DOE touts a MARVEL of a microreactor project

April 15, 2021, 7:00AMNuclear News
An image from a video released by INL shows MARVEL, to be installed in a concrete pit within the TREAT reactor building. Source: INL

The Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy is spreading the word about plans to build a tiny microreactor called the Microreactor Applications Research Validation & EvaLuation (MARVEL) project inside Idaho National Laboratory’s Transient Reactor Test (TREAT) Facility and have it in operation within the next three years. INL recently released a video that describes how MARVEL could help researchers and industry partners test, develop, and demonstrate the integration of a microreactor’s heat and electricity output with other technologies.

Nuclear Newswire published details on MARVEL in January, when the DOE launched a public review and comment period on a draft environmental assessment (EA) of the project. Read on for a recap of the plan.

The design: MARVEL would be a sodium potassium eutectic (NaK)–cooled microreactor fueled by uranium zirconium hydride (UZrH) fuel pins using high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) from existing research supplies. The 100-kWt reactor would be capable of generating about 20 kWe using Stirling engines and would have 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, according to the draft EA, while construction, assembly, and testing are expected to take another two to three months prior to fuel loading.

The mission: The MARVEL test platform is a collaborative effort between the DOE Microreactor Program and the National Reactor Innovation Center. It is intended to:

  • Establish authorization, qualification, and validation processes for microreactor technologies, permitting industry partners to connect end-user applications to the system to test and demonstrate technology readiness.
  • Test and demonstrate the reactor system’s capability to balance grid demand and reactor power supply while supporting a range of applications such as integrated renewable energy systems, water purification, hydrogen production, and heat for industrial processes.
  • Evaluate autonomous technology to achieve optimal operation, supporting end users in testing and validating specific reactor components for remote monitoring and autonomous control, including sensors and instrumentation for live data collection and wireless transmission.

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