance of nuclear plant materials
Transitioning to state-of-the-art digital instrumentation and controls
Making further advances in nuclear fuel reliability and lifetime
Implementing broad-spectrum workforce development
Implementing broad-spectrum infrastructure improvements and design for sustainability; and
Addressing electricity infrastructure-wide problems

INL's Deputy Director for Science & Technology, Dr. David Hill, said "Both the public and private sectors have much to gain from this research effort. Consumers across the country will benefit from avoided emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases, reliable baseload electricity, and the creation of thousands of high-wage jobs. Benefits to the private sector include improved plant performance and reduced business risk during new plant development."

Because both the public and private sectors stand to benefit from these strategies, the plan recommends that the research and development program necessary to implement them be pursued through a public-private partnership. The research effort would be managed by a team comprised of DOE, EPRI and Nuclear Energy Institute representatives.

View the plan.

Comment: Although I do not regard Light Water Reactors as the best long term option for the Nuclear Industry, they are the best short term option.  

The Energy Blog attempted to organize a discussion on the topic by asking the question, "it fair for the government to pay for the research?" Mike Keller seconded the question by asking, asks, "why should the US taxpayer foot the bill?"

Good question Mike. The answer is that Public investments are justified when the public receives large benefits form the investments, and where private investors may lack the resources to finance the investments on their own,

In the case of nuclear power, there is a very powerful case for public investments. The case includes the following:
1. Upwards of 20,000 Americans die every year from causes related to the use of coal to generate electricity. Replacing coal fired plants with non-carbon power sources will prolong the lives of those people.

2. Hundreds of thousands of Americas have health related problems that are adversely impacted by coal fly ash and other combustion products. Pollutants from coal fired power plants are responsible for many thousands of hospital and Emergency Room admissions every year. Insurance costs related to coal combustion caused illness runs into the 10's of billions of dollars. Part of the costs for these health problems fall on the federal government in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, VA, and other federally financed healthcare programs.

3. Further financial obligations for coal combustion related health care problems fall on state and local governments.

4. The Federal government has received far greater return on past investments in nuclear power, than it has received on investments in renewables research. Returns to the government include taxes paid on the income of nuclear power plants, and taxes paid on added economic activity attributable to the presence of low cost nucleargenerated electricity.

5. The adverse economic impact of CO2 emissions/global warming will have a negative impact on both the income and the expenses of the federal government. Partially financing the substitution of carbon free technology, for fossil fuel technologies will in the long run prevent declines in government revenues while lowering potential government mitigation expenses.

6. Of post-carbon technologies, nuclear power is by far the most reliable. Solar and wind generating facilities operated at an average capacity factor of 20%. Nuclear power plants operate year in and year out at a capacity factor of over 90%.

In the best of all possible worlds the government should not be subsidizing research that benefits private businesses. This is not the best of all possible worlds. At present private businesses are delivering power to our society in a way that kills substantial numbers of people every year.

At present the private businesses are delivering electricity in a way that makes hundreds of thousands of people sick, and generates tens of billions of dollars in health care expenses. The government has an obligation to the people of this country to protect the health of its people. Paying for nuclear power research is a legitimate way for the government to fulfill its obligation to protect the health of its citizens.

At present businesses deliver electrical power in ways that will in the long term create enormous liabilities for our society individually and collectively. It is a legitimate function of government to protect its citizens from predictable environmental harm, just as it is the legitimate function of government to protect its citizens from criminals and foreign invaders. Government investment in nuclear research is part of a governmental attempt to protect American citizens from environmental harm cased by greenhouse gas emissions. I might add that so far private business has not demonstrated a willingness to face the situation. Indeed many private businesses have operated in cavalier disregard for both their own best interest, and the best interest of the country. EXXON and other large businesses have been guilty of subsidizing public disinformation campaigns about global climate change. This goes beyond irresponsibility, and borders on the evil. Thus it is the responsibility of government to face what private business can't or won't.


Sovietologist said...

We do need to conduct this research, but it seems to me like we should seek out international partners to help spread the costs around. It makes no sense for France, Russia, and the US to duplicate the same research, nor is it fair for the US (or some other country) to shoulder the burden alone. Since France, Russia, Japan, etc. are all dealing with many of the same issues, I think we should explore broadening the research effort to include interested foreigners. It seems to me that all parties would benefit.

Red Craig said...

If coal-fired power plants had to meet reasonable clean-air standards nuclear and wind would be cost-competitive anyway. As you indicate, allowing coal burners to externalize those costs is a much worse subsidy.

I have the impression that the major nuclear countries are already sharing technology. Is this impression wrong?

Sovietologist said...

My point is that we can't share technology that doesn't exist, and that we should share the cost of developing it. Not just for financial reasons, but because international cooperation is a good thing on its own.

Charles Barton said...

sovietologist that is very true, and to a certain point that happens already, but people have to be motivated to pay for exploratory research. At the moment energy research is seriously underfunded, considering the crisis we face.

djysrv said...

The proposed R&D partnership and its focus on LWR reactors indicates a realization the adoption path for radical advancements in nuclear reactor technologies may be measured in decades and that rapid expansion of the nation's nuclear fleet will require use of current and enhanced LWR reactor designs.

Charles Barton said...

Considering the potential to uprate old reactors by as much as 30% to 50% with new fuel technologies and reactor modifications, and to increase the output of new reactors by equivalent rates, this is clearly called for. New technologies are will not be ready for commercial production for at least a decade, if not much longer. By that time, 200 new LWRs may be in the pipe line. It then is highly desirable to reach the extension of the lives of old reactors, and the uprating of all LWRs.


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