Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA) has initiated contract negotiations with a team led by Bechtel National Inc. to support the design and build phase of the Versatile Test Reactor, a one-of-a-kind facility that would support research and development of innovative, clean nuclear energy technologies.
The BNI team also includes TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy. The decision reflects the early stage of engagement these firms have had with the project.
- In January 2020 GE-Hitachi and TerraPower agreed to collaborate to seek the business.
- In November 2018 GE-Hitachi was awarded a subcontract to support the conceptual design, cost/schedule estimate and safety framework activities.
- Within the INL-led VTR team, engineers from GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy will adapt the company’s 300 MW PRISM sodium-cooled nuclear reactor design to the needs of a test reactor for state-of-the art research and development purposes. The acronym PRISM stands for Power Reactor Innovative Small Module.
- Separately, GE-Hitachi is seeking an NRC license for the PRISM reactor design.
- Bechtel will support the project using its expertise in construction and project management for cost, schedule, and related management systems.
The announcement comes after BEA, the contractor that operates Idaho National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy, and members of the VTR technical team reviewed submissions by industry teams in response to a Request for Proposal issued earlier this year.
After careful review of multiple high-quality proposals, BEA selected the BNI-led team to start contract negotiations. INL manages the VTR project on behalf of DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. The negotiations will cover technical scope, schedule, cost, and the other normal elements of a major engineering procurement construction (EPC) effort.
While no cost estimate has been made public, the Department of Energy will need major funding in the order of at least several billion to build the reactor. Once operational, it will become the kind of anchor facility that the INL has sought for decades since the Integral Fast Reactor was shut down in the 1990s.
INL Excited About the Future
“We received excellent proposals from industry, which is indicative of the support to build a fast-spectrum neutron testing facility in the United States,” said Mark Peters, Idaho National Laboratory director.
“We are excited about the potential for working with the BNI-led team. They will bring a lot of design and construction expertise to the VTR project. This is essential since it has been several years since we built a test reactor in the United States.”
Background to the Decision
DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy established the VTR program in 2018 in response to several reports outlining the need for a fast spectrum test reactor and requests from U.S. companies developing advanced reactors. Currently, there are very few capabilities available for testing fast neutron reactor technology in the world and none in the United States.
In 2018, Congress passed the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA), which highlighted the need for a reactor-based fast neutron source and authorized DOE to proceed.
Since then, a team of experts from INL and five additional national laboratories Argonne National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Savannah River National Laboratory), 19 universities, and nine industry partners have been developing a conceptual design, cost estimate and schedule for VTR.
DOE Confident the VTR Can Be Built
Dr. Rita Baranwal, assistant secretary for DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, said it is important for the VTR project to move forward.
“The VTR team led by INL has established a solid foundation upon which the design phase can begin,” Baranwal said.
“We have repeatedly heard from industry and other stakeholders that the United States needs a fast neutron scientific user facility to maintain our global leadership in nuclear energy. The selection of the BNI team with its TerraPower and GE Hitachi partners, puts us firmly on the path toward building this important infrastructure capability.”
“We are looking forward to successful negotiations with the BNI team and want to make sure the project is ready to go in Fiscal Year 2021,” said Kemal Pasamehmetoglu, executive director of the VTR project.
Instead of producing electricity, the Versatile Test Reactor would conduct irradiation testing for fuels, materials, and equipment to be used in rapidly evolving designs for advanced reactors brought forward by U.S. companies, as well as public and private research institutions.
“Advanced reactors hold great promise, but their fuels and materials need proper testing before they can be licensed and used in energy-producing reactors,” said Barbara Rusinko, president of Bechtel’s Nuclear, Security & Environmental global business unit.
The INL-led team is also supporting the development of an Environmental Impact Statement that will be used to assist the Department in making the final decision on the design, technology selection and location for VTR. The final decision is expected in late 2021.
History of the VTR
In August 2019 the INL received a charter from DOE to establish the National Reactor Innovation Center. It is a test and demonstration center for new nuclear 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.
INL is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory that performs work in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and environment.
INL is the nation’s center for nuclear energy research and development. Day-to-day management and operation of the laboratory is the responsibility of Battelle Energy Alliance.
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