DOE project supports microreactor deployment

21 April 2021

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is planning to build a microreactor to help researchers and end-users understand how microreactors can integrate with other technologies. The Microreactor Applications Research Validation and EvaLuation (MARVEL) liquid-metal cooled microreactor could be operational within three years.

Two views of INL's concept for the MARVEL reactor, to be installed at TREAT (Image: INL)

Microreactors are very small, factory fabricated, transportable reactors which could provide power and heat for decentralised generation in civilian, industrial and defence energy sectors. The DOE Microreactor Program, led by Idaho National Laboratory (INL), is carrying out fundamental and applied R&D to reduce the risks associated with new technology performance and manufacturing readiness of microreactors.

The MARVEL design is primarily based on existing technology and will be built using off-the-shelf components allowing for faster construction, DOE has said. It will encompass a 100 kW thermal fission reactor, based on the SNAP-10A design which was developed in the 1960s as a 45 kWt thermal nuclear fission reactor for use in space missions. The sodium-cooled reactor, with natural circulation cooling, will have an operating temperature of 500-550°C and will be fuelled by high-assay low-enriched uranium from available research materials. It will use Stirling engines to transfer energy from the core to make electricity.

DOE said the reactor, which will be built inside the Transient Reactor Test facility (TREAT) at INL, could be installed in less than a year.

"By providing prompt, small-scale demonstrations, MARVEL will offer experimental capabilities that are not currently available at DOE's national laboratories," the department said. The test bed will help also help companies demonstrate their designs. Industry partners will be able to connect their microreactor end-user applications to the system to test and demonstrate technology readiness. MARVEL will also test and demonstrate the reactor system's capability to manage grid demand and reactor power supply, which could support a range of applications such as integrated renewable energy systems, water purification, hydrogen production, and heat for industrial processes.

The MARVEL test platform is a collaborative effort between the DOE Microreactor Program and the National Reactor Innovation Center. DOE in January opened to public comment a draft environmental assessment for its proposal to construct the reactor. The US Department of Defense is also working to develop a mobile microreactor through its Project Pele initiative.

INL has released a video describing the MARVEL project.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News