Plant upgrades ensure continued TRIGA fuel supply

12 April 2021

A major renovation project has been completed at TRIGA International's fuel fabrication facility in Romans-sur-Isère, southeastern France. The facility is the only supplier of uranium-zirconium hydride fuel for use in TRIGA-type research reactors. The upgrades will ensure the continued operation of 36 such reactors around the world.

The TRIGA reactor at the University of Maryland is one of 12 TRIGA reactors in operation at US universities (Image: University of Maryland)

TRIGA International is a joint venture between General Atomics (GA) - supplier of the TRIGA (Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomics) reactor - and CERCA, Framatome's subsidiary for the fabrication of fuel elements for research reactors.

The company's Romans facility required significant upgrades in order to keep up with current safety regulations. The facility was taken offline in 2014 to begin a seven-year, USD80 million modernisation project.

Renovations were completed last month and TRIGA International is now waiting on approval from France's nuclear safety regulator, the Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire, before the production of fuel can resume. New fuel elements are expected to be available by the end of this year.

Of the 36 TRIGA reactors in operation around the world, 18 are in the USA, 12 of which are located at universities.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) provided nearly USD16 million in support of the facility upgrades. Its National Nuclear Security Administration provided USD5 million in initial funding to perform feasibility studies and assist with the design, installation and removal of equipment. The DOE Office of Nuclear Energy provided more than USD10 million starting in 2015 to complete the work in order to get the production line up and running.

DOE provided 76 lightly used TRIGA fuel elements to US research reactors during the renovation period to help meet immediate TRIGA fuel needs. The department plans to order its first 55 new elements later this year. 

"Without these upgrades to the TRIGA International facility, the TRIGA reactors at these universities would be forced to shut down without a dependable supply of fuel," said Doug Morrell, the manager for the DOE's Research Reactor Infrastructure programme. "Thanks to the support of DOE, our universities can continue conducting research and training our future nuclear energy workforce."

GA's TRIGA reactor is the most widely used non-power nuclear reactor in the world. The company has installed a total of 66 TRIGA reactors at universities, government and industrial laboratories, and medical centres in 24 countries. The reactors operate at thermal power levels from less than 0.1 to 16 megawatts, and are pulsed to 22,000 megawatts. TRIGA reactors are used in many diverse applications, including production of radioisotopes for medicine and industry, treatment of tumours, non-destructive testing, basic research on the properties of matter, and for education and training.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News