Critical Decision 1 – known as “Approve Alternative Selection and Cost Range” – is the second step in the formal process DOE uses to review and manage research infrastructure projects. The approval of Critical Decision 1, says the agency, represents a significant step toward re-establishing the United States as a global leader in nuclear energy research, safety, and security, and developing new technologies that will help supply the world with low-carbon energy.
As part of Critical Decision 1, federal committees reviewed the conceptual design, schedule, and cost range, and analyzed potential alternatives. The VTR project now moves to the engineering design phase as soon as Congress appropriates funding. DOE has requested $295 million for FY 2021 for the project.
“The Versatile Test Reactor addresses a long-standing gap in research infrastructure in the United States,” says Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. “We have not had a fast neutron spectrum test facility for decades.”
“Many of the new reactor designs under development in the United States require this sort of long-term testing capability,” says Brouillette. “Not only will VTR support the research and development of much-needed clean energy technologies, but it is key to revitalizing our nuclear industry, which has long been the model for safe operations and security for the world.”
The VTR program was established in 2018 in response to reports outlining the need for a fast spectrum test reactor and requests from U.S. companies developing advanced reactors. Many of the new designs require different testing capabilities than the existing testing infrastructure that supports today’s nuclear energy technologies. Since then, a team of experts from six national laboratories, 19 universities, and nine industry partners have been developing a design, cost estimate, and schedule for VTR.
VTR, says the agency, will generate neutrons at higher speeds and higher concentrations than existing test infrastructure. It will provide leading edge capability for accelerated testing of advanced nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation, and sensors.
“The approval of Critical Decision 1 establishes a solid foundation upon which the design phase can begin,” says Dr. Rita Baranwal, Assistant Secretary for DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. “We have repeatedly heard from industry and other stakeholders that the United States needs a fast neutron scientific user facility to maintain our global leadership in nuclear energy. This decision puts us firmly on the path toward achieving that goal.”
The DOE will make a final decision on the design, technology selection, and location for VTR following the completion of the Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision, which is expected in late 2021.
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