The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced its plans to develop an environmental impact statement (EIS) to study the impacts of building a versatile nuclear test reactor in the US.

The reactor would test future materials and fuels designed for advanced civilian nuclear power reactors, which the DOE hopes will provide “large amounts of carbon-free, economical electricity” for the US power grid.

Two locations are currently under consideration for the versatile test reactor: Oak Ridge National Laboratory in eastern Tennessee, and Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho. The Idaho National Laboratory and the Savannah River site in South Carolina are being considered as sites to fabricate fuel for the reactor.

US energy secretary Rick Perry said: “This testing capability is essential for the United States to modernise its nuclear energy infrastructure and for developing transformational nuclear energy technologies that reduce waste generation and enhance nuclear security.

“Lack of a domestic reactor with versatile fast-neutron-spectrum testing capability is a significant national strategic risk affecting the ability of DOE to fulfil its mission to advance the energy, environmental, and nuclear security of the United States and promote scientific and technological innovation.”

During the first steps of the process, in accordance with the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA), the DOE has invited the public to comment until 4 September 2019 on which considerations ought to be included in the upcoming draft of the EIS.

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The draft will be completed over several months, with the public invited to comment on the draft for 45 days before the DOE finalises the EIS. When finalised, the EIS will be made available to the public for 30 days before the department makes a final decision on the statement.

US assistant secretary for nuclear energy Rita Baranwal said: “DOE needs to develop this capability on an accelerated schedule to avoid further delay in the United States’ ability to develop and deploy advanced nuclear energy technologies.

“If this capability is not available to US innovators as soon as possible, the ongoing shift of nuclear technology dominance to other international states such as China and the Russian Federation will accelerate, to the detriment of the US nuclear industrial sector.

“Beginning the NEPA process at this time will ensure that all environmental factors are considered before the department makes a final decision to move forward with the project.”