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NRC License To Be Sought for GEH PRISM Advanced Reactor

Dan Yurman's picture
Editor & Publisher NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy

Publisher of NeutronBytes, a blog about nuclear energy online since 2007.  Consultant and project manager for technology innovation processes and new product / program development for commercial...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Jun 7, 2017
  • prismFour U.S. nuclear energy firms have teamed to develop the basis for seeking an NRC design certification under 10CFR50 for the GE-Hitachi (GEH) PRISM advanced nuclear reactor.(PDF slide deck)
  • Team members plan to seek DOE funding as part of a public / private partnership
  • The effort is being led by High Bridge Energy Development Co. with participation by GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), Exelon Generation, and AEDCOM subsidiary URS Nuclear LLC
  • This is the second teaming arrangement by GEH for the PRISM reactor. In November 2016 GEH and Southern Nuclear agreed to work jointly on the development and licensing of the sodium-cooled fast reactor.

PRISM is a sodium-cooled, high-energy neutron (fast) reactor design. The PRISM design has benefited from the operating experience of EBR-II, an integral fast reactor prototype, which was developed by Argonne National Laboratory, and operated for more than 30 years at the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls, Idaho. (PDF Technical Brief)

“We believe that no U.S. fast spectrum reactor technology has more testing, design or operational basis than PRISM. PRISM is well positioned to provide a regulatory path for licensing and deployment of advanced reactor technology in the U.S,” said Steve Maehr, CEO of High Bridge Energy Development Company. (PDF Press Release)


On the webLicensing the Integral Fast Reactor / ANS Nuclear Café 11/02/2011

“What we know now is that there are no technical gaps that would preclude a licensing application if using known technology. Gaps might arise if a developer chooses to use a new fuel which would need testing. That process could be completed faster if simulation and modeling tools could be brought to bear on the problem.” – John Sackett


PRISM Technology Profile

In its report on the GEH partnership with Southern Nuclear, World Nuclear News noted that Prism is a sodium-cooled fast neutron reactor design built on more than 30 years of development work. It benefitedng from the operating experience of the EBR-II prototype integral fast reactor which operated at the USA’s Idaho National Laboratory – formerly Argonne National Laboratory – from 1963 to 1994. According to GEH, the history, testing, design and operational experience underlying Prism makes the design well positioned to continue the licensing process. (Power MagHistory of the PRISM Concept)

PRISM Conceptual Image

Each Prism reactor has a rated thermal power of 840 MW and an electrical output of 311 MW. Two Prism reactors make up a power block, producing a combined total of 622 MW of electrical output.

Using passive safety, digital instrumentation and control, and modular fabrication techniques to expedite plant construction, the design uses metallic fuel, such as an alloy of zirconium, uranium, and plutonium. It can therefore be used to close the nuclear fuel cycle, recycling used nuclear fuel to generate energy.

According to GEH, commercialized Prism technology could be used eventually to consume all the nuclear material contained in the world’s used nuclear fuel. Assuming 178,000 tonnes of nuclear material are contained in worldwide stocks of nuclear fuel and a per household consumption of 3400 kWh per year, the company claims this could provide enough energy to power the world’s households for up to 200 years.

Reducing the UK Plutonium Stockpile

GEH has proposed the Prism reactor as a possible option for managing the UK’s plutonium stockpile. In 2013 The Engineer, a UK publication, provided its readers with a detailed walkthrough of the PRISM proposal to the Nuclear Decomissioning Authority (NDA).

The UK has a lot of plutonium — the largest civil stockpile in the world, totaling some 112 tonnes, most of it from reprocessing spent fuel over the years. The question of what to do with Britain’s plutonium has vexed subsequent governments for decades.

GE offered PRISM technology to the UK because it believes it offers a better way of treating the plutonium than converting it into MOX. Britain’s plutonium stockpile is complicated as not every storage canister contains the same isotope of plutonium.

Different reactor processes produce different isotopes; and this poses problems for converting the fuel into MOX, because isotopes have to be selected carefully.

The article goes on to describe the fuel fabrication process as proposed by GEH. Readers are referred to the cited URL above for a longer explanation of the process.

Original Post

Dan Yurman's picture
Dan Yurman on Jun 7, 2017

Original Blog Post Updated 06/07/17

Readers are advised that there are several important updates to the original post on the topics of the schedule for the license application and also fuel fabrication for the reactor.

Additionally, the updated original notes a separate effort to use the PRISM technology to develop a small modular reactor (SMR) design at about one-third the power of the original.

Details at the URL below

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 8, 2017

Another feature of sodium-cooled fast reactors is an operating temperature (typ 510 C) that is well suited to coupling to thermal energy storage (e.g. using the same heat storage fluid, “solar salt”, which is used with solar thermal plants).

Thermal energy storage would allow the nuclear plant to sell electricity only when prices are high, which could be a key attribute in a future solar-rich grid. Solar salt has a long service life and should be easily recycled, thus, produces much less chemical waste than a proposed battery-based alternative storage system.

The 311 MWe size of Prism is also likely to be a more plausible funding task for utilities than a 1400 MWe LWR.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Jun 8, 2017

Thermal energy storage would allow the nuclear plant to sell electricity only when prices are high, which could be a key attribute in a future solar-rich grid.

Yes, selling high would be one path to success, and selling for low production cost is another. A nearby existing nuclear plant regularly bids into the PJM day ahead market at $0/MWh, since the other bidders are sure to set the market high enough for a profit given the nuclear plant’s $20/MWh O&M costs.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Jun 8, 2017

The papers I can find on solar salt mention that the nitrates decompose to nitrites and then to oxides, with the rate accelerating with increasing temperature.  550°C seems to be about the upper limit.

Removing used salt, treating it with nitric acid and putting it back would probably make it last indefinitely.

Dan Yurman's picture
Thank Dan for the Post!
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