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Experimental Nuclear Reactor Design Could Come to ID

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What is known as the "versatile nuclear reactor" would be used to test new innovations in nuclear energy. (Idaho National Laboratory)
What is known as the "versatile nuclear reactor" would be used to test new innovations in nuclear energy. (Idaho National Laboratory)
January 25, 2021

BOISE, Idaho -- The public can weigh in this week on an experimental nuclear reactor which could be coming to the Idaho National Laboratory.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a new design known as a "versatile nuclear reactor."

The DOE said it will be used to test nuclear-energy innovations, helping to push the sector forward.

Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety for the Union of Concerned Scientists, believes its construction would pose risks for eastern Idaho.

"People should ask questions about whether the DOE has really done the accident analysis that it needs to, and is being honest with the people about the potential consequences of accidents at that reactor," Lyman contended.

The versatile nuclear reactor is cooled by liquid sodium, which Lyman noted is highly potent. Reactors currently in operation in the U.S. are cooled by water.

The public hearings on the EIS will be held online Wednesday and Thursday.

Lyman added there is another concern with the fuel the reactor would use.

"Unlike the fuels that are used for light-water reactors, which is called low-enriched uranium fuel, that fuel is not directly usable in a nuclear weapon," Lyman explained. "But plutonium is directly usable."

Lyman argued it raises questions about the potential for nuclear proliferation.

The DOE estimated the project will cost between $2.6 and $5.8 billion dollars. Lyman cautioned that's a lot of money for an experimental project.

"The DOE needs to reconsider this whole project, and whether they can spend that money more wisely in helping to improve the safety of existing technologies," Lyman concluded.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID