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

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

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”

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.

President's Column

The value of “fluffy” stuff

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.

Feature Article

From the ground up: Building a workforce for advanced nuclear

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.

To continue reading, log in or create a free account!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?”

Feature Article

ATRC Upgrade

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.

To continue reading, log in or create a free account!

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.

“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.

Op-ed: UAMPS project needed for abundant, carbon-free energy

Hunter

An op-ed piece in the September 17 Salt Lake City Tribune touts nuclear energy as needed for a carbon-free future. The piece was written by Doug Hunter, chief executive officer and general manager of Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS).

ANS designates TFTR and FCF for landmark status

A look inside the TFTR plasma vessel. Photo: DOE

The Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR) at Princeton University and the Fuel Cycle Facility (FCF) (now known as the Fuel Conditioning Facility) at Idaho National Laboratory have been designated as ANS Nuclear Historic Landmarks. The official awarding of the honors will occur during the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting, which begins November 16.

The TFTR received the award for demonstrating significant fusion energy production and tritium technologies for future nuclear fusion power plants and for the first detailed exploration of magnetically confined deuterium-tritium (D-T) fusion plasmas.

INL’s FCF and its Experimental Breeder Reactor II (EBR-II) were honored for demonstrating on-site recycling of used nuclear fuel back into a nuclear reactor.

UAMPS clarifies next steps for planned NuScale SMR deployment

Full-scale mockup of the upper third of the NuScale Power Module. Photo: NuScale

With a design that has just emerged from a rigorous safety evaluation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and a customer—Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS)—getting ready to prepare a combined license (COL) application, what is next for Oregon-based NuScale Power and for near-term small modular reactor prospects in the United States? As milestones are reached, many want to know.

NuScale plans to supply twelve 60-MWe modules for a 720-MWe plant—called the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) by UAMPS—to be sited at Idaho National Laboratory. A smaller, 50-MWe module version of NuScale’s design recently became the first SMR to receive a final safety evaluation report (FSER) from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“The NRC design approval represents a significant de-risking factor for the CFPP,” said UAMPS spokesperson LaVarr Webb. The project is “making steady progress,” Webb said, adding that “UAMPS General Manager and CEO Doug Hunter has said it is much more important to do the project right than to do it fast.”

INL continues to fine-tune TREAT testing capabilities

Idaho National Laboratory’s Transient Reactor Test Facility, also known as TREAT, returned to service in 2017 after a hiatus of more than two decades. To make full use of TREAT’s capabilities, researchers at INL created the Minimal Activation Retrievable Capsule Holder (MARCH) test vehicle system, which, according to an August 26 Department of Energy press release, can cut years off the development process for nuclear fuels and materials and allow new clients, like NASA, to take advantage of TREAT’s capabilities.

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.