US fund for reducing waste from advanced reactors

20 May 2021

The US Department of Energy (DOE) yesterday announced up to USD40 million in funding for a new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) programme that will limit the amount of waste produced from advanced nuclear reactors. Reducing such waste, it says, will help in the development and commercialisation of such reactors.

(Image: ARPA-E)

The next generation of advanced reactors is currently being developed to enhance the safety, reduce the cost and increase the efficiency of nuclear power generation, the DOE said. "The future deployment of advanced reactors will ensure that the US meets its goals of greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction and facilitates US energy security and global thought leadership in advanced nuclear energy," it added.

As advanced nuclear reactor technologies move from research and development phases to deployment, ARPA-E's new Optimising Nuclear Waste and Advanced Reactor Disposal Systems (ONWARDS) programme seeks to develop and demonstrate breakthrough technologies that will facilitate a ten-times reduction in advanced reactor waste volume generation or repository footprint. In addition, the programme aims to advance the development of high-performance advanced reactor waste forms while maintaining exemplary safeguards standards and global back-end costs in the accepted range of USD1 per megawatt-hour.

DOE said ONWARDS is ARPA-E's first focused programme working to identify transformative advanced reactor, used nuclear fuel waste and used fuel disposal pathways. It noted ARPA-E's statutory authority was updated in the ARPA-E Reauthorisation Act of 2019, charging the agency to "provide transformative solutions to improve the management, clean-up and disposal of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel."

"Challenges associated with disposal pathways of waste threaten the development and deployment of the next generation of advanced reactors," the DOE said. "The development of technologies that enable the final disposition and improve the disposal impact of advanced reactor used nuclear fuel will facilitate the growth of advanced nuclear energy, which is vitally important to meeting GHG emission goals."

Technological areas identified as the most likely to improve disposal impacts for advanced reactor fuel cycles are: improvements in fuel recycling that significantly minimise waste volumes, improve intrinsic proliferation resistance, increase resource use, and bolster advanced reactor commercialisation; improvements in sensor and data fusion technologies that enable accurate and timely accounting of nuclear materials; and, development of high-performance waste forms for all advanced reactor classes with an emphasis on those forms that span multiple reactor classes and disposal environments and are safe and stable over required timescales.

"More than half of our zero-carbon energy is generated from nuclear power, and through this ground-breaking research we can expand nuclear's potential," said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. "America is an innovation leader, and DOE is proud to invest in the next generation of nuclear energy technologies that will power the nation and protect our environment."

ARPA-E was established in 2009 to advance high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment. The agency provides R&D funding for innovative ideas from academia, private industry, national laboratories, start-up companies, and small businesses, focusing exclusively on early-stage technologies that could fundamentally change energy generation, use and storage. Project teams receive an average award of USD2-3 million over several years. Since 2009, ARPA-E has provided about USD2.6 billion in R&D funding for more than 1000 potentially transformational energy technology projects.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News