Beryllium-uranium fuel research shows promise

04 February 2011

Nuclear fuel containing beryllium oxide as well as uranium oxide has been shown to be longer lasting, more efficient and safer than conventional nuclear fuels, an ongoing research project claims.


Vancouver-based rare metals company IBC Advanced Alloys has announced the completion of the initial phase of a research and development project on beryllium oxide nuclear fuels in conjunction with Purdue University and Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), a member institution of the Texas A&M University System. The project, announced in August 2008, is aimed at advancing the universities' existing nuclear fuels research programs as well as developing a beryllium oxide enhanced nuclear fuel for commercial use in both current and future nuclear power reactors.
According to a paper published by IBC, the improvements in performance and safety margins are largely realised through an increase in the thermal conductivity of the fuel and concomitant decrease in its average internal temperature while delivering the same amount of heat to the coolant. The uranium dioxide (UO2) used in conventional nuclear fuels has poor thermal conductivity, IBC notes. Beryllium oxide (BeO), on the other hand, has very high thermal conductivity and what is more, remains unreactive with UO2 up to temperatures of 21,000 degrees Celsius. However, finding a manufacturing process for combining the two oxides which could be viable on an industrial scale remains a challenge which the IBC-funded research at Purdue and Texas A&M has been working to address.
The researchers have developed a co-sintering technique that results in the formation of granules of UO2 surrounded by BeO, which can then be used to manufacture fuel pellets. As the technique is similar to the sintering process already carried out on UO2 to manufacture nuclear fuel, it could be incorporated into existing fuel fabrication facilities with a minimum of extra capital investment, IBC claims.
Initial testing included nuclear engineering simulations and thermal modelling, which successfully demonstrated the potential benefits of this fuel in light water reactors. Experimental and computational work has provided an understanding of the behaviour of unirradiated UO2-BeO and preliminary processing methods have been demonstrated experimentally to produce materials for validation measurements. The next phase will include further work on processing methods, along with an expanded research mandate to further validate the technology and complement the work to date, IBC says.
Anthony Dutton, president and CEO of IBC, said the technology "could positively affect both the nuclear industry and consumers of alternative energy." He said, "This most recent phase of the work confirms our belief that beryllium oxide enhanced fuel will advance global nuclear fuels technology and, as a result, considerably increase demand for beryllium as a rare metal commodity."

There is still much to be done before the enhanced fuel could enter commercial use, IBC warns, including systematic design analysis, prototype irradiation tests and the gathering of performance data as well as undertaking high quality fabrication. "IBC is currently considering suitable industry partners for the next phase of testing and development," Dutton said.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News