INL infrastructure improvements to support advanced nuclear R&D

October 28, 2022, 9:30AMNuclear News
INL’s Materials and Fuels Complex. (Photo: INL)

The Department of Energy announced $150 million in Inflation Reduction Act funding on October 25 for infrastructure improvements at Idaho National Laboratory. According to the DOE, the funding will support nearly a dozen projects at INL’s Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) and Materials Fuels Complex (MFC), both of which have operated for more than 50 years. The investments in existing infrastructure assets mean support for nuclear energy research and development, including fuel testing, bolstering the near-term supply of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), and reactor demonstrations.

Aging management at INL: The funding will accelerate the replacement of aging plant infrastructure systems at the ATR and MFC to ensure that both remain operational, according to the DOE. Infrastructure upgrades at both facilities would be completed within the next four to five years and would include improvements to water and electrical distribution systems, process control systems, and roof replacements to improve research facility reliability and operability.

“More than 300 commercial reactors operating around the world today can trace their roots back to Idaho National Laboratory, and these infrastructure investments allow America to continue leading the world in groundbreaking nuclear energy research and development,” said energy secretary Jennifer Granholm. “Thanks to President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, DOE is taking critical steps to strengthen domestic nuclear development and deployment—helping ensure the United States is on track to reach a clean energy future.”

Facility assets: The ATR provides fuels and materials irradiation services for the U.S. Navy and for nuclear fuel and technology developers. Earlier this year, the ATR emerged from its sixth core internals changeout since beginning operations in 1967. In the absence of a modern fast flux test reactor such as the Versatile Test Reactor, the ATR is providing an essential service.

The MFC contributes nuclear fuel research through the production of small quantities of HALEU, fuel fabrication, and post-irradiation examination to support future reactor demonstrations. Facilities at the MFC include the Hot Fuel Examination Facility, Irradiated Materials Characterization Laboratory, Transient Reactor Test Facility (TREAT), and the Fuel Conditioning Facility.

A landmark of the MFC, the silver-painted Experimental Breeder Reactor-II containment dome, was scheduled for demolition in 2016, but its ownership was transferred from the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management to the Office of Nuclear Energy in 2018. In 2020 the structure was refurbished to host experimental reactors and microreactor demonstrations.

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