US Dept of Energy Announces Plans for “Versatile Test Reactor”

The following is a news release from the Office of Nuclear Energy of he US Department of Energy published on August 5, 2019 here.

DOE Announces Preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement to Examine Building a Versatile Test Reactor in the U.S.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) published a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register announcing that the department will develop an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to study the impacts of building a Versatile Test Reactor in the U.S. to test future fuels and materials that industry is designing for advanced civilian nuclear power reactors to provide large amounts of carbon-free, economical electricity for the nation’s power grid.

“This testing capability is essential for the United States to modernize its nuclear energy infrastructure and for developing transformational nuclear energy technologies that reduce waste generation and enhance nuclear security,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry. “Lack of a domestic reactor with versatile fast-neutron-spectrum testing capability is a significant national strategic risk affecting the ability of DOE to fulfill its mission to advance the energy, environmental, and nuclear security of the United States and promote scientific and technological innovation.”

“DOE needs to develop this capability on an accelerated schedule to avoid further delay in the United States’ ability to develop and deploy advanced nuclear energy technologies,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Rita Baranwal. “If this capability is not available to U.S. innovators as soon as possible, the ongoing shift of nuclear technology dominance to other international states such as China and the Russian Federation will accelerate, to the detriment of the U.S. nuclear industrial sector. Beginning the NEPA process at this time will ensure that all environmental factors are considered before the Department makes a final decision to move forward with the project.”

During the first steps of this NEPA process, DOE invites the public to comment now through September 4, 2019 on what the department should include in the scope of the upcoming Draft version of the EIS. Under NEPA, the Draft EIS analysis will be completed during the next several months, published, and the public invited to comment on it for 45 days. DOE will evaluate comments before the EIS is made final. When final, the EIS will be published and made available to the public for 30 days before the department can issue a Record of Decision.

Two locations currently under consideration for the U.S. Versatile Test Reactor are Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in eastern Tennessee. In addition, the Idaho National Laboratory and the Savannah River Site are two locations under consideration for the fabrication of the fuel needed to run the Versatile Test Reactor.

In addition to gathering written comments, DOE will host two interactive webcast scoping meetings to provide information about the VTR and the NEPA process, and to gather oral and written comments.

The webcast scoping meetings will be held August 27, 2019, 6:00 ET/4:00 MT and August 28, 2019, 8:00 ET/6:00 MT, and will be accessible during those times on the internet August 27 and August 28. To join the webcast scoping meetings by phone, participants can call toll-free in the U.S. at 877-869-3847.