Companies pool resources to manufacture TRISO fuel

27 January 2023

A joint venture between Framatome and Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) plans to manufacture commercial quantities of TRISO fuel particles and fuel for advanced reactor designs.

FCM fuel pellet (Image: USNC)

The companies have signed a non-binding Heads of Terms Agreement "to integrate their complementary resources through a joint venture to bring commercially viable, fourth-generation nuclear fuel to market" for advanced reactor designs including USNC's Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR).

Kurt Terrani, executive vice president at USNC, said the company had chosen Framatome as its partner after a "thorough" review and due diligence. "Not only does Framatome have a long history of safely and economically manufacturing nuclear fuels, the company's deep experience in manufacturing will be key to our success in bringing commercial TRISO and FCM fuel forms to market in rapid fashion," he said.

USNC CEO Francesco Venneri said the partnership was a crucial step towards the company's vision of "socially and environmentally responsible zero-carbon nuclear power".

Ala Alzaben, senior vice president for North America Fuel at Framatome, said the partnership "is consistent with our vision to make our unique assets available to advanced reactor designs".

Modular production lines for TRISO particles and USNC's proprietary Fully Ceramic Micro-encapsulated (FCM) fuel have already been demonstrated at scale at USNC's Pilot Fuel Manufacturing (PFM) facility, which opened in August 2022. The PFM is the USA's first privately-funded producer of TRISO fuel particles.

The joint venture expects to begin manufacturing TRISO particles and FCM fuel in late 2025. Its production capacity will be available to the broader commercial market, the partners said, adding that they have developed "concrete plans to support rapid expansion to meet demand growth in the US and global markets".

TRISO (from tristructural-isotropic) fuel particles contain spheres of uranium oxycarbide (or uranium dioxide) coated with ceramic layers that contain fission products inside the particle and ensure its mechanical and chemical stability during irradiation and temperature changes. The US Department of Energy (DOE) has described TRISO as the most robust nuclear fuel on Earth.

FCM fuel will be used in the MMR, a 15 MW thermal, 5 MW electrical high-temperature gas-cooled reactor which the USNC is working toward deploying at Chalk River in Canada and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The company says the Chalk River project is on target for first power in 2026, with the Illinois reactor reaching first power in 2027.

Last year, X-energy broke ground for the TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Facility in Tennessee which will produce TRISO fuel particles on a commercial scale for use in Xe-100 reactors. X-energy's reactor technology is receiving funding under the DOE Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program to develop, build, and demonstrate operational advanced reactors by the end of the decade.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News