What are the key cost drivers for microreactors?

May 17, 2022, 9:30AMNuclear News

Microreactors upend the traditional economics of nuclear power plants by shifting the paradigm from economies of scale (large reactors) to economies of multiple (mass production). While shrinking power output per unit may increase costs per kilowatt compared to large plants, offsetting gains can be expected from simplified and standardized designs, factory fabrication, inherent safety, lower radionuclide inventories, fast installation, and low financing costs. For instance, the lower power density in a microreactor core leads to a greatly reduced decay heat source, simplifying emergency cooling needs. These design aspects can lead to innovations including substantial simplifications to safety and control needs, minimized human operational requirements, a very compact balance of plant, the ability to fabricate almost every component in a factory, shortened construction time, and less daunting financing.

Profile published on head of MARVEL project at Idaho National Laboratory

May 12, 2022, 7:03AMANS Nuclear Cafe
Idaho National Laboratory nuclear engineer Yasir Arafat (Photo: INL)

From refugee in Bangladesh to top nuclear engineer at Idaho National Laboratory, ANS member Yasir Arafat has led quite an interesting life, as described in a recent online profile written by Donna Kemp Spangler for the INL website. Arafat is leading the development of the Department of Energy’s Microreactor Applications Research Validation and EvaLuation (MARVEL) project at INL. The profile notes that MARVEL, which Arafat envisioned soon after joining INL in 2019, is scheduled to be “built and demonstrated at INL’s Transient Reactor Test Facility and connected to the world’s first nuclear microgrid within two years.”

YouTuber focuses on small modular reactors and microreactors

March 16, 2022, 7:02AMANS Nuclear Cafe

An article posted on the Interesting Engineering website on March 10 highlights a recent YouTube video that provides an overview of the advantages, current status, future possibilities, and practical challenges of small modular reactors, along with a look at the even smaller microreactors. The video is available on the “Undecided with Matt Ferrell” channel. Ferrell describes himself as “a UI/UX [user interface/user experience] designer by trade” and “a lifelong tech enthusiast.”

INL team assembles microreactor prototype

February 7, 2022, 3:04PMANS Nuclear Cafe
The MARVEL microreactor prototype in the INL machine shop. (Photo: DOE)

A full-scale, electrically heated prototype for the Department of Energy’s Microreactor Applications Research Validation and Evaluation (MARVEL) project was fabricated in just nine months, according to an article published by Idaho National Laboratory on January 31. The article explains in part how a team from the lab’s machine shop created the prototype.

How would you design a HALEU Consortium? The DOE wants to know

December 17, 2021, 7:00AMNuclear News
(Photo: DOE)

The Department of Energy asks no fewer than 21 multipart questions in its request for information on plans to set up a new program to ensure the availability of high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) in the United States, encompassing the who, what, when, where, and how of HALEU enrichment, deconversion, fabrication, and transportation. Interested parties were given just 30 days from the December 14 announcement to send their input to the DOE; the deadline is January 13.

Details: Written comments and information are requested on or before January 13. They can be submitted online at regulations.gov or by email to rfi-haleu@hq.doe.gov in a Microsoft Word or a PDF file. See the full request for information published in the Federal Register for additional information.

DOE awards $8.5 million to fund advanced nuclear projects

November 29, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News

In its latest financial nod of encouragement to the U.S. nuclear industry, the Department of Energy has announced awards totaling $8.5 million to five industry-led projects, with the aim of accelerating the commercial deployment of advanced reactors and fuels.

The awards are funded via the Office of Nuclear Energy’s U.S. Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development funding opportunity, which, since 2017, has invested more than $215 million in advanced nuclear technologies. Solicitations are broken down into three pathways: first-of-a-kind nuclear demonstration readiness projects, advanced reactor development projects, and direct regulatory assistance.

Oklo signs on as future customer for Centrus-produced HALEU

November 18, 2021, 12:00PMNuclear News
Artist’s conception of Oklo’s Aurora powerhouse. (Image: Gensler)

Oklo plans to fuel its demonstration microreactor with high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU). To secure a source of HALEU for its nth-of-a-kind microreactor, Oklo has signed a nonbinding letter of intent with Centrus Energy to cooperate on the deployment of a HALEU production facility.

Biden signs infrastructure bill into law

November 16, 2021, 9:30AMNuclear News

Surrounded by members of his cabinet, congressional leaders, and others, President Biden yesterday afternoon signed into law the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—representing a much-needed victory for the president, whose approval rating, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, sits at 41 percent.

Trillion-dollar infrastructure bill passes House

November 8, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News

After hours of squabbling between left-wing and centrist Democrats, the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill (H.R. 3684)—one of the two main pillars of President Biden’s domestic agenda—passed the House of Representatives late Friday night and has been sent to the White House for signing. The final tally was 228–206, with 13 Republicans joining most Democrats in casting their votes in favor of the legislation.

Senators probe nuclear priorities: HALEU, hydrogen, reactor siting, and more

November 5, 2021, 9:29AMNuclear News
From left, Shannon Bragg-Sitton, Paul Chodak, and Michael J. Guastella appear before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on November 4.

As Congress awaited key votes yesterday on spending bills that include production tax credits for at-risk plants and a new amendment adding $500 million in supplemental funding over five years to increase the availability of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a Full Committee Hearing On Potential Non-Electric Applications Of Civilian Nuclear Energy. Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.V.), chairman of the committee, emphasized that “advanced nuclear reactors hold enormous potential to provide opportunity to communities across the country with zero-emission baseload power” and made it clear he expects new reactors to replace retiring coal plants in his home state of West Virginia.

Speaking before the committee were Shannon Bragg-Sitton of Idaho National Laboratory, Paul Chodak III of American Electric Power, and Michael J. Guastella of the Council of Radionuclides and Radiopharmaceuticals.

Exelon to Congress: Pass infrastructure and Build Back Better bills

November 4, 2021, 7:00AMNuclear News


Exelon, owner and operator of the nation’s largest nuclear reactor fleet, has made clear its position on the massive infrastructure and social spending bills that federal lawmakers, at this writing, continue to haggle over.

“As world leaders convene in Glasgow for COP26 to address the climate crisis, the need for America to take action has never been more urgent,” said Chris Crane, Exelon’s president and chief executive officer, on Monday. “The bipartisan infrastructure agreement and the policy framework for Build Back Better legislation will make us more competitive globally, spur innovation and support good-paying jobs, protect current and future generations from the worst impacts of climate change, and cement America’s leadership on one of the most pressing challenges—and opportunities—of our time. The time to act is now, and we encourage lawmakers to pass these critical policies into law.”

Draft EIS released for Project Pele mobile microreactor demo at INL

September 17, 2021, 9:37AMNuclear News

Plans to test a prototype mobile microreactor designed to military requirements moved ahead when the Department of Defense (DOD), acting through its Strategic Capabilities Office and with the Department of Energy serving as a cooperating agency, on September 16 announced the availability of a draft environmental impact statement for the construction and demonstration phase of Project Pele.

University infrastructure bill calls for investments in advanced nuclear, workforce

August 4, 2021, 7:07AMNuclear News
A rendering of Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation’s micro modular reactor as proposed for construction on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. (Graphic: USNC)

A bipartisan group of legislators has introduced a bill to invest in university nuclear science and engineering infrastructure, establish regional consortia to promote collaboration with industry and national laboratories, and support the development of advanced reactor technology. The National Nuclear University Research Infrastructure Reinvestment Act of 2021 (H.R. 4819) was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Anthony Gonzalez (R., Ohio), Sean Casten (D., Ill.), Peter Meijer (R., Mich.), and Bill Foster (D., Ill).

NRIC wants to know: How could you use a hybrid nuclear energy system?

May 11, 2021, 12:02PMNuclear News
The demonstration program aims to accelerate innovation and deployment of energy concepts at the intersection of industry needs, NRIC’s mission, and the R&D portfolio of CTD IES. (Graphic: BEA)

The National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC) wants to hear from developers and end users interested in integrated energy systems for advanced reactors. Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA), the managing and operating contractor for Idaho National Laboratory, has issued a call for Expressions of Interest for a potential multi-phase demonstration program for innovative uses of nuclear energy, to be carried out by NRIC and the Crosscutting Technology Development Integrated Energy Systems (CTD IES) program. The final date for responses is May 21.

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.

Optimism reigns during final plenary of 2021 ANS Virtual Student Conference

April 14, 2021, 3:04PMANS News

The future of nuclear technology is bright and affords ample opportunities for today’s students to make an impact. That was the message given by the three plenary panelists on Saturday, April 10, during the final day of the 2021 ANS Virtual Student Conference. The three-day event was hosted by North Carolina State University and had nearly 500 registered attendees.

Registered attendees can view the entire session on demand.

A bright future ahead for nuclear engineering students

April 5, 2021, 3:00PMANS NewsMary Lou Dunzik-Gougar

Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar

Happy spring to you, my nuclear comrades. As I write this column (in early March), I’m glancing out the window at the 10 inches of snow still remaining in my backyard. By the time you read this, the snow may be gone, and spring flowers may be poking out of the earth. Every year, I look forward to gardening season, which is short but fun in Idaho.

Over the past year, unfortunately, many of the things we looked forward to didn’t happen. Hardest hit, of course, were the people who fell ill with COVID-­19 and those who lost jobs. But in the “disappointed” category, our students were especially vulnerable. Elementary school students, who most need face-­to-­face contact with their teachers, were isolated at home. Adolescents and teens had no dances, football games, or lunchtimes with their friends. High school and college seniors couldn’t celebrate graduation. University freshmen, who already cope with significant change and stress, added to their agendas the threat of a global pandemic and the complication of distance learning.

DOD narrows field of Project Pele microreactor contenders

March 25, 2021, 9:29AMNuclear News

After funding one year of microreactor engineering design work by three teams, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced on March 22 that it has exercised contract options for two of those teams—led by BWXT Advanced Technologies and X-energy—to proceed with development of a final design for a transportable microreactor. Following a final design review in early 2022 and the completion of environmental analysis, one of the two companies may be selected to build a prototype reactor during a 24-­month construction and demonstration phase.

“We are thrilled with the progress our industrial partners have made on their designs,” said Jeff Waksman, Project Pele program manager. “We are confident that by early 2022 we will have two engineering designs matured to a sufficient state that we will be able to determine suitability for possible construction and testing.”

House GOP energy agenda features nuclear-related legislation

March 18, 2021, 9:29AMNuclear News

In response to House Democrats’ introduction on March 2 of a massive energy bill, the CLEAN Future Act, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have unveiled their own, more modest energy agenda—a package of existing legislation that they say would “secure America’s energy future and global competitive edge against China.”

McMorris Rodgers

According to a March 15 press release from the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.), along with Reps. Fred Upton (R., Mich.) and David McKinley (R., W.Va.), the GOP plan will address climate change risks and spur the development and deployment of clean energy infrastructure without the “pie-in-the-sky” mandates, regulations, and federal government spending advocated by the Democrats.

What they’re saying: “This package will modernize and improve our energy infrastructure and promote an all-of-the-above energy strategy across the board, including solutions to unleash innovation in hydropower, nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas,” the Republican lawmakers state. “These are real, workable solutions to make energy cleaner, reduce emissions, prioritize energy security, and keep energy costs low.”