337. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant (Schlesinger) to President Carter1



In late February, I directed the Acting Administrator of the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA)2 to establish a Steering Committee to review the Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor (LMFBR) program with particular emphasis on the role of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project (CRBR) in the program. The Steering Committee was made up of knowledgeable opponents and proponents of the breeder reactor program. The work of the Committee has been completed and the Acting Administrator has provided me with his judgements, conclusions and recommended courses of action.

The Committee reached a consensus conclusion3 that the U.S. should:

—Preserve the fission option for the long term;

—Research reactor technologies consistent with our nonproliferation objectives;

—Recognize there is no totally proliferation-proof fission option.

I regard these conclusions as sound foundations of our policy on advanced nuclear technologies and they reinforce the role of nuclear power in providing portions of our future energy needs.

The Committee’s disagreements centered around the balancing of energy risks and proliferation benefits of pursuing alternative systems. The balancing of these risks and benefits is at the heart of national policy on the breeder program, and the Committee’s disagreements illuminated the central issues. The role of the CRBR is primarily a function of the larger risk-benefit issue of the breeder.

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However, the risks of pursuing alternative systems depend almost entirely on assumptions, of which there are many varying views, regarding:

—the size of the U.S. uranium resource;

—the installed nuclear capacity in 2000;

—the rate of electricity demand growth after 2000.

With an estimate of 400,000 megawatts of installed nuclear capacity by about the year 2000, which is consistent with our national energy policy, it can be concluded that:

—if uranium resources are only 1.8 million tons, then the existing LMFBR program is needed to sustain the fission option; or

—if uranium resources are 3.7 million tons, and if electricity demand grows at 3.3 percent after 2000, breeder commercialization will occur shortly after the turn of the century; or

—if uranium resources are 3.7 million tons, and if electricity demand grows at 1.5 percent after 2000, there are adequate resources to delay breeder introduction until about 2010.

Consistent with our nonproliferation objectives, we should actively pursue research and development on advanced reactor concepts, fuels and systems, and to the extent possible, with other nations. The potential benefits could lead to:

—significant reduction in inventories of plutonium;

—extension of the uranium resource base (as shown in the attachment);4

—limiting the accessibility of weapons materials through the use of denatured fuel cycles (which require isotopic separation of the material rather than the easier chemical separation).

During the next 1–2 years while these R&D programs are underway, the construction of the CRBR should be deferred but the design and licensing processes should continue. This approach:

—is consistent with our new nonproliferation policies and provides a responsible and balanced signal to other nations;

—is consistent with the acceptable minimum delay in breeder introduction (LMFBR or alternative) of 5–10 years beyond the current date of 1993;

—mitigates dissolution of the Government/Industrial infrastructure somewhat;

—extracts the benefit (a complete design) in which most of the CRBR program costs have been invested to date.

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Based upon my consideration of the conclusions reached by ERDA and the Steering Committee, I recommend an advanced nuclear technology policy that reflects the following elements:

—The LMFBR base program to be held at somewhat less than its current level, and directed toward evaluation of alternate breeders, fuels, and advanced converter reactors with emphases on nonproliferation and safety concerns.

—Construction of the Clinch River Breeder Project indefinitely deferred but the design completed and reviewed with the licensing authorities.

—Within two years,

—One or more alternate concepts (breeder, advanced converter, and/or fuel) be selected and an aggressive R&D program be mounted to pursue the selected concepts.

—A demonstration plant for the alternate concept be part of the R&D program.

—A final decision be made to abandon CRBR construction entirely, or to reorient it to the new concept.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, James Schlesinger Papers, Box 1, Chronological File, 1977 Apr. No classification marking. The Committee’s Report is available on the National Resources Defense Council’s website. (http:://docs.nrdc.org/nuclear/files/nuc_77060801a_23.pdf)
  2. Not found.
  3. After the word “conclusion,” Schlesinger wrote “*” and at the bottom of the page wrote “* a delightful surprise since Committee included such [illegible] as Thomas Cochran and Russell Train.”
  4. Attached but not printed.