To better understand the industrial and political contexts of nuclear innovation, it is necessary to consider the history of nuclear fission technologies (four generations of nuclear power plants): (1) GEN I (construction 1950–1970): early prototypes, using mainly natural uranium as fuel, graphite as moderator, and $CO2$ as coolant (built at the time of “Atoms for Peace,” 1953); (2) GEN II (yesterday, construction 1970–2000): safety and reliability of nuclear facilities and energy independence (in order to ensure security of supply); (3) GEN III (today, construction 2000–2040): continuous improvement of safety and reliability, and increased industrial competitiveness in a worldwide growing energy market; (4) GEN IV (tomorrow, construction from 2040): for increased sustainability (optimal utilization of natural resources and waste minimization) and proliferation resistance. The focus in this paper is on the design objectives and research issues associated to the latter generation IV. Their benefits are discussed according to a series of ambitious criteria or technology goals established at the international level (generation IV international forum (GIF)). One will have to produce not only electricity at lower costs but also heat at very high temperatures, while exploiting a maximum of fissile and fertile matters, and recycling all actinides, under safe and reliable conditions. Scientific viability studies and technological performance tests for each system are being carried out worldwide, in line with the GIF agreement (2001). Their commercial deployment is planned for 2040. In Sec. 6, it is shown to what extent GEN IV can be considered as a beneficial, responsible, and sustainable response to the societal and industrial challenges of the future low-carbon economy.

1.
EUR-Lex provides free access to European Union law and other documents considered to be public: Euratom Treaty in http://eur-lex.europa.eu/en/treaties/http://eur-lex.europa.eu/en/treaties/
3.
Climate action—Energy for a Changing World package, http://ec.europa.eu/climateaction/http://ec.europa.eu/climateaction/. The European Council of 8 and 9 March 2007 committed the EU to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 % by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, stressed the necessity to increase energy efficiency in order to save 20% of the EU’s energy consumption compared to 2020 projections, and approved a binding ratio of 20% of renewable energies in total EU energy consumption by the same year.
4.
The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) conducts interdisciplinary scientific studies on environmental, economic, technological, and social issues (http://www.iiasa.ac.at/cgi-bin/pub/pubsrchKKhttp://www.iiasa.ac.at/cgi-bin/pub/pubsrchKK).
5.
Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform
, http://www.snetp.eu/http://www.snetp.eu/—as of May 2010, the SNE-TP consists of more than 80 Members from 20 countries (EU+CH).
6.
European Nuclear Education Network
(legal association under French law)—http://www.enen-assoc.org/http://www.enen-assoc.org/
7.
On 8 December 1953, the President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, delivered a speech at the General Assembly of the United Nations, aiming at peaceful utilization of nuclear energy.
8.
The BR3 facility was successively selected in 1989 as a European pilot plant facility for Euratom R&D on decommissioning technologies and problems such as the minimization and realistic assessment of costs, doses and waste production, the development and demonstration of dismantling strategies and techniques for PWRs.
10.
In 2009, the GIF had ten active members: USA, Canada, France, Japan, South Africa, the Republic of South Korea, Switzerland, Euratom, China, and the Russian Federation, http://www.gen-4.org/http://www.gen-4.org/
11.
IAEA
, International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna) general website, http://www.iaea.org/About/index.htmlhttp://www.iaea.org/About/index.html and INPRO website http://www.iaea.org/INPRO/http://www.iaea.org/INPRO/, NEA (Nuclear Energy Agency): a special agency of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (Paris), http://www.nea.fr/http://www.nea.fr/
12.
The MOX fuel is made of a mixture of Pu and depleted U oxides (the U that results from enrichment operations is depleted in the isotope 235).
13.
Front end of the fuel cycle: in particular, uranium purchase (e.g., Shinkolobwe mine in Katanga, Congo), conversion and enrichment as well as fuel fabrication (Belgonucléaire, capacity of up to 150 tons U/year in 1971).
14.
Back end of the fuel cycle, in particular, nuclear fuel reprocessing (Eurochemic plant in Dessel, a joint OECD project that operated from 1966 to 1974) and geological disposal (HADES). In 1974, a R&D program was started on waste storage in deep geological clay formations. In 1980, the construction of HADES was started (High Activity Disposal Experimental Site) at SCK-CEN Mol, a laboratory at a depth of 225 m, to perform hydrogeological and physicochemical research.
15.
Treatment and recycling of spent nuclear fuel/actinide partitioning—Application to waste management/CEA Nuclear Energy Division Monograph, http://nucleaire.cea.fr/http://nucleaire.cea.fr/
16.
MYRRHA is the result of an international collaboration at SCK-CEN, Mol: it is an ADS of 800 MWth, loaded with several tons of TRUs and coupled with a 30 MW proton accelerator. It will be able to transmute up to 250 kg HM/year of MAs, which corresponds to the amount of MAs produced in 10 LWR units of 1 GWe.
17.
“European Utility Requirement” (EUR) association consists of 12 electrical utilities interested by LWRs of the generation III type, http://www.europeanutilityrequirements.org/http://www.europeanutilityrequirements.org/
18.
Tarjanne
,
R.
, and
Kivisto
,
A.
, 2008, “
Comparison of Electricity Generation Costs
,” Lappeenranta University, Research Report No. EN A-56.
19.
“Right after shutdown the heating rate of the reactor is about seven percent of the full power rate, and then as the radioactivity decays away, the decay heat decreases; in a few hours it is less than 1%, and it keeps going down. Even one percent of full power is a lot of heat, and if you don't remove that heat it's surely enough to overheat the fuel and melt it, and therein lies the problem that the reactor safety analyst must face—to assure himself that the heat produced by these decaying fission products is reduced, is removed for periods of weeks or months… Reactor Safety Study (WASH-1400)/(commonly known as the Rasmussen Report) published by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission 1974, http://www.ccnr.org/rasmussen.htmlhttp://www.ccnr.org/rasmussen.html.”
20.
The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) is an organization created to improve safety at every nuclear power plant in the world, http://www.wano.org.uk/WANO_Programmes/Performance_Indicators.asphttp://www.wano.org.uk/WANO_Programmes/Performance_Indicators.asp
21.
FISA
-2009,
Seventh EC Conference on Euratom Research and Training in Reactor Systems
, Jun. 22–24, Prague, Czech Republic, http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/euratom-fission/fisa2009_en.htmlhttp://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/euratom-fission/fisa2009_en.html
22.
Council Directive 2009/71/Euratom of 25 June 2009 establishing a Community framework for the nuclear safety of nuclear installations, http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/09/st10/st10667.en09.pdfhttp://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/09/st10/st10667.en09.pdf
23.
Recommendation of the EUParliament and of the Council of 18 June 2009, European Credit system for Vocational Education and Training, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2009:155:0011:0018:EN:PDFhttp://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2009:155:0011:0018:EN:PDF
24.
To celebrate its 50th Anniversary, the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency launched its first Nuclear Energy Outlook (NEO), on 16 October 2008, http://www.nea.fr/neo/http://www.nea.fr/neo/
25.
Nuclear Energy Basic Principles, International Atomic Energy Agency Vienna, December 2008, IAEA Nuclear Energy Series (NE-BP): 1.1. Rationale and Vision for the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, http://www.pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/Pub1374_web.pdfhttp://www.pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/Pub1374_web.pdf