GE secures funding for advanced fuel development

26 October 2018

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded a USD33.7 million project to continue the development of advanced fuel rod technologies to GE's Global Research Center. The new fuel, using the IronClad and ARMOR advanced fuel solutions, will be developed in partnership with three US national laboratories.

GE senior engineers Evan Dolley (left) and Steve Buresh (right) are inspecting a fuel rod at the GE Global Research Center (Image: GE Global Research)

The two-and-a-half year project aims to develop and demonstrate new, more resilient fuel rods with improved performance in both normal and accident conditions that can be commercially deployed. It will tap into GE's expertise in materials science, 3D printing and jet engine technologies, led by an interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers from GE's Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York, which has been working with GE-led joint venture Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF) and the Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Idaho National Laboratories, and partnering with Southern Nuclear and Exelon Generation.

GNF's IronClad has been developed through the DOE's Accident Tolerant Fuel Program, launched in 2012 with the aim of developing new cladding materials and fuel materials that can better tolerate the loss of active cooling in the core, while maintaining or improving fuel performance and economics during normal operation. ARMOR coated zirconium cladding provides enhanced protection of fuel rods against debris fretting, and greater resistance to oxidation, than standard zirconium cladding.

Evan Dolley, technical operations leader in metals at GE Global Research, said the project aims to develop alternative fuel rods that are even more resistant and could endure the loss of active cooling in a reactor core much longer than current fuel. "With the DOE's support and in partnership with our National Lab and utility partners, we have an extraordinary opportunity to accelerate our ongoing fuel rod work and ultimately deliver new technologies to market that benefit our US nuclear facilities and those globally," he said.

The project team is also drawing on technical expertise from GE's Aviation and Additive businesses, Dolley said. Ceramic matrix composites (CMCs), high temperature materials currently used in commercial jet engines to improve efficiency and performance, are being applied to develop the channel boxes that surround the fuel rods. The project team also is developing additive technologies to be used to quickly fabricate 3D metal end caps for prototyping the fuel rod designs.

GE's Global Research Center uses pilot-scale processing equipment, including forging and extrusion presses, and heat treatment capabilities to turn metal castings, or ingots, into IronClad fuel cladding. Pictured are some of the steps and shapes that the metal material takes on its way to becoming a thin fuel rod (Image: GE Global Research)

"With the integration of nuclear-grade CMCs, we can exploit the higher heat properties of ceramics to build an even more resilient system. And the use of additive is designed to enable a more rapid response if spare parts are needed for other reactor components," Dolley said.

Lead test assemblies of accident-tolerant fuel using GNF materials were loaded into Southern Nuclear's Hatch unit 1 earlier this year. Two variants of IronClad material - one in a fuel rod form but not containing fuel, the other in the form of a solid bar segment - as well as ARMOR lead test assemblies containing fuel were installed in the 876 MWe boiling water reactor. Further lead test assemblies are also planned to be installed at Exelon Generation's Clinton power plant in 2019.

"We look forward to continuing to work with the GE Global Research team, customers and partners to pave the way for deployment of our IronClad and ARMOR advanced fuel solutions in reload quantities," GNF CEO Amir Vexler said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News