Report

International Workshop on Research, Development, and Demonstration to Enhance the Role of Nuclear Energy in Meeting Climate and Energy Challenges

| April 2011

Dramatic growth in nuclear energy would be required for nuclear power to provide a significant part of the carbon-free energy the world is likely to need in the 21st century, or a major part in meeting other energy challenges. This would require increased support from governments, utilities, and publics around the world. Achieving that support is likely to require improved economics and major progress toward resolving issues of nuclear safety, proliferation-resistance, and nuclear waste management. This is likely to require both research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) of improved technologies and new policy approaches.

To gather information on the RD&D needs for the future of nuclear energy, the future cost and performance of nuclear technologies, and on the major barriers to large-scale deployment of nuclear energy, a team of researchers at Harvard University and the Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM) conducted two coordinated surveys of nuclear experts. The surveys asked experts how much they would recommend that their governments spend on nuclear energy RD&D; what progress in cost and performance might be expected by 2030 if those recommendations were followed; and what other factors might constrain or promote future nuclear energy growth. Leading experts from the United States (U.S.) and the European Union (E.U.) participated in this expert elicitation surveys during the summer and fall of 2010. In April 2011, the FEEM and Harvard teams held a workshop in Venice, Italy with a subset of the participating E.U. and U.S. experts to present and discuss the results of the elicitations, in an effort to understand where there is consensus and where the most important disputes and uncertainties lie. Given the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, the meeting opened with a discussion of the significance of that event for the future of nuclear power, and of the main lessons learned.

KEY POINTS

  • On safety: The Fukushima accident highlights the need for improved preparedness for events beyond the design basis for nuclear reactors, strengthened emergency response, and safer management of spent nuclear fuel. The accident has had an impact on public and investor confidence in nuclear energy, but nuclear power is likely to continue to grow in the most important nuclear markets.
  • On RD&D: Major reductions in the cost of nuclear energy are not a major goal of current RD&D programs. Rather, current RD&D programs are targeted on offering new capabilities (such as high-temperature process heat) and improving features such as safety, waste management, sustainability of fuel resources, and proliferation-resistance, while maintaining or improving cost-competitiveness.
  • On Gen IV: Gen IV systems will probably not be cheaper than Gen III/III+ (or light water reactor, LWR) designs. Instead, their value would come from the generation of by-products (i.e., hydrogen and process heat), the ability to extend uranium resources or minimize nuclear wastes, or from improved safety and proliferation-resistance.
  • On small reactors: Small modular reactors (both LWR and Gen IV designs) may or may not be cost competitive with large Gen III/III+ designs, but could have other benefits, such as simpler financing, improved safety, or strengthened proliferation resistance. There was disagreement about their market potential.
  • On barriers to large-scale deployment: For nuclear to play a major role in meeting the energy challenges of the 21st century, issues going well beyond RD&D need to be addressed, such as public acceptance, waste management, and government support for licensing and financing.
For more information on this publication: Please contact Energy Technology Innovation Policy
For Academic Citation: Anadon, Laura D., Valentina Bosetti, Matthew Bunn, Michela Catenacci, and Audrey Lee. International Workshop on Research, Development, and Demonstration to Enhance the Role of Nuclear Energy in Meeting Climate and Energy Challenges. Cambridge, Mass.: Report for Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, ICARUS Project, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei, and International Center for Climate Governance, April 2011.

The Authors