Westinghouse ATF makes progress towards approval

04 August 2021

Irradiated lead test rods containing Westinghouse's EnCore advanced fuel technology have arrived at the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) where they will undergo a year of testing to support regulatory licensing efforts. The fuel is being developed under the DOE's Accident Tolerant Fuel Program, an industry-led effort looking to commercialise new fuels within the decade.

ORNL took delivery of the irradiated ATF in June (Image: ORNL)

The rods were loaded into a commercial US nuclear reactor in the spring of 2019 and removed after completing their operating cycle during a scheduled outage in the autumn of 2020. They were shipped by to ORNL by NAC International in June, the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy said yesterday.

ORNL will carry out post-irradiation experiments on the fuel to help qualify it with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. No signs of degradation have been seen in the fuel during initial visual observations after it was removed from the reactor.

Accident tolerant fuels - or ATFs - not only enhance the tolerance of light-water reactor fuel under severe accident conditions but also offer improvements to reactor performance and economics.

The fuel rods were fitted with Westinghouse's near-term EnCore Fuel solutions of chromium-coated zirconium alloy cladding and ADOPT higher-density uranium fuel pellets, which improve fuel cycle economics, enable longer operating cycles and enhance accident tolerance. ADOPT fuel and chromium cladding also support higher burnup and 24-month cycle operation for high-power density plants, the company said. A second, longer-term, phase solution using uranium nitride pellets and advanced silicon carbide-based cladding is also in development.

Jeff Bradfute, Westinghouse vice president of Americas Fuel Delivery, said the shipment shows the "substantial progress" EnCore Fuel is making towards commercialisation. "The examination of these high-performance features is the latest milestone our strategic timeline to enable utilities to quickly gain the safety and cost benefits that EnCore Fuel will provide," he said.

Westinghouse is making "incredible strides" in the development of its ATFs, Frank Goldner, a nuclear engineer at DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy, said. "These fuels will have a tangible impact on the industry once deployed in the near-term and could help make our US fleet more economical to operate," he added.

Three vendors - Framatome, GE Hitachi with GNF, and Westinghouse - are working with the DOE to develop new fuels under the ATF programme. All are on track to have their accident tolerant fuels ready for batch loading by the mid-2020s and commercially available with widespread adoption by 2030, DOE said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News