Technology Selected for DOE’s Versatile Test Reactor Program

Battelle Energy Alliance—the management and operating contractor for the Idaho National Laboratory (INL)—selected GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s (GEH’s) PRISM technology to support the U.S. Department of Energy’s Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) program.

The VTR program is expected to accelerate the development of fuels and materials for U.S. advanced reactors, utilizing fast neutron spectrum technology. Rather than producing electricity, the VTR will conduct irradiation testing for fuels, materials, and equipment to be used in rapidly evolving designs for advanced reactors brought forward by U.S. companies, as well as public and private research institutions.

In October, the INL awarded nearly $3.9 million in funding through the VTR program for 13 university-led projects to develop instrumentation and tools needed to monitor and conduct experiments in the fast spectrum reactor.

The university-led projects selected for funding were:

University of Pittsburgh Disruptive Nuclear Technology: Resonance Sensors and Inductive Signal Transmission through Hermetic Walls $450,000
University of Wisconsin – Madison Miniature Scale Liquid Metal Oxygen Purification and Measurement System $350,000
University of Utah Development of Experiment Vehicle for Analyzing the Chemistry of Irradiated Molten Salt $450,400
Texas A&M University Development of Innovative Measurement Techniques for Fission Product Transport Quantification $250,000
Oregon State University In Situ Mechanical and Corrosion Testing $440,000
University of New Mexico Preparatory Out-of-pile Lead Loop Experiments to Support Design of Irradiation Test Loop in VTR $450,000
North Carolina State University VIM for VTR: Holistic Approach to Design and Construction $319,000
Texas A&M University Rabbit System Design and Demonstration $400,000
Abilene Christian University Investigation of Instrumentation, Data Analytics, and Simulation Synergies for the Versatile Test Reactor $150,000
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Advanced Data Acquisition and Simulation with Live Data Supporting VTR Experiments $150,000
University of Idaho Advanced Molten Salt Flow Sensor $100,000
Colorado School of Mines Big, Deep, and Smart Data to Support VTR Experiment Design and Validation $169,000
Georgia Tech IBD Power Monitor for the VTR Experimental Program $196,000

“The VTR is a vital and strategic project for the U.S. and its promising advanced reactor industry, and we applaud the administration and Congress for making this technology a priority,” Jay Wileman, president and CEO of GEH, said in a press release.

Bechtel, a global engineering, procurement, construction, and project management company, was also selected to participate in the research and development phase of the project. The GEH-Bechtel team will advance the conceptual design and produce cost estimates, allowing DOE decision-makers to determine whether to move forward with a sodium-cooled fast test reactor. If approved, that unit could be operational as early as 2026.

“Advanced reactors hold great promise but their fuels and materials need the proper testing before they can be licensed and used in energy-producing reactors,” said Peggy McCullough, a Bechtel senior vice president and general manager of Bechtel’s Nuclear, Security, and Operations business line. “The U.S. currently has no capability to test these components. That testing capability is what the [VTR] will provide. It’s extremely important for the science community, industry, regulators, and the future of nuclear energy research.”

Advanced—Generation IV—reactors are cooled by substances other than water, such as liquid sodium, molten salts, gas, or molten lead. They are inherently safer because they can cool without backup power and produce less radioactive waste.

GEH said its PRISM technology builds on proven principles of the EBR-II, an integral sodium-cooled fast reactor prototype that operated for more than 30 years at INL. According to the company, PRISM is the only sodium fast reactor to have successfully completed the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission preapplication review process.

“Our VTR project team combines GEH’s strength as a nuclear plant vendor, service provider and nuclear fuel fabricator with Bechtel’s strength in nuclear project management, engineering, procurement and construction. The mature PRISM technology is ideally suited to meet the VTR mission needs,” Wileman said.

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