WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) has awarded $111.2 million to three industry partners to develop accident tolerant fuels (ATF). General Electric (GE), Westinghouse (WEC), and Framatome received the financial assistance awards in late 2018 with FY18 and FY19 funding. The period of performance for these awards goes through January 31, 2021 with DOE and NE planning additional funding of $55.6 million in FY20 and $30 million in FY21, contingent upon Congressional approval.
Accident tolerant fuels are intended to directly and substantially further enhance nuclear fuel reliability and safety, as well as the economics of nuclear reactor operations. The improved heat tolerance of ATF contributes to significantly improved reactor safety and security. ATF also improve economics due to improved heat tolerances and increased agility to power reactors up and down while staying within safety margins.
“Nuclear energy remains a critical component of our ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy and is imperative to our country’s energy and national security,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “The successful development of accident tolerant fuels will enhance the safety and efficiency of our nuclear fleet, which will, in turn, enhance the overall reliability of our energy system.”
“We are very pleased with the success of the accident tolerant fuel program to date and its contribution to nuclear reactor safety and economics,” said Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes. “We have made these awards to three leading U.S. nuclear commercial fuel provider teams in order to further innovate fuel concepts to meet the needs of the U.S nuclear power industry.”
The primary objectives for the new awards:
- GE will continue the development of iron chromium aluminum (FeCrAl) alloys cladding trademarked IronClad. GE will also continue to develop its coating program for zirconium alloys trademarked ARMOR and the study of uranium dioxide-based ceramic metal fuels.
- Framatome will continue the development and deployment of chromium-coated zirconium alloy cladding with chromia-doped uranium oxide (UO2) pellets (Cr-Cr2O3). Additionally, Framatome will continue and expand development efforts on its silicon carbide cladding concepts.
- Westinghouse will continue the development of uranium silicide (U3Si2) and Doped UO2 trademarked ADOPT in chromium-coated zirconium alloy cladding. Westinghouse will also continue its silicon carbide cladding concepts development.
For the first 14-month budget period, all three fuel vendors are required to do the following:
- Ensure an initial lead test assembly has been installed in a U.S. commercial power plant.
- Ensure prototypic pin segments have been installed in the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Advanced Test Reactor’s water loop.
- Continue development of licensing approaches for the ATF concept that include the involvement of at least one nuclear power plant owner / operator per ATF concept.
- Ensure continued interaction with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for licensing purposes for each concept.
Should Congress authorize additional funding for the ATF program, the vendors will expand operation of ATF-related concepts in DOE facilities – INL ATR, INL Transient Reactor Test (TREAT) facility, and out-of-pile tests – and commercial reactors with prototypic segments and rods. The companies would be expected to have agreed-upon licensing plans developed for future NRC approval for initial partial core loadings into commercial nuclear power plants during the mid-2020s.
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