Research & Development

US Test Reactor / GEH And TerraPower Announce ‘Design And Build’ Partnership For VTR

By David Dalton
21 January 2020

The DOE is hoping the new unit will be completed as early as 2026 
GEH And TerraPower Announce ‘Design And Build’ Partnership  For VTR
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and the Bill Gates-backed nuclear developer TerraPower have announced plans to establish a partnership to design and build the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) for the US Department of Energy.

The two companies recently submitted a joint response to an expression of interest issued by the Battelle Energy Alliance on behalf of the DOE which seeks stakeholders interested in forming a partnership for a cost sharing arrangement to design and construct the VTR.

The VTR, which uses sodium fast reactor technology, will use high energy neutrons to test and develop advanced reactor fuels and materials. The DOE has said it could be completed as early as 2026 at the site of one of the country’s national laboratories.

US energy secretary Dan Brouillette said in March that there is a growing interest in advanced nuclear energy and private companies have already invested more than $1bn in new reactor designs that will be smaller, more affordable, highly flexible and extremely safe.

The problem is that the US does not have a facility to test the materials needed to develop some of these reactors, which is where the VTR will come in.

“If we don’t build this capability, US companies will have no choice but to rely on foreign countries like Russia and China to develop their technologies,” Mr Brouillette said.

Jay Wileman, president and chief executive officer of GEH, said the collaboration brings together a strong team of engineers and scientists which has considerable expertise in sodium reactor technology. “The combined team has complementary and unique experience with the credibility to lead the VTR design, procurement and construction effort,” he said.

TerraPower chief executive officer Chris Levesque said that to achieve nuclear energy’s full potential, business and government must work together to invest in both testing new materials and demonstrating advanced technologies.

“America’s nuclear workforce is ready to build next generation nuclear technology to deliver affordable, clean energy, and to reestablish American leadership in nuclear technology. The VTR offers a domestic platform for innovation that promotes American economic and national security.”

Mr Levesque recently told NucNet that nations like the Canada, the UK and Japan are already making these kinds of investments. “Russian and China are way ahead and we have a lot of work to do to catch up.”

Energy Northwest, a utility consortium with nuclear power plant operating experience, will support the joint GEH-TerraPower effort. Additional companies and investors have expressed interest in being part of this effort and, if brought on board, will be named later.

The DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy established the VTR programme to introduce fast neutron spectrum technology that does not currently exist in the US and to support accelerated development of nuclear fuels and materials for advanced reactors.

In November 2018, BEA selected GEH and its Prism technology to support the VTR programme. Since then GEH has been developing the VTR conceptual design. TerraPower has supported the VTR programme by making improvements to the VTR’s design and has invested 10 years of sodium technology development into its own travelling wave reactor.

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