Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue

Engineering Demonstration Reactors: A Link Between Past and Future Nuclear Technology

Head and shoulders photo of Nicholas Brown.Associate Professor Nicholas Brown looks to the past for help in ushering in a new age of advanced reactor deployment in the US. In his latest research published in Energy, Brown reviews small scale reactors (tens of megawatts) called engineering demonstration reactors that in the past have provided a proof of concept for reactor technologies that had not yet been built.

The concept of these engineering demonstration reactors, first characterized by the Department of Energy Advanced Demonstration and Test Reactor Study, was to increase the technology readiness level of a reactor design for the longer term. Brown sees them as a necessary stepping stone for future reactor types to take hold as well.

In his research, he examines five US engineering demonstration reactors, including the first one developed in 1957–58 at Shippingport Atomic Power Station, along with two international examples.

In reviewing the historical progression of nuclear reactor technology development, Brown hopes to highlight opportunities for successfully deployment of new reactor types. He says that industry can especially take advantage of engineering demonstration reactors to reduce cost and risk of future commercial scale plants.

One of the companies Brown highlights in his review is Kairos Power, which is already planning to deploy of a test version its fluoride salt-cooled high temperature reactor at East Tennessee Technology Park in Oak Ridge. The hope is that the test reactor, named Hermes, will lead to a fully scaled operation within ten years.

“These engineering demonstration reactors have historically provided industry a way to leverage lessons learned to then scale commercial offerings of nuclear power,” said Brown.

“The future of advanced reactors will also depend on continued private investment along with funding from the Department of Energy to accelerate deployment at a large scale.”