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INL progresses as potential site for Versatile Test Reactor

INL progresses as potential site for Versatile Test Reactor

Design renderings of a Versatile Test Reactor. Photo courtesy of Idaho National Laboratory

Idaho is one of two sites in the country being considered to operate a “one-of-a-kind” Versatile Test Reactor, and Idaho National Laboratory hopes to be that site.

A Versatile Test Reactor would complement the other nuclear energy testing and generating structures on the Idaho Falls campus, and officials say it would improve the speed and versatility of nuclear energy testing, while providing accelerated testing of instruments and sensors.

Project organizers have entered into negotiations with Bechtel National Inc., which would support the design and build phase of the Versatile Test Reactor at Idaho National Laboratory. The team also includes TerraPower and GE HitachiNuclear Energy.

Idaho National Laboratory manages the Versatile Test Reactor project on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. The goal is to have the project, if approved, ready to begin late 2021. The total cost is anticipated to be between $3 – $6 billion. The build phase would take several years.

“This will be a state-of-the-art research tool that doesn’t exist anywhere else,” said Kemal Pasamehmetoglu, executive director of the project. “It will enable clean energy technology to come to market and meet the needs of multiple regions.”

Pasamehmetoglu envisions nuclear energy playing a crucial and necessary role worldwide, and its applicability and creation could vary based on location. Factors include population density and climate.

The Versatile Test Reactor will be able to run experiments to generate research around how different fuels and materials can be converted to nuclear energy much faster than what is currently available, he said. This was likened to vehicle performance testing.

Pasamehmetoglu is also optimistic for the educational research and experiment opportunities that would become available to Idaho universities and industry leaders. The jobs the project would require, from its construction to its operation, would also be a boon. Essentially, the opportunities are vast.

For the Versatile Test Reactor project, Idaho National Laboratory partners with five national laboratories (Argonne National LaboratoryLos Alamos National LaboratoryOak Ridge National LaboratoryPacific Northwest National Laboratory and Savannah River National Laboratory), 19 universities and nine industry partners. The project began in 2018.

“Certainly, the VTR is being designed with and will be operating with the highest safety standards,” Pasamehmetoglu said. “The physics of the reactor allow it to lower its temperature and to (automatically) shut down if something goes wrong.”

A public comment period is underway, and a proposal to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Energy is being drafted. Idaho National Laboratory representatives encourage community members to also connect directly with Idaho National Laboratory if they have questions.

More information is available at

“I know a small fraction of the community is not friendly (to nuclear energy),” Pasamehmetoglu said. “I hope they will participate in that public comment period so we can properly address (those concerns). I assure you they will be addressed.”

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