DOE picks GE Hitachi for nuclear reactor research program

The U.S. Department of Energy has selected GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to lead a research and development project to support advanced reactor technology development. GEH will receive a multi-million dollar federal investment to develop an updated safety assessment of the company’s PRISM sodium-cooled fast nuclear reactor.

The research investment is part of a program through which DOE partners with industry in developing next generation nuclear power technology that has the potential to achieve advances in safety, efficiency and economics. The funding will enable GEH and Argonne National Laboratory to partner in developing and modernizing next-generation probabilistic risk assessment methodologies for PRISM.

Probabilistic risk assessments examine how the pieces of complex systems work together to ensure safety. The assessments allow risk to be quantified in order to identify factors that could potentially impact safety. This effort will build upon assessments of PRISM that were developed in the early 1990s.

The PRISM high-energy neutron reactor design uses a series of safe and mature technologies to recycle nuclear waste — reprocessed uranium and unused fuel from past nuclear reactor programs — while generating carbon free electricity. The reactor can disposition plutonium stockpiles and harness the remaining energy potential of spent nuclear fuel and surplus plutonium.

In 2013, DOE authorized a $1 million research investment for GEH to develop new insulation material for the PRISM electromagnetic coolant pump. This project is expected to conclude successfully next year.

In January 2014, the United Kingdom Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) noted that, on the information provided, PRISM’s fourth generation nuclear power technology was considered a “credible option” for managing the nation’s plutonium stockpile. In July 2014, GEH and Iberdrola Generación Nuclear S.A. entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate towards further advancing the proposal for UK deployment of PRISM.

PRISM is based on the successful Experimental Breeder Reactor II that began operating in 1964, as well as on the Advanced Liquid Metal Program, which lasted for 10 years.

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