Nuclear News on the Newswire

Penn State wants a Westinghouse eVinci microreactor on campus

Penn State University has announced plans to explore siting a Westinghouse Electric Company eVinci microreactor on its State College campus in central Pennsylvania. Under a memorandum of understanding to perform research and development work that could advance the future commercial deployment of eVinci, a team of researchers in Penn State’s Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering also plans to explore how eVinci could displace some fossil-fueled energy sources on campus.

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Georgia Tech–led consortium focuses on emerging technologies and nonproliferation

The Department of Energy’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration funds three university–national laboratory consortia: the Consortium for Enabling Technologies and Innovation (ETI), led by the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta; the Consortium for Monitoring, Technology, and Verification (MTV), led by the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor; and the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium (NSSC), led by the University of California–Berkeley. All three consortia are involved in education and research related to nuclear security and nonproliferation.

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Defense agency invests in fusion- and radioisotope-powered space propulsion

The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), a Department of Defense organization focused on swiftly putting commercial technology to use in the U.S. military, has awarded contracts for two nuclear technologies—compact fusion and radioisotope heat—for spacecraft that could carry a high-power payload and freely maneuver in cislunar space. The objective is to accelerate ground and flight testing and launch a successful orbital prototype demonstration of each approach in 2027.

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DOE extends application deadline for nuclear credit program

The Department of Energy today announced an extension to its deadline for applications and sealed bid submissions under the $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit (CNC) Program, launched earlier this year.

According to the DOE, owners and operators of nuclear power reactors most at risk of premature retirement due to economic difficulties have 47 more days to submit applications for certification and sealed bids for credits. The deadline for the first CNC award cycle, originally set for tomorrow, is now 11:59 p.m. MDT on July 5.

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NNSA launches infrastructure initiative to adapt to climate change

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration is establishing an Energy Resilient Infrastructure and Climate Adaptation (ERICA) initiative, which will help position it to deal with climate issues. In a recent press release, the NNSA noted that ERICA will help it to meet the requirements of federal legislature and executive orders, along with the DOE’s climate adaptation, energy resilience, and sustainability goals in support of the agency’s national security missions.

The initiative was outlined in President Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget request for the DOE.

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DOE releases Final EIS for one-of-a-kind Versatile Test Reactor

The Versatile Test Reactor, a custom-designed sodium-cooled fast neutron spectrum test reactor, is one step closer to its goal of providing data to accelerate research, development, and demonstration of diverse advanced reactor designs. The Department of Energy released the Final Versatile Test Reactor Environmental Impact Statement (Final VTR EIS) on May 13, and 30 days after its anticipated May 20 publication in the Federal Register, the DOE will issue a Record of Decision on the project.

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What are the key cost drivers for microreactors?

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.

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MIT and Commonwealth Fusion Systems agree to five-year SPARC collaboration

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) recently announced it will expand its involvement in fusion energy research and education under a new five-year agreement with Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), a fusion energy company that got its start at MIT and is now building what it says will be the world’s first net-energy fusion machine—the demo-scale SPARC.

“CFS will build SPARC and develop a commercial fusion product, while MIT PSFC will focus on its core mission of cutting-edge research and education,” said PSFC director Dennis Whyte in describing the collaboration.

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U.S. nuclear capacity factors: A smaller fleet invested in the future

The United States has just 93 operating power reactors at this writing. The fleet last numbered 93 in 1985, when nuclear generation topped out at 383.69 TWh, less than half of the 778.2 TWh produced in 2021.

While the 93 reactors operating today have more capacity, on average, than in 1985, most of that increased productivity is down to operational improvements that pushed the fleet’s average capacity factor from just 57.5 percent in the three-year period 1984–1986 to near 90 percent by the early 2000s.

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