Office of Nuclear Energy

3 Innovations Transforming the Nuclear Industry

June 5, 2018

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Despite what you might think, now is the perfect time to double-down on nuclear energy.

A new wave of innovation is on its way, and it’s going to completely transform the energy sector.

Nuclear plays a pivotal role in protecting our clean air, strengthening our national security and spurring the economy.

That’s why we work every day to support industry and our university partners in developing and demonstrating game-changing technologies.

These innovative and disruptive efforts will not only leap frog our nation into the future, but it will also re-establish our great nation as a global leader in nuclear energy.

Analysis: Small Modular Reactors Could Transform Nuclear Industry
Office of Nuclear Energy's Ed McGinnis gives his thoughts on the impact advanced reactors will have on U.S. nuclear industry.

New Classes of Advanced Reactors

The United States is developing cutting-edge advanced reactor designs that have unprecedented versatility, can be paired with renewable generating sources, are much less expensive, burn waste as an energy resource, and are walk-away safe.

NuScale Power’s advanced small modular reactor (SMR) is a prime example.

Its passive safety cooling system is a game-changer and essentially makes the reactor walk-away safe—without any action required by the operator to safely shut the reactor down.

Small modular reactor model at NuScale Power
NuScale Power test facility.
NuScale Power

The company’s design is currently under review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and on target to become the nation’s first advanced commercial SMR by 2026.

It’s also one of our best chances to compete globally in this emerging market with countries like China, Russia and South Korea.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently awarded NuScale $40 million in cost-shared financial support to help keep this project on pace and makes sure America has skin in the game in this potentially $500 billion SMR industry.

Advanced Manufacturing

Disruptive innovation doesn’t just stop with advanced reactor designs.

We’re dramatically changing the way these technologies will be built through advanced manufacturing.

DOE is supporting another project with BWX Technologies and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to develop different nuclear components through additive manufacturing—a process most commonly known as 3D printing.

A rendering of a CAD file used for additive manufacturing.
Computer design file of a nuclear component used for additive manufacturing.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Additive manufacturing allows them to create complex designs that can then be rapidly prototyped and tested. This will significantly reduce the time and money it will take for them to bring new fuels and components to market.

It also means we can produce the components here in the United States and not be reliant on overseas manufacturing facilities.

Advanced Fuels

As new advanced reactors come online, new fuels are being developed that can perform more efficiently at higher temperatures.

DOE is also supporting X-energy’s efforts to design and submit a NRC license application for a TRISO-X fuel fabrication facility.

TRISO fuels are resistant to extreme temperatures, well beyond the failure threshold of current fuels.

A pebble fuel designed by X-energy
Pebble fuel designed by X-energy.
X-energy

The facility will help ensure that a strong production line is in place to help fuel our advanced reactors.

Accident Tolerant Fuels

Finally, General Electric’s Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF), Framatome, and Westinghouse are all working with DOE to help bring new accident tolerant fuels to market within the next 10 years. 

These new technologies will further enhance the safety and performance of nuclear fuels for our current fleet of reactors.

GNF is currently testing two versions of their materials in Southern Nuclear’s Hatch-1 reactor in Georgia.

They plan to deploy lead test assemblies with fuel in 2019.

Framatome and Westinghouse both have plans to test their accident-tolerant fuel designs within a year’s time.

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