- INL’s Marvel Micro Reactor Prepares for Testing
- Nuclear Startup Wants to Build a Commercial Version of Marvel
- China Halts Its Floating Nuclear Power Plan
- DOE Announces $50 Million for a Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program
- Key Collaborations Announced for Fusion Projects
- Senate EPW Committee Advances Risch, Crapo Nuclear Energy Bill
INL’s Marvel Micro Reactor Prepares for Testing
A non-nuclear (electric powered) prototype of the Idaho National Laboratory Marvel microreactor is almost ready for testing. The Marvel micro-reactor will be the first new test reactor to be built at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in more than four decades.
The Microreactor Applications Research Validation & Evaluation (Marvel) Project covers the design, development, construction, and start-up of an INL test microreactor, funded by the Department of Energy through the Microreactor Program (MRP).
The Marvel project goal is to provide a 100 kw fission reactor for researchers and technology developers to gain operational experience with a real microreactor and to advance technological maturity for reactors at this scale, and to enable new microreactor applications.
The object of building and operating Marvel is to establish a fully functional nuclear applications test bed that can generate combined heat and power to enable integration and R&D with end-user technologies. It will also allow microreactor technologists to test next-generation control systems. (Fact Sheet).
The DOE Microreactor Program supports research and development (R&D) of technologies related to the development, demonstration, and deployment of very small, factory-fabricated, transportable reactors to provide power and heat for decentralized generation in civilian, industrial, and DOE uses.
A key focus of the program is engagement and outreach with end users and stakeholders to perform R&D on integration of microreactors with a range of anticipated applications including load-following electricity demand, process heat, hydrogen production, and water purification. Eventually, INL expects to be in a position to offer non-exclusive licensing of the reactor design to firms that wanted to use it to develop commercial versions.
Another applied R&D focus is to address challenges related to fabrication of microreactor components, assembly of systems, rapid installation at customer sites, and other measures to facilitate end-user adoption. The outcome of this scope of work will be of particular interest to developers of microreactors especially those who want to license the open source design data of the Marvel Reactor for scaled-up versions. (See next story below).
The microreactor design is a thermal reactor that will use uranium zirconium hydride fuel (Technical Paper on UZrH). To speed up deployment, Marvel will be established in INL’s Transient Reactor Test (Treat) Facility making use of existing operating Category B reactor facility, approved facility safety basis, operating crews, and recent re-start experience. DOE has completed an environmental impact statement on the project.
The reactor will be a sodium-potassium cooled reactor with natural circulation cooling and and operating temperature of 500-550C. Off-the-shelf Stirling engines will convert thermal energy to 20 kw electrical power.
Marvel is currently in Final Design Phase, with 90% construction planned to conclude in in 2023, and fuel load and initial criticality in 2024.
Non-nuclear Prototype Installed
INL built the full-scale, electrically heated prototype, known as the primary coolant apparatus test or PCAT, last year. It was then loaded onto a truck and transported from INL to Creative Engineers Inc (CEI)’s manufacturing facility in New Freedom, Pennsylvania. The firm’s expertise is in alkali metals.
CEI installed the PCAT into a two-story frame and where it will be loaded with sodium-potassium and lead-bismuth coolants. It is a full-scale replica of microreactor, which is 12 feet tall and weighs 2,000 pounds.
PCAT will be electrically powered during testing, instead of using fission, and data will be collected on the system’s temperatures, and coolant flow. The information will ensure the accuracy of Marvel’s computer modelling and simulation tools.
“Validation of our physics models is critical to nuclear quality assurance for any new reactor development project,” said Yasir Arafat, Marvel Chief Design and Project Lead.
“PCAT will generate this first-of-a kind-data for validating our thermal-hydraulics simulation tools and quantifying uncertainty for liquid metal thermal reactors, like Marvel.”
The Marvel team consists of Idaho INL, Argonne National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Walsh Engineering, Qnergy, Munro & Associates, and CEI. Contact information about the project is included in the fact sheet.
Recently, Premier Technology, located in Blackfoot, ID, received a DOE contract to begin metal fabrication of parts for the Marvel reactors.
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Nuclear Startup Wants to Build a Commercial Version of Marvel
A small nuclear start up based on Toronto, Canada, announced last month that it has plans to adapt the design of the Marvel reactor for a commercial version.
Aalo Atomic issued a statement in social media that it has plans to jointly commercialize the INL Marvel SMR.
The firm reports that it raised $6.26M from multiple early-stage investors. It describes itself in reporting the new funding as “a new startup that will be commercializing small nuclear fission reactors of high technological readiness.”
In a telephone interview with Matt Loszak, CEO of Aalo Atomics, said the firm plans to build a scaled-up version of Marvel to achieve 20 MWt / 8 MWe of combined heat and power. He said the INL microreactor design is attractive to Aalo Atomic because “the INL is making the design open source and we can license it from the lab.”
Asked about Aalo’s commercialization plans, an INL media spokesperson wrote in an email “it has had partnership conversations with Aalo related to them developing a microreactor design leveraging technical information and lessons learned from the MARVEL microreactor. While INL and Aalo Atomics are working on partnership agreements, there are currently no agreements in place and INL is not an exclusive collaborator with Aalo relative to MARVEL.”
The first step in commercialization Losazk said, once Marvel is complete and its design is available, is for Aalo Atomic to build a full size non-nuclear test stand.
“We will get the neutronics from Marvel.”
Next steps will be to pursue licensing through the Canadian Nuclear Regulatory Commission (CNSC) Vendor Design Review process and licensing in the US with the NRC.
Loszak said he is also in the process of recruiting for an advisory committee of nuclear subject matter experts to help guide the firm through the complex process of commercializing the Marvel design.
In terms of commercial prospects, the firm isn’t ready to announce any customers, but Loszak said, “the market for microreactors will be huge. There is plenty of room for many winners.”
Loszak said the firm will move to the US from Canada because that’s where its investors are located. He indicated that Texas looks promising as a market because of the unique nature of its grid and its growing use of wind and solar energy which will need reliable base load power to keep its grid stable.
Applications of the firm’s reactor, to provide power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, could include support for microgrids in remote areas, for offshore islands, and especially for businesses and institutions that need reliable power such as data centers, hospitals, and high tech factories. Austin, TX, Loszak noted, is a rapidly growing center of electronics and semi-conductor manufacturing.
Asked why he got into the nuclear energy business, after a decade of starting and selling several business-to-business software applications, Loszak said, “It is a cruel twist of fate that nuclear energy, the technology that could be playing the largest role in solving so many of today’s most pressing challenges, is a technology that was invented decades ago, and has since sat on the sidelines, widely misunderstood.”
Loszak said he studied physics and got a degree in the field in college. “Now I’m back to my roots,” he said.
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China Halts Its Floating Nuclear Power Plan
- The plan would have deployed 20 SMRs among various artificial islands in the South China Sea that would serve as military bases
(SCMP) China’s plan to build a fleet of nuclear power reactors that would provide electrical power to islands on the South China Sea have been suspended over security concerns, the South China Morning Post reports. As construction of the first units was about to begin, regulators announced that they were withholding approval.
In 2017 China first announced its policy to build floating SMRs in the South China Sea to achieve geopolitical ends. China later announced its plans for construction of the SMRs in December 2019.
Conceptual image of China’s planned floating nuclear power plants.
Image: Nuclear Power Institute of China
At the time The China Daily reported that a joint venture to develop and produce as many as 20 small, floating nuclear power plants had been set up by State-owned China National Nuclear Power Co and four other domestic companies. China has been building a series of artificial islands in the South China sea as a means of projecting military power in the region.
The decision to halt the construction of the fleet of SMRs came as a surprise for the project’s scientists, who believed the technology was mature and that floating reactors were generally safer than those on land, since the ocean acts as a natural heat sink and is immune to seismic activity.
Writing in the journal Nuclear Power Engineering, Wang Donghui, a scientist at the National Energy Offshore Nuclear Power Platform Technology Research Centre, Nuclear Power Institute of China, said safety and feasibility were the main concerns of authorities.
He said the decision was made in spite of a 10-year research project into floating plants, and the fact that China has advanced ship design capabilities, as well as domestic design and manufacturing units capable of building floating platforms.
Not stated by Chinese news media announcement is the obvious fact that the planned SMRs, to be located at artificial islands built by China to serve as military installations, would be sitting ducks as targets in any outbreak of hostilities in region. A conventional explosion at the site of one of the SMRs would likely contaminate the entire island rendering it unusable for tactical operations.
China has built military installations on several disputed islands in the region, including the Spratly and Paracel islands. The facilities, which include radar systems, communications equipment and other electronics, require a significant amount of electricity.
The SCMP notes that the decision may have more to do with regional politics than technical issues. It comments that the presence of floating reactors could increase tensions between countries and raise the risk of accidents or hostile incidents with serious environmental or geopolitical consequences.
One of the major safety concerns is that floating power plants could face attacks from sea and air, but also from underwater attacks, according to Wang.
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DOE Announces $50 Million for a Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced up to $50 million to launch a new milestone-based fusion development program as authorized in the Energy Act of 2020.
This program will support for-profit entities, who may team with national laboratories, universities, and others to meet major technical and commercialization milestones toward the successful design of a fusion pilot plant (FPP) that will help bring fusion toward technical and commercial viability.
“Fusion holds the promise of being an on-demand, safe, abundant source of carbon-free primary energy and electricity, with the potential to transform the way we generate and use energy,” said David Turk, DOE Deputy Secretary
“Today, there is nearly $5 billion of private capital invested into predominantly US-based fusion companies. This administration is eager to partner with these companies and work together to accelerate progress toward a future powered by fusion, offering energy abundance and energy security around the world.”
“Since the White House Fusion Summit in March 2022 and a DOE fusion workshop in June 2022, DOE has worked hard to establish this program, which makes use of DOE’s available contracting mechanisms to allow for milestone-based payments and other flexibilities to invite strong industry participation,” said Geraldine Richmond, DOE Under Secretary for Science and Innovation.
Richmond said the milestone-based concept is different from traditional DOE programs.
“This public-private partnership where the federal government provides fixed payments in private companies for reaching mutually negotiated technical, business, commercialization, and community benefits milestones, as particularly inspired by the NASA Commercial Orbit Transportation Services Program that helped enable the commercial space launch industry.”
Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Director of the DOE’s Office of Science, added, “Through the milestone program, these companies will work with researchers at our national labs and universities to advance their designs for fusion pilot plants and receive payments from DOE along the way for reaching key milestones. This is a different approach from what we typically do in the Office of Science, but one that has proven successful in other areas.”
A note of caution was sounded by White House Office of Science and Technology Policy director Arati Prabhakar. She said that while decades of work have established the scientific basis for fusion, which “is necessary, but it’s very, very far from sufficient.”
“There’s so much more work that has to be done to turn this into something that is a commercial capability that’s consistent and safe and reliable, that deals with all the thermal issues, deals with all the materials issues, deals with all of the radiation issues that will still be there even with this much more advanced technology.”
Total planned funding is up to $50 million for awardees to deliver FPP pre-conceptual designs and technology roadmaps by 18 months after award. Funding for meeting subsequent milestones toward full conceptual FPP designs, up to a total period of performance of five years, will be contingent upon meeting early milestones and future annual appropriations.
Project teams are to be led by for-profit entities, who must meet particular milestones before being awarded funds by the Department. Significant commitment of non-Federal resources by awardees is expected. This program requires awardees to implement a community benefits plan in support of the Department’s equity and justice priorities.
The firms receiving funding from DOE include Commonweath Fusion Systems, Focused Energy Inc., Princeton Stellartors, Realta Fusion Inc., Tokamak Energy Inc., Type One Energy Group, Xcimer Energy Inc., and Zap Energy Inc. Funding amounts by firm were not provided by DOE. (List of awards and their technical scope)
Fusion Energy Association Applauds the Fusion Awards
According to the Fusion Energy Association, the milestone-based public-private partnership program was first authorized by Congress in the bipartisan Energy Act of 2020 and finally funded in the 2022 Fiscal Year.
The $50 million in funding over 18 months will be matched by private sector investment. However, further funding will allow for further progress towards building pilot plants on an accelerated timeline.
The program is authorized in the CHIPS and Sciences Act at up to $415 million through 2027, but based on a survey of FIA members, applications were significantly oversubscribed for the initial $50 million.
FIA said there were enough quality applications for at least $140M in the initial 18-months of the program, growing to over $2.6 billion in leveraged cost-share requests over 5 years, the full life of the program.
The FIA, as quoted by Reuters, said the firms in the race to commercialize the technology plan to spend about $7 billion by the time their first plants come online. In terms of supply chain orders they could add up, potentially, to trillions of dollars in high-grade steel, concrete and superconducting wire. A mature industry, is estimated to be plausible sometime between 2035 and 2050.
The DOE Funding Opportunity Announcement was sponsored by the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences within the Department’s Office of Science.
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Key Collaborations Announced for Fusion Projects
In the category of the phase, “your arms too short to box with god,” some fusion companies are realizing that the yellow brick road to Oz will require multiple deep pocket partners to complete the journey.
World Nuclear News reports that General Atomics (GA) of the USA and Tokamak Energy of the UK have agreed to collaborate in the area of high temperature superconducting (HTS) technology for fusion energy and other industry applications.
Separately, Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics will work with Proxima Fusion to further develop the stellarator concept.
Collaboration on Tokamaks
General Atomics, which began working on superconducting magnet technologies in the 1980s, and Tokamak Energy said the collaboration under a newly-signed memorandum of understanding (MOU) would “leverage GA’s world-leading capabilities for manufacturing large-scale magnet systems and Tokamak Energy’s pioneering expertise in HTS magnet technologies.”
“GA is excited to collaborate with Tokamak Energy on HTS magnets,” said GA Senior Vice President Anantha Krishnan.
“Tokamak Energy is a leader in HTS magnet modelling, design and prototyping and GA has expertise in developing and fabricating large-scale superconducting magnets for fusion applications.”
“GA has significant experience, knowledge and facilities to produce large superconducting magnets at scale,” said Tokamak Energy Managing Director Warrick Matthews.
“Tokamak Energy has been developing HTS technologies for fusion for over a decade. The integration of these complementary capabilities promises to accelerate the development and production of HTS technologies in additional fields, such as aviation, naval, space and medical applications.”
Tokamak Energy’s roadmap is for commercial fusion power plants deployed in the mid-2030s.
Collaboration in Stellarators
The Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) has signed a cooperation agreement with Munich-based Proxima Fusion, which was spun out of IPP earlier this year and was founded by a team which includes six former IPP scientists, to develop the stellarator concept for fusion power. Proxima Fusion intends to design a nuclear fusion power plant based on IPP research.
“With this cooperation, Proxima Fusion will primarily advance technological approaches, while IPP will contribute its know-how as the world’s leading institute in stellarator physics,” IPP said.
World Nuclear News noted that the institute is the only institution in the world that carries out research on both essential concepts of magnetic confinement fusion with the help of large-scale experiments: it operates the ASDEX Upgrade tokamak in Garching near Munich, and the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator in Greifswald.
In February, the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator succeeded for the first time in generating a high-energy plasma that lasted for eight minutes. The facility is designed to generate plasma discharges of up to 30 minutes in the coming years. Scientists are also working in the field of stellarator optimisation at IPP’s Stellarator Theory Division in Greifswald.
“With our research, we want to further develop stellarators towards application maturity,” said IPP Scientific Director Sibylle Günter.
“With Proxima Fusion’s technological focus, we see great synergies in a collaboration and look forward to working together in a public-private partnership”.
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Senate EPW Committee Advances Risch, Crapo Nuclear Energy Bill
The ADVANCE Act would boost development and deployment of new nuclear technologies and facilitate American nuclear leadership. It now heads to the full Senate with widespread bipartisan support.
The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee has passed legislation, introduced by U.S. Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo (both R-Idaho), Committee Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia), Chairman Tom Carper (D-Delaware) and a bipartisan group of their colleagues, that would help position the United States as the undisputed international leader for nuclear energy technologies. (Fact Sheet)
The Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy (ADVANCE) Act of 2023, which Crapo and Risch introduced in March, passed out of the EPW Committee by a vote of 16-3.
“With the ADVANCE Act’s passage out of committee, we are one step closer to spurring the development and deployment of advanced nuclear technologies,” Risch said.
“ Idaho is home to the world-leading Idaho National Laboratory, a facility responsible for promoting international nuclear competitiveness through research, innovation and workforce development,” Crapo said.
“The ADVANCE Act shows bipartisan support for continuing our investment in nuclear energy—strengthening national security, diversifying our energy portfolio and growing the economy.”
Facilitate American Nuclear Leadership
The bill empowers the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to lead in international forums to develop regulations for advanced nuclear reactors.
The bill establishes a joint Commerce Department and Energy Department initiative to facilitate outreach to nations that are seeking to develop advanced nuclear energy programs.
Develop and Deploy New Nuclear Technologies
The bill reduces regulatory costs for companies seeking to license advanced nuclear reactor technologies.
The bill creates a prize to incentivize the successful deployment of next-generation nuclear reactor technologies. The bill requires the NRC to develop a pathway to enable the timely licensing of nuclear facilities at brownfield sites.
Preserve Existing Nuclear Energy
The bill modernizes outdated rules that restrict international investment. The bill extends a long-established, indemnification policy necessary to enable the continued operation of today’s reactors and give certainty for capital investments in building new reactors.
Strengthen America’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Supply Chain Infrastructure
The bill directs the NRC to establish an initiative to enhance preparedness to qualify and license advanced nuclear fuels. The bill identifies modern manufacturing techniques to build nuclear reactors better, faster, cheaper and smarter.
Authorize funds for Environmental Cleanup Programs
The bill authorizes funding to assist in cleaning up legacy abandoned mining sites on Tribal lands.
Improve NRC Efficiency
The bill provides flexibility for the NRC to budget and manage organizational support activities to ensure the NRC is prepared to address NRC staff issues associated with an aging workforce.
The bill provides the NRC Chair the tools to hire and retain highly-specialized staff and exceptionally well-qualified individuals to successfully and safely review and approve advanced nuclear reactor licenses.
The bill requires the NRC to periodically review and assess performance metrics and milestone schedules to ensure licensing can be completed on an efficient schedule.
Additional co-sponsors of the ADVANCE Act include Senators Tom Carper (D-Delaware), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) and Mark Kelly (D-Arizona).
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