Nuclear-powered rockets could hold key to faster spaceships

An artist’s impression of what a nuclear thermal ship built to take humans to Mars could look like. Photo: NASA

There are a lot of reasons that a faster spaceship is a better one, and nuclear-powered rockets are a way to achieve this, according to an article posted on the Conversation website on May 20.

Nuclear Technology publishes latest research on U.S. transient testing capability

View of the top of the TREAT reactor.

The Transient Reactor Test (TREAT) Facility at Idaho National Laboratory was restarted in 2018 after being in safe standby mode since 1994. The June 2020 issue of the American Nuclear Society's Nuclear Technology (NT) journal features seven technical papers related to the benchmarking of the facility. Wade Marcum, a lead researcher on the project and guest editor of June’s NT issue, explained, “The goal of this effort was to understand, to the best of our ability, the expected response of the TREAT reactor upon its restart.”

Elettra designated an IAEA collaborating center

A collaborating center agreement was signed by Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste and the International Atomic Energy Agency in May. The agreement focuses on advanced light sources and will support countries in research, development, and capacity building in the application of advanced and innovative radiation technologies.

ARPA-E projects to receive $27 million in DOE grants

The Department of Energy is awarding $27 million in funding for nine projects through the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy’s (ARPA-E) Generating Electricity Managed by Intelligent Nuclear Assets (GEMINA) program. These projects will work to develop digital twin technology to reduce operations and maintenance (O&M) costs in the next generation of nuclear power plants in order to make them more economical, flexible, and efficient, according to the DOE.

Oak Ridge developing 3D-printed nuclear reactor core

3D-printed components for the prototype reactor. Photo: Britanny Cramer/ORNL/U.S. Department of Energy

A 3D-printed nuclear reactor core prototype being developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a step toward reaching the goal of creating an advanced, full-sized, 3D-printed reactor by 2023 at the lab.

IAEA COVID-19 project draws more than $28 million in funding

A health worker at the IAEA Seibersdorf Laboratories in Austria packs a COVID-19 support equipment package, which includes personal protective equipment, PCR machines, reagents, and laboratory consumables. Photo: D. Calma/IAEA

An initiative by the International Atomic Energy Agency to help nearly 120 countries contain the COVID-19 pandemic has received a financial boost from member states and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited.

The IAEA announced on May 13 that Takeda, a biopharmaceutical company based in Tokyo, donated 500 million yen (about US$4.7 million). Two days earlier, the IAEA announced that pledges from more than 10 member nations totaled €22 million (about US$23.8 million).

Department of Energy launches $230 million Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the launch of the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) within the Office of Nuclear Energy. ARDP is designed to help domestic private industry demonstrate advanced nuclear reactors in the U.S.

NRC expected to issue Mo-99 facility license for Shine in 2021

Shine Medical Technologies, which is building a medical isotope production facility in Janesville, Wis., said on May 11 that it expects to have an operating license issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by October 2021. Shine’s application seeking approval to operate the facility, which will produce isotopes including molybdenum-99, was accepted and docketed by the NRC last October. Mo-99, the precursor to technetium-99m, is used in more than 40 million medical patient procedures every year.

Alloy 617 is new option for high-temp reactors

When it comes to advanced, high-temperature reactors—using working fluids such as molten salt, high-temperature gases, or sodium—there simply are not many qualified materials for nuclear component construction. Alloy 617 is not a new material, but it made the news after Idaho National Laboratory announced that it was recently added to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Boiler and Pressure Vessel (BPV) Code for high-temperature nuclear applications, bringing the total number of qualified high-temperature materials to six.

IRE produces first batch of LEU-based Mo-99

Belgium’s National Institute of Radioelements (IRE) announced on April 30 that it has produced its first batch of commercial molybdenum-99 from low-enriched uranium (LEU) targets. The first batch of Mo-99, whose decay product, technetium-99m, is used in nuclear medicine for diagnostic imaging, was produced for the U.S. health market. IRE said that the conversion to LEU represents a key milestone for the institute in the global commitment to end the civilian use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) for the production of Mo-99.

South Korea completes first vacuum vessel section for ITER

ITER vacuum vessel section no. 6, shown here, was completely assembled in April. South Korea is providing four of the nine 40-degree vacuum vessel sections; Europe is providing the other five. Photo: ITER

South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) has completed work on the first vacuum vessel section for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), the ITER Organization reported on April 28. The 440-ton section is now being prepared for shipping this summer to the ITER construction site, located near Saint-Paul-lez-Durance, France.

BWXT makes progress on TRISO production restart

BWX Technologies has announced the successful formation and sintering of uranium oxycarbide (UCO) fuel kernels that, once coated, will make up the fissile core of TRISO (tristructural isotropic) fuel particles. With that process demonstrated, BWXT has shifted the focus of its TRISO production restart to bringing two more furnaces online—an additional sintering furnace, used to apply heat and pressure to a solid fuel kernel, and a coating furnace.

DOE offers $12 million for fusion QIS research

The Department of Energy will provide $12 million for research in quantum information science (QIS) for fusion energy and plasma science. The research is expected to focus on a range of topics, including the design of quantum computing algorithms to solve problems in fusion energy, the development of quantum sensing diagnostics for fusion experiments, and the formation of novel quantum materials using high-energy-density plasmas.

DOE explores cost-sharing program for fusion reactors

The Department of Energy’s Office of Science is inviting input on its plan to develop a cost-share program in fusion reactor technologies. A request for information was published in the Federal Register, inviting interested parties to comment on the topical areas, program objectives, eligibility requirements, program organization and structure, public and private roles and responsibilities, funding modalities, and assessment criteria of such an initiative.

DOE issues RFP for Savannah River contract

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) has issued a draft request for proposal for the stand-alone management and operations (M&O) contract for Savannah River National Laboratory, located at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C. The five-year contract, with possible award terms of up to five additional years, is anticipated to have a value of approximately $381 million a year.

Jacobs wins $25 million in ITER, UKAEA contracts

Jacobs has been awarded several contracts to support work on the ITER fusion project. Photo: ITER Organization

The global engineering company Jacobs announced on April 14 that it has been awarded several contracts with an estimated combined value of more than $25 million. The contracts are with the ITER Organization, Fusion for Energy, and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and are intended to support fusion energy projects in France and the United Kingdom.

ARPA-E awards $32 million for fusion energy research

The winners of $32 million in funding for 15 projects to develop timely, commercially viable fusion energy were announced by the Department of Energy in April. As part of the DOE Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy’s (ARPA-E) Breakthroughs Enabling THermonuclear-fusion Energy (BETHE) program, the projects will work to increase the number and performance levels of lower-cost fusion concepts.

Nuclear-derived techniques to tackle COVID-­19

The International Atomic Energy Agency plans to provide diagnostic kits, equipment, and training in nuclear-­derived detection techniques to countries asking for assistance in tackling the worldwide spread of the coronavirus that has caused the COVID-­19 pandemic. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi announced the plans on March 9 during his first formal address to the IAEA’s Board of Governors (see previous story).

“The IAEA is not a specialized health agency and has no role in controlling the disease,” Grossi said, “but we do have expertise and experience that help in detecting outbreaks of certain viral diseases and in diagnosing them.”

Microreactor work at ORNL fueled by BWXT

BWX Technologies announced on March 11 that its BWXT Nuclear Operations Group (BWXT NOG) subsidiary had been awarded a contract from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to manufacture TRISO nuclear fuel to support the continued development of the Transformational Challenge Reactor (TCR). Plans to restart a TRISO production line at the company’s Lynchburg, Va., manufacturing site will be finalized to allow for production to be completed by the fall of 2020.