DOE touts a MARVEL of a microreactor project

April 15, 2021, 7:00AMNuclear News
An image from a video released by INL shows MARVEL, to be installed in a concrete pit within the TREAT reactor building. Source: INL

The Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy is spreading the word about plans to build a tiny microreactor called the Microreactor Applications Research Validation & EvaLuation (MARVEL) project inside Idaho National Laboratory’s Transient Reactor Test (TREAT) Facility and have it in operation within the next three years. INL recently released a video that describes how MARVEL could help researchers and industry partners test, develop, and demonstrate the integration of a microreactor’s heat and electricity output with other technologies.

Road to advanced nuclear: How DOE and industry collaborations are paving the way for advanced nuclear reactors

April 2, 2021, 8:58AMNuclear NewsCory Hatch

As electric utilities rush to reduce carbon emissions by investing in intermittent renewables such as wind and solar, they often rely heavily on fossil fuels to provide steady baseload power.

More than 60 percent of the nation’s electricity is still generated with fossil fuels, especially coal-fired and gas-fired power plants that have the ability to quickly ramp up or ramp down power to follow loads on the electric grid. Most experts agree that even with a radical advancement in energy storage technology, relying exclusively on wind and solar to replace fossil fuels won’t be enough to maintain a stable electric grid and avoid the major impacts of climate change.

To complete the transition to a carbon-free energy future, one key piece of the puzzle remains: nuclear power.

GAIN vouchers connect three companies with national lab experts

March 26, 2021, 12:15PMNuclear News

The Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) announced that three nuclear technology companies—Radiant, Oklo, and Lightbridge—will receive GAIN nuclear energy vouchers to accelerate the innovation and application of advanced nuclear technologies. The second set of Fiscal Year 2021 awards was announced March 25.

DOE steps up plutonium production for future space exploration

February 23, 2021, 12:02PMNuclear News

This high-resolution still image is from a video taken by several cameras as NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down on Mars on February 18. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Perseverance rover, which successfully landed on Mars on February 18, is powered in part by the first plutonium produced at Department of Energy laboratories in more than 30 years. The radioactive decay of Pu-238 provides heat to radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) like the one onboard Perseverance and would also be used by the Dynamic Radioisotope Power System, currently under development, which is expected to provide three times the power of RTGs.

Idaho National Laboratory is scaling up the production of Pu-238 to help meet NASA’s production goal of 1.5 kg per year by 2026, the DOE announced on February 17.

ANS Fellows elected to National Academy of Engineering

February 23, 2021, 9:31AMANS News

Magwood

Peters

ANS Fellows William D. Magwood IV and Mark T. Peters have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).

Magwood, an ANS member since 1983, is the secretary general for the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. He was elected for “leadership and contributions to research programs that drive innovation in global nuclear energy enterprises.”

Peters, an ANS member since 2007 and the executive vice president for Laboratory Operations at Battelle, was elected “for leadership and contributions in advancing U.S. nuclear energy capabilities and infrastructure.”

NASA’s radioisotope-powered science will persevere on Mars

February 19, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News

Members of the Perseverance rover team in Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory react after receiving confirmation of a successful landing. Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA mission control and space science fans around the world celebrated the safe landing of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on February 18 after a journey of 203 days and 293 million miles. Landing on Mars is difficult—only about 50 percent of all previous Mars landing attempts have succeeded—and a successful landing for Perseverance, the fifth rover that NASA has sent to Mars, was not assured. Confirmation of the successful touchdown was announced at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., at 3:55 p.m. EST.

“This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration globally—when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks,” said acting NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk. “The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation’s spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, inspiring, and advancing science and exploration. The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.”

Only radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG) can provide the long-lasting, compact power source that Perseverance needs to carry out its long-term exploratory mission. Perseverance carries an RTG powered by the radioactive decay of plutonium-238 that was supplied by the Department of Energy. ANS president Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar and CEO and executive director Craig Piercy congratulated NASA after the successful landing, acknowledging the critical contributions of the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

INL seeks efficiency boost for radioisotope-powered spacecraft

February 16, 2021, 12:20PMNuclear News

The RTG used to power the Mars Perseverance rover is shown here being placed in a thermal vacuum chamber for testing in a simulated near-space environment. Source: INL

The Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory is celebrating the scheduled landing of the Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars in just two days’ time with a live Q&A today, February 16, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST).

INL and Battelle Energy Alliance, its management and operating contractor, are already looking ahead to the next generation of plutonium-powered spacecraft: the Dynamic Radioisotope Power System (Dynamic RPS). INL announced on February 15 that it is partnering with NASA and the DOE to seek industry engagement to further the design of this new power system.

DOE extends comment period on VTR environmental review

February 16, 2021, 6:58AMNuclear News

The Department of Energy has extended the public review and comment period for the Draft Versatile Test Reactor Environmental Impact Statement (DOE/EIS-0542) through March 2, 2021.

The DOE issued the draft EIS for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) for comment on December 21, 2020. The draft document identifies Idaho National Laboratory as the DOE’s preferred location for the VTR, a proposed sodium-cooled fast-neutron-spectrum test reactor that, according to the DOE, will enhance and accelerate research, development, and demonstration of innovative nuclear energy technologies.

In August 2020, Battelle Energy Alliance, which operates INL for the DOE, began contract negotiations with a Bechtel National–led team that includes TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to support the design and construction of the VTR.

INL’s MARVEL could demonstrate remote operation on a micro scale

January 13, 2021, 12:01PMNuclear News

The Department of Energy launched a 14-day public review and comment period on January 11 on a draft environmental assessment for a proposal to construct the Microreactor Applications Research Validation & EvaLuation (MARVEL) project microreactor inside Idaho National Laboratory’s Transient Reactor Test (TREAT) Facility.

The basics: The MARVEL design is a sodium-potassium–cooled thermal microreactor fueled by uranium zirconium hydride fuel pins using high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU). It would be a 100-kWt reactor capable of generating about 20 kWe using Stirling engines over a core life of about two years.

The DOE proposes to install the MARVEL microreactor in a concrete storage pit in the north high bay of the TREAT reactor building. Modifications to the building to accommodate MARVEL are anticipated to take five to seven months. Constructing, assembling, and performing preoperational testing are expected to take another two to three months prior to fuel loading.

Reclassification of HLW could reduce risks while saving billions, DOE says

January 8, 2021, 7:02AMRadwaste Solutions

An engineered stainless steel container designed to hold LLW at Hanford. Photo: Bechtel National, Inc.

A Department of Energy report to the U.S. Congress shows that the reclassification of high-level radioactive waste could save more than $200 billion in treatment and disposal costs while allowing DOE sites to be cleaned up sooner—all still without jeopardizing public health and safety.

The report, Evaluation of Potential Opportunities to Classify Certain Defense Nuclear Waste from Reprocessing as Other than High-Level Radioactive Waste, identifies potential opportunities for the DOE to reduce risk to public and environment while completing its cleanup mission more efficiently and effectively. Those opportunities are based on the DOE’s 2019 interpretation of the statutory term HLW, which classifies waste based on its radiological characteristics rather than its origin.

Under the DOE’s interpretation of HLW, waste from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel may be determined to be non-HLW if the waste (1) does not exceed concentration limits for Class C low-level radioactive waste as set out in federal regulations and meets the performance objectives of a disposal facility; or (2) does not require disposal in a deep geologic repository and meets the performance objectives of a disposal facility as demonstrated through a performance assessment conducted in accordance with applicable requirements.

DOE issues Versatile Test Reactor draft EIS, confirms INL as its “preferred alternative”

December 21, 2020, 2:37PMNuclear News

The Department of Energy has begun the environmental review of its proposed Versatile Test Reactor (VTR), releasing a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for public review and comment on December 21. The sodium-cooled, fast-neutron-spectrum VTR is intended to enhance and accelerate U.S. research, development, and demonstration of innovative nuclear energy technologies.

The value of “fluffy” stuff

December 16, 2020, 9:23AMANS NewsMary Lou Dunzik-Gougar

Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar

You know the old saying that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach? Well, I say anyone thinking that way should be kept far away from students!

In my time at Argonne National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory, I worked with incredible scientists and engineers doing cutting-edge research. Unfortunately, making progress in research is not always conducive to the education and training of those who haven’t yet gained the necessary expertise. And there is an interesting phenomenon that occurs the more one gains in education and experience: We tend to forget what we were like before, what it was like not to know everything we do now. More than one of my PhD colleagues at the national labs dismissed the education and outreach efforts that I pursued in my spare time: scouts, K-12 classroom visits, teacher workshops, science expos, etc., viewing any focus other than the truly technical as just “fluffy” and a waste of valuable time and effort.

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.

DOE tags INL as “preferred alternative” to host the Versatile Test Reactor

November 19, 2020, 3:16PMNuclear News

Rendering of the proposed Versatile Test Reactor. Image: Idaho National Laboratory

The Department of Energy won’t publish its draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) until mid-December. In a November 19 announcement on Twitter, however, the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy said that the yet-to-be-released EIS lists Idaho National Laboratory as the preferred alternative to site the VTR.

The DOE plans to submit the draft EIS for public comments early next month. The DOE won’t make a final decision on the design, technology selection, and location for the VTR until the completion of the EIS and record of decision in late 2021.

Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island likely hydrogen demo site

November 11, 2020, 9:33AMNuclear News

Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island plant. Photo: Xcel Energy

Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island is the probable location for the nation’s first demonstration of high-temperature steam electrolysis at a nuclear power plant. Idaho National Laboratory, which plays a key role in a hydrogen demonstration project launched last year with Xcel Energy, Energy Harbor, and Arizona Public Service (APS), announced on November 9 that Prairie Island, which houses two 550-MWe pressurized water reactors, would likely be chosen over the one-unit boiling water reactor plant at Monticello.

Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy will work with INL to demonstrate a system that uses the plant’s steam and electricity to split water. The resulting hydrogen will be used at the power plant, but excess hydrogen could be sold to other industries. Hydrogen has applications in transportation and in industrial sectors, including steel and ammonia production.

More than $10 million in federal funding for the Xcel Energy demo was announced by the Department of Energy on October 8. It is just one phase of a project that showcases collaboration between the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy and Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Commercial hydrogen production via low-temperature electrolysis is being demonstrated at Energy Harbor’s Davis-Besse plant. APS, which operates the Palo Verde generating station, will build on the Xcel Energy demo to develop an initial design and feasibility assessment for plant modifications to integrate a reversible hydrogen electrolysis system with the plant’s secondary system and will include hydrogen storage infrastructure.

John Wagner named INL director

November 6, 2020, 9:35AMNuclear News

Wagner

John C. Wagner, ANS Fellow and member since 1991, has been named as the next director of Idaho National Laboratory, Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA) announced on Thursday. BEA manages and operates the laboratory for the Department of Energy.

Wagner will begin his new role on Dec. 11. He has been at INL since 2016 and has been an associate laboratory director for Nuclear Science and Technology since 2017.

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

November 2, 2020, 12:04PMNuclear News

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.

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

October 20, 2020, 9:29AMNuclear News

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.

ANS celebrates Nuclear Science Week with social media campaign, new RIPB webpage

October 19, 2020, 12:48PMANS News

The nuclear industry has embraced the risk-informed and performance-based (RIPB) decision-making process over the past two decades. Still, it remains a complex concept to explain in lay terms.

With that in mind, the American Nuclear Society will be kicking off an RIPB awareness social media campaign as part of Nuclear Science Week 2020, which begins today and runs through Friday. The campaign will link decision making to everyday events in a person's life and feature a series of images and seemingly easy questions requiring a choice to be made. For example, ANS asks, “Would you get rid of your car if the radio didn’t work?” or “Would you toss a lamp if the shade was dirty?”

ATRC Upgrade

October 16, 2020, 2:18PMNuclear NewsJoseph Campbell

Reactor operators Craig Winder (foreground) and Clint Weigel prepare to start up the ATRC Facility reactor at Idaho National Laboratory after a nearly two-year project to digitally upgrade many of the reactor’s key instrumentation and control systems. Photos: DOE/INL

At first glance, the Advanced Test Reactor Critical (ATRC) Facility has very little in common with a full-size 800- or 1,000-MW nuclear power reactor. The similarities are there, however, as are the lessons to be learned from efforts to modernize the instrumentation and control systems that make them valuable assets, far beyond what their designers had envisioned.

One of four research and test reactors at Idaho National Laboratory, the ATRC is a low-power critical facility that directly supports the operations of INL’s 250-MW Advanced Test Reactor (ATR). Located in the same building, the ATR and the ATRC share the canal used for storing fuel and experiment assemblies between operating cycles.