IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change Development of future nuclear-power systems

Present designs of reactors are classed as Generations I through III (Figure 4.9). Generation III+ advanced reactors are now being planned and could first become operational during the period 2010 –2020 (GIF, 2002) and state-of-the-art thereafter to meet anticipated growth in demand. These evolutionary reactor designs claim to have improved economics, simpler safety systems with the impacts of severe accidents limited to the close vicinity of the reactor site. Examples include the European design of a pressurized water reactor (EPR) scheduled to be operating in Finland around 2010 and the Flamanville 3 reactor planned in France.


Figure 4.9: Evolution of nuclear power systems from Generation I commercial reactors in the 1950s up to the future Generation IV systems which could be operational after about 2030.

Source: GIF, 2002.

Notes: LWR = light-water reactor; PWR = pressurized water reactor; BWR = boiling-water reactor; ABWR = advanced boiling-water reactor; CANDU = Canada Deuterium Uranium.

Generation IV nuclear-energy technologies that may become operational after about 2030 employ advanced closed-fuel cycle systems with more efficient use of uranium and thorium resources. Advanced designs are being pursued mainly by the Generation-IV International Forum (GIF, a group of ten nations plus the EU and coordinated by the US Department of Energy) as well as the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO) coordinated by the IAEA. The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (US DOE, 2006), proposed by the US, has similar objectives. These initiatives focus on the development of reactors and fuel cycles that provide economically competitive, safe and environmentally sound energy services based on technology designs that exclude severe accidents, involve proliferation-resistant fuel cycles decoupled from any fuel-resource constraints, and minimize HLW. Much additional technology development would be needed to meet these long-term goals so strategic public RD&D funding is required, since there is limited industrial/commercial interest at this early stage.

GIF has developed a framework to plan and conduct international cooperative research on advanced (breeder or burner) nuclear-energy systems (GIF, 2002) including three designs of fast-neutron reactor, (sodium-cooled, gas-cooled and lead-cooled) as well as high-temperature reactors. Reactor concepts capable of producing high-temperature nuclear heat are intended to be employed also for hydrogen generation, either by electrolysis or directly by special thermo-chemical water-splitting processes or steam reforming. There is also an ongoing development project by the South African utility ESKOM for an innovative high-temperature, pebble-bed modular reactor. Specific features include its smaller unit size, modularity, improved safety by use of passive features, lower power production costs and the direct gas-cycle design utilizing the Brayton cycle (Koster et al., 2003; NER, 2004). The supercritical light-water reactor is also one of the GIF concepts intended to be operated under supercritical water pressure and temperature conditions. Conceivably, some of these concepts may come into practical use and offer better prospects for future use of nuclear power.

Experience of the past three decades has shown that nuclear power can be beneficial if employed carefully, but can cause great problems if not. It has the potential for an expanded role as a cost-effective mitigation option, but the problems of potential reactor accidents, nuclear waste management and disposal and nuclear weapon proliferation will still be constraining factors.