DOE studying new fast reactor
FORT HALL — A three-year research and development process is underway regarding a potential new test reactor at Idaho National Laboratory’s desert site.
The study to find the cost and capabilities of a Versatile Reactor-based Fast Neutron Source began in March, Rita Baranwal said during a Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission 2.0 meeting Friday. Baranwal is the director of Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear program.
The U.S. Department of Energy created GAIN to facilitate research and development for expensive and lengthy nuclear-related projects. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter created the LINE Commission to oversee nuclear-related progress in Idaho.
Baranwal said a fast reactor would provide next-generation fuel-testing capabilities not offered by INL’s Advanced Test Reactor or Transient Reactor Experiment and Test Facility, which is expected to resume operation this year.
There aren’t yet cost or schedule estimates for a new fast reactor, which would be used by private industry, government and academia. Such infrastructure doesn’t exist in the United States, but is necessary to remain globally competitive, Baranwal said.
“The industry needs a new fast spectrum test reactor to qualify fuel manufacturing processes and demonstrate fuel performance,” she said. “Folks go to Russia to use their fast reactor. The time is right for us to be embarking on such an endeavor to build a reactor that would provide these capabilities.”
A DOE study conducted last year found that industry interest justifies development of a fast reactor to augment the department’s existing reactors, which are mostly constrained to testing materials in a thermal neutron spectrum.
A Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee report released in February supports that position. The committee was established to provide independent advice to DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, which is INL’s largest funding source.
The report found that DOE faces bureaucratic delays, high shipping costs and other logistical issues when testing fast neutron fuels at reactors abroad.
Without a test reactor on U.S. soil, DOE also would continue to miss out on testing by independent organizations.