U.S. Department of Energy Invests in Nuclear Construction Methods

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Robison Wells
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The U.S. Department of Energy launched a new initiative on July 7th that invests $6 million into adopting three proven nuclear power plant technologies. By forming a partnership with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, they hope to decrease costs by 10%.

"For advanced nuclear energy to realize its potential, we have to make it more affordable and scalable," says Ashley Finan, director of the National Reactor Innovation Center at DOE's Idaho National Laboratory.

The project focuses on technology used in the tunneling industry that reduces the amount of excavation needed in vertical shaft construction.

"This could potentially save $50 million in project costs for a typical nuclear plant that requires 1 million cubic yards of excavation and significantly reduce its construction schedule," says Finan.

They plan to invest in "Steel Bricks" technology, already being tested at other nuclear sites. These bricks promise to reduce the manpower needed for the project. Currently, steel brick manufacturers only offer rectangle-shaped units. The DOE plans to invest in the design and testing of rounded prototypes. The new shaped bricks will enable more off-side work.

A construction surveillance program similar to BIM makes up the third innovation; this will use embedded sensors and 3-D structural and geotechnical models to create a "digital twin" of the job site.

This $6 million investment represents a fraction of the DOE's current nuclear energy budget request, which is $1.8 billion for 2022, 57% higher than last year.

"We must prioritize activities that preserve the existing fleet of nuclear reactors, deploy advanced reactor technologies and expand nuclear energy to markets beyond electricity if we intend to meet our ambitious carbon reduction goals," said Katherine Huff, principal deputy energy secretary for nuclear energy.

The U.S. Department of Energy hopes to move America one step closer to clean energy with investments to pave the way forward for safe nuclear energy.

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