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Modeling-Enhanced Innovations Trailblazing Nuclear Energy Reinvigoration

The projects that comprise ARPA-E's MEITNER (Modeling-Enhanced Innovations Trailblazing Nuclear Energy Reinvigoration) program seek to identify and develop innovative technologies that can enable designs for lower cost, safer advanced nuclear reactors. These enabling technologies can establish the basis for a modern, domestic supply chain supporting nuclear technology. Projects will be improved and validated with advanced modeling and simulation tools, and project teams will have access to subject matter experts from nuclear and non-nuclear disciplines. An ARPA-E-provided Resource Team will coordinate sub-teams for modeling and simulation, techno-economic analysis, and subject matter expertise. Project teams will leverage these resources for modeling and simulation support, advanced technical information, design assistance, and information on the state of the art in relevant areas.
For a detailed technical overview about this program, please click here.  

HolosGen, LLC

Transportable Modular Reactor by Balance of Plant Elimination

HolosGen is developing a transportable gas-cooled nuclear reactor with load following ability. The reactor concept is essentially a closed-loop jet engine (Brayton cycle) with the typical combustor replaced by a nuclear heat source. The nuclear heat source is comprised of multiple subcritical power modules (SPMs) that only produce power when they are positioned in close proximity, allowing sufficient neutron transfer to reach criticality (steady-state). The modules will be positioned using an exoskeletal structure with fast-actuation technologies currently employed by the aviation industry. By controlling the flow of neutrons across the SPM boundaries, reactor output can be controlled. By using a closed Brayton cycle, a high-power-density engine with components connected directly to the reactor core, plant construction will be simplified and the reactor/generator can be packaged in a standard shipping container. This will make the reactor highly portable, leading to lower costs and shorter commissioning times. HolosGen's reactor concept will provide low overnight cost, autonomous operations, rapid deployment, independence from environmental extremes, and easy electrical grid connection with near real-time load following capability. Under this MEITNER project, the ARPA-E/HolosGen team aims to demonstrate the viability of this concept using multi-physics modeling and simulation tools, with the thermal hydraulics validated by testing a non-nuclear simulator. The project will improve the understanding of the turbine efficiencies and the coolant flow within the nuclear reactor.

Moltex Energy USA LLC

Composite Structural Technology for stable salt reactors (COST SSR)

Advanced reactors, including Moltex's stable salt reactor design, may be able to forgo large, expensive containment structures common in the current fleet of nuclear plants. Molten salt fuel chemically binds dangerous radionuclides, limiting the potential for radioactive gas release. The Moltex team will apply modeling and simulation to demonstrate the absence of radionuclide release for their reactor concept in accident scenarios, and the associated feasibility of using a new class of containment structures that are faster to install onsite and with higher composite strength. This new composite structural technology standardizes and expedites plant construction elements. It removes complex elements such as seismic dampers, high-performance cement mixing, and custom rebar configurations, which make nuclear construction time-consuming, labor intensive, and logistically challenging to deliver. In addition, this new technology presents an opportunity to accelerate construction for advanced reactors faster than solar, wind or combined-cycle power plants, significantly reducing the capital cost of next generation nuclear power.

North Carolina State University

Development of a Nearly Autonomous Management and Control System for Advanced Reactors

North Carolina State University (NC State) will develop a highly automated management and control system for advanced nuclear reactors. The system will provide operations recommendations to staff during all modes of plant operation except shutdown operations. Using an artificial-intelligence (AI) guided system enabling continuous extensive monitoring of plant status, knowledge of current component status, and plant parameter trends, the system will continuously predict near-term behavior within the plant and recommend a course of action to plant personnel. If successful, this comprehensive, knowledge-based control system for credible, consistent management of plant operations will improve safety and optimize emergency management in advanced reactors. AI-guided models trained on data from plant monitoring instruments combined with expectations generated by advanced modeling and simulation can vastly improve the effectiveness of plant diagnosis and prognosis in plant management, as well as enable vulnerability search in safety analysis. In particular, the system will greatly increase the time available before operator action is required. This means that a significantly smaller operational staff--assisted by instrumentation, operator training, and smart procedures--is needed to manage the plant, reducing overall operational cost.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Magnetically Suspended Canned Rotor Pumps for the Integral Molten Salt Reactor

Stony Brook University

Technology Enabling Zero-EPZ Micro Modular Reactors

Stony Brook Universitywill develop advanced technologies for gas-cooled reactors to increase their power density, enabling them to be smaller. The team seeks to develop a high-performance moderator--which slows down neutrons so they can cause fission--to enable a compact reactor with enhanced safety features. Shrinking the reactor size enables greater versatility in deployment and reduced construction times and costs, both of which are especially important for smaller modular reactor systems that may be constructed wherever heat and power are needed.

The Research Foundation for the State University of New York on behalf of Univ. at Buffalo

Reducing Overnight Capital Cost of Advanced Reactors Using Equipment-based Seismic Protective Technologies

The University at Buffalo, the State University of New York (SUNY) will develop seismic protective systems to safeguard essential and safety-class components inside nuclear power plants. Currently, these systems and components are custom-produced for each new plant, with multiple designs often needed for a given plant. Earthquake considerations may add up to 35% to the overnight capital cost for new plant designs in regions of moderate to high seismic hazard. This project will develop and implement modular systems to protect individual components from earthquake shaking effects. Because the systems can be implemented independent of reactor type, they will simplify plant design, facilitate economical reactor construction in regions of moderate and high seismic hazard, and enable efficient seismic protection of safety-grade equipment in reactor buildings. By focusing seismic protection on components that require it, the approach can facilitate reduced thickness of walls and slabs in other parts of the plant, further saving construction time and costs.

University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign

Enabling Load Following Capability in the Transatomic Power MSR

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) will develop a fuel processing system that enables load-following in molten salt reactors (MSRs), an important ability that allows nuclear power plants to ramp electricity production up or down to meet changing electricity demand. Nuclear reactions in MSRs produce unwanted byproducts (such as xenon and krypton) that can adversely affect power production. In steady, baseload operation, these byproducts form and decay at the same rate. When electricity production is ramped down, however, the byproducts start to be produced at a greater rate than they decay, leading to a buildup within the reactor. When power production must be once again increased, the response rate is slowed by the time needed for the byproducts to reach their equilibrium level (determined by the radioactive decay half-life, which is on the order of hours). Thus, buildup of these unwanted byproducts resulting from ramping down inhibit proper load following for molten salt reactors. Fortunately, MSRs transport fuel in a flowing molten salt fuel loop, which means that a section of the reactor, outside the core, can be leveraged for fuel processing and "cleanup." The team will determine the feasibility of removal of these unwanted byproducts and design a fuel reprocessing system, removing a major barrier to commercialization for molten salt reactors.

Westinghouse Electric Company LLC

Self-regulating, Solid Core Block "SCB" for an Inherently Safe Heat Pipe Reactor

Westinghouse Electric Company will develop a self-regulating "solid core block" (SCB) that employs solid material (instead of bulk liquid flow or moving parts) to passively regulate the reaction rate in a micro-scale nuclear reactor. The project aims for the reactor to achieve safe shutdown without the need for additional controls, external power sources, or operator intervention, enabling highly autonomous operation. The SCB is key to the reactor design, which is comprised of a core (containing fuel, moderator, and axial reflectors) and primary and decay heat exchangers, all connected end to end by horizontal heat pipes. During off-normal conditions, the reactor will shut itself down and promptly dissipate the decay heat for an indefinite amount of time without any operator intervention or using any control systems, improving safety. The team will conduct modeling and simulations to predict the SCB's inherent self-regulating ability. It will then fabricate and test several SCB samples to validate the modeling and simulation tools and confirm feasibility of advanced manufacturing techniques. The SCB will be the central component of the team's complete micro reactor concept, a robust product that aims to overcome many common challenges of current nuclear power plants, including complicated plant designs, uncertain construction times, high operating and financing costs, and load following limitations.

Yellowstone Energy

Reactivity Control Device for Advanced Reactors

Yellowstone Energy will develop a new passive control technology to enhance safety and reduce nuclear power plant costs. The team's Reactivity Control Device (RCD) will integrate with the Yellowstone Energy Molten Nitrate Salt Reactor and other advanced reactor designs. The RCD will use fluid embedded in the reactor's control rods to control reaction rates at elevated temperatures, even in the absence of external controls. As the heating from fission increases or decreases, the fluid density will automatically and passively respond to control the system. The RCD's passive control is highly beneficial for ensuring reactor safety and stability under normal operation and accident scenarios. The team will use simulation tools to determine the effectiveness of the control device and conduct a techno-economic analysis at the plant level to determine cost effectiveness. If successful, the system will provide a high level of resiliency and reliability while significantly improving the economics and safety of many advanced reactor designs. The RCD may also serve as the basis for additional innovations in reactor designs including a broader range of coolant salts in solid fueled, salt-cooled reactors and further advanced reactor defense against cybersecurity threats.

In this webinar, ARPA-E Program Director Rachel Slaybaugh provides an overview of the Modeling-Enhanced Innovations Trailblazing Nuclear Energy Reinvigoration (MEITNER) Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). Download Presentation PDF 
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