Wrapping up an eventful year for advanced nuclear, the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Nuclear Energy announced $20 million in awards for the third of three pathways under its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). 

The ARDP program, which the DOE officially launched on May 14, will leverage Congressionally appropriated funding to enable actual construction of advanced nuclear reactors over the near-term and mid-term under three pathways. Congress has appropriated $250 million for ARDP in Fiscal Year 2021; a total of $230 million was appropriated for Fiscal Year 2020 to initiate the program.

In October 2020, the DOE picked TerraPower and X-energy to each receive $80 million in initial federal funding to build their two distinct advanced nuclear reactors and begin operating them within seven years. As POWER has reported, both companies are looking at siting their advanced nuclear demonstrations in Washington state. 

On Dec. 16, the DOE chose five assorted advanced nuclear reactor concepts under the second ARDP risk reduction pathway. The DOE said it plans to distribute $30 million in already appropriated funding to the following recipients (ranked in order of award value), which the DOE suggested could feasibly be licensed and deployed over the next 10 to 14 years: Kairos Power; Holtec; Southern Co.; BWXT; and Westinghouse Electric Co.

The final ARDP awards, announced on Dec. 22, will be doled out to three recipients under the Advanced Reactor Concepts-20 (ARC-20) program. “The goal of the ARC-20 program is to assist the progression of advanced reactor designs in their earliest phases,” the DOE said. The ARC-20 awards will go to the following three recipients.

Virginia-based Advanced Reactor Concepts (ARC). ARC will receive the funding for a conceptual design of a seismically isolated advanced sodium-cooled reactor facility that builds upon the initial pre-conceptual design of a 100-MWe reactor facility.

The award is a boost for the American company, which is also notably making headway in Canada. New Brunswick Power selected the ARC-100 as one of two solutions it intends to implement on its Point Lepreau site. ARC has also completed phase one of the vendor design review with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and is preparing to start phase two, which will be followed by full licensing with completion of the first ARC-100 targeted by the late 2020s.

In November 2020, ARC signed a memorandum of understanding with New Brunswick Power and Moltex Energy “to create synergies by establishing a small modular reactor vendor cluster in New Brunswick. This initiative will allow ARC Canada to collaborate with the other parties in areas such as supply chain development, shared technology education, trades initiatives and common research and development,” it said

Total award value over three and a half years: $34.4 million (DOE share is $27.5 million).

California–based General Atomics. General Atomics is developing a 50-MWe fast modular reactor (FMR) conceptual design with verifications of key metrics in fuel, safety, and operational performance.

General Atomics, notably, teamed with Framatome in October to develop the helium-cooled FMR concept. The companies want to demonstrate it “as early as 2030” and make it commercially available by the mid-2030s. 

As General Atomics explained: “The passively safe gas-cooled FMR will use a non-hazardous helium coolant—a chemically inert gas that is nonexplosive, non-corrosive, and does not become activated. Because the reactor is dry-cooled and uses virtually no water to operate, it can be sited nearly anywhere.” 

The FMR’s power conversion is notable because it forgoes the use of complex steam generators and pressurizers, and the fuel will operate for approximately nine years before requiring replacement. “The direct helium Brayton cycle enables fast grid response, with up to a 20% per minute power ramping rate for load following, and high overall efficiency of 45% during normal operation. The automatic control of the reactor power and turbomachinery keep the reactor at a constant temperature that mitigates thermal cycle fatigue associated with most load-following reactors,” it said.

Total award value over three years: $31.1 million (DOE share is $24.8 million). 

Massachusetts-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT is working to “mature” its Modular Integrated Gas-Cooled High-Temperature Reactor (MIGHTR) concept from a pre-conceptual stage to a conceptual stage to support commercialization. POWER has requested more details and will update this story as they are received.

Total award value over three years: $4.9 million (DOE cost share is $3.9 million).

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