Inventory fuel keeps US research reactors online

22 November 2018

Lightly irradiated fuel elements that had been in storage at the US Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory (INL) have been shipped to the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, where they will be used to power a research reactor.

Loading the partially irradiated TRIGA fuel into a transport cask for shipment to the research reactor (Image: EM)

This is the third and final such shipment made this year by INL to US research reactors, following a previous shipment to UT and one to the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Denver. The fuel elements are used to power TRIGA reactors which are used for education, research and other work, such as elemental analysis and isotope production.

UT and USGS had expressed a need for additional fuel elements for their reactors. In response, cleanup contractor Fluor Idaho personnel identified suitable usable fuel elements that were in storage at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center. The effort to transport the elements to UT and USGS, in a suitable transport cask, was carried out by the US Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management (EM) and Fluor Idaho, and was coordinated with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The additional 39 fuel elements supplied to UT mean the facility has sufficient fuel elements onsite to continue operations for about the next ten years, the EM said.

"I’m pleased we were able to identify the existence of lightly irradiated uranium fuel within our inventory and provide it to both the University of Texas and USGS for their very important work," Fluor Idaho Nuclear Project Engineer Alan Robb said.

TRIGA reactors - the acronym stands for Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomics - are pool-type reactors, which do not require the kind of containment needed for large commercial nuclear power plants. The TRIGA reactor at UT’s Nuclear Engineering Teaching Laboratory reached initial criticality in 1992 with a licensed power limit of 1.1 megawatt. In a typical year, the laboratory analyses 1000-2000 samples and completes around 24 isotope shipments for other organisations.

The USGS’s 1-megawatt TRIGA reactor has been in operation since 1969 and is used to irradiate rock, mineral, plant, and animal specimen samples to determine their elemental compositions.

This year's shipments follow a previous shipment in 2017 of 19 partially irradiated TRIGA fuel elements to the University of Maryland in response to an urgent request from that institution. A lack of available commercial fuel had threatened the shutdown of the 250 kW reactor.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News