Technology Reviews

Nuclear Fission, Today and Tomorrow: From Renaissance to Technological Breakthrough (Generation IV)

[+] Author and Article Information
Georges Van Goethem

European Commission, Directorate General Research (Euratom), Brussels, Belgium

J. Pressure Vessel Technol 133(4), 044001 (May 11, 2011) (16 pages) doi:10.1115/1.4002265 History: Received May 06, 2010; Revised July 14, 2010; Published May 11, 2011; Online May 11, 2011

To better understand the industrial and political contexts of nuclear innovation, it is necessary to consider the history of nuclear fission technologies (four generations of nuclear power plants): (1) GEN I (construction 1950–1970): early prototypes, using mainly natural uranium as fuel, graphite as moderator, and CO2 as coolant (built at the time of “Atoms for Peace,” 1953); (2) GEN II (yesterday, construction 1970–2000): safety and reliability of nuclear facilities and energy independence (in order to ensure security of supply); (3) GEN III (today, construction 2000–2040): continuous improvement of safety and reliability, and increased industrial competitiveness in a worldwide growing energy market; (4) GEN IV (tomorrow, construction from 2040): for increased sustainability (optimal utilization of natural resources and waste minimization) and proliferation resistance. The focus in this paper is on the design objectives and research issues associated to the latter generation IV. Their benefits are discussed according to a series of ambitious criteria or technology goals established at the international level (generation IV international forum (GIF)). One will have to produce not only electricity at lower costs but also heat at very high temperatures, while exploiting a maximum of fissile and fertile matters, and recycling all actinides, under safe and reliable conditions. Scientific viability studies and technological performance tests for each system are being carried out worldwide, in line with the GIF agreement (2001). Their commercial deployment is planned for 2040. In Sec. 6, it is shown to what extent GEN IV can be considered as a beneficial, responsible, and sustainable response to the societal and industrial challenges of the future low-carbon economy.

Copyright © 2011 by American Society of Mechanical Engineers
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Figure 1

Cycle of innovation (RD&DD)/“Triangle of Knowledge” (research and development) and “Triangle of Energy” (demonstration and deployment)

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Figure 2

Trend in the overall demand for primary energies: fossil (coal, oil, and gas), fissile (nuclear power), and renewables over 250 years (4)

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Figure 3

EPR: a generation III reactor with advanced safety systems (AREVA) (9)

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Figure 4

Evolution of generations I–III and technological breakthrough to GEN IV (10)

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Figure 5

Possible improvements in the waste treatment: open and closed cycles (recycling of Pu in the fast reactors and of all actinides in generation IV)–CEA (15)

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Figure 6

Comparison of the electricity costs for fossil, fissile, and renewable sources (18)

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Figure 7

RD&DD strategy for large scale engineering projects: from research (preconceptual design) to deployment (final design)

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Figure 8

The 6 generation IV systems (conceptual designs) (10)

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Figure 9

Temperature ranges and irradiation damage for different reactor concepts (KIT) (5)

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Figure 10

Projections of world nuclear power (OECD/NEA-2008)

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Figure 11

Applications of nuclear combined heat and power (generation IV) (10)



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