Illinois Microreactor Project
Illinois Microreactor Demonstration Project
Nuclear, Plasma & Radiological Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
in collaboration with
Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation
The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, through the Department of Nuclear, Plasma & Radiological Engineering, is in the process of applying for a license to construct and operate a new research reactor on campus. To see the mission statement and learn about the project goals, visit Our Mission.
What is a microreactor?
Nuclear microreactors are just small nuclear reactors. Specifically, microreactors are devices that utilize a fission chain reaction to generate between one and 20 MW of heat energy, or one-third of that as carbon-free electrical energy. For reference, the Clinton Power Station reactor, operated by the Constellation Energy Corporation only 45 minutes from Champaign, can produce up to 1062 MW of clean electricity.
There are many different designs for microreactors that have been created, tested, and even deployed since nuclear power came to fruition in the 1950s. Since 2010, there has been a renaissance in nuclear energy, including this microreactor technology, both in the research and commercial industries, leading to a flurry of new nuclear startups and many new design proposals. While these modern designs enjoy great diversity, they employ many of the same action-free redundancy features to ensure safe operations. These include negative temperature feedbacks, meltdown-proof fuels, and passive heat removal.
What does an advanced reactor project need?
You can't have a microreactor demonstration project without a microreactor. The University of Illinois has partnered with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC), a Seattle-based nuclear company, to deploy their MMR Energy System® on our Urbana-Champaign campus. The MMR® is a high-temperature gas reactor (HTGR) that employs meltdown-proof TRISO fuel locked in ceramic matrices. The core is cooled with inert helium gas, which transfers its energy to a molten salt loop that can then boil water and generate steam. This system will be outfitted to perform at-scale demonstrations in hydrogen production, desalination, microgrid distribution, and more.
Nuclear reactors require enriched uranium fuel in order to cause the fission chain reaction that releases usable energy. For our device, we will be employing 19.75% enriched uranium oxycarbide fuel in TRISO fuel particles. The arrangement of this fuel in the reactor was designed by USNC as Fully Ceramic Micro-Encapsulated fuel, or FCM®. These parameters provide optimal power density while maximizing reactor safety and component durability. The fuel itself will be pursued through the Department of Energy's Research Reactor Infrastructure Program. With this program, the DOE retains ownership of the fuel and leases it for research reactor use. When the microreactor has reached the end of its design life, the spent fuel is returned to DOE for proper disposal.
The University of Illinois is no stranger to nuclear reactors - for 38 years, the TRIGA Mark II reactor operated in the heart of campus and made an incredible impact, both in and outside the nuclear industry. Continuing with this trend, the University has become a leader in clean energy technology and has further utilized campus to demonstrate clean energy technology. With the next generation of nuclear technology here, the University is excited to lead nuclear deployment research and is considering several sites on campus for the project. View these proposed sites through our Project Locations page.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission must review and approve all aspects of the project before issuing licenses to build the facility and to operate the reactor. This review covers the microreactor design, safety analyses, site security, environmental impact, and more. To learn more about our project application and engagement plan for working with the NRC, visit the Licensing Information page.
The most critical step in achieving our project goals is public support for the project. We are actively engaging with community organizations and local and national advocacy groups to this end. All university students and staff, community members, and anyone interested are encouraged to attend our monthly public outreach meetings, available on our Public Engagement page. To view commonly asked questions, see our FAQ.
Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation
Headquartered just downstream from Seattle's Lake Union, Ultra Safe Nuclear is a leader in advanced reactor commercialization in the United States and abroad. Since 2011, they have grown their breadth of technology from microreactor energy systems into nuclear batteries, space propulsion, and fuel manufacturing. In 2020, the University of Illinois joined with the company to propose deploying the first Generation IV nuclear reactor on a University campus, officially kicking off the Illinois Microreactor Demonstration Project. For additional information about our vendor and licensing partner, visit their website below.
New reactor on Campus? UIUC's choice for research, education, and training
The microreactor project was featured in the April 2022 edition of Nuclear News. The article, assembled by a consortium of NPRE faculty, outlined the unique opportunities that the project offers for both the University of Illinois and the nuclear industry at large. Reactor prototype testing, workforce development, utilization of microreactor markets, and many more aspects were discussed.
Microreactor Research at Illinois
NPRE at the University of Illinois is a national leader in nuclear microreactor research. The Illinois Microreactor Research, Development & Demonstration (IMRD2) Center, directed by Professor Caleb Brooks, is bringing expertise in reactor physics, nuclear security, and energy economics to support the growth of next generation nuclear technology for years to come. See the current research projects being undertaken by the Center below.
U.S. NRC Backgrounder on RTRs
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is responsible for regulating all nuclear reactors, including University Research Reactors. See their overview of RTR regulation at the link below.
The Ultimate Fast Facts Guide to Nuclear Energy
The Department of Energy has prepared a factual guide to nuclear energy, safety, spent fuel, and even advanced microreactors.
ANS Position Statement #53
"The nation’s research and training reactors (RTRs) are vital elements of the U.S. nuclear science and technology education, training, and research infrastructure. . ." Continued
View a collection of links to external organizations and other related groups. Info on other pages is also stored here.
See the faces behind the Center and our microreactor research.
Want to reach out to the project team? Find our contact information here.