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Review of DOE's Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program (2008)

Chapter:6 Program Priorities, Balance, and Oversight

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Suggested Citation:"6 Program Priorities, Balance, and Oversight." National Research Council. 2008. Review of DOE's Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11998.
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6
Program Priorities, Balance, and Oversight

The committee’s statement of task requires it to evaluate the process for establishing program priorities and oversight for DOE’s nuclear energy programs, including the method for determining the relative distribution of budgetary resources. Managing budget priorities is a challenging task for DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy (NE), particularly because of the disconnect between the annual federal budget process and the long-term nature of NE’s research programs. The committee’s evaluation of NE’s programs stresses the need for managing programs consistently over time. For example, the committee has recommended approaches for the Generation IV reactor development program, the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (AFCI), and the fast reactor fuels qualification program that aim at creating solid information for decisions on technology selection that may be taken 5 to 10 years from now. NE is the program secretarial office (PSO) for the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) site, and that responsibility requires a steady effort over a similar period of time.

As noted in Chapter 1, however, the NE budget has experienced wide swings in both size and content over the past 10 years. The nature of the federal budget process is at least partly the cause of this problem. The committee reviewed the current NE budget process for annually allocating limited resources among programs. Like the federal budget process in general, the NE process tends to subordinate long-term commitments to more immediate needs. The committee is under no illusion that the pressures created by this annual process will abate. For that very reason, however, it is convinced that NE should set up an internal system to allocate resources consistently over time and among programs. Such a system should have the following characteristics:

  • Be robust with respect to policy and technological variables—that is, offer timely science and technology options that will be useful across a range of possible futures and research outcomes.

  • Possess a rigorous and independent evaluation process that reexamines the program as policy and technological variables change and focuses available resources on the most promising options.

  • Maintain continuity of programs to achieve the desired goals, thereby supporting the bases on which the nuclear industry plans its direction.

  • Commit to the construction of a major demonstration or facility only when there is a clear economic, national security, or environmental policy reason for doing so.

  • Limit the NE role to activities that the private sector cannot reasonably be expected to undertake.

  • Plan to live within a reasonable federal budget constraint, recognizing that some fluctuation is inevitable but that major facility construction should not crowd out ongoing research activities.

  • Maintain a balance among programs with near-term and longer-term research objectives.

  • Take into account the risks and opportunities created by technological developments in other countries.

In this chapter the committee proposes the major priorities among NE’s programs, suggests how they might be applied in a constrained budget environment, and describes the elements of a system to provide independent oversight of the NE research portfolio.

PROGRAM PRIORITIES

To assess the overall priorities among NE programs, the committee examined their relevance to NE’s mission goals in light of the committee’s recommendations for each program. The mission goals, as developed in Chapter 1, are these:

  • Assist the nuclear industry in providing for the safe, secure, and effective operation of nuclear power plants already in service, the anticipated growth in the next generation of light water reactors, and associated fuel cycle facilities.

  • Provide for nuclear power at a cost that will be competitive with other energy sources over time.

Suggested Citation:"6 Program Priorities, Balance, and Oversight." National Research Council. 2008. Review of DOE's Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11998.
×
  • Support a safe and publicly acceptable domestic waste management system, including options for long-term disposal of the related waste forms. (The principal DOE responsibility for this function lies with its Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.)

  • Provide for effective proliferation resistance and physical protection of nuclear energy systems, both at home and in support of international nonproliferation and nuclear security regimes.

  • Create economical and environmentally acceptable nuclear power options for assuring long-term nonelectric energy supplies while displacing insecure and polluting energy sources; such options include electricity production, hydrogen production, process heat, and water desalinization.

Each chapter in this report contains findings on program design and budget implications. In summary, the committee’s programmatic recommendations that have budget consequences are these:

  • Nuclear Power 2010. DOE should augment this program to ensure the timely and cost effective deployment of the first new reactor plants. Of particular importance is the need to address industrial and human resource infrastructure issues. The NP 2010 program will end upon completion of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) certification and finalization of the AP1000 and ESBWR designs, issuance of the first combined construction and operating licenses (COLs) to the lead companies in the Nustart and Dominion consortia, and implementation of the standby support and loan guarantee financial incentives of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct05).

  • Research in support of the commercial fleet. The committee does not suggest a large federal research program, because most of this research should be industry-supported. However, some specific projects have sufficient public benefit to warrant federal funding.

  • University infrastructure support. A major buildup in nuclear energy production, research, and development requires expanding university capabilities to educate a growing number of young professionals and scientists in the relevant areas. DOE should maintain programs specifically designed to support university research reactors and educational infrastructure. The American Nuclear Society has recommended that NE should retain a separate funding line for university programs in the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill for FY 2007 and future years. The committee agrees with that conclusion and urges that NE fund a separate program as outlined in EPAct05.

  • Generation IV. This is principally the Next Generation Nuclear Power (NGNP) program aimed at electricity and process heat applications, such as hydrogen production (as in the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative program) and desalinization. It is designed so that by 2012 NGNP can be evaluated against other technologies directed toward similar outcomes. As a second priority, a focus on fast reactors is appropriate. The committee would like to see NE sustain a balanced R&D portfolio in these advanced reactor development areas.

  • AFCI. This is the AFCI program with some modifications as called for by the committee in Chapter 4 but not including construction of large demonstration facilities or commercial-scale facilities.

  • Major fuel cycle facilities. The committee recognizes that major engineering and/or commercial-scale facilities will ultimately be required to test and deploy fuel cycle technology. However, it concludes that the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) has not made a persuasive case for the early deployment of such facilities.

  • Idaho National Laboratory. NE has PSO responsibility for INL, and this responsibility has a large impact on the NE budget.

Based on its understanding of NE’s mission and the criteria for management of NE research programs, the committee views the relative priority of these programs as presented in Table 6-1.

PROGRAM BALANCE

The committee has evaluated the overall balance among these programs within the scope of available resources. The committee cannot, of course, predict what budgetary resources will be available in future years. However, the budgets for NP 2010, Generation IV, NHI, and Idaho Facilities Management totaled between $220 million and $240 million from FY 2005 to FY 2007. The GNEP/AFCI budget has been rising, and the university infrastructure budget—while not in the FY 2008 NE budget request—received appropriations of $16 million to $26 million (Box 6-1). If these trends persist, they suggest an overall NE research budget of about $700 million annually. The committee has used these parameters as a basis for evaluating program balance in a constrained budget environment. The committee’s judgments are presented in Table 6-2.

PROGRAM OVERSIGHT

Recommendation 6.1. As a counterbalance to the short-term nature of the federal budget process, NE should adopt an oversight process for evaluating the adequacy of program plans, assessing progress against these plans, and adjusting resource allocations as planned decision points are reached.


The oversight process should have the following attributes:

  • Strategic. The focus of the process should be overall program progress in the light of NE’s overarching goals and balancing resources across programs. It does not take the place of detailed technical and peer review, nor should it.

Suggested Citation:"6 Program Priorities, Balance, and Oversight." National Research Council. 2008. Review of DOE's Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11998.
×

TABLE 6-1 Relative Priorities of NE R&D Programs and INL

Priority

Program

Comments

High

NP 2010 and research in support of the commercial fleet

Unless the commercial fleet of LWRs grows, nuclear power will be a diminishing energy resource for the United States and there will be little need for all of NE’s longer term research programs. NP 2010 and selected commercial research projects should be fully funded as a matter of highest priority.

High

University infrastructure support

University support is largely a government responsibility in the committee’s view.

Medium

Generation IV, NGNP, NHI, and AFCI

These are all longer term research programs with defined downselect decision points that could change the course of research as more is learned. These programs will perform best if research budgets are consistent with steady progress toward these decision points.

Medium

INL programs to reduce deferred maintenance and to build a capacity that will sustain a useful scientific capability

These activities require steady progress but can evolve over a reasonable time. Construction of user facilities and/or program facilities should be carefully evaluated on a case-by-case basis to validate the need and to avoid duplication with facilities at other national laboratories.

Low

Major facility deployment (large demonstration plants or initial commercial plants) in GNEP

U.S. industry does not urgently require the construction of such facilities.

NOTE: LWR, light water reactor.

BOX 6-1

University Programs1

The DOE-NE university program has been in existence for almost 10 years in support of university reactor basic research, undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships as well as university research reactor fuel assistance and instrumentation and infrastructure. In August 2005, EPAct05 authorized its continuance and expansion; however, DOE discontinued the program. The Congress appropriated funds over this DOE elimination in FY 2006 and FY 2007. The American Nuclear Society (ANS) appointed a special committee of individuals from industry, the national laboratories, and universities and carried out an in-depth review of the program in the fall of 2006.

One of the major conclusions of the ANS review and report is that a clear national interest exists for the federal government, primarily DOE, to continue and expand its stewardship of the U.S. nuclear science and engineering (NSE) education enterprise. Simply put, university-based NSE programs can continue to be leaders in the field only if there is an active, identifiable university program at DOE. The ANS report recommended that NE retain a separate funding line for university programs in the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill for FY 2007 as well as future years. The committee agrees with that conclusion and urges that NE should fund a separate program, as outlined in EPAct05.

  

1Information based on American Nuclear Society, Nuclear’s Human Element: A Report of the ANS Special Committee on Federal Investment in Nuclear Education, 2006.

For this reason, the process should be in the hands of individuals with high-level research, government, and industry experience.

  • Independent. Because it is strategic, the oversight process should be designed to serve not just NE but also DOE management. Ideally, the Office of Management and Budget and the Congress would be willing to give considerable weight to the information produced by the process. Therefore, the composition and organizational position of the oversight body should reflect a substantial degree of independence. A clear policy for handling conflicts of interest and ensuring balance among the members will be essential.

  • Transparent. The topics studied by the oversight body and the reports it issues should be made public.

Suggested Citation:"6 Program Priorities, Balance, and Oversight." National Research Council. 2008. Review of DOE's Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11998.
×

TABLE 6-2 Budget Recommendations for NE R&D Programs and INL

Program

Budget Issue

Recommended Action

NP 2010

Current funding is as much as a third less than needed to maintain program momentum, and funding is likely to be needed for longer than the current program plan estimates.

Although increases in the NP 2010 budget are likely, they do not make up a large fraction of the total NE funding. The NP 2010 requirements should be fully supported.

Research in support of the commercial fleet

Not presently funded, although some DOE support of continued research on existing and new reactors in the commercial fleet is appropriate.

DOE should provide cost sharing in the 20 percent range and support user facilities at incremental cost. These elements of the program should be fully funded when the NP 2010 licensing and design completion efforts come to an end.

University infrastructure support

Funding at (recent) FY 2006 appropriated levels is appropriate.

DOE should include this program explicitly in its budget at the levels authorized by EPAct05 (see Box 6-1).

Generation IV and NHI

Current funding is considerably less than that required to meet stated goals, especially for NGNP. Full funding would mean ~$50 million to 60 million more annually.

The program requires predictable and steady funding, but its goals can be more modest and its timetables stretched. A revised program can be conducted within levels recently appropriated for Generation IV and for SFR-related R&D under GNEP.

AFCI and fast reactor fuel qualification

Recent proposals for GNEP have substantially increased the NE budget.

The committee recommends a more modest and longer-term program of applied research and engineering, including new research-scale experimental capabilities as envisioned for the Advanced Fuel Cycle Facility, although the design of the program would differ somewhat from the AFCI program before GNEP.

INL programs to reduce deferred maintenance and to build a capacity that will sustain a useful scientific capability

Current budgets for INL deferred maintenance and other landlord demands are substantially below optimal levels. Using the Ten-Year Site Plan as a basis, the shortfall could be on the order of $50 million per year. The capacity-building strategy at INL has not yet been agreed on or costed out.

It is essential to provide reasonable and predictable funding to support the PSO responsibility for site condition and capacity building. However, the funding required for managing the site infrastructure can be reduced by giving priority to mission-critical facilities. Both infrastructure support and capacity-building measures can be supplemented by indirect cost and contributions from non-NE programs (such as the large U.S. Department of Homeland Security program at INL). Finally, care should be taken to avoid duplication of capabilities at other national laboratories. A strategic plan based on these concepts is needed to establish the target funding level for the Idaho Facilities Management account.

Major facility deployment

The current GNEP concept envisions major demonstration or precommercial facilities. The Generation IV program, if successful, could require an NGNP demonstration plant.

These facilities should be funded only when clearly needed, and then as increases to the NE base budget.

The senior advisory body for NE has been the Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee (NERAC). This review committee was formed about 10 years ago when the nuclear energy research budget began to grow beyond facilities and infrastructure support. From 1998 through 2005, NERAC gave NE advice on a range of matters, among them:

  • Infrastructure for nuclear energy research,

  • The education of future nuclear engineers,

  • The Generation IV Technology Roadmap,

  • Assessment of technology for advanced nuclear processes,

  • Review of the Next-Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP), and

  • A roadmap for deploying new nuclear power plants in the United States.

In recent years, however, NERAC has not been effective, for reasons that are not entirely clear. It was largely inactive during the year or so when the director of NE left, the directorship of the Office was elevated to the assistant secretary level, and the new assistant secretary was in place. The upshot was that neither NERAC nor any other external body was much consulted for strategic oversight or advice during a time when the NE program was undergoing major change.

NERAC seems the obvious starting point for reestablishing oversight of the NE programs. In the committee’s opinion, the key will be to ensure NERAC’s independence and transparency, and allow it to focus on important strategic issues. The committee has not attempted to recommend for NERAC a specific oversight capability, but the oversight body has in mind that it would:

Suggested Citation:"6 Program Priorities, Balance, and Oversight." National Research Council. 2008. Review of DOE's Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11998.
×
  • Encourage objectivity by recognizing that knowledgeable persons have different points of view and that balance is therefore best achieved by diversifying the membership of the oversight body.

  • Avoid conflicts of interest by requiring public disclosure of members’ connections with study sponsors or organizations likely to be affected by study results. Persons directly funded by sponsors are rarely appointed to such bodies.

  • Ensure transparency by requiring that both the statement of task and the final report for each project are routinely made public in a timely fashion.

Suggested Citation:"6 Program Priorities, Balance, and Oversight." National Research Council. 2008. Review of DOE's Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11998.
×
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Suggested Citation:"6 Program Priorities, Balance, and Oversight." National Research Council. 2008. Review of DOE's Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11998.
×
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Suggested Citation:"6 Program Priorities, Balance, and Oversight." National Research Council. 2008. Review of DOE's Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11998.
×
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Suggested Citation:"6 Program Priorities, Balance, and Oversight." National Research Council. 2008. Review of DOE's Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11998.
×
Page69
Suggested Citation:"6 Program Priorities, Balance, and Oversight." National Research Council. 2008. Review of DOE's Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11998.
×
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There has been a substantial resurgence of interest in nuclear power in the United States over the past few years. One consequence has been a rapid growth in the research budget of DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy (NE). In light of this growth, the Office of Management and Budget included within the FY2006 budget request a study by the National Academy of Sciences to review the NE research programs and recommend priorities among those programs. The programs to be evaluated were: Nuclear Power 2010 (NP 2010), Generation IV (GEN IV), the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative (NHI), the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP)/Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (AFCI), and the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) facilities. This book presents a description and analysis of each program along with specific findings and recommendations. It also provides an assessment of program priorities and oversight.

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