Feature Article

Fuel innovation: Powering nuclear modernization

Today’s U.S. commercial nuclear power plants are fueled with uranium dioxide pressed into cylindrical ceramic pellets—and have been for decades. These pellets are stacked inside long fuel rods made of a zirconium alloy cladding. Innovation in nuclear fuel, however, can improve safety, reduce operating costs, and further enable the development of a new generation of non-light-water reactors.

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ARC-20 cost-share funds go to ARC Nuclear, General Atomics, and MIT

Designs chosen for ARC-20 support could be commercialized in the mid-2030s. Graphic: DOE

The Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE) has named the recipients of $20 million in Fiscal Year 2020 awards for Advanced Reactor Concepts–20 (ARC-20), the third of three programs under its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). The three selected teams—from Advanced Reactor Concepts LLC, General Atomics, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—will share the allocated FY20 funding for ARC-20 and bring the total number of projects funded through ARDP to 10. DOE-NE announced the news on December 22.

The DOE expects to invest a total of about $56 million in ARC-20 over four years, with industry partners providing at least 20 percent in matching funds. The ARDP funding opportunity announcement, issued in May 2020, included ARC-20 awards, Advanced Reactor Demonstration awards, and Risk Reduction for Future Demonstration awards.

Advanced reactors take center stage in Popular Mechanics

The January/February 2021 issue of Popular Mechanics hit subscriber mailboxes this week with a stark cover image of a single small reactor under the headline, “Tiny nuclear reactors are about to revolutionize American energy.” The story looks at advanced reactors as a pivotal step to “redeem nuclear’s stature in American energy.”

A good primer: The article does a good job introducing the casual reader to the idea that “bigger is no longer better” and that the future of nuclear power in the United States will most likely be “a combination of traditional large plants and smaller, safer megawatt reactors.”

Advanced reactors, including small modular reactors, show that nuclear is no longer a one-size-fits-all operation, the article notes. The industry now “is all about personalization,” says Ken Canavan, Westinghouse’s chief technical officer, who is quoted in the article. The capacity and scalability of SMRs “is just irreplaceable,” he adds.

The article explains that SMRs, microreactors, and other advanced reactor designs will be able to bring reliable, carbon-free power to small or remote locations, replacing fossil fuel power plants and supplementing the “resource-sucking downtimes left by renewables.”

Five advanced reactor designs get DOE risk reduction funding

The Department of Energy today announced $30 million in initial fiscal year 2020 funding—with the expectation of more over the next seven years—for five companies selected for risk reduction for future demonstration projects. The chosen reactor designs from Kairos Power, Westinghouse, BWX Technologies, Holtec, and Southern Company collectively represent a range of coolants, fuel forms, and sizes—from tiny microreactors to a molten salt reactor topping 1,000 MWe. They were selected for cost-shared partnerships under the Office of Nuclear Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) through a funding opportunity announcement issued in May 2020.

“All of these projects will put the U.S. on an accelerated timeline to domestically and globally deploy advanced nuclear reactors that will enhance safety and be affordable to construct and operate,” said Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette. “Taking leadership in advanced technology is so important to the country’s future, because nuclear energy plays such a key role in our clean energy strategy.”

Advanced reactors important for carbon-free power production in U.S., tweets Vice News

A video posted to Twitter by Vice News discusses the prospect of advanced reactors being an important mix of carbon-free power production in the United States. Hosted by Gelareh Darabi, an award-winning Canadian-British-Iranian journalist and documentary filmmaker, the video provides quick and easy statistics for the general audience and pulls from social media influencer I_sodope. It also includes comments from nuclear experts.

U.K. sets plans for clean energy and green jobs by 2050

A 170-page energy white paper, Powering Our Net Zero Future, issued by the United Kingdom government on December 14 sets big goals for cleaning up the U.K.’s energy system. According to the U.K. government, the plan would create and support green energy jobs across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and would keep electricity bills affordable as the U.K. transitions to net zero emissions by 2050.

The white paper notes that the U.K. will generate emission-free electricity by 2050 with a trajectory that will see "overwhelmingly decarbonized power in the 2030s. Low carbon electricity will be a key enabler of our transition to a net zero economy with demand expected to double due to transport and low carbon heat."

The white paper builds upon the U.K. prime minister’s 38-page Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, which was issued on November 18.

Kairos Power test reactor comes to repurposed Oak Ridge site

An aerial view of the ETTP site. Photo: Heritage Center, LLC

Kairos Power plans to site a test reactor it has dubbed Hermes at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP) in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The company has executed a Memorandum of Understanding with Heritage Center, LLC, to acquire the former K-33 gaseous diffusion plant site at ETTP, subject to ongoing due diligence evaluations. The announcement was made today, during the 2020 East Tennessee Economic Council Annual Meeting and Awards Celebration.

“We are thrilled at the prospect of coming to East Tennessee,” said Michael Laufer, cofounder and chief executive officer of Kairos Power. “The infrastructure available at ETTP, combined with its proximity to key collaborators at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, makes this a great location to demonstrate our technology. The successful commissioning of Hermes builds on our current technology development programs and extensive engagement with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Ultimately, Hermes will prove that Kairos Power can deliver real systems at our cost targets to make advanced nuclear a competitive source of clean energy in the United States.”

Lou Martinez, vice president of strategy and innovation, added, “Today is an important day for Kairos Power. We are celebrating our 4th anniversary by showcasing an important milestone.”

Feature Article

From the ground up: Building a workforce for advanced nuclear

INL will need technical, innovative, and safety-minded construction personnel for the advanced nuclear projects ahead. Photo: INL

Around the world, researchers in the energy industry are engaging in the work of studying, testing, and developing carbon-free energy solutions. Throughout these circles, many scientists and engineers are embracing the possibilities of advanced nuclear technologies, including small modular reactors and microreactors. While these innovative technologies are poised to address some of the nation’s biggest concerns, they also present their own unique challenges, including the need for a large and talented workforce within the construction industry.

Fortunately, the state of Idaho and its key nuclear players are well-equipped for this challenge. In southeastern Idaho, home of Idaho National Laboratory, strong partnerships throughout the region have forged networks between the lab and the educational institutions, employers, trades, and unions that are working to establish this highly specialized nuclear talent pipeline.

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Testing for Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR under way with research partners

Terrestrial Energy and the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) have started a graphite irradiation testing program at NRG’s Petten Research Centre’s High Flux Reactor (HFR), located in the Netherlands. According to Terrestrial Energy, which is based in Ontario, Canada, the work is part of broader program of confirmatory testing of components and systems for the company’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR), designed to produce both electricity and industrial heat.

The testing program at NRG was planned to confirm the predicted performance of selected graphite grades throughout the seven-year cycle of an IMSR core. The testing was designed in cooperation with Frazer-Nash Consultancy, and will simulate IMSR core conditions at a range of operating temperatures and neutron flux conditions.

“Our work with NRG at its Petten HFR facility is an important element of our overall IMSR test program, now well underway. The start of in-core irradiation tests speaks to our progress and comes after many months of prior work,” Simon Irish, CEO of Terrestrial Energy, said on November 12. “The NRG work also reflects an important feature of our testing strategy. That is to engage existing laboratories offering existing capabilities rather than build those in-house, a strategy that is essential for our early deployment schedule.”

NRC seeks comments on language for proposed advanced reactor rulemaking

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is requesting public input on preliminary language for a proposed rule that would set out a risk-informed, technology-inclusive framework for the licensing and regulation of advanced nuclear reactors, according to a notice published in the November 6 Federal Register.

The Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, or NEIMA, signed into law in January 2019, tasked the agency with developing a regulatory infrastructure for the development and commercialization of advanced reactors.

Versatility, leadership, and “the highest fast neutron flux in the history of ever”: Highlights from INL’s VTR webinar

Clockwise from top left are Craig Piercy, Ray Furstenau, Tom O’Connor, Sean McDeavitt, Tara Neider, and Judi Greenwald.

The Versatile Test Reactor’s conceptual design was approved in September, and a draft environmental impact statement could be released within the week. The completion of more project milestones leading to operation in 2026, however, will depend on congressional appropriations. An expert panel described the need for a state-of-the-art test reactor and the value that the VTR could bring to the U.S. nuclear R&D community over its 60-year lifetime during a recent webinar—“Advanced U.S. Nuclear Research and Development: A Briefing and Discussion on the VTR”—hosted by Idaho National Laboratory.

Craig Piercy, ANS executive director/CEO, moderated the webinar, introducing a project update from VTR executive director Kemal Pasamehmetoglu and facilitating a Q&A session with representatives of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy, universities, reactor developers, and the Nuclear Innovation Alliance. A recording of the October 29 webinar is available online. INL also has a video and information online on the VTR.

“I think that the VTR represents part of a larger effort to modernize our infrastructure, develop a new set of technologies, and really preserve our global leadership in the field,” said Piercy. Read on to learn more about the promise the VTR holds for the nuclear community.

Advanced reactor marketplace

Advanced reactor developers see potential markets for reactors in a range of sizes that offer clean, reliable, flexible, and cost-competitive power. Many have reached agreements with suppliers, utilities, and others to support the demonstration and possible deployment of their designs. Nuclear News is following these activities. Read on for updates and check back with Newswire often for more on the Advanced Reactor Marketplace.

Canada has invested Can$20 million in Terrestrial Energy’s 195-MW Integral Molten Salt Reactor through the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Industry, the company announced on October 15. In accepting the investment, Terrestrial Energy, which is based in Oakville, Ontario, has committed to creating and maintaining 186 jobs and creating 52 co-op positions nationally. In addition, Terrestrial Energy is spending at least $91.5 million on research and development. According to the company, the funds will assist with the completion of a key pre-licensing milestone with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Two days earlier, Terrestrial Energy USA and Centrus Energy announced that they had signed a memorandum of understanding to evaluate the logistical, regulatory, and transportation requirements to establish a fuel supply for Integral Molten Salt Reactor power plants, which would use standard-assay low-enriched uranium at an enrichment level less than 5 percent.

A microreactor at every rest stop?

The MiFi-DC as portrayed in a video released by Argonne.

Electrifying the nation’s trucking industry could reduce consumption of fossil-based diesel fuel, but it would also pose new challenges. A cross-country 18-wheel truck needs five to 10 times more electricity than an electric car to recharge its battery. Where will that electricity come from?

A team of engineers at Argonne National Laboratory has designed a microreactor called the MiFi-DC (for MicroFission Direct Current) that they say could be mass-produced and installed at highway rest stops to power a future fleet of electric 18-wheelers.

Nuclear News reached out to the MiFi-DC team to learn more. The team, led by Derek Kultgen, a principal engineer at Argonne who also leads the lab’s Mechanisms Engineering Test Loop, responded to questions by email. While they emphasized that much more needs to be done before the MiFi-DC could become a fixture at rest stops across the country, the information the team shared sheds some light on the process of designing a tiny reactor for a specific purpose.

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It’s time for the United States to demonstrate advanced reactors

After talking about it for decades, the United States is finally ready to take the next step in demonstrating advanced reactor technologies.

We have the bipartisan support from Congress. We have the best innovators in the world. Now it’s time to see what U.S. nuclear companies can really do with the support and resources of the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Energy is all in on new nuclear technologies and we just made our boldest move yet—selecting and supporting two U.S. reactor designs that will be fully operational within the next 7 years.

After evaluating the competitive U.S. reactor design applications that were submitted to our new Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program funding opportunity announcement, TerraPower LLC and X-energy were awarded $160 million in initial funding to test, license, and build their advanced reactors under this aggressive timeframe. Pending future appropriations by Congress, the DOE will invest $3.2 billion over 7 years in these projects that will be matched by the industry teams.

ARDP picks divergent technologies in Natrium, Xe-100: Is nuclear’s future taking shape?

The Department of Energy has put two reactor designs—TerraPower’s Natrium and X-energy’s Xe-100—on a fast track to commercialization, each with an initial $80 million in 50-50 cost-shared funds awarded through the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). In all, the DOE plans to invest $3.2 billion—with matching funds from industry—over the seven-year demonstration program, subject to future appropriations.

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette announced the awards late in the day on October 13 in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and said, “These awards are a critical first step of a program that will strengthen our nation’s nuclear energy and technological competitiveness abroad, and position our domestic industry for growth, for increased job creation, and for even more investment opportunity. It’s absolutely vital that we make progress on this technology now.”

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Nuclear cogeneration concept gets royal treatment in new report

The future of nuclear energy is in cogeneration, according to a policy briefing released on October 7 by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society. (The equivalent of the United States’ National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society, founded in 1660, is the oldest scientific institution in continuous existence.)

Cogeneration, the briefing explains, occurs when the heat produced by a nuclear power plant is used not only to generate electricity, but also to meet such energy demands as domestic heating and hydrogen production. It also allows a plant to be used more flexibly, switching between electricity generation and cogeneration applications.

TerraPower, Centrus, and Duke Energy talk tech and collaboration

Three companies that are part of a larger collaboration to develop and demonstrate Natrium, the fast reactor design recently introduced by TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), were invited to participate in a webinar hosted by ClearPath to talk about Natrium’s design, fuel requirements, and load-following potential.

The September 21 webinar, titled “Natrium: Latin for Sodium, Big for Advanced Nuclear,” was moderated by Rich Powell, executive director of ClearPath, and featured TerraPower’s Chris Levesque and Tara Neider, Centrus Energy’s Dan Poneman, and Duke Energy’s Chris Nolan.

HALEU investment is key part of TerraPower’s demo proposal

TerraPower announced on September 15 that it plans to work with Centrus Energy to establish commercial-scale production facilities for the high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) needed to fuel many advanced reactor designs.

The proposed investment in HALEU fuel fabrication is tied to a TerraPower-led submittal to the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), which was created to support the deployment of two first-of-a-kind advanced reactor designs within five to seven years. TerraPower would like one of those designs to be Natrium, the 345-MWe sodium fast reactor that it has developed with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.

ECA launches “new nuclear” initiative

The board of directors of the Energy Communities Alliance (ECA), an organization known more for its work in advancing the cleanup of Department of Energy sites, is launching a new initiative aimed at supporting the development of new nuclear technologies. As announced by the ECA on September 15, the self-funded, one-year initiative will focus on small modular reactors, micro and advanced reactors, a skilled nuclear workforce, and new nuclear missions around DOE facilities. facilities.

“With growing bipartisan support for nuclear energy in Congress, new federal demonstration projects led by DOE and the Department of Defense, and notable investment from the private sector, local governments want to be meaningfully engaged—and prepared—to match the strengths and needs of our communities with new nuclear opportunities,” the ECA said in its announcement.

STATEMENT FROM THE CEO

Statement from ANS Executive Director / CEO Craig Piercy on UAMPS’ Carbon Free Power Project

As the voice of American nuclear engineers and scientists, ANS congratulates NuScale Power for receiving the first-ever final safety evaluation report for a small modular reactor issued by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.