The House Appropriations Committee zeroed out funding for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) for 2022. The reasons were mostly due to an absence of organized advocacy for it from commercial developers of advanced nuclear reactor designs, individually and as a trade group, and despite there being very organized support for it from national labs and other R&D organizations.
Experts from six national labs, 18 universities and 10 industry partner organizations are contributing to the design of this one-of-a-kind science facility. Once operational, VTR will welcome researchers and developers from all over, creating a collection of shared knowledge that will stimulate industry and boost economies across the United States.
Here are Two Quick Take-aways for the Situation
The Train is Leaving the Station!
Want to save funding for the Versatile Test Reactor? Developers of advanced nuclear reactors must speak with one voice to Congress in favor of it. An Omnibus funding bill comes up fast in December. It is a train leaving the station.
If funding is not restored in the omnibus appropriation to fund the government for the rest of the year, a vote for which occurs in early December, it will be another year before funding can be considered for the project.
The reason is that these firms will need its testing capabilities to certify that their fuels, materials, sensors, and components will work in the demanding conditions that these plants are designed to operate in. There is no other way to do it. Self-certification either directly or with fuel and component vendors, is not a viable strategy.
Real-time measurements and post-irradiation examination techniques will provide valuable information on how fuels, materials, components and instrumentation withstand the extreme conditions inside nuclear power plants. This is crucial information needed to design, license, and build successful implementations of advanced nuclear reactors.
The Advanced Test Reactor (ATR), which has performed this mission for the past 60 years, is undergoing a once-a-decade refurbishment and will be available soon to continue this scope of work while the VTR is being built. The VTR is the next generation of test reactors.
The Russians Are Coming for Lunch – Ours!
In case anyone thinks the US can do without the VTR, here’s what the Russians are up to. Want a “sputnik moment,” just do nothing and allow kill off the funding for VTR and then watch one whiz by.
Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear corporation, is promoting the use of its multi-purpose fast neutron research reactor (MBIR) which is under construction at the Research Institute of Atomic Reactors (NIIAR) in Dimitrovgrad in the Ulyanovsk region of Russia, located about 1,600 miles east of Moscow. The state owned enterprise is hawking its capabilities and soliciting partnerships on an international scale.
It is creating an International Research Center (IRC) to be a home for cooperative R&D and test projects. According to the June 2020 briefing, four nations have signed up so far – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. The briefing says these arrangements, and others like it, will support the IRC’s ambitions to become a world class center of excellence for testing materials to be used in fast neutron reactors.
The purpose of the MBIR construction effort is to have a high-flux fast test reactor with unique capabilities to implement the following tasks:
– in-pile tests and post-irradiation examination,
– production of heat and electricity,
– testing of new technologies for the radioisotopes,
– modified materials production.
MBIR will be used for materials testing for Generation IV fast neutron reactors including high temperature gas-cooled, molten salt, and lead-bismuth designs. Experiments that are proposed to be undertaken include measuring the performance of core components under normal and emergency conditions.
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Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee
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Members of the House Appropriation Committee
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