11 Reasons why DOE is all in on new nuclear
On August 28, 2019, Dan Brouillette, the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, published a write-up of eleven ways that demonstrate the Department of Energy’s commitment to nuclear energy and especially advanced nuclear, in support of the more than 50 U.S. companies are developing advanced technologies that will make nuclear energy more efficient and affordable to build and operate. These include:
1. Swearing in Dr. Rita Baranwal
Dr. Rita Baranwal was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in June 2019 as Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy. She is the first woman to lead the office and takes over a $1.3 billion portfolio to promote the research and development of current and advanced nuclear technologies. Dr. Baranwal has more than 20 years of experience in the nuclear field and is well suited to manage the complex area of private-public partnerships needed to deploy advanced nuclear technologies.
2. Moving Forward with Vogtle Units 3 and 4
3. Siting the Nation’s First Small Modular Reactor
The nation’s first small modular reactor, or SMR, is on track to be operating at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) by 2026, where DOE is supporting the siting of a 12-module SMR plant. Since 2013, under a public-private partnership, DOE has supported the design and licensing of NuScale’s SMR, which recently cleared phases 2 and 3 of the NRC design certification process. The unique design of this technology allows the reactor to continuously cool itself without any need for additional water, power, or even operator intervention.
4. Establishing the National Reactor Innovation Center
This newly announced initiative could speed up the licensing and commercialization of advanced reactors. Led by INL, the National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC) provides a platform for private sector technology developers to assess the performance of their reactor concepts through testing and demonstration. NRIC is authorized by the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017 that was signed into law by President Trump in 2018. It builds on the successes of the GAIN initiative and will help bring these innovative concepts to reality through coordination with industry, other federal institutions, the national labs, and universities.
5. Supporting Advanced Nuclear Technologies
DOE has invested more than $170 million over the last 2 years to accelerate the development of advanced nuclear reactor technologies. This includes supporting industry efforts to design and submit a NRC license application for a new fuel fabrication facility. The project would ultimately produce TRISO fuel for next-generation reactors. TRISO fuels are incredibly robust and can’t melt in a reactor. To further support the commercial deployment of advanced reactor technologies, LPO has also made nearly $9 billion available to finance the commercial deployment of advanced nuclear technologies.
6. Deploying Microreactors
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.