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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“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.

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.

TerraPower’s Natrium pairs a sodium fast reactor with heat storage

An artist’s rendering of Natrium. Image: TerraPower

The Natrium reactor and energy system architecture, recently introduced by TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), offers baseload electricity output from a 345-MWe sodium fast reactor with the load-following flexibility of molten salt thermal storage. Stored heat can be used to boost the system’s output to 500 MWe for more than five and a half hours when needed, according to TerraPower. A company representative told Nuclear News that the company expects a commercial Natrium plant to cost $1 billion or less.

Negotiations to build Versatile Test Reactor under way

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.