Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:30 PM

Dr. Douglas Chapin

Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee

Dr. Douglas M. Chapin

Principal Officer, MPR Associates, Inc., Alexandria, VA

Member, Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee Generation IV Sub-Committee

US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Concerning Next Generation Nuclear Plant Project (NGNP)

June 12, 2006


Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I am honored to be here to present the results of the NERAC Generation IV subcommittee review of the Next Generation Nuclear Plant Project.

In 2002, the Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE) completed a technology roadmap project that provided an overall plan supporting an enhanced future role for nuclear energy systems. The DOE-NE plan placed top priority on the successful development of a high-temperature fission reactor system, the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP). In August 2005, the U.S. Congress passed and the President signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT). One of the key provisions of the EPACT established the NGNP project, and designated an overall plan and timetable for it, with operation by the end of FY 2021. The EPACT also specifically required a prompt review of the NGNP project and its associated R&D plan by DOE’s Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee (NERAC).

In September 2005, the NERAC chair and co-chair charged the Gen-IV subcommittee to conduct the EPACT-required review. The subcommittee has six members: four are members of NERAC (Mike Corradini of the University of Wisconsin and Chair of the Subcommittee, Neil Todreas of MIT, Harold Ray of SCE, and Joy Rempe of INL).  There are two additional nuclear engineering experts from the industry, acting as unpaid consultants (Chuck Boardman, retired from GE, and Douglas M. Chapin of MPR).

At the time the review was conducted in the fall of 2005, DOE-NE was in the midst of a major review of the NGNP to reflect the guidance from EPACT. As a result the subcommittee focused on the first phase of the NGNP program; i.e., between 2005 and 2011. This first phase includes:

• Determining whether the NGNP should produce electricity, hydrogen, or both;
• Selecting and validating a hydrogen generation technology;
• Conducting R&D on associated technologies and components (energy conversion, nuclear fuel development, materials selection, reactor and plant systems development); and
• Initiating design activities for the prototype nuclear power plant.

The subcommittee completed its review and formally reported to the full NERAC in February 2006. The full NERAC approved the report and forwarded it to DOE for eventual submittal to the Congress.

The subcommittee had four major recommendations:

Recommendation (1): The original mission proposed for NGNP was a full-scale prototype of a commercially cost-effective machine producing both hydrogen and electricity.  The subcommittee recommends that mission not be continued by default and that alternate missions be evaluated.  The subcommittee’s other major recommendations address key aspects of those evaluations.

Recommendation (2): To support the mission redefinition, the DOE-NE staff should conduct, with the assistance of key industry representatives, economic and engineering trade studies that consider:

• The targets for hydrogen production for various scenarios over the next few decades;
• The DOE target for hydrogen production via nuclear power in this overall context;
• The likely hydrogen production and electricity production alternatives and how those alternatives would be factored into determining the proper mission for the NGNP.

Since the selection of the ultimate NGNP mission can drive the reactor design in different directions, the subcommittee recommends that these trade studies be completed as soon as funding becomes available.

Recommendation (3): EPACT requires the overall cost of the NGNP project be shared with U.S. industry as well as members of the international community.  However, the subcommittee believes that a NGNP completion date of 2021 greatly decreases the chances of substantial industrial and international contributions. The subcommittee recommends that the DOE consider developing the NGNP as a reactor facility that can be built soon to gain experience and then upgraded as the technology advances. Conceptually, the reactor would be built as a “technology demonstrator” that is, a smaller machine, carefully choosing the scale to be the smallest machine that could be reasonably extrapolated to support full size commercial applications.

Recommendation (4): The DOE-NE staff should update its R&D plans and develop options that can support reactor deployment much before the 2017-2021 timeframe. Further, these plans should adopt and enhance the Independent Technical Review Group (ITRG) perspective that to achieve a successful project even in the later time period, less aggressive project objectives must be adopted; e.g., for reactor outlet temperatures, fuel selection and performance. The subcommittee notes that the DOE-NE has already begun to address the ITRG recommendations and urges continued refinements and revisions.

In summary, the subcommittee supports the construction of the NGNP as a closely coupled activity of the DOE-NE, INL, the industry and our international partners and considers that going ahead as soon as practical is preferred.

Thank you again for inviting me and I will be pleased to address any questions that you may have.