U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced (02/28/19) the launch of the Department of Energy’s Versatile Test Reactor (VTR), one of the top priority projects specified in the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017.
The VTR is a project detailed in the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017. The main take away from this announcement is that the DOE initiated a Critical Decision 0 (CD-0) on Versatile Test Reactors (VTR). A CD-0 means that a mission need has been identified and DOE will begin work on R&D, prototyping, conceptual designs, management plans, and cost and schedule estimates.
INL director Mark Peters said in an online statement, commenting on the significance of the announcement;
“U.S. test reactors and user facilities are one reason the United States has maintained an international leadership role in nuclear energy research and development. We currently do not have the fast neutron spectrum research facilities in the U.S. necessary to enable a robust future for advanced reactors.”
“DOE’s announcement about the versatile test reactor project is the first important milestone in establishing this capability, and prioritizes investment in this user facility that will serve the science community, industry, regulators and the future of nuclear energy research and innovation.”
World Class Materials Testing
The fast neutron testing capability will help the United States meet its goal for advanced nuclear reactor technology development. The VTR project will provide leading edge capability for accelerated testing of advanced nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation, and sensors.
It will allow DOE to modernize its materials testing within the United States in a safe, efficient and timely way.
Secretary Perry spoke to the importance of the VTR project when he announced it at a joint press conference with International Energy Agency Executive Director, Dr Fatih Birol.
“The Versatile Test Reactor will give American companies the ability they currently lack to conduct advanced technology and fuels tests without having to go to our competitors in Russia and China.”
Enabling Legislation for the VTR
The Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017 (NEICA, S. 97, which was enacted into law in September of 2018) included provisions for a Versatile Neutron Source and directs the Secretary of Energy to determine the mission need for a versatile reactor-based fast neutron source operating as a national user facility, as well as a deadline, to the maximum extent practicable, to complete construction and approve the start of the VTR operations by December 2025. DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) will lead the VTR project.
The U.S. has not had a fast neutron spectrum testing facility for over 20 years, precluding the ability to conduct the types of accelerated irradiation testing needed by non-light water advanced reactor concepts. The proposed VTR project could provide accelerated neutron damage rates 20 times greater than current water-cooled test reactors. These higher damage rates are needed within the U.S. to accelerate the testing of nuclear fuels and materials needed by scientist and developers of transformational reactor technologies.
“The U.S. has the largest number of operating reactors compared to any other country, and there are a lot of U.S. companies working on technologies to make the next generation of reactors even more inherently safe and more economically competitive,” said Ed McGinnis, NE Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary.
“Having this domestic capability is critical to our national security and our ability to re-establish ourselves as a global leader in advanced reactor technologies.”
If DOE approves a design and construction of the VTR, it will be located at the site on at the Idaho National Laboratory located about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID. INL also has extensive facilities and offices in the city in addition to its infrastructure on the Arco desert.
Prior coverage on this blog
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy is working with Idaho National Laboratory on the Versatile Test Reactor concept design that is based off of its PRISM reactor.
Congress passed and the president has signed into law in late September the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017
The legislation has an ambitious agenda and its implementation may test the limits of the Department of Energy’s capabilities to fully execute its intent. The outlook for additional legislative efforts to link nuclear energy investment to dealing with climate change remain uncertain.
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