Sandia National Laboratories, on behalf of the NNSA International Nuclear Security program, is creating a methodology that will allow advanced reactor (AR) developers to, in advance, assess the economic value of potential alterations of their designs to meet security requirements to send their technology overseas. Known as a “security-by-design economic tool,” in simple terms, it boils down to making up-front design changes that could increase capital costs played off against decreasing operational costs over the life of the plant. But, like all things nuclear, nothing is simple.
There are many questions to consider when it comes to U.S. suppliers providing advanced reactors to other countries regardless of whether or not physical security is accounted for in design. Sandia turned to USA Nuclear to use its deep nuclear energy industry expertise to inform this project.
How to Assess the Cost of Nuclear Security
USA Nuclear executive consultant Steven Kraft was asked to apply his 48 years’ of industry experience to address three critical, interrelated topics: review of any past or current efforts to assess the economic effects of incorporating security features into the design and construction of nuclear facilities; subjects that needed to be addressed during the development of any such methodology (including how the tool should accommodate regional and country differences); and topics that could be addressed in future work. The report concluded the following:
- Physical security was not a factor when today’s nuclear facilities were developed, and a security-specific economic assessment tool is not yet available. An advanced reactor security-by-design tool can be developed beginning with existing cost, and security assessment and simulation tools.
- An advanced reactor security-by-design tool will likely be a sophisticated mathematical methodology able to determine if a specific change to plant design results in sufficient savings in security operating costs over time. The tool should go beyond calculations and also give suppliers guidance on answering the complicated questions to be able to export their technologies.
- Future work on advanced reactor security involves policy, legal and technical questions. Pursuing advanced reactor security will also aid the prospects for U.S. nuclear power.
Is Nuclear Security Different in America than the Rest of the World?
The global nuclear energy enterprise acknowledges that advanced reactors (ARs) are expected, at a minimum, to be just as safe and secure as the current generation of light-water reactors. Using simplified, inherent, passive, or other innovative features, ARs may even be safer and more secure.
In today’s dynamic international environment, worldwide nuclear security will be enhanced by competitive U.S. advanced reactor technology, especially when exported to newly developing countries and those new to nuclear. This would be particularly true in parts of the world where the U.S. is rightly concerned about nuclear security.
U.S.-based AR technology developers must be mindful that export of their technology, especially to certain regions and countries, might require security provisions beyond that needed for domestic use. What might be acceptable within the U.S. may not be exportable everywhere based on U.S. export and importing country requirements. The DOE/NNSA has pointed this out in an August 2020 set of recommendations for AR developers. Of key importance to developers, the US International Development Finance Corporation has made this a tenet of its recently modernized policy to now support nuclear power projects.
As known all too well by the U.S. nuclear industry, security is not cheap. Any requirement for security beyond what would be needed for the U.S. market has the potential to increase the cost of U.S. exported ARs as compared to competitors who might not value security to the same degree as the U.S. An advanced reactor security-by-design tool would mitigate these unknowns and provide assurance for nuclear technology exports.
About USA Nuclear
Formed in 2018 and led by CEO Jerud Hanson and COO Shelly Wolf, USA Nuclear features a small, dynamic team with over 180 years combined experience. In addition to Hanson, Wolf, and Kraft, the team includes Douglas Abell, Steven Root, and Joseph Rivers. USA Nuclear expertise, services, blog, and contact information are available at www.usanuclear.org.