GEH and Southern team up on Prism

Posted on November 1, 2016

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and Southern Nuclear are to collaborate on the development and licensing of fast reactors including GEH’s Prism sodium-cooled fast reactor, the companies announced yesterday.

The memorandum of understanding signed by GEH and Southern Nuclear Operating Company subsidiary Southern Nuclear Development also sees the companies agreeing to work together in future US Department of Energy advanced reactor licensing programs.

Prism is a sodium-cooled fast neutron reactor design built on more than 30 years of development work, benefitting from the operating experience of the EBR-II prototype integral fast reactor which operated at the USA’s Idaho National Laboratory – formerly Argonne National Laboratory – from 1963 to 1994. According to GEH, the testing, design and operational experience underlying Prism makes the design well positioned to continue the licensing process.

Each Prism reactor has a rated thermal power of 840 MW and an electrical output of 311 MW. Two Prism reactors make up a power block, producing a combined total of 622 MW of electrical output. Using passive safety, digital instrumentation and control, and modular fabrication techniques to expedite plant construction, the design uses metallic fuel, such as an alloy of zirconium, uranium, and plutonium. It can therefore be used to close the nuclear fuel cycle, recycling used nuclear fuel to generate energy.

GEH president and CEO Jay Wileman said Southern Nuclear’s operational experience, technical expertise and innovation leadership would support the commercialization of the technology. “With a design that can extract energy from used nuclear fuel to generate electricity, our Prism advanced reactor technology is a game-changer,” he said.

Southern Nuclear chairman, president and CEO Stephen Kuczynski said the company’s relationship with GE Hitachi was “an exciting step” towards maintaining nuclear energy’s key position in providing clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy. “We are fully committed to moving the industry forward, and by pursuing this goal together, we are best able to leverage our combined strengths in research and commercial operations to bring advanced nuclear technology to market,” he said.

According to GEH, commercialized Prism technology could be used eventually to consume all the nuclear material contained in the world’s used nuclear fuel. Assuming 178,000 tonnes of nuclear material are contained in worldwide stocks of nuclear fuel and a per household consumption of 3400 kWh per year, the company claims this could provide enough energy to power the world’s households for up to 200 years.

GEH has previously proposed the Prism reactor as a possible option for managing the UK’s plutonium stockpile.