International project to lower costs of building new nuclear reactors

By 8 July 2021 Nuclear AMRC news

The Nuclear AMRC is part of a new US-led collaboration to develop advanced construction technologies that can together reduce the cost of new nuclear builds by more than 10 percent.

The project, referred to as the Advanced Construction Technology initiative, is led by GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy and backed by the US Department of Energy (DOE) with $5.8 million funding.

Researchers will demonstrate three technologies, leveraging promising developments from other industries which have not been tested within a nuclear energy context. These technologies can be applied to a variety of advanced reactor designs to significantly improve the economics of bringing advanced reactors to market.

The three technologies are:

  • Vertical shaft construction, a best practice from the tunnelling industry that could reduce construction schedules by more than a year.
  • Steel Bricks, modular steel-concrete composite structures which could significantly reduce the labour required on site.
  • Advanced monitoring coupled with digital twin technology, which can create a 3D replica of the nuclear power plant structure.

The Nuclear AMRC is bringing its expertise in sensor development and welding, including weld simulation, to the project. The research will involve close collaboration with the US-based Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a tier one member of the Nuclear AMRC.

“We are delighted to support GE Hitachi and our member EPRI on this exciting project,” says Dr Li Li, head of the Nuclear AMRC’s controls & instrumentation group. “The assurance of construction integrity is a vital consideration for advanced nuclear reactors, and we are seeing more reactor designs using below-ground construction to provide additional protection from natural or man-made hazards.

“By applying sensor-based structural health monitoring and real-time condition monitoring techniques, we will help bring the digital replica alive to optimise the cost of construction, operation and maintenance, and to improve the safety of advanced reactors over decades of low-carbon power generation.”

The project is funded and managed through the DOE’s National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC), which was established in 2019 to enable advanced reactor demonstration and deployment.

“Construction costs and schedule overruns have plagued new nuclear builds for decades,” said Dr Kathryn Huff, acting assistant secretary for nuclear energy at DOE. “By leveraging advanced construction technologies, we can drive down costs and speed the pace of advanced nuclear deployment – much-needed steps to tackle global climate change and meet the President’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

The consortium led by GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy also includes UK companies Caunton Engineering and Modular Walling Systems, US engineering group Black & Veatch, utility group Tennessee Valley Authority, Purdue University, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

This project will be conducted in two phases. The initial phase will focus on technology development and preparation for a small-scale demonstration. Pending the successful completion of the first phase and future appropriated funds, a second phase is planned to carry out the demonstration within three years of this award.