Research & Applications

Leading DRACO to launch: An interview with DARPA’s Tabitha Dodson

July 28, 2023, 2:59PMNuclear NewsSusan Gallier

Sometimes, even with decades of research and testing, a project never gets off the ground. That has been the case for U.S. nuclear thermal rockets—so far. Research began in the 1950s and peaked with a series of rigorous ground tests for NERVA—the Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Applications—before the program was canceled in 1973. Five decades on, this technology has yet to make it to the launchpad. But while mission priorities shift, the physics is solid: Fission-powered nuclear thermal rockets (NTRs) still offer two to five times greater efficiency than conventional rockets.

NASA partners with companies for moon and exploration technology

July 27, 2023, 7:02AMNuclear News
Concept art showing Project Harmonia’s RSG for lunar surface missions. (Image: Zeno Power)

NASA has selected 11 companies, including Zeno Power, to develop technologies that could support long-term exploration on the moon and in space. The technologies range from lunar surface power systems to tools for in-space 3D printing, which will expand industry capabilities for a sustained human presence on the moon through the Artemis program, as well as other NASA, government, and commercial missions.

BWXT to provide engine, fuel for DARPA space project

July 26, 2023, 3:01PMNuclear News
Image: Lockheed Martin

BWX Technologies announced today that it has been selected to supply the nuclear reactor and fuel for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program—the goal of which is to demonstrate a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) engine in orbit.

ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source reaches 1.7-MW power level

July 24, 2023, 3:03PMNuclear News
Upgrades to the particle accelerator enabling the record 1.7-MW beam operating power at the ORNL’s SNS included adding 28 high-power radio-frequency klystrons (red tubes) to provide higher power for the accelerator. (Photo: Genevieve Martin/ORNL)

The Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory set a world record when its particle accelerator beam operating power reached 1.7 MW, an improvement on the facility’s original design capability of 1.4 MW, ORNL announced on July 21. That higher power provides more neutrons for researchers who use the Office of Science user facility for materials science investigations.

DOE ramps up plutonium oxide production to fuel NASA’s deep space missions

July 20, 2023, 7:01AMNuclear News
ORNL has developed an automated metrology system to produce Pu-238 pellets. (Photo: ORNL)

The Department of Energy recently shipped half a kilogram of plutonium oxide pellets from Oak Ridge National Laboratory to Los Alamos National Laboratory, the agency announced July 18, marking the largest such shipment since the DOE restarted domestic plutonium-238 production over a decade ago.

University of Rochester aims for mass production of inertial fusion energy targets

July 18, 2023, 9:30AMNuclear News
A view through the 20-cm disk amplifiers of the OMEGA laser at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics. (Photo: University of Rochester/J. Adam Fenster)

Proponents of inertial fusion energy celebrated in December 2022, when researchers at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory achieved fusion ignition by subjecting a carefully crafted diamond cryogenic sphere containing frozen deuterium-tritium fuel to NIF’s laser energy. NIF has yet to repeat the feat, in part because that facility was not designed to produce fusion energy, and ignition requires near-perfect targets. For inertial fusion energy to serve as a reliable power source, it will require swift, reliable, and economic target production.

Commonwealth Fusion Systems and Tokamak Energy: DOE’s tokamak fusion pilot picks

July 14, 2023, 7:01AMNuclear News

Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) and Tokamak Energy Inc. are the two magnetic confinement tokamak fusion developers to receive a portion of the $46 million in funding announced by the Department of Energy in late May for the first 18 months of a public-private Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program aimed at developing fusion pilot plant designs and resolving related scientific and technological challenges within five to 10 years.

Princeton Stellarators and Type One Energy: DOE’s stellarator fusion pilot picks

July 3, 2023, 8:00AMNuclear News

Princeton Stellarators Inc. (PSI) and Type One Energy Group are two of the eight fusion developers selected by the Department of Energy in late May to receive a total of $46 million in funding to kick off a public-private Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program aimed at developing fusion pilot plant designs and resolving related scientific and technological challenges within five to 10 years. The DOE’s selections cover an array of plasma confinement concepts, including the magnetic confinement stellarators being developed by PSI and Type One more than 70 years after the stellarator was first envisioned.

Nuclear Newswire previously took a close look at two of the DOE’s picks: Realta Fusion and Zap Energy (“innovative concept”) and Focused Energy and Xcimer Energy (inertial fusion). Here, we’ll examine how PSI and Type One are engineering solutions to the fusion plasma confinement challenge. Both companies are benefiting from recent advances in computing power and high-temperature superconducting (HTS) magnets. It’s in plans for design, manufacturing, assembly, and control of their stellarators that they differ.

SHINE to open North America’s largest Lu-177 production facility

June 27, 2023, 3:00PMNuclear News
SHINE Technologies founder and CEO Greg Piefer shows the hot cell banks that will be used to produce Lu-177. (Image: SHINE)

Fusion tech company SHINE Technologies announced that it is opening the largest facility in North America dedicated to the production of non-carrier-added lutetium-177, a medical isotope used in targeted cancer therapies.

Serva Energy teams with research reactor to produce cancer-fighting Ac-225

June 27, 2023, 7:00AMNuclear News

Serva Energy has developed a research reactor–based method of actinium-225 production, the company announced on June 22, saying it “marks the first time a commercial entity has employed a conventional nuclear reactor to produce the lifesaving isotope—allowing for dozens of existing research reactors around the world to collaborate with Serva on increasing production of Actinium-225 without huge capital investments or delays for construction.”

Focused Energy and Xcimer Energy: DOE’s inertial fusion pilot picks

June 21, 2023, 12:00PMNuclear News

Focused Energy and Xcimer Energy are two of the eight fusion developers the Department of Energy selected in late May for funding under the public-private Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program, and the only developers using an inertial confinement concept. The Milestone program, announced in September 2022, was open to any fusion developer willing to undergo a competitive merit-review process, regardless of fusion confinement concept. But the prospects for inertial fusion concepts might have gotten a boost from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s December 2022 achievement of scientific breakeven at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), which was announced shortly before the application window for the Milestone program closed.

NN Asks: How can risk management be applied to advanced reactors?

June 20, 2023, 3:00PMNuclear NewsSola Talabi

Sola Talabi

Advanced reactor risk management creates awareness, assessment, and action on issues of uncertainty to ensure safe, cost-effective, and on-schedule deployment of advanced reactors. It requires people, processes, and tools to identify and assess risks both qualitatively and quantitatively.

For safety risk, this requires characterizing how advanced reactor features such as natural convective cooling may reduce or retire risks. It also includes identifying and assessing new risks that may be introduced by advanced reactor features. Retired and reduced safety risks include certain loss-of-coolant accidents because the pumps and piping systems associated with these accident scenarios are eliminated. New safety risks that may be introduced include resuspension of fission products due to the higher containment aspect ratios that some advanced reactors have. New transportation risks may arise in the case of irradiated microreactors after service. Hence, advanced reactor risk assessments should include a mechanistic assessment of the net effect of the retired and new risks to quantitatively characterize overall plant safety. This may be achieved with probabilistic risk assessment procedures and tools.

World Astatine Community expands access to cancer-fighting At-211

June 20, 2023, 12:00PMNuclear News
Representatives from the U.S., EU, and Japan announce the WAC at the 12th International Symposium for Targeted Alpha Therapy. (Photo: NIDC)

The World Astatine Community (WAC) was formed earlier this year during the 12th International Symposium for Targeted Alpha Therapy by representatives from the United States, Japan, and the European Union to share astatine production technology and advance science and health care. The National Isotope Development Center (NIDC), which is managed by the Department of Energy’s Isotope Program (DOE-IP), announced the news on June 15 and explained how the United States plans to help expand the global supply of astatine-211.

DOE awards $56 million for nuclear energy  R&D at universities and national labs

June 19, 2023, 3:02PMNuclear News

The Department of Energy announced more than $56 million for 68 nuclear energy projects and student innovation awards across the country on June 15. The projects will support nuclear technology development, early career faculty research activities, and student research at 35 U.S. universities and one national laboratory. Since 2009, the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE) has awarded more than $992 million to advance nuclear energy research and train the next generation of nuclear engineers and scientists.

Realta Fusion and Zap Energy: DOE’s "innovative concept" fusion pilot picks

June 9, 2023, 7:00AMNuclear News

Realta Fusion of Madison, Wis., and Zap Energy of Everett, Wash., are just two of the eight fusion developers selected by the Department of Energy for funding last week under the public-private Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program. They are the two companies with power plant concepts that don’t fit neatly into established fusion confinement categories. As energy secretary Jennifer Granholm said when she announced the awardees, “Some are working on more technically mature approaches like tokamaks and stellarators and laser inertial fusion, and others are working on innovative concepts with lower technical maturity like mirror and Z-pinch, which could lead to more compact and lower cost systems.”

Westinghouse, Astrobotic team up on lunar plans for eVinci microreactor

June 5, 2023, 12:01PMNuclear News
(Photo: Nielander/WikiCommons)

Westinghouse Electric Company says its eVinci microreactor technology is “100 percent factory built and assembled before it is shipped in a container to any location.” And “any location” is not restricted to planet Earth, given the company’s goal of sending a scaled-down version of eVinci to the lunar surface or on a mission to provide power in other space applications.

DOE picks eight fusion companies to design pilot power plants

June 2, 2023, 9:30AMNuclear News
Announcing the funding for commercial fusion energy development were Asmeret Asefaw Berhe (top left), director of the DOE-OS; Jennifer Granholm, secretary of energy (top right); and Arati Prabhakar (bottom), director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and science advisor to the president.

From a crowded field of would-be fusioneers, the Department of Energy has selected eight companies for the public-private Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program to develop fusion pilot plant designs and resolve related scientific and technological challenges within five to 10 years. The DOE announced awards totaling $46 million for an initial 18 months of work on May 31.