US DOE confirms accident tolerant fuel funding

04 February 2019

The US Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) has confirmed it awarded a total of USD111.2 million in funding to three industry partners to develop accident tolerant fuels (ATF). The awards were made to General Electric (GE), Framatome and Westinghouse in late 2018.

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

The awards come from funding for fiscal 2018 and 2019, the DOE said on 31 January, with a period of performance running until 31 January 2021. Additional funding of USD55.6 million in fiscal 2020 and USD30 million in fiscal 2021, contingent upon Congressional approval, is planned.

In the first 14-month budget period of the award, all three fuel vendors must ensure an initial Lead Test Assembly has been installed in a US commercial power plant; ensure prototype "pin segments" have been installed in the water loop at Idaho National Laboratory's (INL's) Advanced Test Reactor; continue development of licensing approaches that include the involvement of at least one nuclear power plant owner/operator per ATF concept; and continue interaction with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for licensing purposes for each concept.

The new awards will see GE continue the development of its IronClad-trademarked iron chromium aluminium alloys cladding, as well as the development of its coating programme for zirconium alloys - trademarked ARMOR - and the study of uranium dioxide-based ceramic metal fuels. Framatome will continue the development and deployment of chromium-coated zirconium alloy cladding with chromia-doped uranium oxide pellets, and will also will continue and expand development efforts on its silicon carbide cladding concepts. Westinghouse will continue the development of uranium silicide and doped uranium oxide - trademarked ADOPT - in chromium-coated zirconium alloy cladding, as well as continuing to develop concepts for silicon carbide cladding.

The DOE has since 2012 supported the development of ATF concepts through its Enhanced Accident Tolerant Fuel programme. Its objective is to develop new cladding and fuel materials that can better tolerate the loss of active cooling in the reactor core, while maintaining or improving fuel performance and economics during normal operations.

If additional funding is approved by Congress, the vendors will expand operation of ATF-related concepts in DOE facilities including INL's Advanced Test Reactor and Transient Reactor Test facility, and commercial reactors with prototypic segments and rods. The companies would be expected to have agreed-upon licensing plans developed for future NRC approval for initial partial core loadings into commercial nuclear power plants during the mid-2020s, the DOE said.

"Nuclear energy remains a critical component of our 'all-of-the-above' energy strategy and is imperative to our country's energy and national security," US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said. "The successful development of Accident Tolerant Fuels will enhance the safety and efficiency of our nuclear fleet, which will, in turn, enhance the overall reliability of our energy system."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News