NE50 Technical Summary


Technical Summary

Symposium on the Future of Nuclear Energy


The Symposium was opened by G. P. “Bud” Peterson, President of Georgia Tech, who welcomed the approximately 150 attendees and discussed Georgia Tech’s commitment to Nuclear Engineering and Nuclear Energy through the trying times of the past few decades and the promising prospects for the future.

Peter Lyons, Assistant Secretary of Energy for Nuclear and the keynote speaker,   presented  an overview of the Dept. of Energy’s current and near-term development plans related to the fuel cycle and nuclear reactor concepts in a talk entitled Nuclear Energy: Safe, Clean Power for the Future.   He was followed by Tim Echols, Chair of the Georgia Public Service Commission, who discussed issues related to the construction of Vogtle units 3 and 4 and the spent fuel in a talk entitled A Regulatory View of Nuclear Energy.

The first technical session of the Symposium was on Nuclear Energy in the Near Term.  This session began with a presentation entitled Vogtle 3 & 4 New Builds by Peter Ivey of Southern Co. on the technology and ongoing construction of these two AP1000s, the first new reactors to be built in the USA in several decades.

The major focus of the remainder of the session was on Small Modular Reactors that incorporate enhanced safety and construction economies in smaller units that can be licensed and deployed more expeditiously to provide a more flexible and affordable means for the expansion of nuclear power.  The session included presentations by Thomas Kindred of Westinghouse on Westinghouse SMR Program, by Eric Louwen of GE-Hitachi on PRISM: The Nation’s First Small Modular Reactor, by Ali Azad of Babcock & Wilcox on Small Modular Reactor—Vendor Perspective, by Daniel Ingersoll of NuScale Power on NuScale: Expanding the Possibilities for Nuclear Energy and by Peter Gaillard of TVA on Overview of TVA’s Small Modular Reactor Program.  The Westinghouse and Babcock & Wilcox designs are based on extensions of their PWR technologies, while the GE-Hitachi design is a metal fuel, sodium-cooled fast reactor of the type developed from 1984-1994 in the US fast reactor program.  The modular units vary in power from 311 MWe for the PRISM SFR design down to 45 MWe for the NuScale PWR design.  All of these SMR designs exploit various attractive safety and economy of construction features to compensate the economy of scale challenge.

Closing the Nuclear Fuel Cycle was addressed as a major challenge to the expansion of nuclear power in the second technical session.  Peter Lyons discussed DoE activities on the management of spent nuclear fuel and waste disposal, on the development of sustainable fuel cycle options and on the development of higher burnup, accident-tolerant LWR fuel in his presentation Nuclear Fuel Cycle.  This was followed by presentations by Hussein Khalil of Argonne National Laboratory on Fast Reactor Development: Motivation, Challenges and Key Advances, by Thomas Congedo of Westinghouse on Westinghouse Holistic Approach to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle and by Paul Murray of AREVA on Industrial Perspective for Closing the Nuclear Fuel Cycle.

Somewhat different technical and programmatic emphases were stressed by the different speakers.  Khalil (ANL) discussed the role of fast reactors in closing the nuclear fuel cycle and presented an overview of past experience and future perspectives, including discussion of the development of fast reactor fuel and the “breed and burn” concept.  Congedo (Westinghouse) discussed the Westinghouse approach to closing the fuel cycle in a commercially viable and environmentally responsible manner, emphasizing the importance of a coherent sustained effort with clear objectives and long-term policies.   Murray (AREVA) focused specifically on the US situation with a large stockpile of spent nuclear fuel and with several fuel cycle options potentially available.  He discussed the possibility of moving forward in a phased manner with several options without completely committing at present to any one single technology, noting that a business case for any future fuel cycle must be developed and that policy and technology issues remain to be resolved.

The final session on Nuclear Energy in the Future addressed fusion power and advanced materials.  Mickey Wade of General Atomics surveyed the present status of Magnetic Fusion—Prospects and Challenges , Brad Nelson of Oak Ridge National Laboratory provided a progress report on The ITER Project for the first fusion experimental power reactor, and Bill Stacey of Georgia Tech looked forward From ITER to Fusion Power.  Steve Zinkle of Oak Ridge National Laboratory closed the Symposium with a report on ongoing and anticipated advances in Materials for Advanced Fission and Fusion Reactors.

Progress in fusion plasma physics has resulted in a doubling of the achieved fusion power level over the last two decades of the 20th century by a factor of 2 per year (better than Moore’s Law factor of 2 every 18 months for semiconductor speed) and has produced a large data-base for extrapolating to  reactor-like conditions.  With the ongoing construction and recent licensing as a nuclear installation of ITER (to operate in the 2020s), fusion has almost reached the experimental power reactor stage.  Current worldwide research is addressing the remaining plasma physics issues for ITER, and plasma support technology that can operate at reactor-like conditions has been developed and is being incorporated in ITER.  The necessary further advances in plasma physics, plasma support technology, fusion nuclear technology and materials necessary for fusion power reactors will require a few additional major facilities, most notably a fusion DEMOnstration plant, but could be achieved by the second half of the present century.   A fusion neutron source for a fission-fusion hybrid fast burner reactor for spent nuclear fuel incineration, based on ITER-level physics and technology, could be online before mid-century.   Advanced structural materials that promise to withstand radiation levels of 200 dpa or greater are under development.