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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Milestone reached in Moab Site mill tailings removal project

Officials with the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action project display commemorative flags recognizing the milestone of disposing of 11 million tons of mill tailings. Photo: DOE

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) announced on October 20 that it has achieved a 2020 priority with the removal of another million tons of contaminated soil and debris from the Moab Site in southeastern Utah.

With this latest milestone, EM’s Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action project has disposed of a total of 11 million tons of mill tailings from the site along the Colorado River, putting the project two-thirds of the way toward completing the removal and disposal of 16 million tons of mill tailings.

Site employees also recently surpassed a safety milestone, exceeding 1,500 workdays without a lost-time injury or illness, the DOE said.

U-233 processing restarts at Oak Ridge following upgrades

A fissile material handler uses a shielded glovebox to dissolve U-233 into a low-level form so that it can be mixed with grout for safe transportation and disposal. Photo: DOE

The processing and downblending of uranium-233 for disposal has resumed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, following a pause in operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Energy announced on October 20. Removal and disposition of the U-233 is one of the DOE Office of Environmental Management’s highest priorities at the site, as stated in its strategic vision released earlier this year.

The project is removing a significant risk by eliminating the inventory of highly enriched fissile material stored in Building 3019, the world’s oldest operating nuclear facility, according to the DOE. Employees, known as fissile material handlers, use shielded gloveboxes to dissolve U-233 into a low-level form so that it can be mixed with grout for safe transportation and disposal. The material dates back decades and was originally pursued as a fuel for reactors; however, it did not prove to be a viable option.

Nuclear in K-12 education: Overview of ANS toolkit and reflections from educators

A free webinar today from 3:00 p.m.-4:30 p.m. (EDT) will look at the resources that the American Nuclear Society has developed with Discovery Education and the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy to help K-12 educators teach nuclear science and technology.

The webinar will begin with an overview of the resources, followed by reflections and commentary from three educators of various grade levels on their experiences teaching nuclear science and their thoughts about ANS’s instructional materials. The webinar will conclude with a Q&A session with the panelists.

Registration is required for this Nuclear Science Week event.

First-ever cleanup of uranium enrichment plant celebrated at Oak Ridge

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette speaks during an October 13 celebration marking the completion of the cleanup of Oak Ridge’s East Tennessee Technology Park.

The completion of the decades-long effort to clean up the former Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant was celebrated on October 13, with Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette joining U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, and other state and community leaders at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), where the uranium enrichment complex once stood.

“We are not only celebrating reaching this achievement, but also how this achievement will impact the future of this region moving forward,” Brouillette said. “We turned what was once an expensive government liability that presented risks to the community into an asset that the community can use to usher in new growth for East Tennessee.”

With DOE funds in hand, UAMPS preps for NuScale SMR licensing phase

An artist’s rendering of NuScale Power’s small modular nuclear reactor plant. Image: NuScale

Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) announced on October 16 that the Department of Energy has approved a $1.4-billion, multiyear cost-share award to Carbon Free Power Project LLC, a new business entity wholly owned by UAMPS that was created for the development and construction of a 720-MWe NuScale power plant—the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP)—to be sited at Idaho National Laboratory. The funding comes as UAMPS prepares to develop the first combined license application (COLA) for a small modular reactor.

U.S., Canada sign MOU on safeguards and nonproliferation

Brent Park, the NNSA’s deputy administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, and Richard Sexton (on screen), president and chief executive officer of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, show the signed agreement. Photo: NNSA

The United States and Canada have signed a memorandum of understanding—Cooperation and Exchange of Information in Nuclear Security, Safeguards, and Nonproliferation Matters—to enable a more effective collaboration between the two countries in the areas of nuclear safety and security.

The five-year agreement was signed virtually on October 16 by Brent Park, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s deputy administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, and two Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) executives: Richard Sexton, president and chief executive officer, and Shannon Quinn, vice president of Science, Technology, and Commercial Oversight.

Statement from the CEO

Statement from ANS Executive Director/CEO Craig Piercy on DOE award for UAMPS' Carbon Free Power Project

As the voice of American nuclear professionals, ANS applauds the Department of Energy's decision to award UAMPS' Carbon Free Power Project $1.355 billion in cost-sharing funding. The award will accelerate the deployment of NuScale's small modular reactors in supplying carbon-free power and ensuring the reliability of power grids with growing amounts of intermittent renewable electricity.

SRR renews agreement with Denmark Technical College

From left: Denmark Technical College president and CEO Willie Todd, Jr. gives SRR chief operating officer and deputy project manager Mark Schmitz and SRR president and project manager Phil Breidenbach a tour of a student lab.

Savannah River Remediation (SRR), the liquid waste contractor at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site, signed a memorandum of understanding on October 7 with Denmark Technical College (DTC), one of South Carolina’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).

SRR signed an original MOU with DTC in 2019. The new MOU is effective through September 2021.

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 to fund integrated hydrogen production at LWRs

Two projects intended to accelerate the deployment of hydrogen production technology at existing U.S. light-water reactors received the bulk of the funding announced by the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) on October 8 under the ongoing U.S. Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development funding opportunity announcement (FOA). Out of three projects with a total value of $26.9 million, the two involving hydrogen production have a total value of $26.2 million.

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.

Report finds Hanford’s waste tanks at risk

The Office of Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Energy is raising concerns about the ability of the department to safely store radioactive waste in underground tanks at the Hanford Site until its cleanup mission there is complete. Specifically, the IG said that the tanks, which include 149 single-shell tanks (SST) and 28 double-shell tanks (DST), have deteriorated over time and there may not be enough space in the DSTs to accommodate waste from failed tanks.

The audit report, Tank Waste Management at the Hanford Site (DOE-OIG-20-57), was posted to the IG'S webpage on October 5.

What does the Supreme Court have to do with nuclear waste?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the American Nuclear Society.

As if COVID-19 and a rancorous presidential election were not enough, over the next few weeks we will also be dealing with the confirmation of a justice to fill the open seat on the Supreme Court. What does that have to do with the American Nuclear Society and nuclear technology? Well, nothing directly, but there is an interesting connection between the Supreme Court and a notable case on nuclear waste decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in August 2013.

Proposals being accepted for $21 billion Savannah River contract

Savannah River’s integrated mission contract will combine liquid waste work with nuclear materials management.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) has begun accepting bids on a new 10-year, $21-billion contract for the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. EM issued a final request for proposal for the SRS integrated mission completion contract (IMCC) on October 1, posting it to EM’s dedicated SRS IMCC website.

The IMCC would coalesce the work of two current contractors, including Savannah River Remediation, the site’s liquid waste contractor led by Amentum with partners Bechtel National, Jacobs, and BWX Technologies, into a single contract, combining liquid waste work with nuclear materials management.

The deadline for proposals for the site contract is December 1.

Report weighs prospects for aging High Flux Isotope Reactor

Routine refueling of the HFIR in July 2015. Photo: Genevieve Martin/ORNL

This summer, the Department of Energy’s Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (BESAC) completed a report, The Scientific Justification for a U.S. Domestic High-Performance Reactor-Based Research Facility, that recommends the DOE begin preparing to replace the pressure vessel of the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and to convert the facility to use low-enriched uranium fuel. It also recommends that work begin that could lead to a new research reactor. An article published on the American Institute of Physics website summarizes the report, which was requested by the DOE in 2019.

Celebration held for startup of Savannah River’s Salt Waste Processing Facility

Participants in a ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the Salt Waste Processing Facility at the Savannah River Site included, from left, Rep. Joe Wilson; Parsons chairman and chief executive officer Chuck Harrington; under secretary for science Paul Dabbar; DOE-Savannah River manager Mike Budney; DOE senior advisor William "Ike" White; Parsons president and chief operations officer Carey Smith; SWPF federal project director Pam Marks; and Parsons senior vice president and SWPF project manager Frank Sheppard. Photo: DOE

The launch of the Salt Waste Processing Facility (SWPF) at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina was marked on September 24 with a ceremony attended by the Department of Energy’s undersecretary for science, Paul Dabbar, and senior advisor to the undersecretary for environmental management, William “Ike” White. Also attending the event were Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.) and representatives from the offices of Sens. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Tim Scott (R., S.C.).

“SWPF is the final piece to what is an impressive and highly successful liquid waste program here,” said Dabbar, who served as the ceremony’s keynote speaker. “Bringing it on line is a tremendous victory, not only for the site, but for the entire cleanup mission.”

Brouillette: Nuclear should be part of California’s energy problem solution


In an op-ed published on September 25 in the Orange County Register, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette decryed the state of California’s handling of its energy crisis.

Brouillette criticized state leaders for championing a 100 percent renewable energy plan that ignores nuclear and natural gas. He also found fault with the plan to prematurely close the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

House bill would create spent fuel R&D program at the DOE

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, Units 1, 2 and 3. Photo: SoCal Edison

A bill introduced on September 21 by Rep. Mark Levine (D., Calif.) would direct the Department of Energy to conduct an advanced fuel cycle research, development, demonstration, and commercial application program. According to Levine, whose district includes the closed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), the Spent Nuclear Fuel Solutions Research and Development Act (H.R. 8258) is intended to foster innovation in the storage and disposal of spent nuclear fuel.

The program, which would be authorized at over $500 million over five years, would have the DOE investigate a variety of options for managing the storage, use, and disposal of spent fuel, including dry cask storage, consolidated interim storage, deep geological storage and disposal, and vitrification.

“Critical decision” keeps Versatile Test Reactor on target

The proposed Versatile Test Reactor complex would cover about 20 acres. Image: INL

Now that the Department of Energy has approved Critical Decision 1 for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) project, the engineering design phase can begin once Congress appropriates funding, according to a September 23 announcement from the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. The DOE has requested $295 million for the project in fiscal year 2021.

The news came nearly one month after a team led by Bechtel National Inc. (BNI), and including GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and TerraPower, entered into contract negotiations with Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA) for the design-and-build phase of the VTR. GEH’s sodium-cooled fast reactor PRISM technology was selected to support the VTR program in November 2018.