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A Screening Method for Guiding R&D Decisions: Pilot Application to Nuclear Fuel Cycle Options

The Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE) invests in research and development (R&D) to ensure that the United States will maintain its domestic nuclear energy capability and scientific and technical leadership in the international community of nuclear power nations in the years ahead. The 2010 Nuclear Energy Research and Development Roadmap presents a high-level vision and framework for R&D activities that are needed to keep the nuclear energy option viable in the near term and to expand its use in the decades ahead. The roadmap identifies the development of sustainable nuclear fuel cycles as a major R&D objective.

To achieve this objective, DOE-NE supports R&D to identify and resolve technical challenges related to sustainable nuclear fuel cycles. DOE-NE is selective about the technologies that it supports and seeks to direct its research funding to produce the maximum benefit. A principal challenge for DOE-NE in making these funding decisions is the high degree of uncertainty and complexity involved in anticipating the future potential of alternative technologies. Regarding the development of sustainable fuel cycles, this challenge is compounded by the wide range of technologies that DOE-NE must evaluate in order to make the best decisions. DOE-NE and other DOE programs can use a variety of decision-making methods to provide usable sets of R&D priorities. However, it is not enough simply to get the right outcome or answer at the end of the decision-making process. As DOE is a federal agency and steward of public trust, its decisions will be open to scrutiny. Therefore, how DOE programs obtain that answer is also important.