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Advanced nuclear fuel arrives at INL for testing

Westinghouse Electric Company has shipped 25 irradiated experimental nuclear fuel rods, including accident-tolerant fuel, to Idaho National Laboratory (INL) for testing and examination. The tests are part of the process to qualify the fuel for use in commercial reactors.

The shipment contains both accident tolerant fuel – also known as ATF – and high burnup fuel, which has been irradiated in the core of a commercial nuclear power plant. It is the first such shipment to arrive at INL for testing in two decades, the lab said.

Developed and manufactured by Westinghouse with technical assistance from several national laboratories, including INL, and supported by funding from the US Department of Energy (DOE), the new fuel technology is designed for extended use, enabling nuclear power plants to extend their operating cycle from the current 18 months to 24 months, reducing refuelling outages while delivering significant cost savings for customers and generating less spent nuclear fuel. The fuel will also increase a nuclear power plant’s resilience under potential accident conditions.

These properties could be a “huge” economic benefit, said Daniel Wachs, national technical director of DOE’s Advanced Fuels Campaign. The increased cycle length would eliminate one refuelling outage every 6 years and significantly increase electrical output. “The increased electrical output in the US could be the equivalent of adding new reactors to the fleet,” he said.

Before it can be deployed for use in commercial reactors, researchers must examine and analyse how the technology performs under normal usage conditions, as well as carrying out additional experiments to understand how it performs under postulated accident conditions and to demonstrate behaviour during storage and recycling. This data will then be used to establish the safety bases required by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to qualify the fuel for use at US nuclear power plants.

“Continuous innovation is key to improving the nuclear sector’s reliability, especially at a time when energy demand is increasing and nuclear is more vital than ever,” said Tarik Choho, Westinghouse President of Nuclear Fuel. “Westinghouse is proud to join efforts with INL and other partners in the production and testing of these advanced nuclear fuels.”

The fuel will be analysed and tested at INL’s Materials and Fuels Complex, and will also be subjected to safety tests with simulations of power excursions or loss-of-cooling events in a controlled environment. These are designed to push the fuel to its breaking points and beyond, according to INL. The lab’s Advanced Test Reactor is also being readied to accommodate fuels for endurance tests mimicking the wear and tear incurred over a decade of service in a commercial reactor in a fraction of the time.

“Receiving these fuel rods is a significant milestone for INL and the nuclear energy industry,” INL Director John Wagner said. “As the nation’s nuclear energy research and development centre, we possess the unique facilities, capabilities and expertise to perform this vital research.

“Completion of this shipment, along with the state of Idaho’s reinstatement of the Department of Energy’s ability to receive up to 400 kilograms of commercial spent nuclear fuel per year at INL for research and development purposes, send a strong message that we are once again open for business.”

A shipment of irradiated nuclear fuel rods with this new technology has previously been delivered for testing to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Research on the fuel will provide valuable data not only for US regulators and agencies but also for international partners and regulatory bodies. “The advanced testing and the post-irradiation examinations at both laboratories are key milestones to receive final approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deploy this innovative fuel to commercial reactors around the globe,” Westinghouse said.

Source: World Nuclear News