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Ansaldo Nuclear aiding in development of advanced Lead-cooled Fast Reactor programme

23 April 2021

Ansaldo Nucleare S.p.A. and Ansaldo Nuclear Ltd., jointly operating as Ansaldo Nuclear, are working with Westinghouse Electric Company to aid in the continued development of the Westinghouse Lead-cooled Fast Reactor (LFR) programme.

The Westinghouse LFR is one of three projects which successfully progressed to Phase 2 of the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) Feasibility and Development project. Following a £10 million investment by BEIS, Westinghouse will now undertake applied research and development activities to demonstrate the feasibility of key LFR’s materials, systems and components.

As a central part of these activities, Ansaldo Nuclear has been subcontracted to deliver the design, installation and operation of two experimental facilities, on account of the company’s extensive experience and knowledge of LFR technology. Specifically, Ansaldo Nuclear will test prototypical high-priority components at the Versatile lead Loop Facility (VLF) and will demonstrate and validate a Passive Heat Removal System (PHRS) through a second, dedicated facility referred to as PHRF. Both the VLF and the PHRF will be designed and installed at Ansaldo Nuclear’s site in Wolverhampton, UK.

The VLF is conceived as a loop-type test facility circulating molten lead and will play a crucial role in the successful development of the Westinghouse LFR. Even though it will contain no actual nuclear material, the VLF will test a fuel pin bundle simulator, a compact heat exchanger and a coolant pump, resembling those that will be installed in the reactor coolant system. Testing equipment at a relevant industrial scale and representative LFR conditions will ensure that all the experimental data collected through the facility will be representative of the commercial reactor.z

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While the operating temperature of similar testing facilities does not typically exceed 480°C, the VLF will be designed to reach 650°C. The facility will also be extremely versatile, capable of testing a range of components, and aims at providing prototypical conditions for innovative secondary coolant system technologies based on a supercritical cycle – a first of its kind for similar facilities.

The PHRF facility will characterize the passive decay heat removal system of the Westinghouse LFR, producing experimental data for the qualification of computer codes devoted to performance assessment. The application of stringent nuclear quality assurance standards will enable the use of these data in support of reactor licensing.

Michele Frignani, Nuclear Engineer at Ansaldo Nucleare, has been involved in the programme from an early stage. Having devoted the last seven years of his professional experience to LFR technology, he underlines the importance of collaboration towards a common vision:

“Due to our ongoing collaboration with our historical partner in Italy, ENEA, Ansaldo Nucleare has accumulated a large knowledge of Generation IV and LFR technology, which is why we are confident we can deliver the testing and demonstration of high priority components and systems with the utmost fidelity.

“The four main objectives of Generation IV technologies are safety, economic viability, reliability and the improvement of the overall fuel cycle. Ansaldo Nucleare shares these goals, which is why we have a history of investing in Generation IV technology and believe the LFR represents a credible opportunity to make those goals a reality.”

Marco Caramello, Nuclear engineer at Ansaldo Nucleare, has worked on design and research projects for liquid metal cooled reactors for more than five years and is aware of the prospects but also of the challenges presented by the innovative nature of the LFR:

“The main challenge will be to ensure the VLF and PHRF are as representative as possible of the real reactor, and to meet the necessary level of quality assurance requirements that will be expected for a nuclear application.

“Advanced Modular Reactors are an opportunity to ensure reliable clean energy production while playing a pivotal role in reducing carbon emissions, thus fully supporting internationally-shared efforts in the fight against climate change”.

With a power level of approximately 450 MWe and thanks to the combination between the favourable properties of liquid lead as a coolant and the adoption of novel technology solutions, the Westinghouse LFR has the potential to achieve a step-change in the cost and market flexibility of new nuclear.

As a leading organisation in the development of LFR technology, and thanks to over 20 years of accumulated experience in partnership with ENEA, Ansaldo Nuclear will be instrumental in achieving this goal.

ENDS