US-based BWX Technologies (BWXT) has signed a two-phase, two-year contract with the US Wyoming Energy Authority (WEA) to assess the viability of deploying small-scale nuclear reactors in the state. BWXT said it will execute the contract in close consultation with the State of Wyoming and other Wyoming organisations and companies.

Under the first phase one of the contract, BWXT “will work with Wyoming industries to define the requirements basis for nuclear applications of base heat and power needs of the trona mining operations within the state”. In addition, BWXT will undertake engineering work to further the design of its integrated BWXT Advanced Nuclear Reactor (BANR) system that can integrate into Wyoming’s future power needs. The BANR design is a 50 MWt high-temperature gas-cooled microreactor that will use TRISO (TRIstructural-ISOtropic) fuel.

According to the BWXT website, the BANR project “is developing a modular, factory-fabricated system that is small and light enough to be transported via rail, ship or truck and that can deliver 50 MW of thermal nuclear reactor power”. It employs “mature and manufacturable high-temperature gas reactor (HTGR) technology with inherent safety features and a high working fluid temperature”. It offers flexible options for energy output – including electricity, steam for process heat, or both (cogeneration) while minimising greenhouse gas emissions.

BWXT says: “The primary objective of our programme is to demonstrate the commercial viability of this small, versatile, advanced nuclear demonstration reactor within seven years by optimising our existing high technology readiness level HTGR baseline design.” Tasks include “designing, building, testing and licensing technological upgrades to our baseline solution, leading to commercialising a BANR-inspired Advanced Nuclear Reactor”. The three project goals are listed as: qualification of novel TRISO fuel form; cost reductions; and commercialisation.

Phase One of the contract with WEA will also include “identifying areas where Wyoming’s existing supply chain can demonstrate capabilities for reactor component manufacturing and support reactor deployment”. Depending on the results of Phase One, the second phase of the contract will see BWXT furthering the design basis of BANR to meet the specific needs of potential Wyoming end users. A demonstration of the capabilities of Wyoming manufacturers will be undertaken to validate the supply chain activities completed in Phase One.

BWXT says that, during both phases of the contract, it will leverage existing U. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) achievements through the company’s collaboration with Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and other internal BWXT research and development investments., BWXT and DOE have been developing the BANR microreactor through ARDP since 2021. The project in Wyoming “represents an acceleration of BWXT’s commercial nuclear development efforts”, the company notes.

“At the end of this project, the potential job-creation, manufacturing and industrial opportunities for nuclear power in Wyoming will be clearer, and we will have a roadmap for deploying microreactors in the state,” said Joe Miller, BWXT Advanced Technologies President. “When state and federal agencies work together with the private sector, we expect the economic and environmental benefits of nuclear innovations will be unlocked.”

INL has been providing strategic and technical support to the State of Wyoming under a memorandum of understanding signed in May 2022. “BWXT and the State of Wyoming are leaders in forging innovative partnerships and innovative business frameworks that will help transform Wyoming’s economy and help secure the nation’s energy future,” said Steven Aumeier, senior advisor for INL’s strategic programmes.

WEA Executive Director Rob Creager said the microreactor project “presents the possibility of creating additional resources for industrial end users in Wyoming – thereby helping further a full value chain nuclear industry in Wyoming, advancing and diversifying our economy”. He added: “Wyoming is in the unique position to be able to contribute funding for these innovative projects and believes this further demonstrates the strength of the Wyoming Energy Authority’s public-private partnerships.”

In August, BWXT's BANR project was one of two recommended by WEA to Governor Mark Gordon to receive nearly $10m each from the Energy Matching Funds programme which was established by the state legislature in 2022. This provides matching funds for research, demonstration, pilot projects or commercial deployment projects related to Wyoming’s energy needs. Management of the fund is delegated by the governor to the WEA.

BWXT has 14 major operating sites in the US, Canada and the UK In addition, BWXT joint ventures provide management and operations at a dozen DOE and NASA facilities. INL, which is managed by Battelle Energy Alliance for DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, is the US centre for nuclear energy research and development, and undertakes research in DOE’s strategic goal areas of energy, national security, science and the environment.

Also in Wyoming, Kemmerer was selected in 2021 as the preferred site for TerraPower's Natrium demonstration project, featuring a 345 MWe sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system. The reactor is scheduled to begin operating by 2030.

Image: Design concept for the BANR (courtesy of BWXT)