The United States posted some BIG wins this year in nuclear energy as it works toward net-zero emissions by 2050.
From welcoming its first new reactor online in nearly a decade to certifying the nation’s first small modular reactor design, the U.S. is getting its swagger back when it comes to nuclear energy.
Here are 10 HUGE wins in 2023 that the U.S. hopes to build on in the New Year.
1. Vogtle 3 Enters Commercial Operation
Unit 3 is the most advanced light-water reactor system in the U.S. and leverages Westinghouse’s AP1000 technology that can shut down without operator action or external power for 72 hours.
Georgia Power plans to have Unit 4 up and running in 2024.
The expansion project received approximately $12 billion in loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and supported 9,000 jobs at peak construction.
Plant Vogtle will be the single largest source of clean power in the United States once all four reactors are operating.
2. Advanced Reactor Licensing
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued its final rule in February to certify NuScale Power’s 50-megawatt power module thanks to technical and licensing work supported through industry awards with DOE.
The company’s advanced light-water system is the first small modular reactor certified by the NRC and just the seventh reactor design cleared for use in the United States. It will help pave a path forward for other domestic SMRs currently under development to deploy their technologies.
The NRC also recently approved the construction of Kairos Power’s Hermes reactor, which will be built in Oak Ridge, Tennessee as early as 2026.
Hermes is the first Generation IV reactor to receive an approved construction permit from the NRC and will help inform the development of the company’s fluoride salt-cooled high-temperature commercial reactor.
3. Scaling Up Clean Hydrogen Production
Nine Mile Point
Constellation’s Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station started clean hydrogen production in Oswego, New York earlier this year.
DOE supported the construction and installation of a low-temperature electrolysis system to help cool the power plant.
It’s one of three projects the Department is supporting to demonstrate how nuclear power plants can help lower the cost and scale up the production of clean hydrogen.
The Davis-Besse and Prairie Island projects in Ohio and Minnesota plan to generate hydrogen in 2024.
Clean Hydrogen Hubs
The hubs are expected to reduce 25 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year from end-uses and will help create tens of thousands of jobs.
Three hubs (the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and Heartland) will use nuclear energy as part of their projects to generate clean hydrogen for the regions.
4. Fueling Future Reactors
Centrus Energy Corporation produced the nation’s first 20 kilograms of high-assay low-enriched uranium, a crucial material required by many advanced reactor designs.
The production was the first of its kind in the U.S. in more than 70 years and completed a key milestone in DOE’s HALEU Demonstration project in Piketon, Ohio.
The HALEU will be used to help fuel the initial cores of DOE’s two demonstration reactors awarded under ARDP and will also support fuel qualification and other testing of new reactor designs.
Centrus is expected to ramp up its production rate of HALEU material to 900 kilograms per year starting in 2024.
Enrichment and Deconversion Proposals
DOE also issued its first request for proposal to award one or more contracts to deconvert HALEU uranium hexafluoride into chemical forms that can be used to fabricate fuels for advanced reactor developers.
The Department plans to issue a second, separate proposal early next year that will seek contracts to acquire, store, and transport enriched uranium hexafluoride.
The contracts are expected to be awarded in 2024 through the HALEU Availability Program with funding support from the Inflation Reduction Act.
EBR-II Wet to Dry Storage
DOE successfully transferred all EBR-II spent nuclear fuel from wet to dry storage — completing a major milestone under the Idaho Settlement Agreement.
The milestone was reached nearly nine months ahead of schedule and led to the recovery of uranium products that could be used for HALEU material to help support the development of new reactor technologies and fuels.
5. Expanding Testing Capabilities
Idaho National Laboratory (INL) made several enhancements to its TREAT reactor to support the next wave of innovation for nuclear energy.
The lab developed a specialized capsule to enable transient testing on fast reactor fuels as part of a joint project between the United States and Japan.
The two countries plan to test mixed oxide and metallic alloy fuels next year at TREAT, which will be the first of their kind in the world in more than two decades.
INL also developed a new TWIST experiment to perform the nation’s first loss of coolant accident (LOCA) tests in more than 35 years — restoring a capability that was only available in Russia.
The LOCA testing supports the development of accident tolerant fuels that industry is working to commercialize before the end of the decade to help boost the performance of today’s reactors.
DOME Test Bed
INL also started construction on the NRIC DOME — the world’s first microreactor test bed that will support the design and licensing of new reactor technologies. The lab is repurposing its EBR-II containment structure to help lower the financial risk of developing small reactor systems.
The facility will be operated by the National Reactor Innovation Center, with testing starting as soon as 2026.
6. Fueling University Research
TRIGA International delivered 30 new fuel elements to Penn State this fall to help fuel its research reactor.
It was the first shipment of new TRIGA fuel in more than a decade thanks to DOE-supported upgrades to the company’s fuel fabrication facility in Romans, France.
The upgrades restore an important fuel supply for the world’s 35 TRIGA reactors, including a dozen at U.S. universities and colleges.
TRIGA International will also provide fuel for DOE’s upcoming microreactor project. MARVEL achieved 90 percent final design this fall and is mature enough to start fabricating key reactor components and systems.
The project team started testing a full-scale, electrically heated replica of MARVEL earlier this year to help verify the performance of the microreactor’s cooling system.
MARVEL is a sodium-potassium-cooled reactor that will be built inside INL’s TREAT facility. It will be used to advance microreactor technologies and demonstrate end-user capabilities for industry.
8. Consent-Based Siting Progress
DOE is using a consent-based siting process to identify one or more federal consolidated interim storage facilities for the nation’s spent nuclear fuel.
The Department awarded $24 million this year to 12 project teams to form its first ever consortia focused on its consent-based siting activities for federal consolidated interim storage. The teams will engage with additional partners and communities across the country to broaden the conversation around the management of the nation’s spent nuclear fuel.￼￼
The first-ever awards for consent-based siting came just months after the Department issued its first update to its consent-based siting document since 2017.
9. All Aboard Atlas
DOE also built one of the safest trains in the world!
The Atlas railcar wrapped up final testing this fall and could be cleared for operation early next year.
The 12-axle railcar will be used to safely and securely transport the nation’s spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste to future storage and disposal facilities in the United States.
It will also be used to support emergency responder training in the near future.
10. International Cooperation
And finally, nuclear energy enjoyed several successes on the world stage, including its inclusion into the final COP28 deal in Dubai to accelerate its use.
The U.S. joined dozens of like-minded countries in making landmark pledges at COP28 to triple global nuclear capacity by 2050 and to mobilize more than $4.2 billion in government-led investments to deliver a global commercial nuclear fuel market that is free from Russian influence.
U.S. – Africa Cooperation
The U.S. hosted its first ever U.S.-Africa Nuclear Energy Summit in Ghana to help lay the foundation for sustainable nuclear energy growth in the region.
DOE announced plans earlier this year to build a clean energy training center in Ghana and launched a virtual training program to support countries considering nuclear energy for their economic development, energy security, and decarbonization goals.
Onward and upward!