Westinghouse and Penn State to explore advancing sustainable micro-reactors

Research and development would advance the small modular reactors to provide clean, safe energy


By Ashley J. WennersHerron

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State and Westinghouse announced that they will partner on research and development efforts focused on exploring and applying nuclear engineering and science innovations to societal needs. They will also begin discussions about siting Westinghouse’s eVinci micro-reactor, a next-generation, small modular reactor designed to address sustainable power needs from immediate use in large communities to decentralized remote applications, at University Park.

They signed a memorandum of understanding detailing the partnership — the first one between Westinghouse and a university in the United States — at Westinghouse's headquarters in Cranberry on May 18.

“We both have a long history and significant experience in the realm of nuclear energy: Penn State houses the Breazeale Reactor — the longest continuously operating research nuclear reactor in the United States — and Westinghouse established the first commercial nuclear reactor in the country,” said project co-lead Jean Paul Allain, head of the Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering at Penn State. He also holds the Lloyd and Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair in Plasma Medicine in the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and serves as a co-hire faculty in the Institute for Computational and Data Sciences. “We’ve both been in this field since the beginning, and we know the potential of such devices. We are uniquely positioned to cultivate this technology to provide safe and sustainable energy.”


The agreement between Penn State and Westinghouse focuses on advancing micro-reactors, small modular reactors that can fit into a semi-truck for easy transportation, as illustrated here. Credit: Provided by Westinghouse.

Westinghouse, with a 130-year history distributing electricity, produced the country’s first commercial reactor in Shippingport in 1957, just two years after Breazeale reached full power. Now, Westinghouse has established and helps oversee more than 430 nuclear reactors around the world.

“Penn State and Westinghouse share a common vision for the potential of micro-reactors to revolutionize industry and energy globally,” Allain said, explaining that micro-reactors are much smaller, and much safer, than conventional reactors since they produce less power, require less fuel and have fewer moveable parts. “Our ultimate goal is to drastically reduce carbon-free energy costs in difficult to decarbonize sectors such as industrial manufacturing and transportation, leading a truly transformative change for how and where we power society.”

The eVinci micro-reactor can produce sustainable carbon-free energy and integrate with other renewable power sources, such as solar or wind power. It is also small enough for factory fabrication and truck transportation, meaning it can be built and implemented to support communities without access to reliable energy due to location or natural disaster. Its compact size minimizes the physical footprint and allows for construction and installation in as few as 30 days.


The eVinci micro-reactor is significantly smaller than conventional reactors, with fewer moveable parts. This image illustrates a cross-section of the eVinci design. Credit: Provided by Westinghouse.

“eVinci is a game-changing nuclear battery that can play a critical role in reducing the carbon intensity of the global energy sector,” said Mike Shaqqo, senior vice president of advanced reactors at Westinghouse. “Westinghouse and Penn State share a long history of leadership in the nuclear industry and will build on that legacy through this program.”

According to the researchers, the collaboration plans build on Penn State’s established nuclear capabilities — such as Breazeale, multi- and interdisciplinary experts in power conversion systems, thermal hydraulics, detection and safeguards, high-temperature nuclear materials, advanced manufacturing, nuclear energy policy, nuclear safety, social adoption of technology and more.

“Together, our aim is to support basic and translational research development to establish a micro nuclear reactor prototype platform to drive technology advances and support wide adoption and deployment of advanced nuclear technologies across the country in a safe and sustainable way,” Allain said.

In addition to advancing the eVinci micro-reactor for broad applications, the team plans to explore how the platform can contribute to displacing carbon-generating energy sources at Penn State. The Penn State team members, including Azaree Lintereur, assistant professor of nuclear engineering; Amanda Johnsen, assistant professor of nuclear engineering; Elia Merzari, associate professor of nuclear engineering; Saya Lee, assistant professor of nuclear engineering; and William Walters, assistant professor of nuclear engineering, also plan to use the project to drive educational and public outreach efforts.

“This MOU provides a foundation for a sustaining and engaging partnership between Penn State and Westinghouse, and I am excited to see the developments that will result,” said Lora Weiss, senior vice president for research at Penn State, who signed the MOU on behalf of the University.

In addition to Weiss, Allain, Lee and Merzari, Geanie Umberger, associate vice president for research and director of industry research collaborations at Penn State, represented the University at the signing event.

“Such a platform for research and development would help establish a clean technology corridor in Pennsylvania and beyond, as well as help strategically position our teams to partner with experts across the University in multi- and interdisciplinary scientific fields, as well as in social sciences, business and law on focused projects supporting micro nuclear reactor study and deployment,” Umberger said.   

The Penn State College of Engineering, Office of the Senior Vice President for Research, the Office of the Physical Plant, among others, will be deeply involved in preliminary discussions with Westinghouse about the feasibility of siting the eVinci micro-reactor at University Park, including potential locations. The micro-reactor platform would be subject to all federal safety rules and reviews by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, from approving the safety and operations plans and design to conducting regular inspections. The Penn State Breazeale Nuclear Reactor, which has been in operation at University Park since 1955, underwent the same initial approval process — although the regulations have evolved over the last 67 years — and now receives regular reviews to ensure compliance with modern standards.

About Westinghouse Electric Company

Westinghouse Electric Company is shaping the future of carbon-free energy by providing safe, innovative nuclear technologies to utilities globally. Westinghouse supplied the world’s first commercial pressurized water reactor in 1957 and the company’s technology is the basis for nearly one-half of the world's operating nuclear plants. Over 135 years of innovation makes Westinghouse the preferred partner for advanced technologies covering the complete nuclear energy life cycle. For more information, visit www.westinghousenuclear.com and follow on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

About Penn State 

Founded in 1855, Penn State is a world-class public research university with a broad mission of teaching, research and public service. Penn State collaborates with industrial, educational, governmental and agricultural partners to create, disseminate, integrate and apply knowledge that is valuable to society. In each of the last four years, total research expenditures have topped $1 billion, placing the University among the nation’s leaders. Penn State also contributes more than $11 billion annually to Pennsylvania’s economy. As part of its Invent Penn State initiative, the University has funded 21 innovation hubs, designed to bolster entrepreneurship and economic development in communities surrounding its campuses across Pennsylvania. The Penn State Alumni Association is the world’s largest organization of its kind with more than 171,000 dues-paying members. For more information, visit www.psu.edu and follow Penn State on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.


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"Our ultimate goal is to drastically reduce carbon-free energy costs in difficult to decarbonize sectors such as industrial manufacturing and transportation, leading a truly transformative change for how and where we power society.”

— Jean Paul Allain, head of the Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering