Wednesday, August 7, 2019

DOE files for Versatile Test Reactor environmental impact statement

An artistic rendering of what the Versatile Test Reactor could look like.
The U.S. Department of Energy on Monday announced it has filed a notice of intent to develop an Environmental Impact Statement in its effort to build a Versatile Test Reactor by the mid-2020s. VTR's purpose is to test future fuels and materials for use in advanced power reactors.

Idaho National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in eastern Tennessee have been identified as possible locations for VTR. In addition, INL and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina are two locations being considered for the fabrication of the fuel needed to run the reactor.

“This testing capability is essential for the United States to modernize its nuclear energy infrastructure and for developing transformational nuclear energy technologies that reduce waste generation and enhance nuclear security,” U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in a press release.  “Lack of a domestic reactor with versatile fast-neutron-spectrum testing capability is a significant national strategic risk affecting the ability of DOE to fulfill its mission to advance the energy, environmental, and nuclear security of the United States and promote scientific and technological innovation.”

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), an EIS is a necessary step for any major project like VTR. "Beginning the NEPA process at this time will ensure that all environmental factors are considered before the department makes a final decision to move forward with the project,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Rita Baranwal.

“DOE needs to develop this capability on an accelerated schedule to avoid further delay in the United States’ ability to develop and deploy advanced nuclear energy technologies,” she said. “If this capability is not available to U.S. innovators as soon as possible, the ongoing shift of nuclear technology dominance to other international states such as China and the Russian Federation will accelerate, to the detriment of the U.S. nuclear industrial sector."

During the first steps of this NEPA process, DOE invites the public to comment now through September 4 on what the department should include in the scope of the EIS draft version. Following that, the draft EIS analysis will be published and the public invited to comment on it for 45 days. DOE will evaluate comments before the EIS is made final. When final, the EIS will be published and made available to the public for 30 days before the department can issue a record of decision.

In addition to gathering written comments, DOE will host two interactive webcast scoping meetings to provide information about the VTR and the NEPA processes and gather oral and written comments. The webcast scoping meetings will be held Aug. 27 at 4 p.m. MDT and Aug. 28 at 6 p.m. MDT. To join the webcast scoping meetings by phone, participants can call toll-free in the United States at 877-869-3847.

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