U.S. Advanced Nuclear Technologies Make Progress

Advanced nuclear technologies are central to American global leadership in clean energy. Research being conducted by federally funded researchers in the United States is constantly advancing nuclear sciences. Legislation introduced by House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Republicans will further accelerate our progress towards more efficient nuclear energy.

H.R. 6796, the Nuclear Energy for the Future Act, introduced in May of 2020, will help make nuclear energy even safer, more efficient, and more affordable through the development of advanced technologies.

The Nuclear Energy for the Future Act builds on the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA), a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Randy Weber and signed into law in 2018 to advance American leadership in nuclear technology. It provides full authorization for the Versatile Reactor-Based Fast Neutron Source (VNS), which is also referred to as the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR).

Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy announced approval of Critical Decision 1, marking a major milestone in the VTR program:

ICYMI: Department of Energy Announces Approval of Critical Decision 1 for the Versatile Test Reactor Project

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced today it has approved Critical Decision 1 for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) project, a one-of-a-kind scientific user facility that would support research and development of innovative nuclear energy and other technologies.

Critical Decision 1, known as “Approve Alternative Selection and Cost Range,” is the second step in the formal process DOE uses to review and manage research infrastructure projects. As part of Critical Decision 1, federal committees reviewed the conceptual design, schedule, and cost range and analyzed potential alternatives. DOE also issued a Notice of Intent to prepare the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the VTR, which was published in the Federal Register on August 5, 2019, as part of Critical Decision 1 activities. The VTR project now moves to the engineering design phase.

“The Versatile Test Reactor addresses a long-standing gap in research infrastructure in the United States,” Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said. “We have not had a fast neutron spectrum test facility for decades. Many of the new reactor designs under development in the United States require this sort of long-term testing capability. Not only will the VTR support the research and development of much-needed clean energy technologies, but it is key to revitalizing our nuclear industry, which has long been the model for safe operations and security for the world.”

DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy established the VTR program in 2018 in response to reports outlining the need for a fast spectrum test reactor and requests from U.S. companies developing advanced reactors. Many of the new designs require different testing capabilities than the existing testing infrastructure that supports today’s nuclear energy technologies. Since then, a team of experts from six national laboratories, 19 universities, and nine industry partners have been developing a design, cost estimate, and schedule for the VTR.

The VTR will generate neutrons at higher speeds and higher concentrations than existing test infrastructure. It will provide leading edge capability for accelerated testing of advanced nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation, and sensors.

“The approval of Critical Decision 1 establishes a solid foundation upon which the design phase can begin,” said Dr. Rita Baranwal, Assistant Secretary for DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. “We have repeatedly heard from industry and other stakeholders that the United States needs a fast neutron scientific user facility to maintain our global leadership in nuclear energy. This decision puts us firmly on the path toward achieving that goal.”

The Department will make a final decision on the design, technology selection, and location for the VTR following the completion of the EIS and Record of Decision, which is expected in late 2021.

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