Response to Questions Clarifying a Previous GAO Report on the Department of Energy's Breeder Reactor Program

EMD-81-83: Published: May 4, 1981. Publicly Released: Jun 4, 1981.

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GAO was requested to respond to questions clarifying the information contained in a prior report about the Department of Energy's (DOE) breeder reactor program. The information requested included: (1) the best available estimate by GAO of the cost of construction of the Clinch River liquid metal fast breeder reactor (LMFBR) after adjusting for inflation and cost overruns; (2) alternative strategies open to Congress if it wants to maintain a breeder program; (3) the specific electricity demand assumptions used in the GAO estimates; (4) the French experience with its own breeder program with regard to cost overruns, revised estimates of the capital cost of light-water reactors, and revised estimates of the cost per kilowatt-hour of breeder-produced electricity; (5) considerations given, on a cost-benefit basis, to alternative technologies that could meet future demand for electricity and the need for oil displacement; (6) effect certain improvements in nonbreeder reactors would have in extending uranium resources; and (7) a symmetrical comparison to compare the most recent projections with those made at the inception of the Clinch River project.

In response, GAO stated: (1) the total estimated cost for the Clinch River plant is now about $3196.5 million; (2) there are alternative strategies available to Congress in developing breeder reactor technology; (3) the prior report stated that a cutoff of Persian Gulf oil could increase the future demand for nuclear power; (4) accurate information on the actual costs of the French breeder reactors is difficult to obtain because the information is closely held by the French Government; (5) no analysis was made of the relative merits of breeder reactors versus other emerging energy supply technologies; (6) there are two general directions in which nonbreeder reactor developments could move to reduce uranium ore requirements for U.S.-generated nuclear power; and (7) the answers are not conducive to presentation in a symmetrical or tabular format.

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