United States: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has carried out a two-year study looking at the importance of retaining the nuclear option to help reduce CO2 emissions and to ensure the security of electricity supply.

The study was carried out by a nine-member research team, which comprised professors from both MIT and Harvard. The chairman of the study, Ernest Moniz, said that the research was undertaken “because of a belief that nuclear power is an important option for the USA and the world to meet future energy needs without emitting CO2 and other atmospheric pollutants.” The study said that nuclear power “faces stagnation and decline” and that it must be retained “precisely because it is an important CO2-free source of power.” According to the study’s findings, key issues that could limit the long-term expansion of nuclear power include: * High relative costs.

* Perceived adverse safety.

* Environmental and health effects.

* Potential security risks stemming from proliferation of nuclear materials.

* Long-term management of radioactive waste.

Moniz said: “The up-front costs associated with making nuclear power competitive are higher than those associated with fossil fuels. But as our study shows, there are many ways to mitigate these costs and, over time, the societal and environmental price of carbon emissions could dramatically improve the competitiveness of nuclear power.” The report was also sceptical about the chances of developing fast breeder reactors, though it said that there was justification for continuing research on high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs).

The study makes a number of recommendations to the US Department of Energy (DoE) including: * To realign its R&D programme to focus on the once-through nuclear fuel cycle.

* To conduct an international uranium resource assessment.

* To fund R&D to lower costs on advanced light water reactors.

* To halt development and demonstration of advanced fuel cycles or reactors until the results of the nuclear system analysis project are available.

* Streamline regulatory approvals.

* To establish interim centralised spent fuel storage.

* To research deep boreholes for geological waste disposal rather than rely on mined repositories like Yucca Mountain.

The study also suggests that the DoE establish a nuclear system modelling project to carry out the analysis, research, simulation and collection of engineering data needed to evaluate all fuel cycles or reactors until the results of the nuclear system analysis project are available.

The study said that the federal government should offer a production tax credit of up to $200 per installed kilowatt of the construction costs for up to the first 10 units built. The study also favoured the government sharing the costs with industry for work associated with ‘banking’ a site for future construction, NRC certification of a new plant design, and the application process for a combined construction-operating licence.

However, the DoE report to Congress in January 2003 on Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative – the future path for advanced spent fuel treatment and transmutation research recommended advanced reprocessing and plutonium-burning technologies on the back end of the present fuel cycle and, in the longer term, new fuel cycles tied to Generation IV reactors.

The study postulated a “growth scenario” by 2050 of about 700 new reactors worldwide, each of approximately 1000MWe, to keep nuclear’s share of the electricity market constant. For such an increase, the USA would have to take a leading role and there would have to be a resurgence in Europe. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan also would have to continue their commitment to nuclear.