A team led by Bechtel National Inc. has been selected by Battelle Energy Alliance to start contract negotiations for the design and build phase of the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR). The proposed facility at the U.S. Idaho National Laboratory will test components and fuels for advanced nuclear reactor designs.

The VTR program was launched by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy in 2018 to provide a reactor-based source of the fast neutrons needed to test advanced reactor technology, fuels and related Artist’s rendering of the planned VTR. Source: U.S. Idaho National LaboratoryArtist’s rendering of the planned VTR. Source: U.S. Idaho National Laboratorymaterials. The PRISM sodium-cooled fast reactor design from GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy will serve as a basis for the VTR.

The new facility will be used to conduct multiple experiments and large-scale, fast spectrum neutron irradiation tests simultaneously for different advanced reactor technologies, which are cooled by liquid sodium, molten salts, gas or molten lead. These design options are inherently safer than water-cooled technologies because they can cool without backup power, produce less radioactive waste, and, as with all nuclear power plants, produce no greenhouse gases during operation.

Designing the VTR has already resulted in innovative sensors and monitoring systems, digital engineering approaches, enhanced modeling, and measurement techniques that are aiding in the development of new nuclear energy technologies. Construction of the reactor could begin in 2022, with operations starting in 2026.

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