Savannah River takes on PRISM

29 October 2010

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions has signed a memorandum of understanding with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to explore the potential of deploying a prototype of GEH’s Generation IV PRISM reactor

GE-Hitachi PRISM sodium-cooled fast reactor
GE-Hitachi PRISM sodium-cooled fast reactor


The deal would aim to determine the suitability of deploying a 299MW PRISM reactor at the Department of Energy's Savannah River site, which is run by SRNS, a private-sector consortium lead by Fluor Daniel, Northrup Grumman and Honeywell.

Last month, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions signed a similar research alliance with Hyperion Power to work on research to develop its 25MW small modular reactor.

The site seems to be focusing particularly on R&D of small modular reactors. "I envisage a clean energy campus, where we will work together with the private sector," said the new director of the Savannah River National Laboratory, Terry Michalske, during a press conference.

The PRISM reactor design, which completed U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission pre-application reviews in 1994, is an advanced, Generation IV sodium-cooled reactor technology. A key attribute of PRISM technology is that it generates additional electricity from recycling used nuclear fuel.

PRISM R&D stalled after US federal funding for the GNEP programme was wound down in 2009. Kevin Walsh, GE's senior vice president for nuclear fuel cycle, told Nuclear Engineering International in September 2010 that no PRISM research was then taking place, but that research was mostly complete.

"If we could get government funding to go forward with an experimental installation of the PRISM reactor, then the detailed design would be done at that point. The early design and testing [in GNEP] was to further work done on the EBR at Argonne National Laboratory, which is what the PRISM concept was based on."

He also explained that GE-Hitachi leans away from reprocessing, and towards recycling, as a potential future fuel cycle in the USA: "Our vision is recycling—you burn the actinides in a fast reactor, such as PRISM, and you don't separate plutonium. That alleviates some of the proliferation concerns, and you get as close to closing the fuel cycle as practical. You also reduce waste, and reduce the half-life of radioisotopes that are disposed."

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