A novel new consortium has announced participation in the American funding contest for new reactor designs. Proposing a high-temperature helium cooled reactor, the group features strong support from the state of New York.

Hoping to demonstrate new reactor concepts by 2022, the Department of Energy is running the second stage of a competition for cost-sharing support for new small modular reactor (SMR) development. On offer is access to up to $226 million, for which a range of companies have placed bids. Babcock & Wilcox’s mPower reactor won the first round and was given access to $79 million in November 2012.

National Project Management Corporation (NPMC) is leading the latest bid to be announced. It includes a cluster of regional partners in the state of New York: the state government itself, the City of Oswego, the Port Authority of Oswego, Empire State Development and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Also in the team are the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) company of South Africa and National Grid, the power grid operator based in the UK but with a US operation counting 3.3 million customers in New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

Reactor concepts

The NPMC-led project specifies a gas turbine modular high-temperature reactor (GT-MHR) concept as a ’common nuclear engine’ which could be adapted to three main tasks: generating electricity; supplying heat for industry or production of hydrogen; and a ’deep burn’ of used nuclear fuel materials that would produce heat and power while simplifying waste disposal.

This description matches the publicised benefits of General Atomics’ GT-MHR, which was developed through the 1980s and 1990s, latterly with partners in Japan and Russia where a prototype was once intended to be built. However, the nameplate generating capacity of 165 MWe matches the former PBMR design rather than General Atomics’ ~280 MWe GT-MHR, and General Atomics is not mentioned in the NPMC bid. General Atomics has actually submitted its own bid to the DoE based on a variation of GT-MHR known as the Energy Multiplier Module.

PBMR’s project in South Africa has been shelved, but the company’s technology has certain parallels with the GT-MHR concept. Both are based on ’Triso’ fuel particles where a 0.5 mm speck of uranium oxide fuel is contained in several layers of silicon and carbon and embedded in a graphite matrix. PBMR’s design has these formed into tennis ball-sized pebbles that make up a large core, while GT-MHR has them in hexagonal prisms that build into a compact core block. Both designs also use helium as coolant, directly driving a turbine-generator set.

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