It is a one-of-a-kind scientific user facility capable of performing large-scale tests and experiments simply not possible today. The Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) will support research and development of innovative nuclear energy technologies that can supply the world with abundant carbon-free energy. With the addition of VTR, the U.S. will again lead the world in nuclear energy research, safety, and security while also supporting industry partners as they commercialize new technologies.
Test reactors are scientific research tools. They provide valuable information on how fuels, materials, components, and instrumentation withstand the extreme conditions inside nuclear power reactors or other environments such as space. This enables scientists and engineers to design safer, longer lasting and more efficient fuels, materials, and components for nuclear energy and other technologies.
Because it generates neutrons at higher speeds than current testing facilities, VTR can perform tests for a broader range of nuclear energy technologies. VTR will conduct multiple experiments and tests simultaneously for multiple users and different technologies. This research will support development of advanced nuclear technologies, as well as the continued operation of the current fleet of nuclear reactors. VTR also could be used to conduct experiments supporting the production of medical isotopes used to treat cancer and other diseases.
Designing the VTR already has led to new innovative sensors and monitoring systems, digital engineering approaches, enhanced modeling, and measurement techniques that are aiding in the development of new nuclear energy technologies. Once built, VTR will be able to conduct tests and experiments in eight key areas:
“As a global community, we face an enormous challenge – how do we provide reliable, abundant clean energy to a rapidly growing population while also reducing carbon emissions? Advanced nuclear systems are one the few technologies that can do just that, which is why countries are investing in nuclear energy at a rate unmatched in decades. Several new nuclear technologies are under development in the United States and around the globe. These technologies require modern research infrastructure such as the Versatile Test Reactor to support current and future technology evolution. The United States has long been a leader in the field of nuclear energy and with the addition of the VTR, this will continue to ensure we are at the forefront of innovation.”
– Kemal Pasamehmetoglu, Executive Director of the VTR program
Designing and building a one-of-a-kind scientific user facility such as VTR requires a team of experts from:
Research conducted in test reactors has led to the development of better nuclear fuels, materials and sensors. Because of these improvements, the 95 commercial nuclear power reactors operating in the United States generate more electricity than they did 30 years.
The Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) is a one-of-a-kind scientific user facility capable of performing large-scale fast spectrum neutron irradiation tests and experiments simply not possible today. It will support research, development and demonstration of innovative nuclear energy technologies (with focus on fuels, materials and sensors in representative environments) that can supply the world with abundant carbon-free energy. With the addition of VTR, the U.S. will again lead the world in nuclear energy research, safety, and security while also supporting U.S. industry partners as they commercialize new technologies.
Test reactors are scientific research tools. They provide intense neutron fluxes that are used to simulate prototypical conditions or conduct accelerated neutron damage irradiation studies. In-situ measurements and subsequent post-irradiation examination techniques provide valuable information on how fuels, materials, components, and instrumentation withstand the extreme conditions inside nuclear power plants and even future fusion reactors. This enables scientists and engineers to design safer, longer-lasting and more efficient fuels, materials, and components for nuclear energy systems.
Existing test reactors, like the Advanced Test Reactor at Idaho National Laboratory and the High Flux Isotope Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, are thermal neutron reactors and are not capable of sustaining neutrons at concentrations and speeds high enough to perform accelerated testing of innovative nuclear technologies under development.
Not in the U.S. The only viable capability for testing fast spectrum irradiation currently accessible to U.S. companies is the BOR-60 reactor in the Russian Federation. U.S. researchers and developers encounter significant barriers when seeking access to Russian Federation reactors, including export control concerns for materials and fuels testing, intellectual property rights, quality assurance and transportation issues.
Nuclear power plants in the U.S. are closing largely because operators are struggling to compete with the influx of cheap natural gas. However, investment in nuclear energy around the globe is rising. Countries such as India and China are building nuclear reactors to bring clean, reliable, and abundant electricity to areas without it. Other countries are investing in nuclear technologies to not only provide electricity and clean water, but also provide a clean source of high-temperature process heat needed for industrial applications. To participate in this lucrative export market, U.S. companies are developing innovative and right-sized advanced nuclear reactor systems that can help supply the world with clean, carbon-free power.
VTR will operate as a scientific user facility and will support research and development for private industry, national labs, universities, and international entities. Just as with other DOE scientific user facilities, VTR will be accessed through contracts, grants, and other methods that help offset costs. In addition, VTR is exploring cost-share arrangements through the development of public-private partnerships with industry and other partners. The U.S. government, through national labs and agencies, has long provided research infrastructure and tools needed to advance technologies and innovation across the public and private sectors.
The U.S. has long been a leader in not only the research and development of nuclear energy technologies but also in the licensing, safety procedures, operations, and security of these power plants. Because of that, many other countries have based their nuclear operations and regulations on what we do in the U.S. This has led to the safer and more efficient operations of commercial nuclear power reactors around the world. Also, when other countries import and deploy U.S. nuclear energy technologies, U.S establishes a long-term strategic partnership and collaborations with those countries for many decades to come. New scientific facilities such as VTR will enable the U.S. to modernize its nuclear energy research and development infrastructure and retain its leadership role.
Some of the new reactor designs nearing demonstration stage today can be built now because they are based on proven light water reactor technologies or technologies developed using the existing test reactors for thermal spectrum designs. And some other advanced reactor concepts have been operated as prototypes, while others have not. In the long run, many of the advanced reactor technologies will benefit from the kinds of innovative fuels, material, and instruments and sensors that can only be developed through the use of fast spectrum irradiation capabilities provided by VTR for continuous innovation and improvements.
For example, VTR will provide a parallel role that the Advanced Test Reactor at Idaho National Laboratory has played for the past 50 years for light water reactors by providing an irradiation testing capability that has supported the existing commercial fleet and the U.S. Naval Reactors program. It is this kind of testing that enabled the Navy to have superior operating performance and lifelong cores, and it is the kind of testing that has supported the commercial nuclear industry in improving their availability from a fleetwide performance in the 60% range in the early 1980s to over 90% today. It is through such testing that investors will have the confidence that their designs will be economical and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will have the confidence that those designs are safe to operate.
Final design and construction will commence in 2022 and VTR would be fully operational in 2026, subject to adequate level of funding appropriations by Congress.
The U.S. Department of Energy has proposed building the VTR complex at one of its national laboratory sites and has contracted with a company to evaluate locations at Idaho National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Since VTR will be used for research and not to generate electricity, it does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). VTR will be overseen by the U.S. Department of Energy, which has the legal authority to develop and operate reactors as authorized by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974. DOE, just like the NRC, places great importance on protecting the public, workers, and the environment. The two federal agencies are working closely as NRC prepares to license new commercial reactors in the future.
Based on the conceptual design, cost and schedule estimates, the following are expected job numbers for the various phases of the project.
• During preliminary and final design, the number of jobs will range from 250 to 750 as the supply chain/prototyping and engineering efforts are completed. This includes the subcontracted design team (including supply chain) and the national laboratories.
• During construction, the number of jobs is expected to reach 1,800. This is composed of 1,300 full-time craft and on-site engineering jobs and approximately 500 people off-site, including the subcontracted design team, national laboratory operations staff, fuel production staff, and other national laboratory and university support.
• During startup, there would be approximately 500 full-time jobs including the off-site subcontracted design team and the national laboratories.
• Once operational, there will be approximately 290 full-time jobs – 200 supporting VTR operations and 90 positions dedicated to fuel fabrication and spent fuel treatment.
• Ten to 15 companies will supply VTR with material and components. More than 300 jobs are anticipated at the materials and service suppliers and field subcontractor.
The United States does not have a fast neutron testing facility. The only one available is the BOR-60 reactor in the Russian Federation, which was built in 1959. U.S. researchers and developers face multiple challenges when trying to access this research capability, including issues with export control, intellectual property rights, and international transportation. VTR will provide the U.S. with an unrivaled, modern fast neutron capability.
The Department of Energy is considering locating VTR at either Idaho National Laboratory or Oak Ridge National Laboratory and is following processes outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to make its determination.
Terra Power - June 17, 2020
As leaders, experts and other stakeholders around the world work to address climate change, they need to consider advanced nuclear reactor technologies as part of the solution. These technologies can provide abundant, carbon-free electricity and will be a strong component in this century’s international energy landscape.
By Niko McMurray, ClearPath - May 28, 2020
In the industry, we would say the U.S. could benefit from a versatile, fast neutron source to accelerate the testing of advanced nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation, and sensors to enable development and deployment of advanced reactor systems. To translate in plain English, we need to get serious about having complete nuclear energy testing capabilities — ASAP.
By Keith Ridler, Associated Press - August 5, 2019
A new nuclear test reactor is needed as part of an effort to revamp the nation’s fading nuclear power industry by developing safer fuel and power plants, the U.S. Department of Energy said Monday.
The federal agency said it will prepare an environmental impact statement as part of the process to build the test reactor in Idaho or Tennessee by the end of 2025. Public comments on the environmental review are being taken through Sept. 4.
By Neil Ford, Nuclear Energy Insider - April 3, 2019
The U.S.’ first fast neutron test reactor in decades will use advanced monitoring technology to speed up advanced reactor tests and Department of Energy (DOE) scientists are working with suppliers to complete the conceptual design by 2020.
By Luke Burgess, Energy and Capital - March 8, 2019
The U.S. Department of Energy is planning to build the first nuclear reactor in America since the 1970s. And it has the uranium investment community buzzing with excitement.
Two weeks ago, Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced the DOE would officially launch the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) program.
U.S. Department of Energy - March 1, 2019
There’s a growing interest in advanced nuclear energy.
Private companies have already invested more than $1 billion in new reactor designs that will be smaller, more affordable, highly flexible and extremely safe. So safe, in fact, that in the event of a problem, human intervention is not necessary.
VTR, tightly coupled with the rest of our research infrastructure, will be the state-of-the-art science and technology lab for advanced nuclear energy.
By Adrian Cho, Science - February 28, 2019
If all goes as planned, the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) will be built at DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) near Idaho Falls and will generate copious high-energy neutrons to test new material and technologies for nuclear reactors.
By Jacqueline Toth, Morning Consult - February 11, 2019
The U.S. Energy Department is a few weeks away from wrapping up the first stage in its process to determine whether to construct a versatile test reactor, according to the head of the project at the Idaho National Laboratory.
By Aaron Larson, Power - November 18, 2018
Battelle Energy Alliance—the management and operating contractor for the Idaho National Laboratory (INL)—selected GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s (GEH’s) PRISM technology to support the U.S. Department of Energy’s Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) program.
By James Conca, Forbes - July 26, 2018
Indeed we should. Idaho National Laboratory is slated to build a fast nuclear test reactor called the Versatile Irradiation Test Reactor (VITR), a new type of nuclear reactor that is expected to generate ten times the energy of existing reactors and create nuclear waste that is easier to handle and isn’t hot for very long.
This presentation outlines the role that a fast neutron spectrum test reactor will provide in the development of advanced nuclear energy technologies and its role in supporting U.S. leadership in the global nuclear energy development.
This presentation provides a 3-D compilation of engineering drawings from the conceptual design under consideration to fulfill the Department of Energy’s need to provide a source of fast neutron spectrum testing capabilities.
This video discusses the differences between nuclear power producing reactors and test reactors.
DOE is developing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in accordance with NEPA to ensure that all environmental factors are considered before making a final decision to move forward with the VTR project. A Notice of Intent to prepare the EIS for VTR was published on the Federal Register on August 5, 2019. To be added to the mailing list or request copies of the EIS when it is published, please send an email to EIS@nuclear.energy.gov or a letter addressed to:
Send mail to: James Lovejoy
U.S. Department of Energy
Idaho Operations Office
1955 Fremont Avenue, MS 1235
Idaho Falls, Idaho 83415