Nuclear Reactors: Generation to Generation


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Stephen M. Goldberg and Robert Rosner
Global Nuclear Future

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.