GEH and TerraPower team up for VTR development

22 January 2020

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and TerraPower are to collaborate on pursuing a public private partnership to design and construct the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) for the US Department of Energy (DOE). Utility Energy Northwest will support the joint GEH-TerraPower effort, with other parties said to be interested in joining.

DOE's vision of the VTR (Image: DOE)

Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA) - the managing and operating contractor for the DOE's Idaho National Laboratory (INL) - last November issued an Expression of Interest from industry stakeholders interested in forming a partnership for a cost-sharing arrangement to develop the VTR. GEH and TerraPower have now announced they recently submitted a joint response to the Expression of Interest. Energy Northwest - a consortium of 27 public utility districts and municipalities across Washington state and operator of the state's only operating nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generating Station - will support their effort. Additional companies and investors have expressed interest in being part of this effort and, if brought on board, will be named later, GEH and TerraPower said in a joint statement.

"To achieve nuclear energy's full potential, business and government must work together to invest in both testing new materials and demonstrating advanced technologies," said TerraPower CEO Chris Levesque.

The VTR will be used to provide a source of fast neutrons to support the development of advanced reactor technologies. Such facilities are currently available in only a few locations worldwide and the USA has not operated one in more than 20 years. The DOE was directed to develop the facility under the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, which became law in September 2018. The reactor is to be a smaller (about 300 MWt) version of the GE Hitachi PRISM power reactor, which builds on the EBR-II, an integral sodium-cooled fast reactor prototype that operated at Argonne National Laboratory from 1963 to 1994. VTR, like PRISM, would use metallic alloy fuels. GEH has been actively engaged in development of the VTR conceptual design, and TerraPower has supported the VTR programme by making enhancements to the reactor's design.

In conjunction with the completion of an environmental impact statement, launched in August 2019, the DOE said it will decide as early as 2021 whether to proceed with building the VTR. Congress must then decide whether to appropriate the necessary funding. Construction could begin as soon as 2022, with operations starting in 2026.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News