Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is getting its first look at nuclear fuel test rods that spent two years in a commercial reactor. The new fuel concepts were developed by GE’s Global Nuclear Fuel and recently shipped to the lab for post-irradiation examination after commercial operation.
The test samples are part of an industry-led effort with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to commercialize new fuels that could help boost the performance and economics of U.S. reactors within the decade.
Global Nuclear Fuel loaded two different types of accident tolerant fuel concepts into Georgia’s Edwin I. Hatch Nuclear Plant in 2018. The lead test rods were removed after the first 24-month cycle during a February refueling outage this year and shipped to ORNL in early November.
The lab will perform additional testing on the test samples over the next year to gather the necessary data that’s needed to confirm performance requirements and to qualify the new fuel technologies with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Initial visual inspections of the shipped samples showed no visible signs of flaws or degradation on either fuel concept after being removed from the commercial reactor.
“The improved safety and economic value to the industry is large and our utility customers need these types of innovations to be able to continue to operate and achieve subsequent license renewals for the existing fleet,” said Patty McCumbee, GNF’s ATF Program & Nuclear Fuels Product Manager . “Nuclear must be part of the on-going clean energy portfolio and GNF is dedicated to being a part of the solution.”
“These were the first accident tolerant fuel samples to be tested and removed from a commercial reactor,” said Frank Goldner, a nuclear engineer with DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. “We applaud GNF on this important milestone to help commercialize these important fuel technologies and to ORNL for making this shipment happen and applying their unique capabilities to support our ATF partners.”
Global Nuclear Fuel is testing two accident tolerant fuel concepts. IronClad is a new steel fuel cladding that was developed with support from ORNL & GE’s Global Research. It uses a combination of iron, chromium and aluminum that offers better performance and lower oxidation rates over traditional zirconium cladding when exposed to high-temperature steam.
The company is also developing ARMOR, a hard, oxidation-resistant coating layered on top of zirconium cladding that was originally created outside of DOE’s Accident Tolerant Fuel program.
Accident Tolerant Fuels
Three of the nation’s largest nuclear fuel vendors, GE, Framatome, and Westinghouse are working with DOE in developing new fuel and cladding mixtures that could increase the performance of commercial reactors and lengthen the severe accident response times of nuclear fuel.
Westinghouse and Framatome are also testing their fuel concepts in commercial reactors. All three vendors are on track to have their accident tolerant fuels ready for batch loading by the mid-2020s and commercially available with widespread adoption by 2030.
Learn more about the benefits of accident tolerant fuels.