DOE Picks More ARDP Winners; One or More Advanced Nuclear Demonstrations Will Be in Washington State

The Department of Energy (DOE) has chosen five assorted advanced nuclear reactor concepts under the second Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) risk reduction pathway. TerraPower and X-energy, which the DOE chose to support under the first ARDP pathway, are looking at siting their advanced nuclear demonstrations in Washington State, the DOE said. 

The ARDP program, which the DOE officially launched on May 14, will leverage $230 million in Congressionally appropriated Fiscal Year 2020 funding to enable actual construction of advanced nuclear reactors over the near-term and mid-term under three pathways. 

The risk reduction awards announced on Dec. 16 will distribute $30 million in already appropriated funding to the following projects (ranked in order of award value), which the DOE suggested could feasibly be licensed and deployed over the next 10 to 14 years. 

Hermes Reduced-Scale Test Reactor. California-based Kairos Power plans to design, build, and operate a reduced-scale test reactor to initiate development of the Kairos Power Fluoride Salt-Cooled High Temperature Reactor (KP-FHR). The technology uses Tri-structural ISOtropic particle fuel (TRISO) fuel in pebble form combined with a low-pressure fluoride salt coolant. Total award value over seven years is $629 million (DOE share is $303 million). 

Holtec SMR-160 Reactor. New Jersey–based Holtec Government Services will receive funding for early-stage design, engineering, and licensing activities to accelerate development of Holtec’s light water-cooled (LWR) small modular reactor (SMR) SMR-160. 

In a statement to POWER, Holtec’s President and CEO Dr. Kris Singh noted Holtec in 2017 commissioned a $250 million “SMR-focused” manufacturing plant in Camden, New Jersey. “Energized by this award, we will mobilize our formidable turnkey supply capabilities, which have given us a flawless record of program completion, to accelerate this program,” Singh said. Holtec, notably, earlier this year picked Framatome to supply standardized PWR fuel through its commercially available 17 x 17 GAIA fuel assembly. Total award value over seven years is $147.5 million (DOE share is $116 million).

Southern Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment. Southern Co. Services will lead a project to design, construct, and operate the Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment (MCRE), “which is intended to demonstrate the high burnup capabilities of Southern’s liquid salt-fueled Molten Salt Reactor,” the DOE said. In a statement to POWER, Southern said the project will be the “world’s first critical fast-spectrum salt reactor relevant to TerraPower’s Molten Chloride Fast Reactor” (MCFR).

Southern Co. is part of a public-private partnership with TerraPower, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, the Electric Power Research Institute, and Vanderbilt University to develop the MCFR. Conceptual designs expanded into testing activities in January 2016 when the DOE awarded, under its Advanced Reactor Competition (ARC), $68 million cost-sharing award for continued research and development into the MCFR project. The DOE noted in June that Southern and TerraPower are in the final stages of design work for an integrated effects test (IET) in support of a MCFR program. TerraPower said in December the IET is expected to be commissioned and begin operating in TerraPower’s Everett, Washington, facility in mid-2021. Total award value over seven years is $113 million (DOE share is $90.4 million).

BWXT Advanced Nuclear Reactor (BANR). Nuclear technology firm BWXT’s Advanced Technologies arm plans to develop a commercially viable transportable microreactor with a design focused on using TRISO fuel particles to achieve higher uranium loading and an improved core design using a silicon carbide (SiC) matrix. On Nov. 10, the company said its Nuclear Operations Group had completed its TRISO nuclear fuel line restart project, which means the company’s Lynchburg, Virginia, facility is now already actively producing fuel. Total award value over seven years is $106.6 million (DOE share is $85.3 million).

eVinci Microreactor. Pennsylvania–based Westinghouse Electric Co. will use the funding to advance design of its eVinci, a heat pipe–cooled microreactor and support a demonstration unit by 2024. The DOE said the project will serve to “reduce technical risks associated with the moderator canister design, improve the ability to manufacture heat pipe wicks, and develop an economically viable refueling process and licensing approach.”

The DOE in March 2019 said it would provide $12.9 million of the estimated $28.6 million Westinghouse needs for a project to prepare the micro-reactor for a demonstration, including for design, analysis, licensing to manufacture, siting, and testing. eVinci was one of three SMRs and the first micro-reactor whose first-of-a-kind development the DOE set out to support under the December 2017–issued “U.S. Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development” funding opportunity announcement. Total award value over seven years is $9.3 million (DOE share is $7.4 million).

How the Concepts Were Selected

It’s notable that all these advanced reactor concepts have been selected in the past for some type of federal funding. At least of two of these projects—Westinghouse’s and BWXT’s microreactors—are part of the Department of Defense’s design work on a mobile nuclear reactor prototype under an initiative it has dubbed “Project Pele.” 

Alice Caponiti, deputy assistant secretary for Reactor Fleet and Advanced Reactor Deployment in the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, told reporters on Dec. 16, that the DOE’s next step will involve “actually negotiating the awards themselves. So, at the application stage, [the developers] lay out the budget. We will be finalizing those awards with our contracting officer that formalizes the budget profile, and then we will be applying appropriation to support those profiles,” she said.

Caponiti also shed light on how the DOE picked these projects out of a competitive set of advanced nuclear designs. “As part of setting up this solicitation, we had interactions with industry. Early on, we had a request for information from industry to get useful information so that we can build a solicitation that would achieve the goals of the program. We prepare the solicitation and that solicitation includes a number of things. It includes the contents that we expect to receive from them, and it also very clearly lays out the merit review criteria— how their applications will be evaluated,” she said.

“And so they know in advance coming in what criteria we’re judging these applicants [by], as well as even the weighting of the criteria that would be used to develop an overall score. So that’s very transparent information to them. And then, of course, the the most, you know, highly evaluated proposals are selected for award,” she said.

According to Tim Beville, program director for Advanced Reactor Demonstrations at the Office of Nuclear Energy, the DOE’s program criteria is set out in Congressional language in the 2020 budget, and it requires the agency to support a “variety” of designs. “We were given not only an outline of the criteria to use … but also to set up an evaluation panel of external experts in the fields and areas like technology development,” he said. These included technical and financing experts with experience in nuclear projects, licensing officials,“people that understood manufacturing and construction of plants,” as well as experts knowledgable in integrated energy systems with an understanding of non-electric power uses, he said. 

Assessments included readiness for demonstration, engagement with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and engagement to be prepared for licensing. But the panel also  assessed the strengths of the technologies. “So, how do these technologies improve upon the capabilities that we already have in our existing fleet? What is the strength of their marketing plan? Do they have a team that demonstrate that engagement of a future customer? Where do they see their ability to commercially deploy these technologies?” Caponiti explained. 

Washington Emerges as Advanced Nuclear Hotspot

Now that selection of awardees under the second ARDP has been completed, the DOE is expected to reveal its picks for the third pathway,  which is described in H.R. 1865, Advanced Reactor Concepts – 20 (ARC-20). “The goal of the ARC-20 program is to assist the progression of advanced reactor designs in their earliest phases,” the DOE says. The agency expects to announce ARC-20 awards later this month.

Winners of the first pathway—which have only seven years to approach commercial operation—appear to be making some progress.

As announced in October, Bellevue, Washington–based TerraPower will demonstrate the Natrium reactor, a 345-MWe sodium-cooled fast reactor that it unveiled last month as part of a consortium that includes GE Hitachi (GEH) and Bechtel. The consortium says the reactor design blends the “best of” TerraPower’s Traveling Wave Reactor (TWR) and GEH’s PRISM technology, but is also a “cost-competitive” design that uniquely integrates molten salt energy storage. Rockville, Maryland–based X-energy, meanwhile, will use the funding to deliver a commercial four-unit power plant based on its Xe-100 reactor design, an 80-MWe/200-MWth pebble-bed high-temperature gas reactor (HTGR), which can be scaled as a four-pack to 320 MWe. X-energy, notably, will also leverage the award to deliver a commercial-scale fuel fabrication facility for its proprietary TRISO-X TRi-structural ISOtropic particle fuel (TRISO) fuel technology.

Beville told POWER X-Energy had identified a nuclear site near Energy Northwest’s Columbia nuclear plant as its preferred site. “They identified Energy Northwest as the owner-operator,” which may lock them in, he noted. “For the Natrium, in the application they provided, they were going to make a site selection within the first year—the first budget period—after they were selected. So they identified a Washington nuclear power site as their preferred site, I believe, but they also have an option to go to Idaho National Lab. I do know that they are working on a site-use permit through the DOE organization,” he said. 

Energy Northwest Confident in Viability of its Sites

Energy Northwest, a consortium of 27 public utility districts and municipalities across Washington, confirmed to POWER on Dec. 17 that both developers had listed sites near Columbia Generating Station as their preferred siting options. 

“While final siting decisions will be made in the future (following site evaluations and regulatory considerations), Energy Northwest is confident in the viability of our sites and believes one or both projects will be located near Columbia,” said Energy Northwest spokesperson Kelly Rae. 

However she added: “It should be noted that ultimately, the use of these sites for a nuclear project must come through Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval. The NRC guidance for locating a nuclear plant (Reg Guide 4.2) requires us to conduct an evaluation of possible site locations and provide a basis for choosing any specific site. The initiation of this evaluation process is expected to get underway shortly.” 

Rae said Energy Northwest is enthusiastic about the projects. One reason is that the public power company “would like to integrate an advanced reactor or SMR into its portfolio by 2030 to meet expected capacity and resource adequacy needs in the northwest,” she said. “While ARDP is a ‘demonstration’ program, the reactors built by X-energy and TerraPower would be used for commercial operation and would provide carbon-free electricity to the northwest electric grid,” she said 

Rae noted that in 2019, the company commissioned a study to look at cost-effective options to address the clean energy initiatives in the state. “This study found that the inclusion of advanced reactors (SMRs) would not only support the state clean energy goals but could provide significant cost savings to ratepayers compared with an over-reliance on wind and solar,” she said. 

TerraPower and X-energy chose the company’s sites for several seasons and factors, including that the company offered two sites previously licensed for commercial nuclear energy generation, Rae also said. Columbia—a 2017 POWER Top Plant—also has a skilled and experienced nuclear energy workforce and proximity to existing transmission transmission infrastructure. 

Meanwhile, the Northwest is “expecting considerable load growth in the future,” she said, and Washington State policies aren’t only driving decarbonization of the power sector, but they recognize nuclear energy as an acceptable, “non-emitting” resource. The region, however, is projecting “capacity shortfalls and resource adequacy challenges, which can be mitigated by development of new firm, dispatchable resources,” she said. Finally, the state has “strong community support for commercial nuclear energy,” she said. 

Sonal Patel is a POWER senior associate editor (@sonalcpatel@POWERmagazine).

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