“Given that no clear mission need has been established for the VTR and with an estimated price tag of $3 billion to $6 billion, with completion ranging from 2026 to 2030, it is doubtful if the project will go forward..Just as for other costly, complex DOE projects, the price tag is certain to grow and the schedule certain to slip if the project is pursued.” — Savannah River Site Watch
The U.S. Department of Energy has released the draft environmental impact statement for a test reactor it would like to build at Idaho National Laboratory.
The statement on the Versatile Test Reactor was released Monday and is available online through the Office of Nuclear Energy’s website, energy.gov/ne/office-nuclear-energy. Public comment will conclude 45 days after the federal Environmental Protection Agency publishes notice in the Federal Register, which is expected to happen on Dec. 31. DOE will then hold two virtual public hearings, dates to be announced.
The Versatile Test Reactor would be the first new test reactor built in the U.S. in decades and would test how fuels, materials and sensors hold up when battered with radiation in the form of fast neutrons, which the reactor could generate at higher speeds and concentrations than existing test infrastructure. While both INL and Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are being considered for it and the environmental impact statement weighs both options, DOE has said INL would be its preferred site. The program was established in 2018 as part of the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act.
“DOE is committed to designing and operating the VTR in a way that protects the environment and nearby communities,” said Dr. Rita Baranwal, assistant secretary for Nuclear Energy. “The VTR will help ensure that DOE and our industry partners can develop innovative nuclear technologies to supply the United States, and the world, with abundant carbon-free energy.”
Savannah River Site Watch, a nuclear watchdog group that focuses on the site of the same name in South Carolina, put out a news release criticizing the project as too costly and potentially unsafe. The draft impact statement discusses both INL and the Savanna River Site as possible locations to make the reactor’s fuel.
“Given that no clear mission need has been established for the VTR and with an estimated price tag of $3 billion to $6 billion, with completion ranging from 2026 to 2030, it is doubtful if the project will go forward,” the group said in a news release. “Just as for other costly, complex DOE projects, the price tag is certain to grow and the schedule certain to slip if the project is pursued. As there appears to be a rush in moving forward with the VTR in the waning days of the Trump administration, the need for the VTR, its cost and proliferation risks must be formally reviewed.”
The statement focused largely on opposing making the fuel in South Carolina, calling the Savannah River site a bad choice given that it has no recent fuel fabrication experience and pointing to the recent termination of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility project there.DOE expects to make a final decision in late 2021.
Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.