PRISM selected for US test reactor programme

15 November 2018

Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has selected GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy's (GEH) PRISM technology to support the US Department of Energy's Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) programme. The project is looking at what would be needed to establish a reactor-based fast-spectrum neutron irradiation capability for the USA by 2026.

GEH's PRISM (Image: GEH)

GEH has been subcontracted by INL and will work with Bechtel to advance the design and cost estimates for a VTR based on PRISM. A VTR is needed for the development of innovative nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation and sensors, and the project will help inform a DOE decision about whether to construct a sodium-cooled test reactor.

Working in an INL-led team, GEH engineers will adapt the company's sodium-cooled reactor design to meet the needs of a test reactor for research and development purposes, INL said.

Bechtel is to perform conceptual design of the non-nuclear facilities surrounding the test reactor. The work will be carried out under contract to Battelle Energy Alliance, INL's management and operating contractor.

The VTR would provide a reactor-based source of the fast neutrons needed to test advanced reactor technology, fuels and related materials. Only a few capabilities are currently available for testing fast neutron reactor technology world-wide, and none in the USA. The VTR programme was authorised under the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, which was signed into law in September. INL on 4 October announced USD3.9 million in funding for 13 university-led projects to develop the instrumentation and tools needed to monitor and conduct experiments in the proposed test reactor.

INL’s Kemal Pasamehmetoglu, executive director of VTR, said the USA's "aggressive" schedule for establishing such capability means it is necessary to leverage an existing and mature sodium-cooled fast reactor design that can be modified to meet the needs of a VTR.

"Having a timely and detailed conceptual design is critical to generating an accurate cost and schedule estimate, which will then be key to DOE’s decision on whether to move forward in 2020," he said.

GEH President and CEO Jay Wileman described the VTR as "a vital and strategic project" for the USA's advanced reactor industry. "The mature PRISM technology is ideally suited to meet the VTR mission needs," he said.

Peggy McCullough, general manager of Bechtel's Nuclear, Security, and Operations business line, said the project was "extremely important" for the science community, industry, regulators, and the future of nuclear energy research.

"Advanced reactors hold great promise but their components need the proper testing before they can be licensed and used in energy-producing reactors. That's what the Versatile Test Reactor will provide," she said.

The PRISM reactor builds on the EBR-II, an integral sodium-cooled fast reactor prototype that operated at Argonne National Laboratory from 1963 to 1994. It is the only sodium-cooled reactor to date to have successfully completed the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission pre-application review process. For power generation, GEH envisages power blocks of two 311 MWe modules, each with one steam generator, that collectively drive one turbine generator.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News