The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced the launch of the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) within the Office of Nuclear Energy. ARDP is designed to help domestic private industry demonstrate advanced nuclear reactors in the USA.

For the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, Congress appropriated $230 million to start a new demonstration programme for advanced reactors. Through cost-shared partnerships with industry, ARDP will provide $160 million for initial funding to build two reactors that can be operational within the next 5-7 years.

"The next generation of nuclear energy is critical to our nation's energy security and environmental stewardship," said US Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. "As the recently released Nuclear Fuel Working Group's Strategy to Restore American Nuclear Energy Leadership exemplifies, we must pursue technological innovation and advanced nuclear RD&D investments to strengthen American leadership in the next generation of nuclear technologies, ensuring a healthy and growing US nuclear energy sector," he said.

"Advanced nuclear energy systems hold enormous potential to lower emissions, create new jobs, and build a strong economy," said Dr Rita Baranwal, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy. "This new programme creates a tremendous opportunity for the US to provide clean energy and expand our market opportunities."

In addition to the two reactors, ARDP will leverage the National Reactor Innovation Centre (NRIC) to efficiently test and assess ARD technologies by engaging the capabilities of the national laboratory system to move these reactors from blueprints to reality.

The ARD Funding Opportunity Announcement offers applicants three separate technology development and demonstration pathways.

According to DOE, advanced reactor features include:

  • Walk-Away Safety – requires no or minimal operator intervention to remain safe in the event of an accident.
  • Versatility – can provide heat energy for industrial processes, water desalination, and load-following to support intermittent power sources.
  • Waste Re-use and Disposal – can greatly reduce the amount of spent fuel requiring disposal, and some technologies can re-use spent fuel.
  • Financeability – can employ factory manufacturing and be made with less capital cost.

Advanced reactor sizes include:

  • Microreactors – 1 MW to 20MW; can fit on a flatbed truck, and are mobile and deployable.
  • Small Modular Reactors –  20MW to 300MW; can be scaled up or down by adding more units.
  • Full-Size Reactors – 300MW to >1000MW; can provide reliable, emissions-free baseload power.

Congress also appropriated $305 million for fuel cycle research and development, and $267 million for reactor concepts research, including for the industry-led Advanced Reactor Concepts programme and the Versatile Advanced Test Reactor.

To kick off the programme, DOE issued a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) with a $4 billion award ceiling that comprises several separate approaches that could support up to seven advanced reactor projects, and subsidise their adoption over the next 15 years.

The FOA says the ARDP's primary goal is to focus public and private resources on "the actual construction of real demonstration reactors that are safe and affordable to build in the near- to mid-term".

One pathway will support demonstrations of two reactors within 5-7 years. The other will seek to reduce risks for future demonstrations, supporting 2-5 different "diverse advanced reactor designs" with a commercialisation horizon that is five years longer than the advanced reactor demonstration. A third pathway, outlined in a Congressional appropriations document (HR 1865), calls for the development of at least two new public-private partnership awards focused on advancing reactor designs toward the demonstration phase. These projects will have a commercialisation horizon approximately five years longer than the risk reduction for future demonstration awards.

Eligible applicants for the FOA, which closes in August, include all "interested US sources (other than individuals), including nuclear industry entities…, companies using non-electric power from reactors, universities, and/or teams/consortia capable of designing, building, and operating an advanced nuclear reactor demonstration".

Separately, DOE announced $27 million in funding for nine projects as part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy's (ARPA-E) Generating Electricity Managed by Intelligent Nuclear Assets (GEMINA) programme. These projects will work to develop digital twin technology to reduce operation and maintenance costs in the next generation of nuclear power plants, using technologies such as artificial intelligence, advanced control systems, predictive maintenance and model-based fault detection.