NRC to review research reactor licence application

22 November 2022

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has accepted Abilene Christian University's (ACU) application for permission to build a Molten Salt Research Reactor (MSRR) facility on the university’s campus in Abilene, Texas. The application is the first for a new US research reactor in more than 30 years, and the first ever for an advanced university research reactor.

The facility that will house the reactor is already under construction in Texas (Image: ACU)

ACU submitted the application for the Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing Lab (NEXT Lab), which includes the 1 MW, non-power MSRR, in August. The reactor would use molten salt coolant with fuel dissolved in the salt. The facility would provide a platform to research molten-salt technology, as well as educational opportunities in nuclear science and engineering, NRC said.

ACU is the lead university in the NEXT Research Alliance (NEXTRA), which includes Georgia Institute of Technology, Texas A&M University and The University of Texas at Austin. The alliance has a USD30.5 million research agreement with Natura Resources to design and build a university-based molten salt research reactor.

Several aspects of the MSRR design have already been addressed by NRC staff over two years of pre-application activities with ACU, the regulator said. "Because of this constructive engagement, the agency was able to establish a review schedule of 18 months. Barring unforeseen delays, the staff expects to complete its environmental and safety reviews by May 2024," it added.

"This is a significant achievement, and I am very proud of the NEXTRA team for producing a quality application, sufficient for NRC docketing," said Rusty Towell, director of NEXT Lab and professor in the Department of Engineering and Physics.

Construction of the 28,000-square-foot Gayle and Max Dillard Science Engineering Research Center, which will house NEXT Lab and the MSRR, is already under way and is on track for completion in the summer of 2023, ACU said.

Assuming the construction licence is granted, ACU will have to submit a separate application for a licence to operate the reactor.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News