USNC details UK funding award for MMR development

26 July 2023

US-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) says the recent (£22.5m ($29.3m) matching funds grant awarded by the UK Department for Energy Security & Net Zero (DESNZ) will accelerate the design and deployment of its Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR) in the UK and global markets. Application for the award was submitted in March by an integrated team with US-based Jacobs and earned the highest scores of all applications in Phase B of the UK’s Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) Research, Development & Demonstration Programme.

USNC says its MMR “is a solid fit to decarbonise UK industrial energy demand driven by process heat”. It notes that DESNZ has identified high temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs) as a focus of the AMR RD&D Programme “which seeks to accelerate commercial technology readiness in the advanced nuclear market to support deployment by 2050”.

UNSC CEO Francesco Venneri said: “This is an important next step for deploying MMR nuclear batteries in the UK and across Europe. The UK has long and unique experience with gas reactor technology the MMR builds on and this is the right team to demonstrate the design’s versatility to meet the world’s market needs.”

According to USNC, the MMR is well-suited to achieve AMR programme objectives including secure, zero-carbon hydrogen production, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), process heat, and electric power. The MMR will work at various power levels by simply changing the way it is operated. At higher power, fuel is consumed faster, much like a battery.

“This high-temperature reactor has the potential to assist the world’s energy transition and take nuclear power into a new era,” said Jacobs Energy, Security & Technology Senior Vice President Karen Wiemelt. “With 60 years of experience in research, design and operational support for high-temperature gas-cooled reactors, Jacobs is ideally placed to support USNC through a range of scientific, engineering and program management capabilities.”

In March, USNC took on board personnel from the former U-Battery project effectively doubling the size of its UK Team. “All of this underscores the global importance of the AMR programme and supporting and augmenting the UK expertise needed to realise the programme’s benefits as intended by the UK Government,” USNC noted.

USNC’s MMR is a high-temperature gas-cooled “nuclear battery” design that will use Fully Ceramic Micro-encapsulated (FCM) nuclear fuel. USNC has active micro reactor deployment projects in Canada at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in Chalk River, in the USA at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and at LUT University in Lappeenranta, Finland and in Poland. Additional projects are under development in the USA, Canada, and Europe.

FCM fuel enhances safety through proprietary technology to embed TRISO particles in a silicon carbide matrix. In August 2022, USNC opened its Pilot Fuel Manufacturing (PFM) facility in Oak Ridge at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), to produce the first fuel for testing and qualification for use in the MMR.

The funding award was one of many announced alongside the launch of Great British Nuclear (GBN), which aims to drive rapid expansion of nuclear power in the UK at an unprecedented scale, and the start of a competition to encourage the development of small modular reactor (SMR) technology.

The total grant funding package of up to £157m included £77.1m “for companies to accelerate advanced nuclear business development in the UK and support advanced nuclear designs”, and up to £58m “for the further development and design of a type of advanced modular reactor (AMR) and next generation fuel”. USNC’s award was part of the £58m, with other funding going to the UK’s National Nuclear laboratory. In addition, a further £22.3m from the Nuclear Fuel Fund was awarded to eight projects to develop new fuel production and manufacturing capabilities in the UK. The winners included Westinghouse Springfields, Urenco UK,

Nuclear Transport Solutions (part of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority) and MoltexFLEX.

Image: Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation’s micro modular reactor (courtesy of USNC)

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