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Energy and Environment

Nuclear About

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's nuclear energy and regulatory activities benefit from the use and integration of the following key specialties:

In our role as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's prime contractor for environmental site reviews, we are helping put new reactors online. PNNL draws upon its diverse subject matter expertise in environmental assessment to help the NRC determine natural resource impacts associated with proposed power plant sites. PNNL also assists the NRC with design certification for new reactor designs, and presently is partnering with other national laboratories and the NRC to help establish regulatory protocols for licensing an emerging technology—small modular reactors (SMRs). Through economy of manufacture, inherent safety, and adaptability to regional and industrial needs. SMRs are being identified both domestically and internationally as crucial elements of the future of nuclear energy.

PNNL provides a wide range of technical support to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to help keep the nation's 99 nuclear reactors producing power and operating safely. With decades of experience assisting the NRC, we are a trusted resource. Our researchers deliver knowledge and solutions in a number of areas, such as reactor component wear and tear, fluid system analysis, fire protection, cyber security, and risk-informed licensing. These efforts help inform NRC policy and licensing, and foster new ideas and approaches to improve reactor operations. We also assist the NRC in the technical assessment of license renewal applications, allowing the lifetime of the existing nuclear power plant fleet to be safely extended. And, as the NRC assesses the bases for extending licenses beyond 60 years, PNNL is on the front lines conducting research in materials degradation, such as reactor components and plant cables.

More than 60 countries are considering development of nuclear power programs. Recognizing that the continued expansion of nuclear energy worldwide is highly dependent on safe operations and public confidence, we seek to help countries build comprehensive and effective regulatory frameworks. Our expertise in nuclear science and technology and environmental assessment provides a solid foundation for our efforts. We augment this ability with real-world experience, gained through our work with a number of countries and our management of the U.S. Department of Energy's International Nuclear Safety Program. We understand what it takes to effectively tailor a regulatory program to a country's unique needs.

One of the challenges facing nuclear energy regards the nuclear fuel cycle. Used nuclear fuel still retains significant residual energy, and must either be recycled for additional use or securely disposed of. PNNL is helping identify and develop future sustainable fuel cycles – an approach that includes the development of more efficient fuels, recycling, and secure disposal. We are applying capabilities in online monitoring, radiochemistry, and irradiated materials examination to better understand fuel performance. This in turn will help speed the development and qualification of new fuels and fuel processing innovations. From the development of technologies for the extraction of Uranium from seawater, through the creation of advanced accident tolerant fuel concepts, to the development of waste forms and means of assessing the safety and environmental performance of used nuclear fuel storage and disposal systems, we draw upon a long history of nuclear technology development.

At PNNL we are contributing towards the development of technologies for Generation IV reactors - reactors that will require less fuel resources and produce less waste than the current generation while incorporating many elements of inherent safety. Among our staff are former operators and designers of the Hanford-based Fast Flux Test Facility, still a state of the art sodium-cooled fast reactor although shut down in the 1990s. This base of expertise along with archived data and analyses allows PNNL to provide highly valuable insights and information to the DOE and fast reactor designers. We are also developing ground-breaking monitoring technologies that allow reactor material flaws to be detected very early and provide accurate prognostics on the future performance of the reactor's components.

Energy and Environment

Core Research Areas