US to build fast neutron test reactor; Finland awards operating licence to Europe’s first EPR

Our pick of the latest nuclear power news you need to know.

US to build fast neutron test reactor for advanced materials testing

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has launched a project to build the U.S.' first fast neutron test reactor to test advanced reactor materials.

A core project in the 2017 Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act, the "Versatile Test Reactor" (VTR) will be a sodium-cooled fast reactor design and located at a DOE nuclear site. The DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) will lead the project.

The VTR will be used to conduct accelerated irradiation tests required for non-light water reactor (non-LWR) designs, such as those cooled by molten salt, liquid metal, or helium gas.

Non-LWR developers engaged in NRC pre-licensing

                              (Click image to enlarge)

Source: Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), February 2019.

The U.S. has not had a fast neutron spectrum testing facility for over 20 years. The VTR could be online by December 2025 and will "drastically speed up the time it takes to test, develop and qualify advanced reactor technologies," the DOE said.

The VTR project would provide accelerated neutron damage rates 20 times greater than current water-cooled test reactors, the department said.

"These higher damage rates are needed within the U.S. to accelerate the testing of nuclear fuels and materials needed by scientist and developers of transformational reactor technologies," it said.

In January, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded funding to American Centrifuge Operating (ACO), a subsidiary of Centrus Energy, to build the first U.S.-designed and operated advanced centrifuge technology by October 2020.

A number of advanced reactor designs are based on HALEU fuel but as yet there are no commercial U.S. facilities to produce it.

The DOE's HALEU program is a major boost for advanced reactor developer X-energy, which is developing the Xe-100 High Temperature Gas-cooled Reactor (HTGR) and has partnered with Centrus to build the U.S.’ first commercial HALEU fuel fabrication plant.

X-energy is aiming to start fuel production at its planned TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Facility by 2023-24 and this will require an "aggressive" project schedule, Pete Pappano, Vice president, Fuel Production at X-energy, told Nuclear Energy Insider.

X-energy and Centrus have yet to decide the location of the fabrication facility and preliminary design and pre-application licensing discussions are underway with the NRC, Pappano said.

Finland awards operating licence to Olkiluoto EPR

Finland's government has awarded Teollisuuden Voima Oyj’s (TVO) a licence to operate its OL3 EPR nuclear power plant under construction at Olkiluoto.

The government awarded the 20-year licence on March 7, after the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority of Finland (STUK) concluded TVO had the capability to safely operate the plant and manage nuclear waste.

TVO still needs permission from STUK to load fuel into the reactor. Vibrations were detected in the reactor coolant system during commissioning tests and STUK will review the proposed solution before it approves fuel loading.

The first EPR plant to be built in Europe, OL3 is several years behind its original schedule. The 1.7 GW Taishan 1 reactor in China was the world's first commercial EPR reactor, connected to the grid in June 2018. 

An Areva-Siemens consortium is supplying the OL3 plant on a fixed-price turnkey basis. Delays and soaring costs have prompted court disputes between TVO and the supplier group.

In November, TVO announced nuclear fuel loading had been delayed until June 2019 and first grid connection is expected in October followed by regular electricity production in January 2020.

The commissioning tests of the OL3 plant would take longer than expected, TVO said in November.

"The final automation modification package will be implemented and the pressurizer surge line vibrations will be repaired by modificating the pipe support, and the commissioning test will be continued," it said.

Nuclear Energy Insider