Stephen M. Goldberg and Robert Rosner
Many factors influence the development and deployment of nuclear
reactors. In this white paper, we identify six of them: cost-effectiveness, safety,
security and nonproliferation features, grid appropriateness, commercialization
road-map (including constructability and licensability), and management of the fuel
cycle. We also outline the evolution of nuclear reactor generations and describe
current and possible future reactor proposals in light of these six key factors.
In our opinion, incorporation of passive safety features and implementation of dry
cask storage for used fuel reasonably address future safety and waste concerns.
The nonproliferation benefits of future designs remain unclear, however, and more
research will be required. Investment barriers have been overcome in different ways
by different countries, but identifying investment priorities and investors will
determine, in general, the extent to which nuclear power remains a viable wedge
of the global energy future. Geopolitical factors may tip the scales in favor of
a country investing in nuclear energy. These factors include the obvious hedging
strategies (i.e., using nuclear power as a hedge against an uncertain natural gas
supply and price outlook, as well as an uncertain climate policy), as well as more-subtle
strategies, such as using nuclear power to demonstrate technological prowess or
as a future bargaining chip in a security context. The lessons from the unfortunate
events in Japan were still being assessed when this paper went to press. What is
clear, however, is that U.S. leadership is required.