7. Investigating Molten Salts
The DOE recently launched the Molten Salts in Extreme Environments (MSEE) center. It’s one of 42 Energy Frontier Research Centers supported by DOE to accelerate scientific breakthroughs that will strengthen our U.S. economic leadership and energy security. MSEE will study the physical properties of molten salts and how they affect the materials in which they come in contact. This will speed up the development of molten salts for use in some advanced reactor designs, in addition to other potential applications such as nuclear fuel recycling and thermal transport, collection, and storage technologies.
8. Building a Versatile Test Reactor
As the United States moves forward with a new generation of reactors, advanced fuels, material and instrumentation development will be essential to the next-generation nuclear industry. That’s why the DOE is moving forward with plans to build a Versatile Test Reactor, or VTR. This test reactor will use high energy neutrons to speed up the testing of advanced technologies needed by new designs and the existing fleet. VTR eliminates a 30-year research gap for this domestic capability and will help modernize our nuclear research infrastructure.
9. Restarting TREAT
After spending more than two decades in standby mode, the Administration brought the Transient Reactor Test Facility at INL back online in 2017 and improved its capabilities by incorporating advanced imaging techniques to provide more detailed data than ever before. TREAT allows scientists to examine fuel performance under simulated accident conditions. The facility is preparing to test accident tolerant fuels for industry that will increase performance in today’s reactors and those of the future. The facility will also perform important tests for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as it develops nuclear fuel for space exploration, including next-generation nuclear thermal propulsion.
10. Providing Pathways to HALEU
More than 20 U.S. companies are developing advanced reactors and most of them will require a higher enriched fuel that’s currently not commercially available. This fuel is called high assay low-enriched uranium, or HALEU, and industry estimates it will need nearly 600 metric tons of it by 2030 to develop their innovative designs. HALEU allows for smaller plant sizes, longer core life, and a higher burnup of nuclear fuel. To help industry develop their designs, the DOE is looking into multiple options to provide small amounts of HALEU in the near-term to support the testing and demonstration of these technologies by recycling excess U.S. government nuclear fuel.
11. Launching the NICE Future Initiative
The launch of the NICE Future initiative was announced at the 9th Clean Energy Ministerial in 2018. NICE Future is a global effort led by the United States, Canada, and Japan that will ensure nuclear energy receives appropriate representation in high-level discussions about clean energy, as well as promotes international collaboration on advanced nuclear technologies. The initiative recently launched its first Breakthroughs Report that focuses on near-term innovations in nuclear energy. NICE Future has already engaged experts from more than 35 countries and 80 organizations to foster innovative thinking on future nuclear power uses and applications in clean energy systems.