Next Generation Nuclear Plant revived

24 July 2007

The USA's long-running program to build an advanced hydrogen-producing nuclear reactor system has sprung back into life with a request for expressions of interest.

The US Department of Energy has issued a "request for expressions of interest from prospective industry teams" that want to provide design services for developing the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP).

NGNP is envisaged as a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor system coupled to a neighbouring hydrogen production facitility. It could also produce electricity and supply process heat. It supports President George Bush's Advanced Energy Initiative, which seeks to enable nuclear energy to replace fossil fuels in the transport and petrochemicals industries.

The program has suffered in recent years from unfavourable budgeting and had been effectively sidelined by the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), which sees Advanced Recycling Reactors (cooled by sodium and fuelled by mixed oxides and actinides) as part of a closed nuclear fuel cycle.

However, in June the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives decided that GNEP was too far-sighted and ambitious and the DoE should complete the advanced reactor programs it has already started. Accordingly, it amended FY2007 funding to award GNEP $285 million less than requested and $233 million more to other nuclear programs - including NGNP.

Responses to the DoE's call must be submitted by 20 August and would be used to identify a 'pool of candidates' to provide future engineering and design services. The DoE said that the recent announcement builds on the $8 million-worth of pre-conceptual design contracts awarded to Areva, General Atomics and Westinghouse in 2006.

The three companies would be expected to contact the DoE. Westinghouse is part of a coalition of companies supporting the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) for the NGNP project. It is joined by South Africa's PBMR Pty and Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology (INET), China's Tsinghua University, the Shaw Group, Sargent and Lundy.

Meanwhile, General Atomics is putting forward its GT-MHR concept, an annular core high-temperature gas-cooled reactor it says is suitable for hydrogren production, while Areva has the similar Antares design.

Further information

US Department of Energy
Global Nuclear Energy Partnership

General Atomics

2008 budgets requested, 2007 budgets not yet approved