The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has docketed Abilene Christian University’s Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing (NEXT) Lab construction permit application, placing it under formal regulatory review. The application is the first for a new research reactor in more than 30 years and the first-ever for an advanced university research reactor. This is in collaboration with NEXT Research Alliance which includes The University of Texas at Austin.

“This is a significant achievement, and I am very proud of the NEXTRA team for producing a quality application, sufficient for NRC docketing,” said Dr. Rusty Towell, director of NEXT Lab and professor in the Department of Engineering and Physics.

NEXT lab construction

After receipt of the construction permit application in August, the NRC conducted a thorough acceptance review. The application is now formally docketed, and the NRC will begin a detailed safety and environmental review. ACU’s Molten Salt Research Reactor (MSRR) is the only research reactor currently under review by the NRC, and it is the first and only liquid-fueled reactor ever to be reviewed by the NRC. It’s also one of only two advanced nuclear reactor applications currently under review with the NRC.

ACU is the lead university in the NEXT Research Alliance (NEXTRA), which includes Georgia Institute of Technology, Texas A&M University and The University of Texas at Austin. NEXTRA has a $30.5 million research agreement with Natura Resources to design and build a university-based molten salt research reactor. Demonstrating the successful licensure of an advanced reactor with the NRC is one of the primary goals of this project. After spending more than two years in pre-licensing activities, the docketing of ACU's MSRR application marks the beginning of the NRC's formal technical review.

Construction of the Gayle and Max Dillard Science Engineering Research Center continues on track for completion in the summer of 2023. The 28,000-square-foot facility will house NEXT Lab and the MSRR, as well as provide dedicated spaces for research in chemistry, physics and engineering.