US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry on 27 April announced $60m in support of advanced nuclear technology development for 13 projects. These selections were the first under Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Nuclear Energy’s US Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development funding opportunity announcement (FOA), and they will be reviewed quarterly over the next five years. DOE intends to apply up to $40m of additional FY 2018 funding to the subsequent two quarterly award cycles for innovative proposals under this FOA.
Perry said the new investments were “an important step to reviving and revitalising nuclear energy”, and ensuring that the USA “continues to benefit from this clean, reliable, resilient source of electricity”. The awards underscore the importance of the private-public partnerships and will allow industry-led teams (including participants from federal agencies, public and private laboratories, institutions of higher education, and other domestic entities) to advance US commercial nuclear capability, DOE noted.
The FOA covers three innovative funding pathways:
- First-of-a-Kind (FOAK) Nuclear Demonstration Readiness Projects, intended to address major advanced reactor design developments or complex technology advancements for existing plants which have significant technical and licensing risk and have the potential to be deployed by the mid-to-late 2020s;
- Advanced Reactor Development Projects, allowing a broad scope of proposed concepts and ideas best suited to improving the capabilities and commercialisation potential of advanced reactor designs and technologies; and
- Regulatory Assistance Grants providing direct support for resolving regulatory design issues, review of licensing topical reports or papers, and other efforts focused on obtaining certification approvals for advanced reactors.
First of a kind demonstration
Two projects were selected under the FOAK Nuclear Demonstration Readiness Project pathway:
- Design and License Application Development for X Energy’s TRISO-X fuel fabrication facility capable of handling high-assay, low-enriched uranium and production of US-developed uranium oxycarbide (UCO) TRistructural ISOtropic (TRISO) particle-based fuel elements required for the future fleet of advanced reactors. This will receive total funding of $8,988,888, half of which will be from DOE.
- Phase 1 NuScale Small Modular Reactor FOAK Nuclear Demonstration Readiness Project, NuScale Power, for design finalisation activities to ensure supply chain readiness to meet a commercial operation date of 2026. NuScale will receive total funding of $80m, half of which will be from DOE.
Four projects were selected under the Advanced Reactor Development Projects pathway:
- Expediting General Atomics advanced fuels deployment, which aims to combine advances made in microstructurally-informed fuel performance modelling and simulation tools with a new microcapsule irradiation capability to substantially reduce the schedule and cost of qualifying new fuel systems for commercial deployment. This will receive total funding of $2,763,744, including DOE funding of $2,210,995.
- Elysium Industries’ project to develop the computational fluid dynamics models needed to simulate and optimise the flows of chloride molten salt fuel in a reactor vessel and heat exchangers for its Molten Chloride Salt Fast Reactor design. This project will receive total funding of $3.2m, including $2.56m from DOE.
- BWXT Nuclear Energy’s project to implement Additive Materials Manufacturing to the fabrication process for nuclear components and sub-components to yield acceptable material structure and strength that can be accepted by the national code organisations and the regulator. This project will receive total funding of $9.815m, including $5.4m from DOE.
- NuVision Engineering’s proposal for an engineered solution to mitigate the effects of loss of power to light water-based nuclear reactors and to remove decay heat from the reactor core, mitigating losses due to random equipment failures and severe accidents. This will receive total funding of $3,749,571, including $ 2,999,657 from DOE.
Two projects were selected under the Regulatory Assistance Grant pathway:
- Analysis and Measurement Services (AMS) Corporation’s project to work with nuclear industry stakeholders and the regulator to develop guidelines for extending calibration intervals of transmitters using online monitoring technology. This work will receive total funding of $624,906, including $499,906 from DOE.
- General Atomics’ project to engage the regulator to execute a pre-licensing review of a silicon carbide composite-clad uranium carbide fuel system for use in a gas-cooled fast reactor. This initiative will receive total funding of $475,819, including $380,655 from DOE.
DOE also announcing technical voucher awards to US companies selected under its Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative. Five US companies were selected to receive vouchers in this first review cycle: Terrestrial Energy ($500,000); Vega Wave Systems ($130,000); Oklo ($417,000); Urbix Resources ($320,000); and ThorCon US ($400,000).
General Atomics (GA) said on 30 April that DOE support for its two projects would "advance development and licensing of a new reactor fuel that features silicon carbide (SiC) composite fuel cladding containing uranium carbide (UC) fuel pellets”. The SiC cladding, initially developed for the innovative Energy Multiplier Module (EM2) small modular helium-cooled fast reactor, has broad applications for a variety of current and advanced reactor concepts. GA noted that it is also working with Westinghouse Electric Company to develop SiC cladding as part of DOE’s Accident Tolerant Fuel (ATF) programme.
GA said the first project, in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee, will combine advanced computer modelling and simulation with new microcapsule irradiation to establish techniques that "substantially reduce" the time and expense required to qualify new fuels. The second project would support the pre-application license review of SiC-UC fuel by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. GA is providing cost share for the awards.
Meanwhile, Nuscale which received $40m from DOE to support the development of its small modular reactor (SMR), announced on 20 April that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission had completed the first and most intensive phase of review for the SMR’s design certification application (DCA). NRC is expected to certify NuScale’s design, and the company’s first customer, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, is planning a 12-module SMR plant in Idaho slated for operation by the mid-2020s based on this certified design.