Graphic of a fast test PRISM reactor
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy is working with Idaho National Laboratory on the Versatile Test Reactor concept design that is based off of its PRISM reactor.
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy

There’s a growing interest in advanced nuclear energy.

Private companies have already invested more than $1 billion in new reactor designs that will be smaller, more affordable, highly flexible and extremely safe. So safe, in fact, that in the event of a problem, human intervention is not necessary.

More than 40 U.S. companies are already working on these incredible reactor designs that could help power our homes, provide clean water, and decarbonize energy-intensive industries.

There’s just one problem …

The United States doesn’t have a facility to effectively test and qualify the materials needed to develop some of these advanced reactors.

That’s why it is imperative that the U.S. Department of Energy moves forward with its plans to build a versatile test reactor, or VTR.

What is a Versatile Test Reactor?

VTR, tightly coupled with the rest of our research infrastructure, will be the state-of-the-art science and technology lab for advanced nuclear energy.

It will feature a sodium-cooled fast reactor that uses high energy neutrons to test and develop advanced reactor fuels and materials.

Fast reactors use fast-moving neutrons to operate at higher temperatures and lower pressures. They can be cooled by molten salt, liquid metal, or helium gas.

This leads to inherent safety features, higher operating efficiencies and less waste.

Why Do We Need VTR?

Many of the advanced reactor designs that will likely produce power in the future will be fast reactors.

Because these designs use high energy neutrons, they interact differently with the materials they come in contact with.

Unfortunately, U.S. developers are limited in the amount of data they can use to properly characterize these materials.

That’s because America hasn’t operated a fast test reactor in more than two decades.

VTR eliminates this research gap and would drastically speed up the time it takes to test, develop and qualify advanced reactor technologies.

It would also be pivotal in creating new fuels, materials, instrumentation and sensors that could position the U.S. as a global leader in advanced nuclear technology.

These innovations could drastically extend lifetime reactor cores, boost fuel performance and even accelerate fusion research.

Putting America First

Advanced nuclear will be developed with or without the United States.

If we don’t build this capability, U.S. companies will have no choice but to rely on foreign countries like Russia and China to develop their technologies.

This would be a missed opportunity for our nation to modernize its nuclear research infrastructure and export new technologies that could re-energize the nuclear industry.

Regaining global leadership in this emerging technology space is also essential in protecting our interests, along with our allies, when it comes to nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation.

What’s Next?

DOE will now move forward with its conceptual design of the reactor, which could be completed as early as 2026 at the site of one our national labs.

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Dan Brouillette
Dan Brouillette served as the 15th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy.
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