Press Release

American Academy of Arts and Sciences Releases Primer on Nuclear Reactors


Assesses the Cost, Safety, Security, and Technical Qualities of Nuclear Reactors

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – As officials assess the impact of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami on that country’s crippled nuclear power plants, a new publication issued today by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences provides background on the cost, safety, and security attributes of the major nuclear reactor designs, as well as their properties with regard to refueling and fuel disposition requirements. The monograph, Nuclear Reactors: Generation to Generation is available online.

The authors, Stephen Goldberg and Robert Rosner, are Senior Advisors to the Academy’s Global Nuclear Future Initiative. The Academy’s Initiative is working with policymakers in the U.S., Middle East, and Asia to advance effective policies and procedures to ensure that the spread of nuclear power does not aggravate, and in fact reduces, international safety, security, and nonproliferation concerns.

System failures at Japan’s Fukushima plants, which share the design features of many reactors operating in the United States, will lead to much greater public scrutiny of all nuclear facilities. The events in Japan may also increase pressure to retire some nuclear generating facilities earlier than their scheduled design life.

In assessing the attributes of reactor designs, both those already deployed and those on the drawing board, the authors of the Academy paper suggest that two questions will determine the future of nuclear power around the world: “What is safe enough?” and “What are we going to do about the nuclear waste?”

In addition to reviewing currently operating systems, the paper analyzes the viability of a new type of small “modular” reactor that is about to enter the market. Smaller than a rail car and one-tenth the cost of a conventional power plant, backers say this new generation of reactors could be quickly built and installed at existing nuclear sites or replace coal-fired plants.

Many of the crucial decisions that will shape the nuclear future will not be made by the United States alone. The Academy’s Global Nuclear Future Initiative includes experts from foreign governments and international organizations. The project brings together technical communities and proliferation specialists to guide government and industry choices. Since the Academy is not identified with a particular stance on nuclear questions, yet has a fifty-year-old tradition of work on arms control, it offers a neutral forum for discussing these issues

In addition to their role as Senior Advisors to the Academy’s Global Nuclear Future Initiative, Stephen Goldberg is Special Assistant to the Director at Argonne National Laboratory and Robert Rosner is the Wrather Distinguished Service Professor in the Departments of Astronomy and Astrophysics and Physics at the University of Chicago, and former Director of Argonne National Laboratory.




Global Nuclear Future

Steven E. Miller, Robert Rosner, and Scott D. Sagan