Rita Baranwal, chief technology officer at Westinghouse, told the Nuclear Innovation Conference in Amsterdam that LFR tests rigs are being erected at locations including Westinghouse’s own Springfields facility near Preston, reactor technology and engineering company Jacobs’ facility in Warrington and the University of Bangor in Wales. Fuel development is taking place at the National Nuclear Laboratory and the University of Manchester.
Ms Baranwal, a former assistant secretary for nuclear energy at US Department of Energy, said testing is scheduled to begin this summer and the company is engaged in pre-licensing discussions about the LFR with the UK nuclear regulator.
She said first unit of Westinghouse’s new-generation high-capacity nuclear plant could potentially be operating in 2027.
Westinghouse engineers are targeting output of 450 MW, but have looked at several different output sizes “so if a customer wants 200 or 250 MW we can do that”.
In 2020 the LFR programme moved to Phase 2 of the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s advanced modular reactor feasibility and development project, receiving £10m in funding from the BEIS.
At the time, Westinghouse said the funding will help demonstrate components and accelerate the development of high-temperature materials, advanced manufacturing technologies and modular construction strategies for the LFR.
The Westinghouse LFR, a 450 MW-class Generation IV reactor design, has a simplified design, flexible operations and fuel cycle capabilities, zero CO2 emissions, walk-away safety features and modular assembly.
Ms Baranwal said one of the key targets when Westinghouse decided to go ahead with the project was that it will achieve a competitive levelised cost of electricity to ensure economic competitiveness in the most challenging global electricity markets.
She said there is competition in the advanced nuclear reactor market, but the “appetite is strong”, driven by the need for decarbonisation and the fact that a plant can be manufactured and installed “in a matter of weeks”.
The LFR offers fuel cycle flexibility that is typical of fast reactors, Ms Baranwal said. “This is important because there are many entities and end-users that are curious about used fuel and its storage. The HFR can close the fuel cycle and this is a benefit for end-users.”
Ms Baranwal also said Westinghouse’s eVinci microreactor, a 5-10 MW unit, is “progressing through a development and tesing programme” and attracting interest from defence organisations, universities and remote communities that are relying on “exorbitantly expensive diesel given the geopolitics of where we sit today”.
The eVinci can be harmonised with renewable sources, used to generate hydrogen, support mining operations and for the production of medical isotopes. Ms Baranwal said there are regions that what to use thr technology to desalinate water.
“Once the world gets through the pandemic the next biggest crisis is going to be water security so nuclear technology can be used to desalinate water which is currently a very intensive process,” she said.
Westinghouse has begun pre-licensing activities for the eVinci with regulators in US and Canada and is in discussions with “many early adopters”.
The idea behind the eVinci is that it will provide “competitive and resilient” power to targeted markets with minimal maintenance and few onsite personnel. Its size allows for transportability – allowing rapid installation and eliminating the need for onsite fuel storage and handling.
“Universities have decarbonisation targets and appreciate that they can’t meet them with what they have right now,” Ms Baranwal said. “They are interested in a small reactor to help them meet their targets. These are universities that have research reactors and some that do not even have nuclear engineering programmes.
“Different reactor technologies and sizes will be needed for end-users’ decarbonisation targets.”
The Nuclear Innovation Conference is organised by NRG, the Netherlands-based nuclear research and medical radioisotopes company that operates the Petten research reactor.