The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative has awarded two vouchers to NuScale Power and Metatomic Energy to support development of their small modular reactor (SMR) and used nuclear fuel conversion technologies. DOE says the two companies will leverage the expertise and research capabilities at Oak Ridge and Savannah River national laboratories (ORNL and SRNL) to advance their projects toward commercialisation.

NuScale Power will work with ORNL to assess the company’s VOYGR power plant’s heat augmentation system to determine the best ways of coupling the advanced light-water SMRs with chemical plants. According to DOE, the chemical industry requires a large heat supply at high temperatures which is currently provided at commercial-scale by fossil fuels. The study will help determine the requirements and cost effectiveness of leveraging the VOGYR power plant’s system.

NuScale’s SMR is an advanced light-water SMR with each module capable of generating 50 MWe. It is the only SMR design which has been certified by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The VOYGR SMR can house up to 12 factory-built power modules. NRC is now reviewing an uprate to enable each module to generate up to 77 MWe. The design comprises six co-located pressurised-water reactor modules. The modules use natural, “passive” processes such as convection and gravity in operating systems and safety features.

Metatomic will work with SRNL to begin to demonstrate their newly-developed process to convert today’s commercial used nuclear fuel into fuel for molten salt fast reactors. The data will be used to assess the feasibility of the system to provide fuel for a molten salt reactor and how to scale up their process at an industrial scale.

The US generates about 2,000 tonnes of used nuclear fuel a year. Metatomic’s process could help reduce the amount of used fuel needed for permanent disposal by recycling it for new reactor technologies.

GAIN voucher recipients do not receive direct financial awards. The vouchers provide funding to DOE national laboratories to help businesses overcome critical technological and commercialisation challenges. All awardees are responsible for a minimum 20% cost share, which could be an in-kind contribution.

GAIN was established by DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy and provides the nuclear community with the technical, regulatory, and financial support necessary to move innovative nuclear technologies toward commercialization while ensuring the continued, safe, and economic operation of the existing fleet.  This is the fourth round of GAIN vouchers awarded for FY 2023.