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US DOE awards TerraPower, X-energy $80 million each for advanced nuclear reactors

Washington — The US Department of Energy has awarded two companies proposing next-generation nuclear reactors $80 million each in an initial award as part of a $3.2 billion program to build two advanced reactors that can be operational within seven years, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said Oct. 13.

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One award went to a group including TerraPower, a company co-founded by billionaire Bill Gates, working with a General Electric and Hitachi joint venture, while the other is X-energy, a start-up that is advancing a reactor design originally developed in Germany.

The awards are part of DOE's Advanced Nuclear Reactor Demonstration Program, and future funding is dependent on appropriations, Brouillette said. Regarding advanced reactors, which generally use a different coolant than all operating commercial reactors in the US, "We want to make them more affordable to build, and we want to make them more affordable to operate," Brouillette said.

Brouillette said "it is likely" the advanced reactors will be built in Washington state, where he said a site is available.

Brouillette said DOE worked closely with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to evaluate the proposals, which will have to secure NRC licenses before they can be built and operated.

The key criteria to select applicants included that the reactor design represent a truly advanced technology dissimilar from existing reactors, Brouillette said. A second key factor was DOE's assessment that the management team of the winning groups be able to supply the required 50-50 match in resources and deliver the projects within seven years, he said.

TerraPower partnered with GE Hitachi, engineering and construction company Bechtel, and utilities Energy Northwest, Duke Energy and Pacificorp for its Natrium sodium fast reactor.

That Natrium reactor and storage system is a 345-MW net reactor system coupled with a molten-salt-based energy storage system that will provide greater operating flexibility for owners, the companies have said. The Natrium system is designed to cost under $1 billion excluding financing costs.

The system will be supported by a new fuel fabrication facility to supply fuel for the unit, DOE said in a statement Oct. 13.

X-energy is developing an 80-MW high temperature gas-cooled reactor, the Xe-100, which has begun a vendor design review with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. It is working with Canadian engineering company Hatch on potential Canadian projects to deploy the Xe-100.

The X-energy proposal includes four Xe-100 reactors and completion of a commercial-scale fuel fabrication facility.

"It's absolutely vital that we make progress on this technology now so as to ensure we don't lose market opportunities before access to infrastructure and supply chains in the United States is lost," Brouillette said.

Chuck Fleischmann, a Republican Representative from Tennessee, said during the event, "If we do not do this, it is my belief that within a decade or sooner, America will lose its nuclear advantage and other countries, our adversaries, will gain that space."

Congress appropriated $230 million to start a new demonstration program for advanced reactors in the fiscal 2020 budget. DOE said in May it would award $80 million each to two projects that could be operational in the next five to seven years. Additional funding was to be made available to up to five additional projects with anticipated deployment later than the near-term time frame.

The other funding awards will be made in December, DOE said in the statement.