US DOE funding aims to reduce cost of nuclear new build

8 July 2021

The US Department of Energy (DOE) on 7 July announced $5.8 million in funding to develop three construction technologies that together can reduce the cost of new nuclear builds by more than 10%.

“Construction costs and schedule overruns have plagued new nuclear builds for decades,” said Dr Kathryn Huff, Acting Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at DOE. “By leveraging advanced construction technologies, we can drive down costs and speed the pace of advanced nuclear deployment – much needed steps to tackle global climate change and meet the President’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

The project team, led by GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, will demonstrate three technologies, leveraging promising developments from other industries that have not been tested within the context of nuclear energy. These include:

  • Vertical shaft construction, a best practice from the tunneling industry that could reduce construction schedules by more than a year;
  • Steel Bricks(TM), modular steel-concrete composite structures, much like high-tech LEGO® pieces, which could significantly reduce the labor required on site;
  • Advanced monitoring, coupled with digital twin technology, which can create a 3-D replica of the nuclear power plant structure.

These technologies can be applied to a variety of advanced reactor designs to significantly improve the economics of bringing advanced reactors to market.

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy leads a proposal team that also includes Black & Veatch, the Electric Power Research Institute, Purdue University, Caunton Engineering, Modular Walling Systems Limited, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

This work is funded and managed through DOE’s National Reactor Innovation Centre (NRIC), which was established in 2019 to enable advanced reactor demonstration and deployment. This project, referred to as the Advanced Construction Technology (ACT) initiative, will be conducted in two phases. The initial phase will focus on technology development and preparation for a small-scale demonstration. Pending the successful completion of the first phase and future appropriated funds, a second phase is planned to carry out the demonstration within three years of this award.

“We are excited to work with DOE, NRIC and the outstanding team we have assembled to help evaluate how innovative construction methods and technologies can reduce the cost of advanced reactor construction,” said Jon Ball, Executive Vice President, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy. “We know this funding will significantly benefit the commercialisation of SMRs and pave the way for other advanced reactors.”

Image: The steel bricks fabrication process

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