University Of Illinois Plans For Micro-Reactor

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), in collaboration with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, has submitted a Letter of Intent to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to apply for a license to construct a research and test reactor facility on the UIUC campus.

USNC modelThe submission of the Letter of Intent (Project No. 99902094), submitted on June 28, is the first step in NRC’s two-step process to license a new reactor, including a process of public hearings on the proposed project for full transparency.

The University’s Grainger College of Engineering (and its Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering), is spearheading the new reactor deployment. The new research and test reactor facility will offer UIUC staff and students a diverse set of opportunities for research: instrumentation and control (I&C), multi-physics validation, reactor prototype testing, micro-grid operations, cybersecurity, hydrogen production for transportation and energy storage, and other energy-intensive, high-value products, the corporation said.

“This impressive project takes advantage of the diversity of expertise and spirit of innovation across all relevant areas of science and technology at the University of Illinois,” said Susan Martinis, vice chancellor for research and innovation at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “We know that Illinois ingenuity will play an important role in advancing the technology that makes microreactors safe, versatile, and cost-effective.”

The university plans to partially re-power its fossil fuel-fired Abbott power station with the Ultra Safe Nuclear Micro Modular Reactor (MMRTM) Energy System, providing a zero-carbon demonstration of district heat and power to campus buildings. The project team aims to demonstrate how microreactor systems integrate with existing fossil fuel infrastructure to accelerate the decarbonization of existing power-generation facilities.

“Nuclear energy and microreactor technology are poised to play an important role in building a cleaner and more sustainable future,” said Rashid Bashir, dean of The Grainger College of Engineering. “This proposed reactor continues our proud tradition of leading academia in the pursuit of safe, transformative nuclear technologies, and enables us to innovatively train and develop the next generation workforce to lead the nation’s new economy.”

““Next-generation energy research facilities are critical to training the emerging clean-energy focused workforce," said Rizwan Uddin, Department Head of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering. "Universities have nearly 80 years of pioneering nuclear reactor technology and safely operating nuclear reactors. UIUC’s TRIGA reactor operated for 38 years with a site license in the heart of campus before decommissioning and returning the site to greenfield."

The submission of the Letter of Intent to the NRC is the first formal step toward pursuing a construction permit, and ultimately obtaining an operating license. The proposed reactor, designed by U.S.-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, is a GEN-IV High-Temperature Gas-cooled Reactor (HTGR). The Ultra Safe Nuclear MMR features the industry’s most mature high-temperature gas-cooled technology and a design that is inherently safe.

Currently, the State of Illinois is no stranger to nuclear power and the community is as educated on the benefits and challenges of nuclear power as any you will find in the country. The project team has spent the last two years engaging with the university and surrounding community; local, state, and federal governments; and potential industry partners. The docketing of these efforts with the NRC will help the team continue to provide transparency of the project status.

The MMR Energy System is a zero-carbon power plant, integrating one or several standardized microreactors with a heat storage unit and a non-nuclear adjacent plant for power conversion and utilization. 10 to 100 MW electrical power and/or process heat can be produced by MMR Energy Systems, depending on the configuration. The standard micro reactor unit is a small high-temperature gas-cooled reactor generating between 15-30MW (thermal) at a temperature of 650oC and expected for the first-of-a-kind deployment in Canada at the Chalk River site of the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories. The MMR uses USNC’s proprietary meltdown-proof FCMTM TRISO fuel (co-developed with Idaho National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory). The heat is transferred from multiple MMRs to a molten salt energy storage unit that decouples the nuclear system from the power conversion system, greatly simplifying operations and allowing flexible use of the energy generated. No water is required for cooling. The MMR Energy System can be used to generate power, complement renewables, provide process heat to industrial applications, or for high-efficiency hydrogen production, providing clean, reliable energy for any use, anywhere.

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