DOE Opens Doors to New Nuclear
- May 19, 2020 12:34 pm GMT
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has launched the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) with $230 million of funding designed to help domestic private industry develop advanced nuclear reactors in the United States.
The program's major goal is to demonstrate two types of advanced reactor within five to seven years, as well as develop other promising technologies which emerge from the research. It is one of three major initiatives to turbocharge U.S. nuclear energy research and development. Congress has also appropriated $305 million for fuel cycle research and development, and $267 million for reactor concepts research, including for the industry-led Advanced Reactor Concepts program and the Versatile Advanced Test Reactor.
This nuclear strategy also includes a project, led by Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), to develop digital twins for nuclear reactors, utilizing artificial intelligence and advanced modeling controls to create tools that introduce greater flexibility in nuclear reactor systems, improved efficiency, and better designs.
“The next generation of nuclear energy is critical to our Nation’s energy security and environmental stewardship,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. “As the recently released Nuclear Fuel Working Group’s Strategy to Restore American Nuclear Energy Leadership exemplifies, we must pursue technological innovation and advanced nuclear RD&D investments to strengthen American leadership in the next generation of nuclear technologies, ensuring a healthy and growing U.S. nuclear energy sector.”
The ARDP will leverage the National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC) to efficiently test and assess new reactor technologies by engaging the world-renowned capabilities of the national laboratory system to move these reactors from concepts to reality.
GEMINA—Generating Electricity Managed by Intelligent Nuclear Assets
The digital twin program called GEMINA consists of nine different developments to research the use of AI in nuclear reactor design and operation, with the target of reducing O & M and improving performance. The digital twins will enable continuous monitoring, early warning, diagnostics, and prognostics for the reactor systems. The Department of Energy is providing $27 million in funding for the project, which has an overall goal of making nuclear power more competitive on cost.
“Advanced nuclear reactors have the potential to provide reliable and low-cost clean power to millions of American homes,” said ARPA-E Director Lane Genatowski. “These GEMINA teams are working to develop tools for the advanced reactors of tomorrow to improve operations and lower maintenance costs by designing more autonomous, and efficient processes.”
The projects will work to lower costs by using the advanced technologies that are driving efficiencies across other industries, such as artificial intelligence (AI), advanced control systems, predictive maintenance, and model-based fault detection. The teams will develop digital twin technologies for robust O&M strategies that can facilitate, among other things, more flexible operations for integration into an electrical grid with a large fraction of intermittent generation resources.
Although nuclear generation has its problems, it is very reliable for power delivery. According to the DOE, it is the most reliable electricity source in the USA. Nuclear power plants operated at full capacity more than 93% of the time in 2019. That is about 1.5 to 2 times more reliable as natural gas (57%) and coal (48%) plants, and roughly 2.5 to 3.5 times more reliable than wind (35%) and solar (25%) plants. The large tranche of funding for these programs will invigorate research and development of this important technology, improving its competitiveness with other sources of energy in the future.
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