Versatile Test Reactor (VTR)
- Frequently Asked Questions | Versatile Test Reactor
DOE launched the Versatile Test Reactor Program following studies that analyzed the need for a research reactor that could test materials, fuels and other components at higher neutron energies and neutron fluxes than what is available today.
An Idaho National Laboratory-led team, which includes Argonne National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Savannah River National Laboratory, universities, and industry partners, is collaborating on the program.
In February 2019, VTR cleared Critical Decision 0, the first in a series of project approvals required by DOE Order 413.3B. To pass CD-0, a project must demonstrate a mission need requiring investment. DOE will prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to analyze alternatives and study the impacts of a VTR.
What is the VTR Expression of Interest: Partnership for VTR?
BEA currently manages Idaho National Laboratory and operates the INL Site, and BEA is managing the execution of the VTR project on behalf of DOE. The potential partnership would be structured under a cost-sharing arrangement. Further information on the scope and how to submit an expression of interest is contained in the announcement, located at: https://beta.sam.gov/opp/cfa132f44cd646779f9e689243e4ee6d/view#general
What is the scope for this Expression of Interest?
Other uses of VTR capabilities beyond the testing mission of VTR — such as advanced reactors design and licensing, reducing the cost and schedule risk of new nuclear plant design and construction, and other compatible uses of VTR capabilities — are also within the scope the EOI is exploring. Contributions to the partnership the EOI is exploring include funding, components, and in-kind services. A firm requirement is that the partnership will not delay or increase the cost of the design and construction of the VTR as stated in the Mission Need document at
Interested parties who respond will be considered for a future Request for Proposal (RFP) that will solicit specific details of the proposed partnership. Upon evaluation of the proposals and subsequent contract negotiations, a partnership will be structured under a cost-sharing arrangement using a mutually agreeable contracting mechanism available to DOE.
What is the anticipated timing for the potential partnership?
BEA expects to receive the proposals eight weeks after the RFP is issued, with the objective of completing negotiations and starting the partnership by Oct. 1, 2020, via issuing the first statement of work for the preliminary and final design phase of the project on that date.
The scope seems broad – why is that?
VTR’s testing mission remains unchanged. However, there may be additional areas where VTR design and construction might benefit the advanced nuclear energy industry in achieving its demonstration and commercialization goals at the system, subsystem or component levels.
Additional benefits to the private sector may be in the areas of engineering design, licensing and construction processes. It makes sense that we take a broad approach and engage industry in order to identify innovative ideas that will maximize the public and private benefits without impacting the primary mission.
Can an interested party propose to change the design of the VTR — or decide to build a different type of reactor altogether?
If an interested party proposes to produce and sell electricity generated by the VTR, would that be possible?
If an interested party proposes to use heat generated by the VTR, would that be possible?
Doesn’t this mean that DOE will be choosing a “winner” for advanced reactor technologies?
Certainly not. The versatility to support the development of multiple advanced reactor types remains a critical requirement for VTR. The VTR provides a platform to accelerate nuclear technology development for advanced energy technologies including molten salt reactors, gas-cooled fast reactors, lead-cooled fast reactors and sodium-cooled fast reactors. That mission will remain unchanged, and developers of any of these technologies will be able to access the VTR to pursue progress in their preferred advanced reactor design. However, the private sector must decide if additional value can be gained through the VTR design and construction effort to support their specific technology and, if so, invest in those areas through an appropriate partnership model that is mutually beneficial.
Who is building the Versatile Test Reactor?
DOE is expected to decide in summer 2021 whether to proceed with a fast spectrum test reactor in the United States at the selected site with the completion of the NEPA process. Subsequently, Critical Decision 2 and 3 (scheduled for FY-2022) approves the preliminary/final design and authorizes the start of the construction. This will be based on design, cost, schedule, and other information gathered and analyzed over the next few years. Congress will also need to decide whether to appropriate the funding necessary to complete the construction.
If DOE decides to proceed with building the VTR, DOE will subcontract for the design and construction. The Expression of Interest is the first opportunity for industry stakeholders to explore partnering on a cost-sharing basis on design and construction.
A location for the VTR has not yet been finalized although specific sites will be evaluated as part of the NEPA process.
What is the role of GE-Hitachi/Bechtel team in designing and constructing the VTR?
Can international entities respond to the EOI?
What is a test reactor?
What advanced technologies would a Versatile Test Reactor foster?
These advanced technologies are very different than those in the existing commercial fleet of nuclear reactors operating in the U.S. They use thermal or slow neutrons to create a chain reaction to produce the heat to make low-carbon electricity. Because of high neutron flux, accelerated materials testing to support thermal reactor needs also is envisioned for a VTR.
Why is a VTR needed?
Today, there is no fast spectrum irradiation capability in the United States to support the advanced reactor research and development occurring at national labs and in the private sector. Without it, the U.S. will not be able to regain and sustain its leadership role in the development of the next generation of nuclear power reactors. Many heavily populated and developing countries are investing in nuclear power plants to help provide low-carbon, reliable electricity to their citizens. U.S. technology leadership in the area of advanced reactors is critically important both from economics (market share) and national security (international safety and security protocols) perspectives.
Why can’t we use existing U.S. test reactors?
Can this testing be done somewhere else?
Has the need for a VTR been studied?
In addition to the NEAC report, researchers from INL, Argonne National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory interviewed multiple domestic reactor vendors in 2016 to assess overall industry test reactor needs, including TerraPower, Westinghouse Electric Company and General Atomics. The report, issued in January 2017, states that “all survey responders indicated they would utilize irradiation services that a fast-spectrum reactor can provide with rapid accumulation of displacements per atom under prototypical conditions for qualification of fuel, qualification of fuel manufacturing processes, extension of the useful lifetime of cladding and structural materials under irradiation, study of corrosion behavior of materials and advanced coatings under irradiation, and demonstration of fuel performance.”