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Aerial view of construction crane hoisting material inside concrete facility on at Gayle and Max Dillard Science Engineering Research Center on the Abilene Christian University campus.
Construction of the Gayle and Max Dillard Science Engineering Research Center on the Abilene Christian University campus continues on track for completion in the summer of 2023. The 28,000-square-foot facility will house Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing Lab and the Molten Salt Research Reactor, as well as provide dedicated spaces for research in chemistry, physics and engineering. | Image: Courtesy of Abilene Christian University Division of Marketing and Strategic Communications

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has docketed Abilene Christian University’s (ACU) 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.

ACU is the lead university in the NEXT Research Alliance (NEXTRA), which includes Texas A&M University, The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) and the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). NEXTRA has a $30.5 million research agreement with Natura Resources to design and build a university-based molten salt research reactor.

“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 the NEXT lab and professor in the Department of Engineering and Physics at ACU.

"Our NEXTRA consortium is a very unique effort, and we at Texas A&M are very fortunate to work with our colleagues at ACU, UT Austin and Georgia Tech supporting the ACU effort to build this research reactor and set up programs around the facility once operational," said Dr. Pavel Tsvetkov, Texas A&M project lead and associate professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering.

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 them. It’s also one of only two advanced nuclear reactor applications currently under their review

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 their formal technical review.

Abilene Christian University Media Contact
Wendy Kilmer, Director of Communications and Media Relations