Printed on: November 17, 2012

Site reactor could be restarted

By Alex Stcukey

As nuclear reactors continue to age, the nation once again is interested in new reactor technology.

That interest also means transient fuel testing must begin again, perhaps at Idaho National Laboratory's Transient Reactor Experiment and Test -- or TREAT -- Facility.

The facility, which was idled in 1994, puts new fuel designs under stress tests at high temperatures and high power, said Greg Bass, supervisor for the Department of Energy-Idaho's Infrastructure Project Team.

"(These tests) determine the safe limits for operating these reactors," Bass said. "Before anybody can license a new type of reactor fuel like (higher burn-up fuels), it has to go through transient testing."

The facility at the DOE's desert site west of Idaho Falls is one of several identified sites where transient testing could resume.

Talk of resuming transient fuel testing began in 2010.

It remains unclear if or when transient testing will resume in the U.S., but Bass said a customer wants to use it by 2018.

The DOE is conducting a cost-benefit study for all options, including TREAT, Bass said. The study should be completed by 2013.

Once the study is completed, an environmental assessment will be conducted, he said. The assessment will examine the impact on natural, cultural and socioeconomic resources.

Bass said it is unclear whether the DOE will pick just one site or multiple sites to resume transient testing.

Restarting TREAT also would require the DOE to determine whether an existing reactor could be modified or a new one would have to be built, Bass said.

A new reactor would cost anywhere from $1 billion to $1.5 billion. He could not estimate the amount that modifying the reactor would cost.

"We're still early in the process," Bass said. "We have to look at what's available and what it would cost before going forward."

Alex Stuckey can be reached at 542-6755. Comment on this story on Post Talk at talk/.