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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) said it selected a sodium-cooled fast reactor design for its versatile test reactor that would be built at Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

If funding is appropriated by Congress, the project would be the first fast nuclear test reactor to operate in the United States in nearly three decades.

Congress did not provide funding in Fiscal Year 2022 funding for the versatile test reactor, or VTR. DOE has requested FY 2023 funding to help move the project forward.

Department officials have said a fast-neutron reactor capable of performing faster irradiation testing is necessary to modernize its nuclear research and accelerate advanced nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation, and sensors.

According to DOE, the reactor would generate higher neutron fluxes to test nuclear materials up to 10 times faster than what is currently capable in the United States.

The 300 MW reactor would be a pool-type, sodium-cooled reactor that uses a uranium-plutonium-zirconium metal fuel. It would be based on many of the design and passive safety features of GE Hitachi’s PRISM small modular reactor.

According to DOE researchers, the PRISM design would require several changes, notably the elimination of electricity production and the accommodation for experimental locations within the core.

final environmental impact statement was released May 13.

This first new test reactor to be built in the U.S. in decades would also incorporate technologies adapted from previous sodium-cooled fast reactors. The DOE had a fast reactor, the Experimental Breeder Reactor II, operating in eastern Idaho until it was shut down in 1994.

This VTR project, underway since early 2019, is being led by INL in partnership with five other national laboratories: Argonne, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest, and Savannah River. The effort includes several other industry and university partners.

At Idaho National Lab, the DOE said it would site the test reactor adjacent to the INL’s materials and fuels complex and use existing hot cell and other facilities at the complex for post-irradiation examination and spent nuclear fuel treatment.

Department officials said this location was selected primarily because the project would make use of the complex facilities, along with the anticipated small environmental impacts of siting the facility there.

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