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“Advanced” Isn’t Always Better. Assessing the Safety, Security, and Environmental Impacts of Non-Light-Water Nuclear Reactors

DatumMarch 2021

Uit de publicatie:

“Advanced” Isn’t Always Better
Assessing the Safety, Security, and Environmental
Impacts of Non-Light-Water Nuclear Reactors

Edwin Lyman, Union of Concerned Scientists
March 2021

Executive Summary
The future of nuclear power is uncertain. Because nuclear power is a low-carbon 
way to generate electricity, there is considerable interest in expanding its role 
to help mitigate the threat of climate change. However, the technology has 
fundamental safety and security disadvantages compared with other low-carbon 
sources. Nuclear reactors and their associated facilities for fuel production and 
waste handling are vulnerable to catastrophic accidents and sabotage, and they 
can be misused to produce materials for nuclear weapons. The nuclear industry, 
policymakers, and regulators must address these shortcomings fully if the global 
use of nuclear power is to increase without posing unacceptable risks to public 
health, the environment, and international peace and security.
Despite renewed enthusiasm for nuclear power in many quarters, its recent growth 
has been far slower than anticipated 10 years ago. No doubt, the March 2011 
Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan, which resulted in three reactor meltdowns and 
widespread radiological contamination of the environment, has contributed to 
nuclear power’s stagnation. Even more significant has been the high cost of building 
new reactors relative to other sources of electricity—primarily natural gas but also, 
increasingly, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. The current rate of 
construction of new nuclear plants around the world barely outpaces the retirements 
of operating plants that reach the ends of their lifetimes or are no longer economic.
In the United States, new nuclear plants have proven prohibitively expensive and slow 
to build, discouraging private investment and contributing to public skepticism. In 
the 2000s, amid industry hopes of a nuclear renaissance, the Nuclear Regulatory 
Commission (NRC) received applications to build more than two dozen new reactors. All
 were evolutionary versions of the light-water reactor (LWR), the type that comprises 
almost all operating reactors in the United States and most other countries with 
nuclear power. Companies such as Westinghouse, which developed the AP1000, promised 
these LWR variants could be built more quickly and cheaply while enhancing safety. But 
prospective purchasers cancelled nearly all of those proposals even before ground was 
broken, and the utilities that started building two AP1000 reactors at the V.C. Summer 
plant in South Carolina abandoned the project after it experienced significant cost 
overruns and delays. Only one project remains—two AP1000 units at the Alvin W. Vogtle 
plant in Georgia—but its cost has doubled, and construction is taking more than twice 
as long as originally estimated.
Almost all nuclear power reactors operating and under construction today are LWRs, so 
called because they use ordinary water (H2O) to cool their hot, highly radioactive 
cores. Some observers believe that the LWR, the industry workhorse, has inherent flaws 
that are inhibiting nuclear power’s growth. In addition to its high cost and long 
construction time, critics point to—among other things— the LWR’s susceptibility to 
severe accidents (such as the meltdowns at Fukushima), their inefficient use of 
uranium, and the long-lived nuclear wastes they generate.