Deputy Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes approved Critical Decision-1 for the Versatile Test Reactor project. This milestone brings the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) one step closer to building a new user facility that would support the development of advanced nuclear technologies.
The project now moves to the engineering and design phase before constructing the nation’s first fast test reactor in more than two decades.
The Decision-Making Process
Critical Decision-1 is the second step of a formal process DOE uses to manage the construction of infrastructure projects. The Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) analyzed the use of existing facilities to provide the needed fast-spectrum irradiation capability as one of several potential alternatives for the project. NE then developed a conceptual design for the preferred alternative, a new sodium-cooled fast reactor.
After evaluating the preferred alternative and associated cost and schedule ranges, an independent panel recommended approval of the VTR project, which was endorsed by DOE’s Energy Systems Acquisition Advisory Board and formally confirmed by Deputy Secretary Menezes.
The next phase of project will perform reactor design activities and complete an Environmental Impact Statement so that a project cost and schedule baseline can be approved before DOE can authorize construction at one of its national laboratories.
Filling in the Gaps
VTR will generate neutrons at higher energy levels and concentrations than current U.S. test reactors—dramatically decreasing the time it takes to test, develop and qualify new reactors, fuels, materials, instrumentation and sensors.
These innovations could drastically extend lifetime reactor cores, boost fuel performance and accelerate fusion materials research.
The United States hasn’t operated a fast test reactor in more than 20 years, limiting the amount of data developers can use to characterize their fuels and materials. The only option available today for this type of testing is located in Russia.
As a result, DOE established the VTR program in 2018 and includes experts from 6 national labs, 19 universities and 9 industry partners. The project has gained significant bipartisan support since then with $65 million allocated for VTR in the FY2020 spending bill.
Learn more about the Versatile Test Reactor.