Office of Nuclear Energy

11 Reasons why DOE is all in on new nuclear

August 28, 2019

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A collection of photos that highlights the successes by DOE in supporting the development of advanced nuclear energy.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is all in on new nuclear energy.

More than 50 U.S. companies are developing advanced technologies that will make nuclear energy more efficient and affordable to build and operate.

There is an incredible opportunity before us to take the reins on this emerging global market. If we can, it will ultimately lead to new jobs, lower emissions and an even stronger economy in the United States. 

The Trump Administration is committed to reviving and revitalizing the nuclear industry, and it is leading by ACTION not just words.

Here are 11 substantial things this Administration has already accomplished in just 2 short years to support the development of advanced reactors that will position the United States as the global leader in nuclear innovation.

1. Swearing in Dr. Rita Baranwal

Perhaps one of the Administration’s biggest moves was nominating Dr. Rita Baranwal as Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy. Dr. Baranwal was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in June 2019 and is the first woman to lead the office. She takes over a $1.3 billion portfolio to promote the research and development of current and advanced nuclear technologies.

Dr. Baranwal has more than 20 years of experience in the nuclear field and is well suited to manage our private-public partnerships to deploy advanced nuclear technologies.

2. Moving Forward with Vogtle Units 3 and 4

"The Future of America is Right Here in Georgia" - Secretary Perry

The successful completion of Vogtle Units 3 and 4 will set the tone for what could be a nuclear resurgence in the United States. Plant Vogtle is one of the nation’s largest infrastructure projects and will support up to 9,000 jobs at peak construction. The expansion project is supported by our Loan Programs Office (LPO) and will create 800 permanent jobs in Waynesboro, Georgia when the facility begins operation in 2021.

Units 3 and 4 are the first new nuclear reactors to begin construction in the United States in more than 3 decades. Its AP1000 technology is the most advanced light-water reactor system licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

3. Siting the Nation’s First Small Modular Reactor

The nation’s first small modular reactor, or SMR, is on track to be operating at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) by 2026, where DOE is supporting the siting of a 12-module SMR plant.

Since 2013, under a public-private partnership, DOE has supported the design and licensing of NuScale’s SMR, which recently cleared phases 2 and 3 of the NRC design certification process.

The unique design of this technology allows the reactor to continuously cool itself without any need for additional water, power, or even operator intervention.

4. Establishing the National Reactor Innovation Center

This newly announced initiative could speed up the licensing and commercialization of advanced reactors. Led by INL, the National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC) provides a platform for private sector technology developers to assess the performance of their reactor concepts through testing and demonstration.

NRIC is authorized by the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017 that was signed into law by President Trump in 2018. It builds on the successes of our GAIN initiative and will help bring these innovative concepts to reality through coordination with industry, other federal institutions, the national labs, and universities.

5. Supporting Advanced Nuclear Technologies

DOE has invested more than $170 million over the last 2 years to accelerate the development of advanced nuclear reactor technologies. This includes supporting industry efforts to design and submit a NRC license application for a new fuel fabrication facility. The project would ultimately produce TRISO fuel for next-generation reactors. TRISO fuels are incredibly robust and can’t melt in a reactor.

To further support the commercial deployment of advanced reactor technologies, LPO has also made nearly $9 billion available to finance the commercial deployment of advanced nuclear technologies.

6. Deploying Microreactors

A small reactor to bring power to remote locations

DOE is currently working with the Department of Defense to demonstrate and deploy microreactors as early as 2023. These smaller, transportable, factory-built systems can boost resiliency and reliability of energy at remote military locations.

We are also supporting a variety of advanced microreactor designs, including gas and heat pipe-cooled reactors, which are currently being pursued by American developers to provide clean energy for microgrid applications. These technologies could provide reliable and resilient power solutions for hospitals, emergency services, and continuous manufacturing processes. They could also provide power in remote and rural communities, and to support remote mining of critical minerals.

7. Investigating Molten Salts

DOE recently launched the Molten Salts in Extreme Environments (MSEE) center. It’s one of 42 Energy Frontier Research Centers supported by DOE to accelerate scientific breakthroughs that will strengthen our U.S. economic leadership and energy security.   

MSEE will study the physical properties of molten salts and how they affect the materials in which they come in contact. This will speed up the development of molten salts for use in some advanced reactor designs, in addition to other potential applications such as nuclear fuel recycling and thermal transport, collection, and storage technologies.

8. Building a Versatile Test Reactor

As the United States moves forward with a new generation of reactors, advanced fuels, material and instrumentation development will be essential to the next-generation of our nuclear industry. That’s why we are moving forward with our plans to build a Versatile Test Reactor, or VTR.

This test reactor will use high energy neutrons to speed up the testing of advanced technologies needed by new designs and our existing fleet. VTR eliminates a 30-year research gap for this domestic capability and will help modernize our nuclear research infrastructure.  

9. Restarting TREAT

After spending more than two decades in standby mode, the Administration brought the Transient Reactor Test Facility at INL back online in 2017. We also improved its capabilities by incorporating advanced imaging techniques to provide more detailed data than ever before.

TREAT allows scientists to examine fuel performance under simulated accident conditions. The facility is preparing to test accident tolerant fuels for industry that will increase performance in today’s reactors and those of the future. The facility will also perform important tests for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as it develops nuclear fuel for space exploration, including next-generation nuclear thermal propulsion.

10. Providing Pathways to HALEU

More than 20 U.S. companies are developing advanced reactors and most of them will require a higher enriched fuel that’s currently not commercially available.

This fuel is called high assay low-enriched uranium, or HALEU, and industry estimates it will need nearly 600 metric tons of it by 2030 to develop their innovative designs. HALEU allows for smaller plant sizes, longer core life, and a higher burnup of nuclear fuel.

To help industry develop their designs, we are looking into multiple options to provide small amounts of HALEU in the near-term to support the testing and demonstration of these technologies by recycling excess U.S. government nuclear fuel. We are also working toward long-term solutions by demonstrating the ability to enrich uranium to HALEU levels using 16 advanced centrifuge machines.

11. Launching the NICE Future Initiative

Finally, I was honored to announce the launch of the NICE Future initiative at the 9th Clean Energy Ministerial in 2018. NICE Future is a global effort led by the United States, Canada, and Japan that will ensure nuclear energy receives appropriate representation in high-level discussions about clean energy, as well as promotes international collaboration on advanced nuclear technologies.

The initiative recently launched its first Breakthroughs Report that focuses on near-term innovations in nuclear energy.  NICE Future has already engaged experts from more than 35 countries and 80 organizations to foster innovative thinking on future nuclear power uses and applications in clean energy systems.

These 11 examples demonstrate the Administration’s commitment to civilian nuclear energy and an “all-of-the-above” energy approach. They prove we can expand our energy production, secure our energy independence, and create more opportunities for the American people.