Overview of Accelerator Applications

The rapidly growing ANS Accelerator Applications Technical Group traces its beginnings to 1996. Several people at Los Alamos National Laboratory were convinced that recent developments in high-intensity proton accelerators meant there were new applications for which there was not a forum to present technical results or to conduct technical interchange, explained WArren Funk, project services manager for the Spalation Neutron Source project office at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility. In 1997, an ANS technical group for accelerator applications was formed, with 29 charter members. By last year, the group had ballooned to 267 members — a more than ninefold increase in three years.

The level of interest in the group was apparent in the plenary session for the embedded topical meeting, "Nuclear Applications of Acceleration Technology" (sponsored by the ANS Accelerator Applications Technical Group), for which participants were poised elbow-to-elbow in the meeting room.

Congressional actions

Peter Lyons, science policy advisor to Sen. Pete Domenici (R., N.M.) — perhaps the nuclear industry's strongest advocate on Capitol Hill — gave a presentation describing the congressional systems and the nuclear industry in general, and where the senator fits in to those actions. He expressed the frustrations attendant with a presidential administration that opposes many of these efforts to move the field forward. And he detailed some of Domenici's plans for accelerator production of tritium and advanced trandmutation of waste, including the senator's proposal for a new accelerator facility.

Domenici chairs the Subcommittee on Energy and Water DEvelopment of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, which oversees funding for most Department of Energy programs — including all accelerator programs. The senator is "very committed" to maintaining nuclear energy as a viable option for the future, Lyons said. Domenici, however, sees that the largest single issue related to the viability of the nuclear energy industry is a credible resolution of spent-fuel issues. "Senator Domenici is simply not convinced that the current open cycle is the best choice," Lyons said. "He is not convinced that Yucca Mountain, as envisioned, is ever going to open. He is not convinced that we know enough today to say that spent fuel should be equated with waste. He's not convinced that the public will accept wastes with extremely long-lived toxicities."

To remedy this, Domenici led legislation that would create a new office within the DOE on spent nuclear fuel research, with a specific focus on advanced reprocessing and transmutation technologies. He wanted to emphasize international cooperation, because he sees that many other nations have a great deal to contribute, Lyons said. This proposal was passed by large margins in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but was vetoed by President CLinton. A subsequent veto override vote was successful in the House, to fail only by one vote in the Senate. "So, again, the administration, as they've done many times, succeeded in blocking any attempts to move more rapidly on dealing with spent fuel in the country," Lyons said.

The senator has been interested in the potential of transmutation and its impact on spent-fuel strategies, Lyons said. In the fiscal year 1999 budget, he set aside $4 million for study of waste transmutation, and last year $9 million. "It's interesting to note that any funding that's been put in for ATW ... has always been zeroed by the administration," Lyons said. "And, in general, certainly in my view, the administration has demonstrated repeatedly that they have no interest in doing anything to enhance the future prospects for nuclear energy."

Last year, Sen. Domenici wanted to explore what he saw as a number of opportunities for synergism between accelerator production of tritium and accelerator transmutation of waste, Lyons said — despite the DOE's having made a clear decision to produce tritium in light-water reactors.

The proliferation concerns with the Civilian Light-Water Reactor (CLWR) Program may or may not be as benign as many think. "I found it interesting, at a meeting in Europe just within the last few weeks, to hear very very serious concerns from a number of the nuclear energy leaders in Europe with the decision in the U.S. to make tritium in civilian reactors," Lyons explained. "They saw that as an extremely unfortunate coupling of military and civilian programs. I'm frankly a bit surprised — I think the senator has been surprised — that there has been less of an outcry here about that, frankly, than he anticipated. But, in any case, we're waiting to see how CLWR will progress.