The Department of Energy's Water-Cooled Breeder Program--Should It Continue?

EMD-81-46: Published: Mar 25, 1981. Publicly Released: Mar 25, 1981.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The water-cooled breeder program of the Department of Energy (DOE) is trying to prove that existing types of nuclear powerplants, called water-cooled reactors, can produce more fuel than they consume. DOE needs to consider certain factors when deciding whether the water-cooled breeder concept should be developed further. GAO addressed: (1) whether the water-cooled breeder program should continue; (2) the effectiveness of the program's management; and (3) the resolution of necessary issues before the water-cooled breeder becomes commercially viable.

GAO believes that the water-cooled breeder program should continue. However, DOE should move forward now to prove that the water-cooled breeder does breed rather than pursuing other, secondary objectives which will substantially add to the cost and time required to complete the project. Day-to-day management control is effective, but changes could be made to long-term planning efforts. Long-term cost and schedule estimates to allow for more accountability for achieving critical steps in the development process need to be developed. DOE should transfer responsibility for the program to the division responsible for developing other commercial reactor systems. The issues identified by GAO which need to be resolved before the water-cooled breeder can become commercially viable are the: (1) future role of nuclear power in meeting the energy needs of the Nation; (2) potential role of the water-cooled breeder versus other breeder technologies; (3) apparent lack of substantial electric utility and nuclear vendor interest; (4) need to develop a thorium fuel cycle capability; and (5) need for nuclear fuel reprocessing.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should transfer responsibility for any further development of the water-cooled breeder to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Reactor Programs if such development is warranted.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should establish fixed milestones and cost projections for all major activities so that (1) the performance of the program can be better measured, (2) accountability over achieving critical steps in the development process can be better established, and (3) congressional oversight over program progress can be improved.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should discontinue reactor operation at Shippingport by January 1982 and initiate the proof-of-breeding experiment at that time.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 14, 2016

Sep 8, 2016

Aug 11, 2016

Aug 9, 2016

Aug 4, 2016

Jul 15, 2016

Jul 14, 2016

Jun 20, 2016

Mar 3, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here