Build-to-Replace: A New Paradigm for Reducing Advanced Reactor O&M Costs

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Palo Alto,
Project Term:
10/01/2020 - 09/30/2022

Critical Need:

Although nuclear power is one pathway to achieving a zero-carbon grid, nuclear power plants are comparatively cost-intensive in some markets. Many industries are employing AI, advanced data analytics, distributed computing, powerful physics simulation tools, and other breakthroughs to advance autonomous, efficient, and low-cost O&M in their processes. O&M is approximately 80% of a reactor’s total generating cost. The nuclear energy industry has not fully explored these innovations, necessitating new designs of effective and low-cost advanced reactor O&M procedures. Knowledge gained from innovating now can lay the groundwork for optimal O&M. GEMINA sets the stage for advanced reactors to operate with a staffing plan and fixed O&M costs more akin to those of a combined cycle natural gas plant than those of the legacy light-water reactor fleet.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

The current O&M paradigm for operating light-water reactors (LWRs) generally seeks to maximize lifetimes for major structures, systems, and components (SSCs). The consequences are profound as key SSCs can become life-limiting or require costly monitoring, inspection, maintenance, and repair. Unless questioned, the underlying assumption of multi-decadal design life for major plant SSCs could become embedded in the next generation of plants. The Electric Power Research Institute’s (EPRI) proof-of-concept study will explore moving from the traditional “maintain and repair” to a “replace and refurbish” approach in which components are intentionally designed and tested for shorter and more predictable lifetimes with the potential for game-changing O&M cost savings. EPRI’s approach is similar to that adopted by the commercial airline industry, in which multiple refurbishments, including engine and interior replacement, can keep a jet aircraft flying economically over many decades even as fuel prices and other factors change dramatically. The study will evaluate several advance reactor designs with respect to cost savings and other important economic benefits, such as increased sustainability for suppliers.

Potential Impact:

The program goal is to reduce fixed O&M costs from ~13 $/MWh in the current fleet to ~2 $/MWh in the advanced fleet. Benefits include:


Establishing U.S. advanced reactor technological leadership and improving U.S. energy security with safe, reliable, dispatchable power for a robust and resilient electric power system;


Reducing energy-related emissions with a competitive, carbon-free electricity source; and


Increasing productivity and creating a competitive edge for advanced reactors.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Jenifer Shafer
Project Contact:
Dr. Andrew Sowder
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Idaho National Laboratory

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