US DOE selects advanced reactor designs for demonstration plants

14 October 2020

Teams led by TerraPower and X-energy have been announced as the recipients of USD160 million in initial funding under the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). The companies get USD80 million each to build a demonstration plant that can be operational within seven years.

Brouillette made the announcement during a visit to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Image: @SecBrouillette)

Announcing the awards yesterday, US Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said: "These awards are a critical first step of a programme that will strengthen our nation's nuclear energy and technological competitiveness abroad, and position our domestic industry for growth, for increased job creation, and for even more investment opportunity. It's absolutely vital that we make progress on this technology now so as to ensure we don't lose market opportunities before access to infrastructure and supply chains in the United States is lost."

The ARDP, which was announced in May, is designed to help the US domestic nuclear industry demonstrate advanced nuclear reactors. The awards are cost-shared partnerships with industry that will deliver two first-of-a-kind advanced reactors to be licensed for commercial operations. In total, DOE will invest about USD3.2 billion over the seven-year period, subject to future appropriations, through matched funding.

Specifically, TerraPower will demonstrate the Natrium sodium‐cooled fast reactor, which has been developed in partnership with GE‐Hitachi. The high-operating temperature of the Natrium reactor, coupled with thermal energy storage, will allow the plant to provide flexible electricity output that complements variable renewable generation such as wind a solar, DOE said. The project will also establish a new metal fuel fabrication facility scaled to meet the needs of the demonstration programme.

X-energy will deliver a commercial four-unit power plant based on its Xe-100 high temperature gas-cooled reactor, which DOE said is "ideally suited" to provide flexible electricity output as well as process heat for a wide range of industrial heat applications, such as desalination and hydrogen production. The project will also deliver a commercial scale TRISO (tristructural isotropic) particle fuel fabrication facility.

In making its selections, the DOE had particularly wanted to choose advanced designs that would be new to the market place, but also to ensure management teams would be able to partner successfully with the department in the 50:50 cost-shared project and deliver the reactors within the seven-year timeframe, Brouillette said. "These two companies have demonstrated that to us," he said.

TerraPower, who earlier this week announced Bechtel as its engineering and construction partner for Natrium, said its demonstration plant will be a Nuclear Regulatory Commission-licensed, grid-scale reactor. In addition, by the end of the project, the infrastructure needed for further commercial deployments will have been established.

"TerraPower's work on Natrium is phenomenal in terms of developing low-cost, large-scale energy technology that will meet the rising energy demand while reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Bill Gates, chairman of TerraPower's board of directors, said. "The reactor is designed to integrate into grids with high penetrations of wind and solar and offers a significant improvement in cost over conventional nuclear technologies."

Brouillette said the locations of the two demonstration plants have still to be finalised, but added that "a place like Washington state" was likely. Energy Northwest, which operates the Columbia nuclear power plant in Washington, is a utility partner on both TerraPower and X-energy's ARDP applications.

Energy Northwest CEO Brad Sawatzke said such reactors are a "promising future component" of the company's resource portfolio.

"Under the partnership agreement Energy Northwest will assist with the licensing of the [X-energy] design, and - if the design is determined to be a viable option for development in Washington - Energy Northwest expects to own and operate the plant," Energy Northwest said.

Through its partnership agreement with TerraPower-GE Hitachi, Energy Northwest will provide licensing and operating experience to facilitate development of the concept, including the potential for future operation and maintenance of a commercial plant.

X-energy's Xe-100 is currently undergoing a Vendor Design Review with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Earlier this month Ontario Power Generation announced plans to work with the company as part of its plans to advance the deployment of small modular reactors in Canada.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News