Interactions with US Department of Energy

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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Nuclear Energy, is the federal government agency responsible for the advancement of nuclear energy within the United States. DOE supports the development of technologies to improve the economics and reliability, sustain the safety, and extend the operation of the U.S. nuclear power fleet.

NRC/DOE Memorandum of Understanding

The NRC and DOE signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on October 26, 2017, to guide the interactions regarding ATF, conserve resources, avoid duplication, share data and technical information, and, in some cases, share costs related to necessary ATF research. The MOU states that the principal areas of interaction between the NRC and DOE regarding ATF will be:

  • Testing of ATF concepts under the direction of the DOE program including testing at the Advanced Test Reactor, Transient Reactor Test Facility, High Flux Isotope Reactor, Severe Accident Test Station (SATS), and Halden reactor (now permanently closed).
  • Domestic and international efforts to develop and validate the material property and fuel phenomena correlations needed to update fuel performance codes to model ATF.
  • Efforts to characterize the safety and risk significant characteristics of ATF as part of an integrated nuclear reactor system to support licensing.

Coordination of ATF testing

The DOE National Laboratories have test and inspection facilities for irradiated fuel. These facilities may be used to perform some of the testing and obtain the data necessary to license ATF. The NRC staff has observed test facilities to determine the testing capabilities of the National Labs and remains aware of current and forthcoming ATF tests. This interaction enables the NRC to consider whether the vendors' and/or licensees' test results would be sufficient for the NRC to make its safety determination prior to receiving any application, helping to preclude preventable delays and cost overruns in ATF development.

The ATF Project Plan states that one of the major assumptions for the timelines provided in the project plan is that:

The NRC will not need to perform independent confirmatory testing for specific ATF designs. The NRC expects that the applicant, DOE, or other organizations will provide the agency with all data needed to support the safety basis for a concept. Additionally, the NRC expects that all reactor and test-generated fuel behavior data will be provided to the agency in a timely manner so that it can assess NRC analysis capabilities.

If the NRC is not able to reach a safety determination from the data provided through DOE and industry testing, then we may pursue independent confirmatory testing and the Project Plan timelines will be impacted. The NRC staff is continuing to actively coordinate with DOE (and applicants) during their testing campaigns to reduce the potential need for NRC independent testing.

Confirmatory Analysis Codes

DOE supports NRC efforts with their confirmatory analysis codes in a variety of ways. One example is the neutronics code SCALE, which was developed and is maintained by DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory. SCALE has significantly benefited from the work of DOE's CASL program. Another example is the MELCOR code, which was developed by DOE's Sandia National Laboratory to model the progression of severe accidents in nuclear power plants.

More recently, the thermal hydraulic code TRACE has been coupled to the external fuel performance codes FAST and DOE's BISON. This allows TRACE to use BISON's material properties and fuel performance models for ATF concepts in its thermal hydraulic simulations, thus reducing redundancy in code development efforts at the NRC.