Newswise — The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory is collaborating with industry on six new projects focused on advancing commercial nuclear energy technologies that offer potential improvements to current nuclear reactors and move new reactor designs closer to deployment. 

DOE support for these industry-led projects provides each company access to ORNL’s nuclear experts and facilities. The total funding for projects involving ORNL is approximately $9.5 million, and additional industry cost-sharing for two projects pushes the total value to approximately $12 million.

“We are excited to have an opportunity to help answer some of industry’s toughest questions. The diversity of work will leverage a wide range of our world-leading nuclear expertise in modeling and simulation, materials, security, fusion and fission,” said Alan Icenhour, associate laboratory director for the Nuclear Science and Engineering Directorate at ORNL. “As a national lab, we want to partner with industry as part of ensuring a promising future for nuclear energy. This funding will allow us to continue to grow those collaborations.”

Two of the projects are supported through a DOE Office of Nuclear Energy program, US Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development

DOE-NE’s Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear is funding four projects that include ORNL as a partner facility:

  • Exelon Corporation will partner with ORNL to perform a feasibility study for the enrichment of gadolinium-157 using the plasma separation process. By using an enriched form of gadolinium in the fuel designs of current reactors, nuclear power plants could potentially reduce fuel costs by more than $100 million annually in the United States. As a leader in plasma and fusion nuclear science, ORNL will assist Exelon in determining if modern technology will make the process economically feasible.
  • ORNL will work with Eastman and INL on the design and analysis of an integrated nuclear hybrid energy system. ORNL’s extensive expertise in advanced reactor technology makes the lab an ideal partner to analyze the operational performance, cost and reliability of a nuclear power–based system as a possible energy source in Eastman’s long-term energy strategy.
  • NexDefense, Inc. will partner with ORNL in analyzing the company’s cybersecurity software for use in nuclear reactors. The project will detail benefits of the software and also analyze potential cyber vulnerabilities in nuclear reactor operating systems.
  • Westinghouse Electric Company and ORNL will develop and evaluate alumina-forming austenitic stainless steels for lead-cooled fast reactor applications. In optimizing such a material for various parts of the reactor, the project team seeks to overcome the key hurdle of high temperature lead compatibility. ORNL has an extensive history investigating liquid metal compatibility and in developing alumina-forming alloys for extreme environments.

Scientists from ORNL and the industry partners will serve as leads for each project. In the case of Exelon Generation and ORNL’s work to deliver more robust modeling and simulation for boiling water reactor applications, the effort will deliver multiple benefits.

“The continued development of advanced modeling and simulation software under this project will play a vital role not only for improved reactivity and thermal margin predictions but also for continued advancement of new fuel products and designs, such as accident tolerant fuel and its deployment to current operating boiling water reactors,” said Mehdi Asgari, deputy director of the Light Water Reactor Sustainability Program Technical Integration Office and ORNL’s primary investigator for the project with Exelon Generation. “The development of these advanced modeling and simulation technologies for boiling water reactors will enhance the operational performance, efficiency and safety of the light water reactor fleet.”

The six projects are part of the third round of funding provided through this DOE funding opportunity announcement. In total, DOE has provided nearly $100 million in 2018 to support private–public partnerships developing innovative nuclear technologies.

UT-Battelle, LLC, manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit