US DOE invites public comment on draft EIS for VTR

1 January 2021

The US Department of Energy (DOE) on 21 December invited the public to review and comment on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for construction of the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR).

The proposed VTR would be a sodium-cooled fast-neutron-spectrum test reactor that will enhance and accelerate research, development, and demonstration of innovative nuclear energy technologies.

The Draft EIS, prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), analyses potential impacts of the VTR alternatives and options for reactor fuel production on various environmental and community resources. The EIS evaluates:

  • Construction and operation of the VTR at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) or the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). This includes operating and performing experiments in the VTR, post-irradiation examination of irradiated test specimens in hot cell facilities, and used fuel conditioning and storage pending shipment for interim or permanent disposal.
  • Production of fuel for the VTR at INL and/or the Savannah River Site (SRS) including preparing feedstock for the fuel, fabricating fuel pins, and assembling the fuel pins into reactor fuel.
  • A no-action alternative under which DOE would not pursue the construction and operation of a VTR.

The Draft EIS identifies the construction and operation of the VTR at the INL Site as DOE's Preferred Alternative. To the extent possible, existing facilities (modified as necessary) would be used for the VTR support facilities.

“DOE is committed to designing and operating the VTR in a way that protects the environment and nearby communities,” said Dr Rita Baranwal, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy. “The VTR will help ensure that DOE and our industry partners can develop innovative nuclear technologies to supply the United States, and the world, with abundant carbon-free energy.”

The public was encouraged to comment on the draft EIS. The public comment period  concludes 45 days after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes its Notice of Availability in the Federal Register. DOE plans to hold two public hearings on the draft EIS and will host internet-based, virtual public hearings in place of in-person hearings.

DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy established the VTR programme in 2018 in response to the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA). NEICA directs DOE to assess the mission need for and cost of a versatile reactor-based fast-neutron source with high neutron flux, irradiation flexibility, multiple experimental environment capabilities, and volume for many concurrent users.

DOE approved the mission need for VTR in February 2019 and approved Critical Decision 1 in September 2020 - the second step in the formal process DOE uses to review and manage research infrastructure projects. DOE will make a final decision regarding VTR following the completion of the EIS and Record of Decision, which is expected in late 2021.

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