sodium-cooled nuclear reactor

Engineers from GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy will adapt the company’s sodium-cooled nuclear reactor design, shown in this rendering, to the needs of a fast spectrum Versatile Test Reactor for state-of-the art research and development purposes.

Wilmington, N.C.-based GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy has been awarded a subcontract to support the conceptual design and related activities for a proposed fast spectrum Versatile Test Reactor (VTR).

Idaho National Laboratory awarded a subcontract for the reactor, which lab officials said is critical for the development of innovative nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation and sensors, an INL news release said.

The subcontract is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy’s Versatile Test Reactor program, which is investigating what it would take to establish a reactor-based fast-spectrum neutron irradiation capability in the United States by 2026, the release said.

Within the INL-led Versatile Test Reactor team, engineers from GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy will adapt the company’s sodium-cooled nuclear reactor design to the needs of a test reactor for state-of-the art research and development purposes, the release said.

“The VTR is a vital and strategic project for the U.S. and its promising advanced reactor industry, and we applaud the administration and Congress for making this technology a priority,” said Jay Wileman, GE Hitachi president and CEO, in a company news release.

The project will build on the proven principles of EBR-II, an integral sodium-cooled fast reactor prototype that was operated successfully for more than 30 years by Argonne National Laboratory in Idaho. PRISM, GE Hitachi’s sodium-cooled reactor, is the only sodium-cooled reactor to have successfully completed the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission preapplication review process, the GE Hitachi news release said.

“To meet our aggressive schedule for establishing this much-needed capability in the United States, it is necessary to leverage an existing and mature sodium-cooled fast reactor design that can be modified to meet the needs of a versatile test reactor,” said INL’s Kemal Pasamehmetoglu, the executive director of VTR, in the release. “Having a timely and detailed conceptual design is critical to generating an accurate cost and schedule estimate, which will then be key to DOE’s decision on whether to move forward in 2020.”

GE Hitachi and Bechtel National Inc. will advance the design and cost estimates for the Versatile Test Reactor based on GE Hitachi’s PRISM technology.

Establishing a fast spectrum test reactor ensures continued U.S. technology leadership in nuclear energy innovation, the release said. Currently, only a few capabilities are available for testing fast neutron reactor technology in the world and none in the U.S.

DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy established the Versatile Test Reactor program earlier this year in response to reports, including one issued by the agency’s Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee in 2017, outlining the need for a fast spectrum test reactor, the release said. In that report, the Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee recommended “that DOE-NE proceed immediately with preconceptual design planning activities to support a new test reactor (including cost and schedule estimates).”

The recommendation was based, in part, on responses from U.S. companies developing advanced reactors, many of which require different testing facilities than the commercial nuclear power technology in use today.