CNL and Kairos Power reach agreement on tritium research

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) on September 3 announced a research collaboration agreement with Kairos Power. Funded through CNL’s Canadian Nuclear Research Initiative (CNRI), the agreement includes research and engineering for technologies to separate, analyze, and store the tritium that would be created during the operation of Kairos Power’s proposed fluoride-salt–cooled small modular reactor.

DOE grants $29 million for fusion energy R&D

The Department of Energy announced on September 2 that it has issued $29 million in funding for 14 projects as part of its Galvanizing Advances in Market-aligned fusion for an Overabundance of Watts (GAMOW) program, which is jointly sponsored by the department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) and the Office of Science–Fusion Energy Sciences (SC-FES).

According to the DOE, GAMOW teams will work to close multiple fusion-specific technological gaps that will be needed to connect a net-energy-gain “fusion core,” once it is ready, to a deployable, commercially attractive fusion system.

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.

Federal dollars support AI/machine learning for fusion research

The Department of Energy on August 19 announced several awards to research teams applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to fusion energy. The planned total funding of $21 million is targeted at projects with time frames of up to three years; $8 million in fiscal year 2020 funding has already been committed to the work. Delivery of the balance-of-project funding will depend on future congressional appropriations.

“These awards will enable fusion researchers to take advantage of recent rapid advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning,” said Chris Fall, director of the DOE’s Office of Science. “AI and ML will help us to accelerate progress in fusion and keep American scientists at the forefront of fusion research.”

LLNL expands release of energy flowcharts

This flowchart is housed in a library of Sankey diagrams at and is also available as a PDF. Source: Department of Energy/LLNL, based on EIA data

Every year, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory releases flowcharts illustrating U.S. energy consumption and use. The flowcharts, called Sankey diagrams, allow scientists, analysts, and other decision makers to compare the contributions made by various energy sources, including nuclear power, and the end uses of those sources, including residential, industrial, commercial, and transportation markets. Taken as a series of annual snapshots, energy use trends and opportunities quickly become apparent.

This year, in addition to releasing the 2019 energy flowchart, the lab issued state-by-state energy flowcharts for 2015–2018 and carbon emissions charts for 2014–2017. It is currently at work on charts of international energy use that it hopes to release by the end of the year.

Feature Article

Two decades of DOE investment lays the foundation for TRISO-fueled reactors

Fuel compact cross section showing dozens of individual TRISO particles.

Tristructural isotropic (TRISO) coated particle fuel is a robust, microencapsulated fuel form developed originally for use in high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs). The particles consist of a spherical fissile kernel surrounded by several layers of pyrocarbon and a silicon carbide (SiC) layer. The particles are formed into cylindrical or spherical fuel forms using a resinated graphite matrix material for insertion into an HTGR. The kernel and coating layers together act to retain fission products within the particle during normal reactor operation and during postulated accidents; TRISO particles can maintain structural integrity at extremely high temperatures, reaching as high as approximately 1,600 °C in limiting HTGR accidents. This limits the fission product activity circulating in the helium coolant and the activity released to the environment during accidents. Acceptable performance of TRISO particles is therefore essential for reactor safety.

Four universities team up to design molten salt research reactor

Undergraduate students work on the molten salt test loop at Abilene Christian University’s NEXT Lab. Photo: Jeremy Enlow/Steel Shutter Photography

Abilene Christian University (ACU) is leading a consortium called NEXTRA—the Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing Research Alliance—with the Georgia Institute of Technology, Texas A&M University, and the University of Texas at Austin. NEXTRA was formed in spring 2019 to design, license, and commission a molten salt–fueled research reactor to be hosted on ACU’s campus in the central Texas city of Abilene. ACU and its partners recently announced funding of $30.5 million over the next three years from Abilene-based Natura Resources.

Nuclear is up to the challenge of energy storage

The Department of Energy is asking for input on an Energy Storage Grand Challenge (ESGC) Draft Roadmap and Request for Information (RFI) and recently extended the response deadline to August 31. While there is no “N” for nuclear in “ESGC,” nuclear is definitely part of the DOE’s plan for future energy storage technologies and integrated energy systems designed to improve the efficiency and reliability of U.S. energy markets. In fact, the House Energy and Water Appropriations Committee has called for $4 million in the Office of Nuclear Energy’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget to support energy storage.

Conca: What would Biden-Harris administration do for nuclear energy?

With the Democratic Convention now under way, it is good to remember that all the leading climate scientists say that we cannot address climate change without significant nuclear power, Jim Conca noted in his opinion column on the Forbes blog site. Supporting nuclear power - or not - is a clear signal about how serious a candidate is about climate change and supporting science over mere activism, Conca said.

NASA work on lattice confinement fusion grabs attention

An article recently published on the IEEE Energywise blog heralds “Spacecraft of the Future,” which could be powered by lattice confinement fusion. While lattice confinement fusion is not a new concept and is definitely not ready for practical applications, it has been detected within metal samples by NASA researchers at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, using an electron accelerator–driven experimental process.

CASL completes 10-year mission

The Department of Energy established the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors (CASL) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2010 as a national collaboration of government, academia, and industry to help the nuclear industry extend the life of the current reactor fleet and develop more efficient next-generation reactors. On August 13, ORNL issued a news release and video to celebrate the achievements of CASL, which concluded its mission in June.

New model stretches the limits of fusion torus control

PPPL physicists Raffi Nazikian (left) and Qiming Hu, with a figure from their research. Photo: PPPL/Elle Starkman

Stars contain their plasma with the force of gravity, but here on earth, plasma in fusion tokamaks must be magnetically confined. That confinement is tenuous, because tokamaks are subject to edge localized modes (ELM)—intense bursts of heat and particles that must be controlled to prevent instabilities and damage to the fusion reactor.

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and at General Atomics (GA) recently published a paper in Physical Review Letters explaining this tokamak restriction and a potential path to overcome it. They have developed a new model for ELM suppression in the DIII-D National Fusion Facility, which is operated by GA for the DOE. PPPL physicists Qiming Hu and Raffi Nazikian are the lead authors of the paper, which was announced on August 10 by PPPL.

Two cross-lab teams get funding for computing innovations

On August 4, the Department of Energy announced it will provide $57.5 million over five years to establish two multidisciplinary teams to take advantage of DOE supercomputing facilities at Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The goal is to spur advances in the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Funds of $11.5 million have been made available for Fiscal Year 2020, with future funding contingent on congressional appropriations.

ARPA-E Energy Briefs highlight innovations and programs

The Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is at work developing and demonstrating novel energy technologies and connecting those technologies with private-sector investors. The researchers and innovators behind ARPA-E want to tell you all about it in a series of “Energy Briefs” available through the agency’s YouTube channel.

TerraPower looks to turn DOE’s waste uranium into actinium-225

This vial contains traces of actinium within a mixture of thorium and uranium. Photo: Isotek

An article recently published in Chemical & Engineering News describes TerraPower’s efforts to extract actinium-225, a radioisotope with therapeutic potential, from highly radioactive uranium-233 owned by the Department of Energy and slated for disposal. While others are working to ramp up production of Ac-225 by using a linear accelerator or cyclotron, TerraPower hopes to harvest between 200,000 and 600,000 doses a year from U-233 to increase the global supply.

Metal frameworks could capture krypton-85 during reprocessing

Separation of Kr-85 from spent nuclear fuel by a highly selective metal organic framework. Image: Mike Gipple/National Energy Technology Laboratory

According to a story published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on July 24, the capture of gaseous fission products such as krypton-85 during the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel could be aided by the adsorption of gasses into an advanced type of soft crystalline material, metal organic frameworks(MOF), which feature high porosity and large internal surface areas that can trap an array of organic and inorganic compounds.

NNSA funding opportunity looks to boost U.S. production of Mo-99 by 2023

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration on July 30 issued a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to foster commercial-scale domestic production of the medical isotope molybdenum-99 without the use of high-enriched uranium. Mo-99 is used in more than 40,000 medical procedures in the United States every day.

Through the FOA (DE-FOA-0002303), the NNSA is soliciting applications from U.S. companies to help achieve commercial-scale Mo-99 production by December 31, 2023. Companies have until September 30 this year to respond to the FOA with proposals.

Nuclear-powered Perseverance begins seven-month journey to Mars

An Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on board launches on July 30. Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky

The launch of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover went ahead as scheduled on July 30, lifting off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 7:50 a.m. (EDT) . The rover was onboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket.

Minutes later, NASA reported that all flight milestones were being met as planned. There are several more milestones to reach before Perseverance—the fifth rover that NASA has sent to Mars—lands on the Red Planet in seven months.

Assembly of ITER begins in Southern France

Those attending the livestreamed July 28 celebration in person (shown here from above) followed recommended social distancing measures.

First-of-a-kind components have been arriving in recent months at the ITER construction site in Cadarache, France, from some of the 35 ITER member countries around the world. The arrival on July 21 of the first sector of the ITER vacuum vessel from South Korea marks the beginning of a four-and-a-half year machine assembly process for the world’s largest tokamak, a magnetic fusion device designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as an energy source.