versatile test reactor


There are Faster, Cheaper, Safer and More Reliable Alternatives to the Energy Department’s Proposed Multibillion Dollar Test Reactor

, Acting Director, Nuclear Safety Project; Senior Scientist, Global Security Program

Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry recently announced the launch of the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) project, flagging it as one of the department’s top priorities. The project, which would be the first new DOE test reactor in decades, would differ from the DOE’s operating test reactors because it would be cooled by liquid sodium instead of water, enabling it to produce large numbers of “fast” neutrons. The DOE says that such a facility is needed to develop new reactors that use fast neutrons to generate electricity. US nuclear plants today are light-water reactors, which use slow (“thermal”) neutrons.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) questions the need for a dedicated fast neutron test reactor and, more generally, has serious concerns about fast reactor safety and security, detailed in a critique it released last year. Fast reactors pose nuclear proliferation and terrorism risks in part because they commonly use fuels containing plutonium, a nuclear weapon-usable material. Most fast reactor concepts also involve reprocessing of their spent fuel, which separates plutonium in a form that is vulnerable to theft. Read more >

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The Versatile Test Reactor Debate: Round 2

, Acting Director, Nuclear Safety Project; Senior Scientist, Global Security Program

In mid-February, the House of Representatives passed the “Nuclear Energy Research Infrastructure Act of 2017” (H.R. 4378). It authorizes the secretary of energy to spend nearly $2 billion to build and begin operating a facility called a “versatile, reactor-based fast neutron source” by the end of 2025 “to the maximum extent practicable.” The purpose of the facility would be to provide an intense source of fast neutrons that could be used by startup companies developing fast reactors for power production. Current US power and test reactors do not generate large quantities of fast neutrons.

However, the facility itself would be a fairly large, experimental fast neutron reactor, likely fueled with weapon-usable plutonium, and would pose significant security and safety risks. H.R. 4378 authorizes the Department of Energy (DOE) to construct this facility, now known as the “Versatile Test Reactor” (VTR), without really knowing how much it would cost or how long it would take, let alone whether there was a significant need for it in the first place. In fact, at the time of the bill’s passage in the House, the DOE had not even begun to conduct such an analysis. This is bad public policy. Read more >

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