Nuclear Science:

Better Information Needed for Selection of New Production Reactor

RCED-89-206: Published: Sep 21, 1989. Publicly Released: Oct 30, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Department of Energy's (DOE) process for selecting a new production reactor for nuclear weapons materials, focusing on the adequacy of its August 1988 report to Congress, in which it recommended an acquisition strategy for new production reactor capacity.

GAO found that DOE: (1) proposed to construct a heavy-water reactor at one nuclear weapons site and a modular high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor at one of its engineering laboratories, at a total estimated cost of $6.8 billion; (2) as a contingency, proposed to continue developing a light-water tritium target and acquire a 63-percent complete light-water reactor at the DOE Hanford site; (3) did not present a clear schedule for reactor completion or actual tritium production; (4) assumed that its current reactors could reliably produce tritium for at least 10 years, although it later stopped those reactors due to operational reliability problems; (5) estimated that its proposed strategy could realize new production capacity in 10 years, but did not estimate time needed for testing, production, or extraction; (6) considered a total of 18 options involving various reactor technologies, but did not clearly indicate whether any of the technologies could produce the required amount of tritium; (7) did not consider such contingencies as safety review, environmental challenges, and construction delays in schedule estimates; (8) provided unrealistic cost estimates for some of its various production reactor strategies; and (9) has two different programs which are developing similar modular high-temperature, gas-cooled reactors.

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