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Bechtel’s Impact Report

Versatile Test Reactor

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Enabling safer, advanced nuclear technology

The United States nuclear industry is moving forward with advanced reactor designs to provide safer, more efficient electricity to replace non-nuclear generation technologies that produce greenhouse gases. However, the technology for advanced reactors must still undergo rigorous safety review.

The Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) Program was launched in response to requests from U.S. companies that require different testing facilities than the commercial nuclear power technology in use today. The VTR is a critical element for the advancement of nuclear technologies domestically and internationally and for re-establishing U.S. leadership in nuclear energy. 

Since 2018, Bechtel, in collaboration with nuclear industry leader GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), has supported the research and development phase of the U.S. Department of Energy’s VTR program.

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The team making it happen

Instead of producing electricity, the VTR will be used to conduct accelerated irradiation testing and qualification of the fuels, materials, instrumentation, and sensors to be used in the rapidly evolving advanced reactor (Gen IV) designs brought forward by U.S. companies, public and private research institutions, and international collaborations with allied nations. When complete, the VTR will have the ability to simultaneously conduct multiple experiments for advanced reactor technologies.

The GEH-Bechtel team is performing the conceptual design of structures, systems, and components of the VTR – a sodium- cooled fast neutron reactor based on GEH’s Power Reactor Innovative Small Module (PRISM) design. 

Bechtel’s R&D phase support is being performed under contract with GEH; GEH is under contract with Battelle Energy Alliance, the management and operating contractor for the Idaho National Laboratory.

The VTR development efforts are using the best available resources from the DOE laboratories, industry, and universities to expedite the reactor design and construction, and to develop the scientific infrastructure for a powerful testing capability sustained over many decades.

Abilities of advanced technology

Gen IV advanced reactors are cooled by substances other than water, such as liquid sodium, lead, gas, or molten salts. These advanced reactors produce no greenhouse gases during operation, like the existing fleet of water-cooled reactors. However, they offer additional benefits such as:

  • inherent safety features,
  • ability to cool without backup power,
  • less radioactive waste,
  • increased plant efficiency, and
  • potential use for non-electric utility grid applications such as dedicated steam/power for defense or remote facilities.

Bechtel’s Nuclear, Security & Environmental (NS&E) global business unit brings Bechtel’s 60+ years in the nuclear power industry to the project. Our experience since 1952 includes work with nuclear power, nuclear security, production, laboratory, cleanup, government test reactor programs, and naval nuclear propulsion.

Bechtel aligns its capabilities with customer objectives across the lifecycle of facilities and sites for commercial and government customers. NS&E relies on the expertise and capabilities of over 5,100 employees and utilizes proven, industry-approved systems, tools, and processes to deliver critical projects in a dynamic and budget-conscious environment.

Learn more from the Idaho National Laboratory