First Information Exchange Meeting on the Nuclear Production of Hydrogen

The world demand for energy will experience unprecedented growth in the coming decades to support both population increase and to fuel exceptional economic development which is underway especially in Asia and South America. At the same time, the global ecological consequences of emissions from energy production and end use are causing increasing concern and drawing the attention of the governments and international policy makers[1]. Central among these issues is that of the effect of increasing CO2 emissions on the global climate.

Nuclear power emits no CO2. It is the only proven, commercially competitive alternative to fossil energy sources which is currently available. Known uranium and thorium reserves are sufficient to fuel society's growing energy needs for centuries - qualifying nuclear power as a valid future sustainable energy supply [2]. Nuclear power will most certainly continue to play a significant role in satisfying the world's growing energy requirements in an ecologically friendly way.

For the future, driven by emissions limits in the transportation sector, fuel cell energy conversion systems which are capable of even higher efficiencies (>50%), are under commercial development and prototype deployment. It can reasonably be expected that over the next several decades, extensive manufacturing experience will drive their (currently high) capital cost down, and fuel cells operating on hydrogen will assume a major share of the transportation energy market.

The concept of a 'hydrogen economy' [3a, 3b, 4] in which nuclear heat from fast spectrum reactors consuming U-238 or Th-232 is used to crack water for production of hydrogen in large energy parks - with subsequent hydrogen shipment to energy end users (as an ecologically superior and sustainable substitute for hydrocarbon fuels) was advanced in the 1970s.

The concept of a hydrogen economy was economically infeasible when it was first proposed, but has remained of interest in the renewable community and to policy planners [5]. In the meantime, technology development has remained active [6]. Conversion technologies to enable hydrogen production from water - relying on electrolysis, on closed chemical conversion cycles such as numerous sulfur processes, and on electrochemical technologies - have all advanced technically. Theoretical efficiencies of up to 50% are reported for thermochemical cycles. Fuel cell technology has advanced to a point where transition of the transportation sector's energy requirements (and CO2 emission abatement requirements) to a hydrogen economy can be foreseen in the next several decades. Additionally, hydrogen storage and transport technologies are being advanced in connection with the development of fuel cell usage for transportation.

For this reason, the Nuclear Science Committee (NSC) of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) decided in its June 1999 meeting to organise an information exchange meeting on the nuclear Production of hydrogen. The meeting took place in Paris.

The meeting was devoted to discussions concerning:

  • physics and chemistry of the methods for the production of hydrogen
  • application, concepts and roles of nuclear technology for hydrogen production, and R&D programs ongoing as well as planned
  • needs in R&D and the formulation of recommendations to the OECD/NEA-NSC as to the path forward


All presented papers were included in the proceedings published by the NEA.


  1. J. H. Ausnbel, ''Can Technology Spare The Earth?'' American Scientist, 84, pp. 166-178 (1996).
  2. W. Häfele, "On The Nature of Nuclear Power and Its Future," Proceedings from Global 1993 American Nuclear Society, International Conference and Technology Exhibit, Seattle, WA (1993).
  3. C. Marchetti, "Hydrogen and Energy," Chemical Economy and Engineering Review: CEER Vol. 5 (1), January 1973.
  4. C. Marchetti, "On Hydrogen and Energy Systems," International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, Vol. 1, pp. 1-10, Pergamon Press (1976).
  5. D. S. Scott and W. Häfele, "The Coming Hydrogen Age: Preventing World Climatic Disruption," Hydrogen Energy, 15, #10, pp. 727-737 (1990).
  6. J. H. Ausnbel, "Energy and The Environment: The Light Path," Energy Systems and Policy, 15 (3), pp. 181-188 (1991).
  7. "Hydrogen as an energy carrier and its production by nuclear power", IAEA TECDOC 1085 (May 1999).
Meeting organisation

Organising committee

D. C. Wade, ANL, USA (Chair)
E. Arthur, LANL, USA 
G. Marucci, ENEA, Italy 
M. Ogawa, JAERI, Japan
M. Salvatores, CEA, France 

International scientific members

A. Guigon, CEA, France 
M. Hori, Nuclear Systems Association, Japan
J. M. Kendall, IAEA
M. Lecomte, Framatome, France
G. Marcus, Department of Energy (DOE), United States
C. Nordborg, OECD/NEA
S. Shiozawa, JAERI, Japan

Meeting secretariat

K.Suyama, OECD/NEA