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Report, Long-Term Nuclear Technology Research and Development Plan

This document constitutes the first edition of a long-term research and development (R&D) plan for nuclear technology in the United States. The federally-sponsored nuclear technology programs of the United States are almost exclusively the province of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The nuclear energy areas in DOE include, but are not limited to, R&D related to power reactors and the responsibility for the waste management system for final disposition of the spent fuel resulting from nuclear power reactors. Although a major use of nuclear technology is to supply energy for electricity production, the DOE has far broader roles regarding nuclear technology, many of which are not market-oriented.

DOE provides user facilities, such as research reactors and test loops, with provisions for inserting samples under known (controlled and measurable) parameters, and other research instruments or machines that are not commonly available but may be needed by the civilian and national security research communities. DOE has a role in ensuring isotopes are available as needed by the medical community. DOE is responsible for insuring that power and heat sources are provided to support the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) deep space and planetary explorations.

Lead responsibility for nuclear defense, safeguards and nonproliferation, environmental management and waste cleanup, and Navy nuclear propulsion systems development resides outside the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology (NE). However, nuclear R&D conducted in these other Offices may provide opportunities for leveraged collaboration with NE for cleaning up the wastes from the decades of nuclear weapons related activities at DOE sites; and for providing technical support of U.S. bi-partisan global nuclear policies to assure acceptable international practices in nuclear power plant safety, radioactive waste management, and proliferation resistance. The Department has a lead role in insuring that excess nuclear weapons material is safeguarded and, in a joint program with Russia, that such material is made much less accessible. And, of course, the DOE provides stewardship for the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile and for the development of nuclear power systems for the U.S. Navy. This R&D plan does not address these national defense areas nor the program for the final disposition of spent fuel at a geologic repository, the lead responsibility for which is carried by DOE organizations other than NE.

In 1998, DOE established the Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee (NERAC) to provide advice to the Secretary and to the Director, Office of Nuclear Energy, Science, and Technology (NE) on the broad range of non-defense DOE nuclear technology programs. The NERAC recommended developing a long-range R&D program. This R&D plan is a result of that recommendation and is the first of what is expected to be an iterated series of long-range plans for nuclear energy in the Department of Energy. It will be desirable to update, expand, and refine this plan every few years.

The focus here is not on next year's budget. Rather, the focus is on what is necessary to develop over the next 10-20 years. Although this plan is intended to focus comprehensively on DOE's

1non-defense nuclear technology, it excludes some aspects of DOE's non-defense nuclear technology programs that do not involve R&D, e.g., landlord at sites and nuclear technology R&D activities that are being addressed by other advisory reports, e.g., accelerator transmutation of waste (ATW). However, this plan does include some closely related nuclear technology activities that have defense or national security implications.

DOE's nuclear technology mission is to serve as the federally responsible agent. Within this overall responsibility, DOE-NE has a mission to create and advance nuclear technology and infrastructure for non-defense and closely related defense applications. The DOE-NE mission leads to the following areas of responsibility:

Enhancing nuclear power‘s viability as part of the US energy portfolio.1 The issues for this R&D plan are what elements of nuclear energy should be supported and at what level.

Providing the technical framework to implement US nuclear policies in support of national and global security.

Supporting selected other missions, such as assuring a supply of medical isotopes and of space power systems.

Maintaining sufficient U.S. expertise to assure an effective role in the international community and to support the needs for nuclear expertise to meet DOE defense and environmental missions.

Sponsoring needed R&D and coordinating this work with other agencies. Maintaining necessary national laboratory and university nuclear infrastructure and

supporting the education system.

Fulfilling the above also requires that DOE-NE undertake additional "cross-cutting" roles such as supporting broadly based research programs to advance nuclear technology.

In many respects, DOE-NE's role is to support and to catalyze research that, if successful, will be scaled up or applied by others, such as the nuclear power industry, NASA, or the medical-isotope suppliers. DOE-NE's focus should be on planning and sponsoring research and helping identify, plan, and broker with other sponsors to pursue promising results. When a concept is ready for the prototype or demonstration facility stage, DOE-NE should help transition the concept to whoever will implement or commercialize the results. A government-industry partnership, leveraged with substantial international participation, is the most appropriate way to undertake the major development and demonstration of advanced nuclear technologies.

However, the original research will have to be funded by DOE: a public agency must support such research because of what follows from the economic theory of market failure. “Markets cannot correctly allocate resources in the production of science, primarily because basic (unpatentable) science cannot financially reward the producer. Further, development based on basic research might not be done at socially optimal levels because of the risks associated with a private party undertaking costly development.”