How General Atomics Developed Its Revolutionary Nuclear Fuel Solution via Power

The U.S. is pouring funding into developing new fuel technology for advanced nuclear reactors in a bid to help the flagging industry. On April 27, it awarded General Atomics (GA) $3.2 million for two projects that the San Diego, California-based company is developing, including an accident tolerant fuel (ATF) solution that the company says is “truly revolutionary.”

The funding, for which GA will provide a cost share, is aimed to advance development and licensing of new reactor fuel that features silicon carbide (SiC) composite fuel cladding containing uranium carbide (UC) fuel pellets. One project, being conducted in collaboration with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee with total funding of $2,763,744, will combine advanced computer modeling and simulation with new microcapsule irradiation to establish techniques that “substantially reduce the time and expense required to qualify new fuels,” the company said. The second project, funded at a total of $475,819, would back the pre-application license review of SiC-UC fuel by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, allowing the company to develop an efficient roadmap for formal regulatory qualification


The technology has gained a renewed relevance owing to the nuclear industry’s commitment to developing ATFs in a timely way. (For more, see “Accident-Tolerant Fuels Could Be a Boon for Nuclear Industry” in POWER’s April 2018 issue.) As GA noted, interest in fuel rods that can tolerate extreme temperatures surged after the Fukushima accident in 2011.

“One of the elements that made this disaster so severe is related to the zirconium-alloy fuel rod cladding used in current reactor cores. At Fukushima, after the water boiled away and the core overheated, the cladding reacted violently with high-temperature steam in the reactor vessel. This highly exothermic reaction between zirconium and the oxygen in the steam added to the thermal energy already present from decay heat and also generated explosive hydrogen. This was one of the main factors that caused the cores to melt down and led to the hydrogen explosions that breached the reactor’s containment,” it said.

Today, under the Department of Energy’s ATF program, which Congress launched in 2012, several nuclear fuel makers are developing several concepts for ATF fuel pellet and cladding materials, and testing is underway or scheduled at four nuclear units in the U.S. GA leveraged its work on EM2to successfully partner with Westinghouse in proposing a SiC-based ATF solution. But its solution stands out from other efforts, the company said.

Read more at How General Atomics Developed Its Revolutionary Nuclear Fuel Solution 

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