USA launches test reactor project

04 March 2019

The US Department of Energy has launched its Versatile Fast Neutron Source project to provide fast neutron testing capability to aid US development of advanced nuclear reactor technology. The Versatile Test Reactor (VTR), as it is also known, could be completed by 2026.

GEH's PRISM (Image: GEH)

The DOE said fast neutron testing capability would help the country meet its goal for advanced nuclear reactor technology development. These facilities are currently available in only a few locations worldwide and the USA has not operated one in over 20 years. This means US developers have not had the ability to carry out accelerated irradiation testing needed for the development of non-light water advanced reactor concepts. The VTR would provide a reactor-based source of the fast neutrons needed to test advanced reactor technology, fuels and related materials.

The Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, which became law last September, directed the DOE to develop a reactor-based fast neutron source for the testing of advanced reactor fuels and materials, and to execute a programme for enhancing the capability to develop new reactor technologies through high-performance computer modelling and simulation techniques. The launch of the VTR was announced on 28 February by US Energy Secretary Rick Perry, during a joint press conference with International Atomic Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol.

Perry said the VTR was a key step to implementing President Donald Trump's direction to "revitalise and expand" the US nuclear industry.

"This cutting edge Advanced Reactor will give American companies the ability they currently lack to conduct advanced technology and fuels tests without having to go to our competitors in Russia and China," he said.

The VTR will eliminate a "research gap" and "drastically" speed up the time taken to test, develop and qualify advanced reactor technologies, as well as being pivotal in creating new fuels, materials, instrumentation and sensors, the DOE said.

"Having this domestic capability is critical to our national security and our ability to re-establish ourselves as a global leader in advanced reactor technologies," Ed McGinnis, principal deputy assistant secretary of the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy, said.

DOE's Idaho National Laboratory has previously selected GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy's (GEH) PRISM technology to support the VTR programme, and has subcontracted GEH to work with Bechtel to advance the design and cost estimates for a VTR based on the integral sodium-cooled fast reactor. DOE said on 1 March that it will now move forward with its conceptual design of the reactor, which could be completed "as early as 2026".

Researched and written by World Nuclear News