nuclear milestone
PCAT loaded on a semi-track flatbed
Idaho National Laboratory prepares to ship PCAT by truck to Pennsylvania for testing.
Idaho National Laboratory

An electric-powered prototype of one of the nation’s first microreactors has successfully been installed at a manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania and is gearing up for testing.

Measuring 12 feet tall and weighing 2,000 pounds, the non-nuclear prototype is a full-scale replica of the U.S. Department of Energy’s MARVEL microreactor.

The installation was completed by Creative Engineers, Inc. (CEI) and marks the latest step forward in the groundbreaking MARVEL project.

MARVEL will be the first new test reactor at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in more than four decades and promises to advance research and development of microreactor designs.

Prepping for the Big Test 

PCAT installed at a manufacturing facility in PA.

INL built the full-scale, electrically heated prototype, known as the primary coolant apparatus test or PCAT, last year.  

It was recently loaded onto a truck and transported from INL to CEI’s manufacturing facility in New Freedom, Pennsylvania.  

CEI installed the PCAT into a two-story frame and where it will be loaded with sodium-potassium and lead-bismuth coolants. 

The PCAT will be electrically powered during testing, instead of fission, where data will be collected on the system's temperatures, and coolant flow. The information will ensure the accuracy of MARVEL’s modeling and simulation tools, which is an important step in ensuring that the reactor will perform as expected.  

“Validation of our physics models is critical to nuclear quality assurance for any new reactor development project,” said Yasir Arafat, the Chief Design and Project Lead of MARVEL. “PCAT will generate this first-of-a kind-data for validating our thermal-hydraulics simulation tools and quantifying uncertainty for liquid metal thermal reactors, like MARVEL.”  

The MARVEL Reactor 

MARVEL is a sodium-potassium-cooled microreactor that will generate 100 kilowatts of power.  

The microreactor technology is expected to begin operation at INL’s Transient Reactor Test Facility by the end of 2024. It will also be connected to the lab’s first nuclear microgrid.  

MARVEL will be used to develop regulatory approval processes, test microreactor applications, evaluate systems for remote monitoring, and develop autonomous control technologies.  

It will also explore and test microreactor capabilities for various electrical and non-electric applications, such as thermal storage, water purification, and district heating. 

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The proposed MARVEL microreactor project at Idaho National Laboratory will help researchers understand how advanced reactors could play a part in intelligent energy grids.
Idaho National Laboratory

What’s Next? 

PCAT testing could begin as early as July.   

The system will likely remain at CEI until the operation of MARVEL begins to provide further simulation and testing.  

Once the MARVEL microreactor is active, PCAT may be returned to INL to be used for additional research to help advance microreactor technologies.  

The fabrication of long-lead components, such as stirling engines, are currently underway for the MARVEL microreactor.