BWXT provides update on microreactor progress

12 April 2022

BWXT subsidiary BWXT Advanced Technologies (BWXT AT) has finalised its formal cost-sharing contracting with the US Department of Energy (DOE) for its BANR (BWXT Advanced Nuclear Reactor) transportable microreactor and is on track to deliver the first round of the reactor's TRISO fuel for testing at Idaho National Laboratory's (INL) Advanced Test Reactor in 2024 as scheduled.

The design concept for the BANR (Image: ARDP/BWXT)

BANR is a 50 MW (thermal) high-temperature gas microreactor that uses a form of TRISO (TRIstructural-ISOtropic) fuel. The technology was one of five selected in December 2020 by the DOE to receive a share of USD30 million in initial funding for risk reduction projects under its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP).

BWXT said it is focusing on "aggressive" cost reductions for deploying the microreactor through performance improvements and lower delivery costs.

TRISO fuel particles consist of a uranium "kernel" surrounded by layers of carbon and silicon carbide, giving a containment for fission products which is stable up to very high temperatures, and are described by the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy as "the most robust nuclear fuel on Earth". Each particle is tiny - described by BWXT as similar in size to the tip of a ballpoint pen.

BWXT already produces irradiation-tested uranium oxycarbide TRISO fuel. However, unlike that fuel, BANR's fuel uses a uranium nitride kernel. The testing at INL will provide important operational data on the performance of the particles, BWXT said. When complete, the project will have matured technologies related to key reactor safety systems to improve the overall economics for deployment. The data will be critical for approval by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and transition to deployment, it added. BWXT AT is also partnered with Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the development of advanced modelling and simulation tools and manufacturing processes.

"We're making a lot of progress in this programme," said BWXT AT President Joe Miller. "Our collaboration with the national laboratories represents a longstanding commitment to delivering cutting-edge technologies that improve reactor performance and operation," he added.

BWX AT is one of two companies - the other being X-energy LLC - selected last year by the US Department of Defense to proceed to final engineering design under the second phase of its Project Pele prototype mobile microreactor initiative. A final design review is expected to take place in the early part of this year, after which one of the two companies may be selected to build and demonstrate a prototype.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News