Renewing a national treasure: INL’s Advanced Test Reactor undergoes sixth core overhaul

October 1, 2021, 5:15PMNuclear NewsJoseph Campbell; Photos by Joseph Campbell and Peter Ritchie, INL
The first of three phases of the Advanced Test Reactor’s sixth core overhaul culminated with the removal of the 31-ton stainless steel vessel top head on July 1, for the first time since 2004. The vessel and top head underwent extensive inspection, laser scanning, and upgrade as part of the overhaul. (Photo: JC)

Out of the frenzy of nuclear technology and engineering development at the height of the Atomic Age, a few designs stand out above the rest—designs so innovative that they would not be surpassed for years, or even decades. An example of this unsurpassed design brilliance exists in the form of Idaho National Laboratory’s Advanced Test Reactor.

“ATR is really a beautiful machine,” said Sean O’Kelly, associate lab director for the ATR Complex. “The elegant cloverleaf core and control systems were a stroke of genius that solved just about every key problem of test reactor design. The designers’ solutions to those problems give us a testing capacity and flexibility that have yet to be matched.”

Conca implores Congress to rethink funding for the VTR

August 26, 2021, 3:02PMANS Nuclear Cafe
(Image: INL)

The nuclear community continues its collective push to restore funding for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) project at Idaho National Laboratory for fiscal year 2022. We first heard from the Department of Energy’s Katy Huff, followed by Argonne National Laboratory’s Jordi Roglans-Ribas. Now add Nuclear News opinion columnist James Conca to the list of supporters hoping to change the minds of those in Congress regarding the crucial VTR project.

Nine Mile Point picked for hydrogen demonstration project

August 20, 2021, 4:08PMNuclear News
Nine Mile Point (Photo: Constellation Energy)

Exelon Generation has received a grant from the Department of Energy to explore the potential benefits of on-site hydrogen production and has chosen its Nine Mile Point nuclear power plant as the demonstration site, the company announced on Wednesday. (In 2019, Exelon received a conditional commitment from the DOE to co-fund a hydrogen electrolyzer demonstration at a nuclear plant.) Located in Scriba, N.Y., Nine Mile Point consists of two boiling water reactors—the 620-MWe Unit 1 and the 1,287-MWe Unit 2.

NuScale, Xcel agree to explore future partnerships

August 18, 2021, 12:00PMNuclear News
A still image from a three-part video tour of NuScale’s facilities. (Photos: NuScale Power)

NuScale Power has signed a memorandum of understanding with Xcel Energy to explore the feasibility of the utility’s serving as a plant operator at NuScale plants, the Portland, Ore.-based small modular reactor developer announced earlier this week.

Xcel owns and, through subsidiary Northern States Power Company, operates Minnesota’s two nuclear plants, Monticello and Prairie Island. The Monticello facility houses one 671-MWe boiling water reactor, while Prairie Island has twin 550-MWe pressurized water reactors.

Purdue team uses Argonne’s APS for 3D view of irradiated fuel

January 22, 2021, 9:32AMNuclear News

Image: Purdue University/Maria Okuniewski

A team of researchers led by Purdue University has used X-ray imaging conducted at Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source to obtain a three-dimensional view of the interior of an irradiated nuclear fuel sample. The use of synchrotron micro-computed tomography could lead to more accurate modeling of fuel behavior and more efficient nuclear fuel designs, according to the researchers.

Baranwal departs Office of Nuclear Energy

January 8, 2021, 3:10PMNuclear News

Baranwal

Rita Baranwal, the Department of Energy’s assistant secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy, announced today via Twitter that she will be leaving her position at the end of the day. “It has been an absolute honor to serve in this capacity to help advance our U.S. nuclear energy R&D,” she tweeted. “I plan to continue to use my talents to promote, lead, and advance our nation’s largest source of clean energy so that our nation and my family will have a cleaner and more sustainable planet to protect.”

Baranwal previously directed the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative at Idaho National Laboratory. Before joining the DOE, Baranwal served as director of technology development and application at Westinghouse. She is a Fellow of the American Nuclear Society.

NuScale module’s hydrogen production numbers updated

December 11, 2020, 6:58AMNuclear News

As a result of last month’s power uprate announcement from NuScale Power regarding its small modular reactor—a 25 percent increase to 77 MWe—the company has now announced updated evaluations for the technical feasibility and economics of producing hydrogen using heat and electricity from its SMR, the NuScale Power Module (NPM).

From the ground up: Building a workforce for advanced nuclear

December 4, 2020, 2:01PMNuclear NewsMichelle Goff

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.

BWXT restarts TRISO fuel manufacturing

November 12, 2020, 9:39AMNuclear News

BWX Technologies Inc. announced on November 10 that its BWXT Nuclear Operations Group Inc. (BWXT NOG) subsidiary has completed its TRISO nuclear fuel line restart project and is actively producing fuel at its Lynchburg, Va., facility.

With the restart, BWXT now manufactures fuel across four commercial and government business lines, the company said. In addition to the TRISO line, BWXT operates fuel production lines at BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada, manufacturer of approximately half of the fuel powering the commercial reactor fleet in Ontario, Canada; BWXT subsidiary Nuclear Fuel Services, sole provider of nuclear fuel for the U.S. Navy; and BWXT’s Uranium Processing and Research Reactors operation, the only North American supplier of research reactor fuel elements for colleges, universities, and national laboratories.

Digital engineering: Controlling costs for megaprojects

July 2, 2020, 4:13PMNuclear NewsPaul Menser

With a new generation of nuclear reactors in the works, Idaho National Laboratory has embraced digital engineering (DE) as a means of achieving the same efficiencies that companies in the private sector have been able to realize in everything from concert halls to aircraft engines.

DE—using advanced technologies to capture data and craft design in a digitized environment—has been evolving since the 1990s. For Mortenson Construction, a worldwide construction firm, using virtual design and construction resulted in a cumulative 600 days saved over 416 projects and a 25 percent increase in productivity. By building digital twins for assets, systems, and processes, DE has avoided more than $1.05 billion in customer, production, and mechanical losses.

Leaders at INL recognized in 2018 that DE could be useful in the design and construction of new commercial and test reactors. Managing construction costs, timing, and performance will be essential to maintain U.S. competitiveness.

Gender equity group reports on progress made

June 2, 2020, 12:14PMNuclear News

Gender Champions in Nuclear Policy (GCNP), launched in November 2018, has released a report on the progress made during its inaugural year toward its goal of achieving gender equity in the nuclear policy field. According to a May 28 announcement, the group has had “mostly positive results.”

Experimental Breeder Reactor I: A retrospective

December 19, 2019, 5:29PMANS Nuclear CafeWill Searight

In the not-so-distant 20th century past, our planet was in an uncertain new-world order. The second of two major wars had dramatically reshaped the landscape of the world's nations. It was not by any means assured that the extraordinary nuclear process of fission, which itself had been discovered mere years before the second war's end, would be successfully utilized for anything but the tremendous and frightening powers realized in thermonuclear warheads. In the years following, a humble project materializing out of the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho was to challenge that assertion and demonstrate that nuclear fission could indeed be a commercial, peaceful source of electrical power for civilizations around the globe.

EBR-1 in Photos

December 20, 2018, 5:02PMANS Nuclear CafeWill Davis

December 20, 1951 marks an important date in the history of nuclear power; it's the date on which the first useful electric power was generated by atomic fission.  While the now-famous event at that time only powered four light bulbs, the somewhat stunt-like nature of the day obscured the fact that the plant was actually set up to generate considerably more power, and did so.  Let's take a look at this fact and, at the same time, the facility through illustrations from my collection and from photographs that I took myself while touring EBR-1 earlier this year.

Historic Idaho Reactors Detailed at ANS Winter Meeting

November 8, 2016, 10:00AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Installation of SPERT-II reactor vessel.  From IDO-16050, published 1959, in Will Davis library.

Installation of SPERT-II reactor vessel at National Reactor Testing Station, now Idaho National Laboratory. From IDO-16050, published 1959, in Will Davis library.

The history and lore surrounding the dozens of reactors constructed and operated at the Idaho National Laboratory could fill a book - and has filled at least one whole book and parts of many others.  Today, at the American Nuclear Society's 2016 Winter Meeting a unique presentation was given in the early afternoon by Harold McFarlane, who retired after 44 years working with Argonne National Laboratory (which operated a number of the reactors built in Idaho.)

Advancing Nuclear: Paths to the Future

November 8, 2016, 2:41AMANS Nuclear Cafe

"How do we move nuclear energy into the future?" was the question asked and answered in a variety of ways during a fascinating speakers' session that followed this morning's opening plenary.  Several expert speakers in a variety of fields provided frank and illuminating commentary on the condition of nuclear now, and on the things that have to change for nuclear energy to be vibrant in the decades to come.

Realistic look at Small Modular Reactors in Idaho

November 5, 2013, 4:57PMANS Nuclear CafeRod Adams

From October 30 through November 1, 2013, a group of about 150 people with questioning attitudes about small, modular reactors (SMRs) met in Idaho Falls, Idaho.  They were treated to a number of presentations that described the technical progress that has been made so far and also provided a realistic, sobering look at the long, challenging development path that must be traversed to allow the technology to begin contributing to the world's energy security.