Eleven ARPA-E Projects Will Lower Waste Burden; Sustain Future Deployment of Carbon-Free Nuclear Power

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) today announced $36 million for 11 projects seeking to increase the deployment, and use of, nuclear power as a reliable source of clean energy and limit the amount of waste produced from Advanced Nuclear Reactors (AR). Nuclear power is one of the most reliable sources of energy in America, and the largest domestic source of clean energy—providing approximately 50% of the nation’s carbon-free electricity, and about a fifth of U.S. electricity overall. Nuclear power production, however, produces waste which must be disposed of and safely stored. Mitigating these waste and storage concerns will support the goals outlined in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support the equitable expansion of the nation’s clean energy sources, including nuclear energy. 

“Developing novel approaches to safely manage nuclear waste will enable us to power even more homes and businesses in America with carbon-free nuclear energy,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “ARPA-E is doing just that by supporting companies and universities that are working on next-generation technologies to modernize advanced reactors and strengthen the nation’s clean energy enterprise.”    

Projects funded through ARPA-E's “Optimizing Nuclear Waste and Advanced Reactor Disposal Systems” (ONWARDS) program will develop technologies that can resolve the waste and storage challenges associated with AR fuel cycles. The following teams will seek to reduce nuclear waste, support safe and sustainable domestic fuel stocks, and advance our nation’s clean energy portfolio:  

  • Brigham Young University (Provo, UT) will reduce the risks and uncertainty of a separation process that reduces UNF waste. (Award amount: $900,217)
  • Citrine Informatics (Redwood City, CA) will use artificial intelligence and physics-based simulation methods to develop durable waste forms that significantly reduce repository burden from molten salt reactors. (Award amount: $3,103,770)
  • Deep Isolation (Berkeley, CA) will establish universal performance criteria and a cannister system for minimizing the long-run costs of used fuel and waste management. (Award amount: $3,608,399)
  • General Electric (GE) Global Research (Niskayuna, NY) will develop a safeguards accountancy system capable of performing in a nuclear reprocessing facility. (Award amount: $4,499,463) 
  • Idaho National Laboratory (Idaho Falls, ID) is developing an innovative and simple process for recycling metal fuels based on existing commercial thermal separation technologies that could greatly increase the commercial viability of metal fuel recycling. (Award amount: $2,076,343)
  • Oklo (Sunnyvale, CA) proposes to study the advancement and economic viability of a state-of-the-art used nuclear fuel (UNF) recycling facility.  (Award amount: $4,000,000)
  • Orano Federal Services (Charlotte, NC) will develop a treatment system designed to treat the off-gases released from different types of AR UNF processing facilities. (Award amount: $2,249,573)
  • Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ) will deliver a simple, scalable route for turning UNF into high-density, durable cermet (a heat-resistant ceramic and metallic composite) waste form. (Award amount: $4,000,007)
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY) will focus on offering a solution for effectively managing complex fluoride salt waste streams critical for the sustainable development of AR fuel cycles. (Award amount: $607,505)
  • Stony Brook University (Stony Brook, NY) will significantly reduce AR waste burden via improved fuel utilization and reduced uranium loading. (Award amount: $3,400,000)
  • TerraPower (Bellevue, WA) proposes a method for the recovery of uranium from UNF with integrated safeguards that harness the volatility of chloride salts at high temperatures. (Award amount: $8,550,000) 

“The vibrant nuclear energy research and development at Idaho National Laboratory is critical for the development of new, safe and reliable clean energy technologies to build out our nation’s robust energy portfolio,” said U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (ID). The need to appropriately prepare and remove spent nuclear fuel is equally important, and projects like these will allow INL to continue being a pioneer in the next generation of nuclear energy.”  

“I am delighted to see over $5 million in federal funds headed to the Capital Region to support advanced energy research,” said U.S. Representative Paul Tonko (NY-20). “I’ve seen firsthand the critical contributions GE Global Research and RPI are making to build a clean, 21st century economy, and I’ve fought hard to secure significant federal investments for projects like these. Technological innovation is essential to securing our nation and our region’s clean energy future, and I thank ARPA-E for continuing to support Capital Region researchers and their cutting-edge work.” 

“Stony Brook University is leading the way in so many fields that are strengthening our nation,” said U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin (NY-1). “This initiative is no different, developing a comprehensive new approach to better understand the performance of new fuel and waste forms and ultimately reduce nuclear waste more efficiently than even state-of-the-art technologies. The December 2020 appropriations legislation I strongly supported will pay for this critical research.” 
“Nuclear power is the number one source of electricity for Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. We have a responsibility to make sure we’re doing everything we can to reduce nuclear waste, support safe and sustainable domestic fuel stocks, and advance our nation’s clean energy portfolio,” said U.S. Representative Alma Adams (NC-12). That’s why I’m proud to celebrate this over $2 million grant to develop high-impact energy technologies, create local jobs, and advance the Biden Harris Administration’s important work for a clean energy future.”

ONWARDS was unveiled last year as ARPA-E's first program created to identify and facilitate technologies for AR used nuclear fuel (UNF) recycling, waste forms, UNF disposal pathways and associated advanced safeguards technologies.  

DOE recently released a comprehensive supply chain report in response to President Biden’s Executive Order "America's Supply Chains" signed in 2021. A key goal of the report is to enable the development of fuel for advanced reactor technologies that will further nuclear energy deployment as a reliable source of clean energy and improve waste management options.  Another major goal focuses on developing an integrated waste disposal strategy, with an initial focus on a consent-based siting process for the temporary, consolidated storage of spent nuclear fuel. 

Find out more about the projects selected for ONWARDS on the ARPA-E website