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NRC completes environmental assessment of ACU NEXT Lab


Christopher Hanson, NRC chair, visits with ACU students and NEXT Lab employees at his visit in October 2023

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently completed its environmental assessment of Abilene Christian University’s Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing (NEXT) Lab, a significant milestone in its goal to build a Molten Salt Research Reactor (MSRR).

NEXT Lab – in collaboration with Natura Resources – has set out to design, license and commission an MSRR to be located on ACU’s campus. Natura Resources Research Alliance includes ACU, Georgia Institute of Technology, Texas A&M University and The University of Texas at Austin and is supported by $30.5 million in sponsored research agreements.

In its assessment, conducted in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the NRC issued a finding of “no significant impact.” NEXT Lab has an application filed with the NRC for a construction permit to build the MSRR, and this environmental assessment is one part of that process. 

“Although this is only part of the approval needed from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it is a key milestone and affirms the university’s performance-oriented approach in pursuing the benefits of molten salt reactors,” said Dr. Phil Schubert, ACU president.

The review documents the environmental effects of the project, and while it does not render a recommendation on whether or not the project should proceed, its findings indicate that the environmental effects are not detectable or are so minor that they will neither destabilize nor noticeably alter any important attribute of the resource, said Benjamin Beasley, NEXT Lab’s director of licensing.

“The environmental review must be completed before the NRC can issue a construction permit to us, so this is a big step,” Beasley said.

Areas assessed include:

  • Land Use and Visual Resources
  • Human Health
  • Air Quality and Noise
  • Non-radiological Waste Management
  • Hydrogeology and Water Resources
  • Uranium Fuel Cycle and Radiological Waste
  • Ecological Resources
  • Transportation of Radioactive Material
  • Historic and Cultural Resources
  • Postulated Accidents
  • Socioeconomics and Environmental Justice
  • Climate Change

About NEXT Lab
The mission of ACU’s NEXT Lab is to provide global solutions to the world’s need for energy, water and medical isotopes by advancing the technology of Molten Salt Reactors while educating future leaders in nuclear science and engineering. NEXT Lab is advancing the use of molten salt, rather than water, as a coolant for nuclear reactors with the goal of designing and building the first university-based Molten Salt Research Reactor. Students work alongside faculty seeking creative solutions to complex problems, gaining real-world experience and seeing firsthand how innovation and collaboration can impact the world. NEXT Lab, powered by Natura Resources, provides extraordinary opportunities through ACU’s departments of engineering and physics, chemistry and biochemistry, and others. NEXT Lab employs more than 75 people, including 45 undergraduate students.

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