Nuclear's Second Wind:
Innovative "fast" nuclear power plants may be a strategic imperative

by Evgeny Adamov

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Global Cooperation & Support

On various grounds then, fast reactors could open up new opportunities for assuring nuclear power's competitiveness. To serve strategic interests for energy and non-proliferation goals, national and international support will be needed for this new chapter in nuclear power development.

Many studies have analysed and defined the basic safety, economic and associated requirements for innovative reactor technologies. These are fundamentally different requirements from those of the 1960s and 1970s. The new requirements were translated into the key principles laid down in the Strategy of Nuclear Power Development in Russia in the first half of the 21st Century and were cited by the Russian President in his Initiative for International Cooperation announced at the UN Millennium Summit in New York in September 2000.

The IAEA General Conference in 2000 additionally gave rise to the so-called INPRO programme (International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles), through which many countries are collaborating (see "Fuelling Innovation" in this Bulletin edition). Recent statements of IAEA Director General ElBaradei are largely in accord with President Putin's global initiative.

In parallel, changes in the political attitudes towards nuclear energy, reflected in the US National Energy Policy, drove some countries to join forces through the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) for developing advanced nuclear reactors. Six reactor concepts, including fast reactors, have been selected for more detailed review before a final decision is made.

To serve strategic interests for energy and non-proliferation goals, national and international support will be needed for this new chapter in nuclear power development.

Incidentally, such work was carried out in Russia in the last decade and led to the choice of a lead-cooled fast reactor whose engineering design is in detailed development. The project is in a very advanced stage, and a site has been chosen in the Urals for possible construction of a demonstration plant. During the same period, R&D efforts were completed to support the approach of radiation-equivalent management of nuclear materials. The findings of the studies could serve as a basis for comparison with other reactor concepts and approaches to fulfilment of fuel cycle objectives.

The review of progress through INPRO and GIF has shown that the two could be coordinated, provided that the final goal is harmonised and defined as development of economically competitive large-scale nuclear power based on a closed fuel cycle and proliferation-resistant technologies. In light of rising interest in new approaches for nuclear power, it may be expedient to join INPRO and GIF activities to reach their common objectives through international cooperation. Successful implementation of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) fusion project, even though it comes ahead of the actual need for such facilities, is an excellent example of efficient cooperation in tackling the most challenging engineering tasks.

Cheap electricity produced by innovative nuclear power plants is an attractive basis for future economic development. It can help efforts to eliminate the oppressive disparity in regional standards of living and, ultimately, help resolve the basic reasons underlying political tensions and international conflicts.

Evgeny Adamov served as Minister of the Russian Federation for Atomic Energy from 1998-2001, and has been an Adviser to the Chairman of the Russian Government since 2002. Full references and further technical details may be obtained from the author. E-mail: [email protected]

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