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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Holtec SMR could be built at Oyster Creek site

The site of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in Lacey Township, N.J., could be the location for Holtec International’s SMR-160 small modular reactor, according to an AP News story published last week.

ARDP investment: Holtec received $147.5 million in Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program funding to demonstrate its SMR design. Company spokesperson Joe Delmar said, “As part of our application to the Department of Energy for its advanced reactor demonstration program, we expressed interest in possibly locating an SMR-160 small modular reactor at the Oyster Creek decommissioning site in the future. This concept is only preliminary and something we would likely discuss with Lacey Township and the community if plans to locate (the reactor) at Oyster Creek evolve.”

The year in review 2020: Research and Applications

Here is a look back at the top stories of 2020 from our Research and Applications section in Newswire and Nuclear News magazine. Remember to check back to Newswire soon for more top stories from 2020.

Research and Applications section

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.

Congress set to pass year-end funding bill

The final text of the approximately 5,600-page Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 was released on December 22. While the timing of final passage is still fluid, the Senate was expected to approve it and send it on to President Trump to sign into law, according to John Starkey, American Nuclear Society government relations director.

Below are some key funding highlights from the legislation pertaining to nuclear energy.

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.”

Core Power thinks nuclear will make waves in commercial shipping

Illustration of Core Power’s modular MSR concept. Image: Core Power

Core Power is a tiny startup that is bullish on the prospects for nuclear-powered ocean transportation. The company announced on November 2 that it is part of a team that has applied for a cost-shared award from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) to build a prototype molten salt reactor (MSR). Core Power believes that MSRs could be used for propulsion or electricity generation to decarbonize the world’s commercial shipping fleet.

Based in London, England, Core Power is the only non-U.S. member of the team, which includes TerraPower, Southern Company, and Orano USA. As a marine engineering firm, Core Power says that it offers its ARDP partners “access to pent-up demand from a market with real customers.” An announcement of ARDP “risk reduction for future demonstrations” award winners is expected in December.

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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DOE is ready to announce ARDP demo awards

The Department of Energy has selected the recipients of cost-shared funding for its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) and has notified Congress of the selection, the DOE press staff indicated by tweet on October 8. A public announcement of the recipients is expected this week.

Reactor designers and others looking to invest in advanced nuclear technology had until August 19 to apply through a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) announced in May, which included $160 million in initial funds to build two reactors within the next five to seven years. Applicants were encouraged to connect with other advanced reactor stakeholders—including technology developers, reactor vendors, fuel manufacturers, utilities, supply chain vendors, contractors, and universities—through the ARDP FOA Collaboration Hub and apply as a team. This means that the DOE’s selection of a particular reactor design stands to benefit more than just the team behind the reactor’s initial design.

House committee marks up Energy and Water Development bill

The House Appropriations Committee held its full committee markup of the Energy and Water Development bill on July 13. (The Bill Report provides a more detailed funding breakdown.) The final bill passed the committee by a party line vote of 30-21. No schedule for Floor consideration of the bill has been set, but it is likely to happen next week or the week after.

DOE issues FOA for advanced reactor demos

Reactor designers and others ready to invest in advanced nuclear technology now have a defined route to apply for cost-share funding, including $160 million in initial funding to build two reactors within the next five to seven years. On May 14, the U.S. Department of Energy issued a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for the new Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP).

Department of Energy launches $230 million Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the launch of the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) within the Office of Nuclear Energy. ARDP is designed to help domestic private industry demonstrate advanced nuclear reactors in the U.S.