DOE funding for Westinghouse accident-tolerant fuel development

21 January 2019

Westinghouse Electric Company has received USD93.6 million of funding from the US Department of Energy (DOE) for its EnCore accident-tolerant fuel programme.

Silicide fuel pellets made at INL for Westinghouse's fuel (Image: INL)

The company said it will use the funding in partnership with General Atomics, and its national laboratory and university partners to accelerate the introduction of lead test rods of silicon carbide cladding into a US commercial reactor by 2022. The funding will also support the implementation of the first load of fuel assemblies containing EncCore Fuel lead test rods, which are scheduled to be inserted into Exelon Generation's Byron 2 in the early part of this year. Westinghouse received the first shipment of silicide pellets, which are being manufactured at the Idaho National Laboratory, in December.

Accident-tolerant fuel (ATF) is a term used to describe new technologies that enhance the safety and performance of nuclear fuel. Such fuels may incorporate the use of new materials and designs for cladding and fuel pellets. The DOE has since 2012 supported the development of ATF concepts through its Enhanced Accident Tolerant Fuel programme, which aims to develop new cladding and fuel materials that can better tolerate the loss of active cooling in the reactor core, while maintaining or improving fuel performance and economics during normal operations.

The first phase of Westinghouse's EnCore Fuel programme involves the delivery of chromium-coated zirconium cladding for enhanced oxidation and corrosion resistance, and higher density pellets for improved fuel economics. The second phase will introduce silicon carbide composite cladding and high-density uranium silicide pellets to offer higher safety and economic benefits.

The lead test rods of EnCore fuel which are to be inserted into Byron 2 will contain chromium-coated zirconium fuel rods loaded with uranium silicide pellets. These pellets use a compound of uranium and silicon, instead of uranium and oxygen, to achieve a higher density of uranium atoms per pellet leading to longer operation times, increased power outputs, and higher burnups. Longer operating cycles could save utilities millions of dollars each year. The material also transfers heat four times faster than uranium oxide fuels, allowing the fuel to last longer in accident conditions.

Ken Canavan, Westinghouse chief technology officer, said the company was pleased to have been chosen to receive the funding. "This is a testament to the capabilities of Westinghouse as well as to the impact that these types of investments can make in bringing the safest and most advanced technologies to market," he said.

The DOE is working with three companies - Framatome, Global Nuclear Fuel and Westinghouse - to commercialise their fuels and deploy them in commercial reactors by 2025. Framatome has also recently received a USD49 million, 28-month grant from the DOE to accelerate the development and commercialisation of its ATF.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News