Negotiations to build Versatile Test Reactor under way

August 27, 2020, 7:05AMNuclear News

Artist’s rendering of the Versatile Test Reactor. INL Image

A team led by Bechtel National Inc. (BNI) that includes GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and TerraPower is in contract negotiations with Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA) for the design-and-build phase of the Versatile Test Reactor, BEA announced on August 24. As planned, the VTR would support irradiation testing of fuels, materials, and equipment designed for advanced reactors.

Industry support: In January 2020, GEH and TerraPower submitted a joint proposal in response to a call for expressions of interest from BEA, the contractor that operates Idaho National Laboratory for the Department of Energy. INL manages the VTR project on behalf of the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE).

“We received excellent proposals from industry, which is indicative of the support to build a fast-spectrum neutron testing facility in the United States,” said INL Director Mark Peters. “We are excited about the potential for working with the BNI-led team. They will bring a lot of design and construction expertise to the VTR project. This is essential, since it has been several years since we built a test reactor in the United States.”

Program background: DOE-NE established the VTR program in 2018 in response to several reports outlining the need for a fast spectrum test reactor and requests from U.S. companies developing advanced reactors. The Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, passed in September 2018, authorized the DOE to proceed. In November 2018, GEH and its PRISM technology were selected to support the VTR program.

Since then, a team of experts from INL and five other national laboratories (Argonne National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Savannah River National Laboratory), 19 universities, and nine industry partners have been developing a conceptual design, cost estimate, and schedule for the VTR.

The INL-led team is also supporting the development of an environmental impact statement that will be used to assist the DOE in making a final decision on the design, technology selection, and location for the VTR. That final decision is expected in late 2021 and, according to the DOE, the VTR could be completed as early as 2026.

What they’re saying: “We are looking forward to successful negotiations with the BNI team and want to make sure the project is ready to go in fiscal year 2021,” said Kemal Pasamehmetoglu, executive director of the VTR project.

Barbara Rusinko, president of Bechtel’s Nuclear, Security and Environmental global business unit, said, “Advanced reactors hold great promise, but their fuels and materials need proper testing before they can be licensed and used in energy-producing reactors.”

Rita Baranwal, assistant secretary for DOE-NE, said, “We have repeatedly heard from industry and other stakeholders that the United States needs a fast neutron scientific user facility to maintain our global leadership in nuclear energy. The selection of the BNI team, with its TerraPower and GE Hitachi partners, puts us firmly on the path toward building this important infrastructure capability.”

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