The Clinch River Breeder Reactor--Should the Congress Continue To Fund It?

Gao ID: EMD-79-62 May 7, 1979

Since 1977, Congress and the Administration have been in a stalemate over whether to terminate the Clinch River project. The President believes that the Clinch River liquid metal fast breeder reactor program should be terminated on the basis of: (1) nuclear proliferation concerns; (2) a diminished need for commercial liquid metal fast breeder reactor facilities; and (3) the Clinch River project's technical obsolescence, small size, and large costs.

GAO analyzed the concerns important to the question of whether the Clinch River project should be terminated or completed. The information gathered by GAO indicated that it is difficult to maintain a strong liquid metal fast breeder reactor program without building the Clinch River project. Continuing this program does not irrevocably commit the United States to wide-scale deployment of commercial breeder reactors nor does it mean that the United States cannot be committed to its nonproliferation initiatives. It does, however, permit the orderly development of a major energy technology through a demonstration phase that would make a commercialization decision possible. The weight of evidence gathered by GAO supports continuation of the Clinch River project if this nation is to maintain a strong breeder reactor research and development program. Breeders are the essential ingredient in making nuclear fission a long-term energy source. The intermediate size of the Clinch River project is a logical and prudent step in developing liquid metal fast breeder reactor technology. If the Clinch River project is terminated, much of the $674 million already spent on it may be wasted.

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