Two Idaho Senators, Jim Risch and Mike Carpo, worked diligently for the 2018 passage of the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act. Their efforts resulted in authorization for a National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC).
This week, the INL (Idaho National Laboratory) announced that the National Reactor Innovation Center will be located at the INL, which most likely means that the Versatile Test Reactor will be built at the INL, as well. The announcement coincided with the 70th anniversary of the lab, which was called the Nuclear Reactor Testing Station when it was founded in 1949.
The Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) will be the first new test reactor built in the U.S. in decades and give the nation a dedicated “fast-neutron-spectrum” testing capability. The DOE recently announced it will prepare an environmental impact statement as part of the process to build the test reactor at INL or at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
The reactor center announcement wasn’t unexpected. INL officials said in January that the lab seemed like the likely site for the center. The legislation, which had bipartisan support and passed both the House and Senate on voice votes, authorized creating the National Reactor Innovation Center and contained several other provisions to encourage collaboration between the DOE, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and private industry on new reactor development.
A House appropriations proposal for next year contains $5 million for the NRIC. The Senate hasn’t yet put together its Energy and Water appropriations proposal, but Risch and Crapo plan to “continue to advocate for robust funding for the NRIC and other nuclear energy priorities”.
DOE plans to make a siting decision in 2022 and have the VTR operational by 2026.