Contract talks under way for US test reactor

25 August 2020

Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA) has begun contract negotiations with a team led by Bechtel National Inc (BNI) and including TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) to support the design and build phase of the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR). The reactor will be a one-of-a-kind facility that would support research and development of innovative, clean nuclear energy technologies.

(Image: INL)

BEA, the contracted operator of the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Idaho National Laboratory (INL), selected the BNI-led team following the review of multiple submissions received in response to a Request for Proposals earlier this year.

"We received excellent proposals from industry, which is indicative of the support to build a fast-spectrum neutron testing facility in the United States," INL Director Mark Peters said. The design and construction expertise brought to the project by the BNI team is essential "since it has been several years since we built a test reactor in the United States," he added.

The VTR programme - to provide a reactor-based source of the fast neutrons needed to test advanced reactor technology, fuels and related materials - was established by the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy and authorised under the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, which was signed into law in 2018. INL subsequently selected GEH's PRISM sodium-cooled fast reactor design as a basis for the VTR.

"Advanced reactors hold great promise, but their fuels and materials need proper testing before they can be licensed and used in energy-producing reactors," Barbara Rusinko, president of Bechtel's Nuclear, Security & Environmental global business unit, said. The USA currently has no capability to test these components, and the VTR is "extremely important" for the science community, industry, regulators and the future of nuclear energy research, she added.

Teams from INL and the Argonne, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest and Savannah River National Laboratories as well as universities, and industry partners including BNI and GEH have been developing a conceptual design, cost estimate and schedule for VTR. DOE has previously said construction of the reactor could begin in 2022, with operations starting in 2026.

The INL-led team is also supporting the development of an Environmental Impact Statement that will be used to assist the DOE in making the final decision on the design, technology selection and location for VTR. That decision is expected in late 2021.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News