The US government has said Idaho is its preferred choice rather than Tennessee for construction of its Versatile Test Reactor (VTR), The Associated Press (AP) reported on 19 November.

The Department of Energy (DOE) said in an email to AP that the site, which includes Idaho National Laboratory (INL) will be listed as its preferred alternative in a draft environmental impact statement planned for release in December. The VTR — a fast-spectrum test reactor that will support research and development of innovative nuclear energy technologies — will be the first new test reactor built in the US in several decades.

A DOE news release earlier the same day had listed both Idaho and Tennessee as possible locations. However, Republican Senator Jim Risch of Idaho shared a tweet from DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy identifying Idaho as its top choice. “Having the VTR at (the Idaho National Laboratory) will allow American companies to perform nuclear testing here in the US — another step toward energy independence,” Risch commented with his retweet. AP said DOE “after some initial confusion when contacted by the AP”, had confirmed Idaho as its preferred choice.

“The Versatile Test Reactor continues to be a high-priority project for DOE to ensure nuclear energy plays a role in our country’s energy portfolio,” Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said. “Examination of the environmental impacts reflects DOE’s commitment to clean energy sources and will serve as an example for others looking to deploy advanced reactor technologies.”

The final environmental impact statement is due in 2021, followed by   a record of decision finalising the selection of the site. Plans call for building the reactor by the end of 2025. DOE’s draft environmental impact statement also considered building the test reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee as a possibility.

The DOE press release said it expects to publish the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for VTR in mid-December.

DOE's Office of Nucelar Energy established the VTR programme in 2018 in response to requests from US companies and to the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA), which called for a reactor-based fast neutron source to be in place in the mid-2020s.

The draft EIS, which is being prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), will analyse the potential environmental, community, and cultural resource impacts of locating and operating the VTR at either INL or ORNL, as well as fabricating fuel to power VTR at either INL or DOE’s Savannah River Site.

Since DOE established the VTR programme, a team of experts from national laboratories, universities and industry has been developing a design, cost estimate and schedule for the reactor. “The VTR team has done a great job of meeting the expedited schedule that Congress set for the project,” said Dr Rita Baranwal, Assistant Secretary for DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. “The team has developed a strong conceptual design that will help fill this long-standing gap in our country’s research infrastructure, and will support decades of energy innovation.”