Construction of Hermes test reactor approved

December 13, 2023, 9:30AMNuclear News
Concept art for a Hermes plant. (Image: Kairos Power)

Kairos Power has received the go-ahead from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build its Hermes demonstration reactor at the Heritage Industrial Park in Oak Ridge, Tenn., making it the first non–light water reactor approved for construction in the United States in more than 50 years.

Following an October 19 mandatory hearing on Kairos’s construction permit application, the NRC yesterday authorized its Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation to issue the permit, having found the commission staff’s positive review of the application adequate to make the necessary regulatory safety and environmental findings. The staff expects to issue the permit by the end of the month.

A separate application for an operating license and subsequent NRC approval will be required before the nonpower test reactor can be operated. Kairos is hoping to have Hermes up and running as early as 2026.

What they’re saying: “Kairos Power is thrilled to have achieved this major regulatory milestone as we make final preparations to start construction at the Hermes site next year,” stated Kairos cofounder and chief executive officer Mike Laufer. “We are excited for this next phase in the deployment of the Hermes reactor, and we remain committed to being a good community partner to our neighbors in Oak Ridge as we bring value to the region and build on its nuclear legacy.”

Kathryn Huff, assistant secretary for nuclear energy at the Department of Energy, called the news “a huge milestone for the nuclear energy sector” and “a testament to the collaborative work among Kairos, the NRC, DOE, and all stakeholders involved in the project.”

ANS Executive Director/CEO Craig Piercy offered congratulations to Kairos on behalf of the U.S. nuclear community, saying, “Kairos’s achievement marks a pivotal step forward in scaling up advanced nuclear energy technologies required for a clean and resilient energy future. We look forward to the Hermes demonstration reactor breaking ground next year in East Tennessee.”

Background: A 35-MWt fluoride salt–cooled, high-temperature reactor, Hermes is intended to demonstrate complete nuclear systems, advance Kairos’s manufacturing capabilities for critical components, test the supply chain, and facilitate licensing certainty for the technology. The company expects Hermes to lead to the development of a commercial-scale 140-MWe KP-FHR reactor, which Kairos is calling KP-X.

In December 2020, Kairos received a Department of Energy Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program award for risk-reduction funding to support the development, construction, and commissioning of Hermes in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, Materion Corporation, and the Electric Power Research Institute. The total award value was $629 million over seven years, with the DOE contributing $303 million.

Kairos also established a cooperative development agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority in May 2021 to provide defined engineering, operations, and licensing services for Hermes. The Alameda, Calif.–based company submitted the construction permit application for Hermes in two parts in September and October 2021.

And this July, Kairos filed a construction permit application for a two-unit version of Hermes. Dubbed Hermes 2, the company plans to build the unit next to the original Hermes facility.

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