Neutron Bytes – The Chicken and Egg Conundrum of Forging a Future for Advanced Nuclear Reactors
The bad news is that anyone who is paying attention to the barriers to market entry for advanced nuclear reactors knows what they are. The good news is that more people are paying attention.” A RAND study (Overcoming Obstacles to Advanced Reactor Technologies) which addresses overcoming the barriers. There are links to several related sources of information on the subject.
Unfortunately, because of the historical predominance of LWRs in the United States, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is poorly equipped to evaluate the safety of alternative technologies. Although the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is supposed to collaborate with industry to develop and commercialize new nuclear reactor technologies, several attempts to do so have consumed billions of dollars without producing a prototype plant. In the face of institutional dysfunction, regulatory uncertainty, and unpredictable economic prospects for nuclear energy, industry is understandably reluctant to invest again in new technologies.”
The objective of nuclear safety regulation should be to minimize the health and economic impacts of large-scale accidents, rather than to minimize the theoretical incidence of damage to reactors. Key quotable points include;
* Rather than focus on saving the reactor, the goal should be to protect the public from the outside in. Plants might be designed so that, in the worst-case scenario, they fail elegantly so as to create an accident
with characteristics more favorable to effective emergency management.
* Instead of perpetuating the hubristic, and infeasible, ambition to somehow prevent all accidents,” the aim should be to prevent accidents from becoming catastrophes. To encourage the development of new civilian nuclear technologies, the United States should forge relationships with other nations to develop the operational experience and technical data necessary to commercialize non-LWR nuclear plants.
* To face the possible energy challenges of the 21st century, he says that DOE has a responsibility to explore all potentially promising energy technologies, and this is feasible only by partnering with nuclear research programs in states that are aggressively developing advanced reactors.