US Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) said on 24 August that Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA) had initiated contract negotiations with a team led by Bechtel National Inc (BNI) to support the design and build phase of the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR). The BNI team also includes TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.
The announcement came after BEA, the contractor that operates INL for DOE, and members of the VTR technical team reviewed submissions by industry teams in response to a Request for Proposal issued earlier this year. After careful review of multiple high-quality proposals, BEA selected the BNI-led team to start contract negotiations. INL manages the VTR project on behalf of DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy (ONE).
“We received excellent proposals from industry, which is indicative of the support to build a fast-spectrum neutron testing facility in the United States,” said INL director Mark Peters. The BNI-led team will bring a lot of design and construction expertise to the VTR project, he added. “This is essential since it has been several years since we built a test reactor in the United States.”
ONE established the VTR program in 2018 in response to several reports outlining the need for a fast spectrum test reactor and requests from US companies developing advanced reactors. Currently, there are very few capabilities available for testing fast neutron reactor technology in the world and none in the USA. In 2018, Congress passed the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA), which highlighted the need for a reactor-based fast neutron source and authorised DOE to proceed.
Since then, a team of experts from INL and five additional national laboratories (Argonne National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Savannah River National Laboratory), 19 universities, and nine industry partners have been developing a conceptual design, cost estimate and schedule for VTR.
“We are looking forward to successful negotiations with the BNI team and want to make sure the project is ready to go in Fiscal Year 2021,” said Kemal Pasamehmetoglu, executive director of the VTR project.
“The VTR team led by INL has established a solid foundation upon which the design phase can begin,” said Dr Rita Baranwal, assistant secretary for ONE. “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. The selection of the BNI team with its TerraPower and GE Hitachi partners, puts us firmly on the path toward building this important infrastructure capability.”
The INL-led team is also supporting the development of an Environmental Impact Statement that will be used to assist the Department in making the final decision on the design, technology selection and location for VTR. The final decision is expected in late 2021.
Instead of producing electricity, the VTR “would conduct irradiation testing for fuels, materials, and equipment to be used in rapidly evolving designs for advanced reactors brought forward by US companies, as well as public and private research institutions”, said Bechtel.
“Advanced reactors hold great promise but their fuels and materials need proper testing before they can be licensed and used in energy-producing reactors,” said Barbara Rusinko, president of Bechtel’s Nuclear, Security & Environmental global business unit. “It’s extremely important for the science community, industry, regulators, and the future of nuclear energy research.”