Have you heard about microreactors? Microreactors are very small, factory-fabricated, transportable nuclear reactors that can be used in remote communities, industrial sites, defense bases, as well as backup generation for power plants, load-follow application, humanitarian assistance, water purification, hydrogen production, and disaster relief missions.
The Interest in microreactors has become International and the DOE (Department of Energy) recently announced a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) following the Final Environmental Assessment for the proposal to construct the MARVEL project (Microreactor Applications Research Validation & Evaluation) project at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Transient Reactor Test Facility. A Finding of No Significant Impact is a good thing.
Like large traditional reactors, microreactors use fission to produce energy with no carbon emissions. The microreactor for the MARVEL project is a sodium-potassium cooled, thermal microreactor with a power level of less than 100 kilowatts of electricity using High-Assay, Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU). During their evaluation they will be testing power applications such as load-follow to see if it could be used to complement intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Thereby, ensuring reliable energy around the clock. In addition, they will be testing its application with water purification, hydrogen production, and heat for chemical processing.
As advanced reactors transition from theory to reality, the MARVEL project launches a new era of rapidly deployable, very small scale, nuclear energy technologies. “This program promises to tangibly show rather than merely tell, in years rather than decades, the exceptional climate-impact potential of microreactors,” said Dr. Kathryn Huff, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy.
Ever since the first useable amount of electricity generated by nuclear energy was demonstrated in 1951 at the Experimental Breeder Reactor-I in Idaho, nuclear power has played an essential role in U.S. electricity generation. Nuclear energy today generates nearly 20% of the nation’s electricity and about 55% of U.S. carbon-free electricity. That electricity is generated by large light-water reactors that each generate hundreds and sometimes thousands of megawatts of electricity, with each megawatt being enough to power about 1,000 homes.