Energy plan could boost small reactor research at SRS

A new funding initiative unveiled last week by Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu could accelerate efforts by private companies to build small modular nuclear reactors at Savannah River Site.

The draft Funding Opportunity Announcement is expected to lead to cost-sharing support for engineering, design and licensing programs to help deploy the first small reactors by 2022.

Denver-based Hyperion Power Generation Inc., one of several companies that have expressed interest in using SRS as a research and development site, hopes to participate in the new program, said Forrest Rudin, the company’s vice president of business operations.

“We established a memorandum of understanding with them about a year ago and we continue to talk to SRS to date, building on that relationship,” he said.

With its nuclear expertise and facilities, SRS has been discussed as a possible site for an “energy park,” where companies could work toward sometimes portable nuclear reactors that could be deployed in remote areas to provide energy.

In general, small modular reactors – SMRs – are approximately one-third the size of current nuclear plants and would be made in factories and transported to sites where they would be brought online rapidly.

Hyperion’s next generation reactor is called the Hyperion Power Module, a liquid metal-cooled small modular reactor fueled with uranium nitride.

“There is no test model yet,” Rudin said, but the pre-conceptual design, aided by research conducted at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, is about 95 percent complete. “So we’re now at the stage where we start true engineering, doing drawings from the Los Alamos design, and actively seeking commercial investment.”

In addition to Hyperion, several other companies have expressed an interest in using SRS for small reactor programs, including GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, which has a memorandum of understanding with Savannah River National Laboratory involving the design of a prototype small reactor.

The new DOE funding opportunity involves seeking input from interested companies. A final version of the program is expected to help fund two small modular reactor designs, a department statement said.

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