Research & Development

Versatile Test Reactor / US DOE Chooses INL Over Oak Ridge As Preferred Site

By David Dalton
17 May 2022

Facility will be ‘critical tool for developing transformational technologies’
US DOE Chooses INL Over Oak Ridge As Preferred Site
The US is expected to make a final decision on the VTR project by late June. Courtesy DOE.
The US Department of Energy has published a final environmental impact statement for the Versatile Test Reactor, a 300-MW sodium-cooled, fast-neutron reactor that would help develop advanced nuclear technologies.

The DOE has chosen the Idaho National Laboratory as the preferred site for building the VTR and is expected to make a final decision on the project by late June. An alternative site in the final environmental impact statement was Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

The VTR will be used to provide a source of fast neutrons for testing and evaluating nuclear fuels, materials, sensors, and instrumentation to support the development of advanced reactor technologies. Such facilities are available in only a few locations worldwide, and the US has not operated one in more than 20 years.

The VTR will 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.

This first new test reactor to be built in the US 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 as the nation turned away from nuclear power.

his 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 several other industry and university partners.

At the Idaho National Lab, the DOE 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.

DOE 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.

“The VTR will provide US researchers from industry, academia, and our national laboratories with a critical tool for developing transformational technologies that will expand nuclear energy's contribution to abundant, carbon-free energy,” assistant secretary for nuclear energy Kathryn Huff said.

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