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DOE, CEA sign statements of intent on advanced fast neutron sodium-cooled reactors and artificial intelligence

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry and François Jacq, Chairman of France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), have signed two Statements of Intent (SOIs). The signing ushers in a new era of DOE-CEA research and development (R&D) cooperation with enhanced collaboration in the area of advanced fast neutron sodium-cooled nuclear reactor technologies and new collaboration in the area of artificial intelligence.

Fast reactor concepts are typically classified by their coolant—i.e., sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR); lead- or lead-bismuth eutectic (LBE)-cooled fast reactor (LFT); and gas-cooled fast reactor (GFR). All fast reactor concepts are based on the same basic principles:

  1. No (intentional) neutron moderators (water or graphite), resulting in a “fast”(or “hard”) neutron energy spectrum compared to thermal reactors (LWRs and HTGRs).

  2. Improved neutron economy due to larger fission-to-capture cross section ratio and greater number of neutrons per fission at high-energies.

  3. Fast neutron spectrum can also be used for breeding or transmutation of transuranic waste products.

  4. Higher enrichment is required to achieve criticality (in comparison to thermal reactors).

High core outlet temperatures allow greater thermal efficiency (-40%) for energy conversion; the fast reactors also have a high core power density (~5x compared to a LWR) and the potential for a long core life.

The SFR uses liquid sodium as the reactor coolant, allowing high power density with low coolant volume fraction and operation at low pressure. While the oxygen-free environment prevents corrosion, sodium reacts chemically with air and water and requires a sealed coolant system.

The new cooperation on the development of advanced fast neutron sodium-cooled reactors will explore areas of collaboration ranging from modeling, simulation, and validation to technology testing, access to supply chain, experimental facilities, and advanced materials.

The two partners are building on a longstanding, technical US-France cooperation in civil nuclear energy and high performance computing by enhancing strategic and technical exchanges to drive innovation.

The history between DOE and French Institutions dates back fifty years with more than 40 Agreements, Memoranda of Understanding (MOU), and Letters of Intent (LOI). DOE and CEA cooperate on a wide range of technology areas, including the fields of civil-nuclear energy, basic science, environmental management, renewable energy, and energy management systems. Such cooperation plays a key role in maintaining cost-competitiveness and reliability across the energy mix, benefiting both countries in the enhancement of transatlantic energy security.

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