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DOE marks major milestone in reactor research project


IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK)-The U.S. Department of Energy has approved “Critical Decision 1” for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) project. 

Critical Decision 1 is the second step in the formal process used to review and manage research infrastructure projects.

The VTR is described as a one-of-a-kind scientific user facility that would support research and development of innovative nuclear energy and other technologies.

As part of the decision, federal committees reviewed the conceptual design, schedule and cost range.  They also analyzed potential alternatives.

At the same time, DOE issued a Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for VTR.  That notice was published in the Federal Register on August 5.  

The VTR project now moves to the engineering design phase as soon as Congress appropriates funding.   DOE is asking for $295 million in Fiscal Year 2021.   

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette called the decision a significant step toward re-establishing the United States as a global leader in nuclear energy, research, safety and security.  He said it would help develop new technologies that would supply the world with low-carbon energy.

“The Versatile Test Reactor addresses a long-standing gap in research infrastructure in the United States,” Brouillette said. “We have not had a fast neutron spectrum test facility for decades. Many of the new reactor designs under development by in the United States require this sort of long-term testing capability. 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.”

VTR was established in 2018 to meet the need for a fast spectrum test reactor and requests from U.S. companies developing advanced reactors.

“The approval of Critical Decision 1 establishes a solid foundation upon which the design phase can begin,” said 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 completion of the EIS and Record of Decision in late 2021.

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