The US Department of Energy (DOE) has selected two US-based teams to receive $160 million in initial funding under the new Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). ARDP, announced in May, is designed to help domestic private industry demonstrate advanced nuclear reactors in the United States.
DOE is awarding TerraPower LLC (Bellevue, WA) and X-energy (Rockville, MD) $80 million each in initial funding to build two advanced nuclear reactors that can be operational within seven years. The awards are cost-shared partnerships with industry that will deliver two first-of-a-kind advanced reactors to be licensed for commercial operations. The Department will invest a total of $3.2 billion over seven years, subject to the availability of future appropriations, with industry partners providing matching funds.
Specifically, TerraPower will demonstrate the Natrium reactor, a sodium‐cooled fast reactor that leverages of decades of development and design undertaken by TerraPower and its partner, GE‐Hitachi. The high-operating temperature of the Natrium reactor, coupled with thermal energy storage, will allow the plant to provide flexible electricity output that complements variable renewable generation such as wind a solar. In addition, this project will establish a new metal fuel fabrication facility that is scaled to meet the needs of this demonstration program.
The Natrium system features a 345MWe reactor and can be optimized for specific markets. For instance, its innovative thermal storage has the potential to boost the system’s output to 500MWe of power for more than five and a half hours when needed. This allows for a nuclear design that follows daily electric load changes and helps customers capitalize on peaking opportunities driven by renewable energy fluctuations.
At the end of the project, the Natrium demonstration will be a Nuclear Regulatory Commission-licensed, grid-scale reactor entering commercial service. In addition, the infrastructure needed for further commercial deployments will have been established. The US nuclear industry will be able to enrich and fabricate high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel; fabricate and qualify advanced reactor equipment; and license, construct, and operate highly competitive advanced reactors.
The Natrium reactor technology employs metal fuel that offers improved reactor economics, greater fuel efficiency, enhanced safety, and lower volumes of waste. It uses HALEU, which is not produced in the U.S. today. In September, TerraPower announced that it would initiate efforts with Centrus to build American, commercial-scale enrichment capacity to produce HALEU for the Natrium technology’s metal fuel.
X-energy will deliver a commercial four-unit nuclear power plant based on its Xe-100 reactor design. The Xe-100 is a high temperature gas-cooled 80 MWe reactor that is suited to provide flexible electricity output as well as process heat for a wide range of industrial heat applications, such as desalination and hydrogen production.
The project will also deliver a commercial scale TRi-structural ISOtropic particle fuel (TRISO) fuel fabrication facility, leveraging DOE’s substantial investment in development of this highly robust fuel form.
Both projects incorporate a range of design features that will not only enhance safety, but make them affordable to construct and operate, paving the way for the United States to deploy highly competitive advanced reactors domestically and globally.
Congress appropriated $160 million for the Fiscal Year 2020 budget as initial funding for these demonstration projects. Funding beyond the near-term is contingent on additional future appropriations, evaluations of satisfactory progress and DOE approval of continuation applications. In addition, the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriation also provided initial year funding of $30 million for two to five Risk Reduction for Future Demonstrations projects and $20 million initial year funding for at least two Advanced Reactor Concepts-20 (ARC-20) projects. Awards for these projects are expected to be announced in December 2020.