For more than 70 years, the 17 national laboratories managed by the Department of Energy (DOE) have served as the leading institutions for scientific innovation in the United States. The DOE provides a large portion of the total U.S. funding for physics, chemistry and many areas of the physical sciences.
Not many members of the public are aware of these venerable institutions because the labs don’t often make front-page news, but that doesn’t make the work these scientists do any less important. A quick review of recent national lab work shows scientists designing a new type of gigantic blade for offshore wind turbines, researching how to make longer lasting batteries and discovering how to provide nighttime solar power with six hours of molten salt storage.
The national laboratories are essential to the American research enterprise, creating knowledge at the scientific frontier and housing major scientific facilities used by more than 30,000 university, laboratory and industry researchers annually. In short, DOE’s national labs do basic research that the private sector cannot support alone. However, the private sector is a client and a customer of the national labs, which were created to facilitate the development, transfer and use of federally owned or originated technology for the public benefit.
The national labs have a unique history with nuclear energy in particular. Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) near Chicago was the starting point for virtually all the nuclear energy plants operating around the world. Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in southeastern Idaho is where the first nuclear reactor to generate usable amounts of electricity was located. Today, these two, along with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Y-12 National Security Complex (Y-12), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and several others, are centers for innovation and research on advanced reactor technologies.
TerraPower has proudly worked with all six of the institutions named above, partnering on various aspects of research and development for the traveling wave reactor (TWR). Here’s how:
- ANL’s unique modeling and simulation capabilities help TerraPower learn how the TWR will perform during off-normal events.
- At INL, TerraPower commissioned a prototype fuel fabrication line at the Materials and Fuels Complex’s (MFC) Experimental Fuels Facility (EFF). Late last year, this facility produced the first batch of metallic uranium fuel that will be used in a TWR. TerraPower also takes advantage of INL’s one-of-a-kind Advanced Test Reactor to run preliminary tests on the performance of our new fuels and materials.
- ORNL is one of the institutions we’re working with in preliminary investigations of another advanced reactor technology, the Molten Chloride Fast Reactor.
- With Y-12, TerraPower worked to perfect the design and fabrication process for the uranium alloy to be used in the fuel pins for the TWR’s core.
- At PNNL and LANL, TerraPower uses one-of-a-kind facilities to learn how the company’s new steels will behave in a liquid metal-cooled fast reactor fuel assembly.
Partnerships with companies like TerraPower allow private industry and the government to collaborate on projects beneficial to the entire industry. The national labs play a vital role in the United States – and ultimately, the world – by ensuring that to the extent possible, lab research eventually makes it to the marketplace.