The US Department of Energy (DOE) has approved Critical Decision 1 for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) project, a scientific user facility that would support research and development of innovative nuclear energy and other technologies.
Critical Decision 1, known as “Approve Alternative Selection and Cost Range,” is the second step in the formal process DOE uses to review and manage research infrastructure projects.
As part of Critical Decision 1, federal committees reviewed the conceptual design, schedule, and cost range, and analysed potential alternatives. DOE also issued a Notice of Intent to prepare the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for VTR, which was published in the Federal Register in August 2019, as part of Critical Decision 1 activities.
The VTR project can now move to the engineering design phase as soon as Congress appropriates funding. DOE has requested $295 million for FY 2021 for the project.
US Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said the approval of Critical Decision 1 represents a significant step toward re-establishing the United States as a global leader in nuclear energy research, safety and security, and developing new technologies that will help supply the world with low-carbon energy. “The Versatile Test Reactor addresses a long-standing gap in research infrastructure in the United States,” Brouillette said. “We have not had a fast neutron spectrum test facility for decades. Many of the new reactor designs under development in the United States require this sort of long-term testing capability. Not only will VTR support the research and development of much-needed clean energy technologies, but it is key to revitalizing our nuclear industry, which has long been the model for safe operations and security for the world.”
DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy established the VTR programme in 2018 in response to reports outlining the need for a fast spectrum test reactor and requests from US companies developing advanced reactors. Many of the new designs require different testing capabilities than the existing testing infrastructure.
Since 2018, a team of experts from six national laboratories,19 universities and nine industry partners have been developing a design, cost estimate, and schedule for VTR. VTR will generate neutrons at higher speeds and higher concentrations than existing test infrastructure and provide leading edge capability for accelerated testing of advanced nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation, and sensors.
DOE will make a final decision on the design, technology selection and location for VTR following the completion of the EIS and Record of Decision, which is expected in late 2021.
Photo: Cutaway of the Versatile Test Reactor (Photo: INL)