Argonne National Laboratory

Safe, Secure and Sustainable Nuclear Energy

Nuclear engineer Mitch Farmer holds a piece of
corium from a nuclear reactor severe accident
experiment, in which molten core debris, or corium,
erodes the concrete floor of a containment building.
Farmer is seen next to an eroded test section.

Nuclear engineer Mitch Farmer holds a piece of corium from a nuclear reactor severe accident experiment, in which molten core debris, or corium, erodes the concrete floor of a containment building. Farmer is seen next to an eroded test section.

Nuclear energy is the only carbon-free energy source that is proven, reliable, and expandable. It currently contributes about 20% of electricity generation in the United States and about 15% worldwide. Its use is growing in several countries, notably China, and a number of countries have initiated comprehensive nuclear power programs. The vast majority of nuclear power plants in operation or under construction employ light water reactor (LWR) technology. The United States has a strong interest in ensuring that nuclear programs worldwide—but especially in new entrant countries— are developed within the desired safety and security framework, including regarding the control of nuclear materials and technology.

Although LWR plants generate electricity safely and reliably, building them is a complex endeavor and they require substantial infrastructure and maintenance. The fuel they discharge must be safely and securely managed both in the short term and over the longer term. Most of the leading nuclear nations are implementing recycle technologies to manage used nuclear fuel. In addition, their plans call for partial or full transition to fast neutron reactors because these reactors enable the recycling and consumption of all the fissionable nuclides in used nuclear fuel. Fuel recycling using fast reactors would greatly improve/facilitate waste management and would substantially increase the use of uranium when compared to the LWR fuel cycle in which fuel is not re-used.

As the leader of the worldwide efforts to control nuclear proliferation, ensure the security of nuclear materials, and promote safe operation of nuclear power plants worldwide, the United States has a major stake in assuring that future nuclear energy systems meet stringent safety and security standards. This can only be assured if the United States undertakes the timely development and commercialization of advanced fast reactors so they can be available as an alternative to systems whose deployment would adversely affect U.S. interests in nuclear safety, security, and nonproliferation.