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Nuclear Energy

Select GAIN Capabilities

Industry opportunities for funding are growing under the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) Initiative and the recently issued rolling NE Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). PNNL's unique capability set is highlighted below. We believe these capabilities are of great value to commercial organizations that are pursuing the development and licensing of advanced reactor concepts or innovative technologies for maintaining the current nuclear power plant fleet.

Highlighted Capabilities for GAIN

  1. Fast Reactors
  2. Molten Salt Reactors
  3. High Temperature Gas Reactors
  4. Advanced Nuclear Materials
  5. Advanced Nuclear Fuels
  6. Analytical Model Development for Nuclear Safety Analysis
  7. Reactor Chemistry
  8. Probabilistic Risk Assessment Supporting Reactor Licensing
  9. Advanced Instrumentation and Control Technologies

Fast Reactors

Fast Reactor

FFTF fuel open test assembly showing instrument leads

For more than two decades, PNNL has stewarded the design information, operating experience, and safety data from the Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF)—a sodium-cooled fast reactor operated adjacent to PNNL for 10 years—to support industry and DOE-NE in resolving core and plant performance questions for new reactor concepts. Under this program, we have:

  • Systematized development of reports characterizing, assessing, and helping resolve design, operational, and safety issues by adaptation of FFTF insights generated under a major DOE program.
  • Retained senior staff who worked on FFTF during its design and operation who bring rare, first-hand experience. Designers of the current generation of advanced fast reactors have the ability to tap this experience.

Also, we work with our commercial partners (both through GAIN and direct contracting), leveraging our Hazard Category II nuclear research facility, regulatory expertise, extrusion-based fuel fabrication technology, and advanced alloy development and testing capability, to help advance fast reactor concepts to licensing, including sodium-cooled fast reactor and lead bismuth-cooled fast reactor designs.

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Molten Salt Reactors

Molten Salt Reactors

Predicted equilibrium composition for Li2BeF4 exposed to H2O/O2 Enlarge Image

As a laboratory with its foundations in radiochemistry and corrosion science, along with a long history of performing regulatory analyses, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has the resources to help accelerate the licensing of a molten salt reactor in the U.S. Complemented by unique facilities. As a DOE laboratory with its Radiochemical Processing Laboratory, which is one of the nation's few Hazard Category II Non-Reactor Facilities, PNNL's team has a long, successful track record of supporting both commercial ventures and federal programs.

Included in our portfolio of expertise aligned to bringing MSR technologies to commercial deployment are:

  • Materials Corrosion Modeling and Testing in aggressive environments, including the ability to expose irradiated materials to salts at elevated temperatures in autoclaves. With a focus on predicting the life of materials subjected to erosion and corrosion from flowing molten salt, we are developing advanced alloys that can withstand the combined effects of elevated temperature, radiation, stress, and contact with molten salt. Our strong modeling capabilities, from atomic scale to mesoscale, complement a strong testing capability.
  • Fuel and Coolant Salt Processing, converting existing spent fuel into a form that could be used in an MSR by producing fluorinated actinides through process monitoring and by removing fission products from salt mixtures.
  • Instrument, Control, and Online Monitoring technologies, specializing in spectroscopy-based process monitoring, including coolant and cover gas chemistry, EM pumps, and flow blockage detection.
  • Reactor Design and Modeling based on a hands-on background in the design, operation, and irradiation testing of the Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF).
  • Waste Forms, in which our scientists have spent decades studying the capture and immobilization of volatile radionuclides, including chloride-based electrochemical salt wastes and glass-based waste form options.
  • Licensing, with more than 30 years working with both NRC and industry including, more recently, supporting development of regulatory infrastructure and design-specific review standards for small modular reactors, and now the licensing bases for advanced reactors.

A more detailed account of MSR-related resources is available in this white paper:

Fish-Tracking Technologies

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Capabilities for Molten Salt Reactor Technologies March 2018

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High Temperature Gas Reactors

High Temp Gas Reactors White Paper

High Temperature Gas Reactors report prepared by PNNL for the NRC

PNNL played a series of key roles under the DOE-NE Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) program to develop a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor, including:

  • Leading the Safety Analysis/Probabilistic Risk Assessment elements of the program.
  • The development of regulatory position papers for risk-informed licensing of NGNP, and
  • Representing the NGNP program in development of the Standard ANSI/ANS-53.1 – Nuclear Safety Design Process for Modular Helium-Cooled Reactor Plants.

PNNL also prepared for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission the report High Temperature Gas Reactors: Assessment of Applicable Codes and Standards, along with an update focused on recent standards development and advances in leak-before-break methodologies.

Our materials research for both DOE and commercial clients has included assessment of the mechanical properties of silicon carbide (SiC) and graphite in Triso fuel, as well as radiation damage and fission product transport in SiC.

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Advanced Nuclear Materials

Fast Reactor Core/Plant Design and Analysis

The combination of high-resolution transmission electron microscopy and atom probe tomography reveals details of intergranular oxidation in a Ni-based alloy

PNNL integrates atomic-resolution chemical imaging, materials processing, surface modification, mechanical testing, post-irradiation examination, and multiscale modeling to understand extreme environment interactions in advanced nuclear materials.

By coupling experiment, theory and modeling, we develop unprecedented understanding of nano- and meso-scale processes in materials subjected to neutron irradiation, high temperatures, mechanical stresses, transmutation, gas accumulation, and corrosives. Our expertise is applied to both performance evaluation of existing materials and to development of new materials for fuels, cladding, structural materials, and wasteforms.

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Advanced Nuclear Fuels

Advanced Fuel Concepts

Extrusion press capable of ternary metal fuel fabrication

At PNNL we design and develop fabrication processes for new and innovative fuels and cladding materials. We develop advanced extrusion techniques for both uranium-molybdenum and uranium-zirconium alloys, and perform both extrusion and pilgering process development for oxide dispersion cladding as well as other innovative cladding concepts. Our hot cells, mechanical test frames, and microscopy assets allow the testing of new fuels and clad as well as nano-level evaluation of materials performance.

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Analytical Model Development for Nuclear Safety Analysis

Analytical Model Development for Nuclear Safety Analysis

Elements of the Evaluation Model Development and Assessment Process - EMDAP (Reg Guide 1.203) Enlarge Image

Development and refinement of software-based analytical capabilities for predicting the behavior of a nuclear system is critical through all project phases, from pre-conceptual through detailed design. We have extensive experience in planning, executing, and validating software for use in quality-assured nuclear safety analysis under the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Regulatory Guide 1.203 framework.

From planning and performing Phenomena Identification and Ranking Table (PIRT) assessments, and implementing novel fluid property models for design-specific features, through collection, dedication, and analysis of legacy data, PNNL staff have supported a wide range of light-water reactor (LWR) and Gen IV concepts through the entire software development lifecycle. This experience offers GAIN collaborators critical insight and understanding of requirements associated with predicting nuclear plant behavior for nuclear safety analysis. PNNL can suggest techniques to progressively satisfy requirements as the design project advances.

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Reactor Chemistry

Reactor Chemistry

Quantitative measurement of actinides and fission products in molten salt solutions Enlarge Image

We steward radiochemistry capabilities and facilities that are essential in addressing challenges related to development of advanced reactor systems. PNNL's capabilities are focused on designing materials, sensors, and systems that will perform in the extreme environments expected in the next generation of reactors.

For example, we are developing approaches to controlling materials corrosion in molten salt reactors by developing real-time spectroscopic sensing tools. Combining spectroscopic and electrochemical methods to probe speciation and redox states of uranium and fission products in a molten salt reactor will enable the monitoring and control of materials corrosion. This work is conducted in laboratories and test beds at PNNL's Radiochemical Processing Laboratory, a Category 2 nuclear facility housing hot cells and glove boxes to support bench- and pilot-scale testing of chemical systems.

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Probabilistic Risk Assessment Supporting Reactor Licensing

Probabilistic Risk Assessment Supporting Reactor Licensing

Probabilistic Risk Assessment Event Tree Supporting NFPA-805-based Risk-Informed Fire Protection Compliance Enlarge Image

PNNL has been highly engaged supporting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in establishment of the process for License Amendment Requests (LARs) for conversion to risk-informed, performance-based compliance programs. We developed safety evaluation templates for risk-informed programs and led efforts to assess LARs for fire protection programs, technical specifications, and seismic qualification.

We have also developed design-specific review standards for the certification of small modular reactors. PNNL staff are on the AMSE Committee developing and overseeing trial implementation of the ASME/ANS PRA Standard for non-LWR reactors. This experience makes us a key resource for helping prepare risk-informed basis for reactor concept development, certification, and licensing.

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Advanced Instrumentation and Control Technologies

Advanced Instrumentation and Control Technologies

Advanced materials enabling reliable next-generation sensors for in-situ monitoring of nuclear power plant processes and components Enlarge Image

PNNL integrates advanced sensor materials characterization, novel measurement phenomenology, measurement physics simulation tools, and predictive analytics technologies to develop next-generation instrumentation and control technologies. This joining of theory, experiment, and modeling underlies enhanced situational awareness of the operational state of an advanced reactor: in-core, in-reactor, and in-containment. Integrated test and evaluation capabilities for high temperature and advanced reactor coolant environments enables optimization of sensor and instrumentation designs to address reactor-specific needs. Predictive analytics technologies developed at PNNL are applied to increase the reliability of prognostic health management platforms.

Examples of advanced I&C technologies that have resulted from the integration of theory, experiment, and modeling at PNNL include robust ultrasonic sensors for long-term reliable monitoring of system health, sensors and instrumentation for Inspection of advanced reactor components, sensors for in-core measurement of fuel performance and ex-core verification, algorithms for assessing the health and remaining service life of active and passive components, and methods for inspection of deployed advanced manufacturing methods (such as metal coating and advanced joining), providing quality assurance for new technologies.

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Nuclear Energy

Research Areas & Services