Southern Signs on for the PRISM Advanced Reactor

This is the second major agreement Southern Nuclear has made this year in the area of advanced reactor technology development.

prismGE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and Southern Nuclear have agreed to collaborate in the development and licensing of advanced reactors including GEH’s PRISM sodium-cooled fast reactor design (technical briefing).

In April Southern Nuclear inked a deal with X-Energy, a start-up, on joint development of TRISO fuel and related molten salt reactor technologies.

In a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by GEH and Southern Nuclear Development, a subsidiary of Southern Nuclear Operating Company, the companies have  also agreed to work together toward participating in future U.S. Department of Energy advanced reactor licensing projects.  The MOU may be anticipating future grant programs like the $40 million awarded to the Southern / X-Energy project.

The PRISM reactor is based on the Integral Fast Reactor .PRISM is a sodium-cooled, high energy neutron (fast) reactor design which uses a series of proven, safe and mature technologies developed both in the U.S. and abroad. (video)

The PRISM design has benefited from the operating experience of EBR-II, an Integral Fast Reactor prototype which was developed by Argonne National Laboratory and operated for more than 30 years in Idaho Falls, Idaho. That facility is now part of the Idaho National Laboratory and has been renamed and reconfigured as the Materials Fuel Complex.

PRISM stands for Power Reactor Innovative Small Module.Each Prism reactor has a rated thermal power of 840 MW and an electrical output of 311 MW. Two Prism reactors make up a power block, producing a combined total of 622 MW of electrical output.

GEH said in a press statement that it believes that the PRISM is “well positioned” to continue the licensing process and to generally provide a critical regulatory path for licensing of this design and other advanced reactor technology in the U.S. In the U.S. the PRISM reactor could be used to dispose of the country’s stocks of surplus weapons grade plutonium.

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy has proposed to the U.K. government to build an advanced nuclear reactor that would consume the country’s stockpile of surplus plutonium.

According to GE Hitachi, the PRISM reactor disposes of a great majority of the plutonium as opposed to simply reusing it over again. This process takes it out of circulation forever.

In 2011 a group of nuclear reactor experts conducted a study that determined there were no technical barriers to developing a license application for the Integral Fast Reactor or a future design based on it and its fuel type.

CEO statements of support

The CEOs of both companies issued statements of support for the MOU which indicates the level of support for the project.

“Southern Nuclear’s operational experience, technical expertise and leadership in innovation are significant strengths that will benefit our work together to support the commercialization of advanced nuclear reactor technology,” said Jay Wileman, president and CEO, GEH.

“With a design that can extract energy from used nuclear fuel to generate electricity, our PRISM advanced reactor technology is a game-changer.

“The relationship with GE Hitachi is an exciting step on our continued journey towards maintaining nuclear energy’s key position in providing clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy for future generations,” said Stephen Kuczynski, chairman, president and CEO, Southern Nuclear.

“We are fully committed to moving the industry forward, and by pursuing this goal together, we are best able to leverage our combined strengths in research and commercial operations to bring advanced nuclear technology to market.” (video)

Russia invites India to join fast-neutron reactor project

Russia has invited India to join in developing next-generation nuclear reactors and to participate in its fast-reactor research project. The multipurpose fast research reactor project (technical briefing) known by the Russian acronym MBIR, is being developed at the International Research Center in Dimitrovgrad (profile) located in the Ulyanovsk region in central Russia.

The Hindu, one of India’s largest newspapers, carried the report of the proposed collaboration effort.

Alexander Zagornov“The purpose of the program is the creation of a new technological platform for nuclear energy, which will be based on the closed fuel cycle with fast neutron reactors,” said Rosatom project manager Alexander Zagornov, (left) visiting India this week for the opening of the company’s South Asia regional center.

Zagornov said that the unique research facility with the high neutron flux cannot be realized on the small scale or scaled down in a prototype facility.

“Therefore, high cost is inevitable. This fact brings us to the idea promoted by IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) of regional ‘collective use centers’, in which one reactor can be used by multiple international users,” he said.

The Indian atomic energy program is currently developing breeder reactors that will be fuelled by the country’s thorium deposits.

The Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) is the latest Indian design for a next-generation nuclear reactor. The AHWR is being tested at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai as part of the third stage of India’s nuclear energy program, which envisages the use of thorium fuel cycles for generating commercial power.

The closed fuel cycle, which involves recycling the nuclear waste as new fuel, as in the case of the MBIR project, involves research on a sodium-cooled Generation 4 fast reactor to design an advanced fast neutron reactor for use in nuclear power plants.

According to an October 2014 report in World Nuclear News, the MBIR will use vibropacked mixed-oxide (VMOX) fuel, a Russian variant for MOX fuel production, in which blended (U, Pu) O2 and UO2 powders are loaded and compressed directly into the cladding tube. The VMOX for MBIR will have a plutonium content of 38%.

Zagornov explained that the main purpose of the MBIR research reactor is to conduct a large number of reactor studies of “Generation 4 nuclear systems, including the fast neutron reactor with closed fuel cycle, as well as small and medium power thermal neutron reactors”.

MBIR’s design includes three independent loops that can be used to test different coolants like gas, lead, molten salt, among others, and therefore it will be possible to conduct material testing research in those different environments, Zagornov said.

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