Reactor designers and others ready to invest in advanced nuclear technology now have a defined route to apply for cost-share funding, including $160 million in initial funding to build two reactors within the next five to seven years. On May 14, the U.S. Department of Energy issued a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for the new Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP).
Choose your adventure: The FOA provides applicants three separate technology development and demonstration pathways:
Advanced reactor demonstrations, which are expected to result in a fully functional advanced nuclear reactor within seven years of the award.
Risk reduction for future demonstrations, which will support up to five additional teams resolving technical, operational, and regulatory challenges to prepare for future demonstration opportunities.
Advanced reactor concepts 2020 (ARC 20), which will support innovative and diverse designs for potential commercialization in the mid-2030s.
“As the recently released Nuclear Fuel Working Group’s Strategy to Restore American Nuclear Energy Leadership exemplifies,” said Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, “we must pursue technological innovation and advanced nuclear RD&D investments to strengthen American leadership in the next generation of nuclear technologies, ensuring a healthy and growing U.S. nuclear energy sector.”
INL is hosting: The FOA was issued by the DOE’s Idaho Field Office. Idaho National Laboratory is home to the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) and the National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC) and has hosted 52 unique or first-of-a-kind reactors since it was founded more than 70 years ago.
“Today’s announcement by U.S. DOE will accelerate innovation in advanced nuclear energy systems by leveraging the tremendous capabilities and expertise at INL and our partner national laboratories,” said INL Director Mark Peters.
What’s the goal? "Advanced nuclear energy systems hold enormous potential to lower emissions, create new jobs, and build a strong economy,” said Rita Baranwal, assistant secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy, which will house the ARDP.
As described on the GAIN website, “[The ARDP] will provide funding for several advanced reactors with the capabilities of achieving reliable, cost-effective, licensable, and commercially operational designs and enable a market environment in which commercial reactor services are available that are safe and affordable to both construct and operate as compared to competing, alternative sources of energy in the near- and mid-term. The designs will provide significant improvements in safety, security, economics, and environmental impacts over current nuclear power plant designs.”
Key dates posted by GAIN include an Industry Day on June 3, a due date of June 11 for letters of intent, and an application due date of August 14.
GAIN plays matchmaker: The GAIN website hosts the ARDP FOA Collaboration Hub. While its use by applicants is optional, the Collaboration Hub is designed to connect advanced reactor stakeholders—including technology developers, reactor vendors, fuel manufacturers, utilities, supply chain vendors, contractors, and universities—looking to form or join a team that is submitting an application to the ARDP FOA.
NRIC’s role: "Today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Energy is essential to ushering in the next generation of advanced nuclear energy systems,” said Ashley Finan, NRIC director. “NRIC is ready to work with innovators to enable nuclear energy demonstrations, validate advanced reactor concepts, and resolve technical challenges.”
The NRIC, according to the DOE, is “a natural extension of GAIN as developers move to the later stages of commercialization—providing the on-the-ground capabilities to accelerate technology readiness from proof of concept through proof of operations.”
Backstory: The DOE was directed by the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act to establish the ARDP to stimulate commercial advanced reactor deployment by facilitating U.S. private industry demonstration of several advanced reactors. Congress appropriated $230 million for fiscal year 2020 to initiate the demonstration program.
The DOE’s launch of the ARDP began with a request for information and notice of intent issued on February 5. The RFI described a qualifying advanced reactor as any light-water or non–light-water fission reactor with significant improvements compared to the current generation of operational reactors, such as inherent safety features, lower waste yields, greater fuel utilization, superior reliability, resistant to proliferation, increased thermal efficiency, and the ability to integrate into electric and nonelectric applications.
Separate advanced reactor projects are under way to demonstrate Oklo’s fast spectrum microreactor at INL (NN, Apr. 2020, p. 9) and to advance mobile microreactor engineering work under the Defense Department’s Project Pele (NN, Apr. 2020, p. 13).