INL’s MARVEL could demonstrate remote operation on a micro scale

January 13, 2021, 12:01PMNuclear News

The Department of Energy launched a 14-day public review and comment period on January 11 on a draft environmental assessment for a proposal to construct the Microreactor Applications Research Validation & EvaLuation (MARVEL) project microreactor inside Idaho National Laboratory’s Transient Reactor Test (TREAT) Facility.

The basics: The MARVEL design is a sodium-potassium–cooled thermal microreactor fueled by uranium zirconium hydride fuel pins using high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU). It would be a 100-kWt reactor capable of generating about 20 kWe using Stirling engines over a core life of about two years.

The DOE proposes to install the MARVEL microreactor in a concrete storage pit in the north high bay of the TREAT reactor building. Modifications to the building to accommodate MARVEL are anticipated to take five to seven months. Constructing, assembling, and performing preoperational testing are expected to take another two to three months prior to fuel loading.

INL in front: INL leads the DOE’s Microreactor Program, conducting fundamental and applied R&D to reduce the risks associated with new technology performance and manufacturing readiness of microreactors and to ensure that microreactor concepts can be commercially licensed and deployed.

“Nuclear energy has always been a reliable power source that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” INL director John Wagner said in the DOE press release announcing MARVEL’s public review period. “MARVEL takes the next step. It will provide for prompt, small-scale demonstrations of several environmentally friendly technologies associated with advanced microreactors as well as larger reactors, which will benefit the nuclear energy industry and end users.”

Technical objectives: “MARVEL will be capable of testing power applications such as load-following electricity demand to complement intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar,” Wagner explained. “It will also test the use of nuclear energy for water purification, hydrogen production, and heat for chemical processing. It will additionally provide industry partners with the ability to test new microreactor-related technologies and will provide real-world, viewable examples of how commercial end users could incorporate microreactors into their clean energy portfolios.”

MARVEL is designed to

  • test, demonstrate, and address issues to achieve unattended operation, including normal operating transients such as startup and load management as well as cyber and physical security hardening.
  • enable remote monitoring, including sensors and instrumentation for live data acquisition and wireless transmission to a remote monitoring location.
  • use control systems to integrate the reactor with the grid and a range of applications to manage grid demand and reactor power supply and to demonstrate integration approaches for a range of applications such as process heating and hydrogen production.

Comment period ends soon: Comments on the draft environmental assessment are being accepted by mail or by email until January 26.

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