Advanced Nuclear Fuel Projects Set the Stage for New Reactors

  • TVEL to supply fuel for China’s fast-neutron reactor
  • Centrus selected for HALEU enrichment project
  • ORNL Automates Key Process in Production of PU-238 for RTGs
  • Y-12’s uranium core tested as fuel for potential space exploration
fast car

Does not run on 85 octane

Like high octane gasoline needed to fuel the demanding engines cars cruising the autobahn, new nuclear fuel types are being developed to power the next generation of advanced reactors. Interestingly, the U.S. is finally making investment in these fuels.

TVEL to Supply Fuel for
China’s Fast-neutron Reactor

(WNN) TVEL and CNLY have signed a contract for the supply of nuclear fuel for the CFR-600 sodium-cooled pool-type fast-neutron nuclear reactor under construction in in China’s Fujian province. TVEL is the nuclear fuel manufacturer subsidiary of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, while CNLY is part of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).

The contract, which was announced this week in Beijing, covers the initial loading of nuclear fuel, as well as supplies for refueling during the first seven years of the reactor’s operation. TVEL is building a new manufacturing line for the CFR-600 fuel assemblies is planned at the Elektrostal Machine-Building Plant, a TVEL facility located in the Moscow region.

The CFR-600, a 600 MWe design – was developed by the China Institute of Atomic Energy.  Construction started on the the Xiapu reactor in December 2017. It will be a demonstration of that sodium-cooled pool-type fast reactor design.  The reactor (IAEA profile PDF file) is considered to be a GEN-IV design. The CFR-600 is part of the Chinese plan to reach a closed nuclear fuel cycle. Fast neutron reactors are considered the main technology in the future for nuclear power in China.


The reactor will use mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, and will feature two coolant loops producing steam at 480°C. Later, The reactor will have active and passive shutdown systems and passive decay heat removal.

The fact that China has turned to Russia for MOX fuel may take the pressure off to complete negotiations with EDF/Areva for a $15 billion spent fuel reprocessing plant that would produce MOX fuel.  China has not invested in a domestic capability to produce MOX fuel.

A commercial-scale unit, designated as the the CFR1000, will have a capacity of 1000-1200 MWe. Subject to a 2020 decision to proceed, construction could start in December 2028, with operation from about 2034.

Separately, China is reported to be moving ahead with plans to develop Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs), with the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics recently receiving $3.3 billion from the government to build an MSR complex in the Gobi Desert.  Researchers hope to develop a range of applications for the technology.

The Rosatom contract also covers construction of nuclear reactors of Russian design, with VVER-1200 reactors at two sites in China – Tianwan and Xudabao. The package of intergovernmental documents and framework contracts for these projects was signed in June 2018, during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Beijing and his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Centrus Selected for HALEU Enrichment Project

(WNN) The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced plans to award a $115M contract to a subsidiary of Centrus Energy Corp to demonstrate the production of high-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU). The project will see the deployment of a cascade of 16 AC-100M centrifuges at Piketon, Ohio.

The HALEU Demonstration Program has two primary objectives:

  • deployment of a 16-machine cascade producing 19.75%U-235 enriched product by October 2020; and
  • demonstration of the capability to produce HALEU with existing US-origin enrichment technology,

Low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel used in today’s nuclear power plants typically contains less than 5% of fissile uranium-235 (U-235). However, some advanced reactor designs currently under development will require fuel enriched to between 5% and 20% U-235, also known as HALEU fuel.

Due to national security concerns, DOE said that it decided that only a U.S. based firm, using U.S. technology and materials, could produce the fuel. The facility, the former American Centrifuge Project, has an NRC license to do this kind of work. The award is expected to run from January 2019 to December 2020, with an option for a further year.

DOE said the sole source contract will revive work at the plant. DOE had at one time funded an effort there to develop U.S. uranium centrifuge technology, but the plant never moved beyond the demonstration stage due to issues related to qualifying for loan guarantees.

There are currently no US-based facilities that can produce HALEU on a commercial scale. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) last year called for work to begin to develop a national fuel cycle infrastructure to support the operation of the advanced reactors.

NEI President and CEO Maria Korsnick said in a press statement that the HALEU pilot program demonstrated the DOE’s “continued confidence” in the success of the next generation of advanced nuclear reactors and new fuel options for the existing fleet.

“DOE’s investment is a significant starting point in the HALEU fuel infrastructure. We appreciate [Energy] Secretary Perry’s attention to this urgent matter and look forward to working with DOE and Congress to ensure the US can compete globally to design and deploy advanced reactor technology.”

Greenbelt, Maryland-based X-energy said in its press statement that the DOE announcement integrated with its own plan to design, license, and construct a fabrication facility for HALEU-based fuel.

Centrus is collaborating with X-energy in the design of the TRISO-X Fuel Fabrication Facility, which will produce fuel based on uranium oxycarbide tristructural isotropic (TRISO) forms.

X-energy’s president, Harlan Bowers, said in the press statement that the successful deployment of advanced reactors, both for commercial and government applications, by the mid- to late-2020s is vital to reviving the US nuclear industry.

“This revitalization cannot occur without a complete fuel supply chain, including HALEU production and fuel fabrication,” he said.

See prior coverage of HALEU on this blogNavy Nuclear Fuel Recycling Program Approved By Senate June 24, 2018

Oak Ridge National Laboratory Automates Key Process in Production of Plutonium-238 for RTGs

By automating the production of neptunium oxide-aluminum pellets, Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists have eliminated a key bottleneck when producing plutonium-238 used by NASA to fuel deep space exploration.  (video)

The heat from radioactive decay passes through equipment that transforms it into electricity to power science instruments on deep space probes. Pu-238 provides a constant heat source through radioactive decay, a process that has powered spacecraft such as Cassini and the Mars Rover.

“Automating part of the Pu-238 production process is helping push annual production from 50 grams to 400 grams, moving closer to NASA’s goal of 1.5 kilograms per year by 2025,” said ORNL’s Bob Wham.

“The automation replaces a function our team did by hand and is expected to increase the output of pressed pellets from 80 to 275 per week.”

Once the pellets are pressed and enclosed in aluminum tubing, they are irradiated at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor and chemically processed into Pu-238 at the Radiochemical Engineering Development Center.

In 2012, NASA reached an agreement with the Department of Energy to restart production of Pu-238, and ORNL was selected to lead the project.

Y-12’s Uranium Core Tested as Fuel
for Space Exploration

The Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge manufactured the uranium reactor core for an experiment that tests whether a nuclear energy source could provide power for space exploration.

“The full-power run showed that it may be feasible for NASA to use small fission reactors for deep space exploration and manned missions to the moon and Mars,” the National Nuclear Security Administration said.

The NNSA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, worked with NASA on the project. It’s nicknamed KRUSTY, an acronym for Kilowatt Reactor Using Stirling Technology.

“In a joint venture with NASA last year, NNSA completed final design, fabrication, and full-power testing of a nuclear criticality experiment that can be used for a manned lunar or Mars space mission,” NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty said in a post published on Twitter last week.

Note to readers – see Oak Ridge Today for additional details.

Other Nuclear News

Hitachi To Cancel Plans For Wylfa Nuclear Station in UK

(NucNet): Japan’s Hitachi is set to cancel its plans for a two-unit nuclear power station in Wales according to press reports in the UK and Japan. An impasse in months-long talks between the company, London and Toyko on financing is expected to result in the project being abandoned at a Hitachi board meeting next week, according to the Nikkei newspaper.

Hitachi and its subsidiary Horizon Nuclear Power have been proposing to build two UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactors at the Wylfa Newydd site on the island of Anglesey in North Wales. In June, the UK government confirmed it was considering direct investment in the project.

Another Japanese company, Toshiba, scrapped plans to build three Westinghouse AP1000 reactors in Cumbria, northwest England, just months ago after failing to find a buyer for the project.  At one time KEPCO, a South Korean firm, was a preferred bidder, but negotiations with Toshiba broke down over financial differences.

Hitachi and the UK and Japanese governments have been negotiating over a guaranteed price of power from Wylfa and a potentially £5bn-plus UK public stake in the scheme.
Talks have proved “tricky to find a solution that works for all parties”, industry sources said, according to the Guardian newspaper.

Hitachi said it had made no final decision. “No formal decision has been made in this regard currently, while Hitachi has been assessing the Horizon project including its potential suspension and related financial impacts in terms of economic rationality as a private company.”

The Times of London reported UK government Ministers will be forced to pioneer a new way of financing nuclear power after Hitachi walks away from the project.

The suspension of the Horizon project on Anglesey, expected to be confirmed at a board meeting, will force the government to lure investors with a new financing method.

Ministers are expected to accelerate plans to introduce regulated asset base (RAB) financing, which is popular in the water and infrastructure sectors, for nuclear plants including the Horizon site.

Haiyang-2 Becomes 4th Westinghouse AP1000 Reactor
to Begin Commercial Operation In China

(NucNet): Unit 2 of the Haiyang nuclear power station in Shandong province has begun commercial operation. It is the 4th AP1000 in China to enter revenue service.

State Power Investment Corporation (SPIC) said that the unit, construction of which began in June 2010, completed 168 hours of full-power continuous operation at 16:00 local time on 01/09/19.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, China now has 46 nuclear power units in commercial operation providing about 3.9% of its electricity.

SPIC said the two Haiyang units will provide enough power to meet one-third of household demand in Shandong province, SPIC noted.

China to Start Work on Four new AP1000 Units

(NucNet): Construction at four nuclear sites in China, all of which have been pre-approved for Westinghouse AP1000 reactor units, is expected to begin this year, Shanghai-based energy research group Nicobar said.

Two units are planned for each of the sites at Sanmen, Haiyang, Xudabao and Lufeng. The units would be Sanmen-3 and -4, Haiyang-3 and -4, Xudabao-1 and -2, and Lufeng-1 and -2.

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Dan Yurman ~ About this blog and disclaimers for NeutronBytes ~ ~ ** Contact Me ~ ~ Text via Signal 216-218-3823 ~ I am NOT active on Facebook, Reddit or Instagram. Attempt no landings there. ** Header Image Credit: ~ ** Emails sent by readers about blog posts are considered to be comments for publication unless otherwise noted. ** The content of this blog is protected by copyright laws of the U.S. "Fair use" provisions apply. The RSS feed is for personal use only unless otherwise explicitly granted.
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