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US utility Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has teamed up with American nuclear company Kairos Power to deploy a low-power demonstration reactor at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

As part of this agreement, TVA will provide engineering, operations, and licensing support to help Kairos Power deploy its low-power demonstration reactor named Hermes.

“Teamwork is the hallmark of the nuclear industry, and through this partnership with Kairos Power we can share TVA’s safety and innovation insights to advance nuclear technology while gaining experience with licensing for advanced reactors,” said TVA president and CEO Jeff Lyash.

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Reactors worth their salt

Hermes is a 50MWt test reactor that leverages TRISO fuel in pebble form combined with a low-pressure fluoride salt coolant. Rather than water, as used in conventional nuclear reactors, Hermes uses molten fluoride salt as a coolant. Molten fluoride salts have excellent chemical stability, as well as tremendous capacity for transferring heat at high temperature and retaining fission products. The technology uses an efficient and flexible steam cycle to convert heat from fission into electricity.

KP-FHR Reactor, credit: Kairos

The Kairos KP-FHR concept, which received a $303 million federal award under the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Programme (ARDP) risk reduction pathway in December 2020, will be used to boost the commercial viability and development of advanced reactor technology in the US, a core mission of TVA.

TVA has announced plans to shut four remaining coal plants by 2035 and is looking into replacing some of the coal plant power generation with small modular nuclear reactors, a possibility as the old sites have access to water resources and the grid.

Small nuclear plants are seen by some as a source of virtually emissions-free power but none have been built yet for commercial use. For this reason, Kairos Power’s singular objective for deploying the Hermes Reactor is to demonstrate the capability to deliver an advanced reactor at the costs necessary to make nuclear power the most affordable source of dispatchable electricity in the United States and proliferate its use.

Mike Laufer, co-founder and CEO of Kairos Power, said: “Kairos Power and TVA have a shared commitment to improving people’s quality of life and pursuing innovation through advanced nuclear that provides reliable, clean energy for the future.”

The 2,200-acre East Tennessee Technology Park was once home to a complex of facilities that enriched uranium. In 1987, the US DoE terminated uranium enrichment operations and began core clean activities which were completed in 2020. Further decontamination efforts continue at the site, together with soil and groundwater remediation.