DOE tags INL as “preferred alternative” to host the Versatile Test Reactor

November 19, 2020, 3:16PMNuclear News

Rendering of the proposed Versatile Test Reactor. Image: Idaho National Laboratory

The Department of Energy won’t publish its draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) until mid-December. In a November 19 announcement on Twitter, however, the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy said that the yet-to-be-released EIS lists Idaho National Laboratory as the preferred alternative to site the VTR.

The DOE plans to submit the draft EIS for public comments early next month. The DOE won’t make a final decision on the design, technology selection, and location for the VTR until the completion of the EIS and record of decision in late 2021.

Awaiting appropriations: The VTR program was authorized in 2018 by the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA), which called for a reactor-based fast neutron source to be in place by the mid-2020s. The DOE approved Critical Decision 1 for the VTR in September this year. That decision permitted the engineering design phase to begin, but first Congress must appropriate funding. The DOE has requested $295 million for the project in fiscal year 2021.

The VTR represents a substantial R&D investment both in terms of time and talent from six national labs, 19 universities, and 10 industry partners, and in terms of funding. Costs are estimated at $3.6 billion, with upper and lower bounds of $5.8 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively. An aggressive schedule could see the VTR operating as early as 2026 if the requisite funding is supplied.

Forthcoming draft EIS: The draft EIS analyzes the potential environmental, community, and cultural resource impacts of locating and operating the VTR at either INL or Oak Ridge National Laboratory, as well as fabricating VTR fuel at either INL or the Savannah River Site.

“Examination of the environmental impacts reflects DOE’s commitment to clean energy sources and will serve as an example for others looking to deploy advanced reactor technologies,” said Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette.

The potential: The VTR would be a 300-MWt pool-type sodium-cooled fast reactor designed to generate neutrons at higher speeds and higher concentrations than existing test infrastructure to provide accelerated testing of advanced nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation, and sensors.

A team led by Bechtel National and including GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy and TerraPower is in contract negotiations with Battelle Energy Alliance for the design and build phase of the VTR.

“The VTR team has done a great job of meeting the expedited schedule that Congress set for the project,” said Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Rita Baranwal. “The team has developed a strong conceptual design that will help fill this long-standing gap in our country’s research infrastructure and will support decades of energy innovation.”

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