advanced nuclear reactors

Kairos, Westinghouse, BWXT, Holtec, TerraPower

  • The U.S. Department of Energy is supporting five new advanced reactor concepts made in America.
  • These reactors range from futuristic to portable, giving scientists a lot to explore to cater to different markets.
  • The total investment is expected to reach $600 million.

    While much attention is paid to the buildup of large nuclear projects of the future, like the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), scientists are developing cutting-edge advanced fission reactors in the much nearer term.

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    The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) has formally thrown its weight behind five such projects that various groups, including established legacy energy companies, will build within the U.S. All are supported by the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), which is expected to invest $600 million in the coming years.

    Before we look at the five designs—and see just how soon they’ll be ready for retail—it’s important to have some background on the idea of advanced fission reactors.

    Today, almost all working nuclear power plants use light water reactors, meaning a central nuclear fuel reaction cooled by regular, flowing water. But having just one paradigm in the mix doesn’t make sense for logistics or safety protocols.

    The new reactor designs rushing into the scientific discourse deploy technology and even natural physics to make safer, often smaller designs that can be used in different contexts. And today, most of these projects with DoE funding are proofs of concept that could lead to commercial power plants down the line.

    Concept #1: Hermes Reduced-Scale Test Reactor

    kairos hermes reduced scale test reactor

    Kairos Power

    First up is California’s Kairos Power, with a design called Hermes Reduced-Scale Test Reactor as a stepping stone to the commercial Kairos Power Fluoride Salt-Cooled High Temperature Reactor (KP-FHR).

    With a salt-cooled reactor of this type (FHR), solid fuel—in this case, ceramic-coated micropellets called TRISO—is mixed into fluoride salt. The coolant doesn’t ever boil, Oak Ridge National Laboratory explains, which means the reactor is at low pressure and could never reach explosive destructive force. This technology isn’t yet proven at scale.

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    Concept #2: eVinci Microreactor

    evinci

    Westinghouse Nuclear

    Next is a heated pipe microreactor concept from industry giants Westinghouse. This design, which Westinghouse calls a “pseudo solid state” reactor, has very few moving parts and is intended for use in remote places currently serviced by things like diesel generators.

    A solid central core is dotted with holes that carry reactor heat into equipment, where it’s cooled and turned into energy. Westinghouse also has a fully mobile concept it calls DeVinci (get it?) where eVinci is wrapped in a safe, rugged, portable container.


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    Concept #3: Advanced Nuclear Reactor

    advanced nuclear reactor

    BWX Technologies

    The third reactor is also transportable: BWXT Technologies’ Advanced Nuclear Reactor (BANR). BWXT is a full-service nuclear parts and products organization, and a microreactor is a good way to put all of its interests together.

    This design combines TRISO fuel and a ceramic-boosted core for safety and performance.

    Concept #4: SMR-160 Reactor

    holtec smr

    Holtec Internationals

    Next up is Holtec Government Services’ quite traditional small modular reactor, whose selling point is its almost readymade manufacturability. Because of its small size, Holtec says, it can also be cooled by air.

    The design is less far out than others on the list, but the DoE’s goal is to have flexible, versatile coverage of many more parts of the world than we can manage with large fission plants alone—and this one could even go to the desert.

    Concept #5: Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment

    molten chloride reactor experiment

    TerraPower

    Lastly, there’s Southern Company’s Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment. Southern Company is a major energy provider and, like Westinghouse, it already runs a portfolio of nuclear plants.

    This is a liquid salt-fueled design, where chloride salts circulate as both fuel and coolant to create an astonishing 1200 MW of power. Southern Company will begin to test the reactor this year in a specially built facility.

    If the range, scale, and even technology of these reactors seems all over the place, that’s by design. The near future of energy must be decarbonized, and industry experts are increasingly saying that will require a variety of solutions that can be mixed and matched for people’s different needs. The earliest of these advanced reactor plant designs could be ready for construction by the end of the decade.


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