DOE task force sees ‘no shortcut’ to generous deployment of advanced reactors

The United States must get serious about commercial development of advanced nuclear reactor technology in order to help reduce worldwide carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, according to a special task force report to the Department of Energy (DOE).

But the report finds “there is no shortcut to reestablish a vigorous U.S. nuclear power initiative that could be a major source of carbon-free generation.” Such an initiative will take a lot of time, money and involve “restructured electricity markets.”

The Secretary of Energy Advisory Board chaired by John Deutch, has issued The Future of Nuclear Power Task Force report.

 “You charged the Task Force to describe a new nuclear power initiative that would lead to a situation in the period 2030 to 2050 where one or several nuclear technologies were being deployed at a significant rate,” Deutch said in an Oct. 3 letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

The task force has assumed a scale for this initiative of 3,000 to 5,000 MW annually. The task force finds that the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for new nuclear generation should be competitive with the LCOE of other generating technologies, provided that overnight capital construction costs are about $2,000 per kilowatt-electric (kWe) –compared to the $5,000 per kWe estimated today.

There are two key issues that must be addressed, however. First, nuclear overnight capital costs must decline and electricity markets must recognize the value of carbon-free electricity generation based on the social cost of carbon emissions avoided. This could be done by either a carbon charge on power generation or extending a production payment on carbon-free electricity generation of about $0.027 per kilowatt-electric-hour (kWe-hr) or $213m for a 1,000 MWe reactor.

Second, many aspects of the rules governing electricity rates and dispatch in different parts of the country make it challenging to value base load nuclear generation appropriately, the report says.

For existing nuclear plants, the Task Force endorses DOE’s efforts to work with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), State regulatory authorities, and regional and independent system operators to encourage arrangements that will preserve the U.S. fleet until the end of their useful life.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has licensed large light water reactors (LWRs) for construction and operation in the United States. Small modular LWRs are receiving financial support from DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy for design certification, licensing, and early siting. DOE should work with the NRC expeditiously to resolve issues associated with SMRs, such as the size of the Emergency Planning Zone and the number of operators in the control room.

The task force says the federal government should support an advanced reactor program to support the design, demonstration and eventual commercial development of a “first-of-a-kind” (FOAK) commercial-scale reactor.

Each of the candidate systems has different attributes such as lower overnight capital costs (perhaps 30% less), higher thermal efficiency (perhaps 30% higher), safety (a factor of 10 fewer expected incidents per year of reactor operation), higher-temperature operation (improving efficiency, reducing water use, and providing possibly useful process heat), and fuel utilization (perhaps a factor of 50% or greater for some advanced concept/fuel cycles).

In addition to reliable, carbon-free generation, an “active U.S. nuclear power industry has the important added national security benefit of advancing nonproliferation policy objectives, and, in addition, it can provide the technology and practice to assure the safe, secure, and effective management of nuclear waste,” according to the report.

Currently an emeritus professor with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Deutch is a longtime Washington, D.C. insider, who in the past has headed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and held a number of high leadership posts at DOE and the Department of Defense (DOD).

Moniz requested the task force report in December 2015.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at