Westinghouse to study UK production of advanced nuclear fuel

27 October 2022

Westinghouse has been awarded a grant by the UK government to complete a Pre-Front End Engineering Design study, in collaboration with Urenco, for the production of TRISO fuels at its Springfields facility in Preston, Lancashire.

Westinghouse's Springfields site (Image: ONR)

The grant, through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), will consider a secure and reliable supply of advanced TRISO - tristructural isotropic - fuels to support a range of potential high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) technologies under development. Westinghouse will also receive support on this study from TRISO-X LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of X-energy of the USA. The value of the grant was not disclosed.

TRISO fuel can withstand very high temperatures, and is used for high-temperature reactors which typically operate at 750 to 950°C. TRISO fuel particles - each less than a millimetre in diameter - contain a kernel of enriched uranium oxycarbide surrounded by layers of carbon and silicon carbide, giving a containment for fission products which is stable to over 1600°C. It has been described as the most robust nuclear fuel in the world.

"This award is an important step in creating commercial-scale advanced fuel production in the UK at our Springfields facility for the reactors of tomorrow," said Westinghouse President and CEO Patrick Fragman. "We look forward to partnering with Urenco for their global leadership in enrichment, in support of UK energy security and net-zero carbon goals. We also welcome the support of TRISO-X and their valuable experience in the fabrication of advanced TRISO fuels."

Urenco CEO Boris Schucht added: "Security of energy supply and realising crucial climate change goals requires the evolution of the nuclear fuel cycle. This includes a focus on producing the next generation of fuels. Urenco is committed to this development and is pleased to be collaborating with the UK nuclear industry and government to achieve an enhanced service for global utilities and wider benefits for society."

"The deployment of next generation TRISO fuel manufacturing in Springfields is an important step toward the UK's decarbonisation and energy independence goals," said TRISO-X President Pete Pappano. "TRISO-X is pleased to bring our state-of-the-art process knowledge to support this grant."

Earlier this month, TRISO-X broke ground for North America's first commercial-scale advanced nuclear fuel facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Facility - or TF3 - is set to be commissioned and operational by 2025. It will initially produce 8 tonnes of fuel per year, supporting about 16 advanced reactors, and is envisaged to increase to 16 tonnes per year by the early 2030s.

On 2 September this year, the UK government announced GBP3.3 million (USD3.8 million) in funding to support the development of advanced nuclear technology. The funding through the Advanced Modular Reactor Research, Development and Demonstration programme - part of the GBP385 million Advanced Nuclear Fund - will support the development of innovative nuclear technology in the UK, such as HTGRs. It aims to demonstrate HTGR technology by the early 2030s.

Under that funding, Springfields Fuels Ltd is receiving GBP243,311 for a project, in collaboration with Urenco, to determine the most effective route for the secure and reliable supply of coated particle fuel (CPF) to support the range of potential HTGR technologies which may come forward in the UK. The study will focus on UCO­-kernel TRISO as the standard CPF fuel type for contemporary HTGR designs but will design the facility for maximum flexibility to manufacture a wide range of variations on this fuel.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News