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U.S. selects test plant for advanced nuclear reactor fuel

U.S. selects test plant for advanced nuclear reactor fuel

Reuters · 07/27/2022 13:23
U.S. selects test plant for advanced reactor fuel

By Timothy Gardner

- The U.S. Energy Department said on Wednesday it had selected a design to build a multi-billion-dollar test reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory that could help to develop fuels for advanced reactors.

The Versatile Test Reactor, or VTR, was proposed in 2018 by the Trump administration, and if Congress provides funding, would be the first fast test reactor to operate in the United States in three decades.

Backers say it would allow U.S. companies to conduct advanced technology and fuel tests without having to go to competitors in Russia and China.

The department plans to use the GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Power Reactor Innovative Small Module as the basis for the VTR's design.

"The VTR project would help modernize U.S. energy research and development infrastructure and dramatically accelerate the technology development for current and -generation reactors," the Energy Department said about the design for the sodium-cooled fast test reactor.

In 2019, Reuters reported on internal Energy Department documents, revealed by a freedom of information request by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), that showed VTR's cost could be $3.9 billion to $6 billion, up to 40% more than a U.S. official had estimated earlier that year.

Ed Lyman, a safety expert at UCS, said the current cost could be even higher with today's inflation and supply chain and workforce constraints.

The department did immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest estimated cost for the project. The department has requested $45 million in the fiscal 2023 budget for the VTR, which would likely use uranium, plutonium, and zirconium as fuel.

The Biden administration believes that power is critical to achieving the president's climate goals of decarbonizing the power grid by 2035 and the wider economy by 2050.

But one fuel that is likely to be used in high-tech reactors, called high assay low enriched uranium, or HALEU, with uranium enriched up to 20%, is mostly produced in Russia.


(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Barbara Lewis)

((timothy.gardner@thomsonreuters.com; +1 202 380-8348 (Twitter @timogard); Reuters Messaging: timothy.gardner.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.))