Wednesday, November 14, 2018

INL awards Versatile Test Reactor subcontract to GE Hitachi Nuclear

An artist's rendition of what the PRISM reactor might look like.
Idaho National Laboratory has awarded a subcontract to GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to support the conceptual design, cost/schedule estimate and safety framework activities for a proposed fast spectrum Versatile Test Reactor (VTR), critical for the development of innovative nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation and sensors.

The subcontract is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy’s Versatile Test Reactor program, which is investigating what it would take to establish a reactor-based fast-spectrum neutron irradiation capability in the United States by 2026.

Within the INL-led VTR team, engineers from GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy will adapt the company’s (http://gehitachiprism.com/) sodium-cooled nuclear reactor design to the needs of a test reactor for state-of-the art research and development purposes.

“To meet our aggressive schedule for establishing this much-needed capability in the United States, it is necessary to leverage an existing and mature sodium-cooled fast reactor design that can be modified to meet the needs of a versatile test reactor,” said INL’s Kemal Pasamehmetoglu, the executive director of VTR. “Having a timely and detailed conceptual design is critical to generating an accurate cost and schedule estimate, which will then be key to DOE’s decision on whether to move forward in 2020.”

Establishing a fast spectrum test reactor ensures continued U.S. technology leadership in nuclear energy innovation. Currently, only a few capabilities are available for testing fast neutron reactor technology in the world and none in the U.S.

DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy established the VTR program earlier this year in response to reports outlining the need for a fast spectrum test reactor, including one issued by the agency’s Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee (NEAC) in 2017. In that report, NEAC recommended “that DOE-NE proceed immediately with pre-conceptual design planning activities to support a new test reactor (including cost and schedule estimates).”

The recommendation, in part, was based on responses from U.S. companies developing advanced reactors, many of which require different testing facilities than the commercial nuclear power technology in use today.

Also recently, Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (S.97) highlighted the need for a reactor-based fast neutron source authorizing DOE to proceed with the relevant activities.

“The VTR is a vital and strategic project for the U.S. and its promising advanced reactor industry, and we applaud the administration and Congress for making this technology a priority,” said Jay Wileman, GEH President and CEO. “Our VTR project team combines GEH’s strength as a nuclear plant vendor, service provider and nuclear fuel fabricator with Bechtel’s strength in nuclear project management, engineering, procurement and construction. The mature PRISM technology is ideally suited to meet the VTR mission needs.”

“The U.S. currently has no capability to test these fuels and materials,” said Peggy McCullough, a Bechtel senior vice president and general manager of Bechtel’s Nuclear, Security, and Operations business line. “Advanced reactors hold great promise but their components need the proper testing before they can be licensed and used in energy-producing reactors. That’s what the Versatile Test Reactor will provide. It’s extremely important for the science community, industry, regulators, and the future of nuclear energy research.”

Building on the proven principles of the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II, an integral sodium-cooled fast reactor prototype that was operated successfully for more than 30 years by Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) in Idaho, PRISM is the only sodium-cooled reactor to have successfully completed the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) pre-application review process. The PRISM Probabilistic Risk Assessment, developed with ANL in 2016, provided a validation of the advanced reactor’s safety.
Now at what is called the INL Materials & Fuels Complex, Experimental Breeder Reactor-II was operated by Argonne National Laboratory west of Idaho Falls from 1961 to 1994. 
For those of you who might be interested, here are a few more links about VTR:

A Versatile Way to Grow Advanced Nuclear Power (Clearpath.org)
Should The U.S. Build A Fast Nuclear Test Reactor Or Continue To Be Beholden To Russia? (Forbes.com)

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