Progress on Kairos Power’s Advanced Nuclear Reactor Demonstration Project

Leaders in Tennessee and officials from Kairos Power announced last week that a privately funded project to establish a low-power demonstration reactor at the East Tennessee Technology Park in Oak Ridge is moving forward.

Alameda, California-based Kairos Power plans to invest $100 million and create 55 jobs to deploy its demonstration reactor, called Hermes. The Hermes reactor is a scaled version of the company’s fluoride salt-cooled high-temperature reactor (KP-FHR) design.

The KP-FHR is said to be “a novel advanced reactor technology that leverages TRISO [TRi-structural ISOtropic particle] fuel in pebble form combined with a low-pressure fluoride salt coolant.” The technology uses an efficient and flexible steam cycle to convert heat from fission into electricity, the company says.

Rather than water, as used in conventional nuclear reactors, the Kairos Power reactor uses molten fluoride salt as a coolant. Molten fluoride salts are said to have excellent chemical stability, and great capacity for transferring heat at high temperature and retaining fission products. Various U.S. reactor studies have confirmed the compatibility of molten fluoride salts with conventional high-temperature structural materials (such as stainless steel), thus enabling commercially attractive reliability and service life, according to Kairos Power.

Kairos Power received $303 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and Office of Nuclear Energy’s program for Risk Reduction projects to support the design, licensing, and construction of the Hermes low-power demonstration reactor. Hermes is intended to lead to the development of the Kairos Power KP-X, a commercial-scale KP-FHR.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee was pleased that the project would be sited in his state. “Oak Ridge continues to lead the nation in groundbreaking technology, and we recognize Kairos Power for joining this effort. I’m proud of the energy development happening in Tennessee that will positively impact the U.S. and the world. We thank Kairos Power for choosing to develop their test reactor here in Tennessee to support their mission of developing innovative nuclear technology that will move the U.S. forward,” he said in a statement released to POWER.

Bob Rolfe, Commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development, was equally supportive of the project. “The Oak Ridge Corridor is at the forefront of science and technology in the U.S. and this partnership with Kairos Power is a huge accomplishment for Tennessee and the nuclear energy world. The combination of resources working to deliver innovative nuclear energy is fueled by our strong science and energy sector and the excellent work being done daily at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, led by Dr. Zacharia. I congratulate Kairos Power on this groundbreaking project,” he said in a statement.

In May, Kairos Power announced plans to collaborate with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) on the project. As part of that agreement, TVA is expected to provide engineering, operations, and licensing support to help Kairos Power deploy the Hermes reactor. TVA generates more than 40% of its electricity from nuclear power, and operates the third-largest nuclear fleet in the U.S.

“Teamwork is the hallmark of the nuclear industry, and through this partnership with Kairos Power we can share TVA’s safety and innovation insights to advance nuclear technology while gaining experience with licensing for advanced reactors,” TVA President and CEO Jeff Lyash said in a statement when the agreement was announced. “Nuclear power is the key to fueling our economy with reliable, affordable, and clean electricity, and it is critical to our national security.”

The Hermes reactor is scheduled to be operational in 2026. The project is expected to move Kairos Power’s iterative development process forward from prototype toward commercial scale by demonstrating complete nuclear systems, advancing Kairos Power’s manufacturing capabilities for critical components, testing the supply chain, and facilitating licensing certainty for the KP-FHR.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).

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