Idaho National Lab Gets DOE Charter for Test and Demonstration of Advanced Reactors

In the late 1940s the federal government established the National Reactor Testing Station (NRTS) at a site on the dusty volcanic plain of the Arco desert about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls, ID. Now some 70 years later the government has again turned to the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) to create the National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC). (Fact Sheet)


The new initiative will support the development of advanced nuclear energy technologies by harnessing the world-class capabilities of the DOE national laboratory system. It will be a test and demonstration center for these technologies and it will involve public / private partnerships with firms that want to bring these technologies to a mature enough level to attract investors and customers.

NRIC will be led by Idaho National Laboratory and builds upon the successes of DOE’s Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative. GAIN connects industry with the national labs to accelerate the development and commercialization of advanced nuclear technologies. NRIC will coordinate with industry, other federal institutions, the national labs, and universities on testing and demonstrating these concepts.

The NRIC will provide private sector technology developers the necessary support to test and demonstrate their reactor concepts and assess their performance. This will help accelerate the licensing and commercialization of these new nuclear energy systems.  (slide deck – PDF file)

nuclear TRLs

“NRIC will enable the demonstration and deployment of advanced reactors that will define the future of nuclear energy,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

“By bringing industry together with our national labs and university partners, we can enhance our energy independence and position the U.S. as a global leader in advanced nuclear innovation.”

The Idaho Falls Post Register and the Associated Press reported that INL will partner with private companies to test new nuclear reactors at the site. Depending on how many companies enter into reactor development and testing deals with INL and what these projects look like, officials say this development has the potential to be a major economic driver for eastern Idaho in the years to come.

INL Director Mark Peters told the media that the center will be “a very, very important part of our future. We’re talking to a lot of companies that are approaching the laboratory to explore the idea.”

INL is already working with Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems and NuScale Power on plans to build 12 small modular reactors (SMRs) AT 60 MW each at the INL desert site.

This designation will also increase the possibility that the Versatile Test Reactor will be built at INL. This reactor would be the first new test reactor built in the U.S. in decades and give the nation a dedicated “fast-neutron-spectrum” testing capability.

DOE recently announced it will prepare an environmental impact statement as part of the process to build the test reactor at INL or at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, and Sen. James Risch, who spearheaded the 2018 Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act that authorized the center’s creation, emphasized that the announcement coincided with the 70th anniversary of the lab, which was called the Nuclear Reactor Testing Station when it was founded in 1949.

“This will become part of the history of the national lab,” Risch said.

The House Energy and Water Development committee has allocated $5 million in the FY2020 budget for NRIC, which plans to demonstrate small modular reactor and micro-reactor concepts within the next five years.

The Senate hasn’t yet marked up its Energy and Water appropriations legislation. Idaho’s congressional delegation is over the top in its advocacy for the site which is a huge change from its arms length stance of the 1990s.

The Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act eliminates some of the financial and technological barriers standing in the way of nuclear innovation. It directs DOE to facilitate the siting of advanced reactor research demonstration facilities through partnerships between DOE and private industry.

The reactor center announcement has been expected for some time. INL officials told the Post Register in January 2019 that the lab was in the running for the center. The legislation, which had bipartisan support passed both the House and Senate on voice votes.  It authorized creating the National Reactor Innovation Center and contained several other provisions to encourage collaboration between the DOE, Nuclear Regulatory Commission and private industry on new reactor development.

NuScale and Partner Universities Win
DOE Grants for Nuclear Reactor Simulators

Three of the company’s reactor simulators will be installed at Oregon State University, Texas A&M University-College Station and the University of Idaho

nuclear imageNuScale Power announced that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded three grants to support the installation of a NuScale reactor plant simulator at each of Oregon State University, Texas A&M University-College Station and the University of Idaho.

When completed, the simulator facilities will be used for research, education, K-12 outreach and public advocacy regarding nuclear power and small modular reactor (SMR) technology.

“We are very grateful to our university partners for their collaboration and eagerness to participate in this project, and to the Department of Energy for its continued support of NuScale’s groundbreaking work in the advanced nuclear industry,” said John Hopkins, Chairman and chief executive officer of NuScale Power.

NuScale’s reactor simulator is a virtual nuclear power plant control room that provides U.S. universities and national laboratories with the ability to observe nuclear plant behavior from the control room. These simulators, based on NuScale’s simulator technology and computer models, will include a simulator interface that accepts input from operators in a virtual control room and displays parameters simulating the plant response.

The simulator facilitates research into human factors engineering, human-system interface design, advanced diagnostics, cyber security and plant control room automation. In addition to supporting STEM research and education at universities, NuScale’s simulator can be used to show students and members of the public advanced nuclear technology in a control room setting. After, deployment at each university, NuScale will provide technical support and further model development to support research.

Lead collaborators from each of the partner universities include Qiao Wu, Ph.D. (Oregon State University), Yassin Hassan, Ph.D. (Texas A&M University) and Richard Christensen, Ph.D. (University of Idaho).

“The installation of these three simulators will provide remarkable opportunities for students, researchers and operators to better understand SMR technology,” said NuScale Innovation Manager Derick Botha, who developed the project proposal on behalf of the company in collaboration with the university leads.

NuScale’s technology is the world’s first and only SMR to undergo design certification review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The NRC is scheduled to complete its review of NuScale’s design in September 2020.

Advanced Reactors / US And Canada Regulators Sign Agreement

(NucNet) The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission have signed a memorandum of cooperation to increase regulatory effectiveness through work on the technical reviews of advanced reactor and small modular reactor technologies.

CNSC NRC agree to collaboration

CNSC president and chief executive Officer Rumina Velshi (left) and NRC chairman Kristine Svinicki (right) sign off on a historic MOU to collaborate on SMRs. Photo: NRC

The NRC and CNSC are building on a agreement signed in August 2017 accelerating efforts to realize innovation in the review of advanced reactor and small modular reactor technology concepts.

The NRC said in a statement that the “historic” memorandum represents a uniquely important step in both countries’ strong commitment to a more effective, efficient, and timely analysis of next-generation technologies, and both agencies’ safety and security mission.

NRC chairman Kristine Svinicki said advanced technologies are emerging at a rapid pace, demanding that regulators keep in step with modernization initiatives and the technologies of the future.

CNSC president and chief executive Officer Rumina Velshi said: “Globally, interest and advances in small modular and advanced reactors are growing rapidly. The CNSC and the NRC are working together as regulatory leaders to ensure the development and deployment of these innovative technologies are done safely and efficiently.”

The memorandum of cooperation is the first of its kind between the US and Canadian regulators on matters involving nuclear power development.

Other Nuclear News

South Africa / Start Planning For New Nuclear Now,
Says Energy Minister

(NucNet) South Africa’s integrated resource plan, which foresees a diversified energy mix that includes nuclear, is in the process of being finalized and “planning for new nuclear power plants should start now”, minister of mineral resources and energy Gwede Mantashe said in a speech to parliament.

Mr Mantashe said the IRP will be tabled before cabinet for approval in September 2019. “It considers a diversified energy mix that includes all forms of energy technologies such as cleaner coal, nuclear, gas, hydro, renewables and battery storage.”

“To say nuclear energy is too expensive is misleading,” Mr Mantashe said. “The approach to South Africa’s energy sector should be one of balancing all the different sources together.”

He said South Africa’s only commercial nuclear station at Koeberg is “getting on in life”, but demonstrates the benefits of nuclear power and shows why South Africa should continue with a nuclear expansion program.

A 2010 energy plan incorporated 9,600 MW of nuclear energy into South Africa’s future energy mix, but nuclear energy was dropped entirely from a revised draft plan released for public comment in August 2018.

In April 2017 a Cape Town court ruled that a series of preliminary procurement deals for new nuclear construction between the government of South Africa and Russia, China, the US, South Korea and France were illegal.

The court ruled that the procurement process was not sufficiently public and did not involve adequate environmental and financial assessments.

The procurement effort was withdrawn as a result.

Indonesia Opens Feasibility Study for Nuclear Power

(WNN) Indonesia’s National Atomic Energy Agency (Batan) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with utility PT Indonesia Power to cooperate in the use of nuclear technology in the energy sector. One area of cooperation will be a feasibility study on the use of nuclear power plants.

The MoU was signed in Ancol, North Jakarta, by the head of Batan, Anhar Riza Antariksawan, and the acting director of Indonesia Power, Ahsin Sidqi.

The scope of the cooperation covered by the MoU includes a feasibility study on the use of nuclear energy for power plants, as well as the potential use of thorium, uranium and other radioisotopes in batteries.

The agreement also calls for cooperation on human resources development, the exchange of data and information, organizing scientific meetings, and the use of each other’s facilities and infrastructure.

Prior to signing the agreement, Ahsin said: “This afternoon, Indonesia Power will have an MoU with Batan to prepare for research into the first nuclear power plant in Indonesia, as well as the development of nuclear batteries with Batan. So that in the future, Indonesia Power will not only be an electricity company, but also an energy company.”

Batan launched a plan in 2014 to build a 10 MWt Experimental Power Reactor (Reaktor Daya Eksperimental, RDE) at its largest research centre site – the Puspiptek Complex, in Serpong, South Tangerang, Banten – as a first strategic milestone for the introduction of large-scale nuclear power plant fleets into the country.

The RDE is a domestically-designed, very small-sized pebble-bed high temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) with low-enriched uranium oxide TRISO fuel.

In March 2018, Batan launched a roadmap for developing a detailed engineering design for the RDE.  It will be an important requirement for Batan to achieve approval for the RDE design from the Indonesia’s Nuclear Energy Regulatory Agency.

Batan is promoting the introduction of nuclear power plants in Indonesia to help meet the county’s demand for power. It envisages the start-up of conventional large light-water reactors on the populous islands of Bali, Java, Madura and Sumatra starting in 2027.

In addition, it is planning for the deployment of small HTGRs (up to 100 MWe) on Kalimantan, Sulawesi and other islands to supply power and heat for industrial use. The prototype unit is planned for West Kalimantan.

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