Fuelling Innovation
Countries look to the next generation of nuclear power

by Judith Perera

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The past few years have seen several multinational initiatives looking at the prospects for the medium and long-term development of nuclear energy. These include: the US-led Generation IV International Forum (GIF), the IAEA's International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO), and the European Michelangelo network for competitiveness and sustainability of nuclear energy in the EU (Micanet). There have also been two major studies - a joint investigation by the IAEA together with the OECD's International Energy Agency (IEA) and Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), Innovative Nuclear Reactor Development; Opportunities for International Co-operation; and an interdisciplinary study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on The Future of Nuclear Energy.

All these cover much of the same ground, looking at innovative nuclear systems including reactors and fuel cycles. But, while they were prompted by the same set of underlying imperatives, they also differ to some extent, not least in the importance they attach to the nuclear fuel cycle. GIF and INPRO are two initiatives where enhanced international cooperation could emerge.

GIF Initiative

GIF is essentially a US initiative. In 1997, the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology reviewed national energy R&D and drew up a programme to address energy and environmental needs for the next century. This noted the importance of assuring a viable nuclear energy option to help meet future energy needs including properly focused R&D to address the principal obstacles to achieving this option including spent nuclear fuel, proliferation, economics, and safety. In response the US Department of Energy (DOE) initiated the Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI) to address technical and scientific issues affecting the future use of nuclear energy in the US. In 1998, DOE established the independent Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee (NERAC) to provide advice to the Secretary and to the Director, Office of Nuclear Energy, Science, and Technology (NE), on the DOE civilian nuclear technology programme.

GIF focuses on the collaborative development and demonstration of one or more fourth generation nuclear energy systems that could offer advantages in economics, safety and reliability, sustainability, and could be deployed commercially by 2030. The aim is to share expertise, resources, and test facilities to improve efficiency and avoid duplication. (See table for GIF members.)

INPRO Statistics as of June 2004

The National Energy Policy (NEP), issued in May 2001 by the Vice President's National Energy Policy Development Group, supports the expansion of nuclear energy as a major component necessary to meet growing US energy requirements. In September 2002 the NERAC Subcommittee on Generation IV Technology Planning issued the Technology Roadmap for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems. In coordination with GIF, six innovative reactor concepts were selected for further collaborative research and development with the supporting fuel cycles a1nd also to serve as focus areas for innovative NERI-sponsored R&D projects. They include:

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