Pilot TRISO fuel manufacturing plant opens in Tennessee

22 August 2022

Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) has declared open the Pilot Fuel Manufacturing (PFM) facility, which will produce the first fuel for testing and qualification for use in the company's advanced Micro Modular Reactor (MMR). The plant will be the USA's first producer of private-sector TRISO and USNC's patented Fully Ceramic-Microencapsulated - or FCM - fuel.

Kathryn Huff cuts the ribbon to mark the commissioning of the PFM, flanked by USNC Executive Vice President Kurt Terrani (on the left of the picture) and Congressman Fleischmann (on the right) (Image: USNC)

PFM is a radiological facility capable of producing kilogram quantities of FCM fuel, which incorporates TRISO (uranium oxycarbide tristructural isotropic) fuel particles encased in a silicon carbide matrix. The fuel will be used in the MMR, a 15 MW thermal, 5 MW electrical high-temperature gas-cooled reactor. PFM will also codify and demonstrate the manufacturing modules that will be used in the company’s future commercial fuel manufacturing factory.

The privately funded facility is located at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP) at Oak Ridge, leveraging the specialised workforce already in the region: the ETTP is the former site of a complex of uranium enrichment facilities dating back to the Manhattan Project, and the new facility is near the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the National Nuclear Security Administration's Y-12 National Security Complex. The fuel manufacturing processes and modules are based on nuclear fuels research and development by the DOE and the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy (NE), and the 3D printing process for manufacturing refractory ceramic carbides which has been licensed by USNC for use in the PFM production line was developed at ORNL.

The opening of the facility was attended by high-level representatives including from federal, state and industry bodies, which DOE Assistant Secretary Nuclear Energy Kathryn Huff described as "an indication of how clearly important this mission is going to be and what part this facility will play in the future of our nuclear energy as we transform this nation into a factory fighting the calamity of climate change."

Touring the facility ahead of start of radiological operations, Tennessee Congressman Chuck Fleischman said he was "excited" USNC had chosen to base its pilot fuel manufacturing operation in Oak Ridge. "Advanced nuclear fuel technologies are essential to bringing next generation nuclear energy to the market and will allow us to meet our future clean energy needs," he said.

"With this facility, Ultra Safe Nuclear moves one step closer to the commercialisation of its fuel production," USNC CEO Francesco Venneri said. "The market is ready. The nation is ready. The world is ready. Ultra Safe Nuclear is proud to be leading the way with the Department of Energy, with Oak Ridge, and with all our partners every step of the way."

Seattle-headquartered USNC is working to demonstrate MMR energy systems at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories' Chalk River site, in partnership with Ontario Power Generation, and at the University of Illinois. The company is also working on new projects to deploy its technology elsewhere in Canada and the USA, as well as in Europe.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News