The US Department of Energy's (DOE’s) Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is to receive $3.9 million in funding for 13 university-led projects to develop the instrumentation and tools needed to monitor and conduct experiments in a proposed fast spectrum test reactor.

The projects, under the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy's (DOE-NE’s) Versatile Test Reactor programme, are part of an effort to develop a conceptual design and cost estimate for a new, one-of-a-kind test reactor that would support advanced reactor research and development. The DOE is expected to decide in 2020 whether the reactor project is to go ahead.

DOE’s Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee (NEAC) examined this issue and recommended in a 2017 report “that DOE-NE proceed immediately with pre-conceptual design planning activities to support a new test reactor (including cost and schedule estimates).” The recommendation was based, partially, on responses from US companies developing advanced reactors, many of which require different testing facilities than the commercial nuclear power technology in use today. DOE-NE is now working with national laboratories, universities, and industry partners to develop cost estimates, a conceptual design, and potential schedule. If approved, the test reactor would be designed and built by domestic research entities and industry partners.

The university-led projects selected for funding are:

  • University of Pittsburgh – Disruptive Nuclear Technology: Resonance Sensors and Inductive Signal Transmission through Hermetic Walls -$450,000;
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison – Miniature Scale Liquid Metal Oxygen Purification and Measurement System – $350,000;
  • University of Utah    – Development of Experiment Vehicle for Analyzing the Chemistry of Irradiated Molten Salt – $450,400;
  • Texas A&M University – Development of Innovative Measurement Techniques for Fission Product Transport Quantification – $250,000
  • Oregon State University – In Situ Mechanical and Corrosion Testing -$440,000;
  • University of New Mexico – Preparatory Out-of-pile Lead Loop Experiments to Support Design of Irradiation Test Loop in VTR -$450,000;
  • North Carolina State University -VIM for VTR: Holistic Approach to Design and Construction – $319,000;
  • Texas A&M University – Rabbit System Design and Demonstration – $400,000;
  • Abilene Christian University – Investigation of Instrumentation, Data Analytics, and Simulation Synergies for the Versatile Test Reactor – $150,000;
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology Advanced Data Acquisition and Simulation with Live Data Supporting VTR Experiments  – $150,000; University of Idaho – Advanced Molten Salt Flow Sensor  – $100,000;
  • Colorado School of Mines – Big, Deep, and Smart Data to Support VTR Experiment Design and Validation – $169,000;
  • Georgia Tech – IBD Power Monitor for the VTR Experimental Program – $196,000.
  • INL also announced on 8 October that it had received funding awards for seven projects proposed to the Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF). TCF was created in 2005 to promote promising energy technologies across DOE’s national labs. By funding received, INL was the third most awarded laboratory, receiving $2.4 million in TCF funds and $4.8 million with matching industry funds.

Wireless valve sensor project

One of the projects was $750,000 for a Pilot Demonstration of a Wireless Valve Position Indication Sensor System for nuclear plants.  The partner is Exelon Generation Company. One of the tasks performed by nuclear plant personnel on a regular basis is independent or concurrent verification of manual valve position, which requires two or three people. To address these concerns, a research team at INL has developed a wireless valve position indication (VPI) sensor system that can be retrofitted on three  valve types to replace manual valve position verification with digital verification, and to enable online monitoring of manual valves. Retrofitting the wireless VPI sensor system does not require any valve modification. By enabling digital verification and remote online monitoring, implementation would generate significant cost savings during plant outages, extend the calibration cycles and ensure valve health monitoring as part of a reduction in downtime. It would also reduce the risk of exposing plant personnel to industrial and regulatory hazards, along with a significant reduction in human errors.