General Electric recently announced plans to test a pair of nuclear fuel designs in a commercial reactor later this month in Georgia.

This is big news for the U.S. nuclear industry as it continues to develop new technologies to further enhance the safety and performance of its nuclear fuels.

It’s also an important milestone for the U.S Department of Energy (DOE).

GE’s IronClad fuel design will be the first key component tested in a commercial nuclear reactor that was developed through DOE’s accident tolerant fuels program.

This is an important accomplishment made possible by a great collaboration between the government, our labs and industry partners. It’s also what we refer to as a win-win for industry and the nation.

A photo of a nuclear test rod with measuring tape by it
Unfueled IronClad lead test rods are set for installation into Southern Nuclear's Hatch-1 reactor in Georgia.
Global Nuclear Fuel

Accident-Tolerant Fuels

An accident-tolerant fuel is an industry term used to describe new technologies that further enhance the safety and performance of nuclear materials. This can be in the form of new cladding and/or fuel pellet designs.

DOE’s program started in 2012 in the wake of the Fukushima accident to support industry in identifying and developing these new advanced fuels.

GE’s Global Nuclear Fuel, Framatome, and Westinghouse are all working with DOE to help bring their fuel concepts to market within the next 10 years. All three companies have been able to save time and money by working with our technical experts, the national labs, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on areas ranging from data generation and modeling simulation to the fabrication of their fuels.

The IronClad Fuel Concept

a shot of a nuclear fuel cladding
GE's IronClad was developed in cooperation with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Global Nuclear Fuel

Global Nuclear Fuel’s IronClad concept, developed in cooperation with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, uses a combination of iron, chromium and aluminum for its fuel cladding to improve the fuel’s behavior under severe accident scenarios. The steel material has a much lower oxidation rate when exposed to high temperature steam. This improves the safety margins at higher temperatures over traditional zirconium cladding used today.

The company is also testing a second fuel concept known as ARMOR—a coated zirconium cladding—that was developed outside of the DOE program.

What's Next?

Global Nuclear Fuel and Southern Nuclear Operating Company will load the first lead test assemblies into Georgia’s Plant Hatch later this month. The material will be tested without any fuel this year. The GE team is planning to deploy lead test assemblies with fuel in 2019.

Framatome and Westinghouse both have plans to test their accident-tolerant fuel designs within one year’s time.

Edward McGinnis
Former Acting Assistant Secretary Ed McGinnis.
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