Application submitted for US molten salt research reactor

19 August 2022

Abilene Christian University (ACU) has applied to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a construction licence for a molten salt research reactor (MSRR), to be built on its campus in Abilene, Texas, as part of the Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing (NEXT) laboratory. ​ACU plans for the MSRR to achieve criticality by December 2025.

The Science and Engineering Research Centre at Abilene, which will house the MSRR (Image: ACU)

The planned reactor would be an up to 1 MWt, graphite-moderated, fluoride salt flowing fluid (fuel dissolved in the salt) research reactor. The MSRR will be used for on-campus nuclear research and training opportunities for faculty, staff and students in advanced nuclear technologies. The reactor will significantly expand the university's salt reactor research and development infrastructure, supporting US molten salt reactor design, development, deployment and market penetration.​​

In March 2020, ACU submitted to the NRC a Letter of Intent to apply for a construction permit for a non-power molten salt reactor. In July 2020, it submitted a Regulatory Engagement Plan related to this project.

ACU has now submitted its construction licence application - including a Preliminary Safety Analysis Report (PSAR) and an Environmental Review - to the NRC on 15 August.

According to ACU, the move represents the first application for a new US research reactor of any kind in more than 30 years, as well as the first-ever university application for an advanced research reactor.

The NRC will now conduct an acceptance review to determine if ACU's application is complete. It will then develop a review schedule and initiate a formal technical review of the project.

ACU said it currently expects to complete construction of the MSRR at the earliest six months after issuance of the construction permit and latest by 48 months after issuance of the construction permit.

The ACU-led NEXT Research Alliance (NEXTRA) - which also includes the Georgia Institute of Technology, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas-Austin - is working with a USD30.5 million research agreement sponsored by Natura Resources, with USD21.5 million going to ACU and the remaining USD9 million to the other consortium universities. The NEXTRA partnership was established to design, build and license the first-ever MSRR.

ACU recently contracted Teledyne Brown Engineering (TBE) to perform Front End Engineering Design services for the MSRR. TBE is the prime contractor to ACU, providing preliminary design services (developing designs, sizes, specification and estimated costs) for the reactor.

TBE said once it has completed preliminary design and engineering studies in the initial contract, follow-on work will include detailed design, reactor and systems manufacturing, site integration and installation.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News