Assessment of the current state of research on new reactor concepts

Since several decades new reactor concepts, so called Generation IV reactors, are developed internationally. Declared aims of such developments are to achieve significant improvements with respect to Safety, Sustainability, Economics and Nuclear Non-Proliferation when compared to currently existing nuclear reactor concepts. In addition to the development of new reactor concepts themselves, the technologies for the front- and back-end of the fuel cycle form an integral part of the discussion about new reactor concepts.

The study discusses the current status of research and development of new reactor concepts, summarizes historical experiences with such developments, and assesses the principle achievability of the claimed advantages of the respective new reactor concepts with respect to different evaluation criteria (safety, resources, waste, economics, proliferation). The selected new reactor concepts are fast breeder reactors (FBR), High-Temperature Reactors (HTR), Molten Salt Reactors (MSR) and Small, Modular Reactors (SMR). None of these concepts is successfully established as a commercial system, despite already decades of research and development.

In general, for some of the new reactor concepts potential advantages with respect to single evaluation criteria are to be expected when compared to currently existing nuclear reactor concepts. But no concept will provide substantial advantages in all of the evaluation criteria simultaneously. Often, the different evaluation criteria compete with each other. Advantages with respect to one criteria may indeed lead to disadvantages with respect to another. For example, enhanced safety measures can lead to a reduced economic competitiveness. An enhanced utilization of uranium resources can question measures to reduce proliferation dangers. But it is not to be expected, that a new reactor concept, that will only provide advantages with respect to one or a view of the evaluation criteria alone will lead to a higher public acceptance of nuclear power usage worldwide.