THE US Department of Energy (DOE) has selected two nuclear projects to receive multi-year cost share funding of up to US$80m.
The awards will help X-energy and Southern Company Services (SCS) develop their new nuclear reactors in the design, construction and operation phases of the projects. Following a competitive process, each company will receive an initial US$6m sum, and will receive further funding of up to US$40m each, on a performance-based initiative in order to further develop the areas of safety, operations and economics.
Part of the fund will support the research and development of X-energy’s Xe-100 Pebble Bed Advanced Reactor (Xe-100). The reactor injects uranium-graphite fuel pebbles into the reactor. Helium gas is used to cool the high-temperature reaction that heats fluid which is transported to a steam turbine to generate electricity.
These reactors are relatively small, and a reactor can potentially be transported easily to serve in smaller communities. A Xe-100 'four-pack' plant can generate approximately 200 MWe and can fit into an area of 40,000 m2.
Southern Company Services’ Molten Chloride Fast Reactor (MCFR) uses molten chloride salts to transfer heat from a reaction chamber to a turbine generator. The salts are also used as a coolant, as they can handle the high temperatures without evaporating, and are recyclable after undergoing heat exchange. The greater density of the salt helps to prevent the reaction becoming out of control, and is therefore safer than water-cooled reactors.
Ernest Moniz, US energy secretary, said, “In order to ensure that nuclear energy remains a key source for electricity generation well into the future, it is critically important that we invest in these technologies today. Public-private partnerships to develop advanced nuclear capabilities will enable low-carbon nuclear energy for years to come.”
Nuclear energy provides 20% of all electricity supplied to the US power grid. It also provides over 60% of the US carbon-free electricity. The awards are an example of the public-private partnerships envisioned under the recently established Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative. The initiative aims to provide technical and financial support to accelerate nuclear reactor advancements to the commercial markets.
Thomas Fanning, president and CEO of Southern Company, said, “Nuclear energy currently accounts for about 20% of the energy mix, and its importance will continue to grow as [the US] transitions to a low-carbon energy future. This collaborative research effort will help accelerate the development of next generation nuclear reactors.”
Harlan Bowers, X-energy president said, “X-energy's internal investments, coupled with this funding, position the Xe-100 among the most promising advanced reactors under development today. We are thrilled that the DOE recognises the Xe-100's advantages: a clean, affordable, secure design with electrical generation and industrial process steam capabilities.”
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