US invests in advanced reactor development

18 January 2016

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has selected projects to develop a pebble bed reactor and a molten chloride fast reactor to receive multi-year cost-share funding worth up to a total of $80 million.

The DOE will fund cost-shared research and development activities with industry to support X-energy's Xe-100 Pebble Bed Advanced Reactor and Southern Company Services' Molten Chloride Fast Reactor (MCFR). The projects were selected following a competitive process. The DOE's initial investment will be $6 million for each project. According to the DOE, the possible multi-year cost-share value for the research is up to $80 million.

The awards are an example of the public-private partnerships envisioned under the DOE's Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative, announced in November, to provide the nuclear energy community access to technical, regulatory and financial support to accelerate the commercialization of new and advanced reactor designs.

US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said: "In order to ensure that nuclear energy remains a key source for US electricity generation well into the future, it is critically important that we invest in these technologies today."

X-energy is working in partnership with BWX Technology, Oregon State University, Teledyne-Brown Engineering, SGL Group, Idaho National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory on its Xe-100 pebble bed high temperature gas-cooled (HTGR) reactor. According to the DOE, the next-generation reactor's advanced safety features and smaller size than traditional nuclear reactors would potentially enable it to serve a wider array of communities - particularly densely populated areas - while ensuring public safety.

The design builds on earlier DOE investment in Triso (tristructural-isotropic) fuel technology, and X-energy said that the funding will focus on technology development, including core modelling, fuel fabrication and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) "outreach".

Harlan Bowers, president of X-energy, said that together with the company's internal investments the DOE funding positioned the Xe-100 among the "most promising" advanced reactors currently under development. "We are thrilled that the DOE recognizes the Xe-100's advantages," he said.

Southern Company Services, a subsidiary of Southern Company, is developing the MCFR in partnership with TerraPower, Electric Power Research Institute, Vanderbilt University, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The funding will be used to perform integrated effects tests and materials suitability studies to support reactor development.

Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning said that nuclear energy's importance will continue to grow as the USA transitions to a low-carbon energy future. "This collaborative research effort will help accelerate the development of next generation nuclear reactors," he said.

Molten salt reactors use molten fluoride salts as primary coolant, at low pressure. The technology was demonstrated in reactors that operated in the 1960s and 1970s. With potential enhanced operational performance, safety, security and economics relative to other advanced reactor concepts, various molten salt reactor concepts are being studied in countries including China.

American Nuclear Society President Eugene Grecheck said that the announcement of the grant winners demonstrated the DOE's commitment to the development of new nuclear energy resources in the USA. "Grants such as this, along with expanded nuclear research and development at DOE labs, have nuclear energy poised for growth," he said.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News