Status of the Generation IV Initiative on
Future Nuclear Energy Systems
and Gian Luigi Fiorini
CEA/Nuclear Energy Division
Last updated: 21 April 2004.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) launched the Generation
IV initiative in 2000. Today, it groups 10 member countries plus Euratom,
with the aim of developing innovative nuclear systems (reactors and
fuel cycles) likely to reach technical maturity by 2030. (The ten countries
are: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, the Republic of Korea,
the Republic of South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the
Six nuclear systems were selected; they aim at considerable
improvements in economic competitiveness, in safety, in uranium resource
economy and in reducing long-life radioactive waste. A technology roadmap (nuclear.energy.gov/genIV/documents/gen_iv_roadmap.pdf),
initially prepared at the request of the US Congress, is now used as
a basis to structure and share the R&D effort among the participating
countries, in order to develop the selected nuclear systems.
In the future, other countries or international authorities
could join the Generation IV International Forum and the related R&D
1. Generation IV – pooling international R&D
The founding principle of the Generation IV International
Forum (GIF) is its members’ recognition of nuclear technologies’
role in satisfying the world’s increasing energy needs –
in the context of sustainable energy development and climate change
prevention. This principle, laid down in the GIF charter, expresses
a common will to create a framework for international R&D. This
framework’s role is to define, develop and enable the deployment
of Generation IV nuclear systems. Most of the research involved will
develop within this multilateral framework, over the coming decades.
2. What is Generation IV?
Nuclear systems can be classified according to the generation
they belong to. The US DOE distinguishes four generations:
Generation I was operational before the 1970s
and made use of natural uranium, to avoid the need for enrichment;
Generation II comprises light water reactors deployed
since the 1970s. They are still in operation;
Generation III involves optimising the current
reactors, in terms of economics and safety. These reactors are likely
to be deployed before 2010;
Generation IV comprises nuclear systems likely
to reach technical maturity by 2030. Their design will take cognisance
of the progress made in economics and safety. In addition, the aim
is for these reactors to support sustainable energy development
worldwide, and to open up the range of nuclear systems’ applications
to hydrogen generation for transport (in addition to electricity
3. Generation IV’s goals
International consensus has been reached on the on
the general goals and criteria to be met by Generation IV nuclear systems.
They will have to be:
sustainable: the systems should offer efficiency
in the use of the natural resources, and should minimise environmental
impact (and, at the same time, minimise waste in terms of mass,
radio toxicity, residual power, etc.);
economically viable: economic considerations are:
the generating cost, which should be competitive when compared with
other energy sources; and the capital investment cost, which should
be low enough for the nuclear system under development to remain
accessible to a large number of countries (total investment cost
and specific investment cost ($/kWe) refers);
safe and reliable: it is mandatory that future
reactors perform at least as well in terms of safety and reliability
as current reactors. In particular, key focus is to be placed on
eliminating, as far as possible, the need for public evacuations
from areas outside nuclear sites – in the event of an accident,
whatever its cause and extent of gravity;
resistant to proliferation risks and likely to be easily protected
from external attack.
Besides electricity generation, the Generation IV systems
will offer potential for the generation of hydrogen from water for use
in transport, seawater desalination, and heat generation for industrial
4. The selection of Generation IV systems
From April 2001 to October 2002, technologies likely
to meet the above-mentioned criteria were identified by means of the
roadmap. The six selected concepts will be developed, in multilateral
co-operation, during a second phase of the Forum’s activity.
The six concepts, as presented in Figure 1, are:
GFR: Gas-cooled Fast Reactor system cooled with helium;
LFR: Lead Fast Reactor cooled with lead or lead-bismuth eutectic;
MSR: Molten Salt Reactor fuelled with molten salts;
SFR: Sodium Fast Reactor;
SCWR: Super-Critical Water-cooled Reactor;
VHTR: Very High Temperature Reactor cooled with
helium at 1000°C at the core outlet, for efficient production
Among the six selected systems, three have fast neutron
spectra: the GFR, SFR and LFR. Two advanced gas-cooled systems (GFR
and VHTR) rely on R&D which, to a large extent, follows the same
path. The SCWR was retained with a thermal neutron spectrum as an intermediate
step and a fast neutron spectrum as an ultimate goal. The MSR stays
in the running as a non-conventional system. With the exception of the
VHTR, all these systems will be operated with a closed fuel cycle.
Key comments relevant to the selection of the six Generation
among the retained goals and criteria, sustainability
has been the most discriminating. This is demonstrated by the majority
of the systems having fast neutron spectra and closed fuel cycles.
the grouping of systems in families – according
to homogeneity in performance and R&D needs – turned out
to be important for optimising R&D efforts and structuring recommendations
along the lines of federal guidelines.
selecting two gas-cooled systems (GFR and VHTR)
was an acknowledgement of the interest in this coolant for high
temperature applications. A strongpoint governing this selection
is the consistency of the technology they employ, enabling a sizeable
common R&D pathway to be followed.
the issues which prevented the more innovative
systems from being selected concerned important uncertainties on:
their definition and performance, as well as on the prospects of
overcoming obstacles to their viability before the 2030 realisation
The European participants in the project’s ‘technology
roadmap phase’ (i.e. France and the United Kingdom as GIF members,
and the European Commission as an observer) played a vital role. Actively
emphasising the significance of sustainability issues, they also advocated
selecting Generation IV systems which, historically, have been developed
in Europe – and result from expertise which is essentially European.
This and the existence of a European HTR network, place GIF’s
European partners in a strong position to significantly contribute to
the two Generation IV advanced gas-cooled systems. Countries such as
France and the United Kingdom also plan to give national support to
developing a new generation of sodium-cooled fast reactors. Lower priority
has been given to supporting R&D work on supercritical water-cooled
reactors, lead-cooled fast reactors and molten salt reactors, which
are already the subject of initiatives taken under the European Commission’s
5th Framework Programme (FP5).
5. A shared R&D effort
Two main phases of R&D were identified:
the ‘feasibility phase’ dedicated to resolving technology
the ‘performance phase’, aiming at
confirming and optimising the systems’ performance (which
was the criterion emphasised in the selection process).
The feasibility studies for the more mature systems
– i.e. the Sodium Fast Reactor (SFR) and the Very High Temperature
Reactor (VHTR) – should last until 2008 and 2012 respectively;
and the performance studies, until 2015.
As regards the more futuristic systems – i.e.
those having fast neutrons and gas coolant (GFR), lead (LFR) and supercritical
water (SCWR) – the feasibility studies will proceed until 2013
and 2015, and the studies of optimisation until 2020. The timeline for
the molten salt system will be longer.
While nuclear R&D organisations will play an essential
role in both the feasibility and the performance studies, there will
be substantial participation from universities, other research organisations
and manufacturers. Countries that are not currently GIF members will
be able to join the R&D effort at this stage.
Following the feasibility and performance phases, it is expected that
international consortiums of manufacturers and R&D laboratories
will support demonstrations of the key technologies. They will also
identify which Generation IV systems they are interested in launching
6. Progress in preparing for the next phase of GIF
The GIF Policy Group meeting, held in Zurich on 26-27
January 2004, led to progress on three main topics: the co-operation
agreement at system level, the governance of the Forum, and relations
with other organisations.
In Zurich, the US DOE presented a draft system agreement
– jointly prepared by its State and Trade Departments –
covering the first 10 years of co-operation (and providing for extensions
in five-year increments). This project of agreement will establish the
R&D framework required to address Generation IV system feasibility
issues, as well as to confirm system performance, established during
the system selection process. Future phases of demonstrating and commercialising
the six selected nuclear systems will be the subject of further agreements.
The parties to this system agreement are intended to be governmental
entities or mandated national laboratories. GIF members are to be invited
to give their input on the draft system agreement, which is expected
to be finalised by mid-2004.
As regards the organisation and the governance of the
GIF, the principles proposed at the previous meeting (on 24-26 September
2003 in Toronto) were confirmed, and the main focus of the discussion
was on the role of the OECD/NEA as support to the Technical Secretariat
of the GIF. The following decisions were made:
W. Magwood of DOE was elected as the GIF Policy
Group’s chairman, for three years. His appointment officially
began on 1 January 2004, and he will be assisted by two co-chairmen:
J. Bouchard of the French Atomic Commission, CEA and Y. Sagayama
the principles of organisation and governance
will be the subject of Policy Statements intended to complement
the charter of the GIF;
a Policy Secretariat assists the chairman of the
Policy Group during its three-year mandate, whereas a Technical
Secretariat provides ongoing support to the technical activity of
the GIF and centralises data integration.
the Policy Group confirmed the organisational
structure (in Figure 2 below).
all GIF members agreed to give the mandate to
the NEA to act as the Technical Secretariat.
Concerning the relationship between the GIF and the
INPRO initiative, which falls under the auspices of the IAEA, a series
of meetings and exchanges have had the objective of defining those factors
which are complementary and to provide project co-ordination:
INPRO is viewed as intending to refine users’
requirements and methodology, in order to assess the suitability
of a nuclear technology to IAEA-affiliated countries and to facilitate
exchanges of public GIF information to non-GIF member countries;
GIF will consider the users’ requirements
developed by INPRO, especially with a view to enlarging the criteria
to make the sustainability of nuclear power a reality.
Among the four GIF countries which are not INPRO participants
(the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom and France), France is
the only one which has decided
to join this initiative.
Furthermore, the GIF will benefit from the advice
of a Senior Industry Advisory Panel constituting high-level representatives
of the industry, in a position to make recommendations on long-term
strategic considerations, including industrial, technical, commercial
and statutory aspects. The GIF will also interact with the heads of
GIF member countries’ safety authorities. A first exchange of
this nature, involving GIF Policy Group members, took place at the Toronto
meeting. At this meeting the importance of the IAEA safety standards
were underscored as establishing reference criteria and contributing
to international harmonisation.
Finally, the following progress has been achieved in preparing the
R&D plans for Generation IV systems:
the Experts Group, which advises the Policy Group,
reviewed the current version of the R&D plans drafted for the
GFR, SCWR, SFR and VHTR systems, and, in December 2003, issued guidelines
for the provisional Steering Committees for these systems to make
improvements to these documents by mid-2004;
the Policy Group decided to set up a provisional
Steering Committee for the Lead Fast Reactor, with the United States,
Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, and Euratom as participants; and
establishing a Steering Committee for the Molten
Salt Reactor, which was debated by the Policy Group in January,
is to be re-examined at the next meeting (May 2004).
In conclusion, preparations for the GIF’s collaborative
phase are actively progressing, both in terms of harmonising views on
multilateral co-operation agreements, and sharing R&D work among
the GIF member countries. This provides excellent prospects for the
international development of the selected six Generation IV systems
being initiated in 2004.