Nuclear energy and the 21st century
The world is entering a period of renewed interest and
growth in nuclear energy, driven by rising oil prices, growing
demand for electricity, new passively safe plant designs, and
low emissions of greenhouse gases, which some governments
need to meet Kyoto Protocol standards. The Kyoto Protocol
assigns mandatory targets for reducing greenhouse gas
emissions to signatory nations.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is well
positioned to be a major player in this nuclear energy
"renaissance." The Laboratory has a long history of
evaluating nuclear systems, developing new technologies
and improving nuclear facility operations for clients
such as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the
U.S. Department of Energy and the National Nuclear
A major opportunity is materializing on the horizon
for PNNL to assist the NRC in reviewing and evaluating
construction and operating licenses for as many as 20 new
nuclear power reactors in the United States over the next
decade. Ten companies have announced they will seek
licenses to build new power plants in the United States.
Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman recently announced
that DOE would provide $2 billion in federal risk insurance
to companies applying to build nuclear power plants—part
of an incentive package designed to encourage construction
of the country's first nuclear reactors since the 1970s.
PNNL is part of a consortium comprising four
DOE Office of Science laboratories that has submitted a
proposal to the NRC to provide assistance with reviewing
the Combined Construction and Operating License
applications for these new reactors. "Our staff has extensive
nuclear licensing-related experience such as revising the
NRC standard review plan for light-water reactors and
operating licensing requirements," said Al Ankrum, PNNL's
relationship manager for NRC. "We also have people
with strong operations background honed from years of
experience at the N Reactor at Washington's Hanford Site,
the Trojan nuclear power plant in Oregon and other nuclear
plants around the country." Currently, the Laboratory is
conducting a number of environmental reviews on behalf of
NRC for siting the planned new reactors.
PNNL also is well positioned to play a major role in the
newly created Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP)
program, a comprehensive strategy to increase U.S. and
global energy security, encourage clean development around
the world, reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation and
improve the environment.
the United States
is just starting
to unfold, "the
growth in nuclear
said Jon Phillips,
PNNL's International Security and Nonproliferation
group. China, for example, is building two to four
reactors a year, and India is constructing more than 10
civilian nuclear power reactors to meet growing demand.
Other nations such as Japan, which lack natural resources,
are building new reactors to meet their energy security
needs, while countries in Europe are reconsidering the
possibility of using nuclear power to meet carbon emission
standards. "GNEP is about addressing this phenomenal
growth and the challenging issues, such as disposal of
spent fuel and proliferation of nuclear weapons, related
to it," Phillips said.
DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) serves as steward
of GNEP and partners with other organizations, including
the National Nuclear Security Administration, which
covers all aspects of GNEP's nonproliferation objectives.
PNNL plays a lead role in supporting the NNSA as it
develops plans to implement the safeguard and security
elements of GNEP.
PNNL also has been approved by NE to receive
funding for GNEP research in 2007, according to Jim
Buelt, PNNL's account manager for DOE Nuclear
Energy activities. These new projects include on-line
instrumentation for process monitoring and materials
control and accountability, waste form development,
systems analysis, fast reactor materials analysis, and sodium
technology for fast reactors. Other potential opportunities
include hot testing of unit operations within the separations
flowsheet and remote fuel fabrication for fast reactor fuels.
"PNNL's greatest strength is that it has capabilities
spanning every single area associated with nuclear power,
from nuclear engineering technology to national security,"
Phillips said. "Our capabilities across the spectrum will
enable PNNL to effectively serve the R&D interests of the
U.S. government in meeting energy security, environmental
and international security needs."