DOE receives new TRIGA fuel as production resumes

08 March 2023

Framatome has announced the completion of the first fabricated metallic fuel element for TRIGA research reactors in more than a decade. TRIGA International - a joint venture between Framatome and General Atomics - will now ramp up fuel manufacturing to power US TRIGA reactors with support from the US Department of Energy (DOE).

Members of TRIGA International join US DOE delegation to present the first TRIGA fuel element in ten years (Image: Framatome)

TRIGA International's fuel manufacturing facility at Romans-sur-Isère, France, is the only supplier of uranium-zirconium hydride fuel for use in TRIGA-type research reactors. The facility resumed operations in December 2021 after completing an USD80 million modernisation project, funded by the DOE and TRIGA International, which began in 2018. DOE provided 76 lightly used TRIGA fuel elements to US research reactors during the renovation period to help meet immediate TRIGA fuel needs.

In February 2022, the DOE agreed a nine-year contract with TRIGA International to secure new fuel elements for its TRIGA research reactors. It agreed to purchase 668 new fuel elements over the next nine years with an initial procurement of 55 elements, with delivery of the first batch expected "by 2023". The fuel will be used to support 18 TRIGA reactors in the USA and secures a dependable fuel supply for research reactors at Idaho National Laboratory, including the new MARVEL microreactor project.

Teams from TRIGA International and CERCA - Framatome's subsidiary for the fabrication of fuel elements for research reactors - presented the first fuel element to the DOE in the presence of General Atomics on 7 December 2022.

"This marks a pivotal achievement in the relaunch of the fuel supply for continued operations of TRIGA research reactors in the US and abroad," Framatome said.

"We celebrate this important milestone with our partners as we collectively advance nuclear research and support our industry's skilled workforce for today and in the future," said François Gauché, vice president of CERCA at Framatome and president of TRIGA International. "Training and research reactors play a significant role in the evolution of nuclear energy and in the development of future generations of nuclear engineers and researchers. We are proud to supply safe and reliable fuel for the research reactor."

TRIGA - standing for Training, Research, Isotopes General Atomics - reactors are primarily used for student training, research projects and isotope production. These reactors operate at thermal power levels from less than 0.1 to 16 megawatts, and are pulsed to 22,000 megawatts. Three generations of the pool-type reactor have been built around the world since 1960, 36 of which remain in operation today. Twelve of the 18 TRIGA reactors in the USA are located at universities, with fuel managed by the DOE through the Research Reactor Infrastructure programme within the Office of Nuclear Energy.

Framatome noted that TRIGA-type uranium-zirconium hydride fuel designs are now being explored for new applications beyond university training. The unique properties of TRIGA fuel can be seamlessly transitioned to non-TRIGA plants such as small modular, micro or advanced reactors.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News