Revising the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Steam Generator Testing Program Can Reduce Risk

EMD-82-75: Published: May 25, 1982. Publicly Released: May 25, 1982.

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GAO was requested to review the technical outlook for several components of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Clinch River Breeder Reactor (CRBR). The objective of the review was to evaluate the current DOE program for testing the CRBR steam generators.

Steam generators for liquid metal fast breeder reactors have had a history of serious technical problems. Small breeder reactors in this country and demonstration breeder reactors in foreign countries have experienced steam generator failures. The CRBR steam generators have also experienced a number of problems during their development. However, DOE does not plan to conduct complete and thorough tests of the steam generator design to be used in the CRBR. Instead, DOE plans to conduct: (1) a series of limited tests on a steam generator which differs significantly from those designed for use in the CRBR; (2) a vibration test on a one-third scale model steam generator; and (3) some inplant testing on the CRBR steam generator after all of the CRBR steam generators have been fabricated. Without conducting more thorough tests of the CRBR steam generator design before building the CRBR units, DOE is assuming that the CRBR units will operate as predicted. If DOE is correct, the CRBR will be able to proceed on its current schedule, and the cost will be lower than if more complete and thorough testing were done. If DOE is wrong, the costs and delays associated with redesigning and modifying or rebuilding the CRBR steam generators would be substantial. The DOE decision to forego more thorough tests is based on: (1) a belief that the tests that will be done can be extrapolated to predict steam generator performance in the CRBR; and (2) confidence that the steam generator design will be successful.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should evaluate the information presented in this report, as well as the risk assumed in not conducting more complete and thorough tests of the steam generator design, in deciding on how to proceed with the procurement of the CRBR steam generators.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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