Tiny MARVEL reactor gets final environmental assessment

June 8, 2021, 9:30AMNuclear News
The MARVEL reactor concept with Stirling engines. (Image: DOE)

The definition of a microreactor is ambiguous. But whether your upper cutoff is 10 MW or 20 MW, the Microreactor Applications Research Validation and Evaluation (MARVEL) reactor that the Department of Energy plans to build is, at 100 kW, on the tiny side of micro.

The DOE’s Idaho Operations Office on June 7 announced the start of a 31-day public review period on a final environmental assessment for a proposal to construct the microreactor at Idaho National Laboratory’s Transient Reactor Test Facility (TREAT) and invited the public to comment on a proposed finding of no significant impact for the project.

The purpose: MARVEL, a sodium-potassium–cooled thermal microreactor fueled by high-assay low-enriched uranium, will be capable of testing power applications such as load-following electricity demand to complement intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar. It will also test the use of nuclear energy for water purification, hydrogen production, and heat for chemical processing.

“MARVEL will be an important step forward to provide industry partners with the ability to test new microreactor-related technologies and provide real-world, viewable examples of how commercial end users could incorporate microreactors into their clean energy portfolios,” the DOE[PR1] said.

The DOE proposes to install the MARVEL microreactor in a concrete storage pit in the north high bay of the TREAT reactor building, according to the environmental assessment. 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.

MARVEL will be constructed under the auspices of the DOE Microreactor Program and in collaboration with the National Reactor Innovation Center. The DOE Microreactor Program supports fundamental and applied research and development of microreactor technologies to reduce the risks associated with new technology performance and demonstrate the manufacturing readiness of microreactors, thereby ensuring that microreactor concepts can be commercially licensed and deployed.

Public reviews: In January, the DOE conducted a public review and comment period on the project’s draft environmental assessment. Comments received are published in the final environmental assessment, along with the DOE’s responses.

The final environmental assessment and the proposed finding of no significant impact have been prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. The public review period will conclude on July 8. Comments can be submitted by email.

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