Experimental Advanced Nuclear Fuel to Undergo Testing at Idaho National Laboratory

Researcher tests nuclear fuel at the Idaho National Laboratory

(Credit: Idaho National Laboratory)

by | Jan 29, 2024

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The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has received a shipment of used light water nuclear reactor fuel, the first for the facility in approximately 20 years, planning to evaluate the fuel’s effectiveness during commercial use.

Analysis of the experimental fuel is being conducted in order to assess the safety basis required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, aiming to extend the fuel’s use to other nuclear power plants throughout the United States.

Researchers will first explore how the fuel performs during normal use at a nuclear power plant, then will conduct additional experiments to find out how the fuel performs during various accident conditions. They will also explore how the fuel operates during storage and recycling.

Testing will take place at the INL’s Materials and Fuels Complex, where researchers will simulate power excursions of loss-of-cooling events designed to push the fuel’s limits in a controlled environment. Tests will also mimic wear and tear usually incurred by a commercial reactor to explore whether the fuel could achieve even higher burnup levels, or nuclear energy-generating potential, than achieved at the commercial plant.

The fuel has been designed for extended use, robust safety features, and an overall ability to deliver energy cost savings to consumers.

Fuel May Offer Longer Operational Time, Enhanced Safety

The nuclear fuel was delivered to the INL via 25 fuel rods, developed by Westinghouse, that contain both accident tolerant fuel (ATF) and high burnup fuel. High burnup fuel may allow for longer operating cycles and reduced spent fuel generation, while accident tolerant fuels offer enhanced safety features during normal operation and in accident scenarios.

The nuclear industry and the Department of Energy have worked for the last decade to develop such fuels and improve the overall operation time of nuclear fuel. These fuel rods may reportedly extend a plant’s operational time between refueling by 18 to 24 months.

“Increased burnup, when combined with potential ATF-related uprates, could be a huge economic benefit to those plants and the fleet,” said Daniel Wachs, national technical director of the DOE’s Advanced Fuels Campaign. “The increased electrical output in the U.S. could be the equivalent of adding new reactors to the fleet.”

Considering the time and money required to build new large-scale nuclear reactors, the advanced fuel may offer significant savings by improving the abilities of nuclear plants already in operation and potentially avoiding the need for new projects.

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