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Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management Photo / Vision 2020 celebrates the cleanup of the East Tennessee Technology Park, formerly the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant codenamed K-25. K-25 was built in unprecedented secrecy in the 1940s as part of the Manhattan Project to provide enriched uranium for the world first atomic bomb. Cleanup of the site included more than 500 facilities, at the heart of which were five massive uranium enrichment buildings. Since the site was officially closed in 1987, DOE work has focused on transforming it into a multi-use industrial park, national park, and conservation area. Achieving Vision 2020 marks the first time in the world an entire enrichment complex has been cleaned and demolished.

Near where scientists built the first atomic bomb and later pioneered some of the earliest nuclear reactors 75 years ago, the next generation of nuclear power technology may soon be put to the test.

Kairos Power, a California-based nuclear research company that has developed a fluoride salt-cooled, high-temperature reactor (KP-FHR), announced plans Thursday to build a test reactor to try out its technology at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP) in Oak Ridge. Kairos is partnering with the Tennessee Valley Authority to deploy the demonstration reactor on 185 acres the company is buying on the ETTP campus, which was developed on a brownfield site reclaimed from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Named Hermes, the Kairos' reactor could be built by 2026 and help test out the new technology, which is designed to be simpler and more efficient than the previous generation of nuclear plants and potentially less costly to build and maintain. Cindy Chen, a spokeswoman for Kairos Power, said the company is planning a $100 million investment in the test facility in the East Tennessee Technology Park, making it one of the biggest projects among the 20 or so companies now operating in the technology campus.

"Additional expansion at the Oak Ridge site is under consideration for future manufacturing and engineering capabilities," Chen said. "We anticipate at least 55 employees for the Hermes operations."

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

"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," TVA President Jeff Lyash said.

But Kairos Power will fund most of the project. The company plans to assemble the reactor in Oak Ridge using specialized parts and components manufactured in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Kairos Power was one of five companies that won Department of Energy "risk reduction" grants last December.

The Alameda, California-based company plans to design, construct, and operate its Hermes reduced-scale test reactor, but TVA could aid in the preliminary licensing from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Hermes is intended to lead to the development of Kairos Power's commercial-scale KP-FHR (Kairos Power Fluoride Salt-Cooled High Temperature Reactor), which leverages TRI-structural ISOtropic particle fuel (TRISO) fuel in pebble form combined with a low-pressure fluoride salt coolant. DOE is providing Kairos $303 million for the project.

"We look forward to collaborating with TVA, and drawing upon the well-versed knowledge and expertise of their team," said Mike Laufer, co-founder and CEO of Kairos Power. "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."

Lyash said TVA is also pursuing the possibility of building small modular reactors (SMR) on another Oak Ridge site on the Clinch River for commercial use. The SMR technology and other advanced nuclear technology designs should help eventually replace the aging fleet of the current generation of nuclear power plants, Lyash said.

"Nuclear power is the key to fueling our economy with reliable, affordable, and clean electricity, and it is critical to our national security." the TVA president said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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