Sandia LabNews

Labs team on nuclear energy action plan

Six-lab nuclear energy action plan has Sandia as systems integrator

A joint presentation by six DOE laboratory directors in May to Deputy Secretary of Energy Kyle McSlarrow has resulted in a step ahead for a Nuclear Energy action plan, proposed by the group. The plan calls for activities on the part of all six laboratories, with Sandia acting in an integrating capacity, reports Sandia President C. Paul Robinson.

"Basically, we found that we were pushing on an open door," says Paul of the meeting. "The Administration’s Energy Plan already emphasizes nuclear energy (based on its competitive costs and zero carbon emissions) and the move to a hydrogen economy for transportation fuels. Our proposal integrates these two."

The action plan suggests an emphasis in some higher temperature reactors that can efficiently produce hydrogen, Paul explains. "Thus we can speed the time to transition." McSlarrow told the gathered group of laboratory representatives that the White House may also want to review the ideas in the action plan.

Last summer Sandia joined with Argonne, Idaho National Engineering and Environmental, Oak Ridge, Lawrence Livermore, and Los Alamos national laboratories in signing an agreement aimed at enabling nuclear power to play a global role in the 21st century. The action plan, which sets out specific dates and goals, is a product of that agreement.

"Sandia has offered to the rest of the labs our experience and expertise as ‘system integrators’ for this effort," Paul says. Each lab in the partnership has expertise in particular areas of nuclear technology that it will bring to the table, Paul adds, "but we thought that what was most needed was an impartial system integrator that could serve as the honest broker to build the pieces — only as appropriate — into a system solution."

The other lab directors have accepted Sandia’s proposal to serve in this role, Paul reports.

The action plan outlines three major goals to achieve the vision of global expansion of nuclear energy systems:

  • The first goal is to reduce air pollution and improve global climate by increasing the use of nuclear power. Among the objectives are 50 percent of US electricity produced by nuclear power and 25 percent of US transportation fuels produced by hydrogen by 2050.
  • A second goal is to achieve a 90 percent reduction of reactor waste requiring repository disposal by 2050. Objectives include demonstration of a "closed" (more efficient) fuel cycle system by 2020 in a pilot facility and use of the new fuel system with an advanced reactor.
  • A third goal is to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation while expanding nuclear technology worldwide. To achieve this, the plan calls for development and demonstration of affordable technologies and safeguard systems to minimize proliferation risk.

The laboratory directors told McSlarrow that a number of near-term actions are needed to enable the vision. These include:

  • incentives for deployment of new nuclear power plants in the US.
  • demonstration of an advanced "Generation IV" reactor to support both electrical generation and hydrogen production.
  • acceleration of the initiative to develop a closed fuel cycle that will be economically, socially, and politically sustainable.
  • setting a world standard for proliferation prevention.

Recognizing this, Sandia embarked on two Laboratory Directed Research and Development projects two years ago to develop risk-informed proliferation assessments and transparency systems for reactors, he adds.

The price tag for the 2003 to 2008 action plan is less than $10 billion. "The benefits of this investment to US energy security, environmental quality, and national security are substantial," the report concludes. "The directors of the DOE national laboratories remain fully committed to supporting the accomplishment of these goals."