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.
Nuclear power provides about one-fifth of U.S. electricity generation, delivering reliable, low emission baseload power to the grid. These plants are all conventional light water reactors (LWR), the technology of which has evolved steadily over time. As utilities have begun retiring older plants, however, comparatively high costs have made it difficult to justify building new nuclear power plants. The low volume of new plant construction combined with expected retirements of existing plants is projected to reduce U.S. nuclear electricity capacity by 20.8 GW by 2050. For nuclear energy to contribute in the coming decades, the next generation of nuclear reactor plants need to simultaneously achieve “walkaway” safe and secure operation, extremely low construction capital costs, and dramatically shorter construction and commissioning times than currently available plants. To attain these goals, new, innovative, enabling technologies for advanced reactor designs are needed. The development of these enabling technologies requires an understanding of the interrelatedness of design choices. Thus, MEITNER encourages a rethinking of how pieces of the nuclear reactor system fit together when developing the technologies that will make these plants viable. In the building phase, cost savings may be realized through modular and advanced manufacturing techniques that bring most of the work to the factory instead to the construction site. Technologies that could reduce operational expenses include robotics, sophisticated sensing, model-based fault detection, and secure networks to enable substantially autonomous controls as well as a high degree of passive safety.
If successful, developments from MEITNER projects will inform the development of lower cost, safe, and secure advanced nuclear power plants.
Nuclear power plants contribute to grid stability by providing reliable baseload power and are among the most secure facilities in the country.
Nuclear power has low lifecycle emissions, making it an ideal source of clean electricity.
Nuclear power provides high-efficiency electrical generation for the U.S. grid. Reducing plant costs can mean more affordable electricity for businesses and families.