Next Generation Nuclear Reactors
- Inherently stable reactor technology
Nuclear power is the second largest producer of electricity in the United States, after coal.
Nuclear power offers some significant advantages compared to coal and other major sources of electricity, including no dependence on imported fossil fuels, no emissions of the precursor gases to acid rain, and no emissions of greenhouse gases. However, no new nuclear plants have been built in the United States since 1978. A significant drop in the growth rate of electricity demand since the 1970s, escalating construction costs, concerns for safety, and waste disposal issues have all adversely affected the general acceptance of nuclear power.
Safer and cleaner scalable nuclear reactors, operating on non-proliferating fuel cycles, may be an important source of new electric generation capacity with reduced environmental impact for U.S. and world markets. A number of advanced nuclear reactors, now in design or development, offer significant gains in simplicity, operability, and safety over the most common light water reactors now in operation. Since nuclear reactors are in greater demand outside the U.S., next generation reactors could make a positive contribution to the U.S. trade balance.
International comparisons in reactor technology are greatly complicated by alliances and joint development efforts. Because the vast majority of current reactors are based on U.S. technology, U.S. firms have remained competitive in design services and are active members of international alliances. Westinghouse is working with Mitsubishi and GE is involved with Toshiba and Hitachi on evolutionary improvements of current systems. However, while the U.S. is preeminent in light water reactor technology, we are likely to fall behind in non-light water advanced reactors such as liquid metal reactors because of large funding cuts. Foreign efforts to develop these technologies are likely to continue although perhaps at a reduced rate as many foreign efforts involved U.S. participation.