The U.S. Department of Energy has found no projected significant environmental impacts for a construction proposal of the Microreactor Applications Research Validation & EvaLuation (MARVEL) project microreactor inside Idaho National Laboratory's Transient Reactor Test Facility.
The energy department announced in a Monday news release it concluded a Finding of No Significant Impact following the Final Environmental Assessment for the proposal.
MARVEL is a sodium-potassium cooled, thermal microreactor with a power level of less than 100 kilowatts of electricity using High-Assay, Low-Enriched Uranium, the release said. It will be capable of testing power applications such as load-following electricity demand to complement intermittent renewable energy sources including wind and solar—to help ensure reliable energy production. It will also test the use of nuclear energy for water purification, hydrogen production and heat for chemical processing.
International interest is now growing in microreactors, the release said. Microreactors tend to be very small, factory fabricated and transportable. They can be used in remote communities, industrial sites and defense bases, as well as for applications such as backup generation for power plants, humanitarian assistance, water purification, hydrogen production and disaster relief missions. Just like large traditional reactors, microreactors use fission to produce energy with no carbon emissions.
“As advanced reactors transition from theory to reality, MARVEL construction launches a new era of rapidly deployable, very small scale, nuclear energy technologies. This program promises to tangibly show rather than merely tell, in years rather than decades, the exceptional climate-impact potential of microreactors,” said Kathryn Huff in the release. Huff is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy.
Nuclear energy was first demonstrated to generate a useable amount of electricity in 1951 at the Experimental Breeder Reactor-I in Idaho, the release said. Ever since then, nuclear power has played an essential role in U.S. electricity generation.
Nuclear energy today generates nearly 20% of the nation's electricity and about 55% of U.S. carbon-free electricity, according to the energy department.
INL leads the energy department’s Microreactor Program, which supports research and development of microreactor technologies. The program conducts both fundamental and applied research and development to reduce the risks associated with new technology performance and manufacturing readiness of microreactors, the release said. This will help ensure that microreactor concepts can be commercially licensed and deployed, and to reinvigorate U.S. leadership in nuclear energy.
MARVEL will help provide industry partners with the ability to test new microreactor-related technologies and provide real-world, viewable examples of how commercial end-users could incorporate microreactors into their clean energy portfolios, the release said.
The Final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact were prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. Throughout 2021, the energy department conducted a public review and comment periods on the project's Draft Environmental Assessment and subsequent proposed finding. The assessment and the proposed finding are available on the energy department's website.