July 10, 2015
Web Feature

The Next Generation of Nuclear Reactors

PNNL hosts brilliant minds while discussing the future of nuclear energy

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North of the PNNL campus in Richland, Wash., the Fast Flux Test Facility supported research into sodium-cooled nuclear reactors.

Self-titled "techies" revel in emotion when new generation phones or tablets are announced. Nuclear energy researchers share the same type of excitement when discussing Generation IV reactors. A group of researchers did just that at the Nuclear Energy Advanced Reactor Technology Instrumentation & Control Program Review in May.

The review, hosted by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, was both sponsored and attended by the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy. Other attendees included Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, and Idaho National Laboratory.

Research and development supporting Generation IV reactor concepts continues to be pursued by DOE and its national laboratories. This next generation of nuclear power reactors, which will be safer and produce less waste, are expected to be first deployed in the 2030s.

"PNNL is pleased to be able to bring to bear our substantial capabilities in the nuclear sciences and to play a role in establishing the next generation of nuclear reactors", said Steve Unwin, Nuclear Market lead at PNNL. "This next generation of reactors will help ensure future energy security for the nation."

Efforts at PNNL

Pradeep Ramuhalli leads the Laboratory's ongoing research for DOE's Advanced Reactor Technologies program. Among his areas of research is the development of advanced prognostic reactor monitoring concepts that allow early detection of precursors to materials flaws and assessment of the implications for future risk.

PNNL is also leveraging the expertise that has been built on the legacy of the Hanford Fast Flux Test Facility(Offsite link) – a sodium-cooled fast reactor that operated for 10 years, which shares many design features with certain Generation IV concepts.

Next Steps

The Office of Nuclear Energy is currently evaluating the need for a new national demonstration advanced reactor that will help resolve technical uncertainties and address regulatory issues. The Office has also recently released a funding opportunity announcement for industry and national laboratories partnerships to develop advanced reactor concepts, in which PNNL plans to participate.

Published: July 10, 2015