The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory ORNL said on 3 August that it is to examine Westinghouse Accident Tolerant Fuel (ATF). ORNL recently received several nuclear fuel test rods that were irradiated in a commercial reactor. The new advanced fuel concept is being developed by Westinghouse through DOE’s ATF programme. The industry-led effort is looking to commercialise new fuels within the decade to help improve the performance and economics of US reactors. ORNL will examine the irradiated fuel rods over the next year to support licensing efforts with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). 

Westinghouse loaded its accident tolerant fuel into a US commercial reactor in the spring of 2019. The lead test rods were removed during a autumn 2020 refueling outage and shipped by NAC International to ORNL in June of this year. The shipment was made possible through coordinated efforts between ORNL, the lab’s DOE Site Office, Idaho National Laboratory (INL), Westinghouse, NAC International, and the commercial operator.

ORNL will perform post-irradiation experiments on the fuel to help qualify the fuel with the NRC. Initial visual inspections of the fuel showed no signs of degradation after it was removed from the reactor.

“Westinghouse continues to make incredible strides in the development of its Accident Tolerant Fuels,” said Frank Goldner, a nuclear engineer within DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. “These fuels will have a tangible impact on the industry once deployed in the near-term and could help make our US fleet more economical to operate.” 

Westinghouse is developing accident tolerant fuel through its Encore Fuel programme. The company is testing a chromium-coated zirconium alloy cladding that is loaded with their ADOPT™ higher density uranium fuel pellets. The programme is receiving support from INL and ORNL to provide utilities with longer operation times, increased power outputs and higher fuel burnup.

The fuel is being developed in two phases to offer both near-term (ADOPT and chromium cladding) and longer-term solutions, including uranium nitride pellets and an advanced silicon carbide-based concept in development with General Atomics for future implementation. 

Westinghouse is one of three US nuclear fuel vendors working with DOE to develop new accident tolerant fuels that can enhance accident tolerance of light water reactor fuel during severe accident conditions as well as improve the performance and related economics of US reactors. The shipment milestone is the latest achievement in efforts to commercialise the EnCore Fuel programme. NRC recently accepted the company’s topical report on its ADOPT fuel pellet that will also be considered during the licensing process. 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, DOE said.

Date: Friday, 06 August 2021
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