Department of Energy

Secretary Perry Launches Versatile Test Reactor Project to Modernize Nuclear Research and Development Infrastructure

February 28, 2019

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced the launch of the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Versatile Fast Neutron Source, also referred to as the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR), one of the foundational projects specified in the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017. 

This fast neutron testing capability will help the United States meet its goal for advanced nuclear reactor technology development. The VTR project will provide leading edge capability for accelerated testing of advanced nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation, and sensors. It will allow DOE to modernize its essential nuclear energy infrastructure, and conduct crucial advanced technology and materials testing within the United States in a safe, efficient and timely way. Secretary Perry spoke to the importance of the VTR project when he announced it today at a joint press conference with International Energy Agency Executive Director, Dr Fatih Birol.

“The Versatile Test Reactor is a key step to implementing President Trump’s direction to revitalize and expand the U.S. nuclear industry,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “This cutting edge Advanced Reactor will give American companies the ability they currently lack to conduct advanced technology and fuels tests without having to go to our competitors in Russia and China.”

The Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017 (NEICA, S. 97, which was enacted into law in September of 2018) included provisions for a Versatile Neutron Source and directs the Secretary of Energy to determine the mission need for a versatile reactor-based fast neutron source operating as a national user facility, as well as a deadline, to the maximum extent practicable, to complete construction and approve the start of the VTR operations by December 2025. DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) will lead the VTR project.

The U.S. has not had a fast neutron spectrum testing facility for over 20 years, precluding the ability to conduct the types of accelerated irradiation testing needed by non-light water advanced reactor concepts. The proposed VTR project could provide accelerated neutron damage rates 20 times greater than current water-cooled test reactors. 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.

“The U.S. has the largest number of operating reactors compared to any other country, and there are a lot of U.S. companies working on technologies to make the next generation of reactors even more inherently safe and more economically competitive,” said Ed McGinnis, NE Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary. “Having this domestic capability is critical to our national security and our ability to re-establish ourselves as a global leader in advanced reactor technologies.”

More information on the Office of Nuclear Energy and its programs can be found here.

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