ANMOORE – Rep. David McKinley came to town on Wednesday to tour the Amsted Graphite Materials plant and witness the signing of a par memorandum of understanding between Amsted and X-energy for a federal nuclear energy project.
Amsted General Manager Gavin Noel said his company will supply nuclear grade synthetic graphite to X-energy – a nuclear reactor and fuel design engineering company – for its Department of Energy advanced nuclear reactor project.
“We’re very proud to be a partner with a leader like X-energy,” he said. Supplying domestically produced graphite supports the nation’s goal of a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.
Carol Lane, X-energy’s vice president for government affairs, said, “We’re very excited about this partnership.”
X-energy was awarded a $2.4 million cooperative agreement by the DOE as part of a cost-share program for DOE’s first advanced reactor, to be built in Washington state.
Their reactors, Lane said, generate about 80 megawatts each and come in what they call four-packs, for a total 320 MW. DOE wants a four-pack for its Washington plant.
The graphite comes into play in the reactor fuel, she said. Unlike traditional reactors that use radioactive fuel rods that are stored in pools of water when they’re spent, X-energy’s fuel is a TRISO-X “pebble,” about the size of a pool-table ball.
A reactor – about 60 feet tall and 16 feet across holds 220,000 pebbles and each pebble holds 17,000 graphite particles. Each particle has a kernel of uranium covered by four to five layers of silicon carbide and three layers of graphite.
The reactor is a high temperature helium cooled pebble bed reactor and doesn’t rely on water to be cooled – as a traditional plant does.
The reactor employs continuous fueling, she said. They fill it up with pebbles that take about six months to pass through, Each day somewhere around 77 pebbles drop out. They measure to see how much energy the pebble has left. Each pebble typically makes six passes through the reactor and lasts three years.
When it’s spent, they go into spent fuel storage casks.
McKinley also took a turn at the lectern. “I don’t think enough people in West Virginia understand what’s going on here, what’s happened in this plant,” he said.
The facility is more than 100 years old, he said, but when Amsted took it over, it sought to evolve the mission and find more advanced uses for graphite, such as the nuclear fuel and aerospace applications.
This is an important part of securing domestic energy independence and security, he said. “We can do this here in West Virginia.”
Noel said the partnership with X-energy will create new jobs but they don’t have an exact number yet.
Lane said that the bill pass in Charleston in March to lift West Virginia’s nuclear energy ban didn’t play a direct role in its decision to partner with Amsted.
But it could in the future as more advanced reactor plants go up. “We’d like to build hundreds of these,” she said. Pre-1990 coal plants that will be at the end of their useful life as this effort reaches full swing are the ideal size for one of their plants – which use about 10% the acreage of a traditional nuclear plant. “It does filter in to where we look at potential use in the future.”
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