How NRICs Help Drive Technological Advancements in the Nuclear Power Industry

The National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC) is a State Department of Energy (DOE) program led by Idaho National Laboratory (INL) that allows collaborators to leverage the world-class capabilities of the US national laboratory system. NRIC supports the construction and demonstration of advanced reactor systems through a range of services and capabilities.

“Our vision is to rebuild U.S. leadership in nuclear energy by supporting the demonstration of at least two advanced reactors by the end of 2025, and support commercial advanced nuclear power by 2030, so we can provide the world with abundant clean energy. The world “,PhD. NRIC Director Ashley Finan told attendees in a presentation at the American Nuclear Society’s Winter Meeting and Technology Expo on Nov. 11. 14 in Phoenix, Arizona.

“We’re really committed to leveraging national laboratory expertise, infrastructure and capabilities across the country — not just at Idaho National Laboratory, but many different national laboratories — and helping to manage the demonstration to success,” she said. Say.

“We are working hard to achieve this vision through our mission to inspire stakeholders and the public through access to materials expertise and capabilities in national laboratories, enabling innovators to test and demonstrate their technologies, and through the effective Align outcomes and resources to achieve success,” Finan said.

NRIC has been preparing several sites for demonstration reactors. Specifically, it is repurposing the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II) dome to provide containment for an advanced microreactor demonstration. EBR-II was a sodium-cooled reactor that operated at INL from 1964 to 1994. It has a rated thermal power of 62.5 MW, an intermediate closed loop with secondary sodium and a steam plant turbine generator generating 19 MW of electricity from conventional power generation. Dubbed the DOME Testbed, which stands for “Experimental Demonstration of Microreactors,” the revamped facility will house microreactors rated for thermal power up to 20 megawatts.

“Right now, it’s being built to be able to use high-enrichment LEU to house high-temperature gas reactors,” Finan said. “We have about five or so, actually more than five companies, interested in using this that we’re working with now. ” The first user is expected in 2024.

NRIC also has several ongoing experimental testbed projects. These include the Helium Composition Test Facility, In-HotCell Thermal Creep Frame, Mechanism Engineering Test Laboratory (METL), Molten Salt Thermophysical Examination Capability (MSTEC) and Virtual Test Bench.

“[The Helium Component Test Facility] is an exciting project that builds on the investments made in the microreactor the magnet [Microreactor AGile Non-nuclear Experimental Testbed] facility, … we added helium composition testing capabilities,” Finan explained. “This was done earlier this year, and we completed our first round of testing in October. “

The In-HotCell Thermal Creep Frame addresses missing functionality identified in the gap analysis conducted by NRIC. Therefore, the engineers proposed adding the functionality of the hot chamber so that tests could be performed on irradiated graphite materials.

“The Mechanical Engineering Test Laboratory is an operating facility at Argonne National Laboratory, and NRIC is funding the operation of this facility to be able to immediately test components in liquid metal in liquid sodium,” Finan said.

Another missing capability is being addressed through the MSTEC project. “This is a modular thermal chamber that allows us to measure the thermophysical properties of irradiated molten salt fuel,” Finan said. NRIC expects to establish this capability by 2024.

The Virtual Testbed is a partnership between NRIC and the NEAMS (Nuclear Energy Advanced Modeling and Simulation) program. “This takes a lot of very important code that has been developed in the lab over the last few years and brings them closer to what the industry needs, so really putting them into a demo so that the industry can use the code developed in the lab,” Finan explained .

The NRIC Resource Team provides nuclear innovators with access to valuable national laboratory expertise. Although National Lab Expert time is limited to 200 hours per presentation per year, it provides a quick and easy way to get help. “We can resolve these issues within a week or two, depending on the specifics of the project,” Finan said. “It allows innovators to work with the lab — with the experts — at a level well beyond the first couple of hours on the phone, letting them dig into something that has enough content to get some value out of it, but they don’t have to be Agreements involving the creation of intellectual property are waiting six to 12 months.”

Examples of assistance provided by the NRIC resource team include collaborating on test plans, explaining code requirements, and helping demonstrate pressure drop in heat exchangers. “The feedback on this program has been overwhelmingly positive, so we hope to expand this program as future resources allow,” Finan said.

NRIC collaborated with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, and the University of Michigan to develop the Site Selection Tool for Advanced Nuclear Development (STAND). It provides a systematic approach based on user siting preferences and priorities to discover areas that may be suitable, explore areas to identify specific sites, and compare sites to determine the best option. Finan says it’s “a great tool.”

One of the things Finan said kept her up at night was the fear that successful demonstrations might not scale. “We need to make sure that when we demonstrate nuclear technology, we’re also doing work to support scalability and deployment,” she said. “So, on that front, we have activities to address cost and market issues, including advanced construction techniques to reduce costs.”

The list of activities in which NRIC is involved is extensive. In addition to all the previously mentioned projects, it also focuses on digital engineering initiatives; development of nuclear propulsion for commercial surface vessels; community outreach; collaboration with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on several licensing activities; development of advanced reactors, microreactors, and advanced reactor fuels transportation planning; developing an environmental justice and equity framework for future facilities; and more.

Still, the main goal of NRIC is to demonstrate at least two advanced nuclear reactors. Finan said NRIC will work to “maintain progress to support demonstrations through the end of 2025 and continue to innovate thereafter.”

A timeline of advanced reactor projects that could be deployed within this decade. Source: NRIC/INL

Aaron Larson is POWER’s Executive Editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).

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