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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.

While a number of U.S. companies are pursuing advanced technologies, including fast reactors, the country currently lacks adequate facilities to test and demonstrate them. In fact, fast-neutron test capabilities only exist in Russia today. Developing such a testing capability in the U.S. is critical for the long-term success of fast reactors, helping to reduce capital, operating and lifecycle costs. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) program are essential to establishing this capability in the U.S.

Developing Critical Testing Capabilities through the Versatile Test Reactor

The DOE is reinvigorating U.S. nuclear energy leadership with its VTR program, which supports sodium fast reactor commercialization, while also testing and demonstrating other advanced reactor technologies. The VTR is truly versatile – it will have customized loops to create the conditions reactor developers need to test various fuels, materials, instrumentation and sensors. These tests will also provide the data that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will need to license advanced reactor designs.

With its VTR program, the DOE will assure that advanced reactor developers no longer need to send fuels and materials abroad for testing, as is the case now – filling a significant gap in the U.S. industry. Above all, the DOE will demonstrate U.S. leadership and commitment to advanced reactor testing and demonstration, and supply chain development.

Bringing Together the Public and Private Sectors to Build the VTR

Through cost-sharing partnerships, private industry and the DOE will work together to build and operate the VTR. This approach integrates the private sector’s expertise and capabilities, and opens the door for private investment to support existing program funding and accelerate innovation.

Together, TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy recently submitted a proposal to complete the VTR and support the program via a public-private partnership. This team brings together in-depth experience across multiple scientific fields, including TerraPower’s laboratory programs and engineering teams with expertise in materials research, reactor modeling, instrumentation design and testing, and fuel analysis.

Advancing U.S. Leadership in Nuclear Technology

It is clear that the White House and DOE recognize the importance of the VTR in reestablishing U.S. nuclear leadership. The administration urges continued support of the VTR, as well as the National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC), in its recently released strategy, Restoring America’s Competitive Nuclear Energy Advantage. The U.S. commitment to advancing next-generation nuclear technologies will open new markets for reactor developers both at home and abroad – a global market that the Department of Commerce values at $500 billion to $740 billion over the next decade. The DOE’s VTR program will allow for the testing, demonstration and commercial deployment of these advanced technologies and help to reestablish the U.S. as a leader in nuclear energy innovation.